Monday, July 25, 2016

Reign of Terrorism

Formerly the editor of the New York Times editorial page, Andrew Rosenthal gives us an indication about why he is no longer the editor of the New York Times editorial page.

In a post yesterday, Rosenthal was trying to refute one of Donald Trump’s pronouncements about Islamic refugees. Lighting on the fact that Trump had said that he would impose extreme vetting for Muslims who live in countries which have terrorism problems, Rosenthal replies that that would include just about every country.

In his words:

Given that most of Europe, a great deal of Asia, the entire Middle East, and virtually all of Africa have been compromised by terrorism (not to mention the United States), it’s hard to imagine what countries would not make Trump’s T List. Even Russia, run by Trump’s buddy and role model, Vladimir Putin, has problems with terrorism, including Islamist terrorism.

Rosenthal fails to note that this is the legacy of eight years of our citizen-of-the-world president. Under Obama, terrorism has metastasized. Our cosmopolitan president rode into office on a promise to end wars. He has made surrender the hallmark of is foreign policy. Terrorists saw it as a green light.

Under Obama’s aegis many of the leaders of Europe, led by German Chancellor Merkel, have happily opened their nations to droves of Muslim refugees. As of now Merkel has allowed in well over a million new refugees.

What could go wrong?

Less than two weeks ago people were marveling at the fact that France had seen more terrorism than Germany. And, the truck murderer in Nice was not even a refugee. France was, in many ways, paying the price for its own open-arms policy. Recently, France stopped taking in refugees, but its past behavior is coming back to haunt it.

And then, in Germany a series of terrorist or would-be terrorist attacks have caused Mrs. Merkel to feel some political heat. Of course, Merkel’s government has adopted a tactic that has been perfected by the Obama administration. If you do not call it terrorism it isn’t terrorism. Voila!

Merkel cannot, of course, blame the NRA for axe and machete attacks, so her government prefers to pretend that the killers are crazy.

The Debkafile website recounts the stories. It is fitting that an Israeli site would present the news, because these types of attacks have been happening in Israel for quite some time now. And the world, that is, the European cognoscenti have happily exculpated the terrorists while blaming the Israeli victims.

Anyway, Debkafile reports:

Two Syrian refugees committed acts of terror in different Bavarian towns Sunday, July 24, the third and fourth violent attacks in Germany in less than a week. One Syrian, a 21-year old, used a machete to murder a pregnant woman in Reutingen near Stuttgart. He was arrested - but only after a motorist saw him attacking two more people and ran him down. Local police assured the populace that there was nothing more to fear since the attack arose from a private quarrel between the Syrian man and a female colleague at work.

This did not explain why the attacker went on to stab another two victims.

On the same evening another Syrian blew himself up at a wine bar near Nuremberg, killing himself and injuring a dozen others:

That night, in Ansbach, southwest of Nuremberg, a second Syrian refugee of 27 - denied asylum in Germany a year ago but allowed to stay - was refused entry to a three-day summer popular music festival when he aroused the suspicions of guards at the gate. They let him go without asking to search his rucksack. He then went straight to a nearby wine bar and detonated the device he was carrying, injuring 12 people, three of them seriously.

Government officials explained that the suicide bomber was disgruntled because he had been turned away from a music festival.

One recalls  with Roger Cohen, that the war in Syria was the fault of the Obama administration. It was one war that could not be blamed on George W. Bush.

One week earlier another Muslim, an Afghani refugee, attacked train passengers with an axe and a knife. Authorities took pains to avoid calling it terrorism:

The first of the four attacks was carried out by a 17-year old refugee from Afghanistan exactly a week ago on July 18.  Wielding an ax and a knife, he wounded eight people on a train near Wuerzbuerg, not far from Munich, before he was shot dead by police.

Although an ISIS flag was found in his room and the Islamic State claimed the Afghan axeman as “one of its soldiers,” the Bavarian interior minister said only, “There may be an Islamic background to this but that is far from clear at this point.”

