Friday, February 02, 2007

Ilana Mercer: Hornbeck and the tyranny of low expectations

Guess who's back...

That's right, Ilana Mercer, with another article explaining why we shouldn't treat Shawn Hornbeck as anything but a selfish, willful child who is responsible for his continued captiv..., wait... Ilana doesn't believe Shawn was held captive. I think she called his situation a "predicament" in one of her earlier articles.

In Defense Of Bill O'Reilly
Hornbeck: Too Busy Playing Dragon Ball Z and Gears of War
In Defense of Bill O'Reilly

Let's take this latest article one paragraph at a time:
(Apparently, I lack the correct browser to change the font or style of the letters, so I'll have to use lines to set Ilana's words apart from my own - I'm sure neither of us wants to be mistaken for the other.)

Ilana writes:
Note to Keith Olbermann: some things are true, even if Bill “Orally” says them. The adorable Olbermann launched yet another coruscating attack on Bill, because he promised to do a segment on kids who, unlike Shawn Hornbeck, mustered the strength to escape their abductors. As I did in last week’s column, where I also defended O’Reilly for opposing the therapeutic establishment in its efforts not to diminish, but to trash, the concept of individual responsibility. (Bill must be hanging out at his old haunt, WorldNetDaily.)

While it is true that Shawn did not escape his captor, we don't know whether unmustered strength had anything to do with the reason he did not. Perhaps his 11 - 15 year old reasoning told him that to do so would endanger himself or someone else.

I know that Ms. Mercer does not subscribe to very much psychology, and she seems particularly hostile to any psychological thinking that might mitigate or take the place of personal responsibility (particularly when it entails placing blame), but the fact is, threats are effective. (In fact, a little further down in this article, Ilana explains why her daughter would find a way to call home, no matter what. The reason? The threat of what Mama Mercer would do to the girl once she returned home, if she did not call.) If Shawn believed that Devlin would kill his family, or anyone else, for that matter, even cold hard reason might tell him that behaving as Devlin told him would be the smartest course of action.

Have I any proof that Devlin threatened Shawn? I do not.
Does Ms. Mercer have any proof that Shawn was simply too lazy to muster the strength, or lacked the will to escape? She does not.
Does she imply that Shawn was responsible for his continued captivity because he failed to act? Indeed, she does.

Ilana Blog update 2/2/07 : 9:45pm: I submitted a comment to the blog version of this article about 30 minutes ago. Deleted. I get the feeling Ilana doesn't value my comments, anymore. I'm going to submit it again, on the off chance it was a malfunction.

Ilana continues:
So here’s another angle for Bill. With the “Hildebeest” adding her voice to the deafening din about “Our Children,” how about sparing a thought for Hornbeck’s poor parents? This really dates me, doesn’t it? First I submit that teenagers have a modicum of free will and an ability to tell right from wrong. Next, I venture that the boy wasn’t exactly finely tuned to his parents’ anguish.

A parent in this situation is beside himself with worry. All he or she can think of is, “Is my baby alive; is he warm enough.” And, “Please God don’t let him suffer.” As a parent, I’d be driven to distraction by thoughts of my daughter in agony. Daily life would come to a stand still. I also know this:

I’d be furious to learn that my daughter posted a message on mom’s website, but failed to notify me she was alive. Recall, in a forum on the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation Web site, the boy posted a note asking his parents how long they were planning to look for their son. (Shawn also had a Member Profile on a website called “”)

I got nothin' on the "Hildebeest" bit... (Good to know Ms. Mercer is not always the intellectual she plays, and can wallow in the filth of personal attack with the rest of 'em, though)

How does Ilana know what Shawn thought or felt about his parent's anguish? She doesn't. Ilana's got her scenario, of course, but it's one she created, and it may or may not bear any resemblence to actual fact. Ilana believes that Shawn had the ability to end his parent's suffering. Maybe he did. She also believes that Shawn knew it, and chose to let them suffer. To her, Shawn was a bad child.

Fortunate for Shawn, Ilana Mercer did not give him life, and the woman who did does not appear to be furious with her son for not clearly notifying her of his whereabouts. Fortunate for Shawn, his mother prefers to give her child compassion rather than recrimination, even if it does make him soft and weak. I shudder to imagine what Ms. Mercer would do if Shawn actually were her child. While she--and her daughter, it seems: My Daughter Weighs In On Hornbeck--are convinced that it could never've happened to them, I am far less sure that all her teaching about free will and the irrepressable spirit of humanity would make a dime's worth of difference, when the monster meets the intended victim.

