Friday, October 20, 2017

The Dark Triad

While the therapy world gnashes its teeth over who is feeling whose feelings, social psychologists are hard at work identifying what it takes to succeed in the real world.

Sometimes they sound like moral philosophers. At other times, they seem to be culture warriors. If you think that capitalists are evil and venal you will accept the theory that people who succeed in business are evil and venal. To put a finer point on it, the social psychologists have previously declared that success in the business world would befall those who possessed the “dark triad,” who were Machiavellian narcissistic psychopaths.

For my part, I find the term “dark triad” to be inspired. It could easily be the title of a horror movie. We should be happy to recognize creativity, regardless of where it comes from.

Anyway, those who think that capitalists are fundamentally bad people, or that you cannot succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of business without being a dog yourself were happy to embrace the dark triad. Some people found it reassuring that their own obnoxious and repellent personality traits had destined them for success. I trust that the same people also love horoscopes.

Now… fanfare, please… researchers have discovered that people who possess the dark triad are less capable and weaker performers. When it comes to running hedge funds, being a narcissist or a psychopath or even manipulative will, in the long run work against you.

The Daily Mail reports the story:

From The Wolf of Wall Street to The Big Short, many films about the financial sector feature people with the 'dark triad' of personality traits - psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

But a new study suggests that people with these traits may not necessarily make the best investment decisions compared with 'nice guys'.

This is because they are often overconfident and reckless - causing them to stick with bad investment decisions longer than they should.  

The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that Dark Triad personality traits are not desirable in leaders.

This suggests another slogan: Nice guys finish first. It may not be intuitively obvious, and the research primarily involves investment decisions, but it is good news for those who are working to develop their good character. Who knew that getting along with other people, showing respect and courtesy would make you more successful than seducing and manipulating people in order to pursue a goal more ruthlessly.

The Daily Mail explains the results of the most recent study:

Previous studies have suggested that people with the 'dark triad' of personality traits  make the best managers.

But in a new study, researchers from the University of Denver suggest that this isn't the case.

Dr Leanne ten Brinke, lead author of the study, said: 'We should re-think our assumptions that might favour ruthlessness or callousness in an investment manager.

'Not only do these personality traits not improve performance, our data suggest that they many hinder it.'

One suspects, in passing, that what counts as callous indifference was in many cases a sign of competitive focus, and therefore an absence of empathy for one’s opponents. Such an attitude does not bespeak a personality defect. It is a sign of a competitive personality. It does not matter when you feel empathy for your opponent. What matters is that you display sportsmanship. This coincides with a more cooperative attitude—you cannot compete effectively if you are not a trustworthy teammate.

I am sure you want to know what counts as psychopathy. The newspaper explains:

Psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder.

Common signs include superficial charm, a grandiose notion of self-worth, the need for stimulation and impulsiveness, pathological lying, the ability to manipulate others and a lack of remorse and empathy.

Of course, getting other people to do what needs to be done because they want to do it, as Eisenhower suggested, is not necessarily manipulative. When you seduce people into doing  your bidding because you want it done you are being manipulative. When you are getting them to do what needs to be done you are leading them. Is it about the leader's personality or the good of the company... the distinction is worth underscoring.

Bloomberg News reports on the same research. It emphasizes the fact that a good investor does not go it alone. He works with other people, shares ideas and respects differences of opinion. He does not try to impose himself on the world:

However, some psychologists have shown that the quality of work exhibited by people with such tendencies [the dark triad] can fall short. “More psychopathic individuals tend to be able to talk the talk, but not walk the walk,” ten Brinke said. Over time—and measured by an objective standard such as investment returns—their shortcomings can become glaringly obvious.

Psychopaths are also very difficult to work with, as one could probably surmise. Investing, like other fields, can require collaboration, listening to the ideas of colleagues, and hiring specialists to execute your strategies.

It concludes with a cautionary note:

“There’s good research to suggest psychopaths are poor leaders,” ten Brinke said. “If you put someone with psychopathic traits [in charge] of a group, they’re more likely to divide the group.”

A Pen Pal with Benefits

I’m happy to say that New York Magazine’s resident therapist gets it right today. It’s nice to be able to say so, since it does not happen all that often. 

Lori Gottlieb is responding to a letter from a woman who calls herself, Rock and a Hard Place. At issue is a relationship. The relationship, the best RHP has ever had, has failed because her inamorato is doing an executive training program and has been relocated to Paris, for four months.

The relationship was great fun, but not very solid before the move. It has not survived the move.