And then, of course, there were the Friday shootings at a mall in Munich, committed by a German citizen of Iranian origin. His name was Ali David Sonboly. As you know, the British media has managed to remove his Islamic first name, the better to allow people to think that he was not an Islamist. Perhaps they wanted people to think that he was a Jew.

Six attacks in twelve days. Yet, German authorities do not consider it a wave of terror, because that would suggest that Merkel’s policies have been less than successful. Or better, that she opened Germany to violent murderers and thugs.

As for the overriding question-- was the reign of terror planned and organized by ISIS or al Qaeda or some other international terrorist organization-- Col. Ralph Peters declares the question to be immaterial.

Terrorism is terrorism, he says, regardless of whether it is being perpetrated by an organized conspiracy or whether it is being initiated by so-called lone wolfs.

The problem, Peters says, is that terrorism has gained a cachet, a prestige. It offers disaffected Muslim youths, people who do not know enough to participate in the economy, a way to draw attention to themselves and to their religion. It makes them feel empowered. Of course, the terrorists are not all Muslims. A small minority has a different religious background. And yet, Islamist terrorism is still the most pervasive, the gold standard, if you will.

Peters writes:

These are individuals who could never find their path until they found their way to fanatical faith. It’s about the need to submerge the failing self in something greater, something transcendent. When your prison is the world, a suicide mission’s the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card.

Repeatedly, we mock Islamist terrorists as being “not really religious” because they haven’t devoted their lives to arcane details of scripture. We’ve lost our sense of the soul’s desperation and the ecstasy of union with the divine, of God’s wonder, real or imagined. Religious knowledge has never been as important as religious feeling.

For Islamist fanatics, the act of terror is not only empowering — at the end of a powerless life — but blessed. Until we grasp that, we’ll keep being surprised.

He concludes:

Instead of struggling to explain away every new mass killing as “not terrorism,” we must recognize that the scope and scale of terrorism’s expanding. What was once an anomaly is now a ready-to-hand solution for a widening variety of misfits.

The Munich shooter collected literature on mass killings and had an online trail of studying slaughters. He spotted a growth industry and joined.

Some of these terrorists might very well be crazy. But, there are many different ways to express craziness. If you are crazy enough to want to get attention for doing something that will occupy a lot of space in the papers, you might convince yourself that becoming a copycat terrorist is just the way to go.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Diversity vs. Meritocracy

Some believe that the notion of meritocracy arose in Great Britain at the end of the nineteenth century. Apparently, it was offered as an antidote to aristocratic privilege. Instead of choosing government servants by their breeding, the British decided to use an examination. It was the only way to ensure that the best and the brightest were running the country.

Opponents of meritocracy complain that if it’s all based on an exam it’s based on the ability to master the art of test taking. Being good on tests does not necessarily bespeak good character. Thus, you risk having a bureaucracy filled with technocrats who do not see their jobs in terms of their responsibilities to serve the nation.

One recalls that this version of meritocracy was really invented by the Chinese over a millennium ago. Even today, Chinese students work themselves to the bone—no hooking up for them—in order to do well on the examinations that determine their futures.

On the other hand, the career path of the students who excel at exams might also depend on the prestige accorded to government service. In some places there is more prestige; in other places, less.

As for the moral character argument, we note that when students are required to work all the time to excel on the exams, they will also develop a strong work ethic, a will to persevere and a sense of family honor. After all, no one really does any of it for his own personal gratification. He does it to sustain the honor of his family. If he is not very well paid for government work, he is probably motivated, in part, by the wish to serve the public.

Britain’s sister republic, America, has long since sacrificed mush of its own meritocracy on the bonfire of diversity. Of course, there are still islands of merit, but, for the most part, we are more worried about how diverse we are than about how good we are. Naturally, we keep saying that a diverse school or workplace will be better than one that is less diverse, but anyone who believes that is obviously missing a few little grey cells.

