Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Frexting the Next Craze?

What’s with the exhibitionism? How has it happened that after four decades of intense feminism, young women can’t manage to keep their clothes on? It makes it much more difficult to respect women for their minds.

Having discovered that sexting exposes them to serious risks, women have set out to find a solution.

They did not call for a return to modesty. They did not think that perhaps it was not such a good idea to share pictures of their private parts. They did not wonder whether it was a good thing to act like a wanna-be porn star. They did not question whether they had a moral obligation to provide their boyfriends with masturbation material.

They decided that since they must exercise their constitutional right to expose themselves, they should continue to do so. Only now, they would share the pictures with their girlfriends,, not boys and men.

Naturally, they needed a new name for the practice. They called it frexting— short for, friends sexting.

The pictures are more suggestive than pornographic. More often they are semi-pornographic images of girls in their underwear or lingerie.

Apparently, a girl feels a measure of safety in knowing that her BFF is not going to pass around the frext of her in her bra and panties to some random boy. And, it is less likely that a female friend will use the image as a sexual stimulant.

Undoubtedly, it is more unlikely that a girl will share a frext than that a boy will share a sext… but still… let’s not be too na├»ve.

Girls compete for the attention of boys. They have been known to go to great lengths to attract and hold the interest of males. Do you want to bet your self-respect on the chance that no girl will share a picture of your butt with a boy?

Today’s BFF is tomorrow’s mortal enemy.

Unfortunately, frexting has been foisted on women by other women… on feminist grounds.

When we ask why women sext?-- and now why women frext?—we answer that they are being encouraged to do so by feminists.

You see, it’s all about escaping the dread male gaze? Or else, it’s about overcoming your homophobia?

Get it?

Beca Grimm explains it at Bustle:

So instead of lobbing that cleavage shot perhaps previously meant to entice your romantic partner or a new sexy conquest, you shoot the same image to a totally platonic pal. This is typically associated as behavior between lady friends (because, of all the damaging messages we’re made to internalize from a young age, self-homophobia and fear of displays of intimacy with our friends are mostly reserved for dudes. We DO have to deal with the Male Gaze sexualizing our friendships with other women, but hey, you can’t win ‘em all. At least we aren’t so paranoid about looking “gay” that we can’t have fun with a little harmless frexting….

Anyway, the whole frexting phenomenon—unlike sexting—is wholly very positive, way safer, and actually bond-strengthening. It presents you, whether you’re the frexter or frext receiver, with a really non-dangerous platform to intercept or allocate affirmation and love. It could be gauging an outside opinion about some lingerie you ordered online (guilty) or a jokey butt shot (also…guilty) or showing off a hot new yoga pose you nailed (I wish)—but one thing with frexting always applies: it isn’t meant as a segway to get laid by either party. It circles back to the true adage that women don’t dress up for dudes—it’s more for other women, and for ourselves. 

In truth, shamelessness is never harmless.

Even if the images are not intended to excite, that is, are not pornographic, they are still erotic and might still be seen as a dress (or undress) rehearsal.

At best, girls send out these images in order to receive a confidence boost. They like being told by their girlfriends that they are hotter than hot.
  
If the images are not pornographic, that does not mean that they are not erotic. Samantha Allen believes that frexting is a form of seduction.

In Allen’s words:

In fact, it’s a near certainty that some recipients of “frexts”—one of the more grotesque plural nouns the Internet has given us—are harboring secret crushes on the very friends who are ironically sending them bathtub pics.

I don’t want to encourage the assumption that bi and lesbian women are all in love with their straight friends, but I also hate the de facto assumption of heterosexuality that is frexting.

But even if everyone participating in “frexting” is a certified Kinsey Zero, the denial of any erotic subtext to the practice feels too easy in a culture as Freudian as our own.

Numerous studies have shown that heterosexual women respond sexually to images of other women. In one 2007 experiment, Dr. Meredith Chivers and her colleagues found that heterosexual women in a small sample experienced genital arousal when watching sexual scenes no matter the gender of the actors.

Of course women have always solicited the advice of their girlfriends when it comes to their appearance. And yet, in the past the question was how they would look in public, not how they would look when they undressed in front of a man.

If frexting is supposed to be a solution to a problem, what is it supposed to solve?

Are women insecure about their ability to attract men or to sustain male interest?

Since women have been taught to abandon the trappings of femininity, are they reduced to asserting their gender in the most obvious and vulgar way?