Anyway, for your edification, here are some choice parts of RHP’s letter:

Then, last September, I was visiting friends in New York (I live in Chicago) and one of my friends was having a party, and he happened to be there. We got to talking and he asked if I still lived in Chicago, as he was moving to Milwaukee for work that week. We exchanged numbers and I told him to let me know if he ever wanted to come down to Chicago and check out the city. About a month later, he did, and that was the first time I realized I was interested. He walked in and I saw him in an entirely different light. We ended up hooking up and then started dating a couple of months later, with him coming down to Chicago or me going up to Milwaukee on weekends.

His job, however, made it hard for us. He works for a large corporation in an executive-training program and so he moves around the world every four months, likely not knowing where he’ll be until two to three weeks before he leaves. He moved to Paris in early February for four months and by May, our relationship had gone downhill. I was gripped by anxiety about where he would be moving to next, how often we should be talking and FaceTiming, and when the next time we’d see each other would be.

We broke up a few weeks ago and I have absolutely no idea how to handle it. He initiated the conversation, but I agreed with everything he was saying.

We didn’t have enough of a foundation to build off of when he moved to Paris and were putting so much pressure on ourselves to make it work that it ultimately did not.

The thing is, we both acknowledged how absolutely fantastic we are together. When we are together, it is incredible. The best relationship I have ever had by far. We have a blast, we are always laughing, and we are so crazily compatible that it’s slightly scary for me. A main point he kept bringing up as we were breaking up was the possibility of us being together once this program is over — which could be in one year or in four years, he doesn’t know.

I want to keep that door open because of how much I care about him and how compatible we are, but also know and understand that I need to focus on moving forward at the same time. We were talking back and forth after we broke up, but I finally asked him to give me space as it was making it impossible for me to even begin to heal and move on. Now I don’t know if that’s the right choice.

I have no idea what to do and, truthfully, right now, I just feel like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

So far, so good. RHP might think it was true love, but she would have done better not to hookup so quickly and so soon. When a woman hooks up quickly, even effortlessly, she gives definition to the relationship and states her intention. She has told him that she is not in it for the long term. Of course, it might become long term, but she has gotten off on the wrong foot.

Be that as it may, Gottlieb gets to the right point. That is, that “Joe” has made no commitment. When he left, he did not offer a commitment and did not state an intention to forge a future relationship, no less a marriage. It is not a good idea to pretend that an offer exists when it doesn't. Instead he broke up… and, if I say so, this probably means that he is prowling the Parisian nightlife for other hookups. Some young women do not understand that one hookup is not that different from another.

Be that as it may, Gottlieb writes:

As I read your letter, though, I took away a very different “main point.” To me, the main point is that Joe did not say, “I care deeply about you and don’t want to lose you. How can we make this work?” The main point is that he did not say, “Please hang in there with me because I believe we have something special here.” The main point is that Joe did not seem to be “gripped with anxiety about where he would be moving to next, how often we should be talking and FaceTiming, and when the next time we’d see each other would be.” The main point is that Joe broke up with you. The main point is that this “happy-go-lucky” guy is being happy-go-lucky with your romantic future — maybe we’ll get back together in some undetermined number of years — a sentiment in which your best interests are nowhere to be found.

To which Gottlieb correctly adds that Joe was never a real possibility. He was a lot of fun for RHP. For him she was a lot of fun. That was all it was… no matter how much fun they had and how good the sex was.

Then, Gottlieb becomes harsher, but correctly. RHP did not really have a relationship. She was a friend with benefits:

If you hooked up in September, started dating in November, and he left for Paris in February, you were in an in-person relationship for a mere three months — weekends only. You spent approximately 12 weekends or 24 days together. That’s less than one consecutive month. You two know what it’s like to have romantic weekends together, to laugh and have sex and miss each other when you’re apart. You know what it’s like to talk and text and FaceTime, but that’s not a relationship. That’s a pen pal with benefits.

What was missing, Gottlieb continues, was what she calls the dailiness of a constituted relationship. An excellent point. As I have put it, true love, no matter how true it is, needs to be socialized and domesticated. Otherwise it will have a very short shelf life.