As it happens, in the worlds of commerce and industry, on the battlefield and in the marketplace, you do not get extra credit for diversity.

To measure the absence of meritocracy, we examine one of the few places it still exists. Take the example of the admissions test that get you admitted (or not) to New York City’s better high schools… like Stuyvesant High School. One notes-- as one has occasionally-- that the breakdown of the entering class at Stuyvesant is something like 70% Chinese (or Asian), 20% white, 6% Hispanic, 4% black.

As it happens, the students who go to Stuyvesant normally go on to attend great colleges and universities. And after they do so, they go to work on Wall Street or on Silicon Valley. If you are that smart and that capable why would you go to work in the government?

In America, government bureaucrats do not constitute a special meritocracy. Largely, because the jobs do not bring very much prestige or income. They are not chosen by merit, but for reasons that have more to do with politics and diversity and ideological commitment.

When the Asian graduates of Stuyvesant eventually get jobs, they are attracted to industries where they can be judged on their merits.

And yet, they also suffer. They are the victims of diversity quotas. An Asian student needs to have near perfect test scores and GPA to be admitted to Stanford while a minority student will easily be admitted with SAT scores that are hundreds of points lower (on a 1600 point scale.)

This means that minority students at major schools are seen as not having earned their way. Thus, their presence does not provoke respect. It promotes resentment, especially among those whose friends and family members missed out. When your brother was rejected with much higher test scores and a much higher GPA, you are likely to see students from minority groups as interlopers, as having taken something that they did not earn.

If you do not fall within a class of the underprivileged you will suffer discrimination on the basis of your race or ethnic origin. This applies especially to white males.

People are protesting about our rigged political system. Yet, beyond campaign finance, the diversity mania systematically rigs the system. You cannot have diversity and meritocracy at the same time. But when you overthrow meritocracy in the name of diversity the people who gain their jobs and their careers by reason of diversity do not receive the same respect as do those who have earned their places. And when things go wrong, we cannot comfort ourselves with the notion that the best people are in charge.

Diversity as currently practiced is no longer about fair play, where everyone takes the same test or runs the same race. If the outcomes of competition do not look like America, diversity proponents insist that this is proof that the system is rigged. If some people do better than others because they are wealthier, we are told that we must remedy this disparity by redistributing income.

No one pays too much attention to the fact that the Asian children who excel at competitive tests rarely come from wealthy homes.

Since we have been brainwashed into believing that every group be equally represented at all levels of society, we must rig the system to ensure that it happens.

If women cannot compete with men in the military, we change the rules. If women cannot complete the entrance examination for firefighters, we change the tests. If minority candidates do not measure up, we throw away the measuring rods. If women do not work as hard as men because they choose to spend more time with their children, we invent a specious notion like work/life balance to persuade men to work less. And then we insist that women who work less than men and who have less ambition than men receive the same compensation.

Of course, this can only happen when the diversity bureaucrats take over the labor market. It is no longer a question of who works harder, longer and better but of whether the proportions are politically correct.

If the disparities are clear, the cause must be a culture that shows white and Asian men succeeding more than others.

It’s all about manipulating minds by controlling appearances. We must now  produce television shows where women warriors working just as effectively as men warriors, where women police officers easily subdue male suspects who are twice their size, where the smartest guy in the room is always a minority, where the minority is always unjustly accused, and where nearly every ensemble cast contains one of each ethnic group and gender.

By the lights of the diversity mongers the only reason why we do not have more minority candidates in positions of importance is that we have not seen enough of them in such positions. We can rectify the situation by producing more television shows where the cast fulfills the ideal of diversity.

If you refer to track record, current or historical, you will be denounced as a bigot. Reality does not matter to people who want the world to look like their aesthetic vision.

So, to the feeble minded among us, the fault lies with racism and sexism and whatever other –ism suits you today. Because without these sins, invariably committed by white males, the world would achieve a greater aesthetic balance… which is what matters. Achievement be damned.

