Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Orthorexia: A New Religious Practice

It seems normal and natural to call it an addiction, but the newly identified eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa seems more like a way to practice a secular religion-- while not thinking that one is doing so.

One suspects that practitioners experience something like a religious experience while treating themselves to severe malnourishment.

Orthorexia nervosa is an effort to purify one’s body through dieting, by only eating certain healthy foods. I suspect that the condition, like certain anorexia and bulimia, largely affects women.

You might ask yourself why so many women feel that they need to purify their bodies. The research does not offer a real answer, but if one asks how well these women have been treating their bodies in other contexts, perhaps one can conjure up an answer.

The Independent describes the condition:

The deluge of nutritional and health advice on the internet and in the media could be fuelling a dangerous but as yet unrecognised eating disorder called orthorexia.

Orthorexia nervosa, a term coined in 1997 by Dr Steven Bratman, is a fixation with healthy eating, to the point where it becomes a crippling compulsion, described as “a disease disguised as a virtue”.

It differs from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia in that the goal is not usually to become thin. In fact, ironically, sufferers are initially motivated by a desire to be well, and to consume pure, “clean” foods, often to recover from illness.

Consider the case of food blogger Jordan Younger:

Despite seemingly glowing with health, [Jordan] Younger was struggling. Her lethargy increased and her periods stopped. She also began to be anxious about her routine, panicking when faced with eating a meal she hadn’t planned, or something that didn’t fit in with her rules. Younger gradually began to realise that there was something distinctly unhealthy about her restrictive diet.

“I had developed many fears surrounding food,” Younger told The Independent. “I was becoming more and more limited in what I was comfortable eating. I even joked about it with friends, calling certain foods, like eggs, ‘fear foods’ because I had stayed away from them for so long. It was easy to hide behind the shield of veganism when I was at a restaurant with friends or even grocery shopping for myself. Anything not clean, oil-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and plant-based I dismissed because it wasn’t within my dietary label.”

Apparently, this is a special kind of virtue, special way to adore one’s body. It enacts the vegan notion that vegetable food is good while animal products are bad. By eating only vegetation and throwing away all your leather belts and shoes you will end up on the side of the angels. Unfortunately, you will also end up malnourished.

The article says:

While a diet focussed on natural foods is far from a bad thing, it is when this becomes so obsessive that it can be damaging to health. Some sufferers begin by cutting out a food group, such as grains or animal products, but can eventually end up on a diet so restrictive, containing such a limited number of ‘safe foods’, that they become malnourished. 

Unfortunately, orthorexia is socially acceptable. The article might have noted that anorexics receive a lot of support from their fellow sufferers.

It explains:

One of the problems with orthorexia is that in some ways it is more socially acceptable than other disorders. Stand in any gym locker room and you can overhear a woman admit she allowed herself a piece of fruit that day, or a man bemoan messing up his macros. Instagram has 26 million posts with the #eatclean hashtag (with the implication that anything outside of this is dirty), and food diary apps allow you to micromanage your food intake with no lower calorie limit. 

Recovery takes a long period of time. When an individual subjects her body’s digestive system to that level of abuse, it does not just snap back over night. Amazingly, when Younger shared her struggle to recover with others in a public forum she was attacked:

Younger eventually began a long process of therapy and shifting to a more balanced way of eating, reintroducing eggs, fish and organic chicken, and renaming her brand The Balanced Blonde. It was no easy transition, as she faced a huge backlash and even death threats from some of her fans.

People were not reacting badly because they were worried about Younger’s health. They saw her act as a betrayal, on the order of apostasy. It’s almost as though they saw her as having deconverted from the true faith.

As the World Burns

Islamist terrorism is metastasizing. Russia has become increasingly powerful and menacing.

In response to these threats, the President of the United States has declared war on climate change. Having ensured that Iran will have nuclear weapons and having succeeded in funding Iran-based terrorism to the tune of $150 billion, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in the wilds of Alaska.

Closer to home, American college students are being indoctrinated in political correctness, are obsessing about gender neutral pronouns and are having a great national conversation about Caitlyn Jenner's genitalia.

No matter how you spell it, it sounds like surrender.

Caroline Glick remarked in a Facebook post:

Within 5-10 years, Pakistan will have the third largest nuclear arsenal. Thanks to Obama, Iran will have nuclear weapons and ICBMs.
Egypt will continue to teeter on the brink.

And while US academia obsesses over gender neutral pronouns, Islamic State and its jihadist brethren are captivating the imagination of millions of Muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world.

What could go wrong?