If femininity attracts men and if women have increasingly been pushed toward a life plan that mimics a man’s, then how can they obviate the risk that their womanhood will go unnoticed.

One notes that any reference to a woman’s womanhood in the workplace is now considered to be harassment. And anyone who uses terms that are gender specific are considered to be sexist.

One feels that, what with all the sexting and frexting, women are insisting too much.

And then there’s porn. Through no fault of feminism, young women have increasingly found themselves competing for the male gaze with porn stars.

Some people have insisted that pornography is perfectly harmless and that its easy availability is a step toward sexual liberation.

Some feminists, however, have declared that it disrespects women and promotes sexual violence.

Regardless of where you stand on these issues, when men who grow up on a diet of pornography undoubtedly see women differently.

Many of them are jaded to the point where, when they look at women, they believe that they can look right through their clothing. If women want to be modest, the male gaze, warped by porn, makes it increasingly difficult.

One suspects that women who feel that men have X-ray vision feel a sense of discomfort. Given how ubiquitous porn is how many women still feel that they still possess the keys to a mystery.

Even if we understand that women want to be noticed and admired and adored by men, if we understand that most women would welcome the male gaze from the right man, we must still recognize that the male gaze can no longer be trusted.

How do women learn how to attract or not attract certain male gazes when the corrupted male gaze cannot be taken as an accurate indicator?

A woman can be perfectly attractive, even sexy and not really be noticed. She can dress herself in a way that signals a disinterest in attracting attention and receive the wrong kind of attention.

The male gaze is not infallible. Perhaps that is why women seek out the opinions of other women. Not just to puff up their self-esteem but to navigate the treacherous shoals created by a pornified culture and the ravages it has inflicted on male taste and judgment.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who Is Marsha Linehan and What is DBT?

It’s always been difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of psychotherapy.

By now, most therapists and patients have figured out that psychoanalysis can neither treat nor cure mental illness. They have moved on to medication and cognitive-behavioral treatments (CBT).

New York City psychiatric institutions, previously a bastion of Freudian psychoanalysis, discarded psychoanalysis a couple of decades ago, and replaced it with psychopharmacology and CBT.

It was not all Aaron Beck and Martin Seligman. There was also Marsha Linehan.

I began hearing about Linehan more than a decade ago. Her variation on CBT was strikingly effective with patients suffering from borderline personality disorder. It was called dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT).

Young therapists in New York psychiatric hospitals were flying out to Seattle to learn the technique from Linehan herself.

Yesterday, Will Lippincott testified to the therapeutic benefit of DBT in the New York Times.

The Times has begun a column called “Couch” wherein therapists and patients recount their experiences with treatment. Lippincott’s is dramatic and telling.

It offers an indication of where the therapy profession is today.

Lippincott opens his story:

In January 2012, two weeks after my discharge from a psychiatric hospital in Connecticut, I made a plan to die. My week in an acute care unit that had me on a suicide watch had not diminished my pain.

Back in New York, I stormed out of my therapist’s office and declared I wouldn’t return to the treatment I’d dutifully followed for three decades. Nothing was working, so what was the point?

One is tempted to speculate about what kind of treatment Lippincott was following for three decades, but whatever it was, it left him suicidal... even when accompanied by a stay in a psychiatric hospital.

As a young man Lippincott had made a plan for beating his depression. He was doing talk therapy and taking medication. The plan worked… until it did not:

But I had an ambitious plan to beat it. I’d be a performer: work hard, keep my goals in the line of sight at all times, and make as much money as I could. Professional success would be my first line of defense to keep hopelessness at bay. In parallel, I’d find excellent doctors and be a compliant patient, take my meds and show up for talk therapy.

And for a long time, through my 20s and 30s, that plan worked.

Then, in 2008, a business deal fell through, and I couldn’t shake my disappointment.

This episode recalls an observation made by Helen Block Lewis in her excellent books on shame and guilt in neurosis. She noted in her own practice that some of her patients who had completed psychoanalysis later suffered breakdowns because they did not have the tools or the skills to deal with failure and shame.

Instead of committing suicide Lippincott checked in to the Menninger clinic in Houston. Originally founded in Topeka, KS in 1919, the clinic was originally known for offering psychoanalytically oriented treatment.

When he got there, Lippincott was introduced to dialectical behavior therapy:

A few weeks after I arrived, I was enrolled in a dialectical behavior therapy skills group.