Evidently, the American government is not run by people who value merit. Diversity has taken over the government. And it has happened because the American people, with their votes, made it happen. Never think that propaganda never works. Today,And you are not allowed to criticize or critique a black president or his black advisors, lest you be accused of racism.

And diversity has also taken over universities, where scores of people have been hired on the basis of their race and gender, to say nothing of their radical leftist ideological commitments. 

They no longer teach Shakespeare and Chaucer because they do not know enough about them. They prefer indoctrinating students with the ideology of diversity. More than a few academics and public intellectuals owe their careers and their reputations to the fact that they belong to a disadvantaged group.

It has been imposed on the American people by media figures and academics who excel at name-calling, at defamation and at slander. One might suggest that they resort to such recourses because it is the best they can do.

And yet, those who attack Donald Trump for being racist and sexist seem to be failing. One reason might be that the diversity mongers are like the boy who cried wolf. If you spend your time and your mental energy in an endless exercise in name-calling, after a while your slanders will lose their edge. If everyone is racist, then the label no longer means very much. When Nicholas Kristof can do nothing more than denounce Trump for racism, he is not making a cogent point. He is exposing his own feeblemindedness.

In effect, today’s America is increasingly rigged against certain kinds of people. It’s a form of corruption that impacts people as much if not more than the influence of Wall Street money.

The system is not rigged everywhere. There are still islands where merit counts for something. Silicon Valley and Wall Street are high on the list. Politics is not.

People hold jobs as sinecures. If they belong to the right group they do not need to accomplish anything at all. Hillary Clinton would be nowhere without her gender and her husband. And yet, people keep saying, shamelessly, that she is eminently qualified to be president of the United States. It's magical thinking.

It is such a rank piece of stupidity that it takes one’s breath away. And yet, the Republican nominee, however adept he has been at making money and promoting his brand, has no ral qualifications for the office of the presidency.

Surely, Trump is the anti-diversity candidate. Perhaps his candidacy will break up the conspiracy of those who owe their jobs and their careers and their reputations to the accident of birth. In effect, the new diversity is a return to the old aristocracy. For the most part it accords privilege based on race and gender. To that Trump has responded that what really matters and what really qualifies you is: being his child.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Future of Psychoanalysis

If you are vaguely familiar with my thought on the question, you might imagine that I will be telling you that psychoanalysis has no future. It’s as dead as a dead horse, and we have all learned not to beat a dead horse.

The cognoscenti in the psychoanalytic world should not be surprised. In being dead psychoanalysis is fulfilling a prophecy uttered by the great French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. You might recall, in Rome in 1973, or was it 1974, Lacan said that the Roman Catholic Church would outlive psychoanalysis.

How right he was!

One does not know whether Lacan’s cult followers have found a way to raise the dead, but I am confident that they are hard at work on solving the problem

One notes and one underscores that Lacan was comparing psychoanalysis with a religion, not with a scientific technique or a medical treatment. He was saying that a true religion will always outlast a fake religion, an apparent religion, a pseudo religion, a cult.

Of course, to the chagrin of his cult followers Lacan had himself contributed to the demise of psychoanalysis as a treatment. Others have denounced psychoanalysis as a con game and a mountebank’s trick, but Lacan was the highest ranking member of the Wholly Freudian Church who declared it to be a scam. And Lacan also said, for those who have now forgotten, that if anyone gets better by doing psychoanalysis, it is by accident.

Yes, I recognize that Lacan’s faithful toadies have tried to distort the meaning of the line to make it mean something other than what it says. But, the sentence is unambiguous. Worse yet, it is consistent with other pronouncements.

Nevertheless, Lacan’s followers have declared that Lacan did not mean what he said, but, if he did, he did not know what he was saying. For those who remain true believing true believers, that will solve the problem.

