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Once Upon a Time: Re-Thinking the Fight Against Extremists

What does it mean to be radicalized? In a rare Oval Office address in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, President Barack Obama described the killers as having “gone down the dark path of radicalization.” It used to be extremists. We were fighting extremists in the equally nebulous War on Terror. Then someone found a thesaurus and now we’re battling radicalization. “[It] is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization,” urged Obama. What are these ideas exactly?

Every group of radicals nee extremists—from ISIS to the Klan to the House GOP’s Freedom Caucus—all have the same lure: Today is chaotic, unpredictable and worse than it was, so we must return to a time when things were better. A well-proven formula for radicalization is to take the disorientated, disenfranchised and disappointed; add a universal yarn about the Good Ol’ Days and stir.

Let’s examine some backward reasoning about the past: “Back to basics,” you’ll hear. Back to the values of the founders! Original intent! Back to the peacefulness of ancient times. Back to the core of the Koran. Back to the tranquility of our ancestors! Paleo diet, anyone? Fundamentalists use this concept in their own moniker; they’re going back to fundamentals. Even New Agers peddle this idea. The site says, “Once upon a time—not too long ago, the ancient craft of midwifery and the art of herbal healing were intimately linked.” Yeah sure, back in the good old days when women had a 50/50 chance of dying during childbirth. Just a quick Google search of “alternative medicine” will land you in a sea of alternate history. As one site touting amber as a pain reliever puts it, “For many centuries since time began, people have used nature’s bounty for traditional medicine.”

Once, I went to the Brooklyn Flea Market and there was a ratty chair kept together by electrical tape. The price tag was a whopping $250! When I asked the seller if that was a typo, he responded “No,” shocked by the question. “It’s old.” Which is essentially what alternative medicine is saying. “Back when people only lived to 35, they knew better than us!”

When times are difficult, there’s an innate desire to get back to paradise, back to the proverbial Garden of Eden—back to the safety and comfort of the womb. Back to that time when everything was pristine, everything was simple. Back to childhood. We were better then and the times reflected that. There’s a desire to retrace our steps and go back to a time before it all went wrong. In short: Humans really want a reset button.

The Republican Party—and conservatives specifically—tout the 1950s as being the storied time they want to get us back to. That’s when America was great and it was great to be American! GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s slogan is “make this country great again.” Also-ran Carly Fiorina’s is the boilerplate, “take our country back.” That was also the battle cry of the tea party. They wanted to take their country back, I assumed they meant from the black guy running it, but they’d tell you it was to take the country back to the Eisenhower administration. “Brian Williams began his report on the death of Annette Funicello,” writes Toni Bernhard in Psychology Today, “by wistfully referring to the 1950s as ‘a sweeter era, one of genuine innocence.’”

In the online forum Topix, a user named Comesen wrote, “Back in the 1950s, times were truly more wholesome. When you came home, you had a good snack and did your homework and went out to play. These days, the kids come home, eat these sugary fat-filled snacks and get on them video games. Back then, you knew your neighbors and in general they were always nice people. If someone new moved in, your mom made them a pie or a jell-o and welcomed them to the neighborhood. These days, hardly anyone can say they know their neighbors and if someone new moves in, everyone is always suspicious of them.”

There’s at least some anecdotal evidence Comesen was a child in the 1950s and completely missed the Red Scare, McCarthyism and an equally terrifying polio epidemic. Let’s not forget segregation, thalidomide and lobotomies. Also from a conservative perspective, the top tax rate was 70 percent, way higher taxes than we have now.

But nostalgia isn’t rational; it’s a feeling. It’s a fantasy. And when it comes to the 1950s it’s a pretty widespread delusion. In November 2015, Public Religion Research Institute in a poll asked, “Since the 1950s, do you think American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the better, or has it mostly changed for the worse?” Fifty-three percent of respondents said the culture has changed for the worse.

Meaning: More than half of Americans won’t simply admit that the Civil Rights Act moved the country forward and Leave it To Beaver was absolute dreck.

But this idea is a motivator. It makes people believe if we just get back to those principles, like police brutalizing and jailing homosexuals, we can be good once again. In an Alcoholics Anonymous off shoot known as the Pacific Group, members believe if they wear suits (and, respectively, dresses) like they did in the 1950s, forgo all psychotropic drugs and don’t swear, they’re more hardcore and therefore more likely to stay sober.

The Garden of Eden myth is something to hold onto. To the distressed, the Good Ol’ Days is the perfect oh shit handle.