You cannot fight the war on Islamist terrorism without recognizing that you are fighting a war against Islamist terrorism. As Glick points in her column, out the idea of “jihad” must count as one of the most powerfully captivating ideas in the world today:

And the idea of jihad that the Obama administration will not discuss is perhaps the most powerful idea in the world’s marketplace of ideas today.

Perhaps we are so inured to the Obama administration’s dereliction, that we ignore what is happening. Glick explains:

We have arrived at the point where the consequences of the West’s intellectual disarmament at the hands of political correctness begins to have disastrous consequences in the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Speaking last month at the memorial service for the five US marines massacred at a recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, “The meaning of their killing is yet unclear, and what combination of disturbed mind, violent extremism, and hateful ideology was at work, we don’t know.”

US Vice President Joe Biden claimed, the “perverse ideologues...may be able to inspire a single lone wolf, but they can never, never threaten who we are.”
Both men were wrong, and dangerously so.

The meaning of the killings was no mystery.

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot his victims down in cold blood because he was a jihadist. He wrote of his devotion to the Islamic war for global domination on his blog. He downloaded messages from Anwar Awlaki, the American al-Qaida commander killed in a drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

On other fronts, the administration has decided that it’s all about the messaging. If you do not call it evil, it is not evil. If you do not call it Islamist, it is not Islamist. In order to win the war all you need to do is to say we are winning, to put out reports and press releases saying that we are winning, and skew all intelligence reports toward the victory narrative:

Last week the Pentagon’s Inspector General announced it is investigating reports that the Obama administration has required US intelligence agencies to minimize their reporting on the threat IS poses. Intelligence officers have allegedly been ordered to exaggerate the success of the US’s anemic campaign against its bases in Iraq and Syria while understating the threat IS constitutes.

Over the past year, jihadists published the home addresses of American soldiers and officers. On numerous occasions, what an FBI alert referred to as “Middle Eastern men” accosted the wives of US soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan outside of their homes.

Speaking to concerned soldiers last week, Carter again pretended away the problem. While insisting that protecting soldiers is “job one for all of us,” Carter insisted that the threat was limited to “a few troubled losers who are on the Internet too much.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop warned in June that IS may already have sufficient nuclear material to produce a dirty bomb. As we have seen with IS’s wide-scale use of chemical weapons in Iraq, we must assume that its fighters will use all weapons at their disposal.

Had the West – led by the US – been willing to abandon the intellectual straitjacket of political correctness with which it has willingly shackled itself, IS may very well have been a marginal movement able to attract no more than “a few troubled losers who are on the Internet too much.”

In the indoctrination mills that America calls universities, any discussion of these topics will be greeted with outrage. Those who dare bring them up will be charged with Islamophobia.

And yet, the universities are too easy a target. The fault lies with President Obama and his administration’s failure to fight the war against Islamist ideas. If you cannot name it you cannot fight against. If you do not fight against it, you are telling the world that it is acceptable.

We can only hope that Republican presidential candidates will address this issue and will hope Obama to account for what his policies have wrought. It would be better than spending their time forming a circular firing squad and trying to destroy each other. And let's hear about some proposals that are more consequential than capturing an oil field or two.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Daddy Track

On paper it sounds like a good idea. Working men and working women can participate equally in childrearing. Even better, men can take time off from the job to find work-life-balance and become more active parents.

Given an ideology that insists on the absolute sameness of men and women, the idea makes good sense. Why should a woman be expected to compromise her career opportunities by being chained to the home? Why should a man’s career take precedence over a woman’s?

By now, the issue has been somewhat adjudicated, not in the courts, but in the marketplace. As it turns out, more and more companies are willing to adjust men’s schedules in order to allow them more time at home with their children. But, of course, the small minority of men who do so fall behind in career advancement and are looked down on by their colleagues.

Rachel Silverman writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Many men choosing to work part time say they find themselves explaining and renegotiating their schedules or fighting the impression that they’re not committed to their careers, an experience that can be isolating and stigmatizing.

Mr. Good, 52, recalls friendly teasing from colleagues during the decade he worked part time, and even his father said he wouldn’t have made the same choice. His career prospects and pay slowed as his wife’s career flourished; she is now a division vice president of finance at Corning.

Mothers tend to value having a flexible job while men give more weight than women do to a high-paying role, according to the Pew Research Center. Some 47% of mothers described part-time as their ideal work situation; 15% of fathers said the same in a 2012 Pew study.

Naturally, everyone has learned to say the right thing. And yet, unsurprisingly, the men who run companies are not those who took time off to change diapers:

“The vast majority of men say they prioritize their families over work, but the workplace is itself caught in a vicious cycle. The men who do not prioritize their family, they are often in charge of the company,” says Josh Levs, the author of “All In,” a new book about improving father-friendly workplace policies.