Yesterday, amidst the din over the Republican convention I came across an intriguing sign of the times,  a hint at a more productive future for psychoanalysis. This time, it’s from Japan. It appeared on Yahoo News, but the story comes to us from AFP, that is, Agence France Presse.

In principle there is very little if any psychoanalysis in Japan. This despite the fact that many books about psychoanalysis, including my 1983 book about Lacan, have been translated into Japanese.

The Japanese are orderly and economical. They have extracted the essence from psychoanalysis and transformed it into a new profession: rent men.

Does it show the future of psychoanalysis? I suspect that it does.

In Japan today, women and even men who want to talk to an anonymous someone who will just listen but rarely respond can hire what are called “rent men.” One cringes at the sexism at play here. Why not “rent women?” And why not “rent boys” or “rent girls?”

Evidently, the Japanese have a lot to learn about political correctness.

Sometimes these rent men sit silently and listen, allowing other people to speak their minds, without fear of offending anyone. Sometimes they engage in conversation, though the story does not make clear what they have to say. One suspects that, like psychoanalysis, the clients of these “rent men” are trying out different roles and buying silence. You understand that someone who sits silently by while you try on a role is playing the role of the audience.

After all, these men, the story's title tells us, are just paid to listen. In truth, if they are listening the way psychoanalysts are listening they are faking it. But, what did you expect?

And, truth be told, the price seems altogether fair. $10 an hour. If psychoanalysis promotes itself as a therapy, it’s worth about $10 an hour. At least, until their raise the minimum wage in your neighborhood.

The AFP story lays it out:

From lonely pensioners to Japanese schoolgirls with shattered dreams, Takanobu Nishimoto and his crew of middle-aged men will lend an ear to clients who would never dream of spilling their guts to a therapist or worse, their families.

Anyone in need of company can sign up to his online service to rent an "ossan" -- a man aged between 45 and 55 -- for 1,000 yen ($10) an hour.

"For me, the service is a hobby more than anything," says Nishimoto, who first came up with the concept four years ago and who now has a growing network of some 60 men across Japan.

"The initial idea was to improve the image of guys my age, people who might not be spring chickens anymore and not taken so seriously."

And while the 48-year-old professional fashion coordinator is used to renting himself out, he insists conversation is all he offers to between 30 and 40 clients a month, roughly 70 percent of whom are women.

"The people who rent me are just asking me to keep them company for an hour or two, mainly to listen to them," he tells AFP between sessions, giving the example of a woman in her 80s who would book him every week for a walk around the local park.

To be clear, it’s all about free speech. Or, at least, the illusion of same, which Freudians call free association:

Rather, those who use the service say it allows them to forget the expectations of their family and friends and speak freely -- an option which experts say is especially useful in Japan, where social roles can be tightly defined and expectations rigid.

Funnily enough, clients of these rent men do gain insight about themselves by speaking in ways that they would not be allowed to in normal social intercourse. And you thought that it required years of medical or paramedical training, plus years of personal psychoanalysis, plus years of studying in an institute to qualify you to help people to gain insight. In truth, you needed merely to be taciturn to a fault.

AFP continues:

"There's a different 'me' depending on whether I'm with my friends, my family, or my boyfriend," says 24-year-old Nodoka Hyodo after her session with Nishimoto.

She explains: "I create a 'me' in relation to others. Here, all that disappears because I'm talking to someone I don't know -- thanks to him, I feel like I'm understanding myself better."

The rent man service is a variant on other services. In the end they all show how well the Japanese have understood the importance of transference. In these other services, you can go out and hire someone to be your fake friend or family member:

In recent years, a number of agencies have been offering "rent-a-friend" services paid by the hour.

Customers can rent an agency employee as a fake friend, family member, or companion for various occasions such as weddings, funerals and parties. Some use them just to have a conversation partner to ease times of loneliness and isolation in old age.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ross Douthat on Cruz on Trump

Another member of the (defeated) conservative intelligentsia weighs in on Ted Cruz. This time, it’s Ross Douthat, currently an op-ed columnist at the New York Times, a man who no one has ever accused of leaning left.