Of course in the 1950s, groups like the Klan were trying to get the country back to the 1850s. In the 1850s, groups like the Know Nothings, who opposed Catholic immigrants, were trying to get the country back to the 1810s. In the 1600s, the Puritans were trying to get their country back to the Old Testament. We should all go back to a time before nostalgia was used to manipulate people.

In this idea of getting back to an age of innocence is also a demand for purity: Getting out all the toxins, contaminants and pollutants. Again, New Agers have capitalized on this idea by convincing people they’re full of—wait for it—chemicals (like the chemical compound H2O!) and all they need to do is rid their bodies of artificial invaders and they’ll be like the ancients who were better in every way.

But it also assists in extremism. If now is evil and soiled and we must get back to paradise—there’s no compromising. There’s no time to deal with squishes. You have to be 100 percent committed to the goal! You have to be totally onboard with biblical principles, ancient wisdom or the mores of 500 AD Arabia. If you believe that we have to get back to a specific time and cleanse ourselves of the sins of our current state, then anyone who tries to temper that idea is part of the problem. Truly you can’t negotiate with extremists—that’s what makes them extremists.

We are all born with the reality someday we will die. Adhering to tradition is a way to extend one’s life. You get to become part of something that existed before you were here, something bigger than yourself. It is like eternal life. And renewing that tradition—going back to it—making it viable for the next generation can seem like a way of overwriting death. Suicide bombers and martyrs are willing to die for a cause because they believe they’re giving that cause longer life and by extension themselves. And in the middle of power vacuums and failed states like some in the Middle East, it’s not hard to see how futility can easily be honed into extremism.

But extremism isn’t just a vice someone picks up on some nefarious Internet forum. It’s a fight or flight response. It’s a reaction to an existential crisis. It’s taking the tiny seed of instinct about mortality, growing it into a giant species-wide folly and then taking it too far.

Commentators love to parrot that ISIS is rejecting modernity. San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik’s profile in the Los Angeles Times quoted her friends as confused by what she’d done, saying she seemed like a modern girl. How can one exactly reject modernity while making YouTube videos and trolling Twitter? You cannot. These extremists aren’t saying no to technology, they’re just wrongly convinced ancient is better because like other sellers of junk have proclaimed, “It’s old!” So slavery, rape and beheadings—these are all things god prescribed when he wrote holy books; now we’re exiled from Eden so it’s time to start raping again! (I promise it’s okay to find comfort in ISIS using the same ruse people have used “for many centuries since time began.”)

This folklore is also at the core of doomsday predictions. The world is so wicked and crooked—so far from god—that god has no choice but to end it all and start anew. People have been certain they’re in the End Times since the beginning of times.

All extremism resonates more in times of social upheaval. We need look no farther than the 1960s where the seeming chaos of the Vietnam Era spurred Americans to flock en masse to cults and communes. But even in times of relative peace and inclusion, the present is always unpredictable and therefore frightening. The past, especially a made-up fairy tale of the past, is less frightening because, well, we know what happens: We survive!

Presently, there are horror stories about our children being recruited by ISIS—jumping on planes to become terrorists! The reports in the media talk about radicalization like it were Ebola—it’s worse overseas but it could come here!! There are think pieces about this need to protect our children from ISIS like we protect them from pool drownings. There’s a real Satanic Panic vibe to the stories. It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Not Without My Daughter. One CNN headline from 2014 read, “3 Denver girls played hooky from school and tried to join ISIS.”

There’s a much more reasoned explanation as to why an estimated couple hundred American youths are yearning for more in their lives and consider ISIS as an option. Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, from the Chicago suburbs was arrested in 2014 for trying to join ISIS. The note he left with his mother read: “ISIS had established the perfect Islamic state and that he felt obligated to ‘migrate’ there.” He’d heard of this Utopia and was hoping to get there. Rolling Stone writes, “Steeped in the stories of Muhammad, his companions, and the sultans and caliphs who came after them, Hamzah viewed those days as a ‘simpler’ era when Islam flourished across a vast empire, or Caliphate, and the Muslim ummah, or global community, was united.” In short: In a polluted world, ISIS is offering a lonely kid something pure. And better yet, a chance at the glory of the old days.