D.B.T. is a therapy that was developed in the 1980s by the psychologist Marsha M. Linehan as she worked with suicidal patients suffering from borderline personality disorder. In spite of my 30 years as an avid, often desperate medical consumer, I’d never heard of it.

I, too am surprised that Lippincott never heard of Marsha Linehan.

Linehan’s approach is a variant on cognitive treatment. While cognitive treatment focuses on the mind and the way it interprets emotion, DBT identifies behaviors that patients employ to deal with their symptoms and helps them to replace them with new, more constructive behaviors.

(For a description of the CBT treatment of social anxiety, see my post yesterday.)

The concept will be familiar to readers of this blog. Linehan is adopting Aristotle’s idea that the best way to overcome bad habits is to replace them with good habits. Note well, her approach does not require patients to discover the root causes of their bad habits.

Lippincott explained:

But Dr. Linehan found that C.B.T. didn’t always work for her suicidal patients. Some found its emphasis on changing their own thinking tantamount to the belittling notion that their pain was “all in their head.” Many of them had experienced very real trauma, and many had tried fruitlessly to change many times before. C.B.T.’s implication that their emotion was “wrong” — merely a consequence of inaccurate thoughts — made the therapist seem unsupportive, and reinforced their sense of isolation and hopelessness….

It’s not that we have the “wrong feelings”; it’s that our feelings flood and overwhelm us, in ways they might not overwhelm someone with different genes, and that it takes longer for those feelings to ebb and subside. In response, she began articulating strategies, or “skills,” for people with these vulnerabilities.

It is in the pivotal moment between experiencing a feeling and acting on it, the theory goes, that I have a chance to “act opposite”: to behave differently from how I have historically, and often destructively, managed distress.

Here, the key concept is to “act opposite.”

When people have, for example, been traumatized, they develop certain behaviors and certain ways of conducting themselves. In principle, the behaviors help them to avoid trauma and mitigate their anguish. In fact, they replicate the trauma.

If, for example, people feel depressed and cut off from others they will likely try to construct relationships by being overly dramatic and overly emotional. They will not know that the best way to develop relationships involves being polite and well-mannered, considerate and respectful.

In a DBT approach, patients are coached to develop those and similar skills.

Lippincott described his own experience. Note that he identified behaviors that accompany his depressed states. He did not attempt to find the root cause of the depression:

When I was depressed, the self-possession I presented to the world belied just how out of control I felt inside. In my search for relief from anxiety, anger or sadness, I’d act impulsively — spending money when I couldn’t afford it, isolating myself from friends, lashing out at those people closest to me, even hurting myself physically. Afterward, I was kept low by regret. My urges to act out may have been satisfied, but now I had a set of new problems: debt, broken relationships, a hangover. Unable to forgive myself for my mistakes, the anger returned.

As for managing his anxiety, Lippincott learned to perform specific actions that would mitigate it:

I followed the strategy of distracting myself with highly specific tasks just long enough — usually for two or three minutes — to lower the intensity of the fear before it overwhelmed me. Depending on where I was — at home, at work or on the street or train — I’d reach for a situationally appropriate activity. And because I can’t rely on my memory when anxiety swells, I’d carry lists on an index card or on my phone: pull out a piece of paper and write down all 50 states and their capitals — in my non-dominant hand; grab ice cubes from the fridge and hold them on the back of my neck; snap the rubber band on my wrist. At the office or in a meeting, I learned to make subtle changes to my posture like bunching my toes, half-smiling to activate facial muscles, even slowing my breathing.

Treatment taught him how to direct his focus away from feelings and toward facts. Reasonably so. You cannot solve problems in the real world by getting in touch with your innermost feelings:

Mindfulness challenges me to accept emotions and situations as they are, not as I want them to be. I’ve learned how to “observe and describe”: to state the nature of a problem with facts, not judgments, so I can determine how best to solve it.

As for emotions, DBT taught Lippincott how to step back from them and to try to understand what they are trying to tell him about reality.

Emotion regulation teaches me how to identify and understand the functions of my emotions, and how to decrease my historic vulnerability to extreme moods. If I’m aware of how I feel physically when I’m sad, or how my speech pattern changes when I’m angry, I can recognize where I am and change course before the intensity of the emotion gets too high.

An Extraordinary Achievement Squandered

If nothing else Barack Obama excels at speechifying. Since that was effectively his only notable qualification for the presidency, he ought at least to be good at that.