Dr. Schumann, an internist, asked his bosses at the University of Chicago to put him on an 80% schedule, something some of his female colleagues had done already. His employer granted his request. However, working reduced hours also slowed his tenure clock and meant a reduction in benefits, he says.

He went back full time less than a year later.

“I felt somewhat marginalized, socially and psychologically and I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously,” says Dr. Schumann, now 46 and the interim president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. In the decade since he went part time, he can recall only one other male colleague who has done so.

It’s not so much the rules or the legislation. It’s the culture. Men who leave meetings early to coach little league or who are not around at the end of the day are marginalized and looked down upon. Evidently, they have taken themselves off the executive leadership track. What would happen to the company if everyone decided to emulate the commitment of a man who is not fully committed to his job?

Silverman closes with the example of a man who bucked the trend and, with the help of his female boss, did not get knocked off the partnership track when he cut down his work hours:

Christian Tinder, now a partner at professional-services firm Ernst & Young LLP in Seattle, shifted to an 80% schedule shortly after his son was born, logging 35 hours a week and staying at home on Fridays.

His boss at the time, Kristin Valente, placed him on important assignments so that his part-time status wouldn’t hinder his path to partner, which he attained the same year he returned to full-time work.

Is Tinker a role model? Is he in the vanguard? In fact, some workers admire the example he set. At it happened, most of them are women:

Mr. Tinder still leaves the office early to coach his children’s basketball teams, even if it means leaving meetings early. Other colleagues have pointed to his example when considering similar work arrangements, although few of them are men.

It is good that the work world allows for exceptions, but, as always, exceptions do not make the rule.

Bret Stephens on Donald Trump

Considering how much some of you respect that New York Times Upper West Side screaming liberal, Frank Bruni, today’s offering comes from a bona fide conservative.

Bret Stephens writes conservative foreign policy commentary for the Wall Street Journal. He is arguably the best foreign policy columnist writing today.  He is anything but a screaming liberal. As best I can tell, he does not live on the Upper West Side. Therefore, you are permitted to read what he writes. You will not be having your mind corrupted with thoughts of dubious provenance.

For the purposes of discussion, I will refrain from commenting on Stephens’ column on the rise of Donald Trump. I post his opinions in order to allow others to have a say on the question.

Stephens pulls no punches. His rhetoric, dare we say, resembles Trump’s:

If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling, you’re appalling.

If you have reached physical maturity and still chuckle at Mr. Trump’s pubescent jokes about Rosie O’Donnell or Heidi Klum, you will never reach mental maturity. If you watched Mr. Trump mock fellow candidate Lindsey Graham’s low poll numbers and didn’t cringe at the lack of class, you are incapable of class. If you think we need to build new airports in Queens the way they build them in Qatar, you should be sent to join the millions of forced laborers who do construction in the Persian Gulf. It would serve you right.

A bit more substance please, Mr. Stephens.

He continues:

He conveys a can-do image. He is the bluntest of the candidates in addressing public fears of cultural and economic dislocation. He toes no line, serves no PAC, abides no ideology, is beholden to no man. He addresses the broad disgust of everyday Americans with their failed political establishment.

And so forth and so on—a parade of semi-sophisticated theories that act as bathroom deodorizer to mask the stench of this candidacy. Mr. Trump is a loudmouth vulgarian appealing to quieter vulgarians. These vulgarians comprise a significant percentage of the GOP base. The leader isn’t the problem. The people are. It takes the demos to make the demagogue.

What does it portend for the Republican Party? Stephens answers:

It says that we may soon have a conservative movement in which the American creed of “give us your tired, your poor” could yield to the Trumpian creed that America must not become a “dumping ground” to poor immigrants from Latin America, as if these millions of hardworking and God-fearing people are a specimen of garbage.

It says that a party that carries on about the importance of e pluribus unum and rails against the identity politics of assorted minorities is increasingly tempted to indulge the paranoid (and losing) identity politics of a dwindling white majority.

It says that a sizable constituency in a party that is supposed to favor a plain reading of the Constitution objects to a plain reading of the 14th Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

It says that a movement that is supposed to believe in defending old-fashioned values and traditions against the assorted degradations of the postmodern left might allow itself to be led by a reality-TV star whose meretricious tastes in trophies, architectural and otherwise, mainly remind me of the aesthetics of Bob Guccione.