At least two other American recruits were homeschooled Christians; meaning already isolated on the fringe. A woman identified by the New York Times only as Alex, a Sunday school teacher’s whose home was in the middle of wheat and alfalfa fields was still, at 23, babysitting for money and living with her grandmother. Others were lost, restless and idealistic in their own right (read: vulnerable). This is no mystery; we’ve seen this before. In the 1960s everyone was running away from home to join some counter-culture group. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to get back to a time when things weren’t so turbulent. And the Moonies offered that or, in the case of my parents, the international pedophile crime syndicate known as the Children of God was their ticket.

So why now? Today’s American kids are the first generation ever to be worse off than their parents: College is more expensive, jobs pay less, upward mobility is more rare, they’re more likely to be obese, etc. Statistically, there was actually a storied time in the past where it was better to be a 21-year-old American. And this current crop of unlucky youths are primed for legends about these better times. ISIS is taking the legitimate angst the “kids these days” wrestle with, giving it a label and an apparent antidote.

The social psychologist Leon Festinger, who coined the phrase cognitive dissonance in his classic work, When Prophesy Fails, noted a doubling-down effect from true believers, in this case a UFO cult awaiting the mother ship to arrive to whisk them away from a doomed Earth. After the doomsday came and went, instead of being disillusioned, true believers upped the ante: They became more resolute and, yes, more extreme in their convictions; more malleable and more motivated in their fervor. It’s a paradoxical quirk of our psyches: The further away paradise is, the closer it seems.

It’s not that extremists are losers; according to social scientists, failure makes people more extreme.

So why can’t we wage a war on extremists? Why can’t we just embrace the moderates to counter extremists? Because extremists aren’t born, they’re forged in failed states, failed prophesy and, yes, failed ideas. Social upheaval, isolation, perceived humiliation or moral outrage, powerlessness and/or scarcity are what make extremists, not some innate evil.

The Garden of Eden myth is the perfect failed idea. It will always disappoint and therefore always aid in extremism.

What we really need to do is go back to the days before this was a thing! END

About the Author

Tina Dupuy is a syndicated columnist and investigative journalist. She’s the host of Cultish, a new podcast about fanaticism debuting in February 2016. She lives in New York.

This article was published on December 30, 2015.


57 responses to “Once Upon a Time: Re-Thinking the Fight Against Extremists”

  1. Isabella says:

    This does look pronsiimg. I’ll keep coming back for more.

  2. KenC says:

    Moms Mabley’s “Good old days” covered the topic quite well over a half century ago.

  3. Richard Dale says:

    Speculations about nostalgia ought to be illegal until you reach the age of 70 1/2. Before that you are so busy surviving you can’t really get a time perspective. The closer you get to three-score and ten the more you realize that each generation shapes its world in its own image. Each generation makes progress in some areas and has blind spots in other areas.

    Later generations look back and say, “How silly” or “How tragic, how could anyone believe that?!” They don’t realize that they are in the same trap but with different attitudes and actions. They just don’t know it. (Remember the ‘invisible gorilla’ in the ball passing game illustration?)

    This is why I am a Christian and a Skeptic. The more people there are jumping on a band-wagon the more skeptical I become. But the Christian world-view gives me a stable perspective. Which is exactly what scares me about the current Islamic terrorism.

    Their stable world view will not fade if we treat them nicely. Unlike the Christian Bible the Quran does not invite acceptance, it requires it! No matter how much we play nice, it will not be enough.

    If we listen to Tina, her daughters will be wearing burkas.

  4. awc says:

    Myopic… western perspective. Not scientific interesting conversation over coffee.

    I wish they would write articles like they used too.

    Limited experience and prolonged hardship certainly will contribute to radical views.

    Topic is pedestrian.


  5. Phea says:

    While I’m certainly not in favor of going back to the “good old days”, we have lost something that has changed our species in a very real, and fundamental way, and we can’t hope to ever get it back.

    For thousands of years, we shared an almost perfect vision of the future. We farmed, built things, and basically lived exactly as our great grandparents had, and we knew our great grandchildren would be living just like we lived. Things changed very slowly, and while life was hard, cruel, and mean, (by today’s standards), we at least knew where we were going.

    One of the prices we have paid for the almost unbelievably rapid technological advancements in the last century, is we completely lost even a glimmer of what the future will be like. When I was growing up, in the ’50’s and ’60’s, not knowing what the future held was exciting. Walt Disney’s, “Wonderful World of Science”, promised us an amazing future full of wiz-bang technology that would continue making life easier and more enjoyable. So, it wasn’t really so bad, losing that perfect vision of the future that our ancestors once had.