Ilana, continued:
There Shawn’s parents were, dying a slow death every day—because, face it, kids have that effect; they burrow in your soul like no one else. So these folks are pining away, and the little so-and-so can’t bring himself to append this to his message, “Your son is alive, don’t sweat … like, whatever. Sorry gotta run; I have a game of Dragon Ball Z and Gears of War on the go with my buddy Tony.”

Then it dawned on me that my girl, who still checks in with me even though she’s an adult, would have let me know she was alive. She’d be too scared not to, on the off chance that she’d be returned to me one day. And because she was brought up to think rationally, she’d know better than to try this line on me: “Mom, I was suffering that syndrome the nice lady on TV said I had, and that prevented me from calling you for 4 years.” Thin gruel, indeed.

Ilana writes as though this little so-and-so--Shawn, the child who was kidnapped--was a teen away at summer camp who neglected to get in touch with the folks, rather than what he was; an 11, 12, 13, 14 year old kid who was taken from everything he'd ever known, against his will, and made to live with and rely on this guy who probably didn't have the best of intentions. I somehow doubt that Shawn's life with this guy was all video games and cookies.

Though Ilana makes with the cute, cutting commentary as to Shawn's attitude toward his parent's whilst "away," the fact is, something caused Shawn to act as he did. We could speculate, like Ilana, that Shawn found paradise with Devlin, and just didn't give a damn about those people he used to live with... Hell, why bother with them, when there were video games to play, and school to miss?

We could also create an alternate scenario... One that might also explain why Shawn might stay right where he was, not doing anything to upset the delicate balance, smiling, so that no one knew, so that Devlin wouldn't...

Yeah, we could make shit up, like Ilana, to explain Shawn's behavior, but I prefer to let Shawn, and Ben, and the police, & Devlin tell us what really happened. They were there... They know far more than we do about the circumstances.

I'm sure Ilana's child(ren) was brought up far better & more rationally than Shawn. Hell, to hear her & her daughter tell it, their upbringing was better than many of ours or our children's. I would expect nothing less. I wish all of Ilana's children well. But no matter what Ilana believes, there are times when fear can kick the shit out of rational thought & good breeding. There are many things a person will do when they know the gun is at their head. There are almost as many things a person will do when they aren't sure, but think it might be.

At what point does it become irrational to do whatever you believe will save a life (yours, or someone else's)?
What if the gun is at your head?
What if it's at your mom's head?
What if it's not at your mom's head right now, but you've seen pictures of the man with the gun in your mom's house?
What if your told "I know where your mom lives, and I will kill her?"
At what point do you stop believing someone will die?

What if your not _____ years old, but 11 or 12?

At what point does it become rational to take a chance with your mom's life?

Do I know that Shawn was threatened? I do not, any more than Ilana knows Shawn was NOT threatened. We haven't the facts, either of us. But only one of us is passing judgement without them.

My point is, does Ilana believe there is nothing that motivates behavior besides personal responsibility? Does emotion play no part at all? And if it does, are their no psychological factors that affect one's emotions? I guess I know what Ilana thinks, but I don't buy it.

As far as syndromes, we differ. I believe in some of 'em, I could probably be convinced either way on others, and there are some that're bunk. It means little that Ilana and her daughter share a distrust of psychology. Her article is about Shawn, and his parents. If she cannot tell us what they believe about psychological syndromes, Ilana's story about her daughter "knowing better" is useless.

Ilana, some more:
Small children during the Holocaust performed amazing acts of bravery, such as smuggling food for their families in and out the ghettos. Some were shot on site by the Nazis. In a story titled "the brave children of Afghanistan,” the BBC tells of the heroism of poverty stricken, severely malnourished, war-damaged kids in Kabul. They shine shoes to support their families, earning $1 a day. Asked “how he felt about his situation,” the one little boy replied: “I am happy and not happy. Happy because I work, but not happy because I cannot earn enough to bring my family everything they need.”

There is no debate that there are heroic children in the world. Even if Ilana can convince others that Shawn isn't one of them, so what? What is Ilana trying to prove, anyway?

Personally, I'm glad Shawn survived his ordeal. There are many kidnapped children who are found dead. There are many others who are never found, at all. What does free will and personal responsibility tell us about them? How many tried to escape or get help, and were killed for it? Should we judge them heros for trying, or fools for failing? How many accepted their fate and died weak and in fear? Are they just more children like Shawn, who didn't muster up the strength to escape? If we're going to judge Shawn, shouldn't we judge these children, as well?

And what of all the children who're being abused by one of their parents? Are they to be judged for not getting out, too?

Where does all of Ilana's judging of the VICTIMS of crimes stop?
At what point does she blame the criminal?

