The Truth, Mainly - 12/03/1990

The most dangerous addiction? It's simple — The Dumb Easy Fix
by Leon Satterfield

It's antacid time again in Academe. The semester is winding down and term papers are coming due. Good growing weather for a Lincoln entrepreneur named James Cannon who provides bogus scholarship to students willing to pay $12 a page. He says he's just selling a commodity (Lincoln Star, March 4, 1989, Page 1).

A student finds one of Cannon's business cards on campus and indignantly tells me about it. I fall into a fantasy that goes like this:

James Cannon, in terrible pain With an impacted first molar, seeks relief in a dentist's office. A dental assistant, his own face hidden behind a mask, swathes Cannon's mouth in a sheet of latex. A young dentist, who looks an awful lot like Mad magazine's Alfred E. Newman, peers into the abyss.

"This doesn't look too difficult," he says, just before he drops his pointed probe onto the impacted molar. "Uh Oh," he says, and grins a What-Me- WOITy? grin.

Cannon shrieks, first in pain, then in recognition that the grin is the same one he saw last spring on the face of a dental student who looked an awful lot like Alfred E. Newman and who had just purchased a paper to turn in as the major project of his final year of dental school. In his agony, Cannon remembers the title: "The Painless Treatment of Impacted First Molars: Theory and Practice." He tries to rise out of the chair, and I, who have been cleverly disguised as the dental assistant, whip off my mask and white gown to reveal my Captain Integrity uniform.

"Simply selling a commodity, eh ?" I yell triumphantly. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap, you dirty, rotten panderer of plagiarism!"

The fantasy ends here, partly because I suspect Cannon"is about to point out that I have just plagiarized Galatians 6:7, partly because I am about to succumb to terminal self-righteousness, but mainly because I have a sudden flash of Divine Illumination and see Cannon's enterprise in a different light.

Don't get me wrong. I think what he's doing is scandalous. I think it's outrageous. I think it's Republican.

He's appealing to something deep in our psyche that wants things simple, the Alfred E. Newman in us that's addicted to the Dumb Easy Fix — the most dangerous addiction of all. A lazy student buys a bogus paper because he wants a good grade and ultimately a good career. He might be able to get them through tedious work and hard thinking, but he'd rather avoid that trouble and just pay money. And in my flash of insight I realize this: Cannon is merely following the lead of our recent administrations.

Ronald Reagan offered us the same kind of Dumb Easy Fixes and we elected him by overwhelming majorities — twice. Get government off our backs, he told us, and everything will come up roses. We'll deregulate the free market, spend lots of money on new toys for the military, and prosperity will come trickling down on our heads. Congress won't give money to the Contras? No problem. We'll give them the proceeds from secret sales of arms to the Iranians. The national debt? Hey, be happy. Don't worry. It's morning in America.

And George Bush promises the same kind of Dumb Easy Fix. Read his lips on taxes and somehow the debt will dissolve. Get tough on users, invade Panama, imprison Noriega, and the drug problem will go away. Don't like those hikes in oil prices? By golly, we'll send 430,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, tell Saddam we've had it, and say we're not bluffing. Then he'll have to admit, won't he, that we Western Christians still know more about running the Persian Gulf than Middle Eastern Moslems do.

The Alfred E. Newman in us likes Dumb Easy Fixes for the same reason a few students like Cannon's papers: They help us avoid tedious work and hard thinking and they appeal to our flawed sense of cause and effect. As addicts, we delude ourselves into thinking the desired effect will result, not because it's a logical outcome, but because if we want it badly enough, it will happen.

So don't undermine our confidence by suggesting our Dumb Easy Fixes may not work in the long run. We don't like to count our chickens until they come home to roost.

After all, we've not yet had to layout tax money for the savings and loan bailout, so maybe Reagan's deregulation policies really are working. The shooting hasn't yet started in the Persian Gulf, so maybe we shouldn't worry about putting 430,000 troops into that unfriendly environment. The dentist who buys Cannon's commodity doesn't know diddly-squat about impacted first molars, but the malpractice suit hasn't yet been filed, so he sti11 grins his Alfred E. Newman grin.

And the nation grins too, maybe a little nervously, while an Executive Order repeals Galatians 6:7 and we're assured that we'll reap roses even while we sow what look like land mines.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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