Unfortunately, the disconnect between the president’s eloquent rhetoric and facts on the ground grows wider by the day.

As we ponder the fall of Ramadi, as we watch ISIS advance throughout the Middle East and North Africa and as we cringe at the Obama administration efforts to spin it into victory we recall the beautiful words that Barack Obama pronounced at Fort Bragg on December 14, 2011.

There, before an audience of soldiers Obama declared victory in the war in Iraq.

Here are a few of his words:

Today, I’ve come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq.  Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done.  Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis.  Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out.  Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq -- the colors you fought under -- will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad.  Then they’ll begin their journey across an ocean, back home.

Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq.  And over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country.  Some of them are on their way back to Fort Bragg.  As General Helmick said, “They know that the last tactical road march out of Iraq will be a symbol, and they’re going to be a part of history.”

As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history.  Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high.  One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end.  Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people.  America’s war in Iraq will be over.

Obama’s policy, in a few words, was to declare victory and come home. He saw it as a great success. In fact, George Bush was primarily responsible for the state of Iraq in December, 2011. Bush’s policy, vigorously opposed by then Senator Obama had produced a positive outcome.

Obama thought it was very hard to end a war. In fact, it was not. Surrender is not hard. Giving up and walking away is not hard.

Ensuring the peace is hard, but Obama was not up to the task.

He continued:

It’s harder to end a war than begin one.  Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success.  Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  We’re building a new partnership between our nations.  And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.

This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.  And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible.

If Iraq 2011 was an extraordinary achievement, it has been completely squandered by Barack Obama.

As darkness continues to descend on Iraq, we recall Obama’s vision of a new dawn.

And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces.  In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible.

Just last month, some of you -- members of the Falcon Brigade --turned over the Anbar Operations Center to the Iraqis in the type of ceremony that has become commonplace over these last several months.  In an area that was once the heart of the insurgency, a combination of fighting and training, politics and partnership brought the promise of peace.  And here’s what the local Iraqi deputy governor said:  “This is all because of the U.S. forces’ hard work and sacrifice.”

And, of course, what could be more soul-stirring that Obama’s confidence in the professionalism and training of the Iraqi security forces.

Obama might have the gift of eloquence; he surely has a gift of dissimulation and obfuscation. One thing is sure, he does not have the gift of prophecy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An Online Treatment for Social Anxiety

It’s yet another sign, if such were needed, that psychoanalysis is being eclipsed by cognitive therapy and coaching.

Worse yet, the latest innovation in the field mostly dispenses with therapists.

The website is called Joyable. It offers online treatment for social anxiety. I suspect that it is not bringing any joy to mental health professionals.

Based on cognitive-behavioral therapy the Joyable program involves an initial consultation with a coach and then subsequent follow-up discussions about how best to implement the program.

The Atlantic has the story.

It offers the case of Brett Redding:

Redding, a 28-year-old salesman in Seattle, found himself freaking out during normal, everyday conversations. He worried any time his boss wanted to talk. He would dread his regular sales calls, and the city’s booming housing market—he works in construction—seemed to make his ever-increasing meetings all the more crushing. He was suffering social anxiety, a common but debilitating mental illness.

“I was afraid of losing my job because I couldn’t do it,” he says. His meetings with a therapist weren’t working, and he didn’t “want to mess with antidepressants.”

We do not know what kind of therapy Redding had tried. He might have worked with a therapist who wanted him to get in touch with his feelings. (The reduction ab absurdum of this feeling-based treatment appeared in the last episode of Mad Men. I hope it was intended to be a parody, because it was certainly pathetic.)

He might have found a therapist who tried to help him to deal with past traumas, with the “root causes” of the social anxiety.

Neither of these treatments has ever been shown to be very effective. They are certainly not cost-effective.

So, Redding turned to Joyable. Here is what he found:

Joyable’s website, full of affable sans serifs and cheery salmon rectangles, looks Pinterest-esque, at least in its design. Except its text didn’t discuss eye glasses or home decor but “evidence-based” methods shown to reduce social anxiety. I knew those phrases: “Evidence-based” is the watchword of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, the treatment now considered most effective for certain anxiety disorders. Joyable dresses a psychologists’  pitch in a Bay Area startup’s clothes.