It says that a party that is supposed to believe in the incomparable awesomeness of America thinks we are losing the economic hunger games to the brilliant political leadership of . . . Mexico. It says that a movement that is supposed to believe in economic freedom doesn’t believe in the essence of economic freedom: to wit, the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.

It says that many of the same people who have bellyached nonstop for the past seven years about the cult-of-personality president currently in the Oval Office are seriously willing to consider another cult-of-personality figure on the off-chance he’s peddling the cure America needs.

Speaking as a leading voice in the conservative punditocracy, Stephens is optimistic that Republicans will, in the end, not nominate Donald Trump:

Republicans like to think of America as an exceptional nation. And it is, not least in its distaste for demagogues. Donald Trump’s candidacy puts the strength of that distaste to the test.

I offer these remarks with commentary. Feel free to offer your own.

And yet, when conservatives are attacking a candidate and liberals are sitting back enjoying the spectacle, you might give the matter some thought.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Work or Leisure?

Of late psychologists have been surprised to discover that many of their best experiments cannot be replicated. Since scientific knowledge is based on the fact that the experiment that you perform in your lab will, if conducted correctly, produce the same result in my lab, the fact that experiments cannot be replicated suggests that they are something other than science.

For want of a better term, let’s call it ideology. For my part I do not have sufficient data to prove the case one way or another, but I do suspect that in our ideologically driven universities, researchers often skew experiments toward results that affirm bias. I suspect that they do not even know that they are doing it.

Even psychologists whose work seems unimpeachable often seem compelled to put it in the service of leftist ideology. This does not mean that the science is wrong; it means that we need to be more cautious about how we interpret results.

Consider the research performed by Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz about decision-making and choice. Schwartz has shown that when you have too many options, you are likely to make a bad choice. When you face a multitude of options you assume that you do not have to make a choice between two imperfect choices. You will imagine that if you wait long enough something perfect will come along.

Schwartz summarizes his argument:

When people have too much choice, they are paralyzed rather than liberated. They make poor decisions. And even when they overcome paralysis and manage to make good decisions, they are dissatisfied with them. The “paradox” of choice is that even though some choice is essential for human well being, too much choice can be its enemy. And the debilitating effects of too much choice are magnified when people follow another dictate from our cultural ideology and seek out only the “best.” People who look for the best are more paralyzed and less satisfied with decisions than people who look for “good enough”.

One thinks of the dating scene in a large cosmopolitan metropolis. The more singles there are, the more difficult it is to choose one. Young people get the impression that they can always do better and if they choose one person they will be settling.

One might add that Republican primary voters are facing a field where they have too many choices, and thus are more likely to choose poorly… at least until the field is winnowed down.

This does not mean that choice is bad or that it should not be freely exercised. If you have to choose between too many alternatives and too few, you would do better to have too many.

Be that as it may, Schwartz has recently offered some interesting reflections about work in the New York Times. While I think that we ought seriously to question the Gallop survey upon which Schwartz is basing his analysis, namely the one that suggests that 90% of workers the world over hate their jobs, it is still worthwhile to examine his response to an opinion of Adam Smith.

One possibility is that it’s just human nature to dislike work. This was the view of Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, who felt that people were naturally lazy and would work only for pay. “It is the interest of every man,” he wrote in 1776 in “The Wealth of Nations,” “to live as much at his ease as he can.”

Work may be struggle. In fact, it seems always to be struggle. Of course, it is fair that work be compensated, but still that does not mean that people are just in it for the money.

Smith’s view, which is well worth examining, suggests that human beings are naturally lazy, addicted to sloth and would not work if they did not have to. Were one to follow Smith one would have to say that the truth of our existence is vacation, and that we would all jump at the chance to have more leisure time. John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that labor-saving devices would make it possible for people to work fewer hours and to enjoy their leisure more.

The fact is, work-saving devices have created new kinds of jobs. They have not caused people to work less.

These theories, as good as they sound, overlook the fact that when we work we participate in a social organization, employ our skills and energy toward a productive end, and involve ourselves in a myriad of relationships with other people, colleagues, employees, staff, bosses….

As opposed to sitting around the house or the golf course doing nothing but whiling away the time, working, for a social being, is an active way to affirm one’s moral being. Beyond the money, it has much to recommend it.

Schwartz continues to suggest that when management theorists began with the idea that people hate to work they designed methods that forced people to work by rote and deprived them of any discretion over how they did their jobs.

Schwartz explains:

About a century later, it helped shape the scientific management movement, which created systems of manufacture that minimized the need for skill and close attention — things that lazy, pay-driven workers could not be expected to have.