In a blog post Douthat makes an interesting point about the future, about which none of us knows anything, and personal integrity. Since everyone seems to be convinced that they know what the future holds for Ted Cruz—nothing good—take this opportunity to repeat a point I made yesterday. The future is uncertain. You do not know what it will bring.

Before quoting the offending passage, I will include a trigger warning for those who have turned thuggish in their adoration of Trump.

Douthat wrote yesterday:

Cruz made a version of this mistake early in the primary campaign, with his ever-so-calculated embrace of Trump. But last night he chose the better way. You don’t know what tomorrow holds — so do the right thing today. You don’t know what strategy will play well four years hence — so stand up for your own integrity, your cause’s principles and your family’s honor. The future is unwritten — but you can make sure that when the history of the present year is written, your place won’t be with those timid and temporizing souls who surrendered both their party and their dignity to Donald Trump.

That’s what Cruz earned himself last night: not a better chance at the presidency, but a profile in political courage that will be remembered no matter what happens to his political ambitions henceforth. And it’s yet another irony of this most ironic year that it would be the most overtly Machiavellian of Republican politicians who would keep his honor, and pass a test that so many politicians of more conspicuous high-mindedness have failed.

It's Party Unity Time

Strangely enough, some commeters on this blog have been seriously offended by the behavior of Ted Cruz. They have even taken serious exception to my remarks about same.

And it is hardly limited to blog commenters. In many of the important precincts of the conservative media, people are crying foul. They are accusing Ted Cruz of having breached decorum… God forbid!

Some believe in ideas, so they are supporting a candidate whose relationship with them is dubious at best. Others ignore the role that character plays in the American presidency because they hold, not without reason, that no one has worse character than Hillary Clinton.

Presidents are human beings. They influence the nation in the example they set. Recall the example set by Bill Clinton. They stand as figures the people of the nation will emulate. If you want to make America great again—a highly worthy goal—you should exemplify greatness. Not because you have declared yourself great, but because your achievements speak for themselves. Greatness is not a branding exercise. Humility still is and has been a very good sign of greatness. 

Anyway, for now the Trump-Cruz brouhaha continues, because DT just said that he would not accept a Cruz endorsement, even if it was eventually offered. He even doubled down on his suggestion that Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Some suggest that it’s a way to create party unity. Time will tell.

In the meantime, for those who want to rise up and defend the Donald, they might like to take a gander at these remarks by Jonah Goldberg in National Review. They will surely get the juices flowing:

This is part of the corruption of Trump. He called Ted Cruz a liar every day and in every way for months (it used to be considered a breach in decorum to straight up call an opponent a liar, never mind use it as a nickname). The insults against his wife, the cavalier birtherism, the disgusting JFK-assassination theories about his dad: These things are known. And yet the big conversation of the day is Ted Cruz’s un-sportsmanlike behavior? For real? But forget Cruz for a moment. For over a year, Trump has degraded politics in some of the most vile ways. His respect for the Republican party as the home of conservatism is on par with Napoleon’s respect for churches when he converted them into stables.

But that’s okay because he’s Trump. He’s a “winner.” And now that he’s the nominee, the Smart Set and the Mob is telling me that Cruz is the outrageous violator of norms and good manners. Let’s all look down our noses at the sore loser everybody, as we bend the knee and make every apology possible for the sorest, most ungracious winner in American history. When I watch Trump’s kitchen cabinet of yes men rise from their “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” prostrations just long enough to talk about Cruz’s self-interestedness, I have to laugh. Where’s your shinebox, Governor Christie?

Dream On

A lot of people had suspected that dreams had hidden meanings. They had thought that dreams were God’s way of communicating with lesser beings.

According to Freud, Freud discovered how to suss out those hidden meanings.  He might not have gotten it right— he was almost certainly wrong—but a few gullible souls still believe it.