Of course, the company founders want to offer their program to clients who are suffering from other forms of mental illness, but for now they are limiting themselves to the cognitive-behavioral treatment of social anxiety:

… right now Joyable is starting with social anxiety. Why? Among other reasons, it’s the most effective: “CBT is the most effective treatment for social anxiety, bar none—it’s more effective than medication and more effective than other forms of therapy,” he says.
The research agrees. Study after study has shown that patients who are trained in CBT really do get over their anxiety, at a better rate than those using more traditional treatments like talk therapy (though many CBT therapists also deploy talk therapy-like methods).

The theory suggests that anxiety does not come from situations but from the way we interpret situations. There may be little to no danger involved in talking on the telephone, but someone with social anxiety will believe that the situation is fraught with danger. In fact, he will become so scared of the potential calamity that he will not be able to talk on the phone.

Of course, he may have reason for being afraid. Any conversation, any social interaction contains possible pitfalls. We do not speak from a script. We speak with a measure of spontaneity. How do you know that the wrong word will not pop out of your mouth at the most inopportune moment?

Some anxiety is normal. Too much anxiety can be crippling.

Social anxiety, as a psychiatric disorder, involves an excessive fear of something that comports some level of danger. Similarly, as Aaron Beck famously remarked, the objects and situations that cause phobias—snakes, spiders, heights, crowds, etc.-- are, in themselves, dangerous. But they are not as dangerous as a phobic individual believes.

Cognitive treatment does not look for the origin of the social anxiety. It tries to influence the way the mind interprets the situation and to allow the individual to appraise risk rationally.

How does the process work?

The Atlantic explains it:

First, it educates clients about how CBT approaches social anxiety with readings and interactive videos. Then, it teaches clients to recognize anxious thoughts and break them down: This, says Shalek, is the “cognitive” part of “cognitive behavioral therapy.” Finally, there’s the behavioral section, when the website guides users through small, offline activities.

“You do things that make you a little bit anxious, and in doing so you realize that the thing you’re afraid of is less likely to happen—and if it does happen, then you can cope with it,” he says. Typical activities in this phase might include getting coffee with a friend, making a phone call, or speaking up at a meeting.

Clients do not have therapists. They have coaches who function like trainers and who guide them through the exercises.

Evidently, therapists are concerned that Joyable will cut into their business. It costs less than consultations with a therapist. In the same way therapists were concerned that AA and other recovery programs would hurt business… first because they are effective and second because they are free.

What kinds of results do these treatments yield? Brett Redding attests:

When Redding used Joyable, his coach was Steve Marks, the company’s other cofounder. Redding began using Joyable in April of last year and finished the program in July. He couldn’t endorse the service enough. One of his final exercises was a meeting he had to have with his boss. He feared getting fired: She expanded his duties and gave him a raise. Last month, nearly a year later, he found himself promoted again.

“I think CBT is so cool,” he says. “It really works. It’s so, so cheesy, but it does.”



Is the GOP Becoming the Vanity Party?

Somehow or other I continue to suspect that Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic candidate for president next year. If Elizabeth Warren should decide to enter the race, the giant swooshing sound you’ll hear would be the hot air being expelled from the Clinton candidacy.

Hillary Clinton continues to stonewall the media. She continues to get very bad press from The New York Times.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to matter. When push comes to shove the Democratic Party will unite behind her candidacy… first, because they like the idea of Hillary; second, because they fear a Republican president nominating candidates for the Supreme Court.

As Jonathan Tobin explains:

The left may not like the Clintons, but so far there is no sign that a critical mass of liberals are prepared to give in to the temptation of examining her views or the corrupt manner with which she and her husband have conducted their affairs. Until proven otherwise, this generation of liberals appears to be focused solely on winning elections in a way that many conservatives still are not.

Candidate wise, Republicans have an embarrassment of riches. Or, is their overcrowded field just an embarrassment.

Speaking of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a man who inexplicably thinks he can become president, Dana Milbank writes:

Graham, a senator from South Carolina and one of umpteen Republicans running for president, can take a joke — which is why he appreciates the absurdity that is the GOP field. There are far too many candidates (so many that there are concerns they won’t all fit on a debate stage), and to gain attention they are juggling, tooting horns and blowing slide whistles like so many painted performers emerging from a clown car.

Call them the clown posse if you like, but many Republican candidates seem far more concerned with personal vanity than with electability.

In part, this says that they are convinced that anyone can beat Hillary Clinton. In part, this demonstrates an absence of seriousness. With so many vanity candidates, the Republican Party is beginning to look like the vanity party.