Today, in factories, offices and other workplaces, the details may be different but the overall situation is the same: Work is structured on the assumption that we do it only because we have to. The call center employee is monitored to ensure that he ends each call quickly. The office worker’s keystrokes are overseen to guarantee productivity.

Of course, it is always possible to cherry-pick facts to support an argument. The situation that Schwartz describes does exist, but it is not efficient and it certainly does not exist everywhere. Ideology suggests that capitalism makes workers into cogs in a machine. In fact, capitalism also self-corrects. If it merely exploited workers it would long since ceased to exist.

Given the profit motive and the incentive to have happier workers, most businesses have figured out that structuring work on the Smith assumption does not produce the best products and services. They adapt. They do not need professors, even great professors, to tell them how to run their businesses.

The situation that Schwartz describes must exist in some places, but I find it to be the exception to the rule. I have many clients who discuss the way their jobs are structured. Most of them work for employers who allow them to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

And I, as you, have had occasion to call technical support centers for help with complex problems related to, for example, computers. I know that the calls are monitored, but I have never had the sense, in using Dell support, that the technician was trying to end the call quickly.

Schwartz continues:

To start with, I don’t think most people recognize themselves in Adam Smith’s description of wage-driven idlers. Of course, we care about our wages, and we wouldn’t work without them. But we care about more than money. We want work that is challenging and engaging, that enables us to exercise some discretion and control over what we do, and that provides us opportunities to learn and grow. We want to work with colleagues we respect and with supervisors who respect us. Most of all, we want work that is meaningful — that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way.

We want these things so much that we may even be willing to take home a thinner pay envelope to get them. Lawyers leave white-shoe firms to work with the underclass and underserved. Doctors abandon cushy practices to work in clinics that serve poorer areas. Wall Street analysts move to Washington to work as economic advisers in government.

For some reason, when liberals think about meaningful work they think of charity, of serving the underprivileged, of being a community organizer. They do not imagine that building a factory in which underprivileged people can find remunerated work is better for their self-respect than being on a perpetual dole and being beholden to do-gooders who are so wealthy that they think they no longer have to work for pay.

Producing goods and providing services is meaningful work. It is certainly more meaningful to give a man a job than to offer him charity.

One hastens to add that many employers have discovered that their workers work best when they are given some measure of discretion over how they do their jobs. It’s basic to management theory, as I understand it, to know that good managers allow their employees to do their jobs; they do not tell their employees how to do their jobs.

True enough, there is more to it than wages. But, work becomes meaningful because it allows you to contribute to society, to have your days organized and structured, to provide for yourself and your family and to be part of a group or a team or a company.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Trump or Kasich?

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president has been stumbling lately. Even if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination it looks increasingly like she will be a weak, even a losing candidate.

Meantime, the Republican Party is not bothering with niceties like electability. It does not care whether a candidate might be able to do the job. It is expressing its anger, venting its spleen, rising up in a full-throated rebellion against the powers that be. Those who are not supporting Donald Trump have been flocking to Dr. Ben Carson, a fine man if ever there was one, but one who will never be nominated, never be elected and will never be able to do the job.

Some have been saying that we need to understand how angry the Republican voters are. But anger does not force you to dispense with your rational faculties. After all, the Democrats should be boiling with rage at what Barack Obama’s reign has done to their party. To some extent they are expressing it through Bernie Sanders. And yet, Sanders is not trying to destroy the party establishment. And more savvy Democrats are hard at work doing what has to be done to find a new winning candidate.

You might have thought that the radical left held a monopoly on revolutionary rebelliousness. You would have thought wrong.

This morning the two best New York Times columnists weigh in on the current state of the Republican slugfest. On the right Ross Douthat; on the left Frank Bruni. Both are relatively young but you will agree with me that they are a vast improvement over Tom Friedman.

Douthat looks at the current state of the Republican Party and asks whether it will know how to deal with the Trump challenge. He answers: probably not. For his part Bruni asks which of the Republican candidates is most electable, most competent and most capable of doing the job. He comes up with Ohio governor John Kasich. For my part, and for what it’s worth, I agree with both of them.

Douthat begins by saying that Trump is running as a traitor to his class:

Trump’s appeal is oddly like that of Franklin Roosevelt, in the sense that he’s a rich, well-connected figure — a rich New Yorker, at that — who’s campaigning as a traitor to his class.

Surely, the Republican electorate is reading this as a good sign, a positive sign, a sign that Trump can be trusted.