More Ilana:
Yet people claim that the lad in question, Shawn, was incapable of contacting his hapless parents for 4 years, not even to let them know he was alive. Come now! I’m not here advocating such a developed—or defeating, to some—sense of duty in small children as evinced by the Afghani kids. Nor am I implying children are miniature adults; they are developmentally different from grownups. But neither is a teenager an ameba. The human spirit is irrepressible, in children too.

Speaking for myself, I only say that he didn't contact them. I don't know why he didn't, or whether--given his predicament--he believed he could've. Perhaps Shawn or his parents will talk about it one day... In the meantime, implying that one knows he could've contacted them, or that one knows Shawn believed there would be no physical or emotional cost for doing so, is just more guessing in the abscence of facts. Why guess?

Ilana says the human spirit is irrepressable.
What does that mean? Does an irrepressable spirit give a child wisdom or physical maturity? Does it make him understand human nature any better, or give him anything other than a will to live?

Shawn Hornbeck lived. His irrepressable spirit is intact.

My point when I first asked Ilana about children being minature adults was for her to explain what role child development might play in Shawn's situation. (For my money, Ilana is treating Shawn as though he was her. Not an 11-15 year old child, but an adult with a firm life philosophy that enshrines free will above all else. Both here and in the first article, Ilana fails to answer the question, except to say kids are not adults. While that is one tiny step, Ilana needs to explain how children are different, and what a free willed 11 year old with an irrepressable spirit really knows about escaping from a predator.

Ilana Blog update 2/3/07 : 12:38am
Second submission deleted. Ilana is too cowardly to defend her thoughts on her moderated blog.
Too bad...

Ilana, the last of it:
An anonymous sage said that “expectations tend to be self-fulfilling”: expect nothing and you’ll get nothing. In the United States, if kids so much as dial 911 in an emergency, they are decorated for bravery. Mitchell Hults, the boy who gave police the description of the perpetrator’s white truck, has been hailed as a hero by the sheriff and showered with awards and gifts. This, for merely reporting what he saw! If the consensus in society is that doing the bare minimum is an act of supreme courage; then failing to perform basic obligations must be considered the norm.

In The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich A. Hayek insisted that “The assigning of responsibility is based, not on what we know to be true in a particular case, but on what we believe will be the probable effects of encouraging people to behave rationally and considerately.” In other words, don’t fall for the tyranny of low expectations; let your teenagers know you expect them to behave rationally and considerately.

While I think it was a little much for Mitchell to get a free truck, I am glad that his actions were rewarded. Yes, in a better world, children (& adults) wouldn't need rewards for performing a civic act like calling the police with information they witnessed, but in a perfect world, no one would be shameful enough to verbally revictimize a child who recently spent several years with his kidnapper, for... Hell, I can't even figure out what it is Ms Mercer is getting out of writing these diatribes about Shawn... Frankly, I though libertarians believed the right to tell a person how to conduct their business stopped at the end of their most protrusive body part. "You judge you, and I'll judge me, and we'll both get along just fine."

Unfortunately, we live in a place and time where one can easily be second guessed for stickin' one's neck out, so some folks need a little reward to remind them to do the right thing. All the expectation in the world isn't going to help that, as long as there are so many judgemental folks...

With respect to Mr. Hayek, I don't believe that one need give up on the facts of a particular case (as Ms Mercer so willingly seems to've done) to have high expectations in all cases. Responsibility shouldn't be assigned based on ideal situations, because ideal situations do not exist. Responsibility is a fact based, not faith based.

Ilana Blog update 3
If Mohammed won't come to the mountain...
I'll drop Ms Mercer an invite

UPDATE: This is the comment Ilana rejected twice over at her blog.
I understand that you don't hold much regard for the psychological theories that some use to explain why Shawn Hornbeck failed to meet the standards you set for him. In their place, you believe in the immutable truth that this child is endowed with free will and a sense of right and wrong.

But your comments talk about Shawn as though you believe he used his free will to choose, and chose wrong. You write as though you’ve somehow divined his motives for acting as he did, judged him, and are now telling your readers he is a bad child.

I contend that you do not have the requisite information to know why Shawn acted as he did, any more than “that nice lady on TV.” Like her, you have very strong beliefs about the nature of man’s relationship to his world (call them immutable truths, if you prefer), and like her, you are making your beliefs fit Shawn’s predicament.

Why judge Shawn or his behavior, particularly so soon after his release? Devlin will go to trial. Shawn and Ben will tell their stories. Why guess as to why Shawn didn’t write an e-mail to his parents? Shawn will probably tell you, in his own words. When he does, you are free to scoff at his foolish excuses and poor reasoning. But at least you’ll be scoffing at Shawn’s description of his experiences, which makes far more sense than scoffing at the events as you imagine them.

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