    The problem now, is that young people growing up today realise their future isn’t going to be so rosey. Their present isn’t as good as the last few generations, and in many ways, the future looks scary as hell! Overpopulation, global warming, dwindling finite supplies of fossil fuels, fresh water and other resources, global pandemics, failed states, terrorism, wars, the alarming, rapid pace at which the world’s total wealth and resources are being acquired, maintained, and controlled by a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, the possibility of being smacked by a giant asteroid, just a few of the potential problems we might be faced with.

    I haven’t even a slight clue what the world will be like when the calendar rolls over into 2100, except to say I’m 100% sure things will NOT be anything like they are today. Hopefully, we’ll solve most of the problems heading for us. My own gut feeling is that we probably won’t change much of anything until at least half or more of us are gone. Hopefully, the last billion or so of us, the “last tribe”, will have been through enough, humbled enough, learned enough, and might eventually, actually get it right, (or not).

  6. Doctor Rat says:

    This whole nostalgia thing reminds me of a corollary phenomena – generational bigotry – ie “I don’t know about this younger generation”. “What is with the kids of today?”

    Change is not something one hopes for, necessarily, but it is inevitable as the very processes of the natural world depend upon it. Resistance is an expected individual’s response. A longing for the known past, in the face of an uncertain future makes the moment of existence one wrought with angst. Getting comfortable with chaos is not easy for the rational mind but punching a reset button does not alleviate the responsibility to be in the present here and now, working for a better future. Healthy skepticism is required and vigilance needed to prevent the regression to cynicism seen in some of the comments above. Political discussions often lead to this debasement of civil discourse.

  7. Dr. Sidethink says:

    “You people wouldn’t now reality or intelligence if it slapped you across the face. This entire piece is nothing but liberal dogma based on your ESP of conservative motivations. It’s about as un-factual and un-thinking as it gets.”

    please be careful to practice what you are preaching.

    your stereotype fits exactly to SOME ( perhaps a majority) if
    soi-disant “Liberals” tho actually regard inquiry into their lockstep ravings as pathology.
    ” } calling any expresspom of lnquiry as a “PHOBIA”


  8. monkeytoe says:


    the author of this piece should be a little more “skeptical” of idiotic liberal cliches.

    the GOP freedom caucus is the same as ISIS or the Klan? Really. And you want people to believe you are intelligent and educated?

    And “take the country back”? Really? I hate to bring facts into the discussion, but the left routinely uses that language when there is a republican president. We heard it for 8 years during George W. Bush.

    You people wouldn’t now reality or intelligence if it slapped you across the face. This entire piece is nothing but liberal dogma based on your ESP of conservative motivations. It’s about as un-factual and un-thinking as it gets.

  9. Loren Petrich says:

    Back in the 1950’s, the US has plenty of culture critics. Some of them criticized what they considered uniformity and conformity, critics like “The Beats”.

  10. EJH says:

    1950s??? McCarthy era. Korea War. Atom Bomb tests. Heave preserve us!!!! :-(

  11. Mark says:

    Please, get out the violins! – social upheaval? isolation? perceived humiliation or moral outrage? powerlessness and/or scarcity? are what make extremists? – seems to me like a typical day in junior high school. Most boys and girls get over it when they grow up. However some of the more mature scientific minds of our time think we are probably doomed as a planet – climate change and worse – cluelessness about sustainability – species extinction – death of the oceans – not to mention nuclear war. Perhaps the civilization myth is the perfect failed idea. Perhaps we will all long for the good old days when the planet as we knew it was still around. Excessive ego is what makes extremists.

    • EJH says:

      No. The planet is not doomed. Just humans! well be eliminating ourselves as the climax to the present Great Extinction. The Planet will last till the Sun consumes it.

  12. N.R. says:

    Great piece, Tina.
    You point out how people so fondly remember the past.
    I have be listening to the republicans holler about this for the past 12 or so years. I will not forget a political convention I attended in NW Minnesota where the candidate put on a skit complete with an army uniform and how she wanted her country back. Back from what, I thought? It was the beginning of my path out of that nonsense.
    Studying history has led me to know that the 50s were not a very nice time for a lot of people. If you were black, native, disabled, gay, different, whatever–it was brutal. We look back on it like it was some perfect era. The good old days, they aren’t all they were cracked up to be.

  13. Brian says:

    The absolute dreck here is this article. How does Skeptic allow an article with so many logical fallacies to be printed here? So brutal. Like other commenters have pointed out, PLEASE stick to science and stay out of politics!!