Douthat adds that Trump is really running a third-party campaign, not a right wing or conservative insurgency. He does not believe that this is good news. He suggests that the two party system, for all its flaws, tends to work better than multi-party systems:

So long as there are only two competitive parties, the political diversity of the country will be channeled through their sluice gates, and the (mostly upper-class, highly-educated, self-consciously globalist) people who run the parties will exercise disproportionate control over which ideas find representation.

He continues:

Elites can have wisdom that populists lack, certain ideas deserve suppression, and multiparty systems are more likely to hand power to extremists or buffoons. (It’s a good thing for the country that neither Henry Wallace’s effectively pro-Soviet leftism nor George Wallace’s segregationist populism outlived their respective third-party bids.)

In a functioning two-party system, the political parties integrate the ideas of outsider or radical elements. Unless they are adopted by a political party these ideas will never become workable.

But, Douthat adds, the system has not been functioning very well of late:

And when the two-party system is functioning at its best, party leaders can integrate compelling third-party ideas, or even reorient a party entirely to react to a public discontented with its options.

But it has been more than four decades since the last such reorientation, and two decades since the last time a third-party candidate saw his ideas even co-opted by the major parties. Across the latter twenty years, the country has endured a series of disasters that had bipartisan fingerprints all over them. Yet the various movements that have arisen in reaction to those failures — the antiwar left, the Tea Party right, Occupy Wall Street – have yet to even unseat an incumbent president, let alone change the basic lines along which the two parties debate.

Enter Donald Trump. To Douthat, Trump is anything but a conservative force. His policies are all over the lot.

In Douthat’s words:

He can wax right wing on immigration one moment and promise to tax hedge fund managers the next. He’ll attack political correctness and then pledge to protect entitlements. He can sound like Pat Buchanan on trade and Bernie Sanders on health care. He regularly attacks the entire Iraq misadventure, in its Bush-era and Obama-era manifestations alike, in a way that neither mainstream Republicans nor Hillary Clinton can plausibly manage.

By now he is looking as though he can win. Douthat suggests that he will not, but that the real question is how the Republican Party will or will not adapt to him. He is not optimistic:

He won’t [win], of course, but it matters a great deal how he loses. In a healthy two-party system, the G.O.P. would treat Trump’s strange success as evidence that the party’s basic orientation may need to change substantially, so that it looks less like a tool of moneyed interests and more like a vehicle for middle American discontent.

In an unhealthy system, the kind I suspect we inhabit, the Republicans will find a way to crush Trump without adapting to his message. In which case the pressure the Donald has tapped will continue to build — and when it bursts, the G.O.P. as we know it may go with it.

Let’s say that the GOP ought to adopt important aspects of the Trump message. Douthat may well be correct to say that it will not be able to do so, and will be destroyed in the process. Allow me to offer a brief footnote: the more Trump trashes the GOP establishment and its elites, the more he treats them like idiots and fools and incompetent bunglers… the less likely it will be that they will be able to integrate Trumpism. It would require them to bow down to a new master. Don’t hold your breath. The problem the GOP is facing is this: it's not about Trump's message; it's about Trump the man. Integrating the first is far easier than integrating the second.

I would add that Trump has been trampling Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican. This matters because those who Trump has been treating with contempt have supporters and those supporters might just decide, if he is the nominee, to withhold their votes.

And besides, if Trump is elected, how do you expect that he will be able to govern a mass of people who he has insulted, diminished and defamed. When he calls them into his office and says: Hey, stupid, do you think they will be filled with a spirit of cooperation? Do you think that they will all roll over and do as he tells them? I suspect that it will look more like herding cats.

While Trump’s heresies are considered to be of little consequence, many conservatives are unhappy with John Kasich because he seems to be insufficiently conservative. Allow me a comment here. Anyone who has actually governed has had to make deals. Someone who has never exercised executive authority in the political world has the luxury of seeming to have attained an uncompromising level of ideological purity. If he has never conducted policy he can dismiss his prior opinions as just that, opinions.

Bruni makes the case of Kasich. Primarily, that he will do better in an election against Hillary or another Democrat than any of the other Republicans. Secondarily, that he is the best qualified to do the job. By implication, Bruni is suggesting that neither Jeb Bush not Scott Walker is likely to emerge victorious from the primary process. Today, that seems clear.

Bruni will probably not vote for Kasich. He undoubtedly finds Kasich more congenial than say a Ted Cruz, but his points bear examination:

He may never make it out of the primaries. The odds are against him. And he has flaws, serious ones, which I’ll get to.

But that doesn’t change the fact — obscured for now by the bedlam of the Republican contest — that the party has someone who’s comporting himself with unexpected nimbleness, who would match up very well against Hillary Clinton or any other Democratic nominee and who could give Republicans hope, if they just gave him a chance.

