Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Total recalls

Let's go for the guys who are really doing damage

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

Have you weighed how terrifying and unsettling life would be if all of us had to operate under the same threat of recall that the folks at Toyota Motor Co. have come now to consider a way of life?

Author Laura Vanderkam reminded us in The Wall Street Journal that on almost any given day of any given year, several different products of almost unimaginable variety are recalled by their manufacturers. She mentioned physical fitness elliptical trainers and steam cleaning mops-both recalled by the thousands on Jan. 21. She might well have reminded us of pain killers, baby toys, tomatoes (or was it peppers?) from Mexico, and Firestone tires.

But see, it's not just manufacturers and producers of goods that run the risk of colossal goof-ups. The purveyors of ideas and worldviews almost certainly are in a position to do as much, or maybe even more, damage among their various customers.

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Fairness suggests I start with myself, and with WORLD. Since mailing our very first issue in March, 1986, we've never had to send out a recall notice. Yet the few inches we devote in almost every issue to "Corrections" and/or "Clarifications" serve as a regular reminder not only of our own finite abilities, but of the injury that we can easily inflict if we don't get our facts right. Recall a reporter or an editor? I pray it won't happen at WORLD. Yet better a recall than broken trust with our readers.

But here are a few categories of folks you should consider putting immediately on your "do-it-today" recall list:

Any federal official, from either party, who sided last week with enlarging the federal debt. Such an official was voting to steal from your children. He or she was pretending that we can, as a matter of year-after-year policy, live way beyond our means and never have to worry about our pretense. If for a while this could be written off as a bad habit, that excuse no longer works. The nation's future is now at peril.

Any scientist who tries to hurry you with an "overwhelming consensus." Ask for evidence about the issue at hand. Don't be embarrassed, stampeded, or railroaded by pseudo-scientists who rush you to conclusions that still don't seem quite right. Just in the last two months, vaunted leaders in both medicine and climate science have been forced to back off cocky claims that only a few weeks earlier many folks would have been afraid to challenge. Mark it down: Whenever someone employs the "bandwagon argument," suggesting that you'd better get on now just because you certainly don't want to be left off, watch out. Especially when a scientist argues that way, crank up the recall machinery!

Anybody in the mass media who seeks to overwhelm you with his or her self-righteous righteousness. Especially, it's way past time to call the bluff of those who pretend that they're all for women's rights, and then keep treating women not at all like equals but like toys to be discarded when something more fascinating comes along. A few cases in point: David Letterman; Sports Illustrated, with its all-too-conscious every-issue leer; all the big networks (including Fox), both for their prime-time programming and even more for their slutty come-ons during news and sports presentations. Time for some recalls.

Everybody in the educational establishment who thinks and works on the assumption that religion has no place in their educational task. With such an assumption, educators are bound to give their young charges desperately wrong answers to all the great questions of life. Recall them before their damage proliferates.

Everybody in the mainstream religious establishment who, when asked for bread, hands out poisonous vipers. Include preachers whose response to needy listeners is to offer an empty gospel of false comfort-or a required regimen of good works. Include professors at once-Christian schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries who trade on the trust of gullible students (and their parents and home churches) but offer husks instead of wholesome and healthy fruit. Hurry! Print up the recall notices!

No need to minimize the danger of cars on the road whose stuck accelerators or faulty brakes might lead to dire consequences for drivers and passengers. We've come to assume the responsibility of the engineers, designers, test drivers, and others involved. But at its worst, such damage will be trivial compared to the effects of those who tamper so fatally with the hearts and minds of men, women, boys, and girls throughout the world. What gives those folks immunity from the recall process?
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.
To hear commentaries by Joel Belz, click here.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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