  14. Chuck johnson says:

    kamwick – The article doesn’t hit close to home at all. I just find it far fetched that the author (and seemingly on your part as well ) cannot distinguish between groups that peacefully pursue an agenda and those that are violent and supremely disrespectful of individual rights. Your slippery slope argument is not convincing.

    It is true that there is plenty of ignorance all around us. I put the creationists in the same camp as the anti-vaccination and anti-GMO crowds. I suppose from some perspective these groups all appear “radical”, a pretty much useless term for categorizing people. Not agreeing with you politically does not make a radical.

    The_Penguin – I am interested in who OUR is, i.e. where you are writing form. I agree that might does not make right, nor however does it make wrong. Over the last 70 years the world has greatly benefited from US might. The alternatives were Nazi, Imperial Japanese and Soviet might. No thanks. I would put the value system of the US up against any in the world.

    Much of the rest of the world would benefit from a skeptics society. Any country with a religion-based government, dictatorship, believes rhino horn makes sex better, has a large populace that thinks AIDS is a US conspiracy, doesn’t have freedom of speech in their founding documents, is willing to starve their population into submission, etc. would benefit from one. Unfortunately skeptics in these countries are typically quickly silenced.

  15. Ed says:

    Tired of seeing Skeptic used as an anti-Republican screed. I don’t care if it’s pro/anti-Dem or pro/anti Rep. Stick to science and skepticism! I can get political info from political mags.

  16. The_Penguin says:

    The real problem is; the USA think that it is only arbiter of global judgement. Well it isn’t! And until the USA admits that military might does not equal right, then nothing will change. Daesh is not right but nor is US military supremacy, however much you might want to reconcile it to your beliefs! US ‘so-called’ supremacy is an much an inviduous incursion on OUR freedoms as Daesh! Only the US have a notion of a ‘skeptics society’; the rest of us in the developed world, have no such need of such a ‘society’. How much does that say?

  17. Juan Carlos Marvizon says:

    I wonder how Dupuy’s thesis explains animal rights extremism/radicalism.

  18. Ruby Khaja says:

    Knowing the core of the problem is the first step in solving it. Bravo

  19. Chuck johnson says:

    The author seems unable or unwilling to separate political philosophies from the actions people are willing to take to achieve a society that reflects them. Lumping the Klan, Tea Party, New Agers, ISIS, Nazis, Christians, Muslims, Etc. all into the same class is disingenuous at best.

    The Freedom Caucus is using the democratic process codified in the US constitution to achieve their goals. ISIS has a rape guide for female sex slaves (mostly captured Christian women). It seems to me that equating these groups does not help the author’s argument.

    The author seems to believe that it is not possible to learn from the past. She seems to put forth the notion that all change is good. The people must simply acquiesce and accept the state of the world as it is and hope that the future our politicians make for us is better (or at least not worse). This is the essential Liberal argument to society today, don’t worry we will take care of you.

    I for one am not of the opinion that all of the changes the world has undergone in the last 100 years has been positive, progress has a price. For example, in the US we have made great strides in equality but have eroded personal freedoms. Government is ever more involved in our lives and the national debt is 18 trillion dollars.

    So, how to fight ISIS? I don’t really care very much what motivates them. I am much more interested in eliminating the core of the organization and taking back territory. There will always be groups in the world whose organizing principals and actions defy any measure of acceptable behavior in the modern world. The best the rest of us can do is contain them, such as we have done with North Korea. North Korean leaders are smart enough to know that they can have their Mafia-style government as long as they do not tweak the rest of us too much. ISIS has not learned that lesson yet and must be taught.

    If the Author had made a more nuanced argument to make her point she would have made it much more effectively. As it stands it is whiny tripe.

    • kamwick says:

      Unfortunately, this article seems to have hit a bit close to home for you, but any movement (even seemingly benign or ‘righteous’, can easily become radicalized, and it important for folks to be aware and guard against it. That takes awareness of cause and effect and a willingness to see how folks are the same.

      Tea Partiers are big supporters of the Freedom Caucus. They may not be cutting off heads or implementing ‘biblical law’ as of yet. However, the constant calls for prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments being displayed in public venues, fervent claims that the theory of evolution is false, claims that the US is a ‘Christian nation’, and calls to ‘take our country back’, among other characteristics, show a distinct desire for a ‘return’ to ‘better times’, as they see it. I won’t even go into the obvious bigotry of many in that group. If you can’t see it, you are a master of cognitive dissonance. It is basically the same motivation as IS, only at a much lower harmonic. At the moment.