As Freud had it, your dreams are trying to tell you something. They have encrypted the message to the point where you will never decipher it without the help of a psychoanalyst. And that, my friends, takes a lot of time and a lot of money.

In truth, you will obtain no real benefit, no tangible profit from the exercise, but you will learn- as Wittgenstein remarked when his sister was treated by Freud-- to speak Freudian. It’s a dubious achievement, made more dubious by the fact that no one else speaks the language any more.

Or else, to be more charitable, psychoanalysis will teach you that you can invent a story to explain just about anything. You can invent stories that make sense of the inchoate jumble of your dreams. But you can also invent stories that explain heart disease, cancer, autism, schizophrenia, tropical infections and brain defects.

Psychoanalysis has never been shown to be therapeutically effective for any of it, but, for true believers, it doesn’t matter. Clinical failures are a test of faith.

Freud believed that dreams represented wishes fulfilled. They tell you what you really, really want, which is, to copulate with your mother. Where would we be without Freud?

None of these stories will cure what ails you, but you will end up feeling that you understand. You will not, in fact, understand anything, but you will feel like you belong to a group of superior intellects that knows things that others do not know. And you, like Wittgenstein’s sister, will be able to communicate in a special language. You will end up being a cult follower.

Of course, Freud was theorizing about all of this over a century ago. And he knew nothing of modern neuroscience and biology. We are not surprised to discover that today’s scientists have done better than Freud.

When today’s neuroscientists started looking into dreams they discovered that most dreams are banal. The bizarre rebus-like formulations that Freud worked on are rare, indeed.

Some neuroscientists do not accept that dreams are trying to tell us secrets, like the secrets of your heart’s desire. Jim Davies reports on some of the research:

Once, I dreamed I was at a man’s funeral. According to the deceased’s instructions, each of his toes were to be buried in tiny, individual coffins. When I woke up, I wondered, “What could it mean?”

According to some neuroscience research on dreams, like that of the Harvard psychiatrist Allan Hobson, the coffined toes might mean absolutely nothing. In his view, dreams are essentially narratives that our frontal brain areas piece together from chaotic brain signals originating from the brain stem. I might look back on that dream and derive some meaning from it after the fact, but it’s not like those coffined toes are my brain’s way of telling me something important.

Other neuroscientists have a different perspective. They see dreams as planning exercises, rehearsals for dealing with future dangers. Or better, policy analysis that projects the possible outcomes of different actions.

Davies continues:

Eighty percent of dreams are pretty banal, says Atti Revonsuo, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sk√∂vde, in Sweden. We just think weird ones are relatively common because we are more likely to remember and talk about the weird ones (this is the availability bias in action).

But not all dream researchers agree that dreams are meaningless. Revonsuo argues that the reason we dream is, primarily, to practice how to react to (mostly ancestral) threats such as escaping, fighting, and so on.

It turns out that mental practice has been shown in over 30 sports to be as helpful as physical practice. A now-classic study of mental exercise, for example, shows that golfers who visualized putting a ball into a hole performed 30 percent better than they did on a prior attempt. There’s something about exercising your motor system in an inner, idealized environment that makes you perform better. But if you get too much mental practice you start to get too disconnected from reality. So, according to Revonsuo, dreaming about being chased can help you when you really are being chased because, even if the dream’s scary, it’s a form of “positive imagery.”

Further evidence that dreams are a form of threat simulation: They have a tendency to feature negative emotions—fearful, angry, and anxious dreams are more common than happy ones. And the things we dream about tend to be biased in the direction of ancient dangers rather than more modern ones. We dream about being chased by animals and monsters more than having our credit card defrauded, even though most of us have very little real-life experience of being chased by animals (or monsters).