A party that is about the personal vanity of the candidates is not likely to win the American presidency.

You might say that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is about nothing but vanity. If so, it’s not about personal vanity. It has more to do with ideology, with the idea of a woman president. Beyond that, it’s the reward she feels the country owes her for having suffered so many humiliations at the hands of Bill Clinton.

But when you start talking about Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham… you are talking about people who are never going to be elected. In many cases, one does not understand the political rationale for their candidacy.

Milbank is not sympathetic to the Republican cause, but his image of the clown car ought to be a wake-up call for Republicans. If the first Republican presidential debates show two dozen candidates on the stage, each vying for attention, the message will get lost. Citizens will be singularly unimpressed by a political party that does not seem to have sufficient maturity to pre-select viable candidates.

Republicans are not going to win the presidency by portraying themselves as the vanity party.

Too many candidates shows a lack of seriousness about the process, even a disrespect for the office of the president.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Can Any Good Come From War?

Pacifists believe that all wars are bad. Being enamored of moral absolutes they see no good reason for anyone ever having to fight and/or die for anything. If war there is, good pacifists prefer to sit it out.

In so doing, they usually stay safe, but, when victory arrives, they do not share in the advantages that befall those who have fought and won.

If the war is lost, pacifists proclaim that they were right. The war should never have been fought; no wars should never have been fought.

Yet, if their side obtains victory, pacifists suffer declining prestige and respect. At times they are considered to be otherworldly; at other times they are taken to be cowards.

To enhance their prestige they will work to diminish and demean martial values. Lovers of peace, they declare culture war on the values of honor, duty, self-sacrifice, courage and patriotism. In large, anyone who would promote himself as a leader must demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice himself for others. 

Those who see leadership as an exercise in oppression and exploitation have misunderstood human reality.

By definition, pacifists prefer decadence, self-satisfaction and following their bliss. They declare that they gain their true identity by belonging to the human species, not to a tiny group like a nation.

And yet, if we ask how peace breaks out in the world, the answer does not involve the work of pacifists. It does not even involve the work of a super-governmental group, a world government representing the human species. Neither the League of Nations nor the United Nations can produce world peace. In truth, extended periods of world peace have come about because single governments or an alliance of a few governments have imposed it on the world.

Pacifists notwithstanding, war does have its value. To see it as purely destructive is to misunderstand it. Some suggest that human beings are merely playing out their will to destroy themselves and each other by fighting wars. Others believe that human beings would not be doing it if there were no advantage to be gained.

When society is in disarray, when it is disorganized and chaotic, when people do not know where they belong, what the rules are and how to conduct themselves a war can produce social organization.

When a populace is mobilized for war, everyone soon knows which side he is on. Everyone knows his place, his duties, his responsibilities. Of course, during a war, everyone knows the game that is being played.

I offer these remarks to introduce a op-ed written by Stanford professor Ian Morris in the Washington Post.

War is bad, Morris says, but it also confers benefits on human beings.

Morris explains:

So yes, war is hell — but have you considered the alternatives? When looking upon the long run of history, it becomes clear that through 10,000 years of conflict, humanity has created larger, more organized societies that have greatly reduced the risk that their members will die violently. These better organized societies also have created the conditions for higher living standards and economic growth. War has not only made us safer, but richer, too.

Tightly organized social groups--like armies-- set a standard—but only if they emerge victorious. They show the best way, not only to show courage and discipline, but to win at a competition and to improve technology and industry, as well as logistics.

Morris sounds a bit like Steven Pinker and other believers in human progress. True enough, he says, war has killed an enormous number of people, but, by and large human life has been improving.

One would prefer that Morris differentiate here between wars and civil strife, between wars and state-produced famines, but still, his point merits attention:

Since 1914, we have endured world wars, genocides and government-sponsored famines, not to mention civil strife, riots and murders. Altogether, we have killed a staggering 100 million to 200 million of our own kind. But over the century, about 10 billion lives were lived — which means that just 1 to 2 percent of the world’s population died violently. Those lucky enough to be born in the 20th century were on average 10 times less likely to come to a grisly end than those born in the Stone Age. And since 2000, the United Nations tells us, the risk of violent death has fallen even further, to 0.7 percent.

Morris continues:

As this process unfolded, humanity prospered. Ten thousand years ago, when the planet’s population was 6 million or so, people lived about 30 years on average and supported themselves on the equivalent income of about $2 per day. Now, more than 7 billion people are on Earth, living more than twice as long (an average of 67 years), and with an average income of $25 per day.