      Trump supporters hold the same desires/
      agenda as the ‘Freedom’ Caucus, yet some are also behaving in disturbingly similar ways tp the Brownshirts of the 30’s. It IS important to look at motivations when dealing with threats. Simply engaging in military action alone is not enough, because that by itself simply flames the toxic cycle.

    • Bobbo says:

      I’d veurtne that this article has saved me more time than any other.

  20. Neal Umphred says:

    It should be noted that President Eisenhower inherited a top marginal income tax rate of 92% from the previous Truman administration. The highest tax bracket in the ’50s was for income over $400,000. No less an authority than Colonel Tom Parker reportedly bragged, “I consider it my patriotic duty to keep Elvis up in the 90% tax bracket.” Which he did . . .

  21. David O'Connor says:

    Excellent article! Declaring an action or a movement or a nation as evil is not an explanation for anything. It’s a justification for taking any erroneous action in response which we have seen so many times in the past, only makes the situation worst. We need to use our rational brain to examine human actions so that we can understand the multiple, complex motivations & conditions that give rise to such actions before we will be able to arrive at solutions that make sense. Ideology, fundamentalism and longing for some mythical utopia are all dead ends.

  22. James T. Lee, MD,PhD says:

    Herb Rakatansky hit the nail on the head. In healthcare we almost have to make the conscious personal effort daily to remind ourselves about the illusory properties of the “good old days” way of thinking about our present mess.

  23. thelaine says:

    Sceptic magazine is not about science, it is just another partisan political outlet. What a ahame.

  24. Herbert Rakatansky, MD says:

    Following is an op-ed I wrote in 2013 for the Providence Journal

    Herbert Rakatansky: The ‘good old days’ in medicine, believe it or not, are now

    By Herbert Rakatansky Posted Oct. 8, 2013 @ 12:01 am
    With the launch of Obamacare and in the context of the our increasingly complex and contentious health-care system, patients frequently ask me: “Wouldn’t you rather be back in the good old days? Wouldn’t you be happier practicing medicine without the hassle of dealing with insurance companies, the government and the constant threat of being sued for malpractice?”
    Indeed, the insurance companies have spawned so much paperwork that significant time is spent to satisfy the voracious appetite of the bureaucrats who feed on a seemingly endless number of diagnoses, code numbers, prior authorizations, treatment plans and other data, both paper and electronic.
    Although trained assistants can collect some of this information, that help comes at a significant financial cost. The doctor, at the expense of time with patients, must do some of this work himself. Malpractice lawyers lie in wait to ensnare us in an expensive and stressful net that produces little if any improvement in medical outcomes.
    Electronic medical records (EMR) are rapidly replacing the centuries-old paper version of information storage. Yes, a good EMR (not all EMRs are good), when used correctly, is superior to paper. It is also expensive. The perceived quality of care and the doctor’s reputation and, perhaps, remuneration as well, will depend on what is in the EMR.
    All of this motivates the doctor to stare at the screen rather than the patient. Recently my friend Tom had a medical experience that illustrates why I personally, either as a doctor or a patient, do not wish to return to the “good old days,” as attractive as they may seem.
    Tom, who is in his late 50s, without any warning, developed chest discomfort. When he arrived at the ER of a large academic medical center, he was found to be in the throes of a heart attack. Within a very short time he was in the cardiac cath lab where two stents were placed. This procedure diminished the amount of heart muscle affected and therefore lengthened and possibly saved his life.
    Another narrowing in a major artery was noted and this lesion, though not the cause of the proximate heart damage, threatened his life as well. When his condition was stabilized days later, more stents were placed. In this second, more technically difficult procedure, very sophisticated skills were required.
    As an intern in the “good old days,” also in a large, sophisticated academic hospital, I saw many patients like Tom. I have vivid memories of sitting by them for many hours, relieving their pain with medications, giving them oxygen and holding their hand.
    We waited to see how much heart muscle survived and whether there would be enough to permit a return to normal activity, or perhaps enough to allow limited activity or perhaps just enough to survive as a cardiac cripple with heart failure, for which we did not have effective treatment.
    In many cases there was such severe damage that the patient died, as I watched, helpless. We had no way to predict the outcome and no treatment if we could have predicted it. Such were the “good old days.” The same paradigm existed for many diseases.
    In the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris,” a young writer magically is transported to the “good old days” and meets Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, among others. He is enchanted by this return to the past. Then he becomes enamored of a woman from that time who wants only to go back to what she believes were the “good old days,” the earlier era of La Belle Époque.
    He finally realizes that the “good old days” are an illusion and really exist for every generation as an idealization, with a selective memory for some desirable features of the past.
    So I answer my patients who ask if would like to go back: No, I do not want to just hold their hand during their heart attack and wait to see if they survive. I want them to have modern interventions that can preserve function and save their lives.
    And, yes, access to medical care is a broken process; and yes, the infrastructure of our medical system is too complicated and needs to be fixed. And, yes, the legal approach to malpractice needs revision. We need to work toward the goals of universal access to high-quality medical care delivered in a simplified and patient-centered manner.
    I prefer to remain right here in the present and join in these efforts. The “good old days” are right now.
    Tom, by the way, is doing well in cardiac rehab and has resumed his career.