And also:

So are dreams caused by noise from the brain stem or are they designed a kind of mental rehearsal? It could be that both of these theories could be right. Suppose that random information enters the brain, and our minds makes stories out of them in order to rehearse how to deal with threats. The mind would deal with the brain stem’s information like actors playing an improv game, taking random suggestions from the audience and building a story. Just because the inspiration might be random doesn’t mean that resulting story needs to be meaningless. I did improv on stage for over 15 years, and I know that you can make a scary or happy scene with any suggestions from the audience.

You can see that I have shifted the emphasis. I have discarded the trendy notion that life is a narrative. I know, as many of them do not, that the idea does not come to us from science. It comes from Plato’s Republic.

We do best, if we wish to be rigorous, not to confuse storytelling with game planning. Since I prefer to see life in terms of a game, with a plan and implementation, I have become slightly allergic to this emphasis on storytelling.

The difference is: if you are creating a story you might want to discover what is motivating the characters, what their true wishes are. But you will also be buying into the notion that life is a story, written out in advance. You will want to see how the story turns out.

If you are playing a game your moves and your actions will strongly influence the outcome. In the first you are a spectator; in the second you are actively participating.

When you are preparing yourself to face a potential threat, you are not entertaining yourself with a charming narrative. You are making a plan, one that you might need to execute.

If you are facing down a tiger or a flood without having planned for it, you will be totally at a loss. The moment the danger appears is not the moment you want first to have thought of how you will confront it. If it is, your chances of survival will be largely diminished.

Davies continues, pointing out that dreams are game plans for more ancient threats, threats that our brains learned how to address:

Further evidence that dreams are a form of threat simulation: They have a tendency to feature negative emotions—fearful, angry, and anxious dreams are more common than happy ones. And the things we dream about tend to be biased in the direction of ancient dangers rather than more modern ones. We dream about being chased by animals and monsters more than having our credit card defrauded, even though most of us have very little real-life experience of being chased by animals (or monsters).

And one might add that since people have at times been ruined by good fortune—think lottery winners—they have also developed the ability to plan for any kind of disruption, even the kind that represents an unexpected and unearned windfall. The same applies to changes in our circumstances, disruptions in our lives, from going away to school to getting married.

Buying Political Protection

It’s the American way. Companies buy political protection. It's the cost of doing business. Banks, manufacturers, merchants and industrial companies have always done it. Now, the oligarchs of high tech have discovered the magical formula. As regards the modern political world, that is.

That would be: give generously to the Democrats and they will protect you. Republicans are not going to bust your trusts. Democrats might. The Republicans will not crack down on your lack of diversity. The Democrats might do so. Thus, give generously to the Democratic Party. They will talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk they will walk the other way.

Apparently, Elizabeth Warren did not get the message. She has been accusing the high tech oligarchs of engaging in less-than-competitive practices. The party has been trying to tell her to shut up.

Bloomberg reports:

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had no problem naming names in her June 29 antitrust speech, calling out Silicon Valley giants Google, Apple and Amazon.com for inhibiting competition.

But fellow Democrats might not be as forthright about biting the hand that feeds them, even in the party’s renewed quest to break up monopolies across U.S. markets.

Big Tech’s role as both lobbyist and Democratic donor makes it harder for the party to deliver on promises to preserve market competition, according to antitrust advocates. 

The same thing happened to former Clinton administration Labor Secretary, Robert Reich.

But, let us not forget diversity. Silicon Valley is not exactly diverse. Its employees are largely white and Asian males. Power is not distributed equally across all racial and ethnic groups. 

Sheryl Sandberg does not run a company where men and women are equally represented at all levels of Facebook. Since she has the power to do something about it, her failure to do so suggests that she would rather see other company, her competitors, adopt her policies. 

To be fair, the companies have explained that they are hard at work on the problem. But, you will never hear a discouraging word about their hiring practices from the social justice warriors in the Democratic Party. They have been bought. The oligarchs who run these places did not get to be as rich and powerful as they are without knowing how to play the spread… as they say.

They know that the only threat to their business practices is the Democratic Party, and they have been smart enough to buy protection.