And also,

He’s now in his second term as the governor of Ohio, and that’s not just any state. Along with Florida, it’s one of the two fiercest battlegrounds in a presidential election, a necessary part of the electoral calculus for Republicans.

He won re-election there last year with 64 percent of the vote. That largely reflected the weakness of his Democratic opponent, but Kasich’s current approval rating in Ohio of 61 percent affirms his ability to please a constituency beyond Republican partisans. His popularity with the voters who know him best came through in a recent poll showing him well ahead of Donald Trump among Ohio Republicans. Meanwhile, Florida Republicans put Jeb Bush, their onetime governor, behind Trump.

As for New Hampshire, where voters have had the best chance to see Kasich in action recently, he looks like someone who can win:

In a poll released early last week, he rose to second place among Republicans in the state, behind Trump. That same survey of New Hampshire voters showed something else interesting: In hypothetical general-election matchups, Clinton beat Trump by two points and Bush by seven. But Kasich beat her by two.

As for his conservative principles, he has a mixed record:

By cutting taxes and controlling spending in Ohio, he proved his conservative bona fides, at least on fiscal issues, something being stressed in a clever new commercial — note the female and black faces, along with the use of the moon landing to capture a yearning for American greatness — that’s being shown in New Hampshire.

But there’s plenty else that pegs him as independent-minded and might make him acceptable, even appealing, to swing voters, whom he seems as well positioned to capture as any of the other Republican candidates are.

He has expressed openness to some kind of path to citizenship for immigrants who came here illegally. He has shown little appetite for the culture wars that other Republicans gleefully fight (although, it must be noted, he formally opposes gay marriage and abortion rights).

Most strikingly, he broke with Republican orthodoxy and with most other Republican governors and accepted the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, a decision he defended in a way that illuminated his skills as a tactician and a communicator. He said that what he’d done made practical and cost-effective sense for Ohio, and that his course was consistent with true Christian principles, which call for helping the downtrodden.

Bruni suggests that a ticket of Kasich and Rubio can be formidable. I suspect that it will do better than Trump and whomever against Hillary and whomever, but also will have the best chance of winning against a Biden and Warren ticket.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Heidegger: The Question of Being a Nazi

It is difficult to underestimate the influence of German philosopher Martin Heidegger on American universities. His ideas may be unintelligible to all but the most seasoned acolyte, but his influence is ubiquitous. Martin Woessner explains it in a the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Once you start looking for them, Heideggerians are everywhere. But identifying what they had in common with each other wasn’t easy. It was hard to tell who even counted as a Heideggerian, anyway, especially in the United States — a nation for which Heidegger himself had little positive to say throughout his life (among other things, we had too much technology and too little history, he thought). 

And also:

Existentialists claimed him as one of their own, despite his protests, but deconstructionists did the same, and by then he was no longer around to protest. Pragmatists sometimes made their peace with him, and occasionally poets and novelists played around with his wordplay-filled writings. I found that those last ones generally had the most fun, partly because they didn’t take it all so terribly seriously. Critical Theory, Hermeneutics, and Phenomenology — theoretical paradigms predicated on seriousness — each genuflected in Heidegger’s direction at one point or another, sometimes skeptically, sometimes not. There was hardly a corner of the American academy that hadn’t been infiltrated by some kind of at least latent Heideggerianism —except, of course, actual philosophy departments, where Heidegger often remained simply too foreign and too suspicious. One had better luck finding him in anthropology, literature, or theology.

For nearly thirty years now, the academics who gloried in Heideggerian thought have had to face the fact that their great hero, their great guru had been a Nazi. Living in Germany during the Third Reich the great philosopher joined the Nazi party and militated on its behalf. Once the war was over and it was impossible to deny what Hitler had wrought, Heidegger remained obdurate in refusing to accept responsibility for his Nazism. He never recanted.

No one should be surprised that an America academy where professors are teaching their students to think like Nazis—without, of course, knowing what they are doing—should end up producing young Brown Shirts who enforce political correctness by shouting down the opposition and by shaming anyone who disagrees with them. Their professors mark down any student who dares propose a politically incorrect idea.

As you know, Heidegger himself was a great fan of Ernst Rohm’s Brown Shirted Storm Troopers and was deeply offended when Hitler liquidated them in the Night of the Long Knives. He loved the street theatre put on by the Brown Shirts and disapproved the work of Himmler’s SS because it was too organized and too industrialized. Heidegger objected to the Holocaust for being insufficiently dramatic, for not being a sufficiently entertaining spectacle.