  25. The_Penguin says:

    As Tina Dupuy points outs ‘imperfect nostalgia’ is an ever present symptom of the human condition but it is far worse than that; we want to have our cake and to eat it too. There has been much to praise in past societies and much to damn and this society is no different than any other. However, it is not possible to turn the clock back and retain what we have gained and lose that which we find unpleasant since one is a direct causal effect of the other. For example, would Daesh (I use that term because IS don’t like it!) be so keen on waging jihad with the tools of ‘their past, glorious’ and ‘perfect caliphates’, swords, shields, horses etc? No, of course not! Would we, in the west, trade increasing longevity; a more disease free society; a more relaxed lifestyle, free from the daily, interminable struggle to put food before our children? No, of course not. Like it or not, this is the society that we and our ancestors have made and we had better get used to it. Sure, improvement is possible but it will come at a price that our descendents will, in their turn, have to pay and to live with.

  26. tzal says:

    Radicalization? How about a drone strike with a Hell Fire missle that obliterates your grand parents, a cousin, other family or friends? Destruction of your home, your town or village by the armed forces of the wealthiest nation on earth? Decades of economic destabilization, support of despotic regimes to protect exploitation of natural resources by global corporations?
    A return to the ‘good old days’ ? I don’t think so.
    Radicalization? a euphemism for ‘blowback’……

    • George Sievers says:

      And so you make excuses for terrorists.

      • kamwick says:

        No, he’s not making an excuse. He’s simply pointing out additional causes of radicalization. Family members being killed by people perceived as ‘other’ add to the ‘righteous’ anger and motivation to strike back. Same old same old. Americans had the same reaction following 9/11.

        When we stop bombing and start refusing to play our part of the radicalization game (simply responding with international law/intelligence/prosecution) there will be first an increase in extremist acts (like toddlers throwing tantrums), but the fuel/rationale for extremism will eventually die, because IS and similar groups have nothing else to offer their adherents except violence.

        • KSmith says:

          Exactly. Many see our new Prime Minister in Canada as weak because he wants to pull out of the bombing campaign but it is strategic to lead the way to ease out of the war. It is not going to be easy and much ground warfare will ensue, but at least there will be less terror waged on the people and fewer civilian casualties. This is the goal of the extremists, to draw the big military units in so that they can recruit. And you are right, there will be an initial increase in terror acts when you pull out, no getting around that, but it has to happen and the sooner the better. I was hopeful that the UNSC resolution (#2254 I think) on ending the Syrian conflict would mean something but alas, just talk.

        • Caro says:

          I feel saseiftid after reading that one.

      • ACW says:

        To explain is not to justify or excuse.
        I’m deeply disappointed in the quality of the comments.

  27. Mike Sutton says:

    Has the author and the editors of Skeptic really not read Geoffrey Pearson’s (1983) book ‘Hooligan: a history of respectable fears’? .

    I ask this telling question because this essay replicates Pearson’s core themes again and again. Why not rename it ‘Terrorism, a history of respectable fears?’

    It is the duty of all authors to seek out the cognate labors of others in every direction. Failure to do so results in the creation of myths that those replicators are, in fact, originators.

    My core argument here is that myths of all kinds – possibly worse if started in a magazine named “Skeptic” – create the general tolerance of claptrap via an enabling environment in which claptrap can go unchecked and flourish. And claptrap can lead to terrorism through radicalisation by claptrap!

    Surely Pearson’s original ideas have knowledge contaminated the brain of Tina Dupay. These are Pearson’s original ideas and should be acknowledged as such.