This happened because about 10,000 years ago, the winners of wars began incorporating the losers into larger societies. The victors found that the only way to make these larger societies work was by developing stronger governments; and one of the first things these governments had to do, if they wanted to stay in power, was suppress violence among their subjects.

Morris does not use the term in his op-ed, but this sounds suspiciously like imperialism. Conquering nations did not merely suppress internal violence. They also imposed their superior culture-- a culture that had proved to be superior because it won the war-- on a supposedly inferior culture.

And yet, in Morris’s theory, stronger nations were ultimately not looking to exploit and oppress those that had lost wars. They wanted to create better trading partners. Witness the American treatment of Germany and Japan after World War II..

Unfortunately, the process often seems to require a considerable amount of violence.

Morris continues:

War may well be the worst way imaginable to create larger, more peaceful societies, but the depressing fact is that it is pretty much the only way . If only the Roman Empire could have been created without killing millions of Gauls and Greeks, if the United States could have been built without killing millions of Native Americans, if these and countless conflicts could have been resolved by discussion instead of force. But this did not happen. People almost never give up their freedoms — including, at times, the right to kill and impoverish one another — unless forced to do so; and virtually the only force strong enough to bring this about has been defeat in war or fear that such a defeat is imminent.

It’s not merely that conquered peoples are required to give up their freedom. They are also required to modify their culture. Since their culture is all that they know, abandoning it feels like subjugation.

Between the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century and World War I, the world lived a Pax Brittannica, a peace imposed by the British navy that allowed the expansion of free trade and international commerce:

After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, this was precisely what the world got. Britain was the only industrialized economy on Earth, and it projected power as far away as India and China. Because its wealth came from exporting goods and services, it used its financial and naval muscle to deter rivals from threatening the international order. Wars did not end — the United States and China endured civil strife, European armies marched deep into Africa and India — but overall, for 99 years, the planet grew more peaceful and prosperous under Britain’s eye.

The system produced certain internal contradictions. By empowering and enriching other nations Great Britain created rivals for hegemony. It also created resentment among those whose cultures were deemed inferior to that of Great Britain.

As Morris explains it:

To sell its goods and services, Britain needed other countries to be rich enough to buy them. That meant that, like it or not, Britain had to encourage other nations to industrialize and accumulate wealth. The economic triumph of the 19th-century British world system, however, was simultaneously a strategic disaster. Thanks in significant part to British capital and expertise, the United States and Germany had turned into industrial giants by the 1870s, and doubts began growing about Britain’s ability to police the global order. The more successful the globocop was at doing its job, the more difficult that job became.

After World War II, the United States became the keeper of the world peace. Some have said that we became the world’s policeman.

Similar problems are now arising:

Like its predecessor, the United States oversaw a huge expansion of trade, intimidated other countries into not making wars that would disturb the world order, and drove rates of violent death even lower. But again like Britain, America made its money by helping trading partners become richer, above all China, which, since 2000, has looked increasingly like a potential rival. The cycle that Britain experienced may be in store for the United States as well, unless Washington embraces its role as the only possible globocop in an increasingly unstable world — a world with far deadlier weapons than Britain could have imagined a century ago.

Obviously, the United States-- not the United Nations-- has guaranteed whatever peace and stability we have had. It has also guaranteed world commerce. Of course, our current president and his administration do not believe that the United States should adopt such a role. Thus, more violence has descended on certain regions of the globe and other nations are vying for the role of the world’s leading hegemon.

Being the world's policeman requires a strong national government, not in the sense of a socialist welfare state but of a cohesive military and a strong sense of national pride.

Debates over large or small government, Morris says, are therefore somewhat deceptive:

“The 10 most dangerous words in the English language,” Reagan said on another occasion, “are ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ” As Hobbes could have told him, in reality the 10 scariest words are, “There is no government and I’m here to kill you.”

Morris concludes:

To people in virtually any age before our own, the only argument that mattered was between extremely small government and no government at all. Extremely small government meant there was at least some law and order; no government meant that there was not.

I suspect even Reagan would have agreed. “One legislator accused me of having a 19th-century attitude on law and order,” Reagan said when he was governor of California. “That is a totally false charge. I have an 18th-century attitude. That is when the Founding Fathers made it clear that the safety of law-abiding citizens should be one of the government’s primary concerns.”



Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Problem with Greater Awareness of Sexual Harassment

As Shakespeare put it, in a line that is not quite self-evident:

For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, 

It may or may not be your idea of sport, but the prince is referring—in modern terms-- to a terrorist whose bomb goes off unexpectedly and kills him.

The slightly outmoded word “enginer” refers to someone who builds and designs engines, not necessarily to someone who conducts them.

One recalls the 1970 explosion of a townhouse in Greenwich Village. While members of the Weather Underground were preparing a bomb, they made a mistake, the bomb blew up, three of them were killed.

It may not seem quite fair to compare bomb-making to gender politics, but our fine-tuned awareness of sexual harassment has caused apparently caused some Congressmen to exclude their young female staffers from one-on-one meetings.

Given their prominence and the possibilities for public exposure these men are exercising an excess of caution. Unfortunately, it works against the best career interest of their female staffers.

Somehow or other Congressmen have learned that young women are a threat and that even the appearance of impropriety can severely damage their political careers.

How did we get to this point?

Since the practice has been going on for some time, let’s give credit where credit is due—to Bill Clinton’s peccadillos with several women, among whom an intern named Lewinsky.

And let’s give credit also to those who rose up in righteous fury upon learning that Clarence Thomas was accused of having uttered some sexually suggestive remarks to Anita Hill.

These events raised everyone’s consciousness about sexual harassment in the workplace. But apparently, they also made women into a potential threat to their male superiors.

It makes sense. Raised consciousness about sexual harassment forces people to see professional interactions in potentially sexual terms. It sexualizes women, and defines men as potential or actual sexual abusers.

The more you see professional women in terms of their sexuality the less you will see them as professionals.

Given this climate, many men—especially those who are in the public eye and whose antics are most likely to be exposed—are unwilling to assume the risk. They refuse to have closed-door one-on-one, private meetings with female staff and do not want to be seen out at a function with a female.

For all anyone knows, it is all perfectly professional. And yet, given the cultural climate, there are greater chances for misinterpretation—innocent or malevolent.

The National Journal has the story:

In an anonymous survey of female staffers conducted by National Journalin order to gather information on the difficulties they face in a male-dominated industry, several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.

It continues:

"Even though my boss is like a second dad to me, our office was always worried about any negative assumptions that might be made. This has made and makes my job significantly harder to do," one female staffer told National Journal.

Another reported that in twelve years working for her previous boss, he "never took a closed door meeting with me. … This made sensitive and strategic discussions extremely difficult."

This situation is apparently not the norm:

The issue is hardly the norm. Numerous staffers contacted for this story, both male and female, said they had never experienced or even heard of such a policy. But those who do employ these policies could have a legal issue.

The lawyer’s solution: sue.

Any Congressman who systematically excludes female staff from certain types of interactions might now be threatened with legal action.

Attorney Debra Katz sees how this makes career advancement more difficult for women:

"So much happens in creating trustful relationships and if you can't develop a trustful relationship where you're having some one-on-one time, as the men apparently are getting—I can see many reasons why this is a terrible idea, terrible in the sense of discriminatory," Katz added, calling the practice "clearly unlawful."

The presence of women in a Congressman’s office thus becomes a threat: damned if you do and damned if you don’t. One finds it difficult to understand how women are advantaged in the workplace by having their presence made a danger.

And, how is anyone going to litigate face time or private meetings? In this, as in many other cases, we should never underestimate the ingenuity of lawyers.

For reasons that remain mysterious to some, the same problem does not arise with senior female senators, for example.

Maine Senator Susan Collins does not get it:

The Maine Republican said she was "just stunned" that some of her male colleagues would be so concerned about working closely with their female aides. "To me, that's just extraordinary because of what it implies, the lack of professionalism that it would imply," Collins said. "It implies that a man and a woman can't have a completely professional, proper relationship. That's just stunning."

It doesn’t feel absurd to think that under certain circumstances it is difficult for a man and a woman to have a completely professional relationship. Need we mention that the fault is not always on the side of the male?

Given human nature, it has occasionally happened that a young woman will act in ways that are not entirely professional, the better to advance her career or even to find herself a husband. Heaven forfend, but unmarried young women have even been known to flirt or seduce married bosses.

To imagine that women are totally innocent in these matters stretches credulity.

Pretending that the difference between the sexes does not exist seems not to serve the best interests of men or of women.