While Heidegger himself believed that the only true philosophical question was the question of being—God knows what that is— his followers have been tormented by the question of his having been a Nazi.

Of course, we knew it all along. By now, for seven decades. After World War II, Heidegger was banned from teaching philosophy. Occupying, forces wanted to protect gullible students from his Siren Song. After a few years, French philosophers convinced the authorities that his philosophy was so important and that he himself such a great genius that he had to be allowed to teach.

This instituted a split, something like a Cartesian mind/body problem. Heidegger’s thought was so important that we needed to overlook his actions, especially his political actions. Even if his philosophy was teaching students to perform pogroms, it was immaterial. The man was a genius. So what if he had made a few mistakes in his life.

It is no small irony that, at a time of political correctness, when student Brown Shirts will shout you down for using the wrong pronoun, their professors will be spending their time trying to exculpate Heidegger from being a real Nazi.

After the ban on Heidegger’s teaching was lifted, the question of his Nazism was put to sleep for nearly four decades. Then a Venezuelan scholar named Victor Farias published a 1987 book called: Heidegger and Nazism.

It was a damning indictment. So damning, in fact, that many proud practitioners of deconstruction instantly recognized that they had been teaching their students how to think like Nazis. They decamped for the less corrupt waters of neo-colonial studies.

Many others dug in their heels and became staunch defenders of the faith. They were willing to recognize that Heidegger himself had certain Nazi leanings and that he had attempted to put them into action when he was appointed Rector of the University of Freiberg, but they insisted that his philosophy was pure, that it had nothing to do with the Third Reich.

Now for the past couple of years we have seen the beginning of the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, a multivolume set of the musings of the great genius. We see that they contain a number of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi ramblings. To which Woessner sagely points out: if Heidegger did not believe these things and if he did not think that they illuminated his philosophy, why did he leave them to be published?

In Woessner’s words:

By the time of his death in 1976, Heidegger surely knew that the notebooks in which he scribbled his philosophical and political reflections were riddled with dubious, even incriminating remarks. So why, then, did he decide not just to include them in the edition of his collected works that would ensure his fame, but also, and more importantly, to dictate that they appear as the culminating volumes of the decades-long project? What could he have been thinking?

Heidegger may have thought that Hitler betrayed what he (Heidegger) once called the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism, but surely he held fast to the ideal and wanted his work to contribute to its advent.

Since Heidegger had launched a massive pogrom against elements that had contaminated Western philosophy and Western civilization, and since he believed that it had all begun with Socrates, it is hardly surprising that his call for a cultural pogrom against certain elements in the culture should have been directed against attitudes associated with Judaism, among other religions and philosophies.

One notes that a man like Alfred Rosenberg, a member of the Nazi high command, someone who was tried and convicted and executed for war crimes at Nuremberg, blamed Socrates for introducing the contaminant that had ruined  Western thought… because, he explained, Socrates had been influenced by Judaic thinking.

Among the aspects that hold the most seductive appeal for graduate students is the Heideggerian notion that you should not hold the genius accountable for the positions he took, the ideas he entertained and the political actions he engaged. (I have discussed this in my book The Last Psychoanalyst.)

As I argued in my book, Heidegger railed against technology and the Industrial Revolution, products of the corrupt Anglo-Saxon culture. He hated capitalism for the same reason and strongly opposed Zionist Communism. He largely preferred drama to ethics. 

How are we to understand it all? In a new book Peter Trawny, the man who edited some of the Black Notebooks, argued that Heidegger’s errors belonged to a grand historical drama in which failure is a condition for success, and where you never have to say you are sorry:

Woessner writes:

How tolerant you are of this kind of thinking will determine how persuasive you find Trawny’s defense of Heidegger’s errancy, which entails accepting at least three interrelated things: first, that Heidegger’s errancy was a necessary component of his thinking; second, that his thinking was destined by the history of being going back to Ancient Greece; and third, that this tragic narrative exists not just beyond good and evil, but also beyond guilt and responsibility, in an “abyss of freedom.” In other words, true thinking means never having to say you’re sorry (see critics’ responses to Gregory Fried’s “The King Is Dead”).

At times, Trawny’s meditation on Heidegger’s errancy reads almost like a kind of secularized theodicy. He dwells as much on the inescapability of evil as he does on the inevitability of failure. “For Heidegger,” Trawny writes, “evil belongs to thinking. Insofar as it elucidates being, it elucidates evil. For even evil belongs to the world-narrative.” But does this mean that, insofar as I recognize the role I play in the “onto-tragic” narrative of western history, I do not have to take responsibility for my actions? Is it all being’s fault?