    Perhaps myths of all kinds are part of the spectrum of ‘states of denial’ (Cohen 2001) of facts. States of denial and consequent ‘guilt neutralization’ techniques (Sykes and Matza) are perhaps at the far of that spectrum. A spectrum that explains where hate crime and terrorism is found in the order of causal factors. I believe that the poor scholarship that is typical of Skpetic Magazine is part of the problem – Skeptic Magazine done for all the right reasons, with the best of intentions – what could possibly go wrong?
    could possibly go wrong?

  28. Dr. Juan Pelotas says:

    The article reflects nothing more than a seemingly intelligent circumstantial thought process, many times a true thought derailment with the apearance of substance, which is disapointly lacking. The author is simply playing with words and fragmentary concepts repeated endlesly in a vicious circle. It seems to be a peculiar pseudo- intellectual trend nowadays that would be interesting to investigate…

    • George Sievers says:

      Project much?

    • Mark Tichenor says:

      I agree with you. Whenever someone goes to such lengths to “narrowly” set up their scenario and thesis, it is likely equally “weak”. Never was there and never will there be “times” free of pain, guilt and death. But, for example, in the 1950s, in my experience, all those I knew seemed to reflect an optimistic meaning to life. And a positive sense about their futures. I myself feel I leveraged this to bank, overall, a lifetime of great memories. I thank the times, my parents and my extended family for most of this, but our overall community reflected the same values.

      • kamwick says:

        Key point being “all those I knew”. Many have that same feeling about their youth, and certainly to a child in a secure, white neighborhood, the 50’s will have seemed more optimistic. We had, after all, just survived a major war.

        However, the author accurately points out that the 50’s also had its share of horror, and for people of color, I’d imagine that their experience of the 50’s was not as ‘optimistic’.

      • DanVignau says:

        You are obviously white and straight. I’ll bet you did not pay for your own college.

      • James says:

        Where you living in a white Iowa town. I grew up in Georgia and remember the racism, the expected school prayers, the McCarthy witch hunts, the constant fear of “communists”, the dread of nuclear war, the Korean conflict, the all white TV, the semi slavery of blacks, the Blue laws favoring Christians,…I would never want to return to those days.

    • ACW says:

      I’ve read your comment three times and it still doesn’t make sense. Whereas I read the article only once and it made perfect sense.
      I’m not sure whether it’s just a typo (as is ‘appearance), but ‘disapointly’ is not a word in English.
      C minus.

    • Dolci says:

      …as your comments would be, as well.

    • Karl W Schmiedeskamp says:

      I think you are spot on Dr. Pelatos. I must add, however, that a clearer deffinition of radicalization is worth doing & Dupuy’s article is a start.

    • Red says:

      Excellent, I would only add the cognitive dissonance of a westerner attempting to conflate western history and values as an attempt to measure religious and cultural thought that are, apparently, foreign to the author, is a common error I find among these opinion pieces..

    • Joe says:

      Exactly, thank you for making my response unnecessary.

    • kennwrite says:

      The gist of this article, aside from its light caustic tone, a device that works well for satirists, is to poke fun at those who believe the past offered us better days than the present. A careful reading of this article demonstrates numerous examples of why the argument it presents is valud.

  29. Tsvi Bisk says:

    In the 19th and 20th centuries, worship of the past became the new idol worship of many right-wing political leaders and intellectuals. Nostalgia was the virus that eventually produced the disease of Fascism. In the late 20th and early 21st century it also became a trademark of New Age environmentalism and certain segments of the anti-growth left. As historian Peter Gay noted: “Nostalgia runs deep in the human psyche; it is almost irresistible, all the more so because it generally masquerades as rational criticism of the present (where there is always much to criticize) and rational praise of the past (where there is always much to praise).” He continued: “But nostalgia drives reasonable criticism and … Praise to unreasonable lengths: it converts healthy dissatisfactions into an atavistic longing for a simpler condition, for a childhood of innocence and happiness remembered in all its crystalline purity precisely because it never existed.” He understood that “Nostalgia is the most sophistic, most deceptive form regression can take.” Economic historian Eric Roll agreed with Gay and wrote that radical economic and social change generates dissatisfaction that leads people to idealize the past since they “cannot understand the forces which are transforming their own society”. He caught much of the current New Age radical environmental mindset when he wrote that “The German Romantics of the nineteenth century urged…going back to the…Middle Ages…many of the suggestions for social reform that are finding adherents today have the same romantic quality.”

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