The Breakfast Table

Exposing Dishonesties and Irrationalities

Dear Natalie,

OK. All right. Public hysteria and unthinking extremism are bad, bad, bad. But surely we go too far if we see them as the central force and effect of the war on drugs, or efforts to stop schoolyard bullying, or the campaign against child pornography. There is, I think, no worthwhile social policy that is not demagogued or distorted by some people in some way—frequently by powerful people. That’s the way ideas in society go. The beauty of writing—and journalism in particular—though, is its ability to expose and puncture the dishonesties and irrationalities.

I remember being out and around the week after Sept. 11. There were several nervous days when anyone who looked like an Arab (including a brown-skinned Indian-American like me) found him- or herself at risk of being hassled, taunted, searched, detained, assaulted even, but mostly just not trusted. One patient, whose dim room I had walked into late at night in order to check on her, actually thought I had come to kill her. But the news was quickly filled with the shocking stories of irrational extremes, and you could feel the cloud of madness lift. The fear and suspicion largely evaporated, and before the end of September came, we went mostly back to being Americans again.

All this reminds me what a pleasure it has been getting to discuss with you the news of this week. Would’ve been even more fun to keep going. There’s still so much to talk about. We never got to say more about your bug love. Or your obsession with John Ashcroft. Or the sad death of Thor Heyerdahl. Or medical privacy regulations—I seem to be one of the few Democrats who thinks they really did go overboard. Or the diminishing Colin Powell. Or that endlessly fascinating subject Botox. But it has been great. Thank you for a fabulous week.