I coined this term about a year ago as a descriptor for a person or entity whose superficial trappings of progressive liberalism conceal a corrupt, harmful, downright diabolical core. In my community of Eugene Oregon, Birkenstocks (upscale sandals) are emblematic of a suite of socio-political attitudes whose possessors pride themselves on their enlightenment and benevolence. For the most part they also deny the existence of the Devil, the archetypal Evil One with a cloven hoof or other bestial foot who conceals his identity and intentions beneath a deceptively attractive exterior.
With respect to a literal Devil, I suppose I am an agnostic. I’ve never seen or knowingly communicated with a supernatural evil spirit, nor do I know anyone whose testimony I trust who has. Evil, however, is very real to me. When confronted with an example of evil that evinces superhuman cunning, I am reminded of William Paley’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Paley) 1802 argument for intelligent design, namely, that a person finding a watch in the woods would assume the existence of a craftsman; why then should we not assume some master intelligence responsible for a mouse, which is far more complex? By analogy, if a bank is robbed and the teller shot, we assume a bank robber, a level of malfeasance consistent with human capabilities. When, on the other hand, I learn that thousands of innocent people are perishing miserably from starvation and bombing raids in Yemen, that my taxpayer dollars are helping fund this, and that the only positive result that can be discerned is increased profits to arms manufacturers and oil barons, I begin to wonder if some literal satanic force is working behind the scenes, orchestrating a web whose individual components, at least for the most part, are unaware of the manipulation.
Two seemingly unrelated threads in public policy brought the image of malevolent intelligent design in human affairs to my attention. The first, on which I have written before, is the soaring growth in for-profit online educational entities, which soak up government aid, create massive individual indebtedness, exploit their academic employees, and deliver a substandard educational experience. The whole mildewed cardboard empire is built upon deception, unsustainable debt, and naïve consumers who commit themselves, and other people’s money, without the opportunity to be adequately informed.
Until fairly recently, this trend was mainly confined to postsecondary education, notably career and trade colleges. However, this industry also has its eyes on the public school system. I discovered this when I was running for state legislature here in Oregon and received feelers from the online education industry promising to further my (unsuccessful) campaign if I would pledge to support various measures for expanding the presence of online services in the charter school system. Charter schools receive public funds. Ostensibly they are parent driven, nonprofit, and serve children who are having difficulties in conventional public schools. Many charter schools, however, contract out for curricular services, and the contractors have a vested interest in providing those services at the lowest possible cost. One proposal I saw was to remove teacher certification requirements from online high school programs, which would enable the contractors to chip away at pay and working conditions – as has definitely happened in online college programs. The net result, in any case, would be that I am still paying as much or more in taxes to educate young Oregonians, young people are receiving, on the average, an inferior education, the frontline workers are increasingly exploited, and investors, mostly not part of the local community, reap the benefits.
The other component of the pattern that seems to be emerging is increasingly coercive vaccination schedules, about which many parents have valid reservations. Some of these are religious. Some are based on personal experience, or on skepticism that what the state, the school system, and the local medical monopoly is telling the public is the whole truth. Every time there is an outbreak of a communicable disease, against which a vaccine not only exists but is being aggressively marketed, there is a predictable outcry calling for increased coercion against people who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to receive that particular vaccine.
It makes no difference to the media outcry if the majority of those involved in the outbreak were in fact vaccinated. Two years ago we had an outbreak of meningitis on the University of Oregon campus, in which one student died. The University already required meningitis protection to enroll full time or live in residence halls, but the existing vaccine proved ineffective. They then instituted a massive revaccination campaign with a newer formulation, while acknowledging (if you read the fine print) that it was too late in the term for immunity to kick in before students dispersed for the summer. In general, until there is an actual outbreak, we have no way of knowing how effective the dozens of vaccines we require of children and certain classes of adults are. For influenza, which is routinely present in the environment, effectiveness has been declining in general and seems to decline with successive immunization; it is now at 47% for the commonest strain.
Our State legislature is now talking about removing all exemptions to required vaccinations, not only in public schools, but in bricks and mortar private schools, leaving a parent with objections to any vaccine no choice but to homeschool their student or enroll him or her in an online program. Not all of us have the leisure and training to effectively homeschool our children. The temptation to enroll in an online school rather than expose our children to coercive, possibly ineffective, and potentially harmful barrage of vaccines is there. So is a huge market if these parents then become the consumers of the kiddie equivalent of Corinthian Colleges and the University of Phoenix, with subsidies from your local school district and ultimately local taxpayers.
Ensuring the best possible educations for young people is a laudable aim. Protecting them against debilitating diseases is a laudable aim. Taken together, however, the individual public programs to further these aims present a pattern of diverting resources into efforts which have no positive net effect on furthering the underlying goal, but have the potential to be very lucrative to outside entities at the expense of the community which is being parasitized. If I were cynical, and motivated only by my own bottom line, I think I would be looking at an investment consortium with a large presence in both the vaccine industry and the for-profit online education sector.
Image is from Medieval manuscripts blog