In Gottlieb’s words:

You learn about compatibility, on the other hand, through shared dailiness, and you two haven’t experienced the dailiness of each other. It’s like the difference between color and black and white, or three dimensions and two. Long-distance is “always laughing together.” It’s not, “who’s doing the dishes and picking up towels from the bathroom floor.” It’s not, “I need my space” — or, “I need a smile when I walk in the door at the end of the day, even if you just had a fight with your mom.” It’s not experiencing bad days, bad moods, or annoying habits that you can hide to a degree in a weekends-only situation. It’s not about the richness and texture of logging regular hours together. Compatibility is all of that, and it’s also knowing what it’s like to integrate your lives into your larger worlds — friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues. You and Joe didn’t have a community around you as you communed. You were an island of two in your blissed-out universe during the 48 hours you had together.

She continues with another salient point. A relationship is never just about two people. It’s about merging two social worlds, creating an alliance between groups:

A relationship may seem like it’s just about two people, but it’s about the confluence of your respective worlds as well. How do your larger worlds mesh? How do they add context to the person you see only through your own lens? The long-distance romance is a rarefied experience, and I can see why it felt like “the best relationship by far.” Despite its loneliness, it protects you from the messier parts of courtship and dating. It’s not surprising that you and Joe are “fantastic” together, because though all new relationships are rooted partly in “fantasy,” a relationship that exists only on weekends is rooted even more deeply in illusion. (It’s possible that you and Joe didn’t have a substantive conversation about the reality of your logistics until Joe broke up with you because neither one of you wanted to puncture the illusion.)

Gottlieb concludes that Joe is not part of the equation. Thus that RHP  should move on. 

Good advice.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lindy West Unhinged

Hollywood, you might have noticed, is not the epicenter of the vast right wing conspiracy. Hollywood, even Hollywood in Tribeca, is a politically correct thoroughly enlightened feminist paradise. Even before they proclaimed themselves leaders of the Resistance against Donald Trump movie industry moguls and actors were true believers in the leftist, feminist cause.

We used to think that the only way anyone could lose a role in Hollywood was to be outed as a Republican. Now, we know that the other way, for women, was to refuse the ham-handed advances of Harvey Weinstein. In some cases, such women were not even allowed to refuse.... 

Obviously, other women in other industries have suffered sexual harassment and sexual assault. You may have been up in arms against what Clarence Thomas supposedly said to Anita Hill, but the charges against Thomas pale in comparison to the assaults and rapes that Harvey Weinstein is accused of having committed.

So, we have had nearly five decades of feminist consciousness raising. We have had two and a half decades of intense conversation about workplace sexual harassment. What did we get from it? We got Harvey Weinstein. Somehow it turned the feminist paradise of the movie industry into a fever swamp of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Keep in mind, Hollywood is not filled with Tea Party patriots. It is not chockablock with Republicans or Bible-thumpers or holy rollers. It is not even filled with alt-right fanatics and wingnuts. It is filled with people who are probably atheists, but who religiously fill the coffers of every Democratic candidate and who proudly support every liberal and progressive cause. Hollywood bigwigs pretend to superior moral character and superior insight. And yet, from this fever swamp has arisen, not respectful behavior toward women, but Harvey Weinstein.

People overlook the fact, so let’s emphasize that all of these self-righteously sanctimonious empty-headed moralists voted to give an Oscar to a man who had raped a 13 year old child. Led by luminaries like Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, and Harvey Weinstein they cheered lustily when Roman Polanski won his Oscar. What message was people supposed to learn from that, except that the community would forgive any man anything as long as he made great movies.

Allow me to repeat the obvious. The feminist men who abused, harassed and raped women were given the greenlight by none other than Hillary Clinton. Remember that our enabler in chief defended her sexual predator husband by attacking the women who dared accuse him. When Weinstein stated that he would do penance for his perfidy by supporting leftist causes, he was simply stating the obvious. Feminists happily excused predatory men if they supported the feminist cause. Be a feminist, support the cause, and a man can do what he pleases to women.

Even now, Clinton friend and satrap, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, in a column about what she knew about Weinstein, cannot bring herself to denounce Bill Clinton:

One of the best friends I will ever have and a man I love dearly, former President Bill Clinton, has certainly taxed my feminist conscience, but always without diminishing my affection. I even helped write his apology to the nation for his own sexual misconduct, was sitting next to him when he delivered it, and believe to this day it was based on something that was none of our business.

Not-so-famous feminist ranter Lindy West has declared war on men. As though she needed the recent events to be at war against men. In truth, many feminists have been at war against boys and men for decades now. How is that one working out?

Any time you want to declare war on someone make sure that you have the fire power to win. And keep in mind that when you make war against a large group, indiscriminately attacking the guilty and the innocent, you are going to stoke animosity. And you are going to discover that some of those you are warring against will fight back.

There’s an old moral precept: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s not the same as: Do unto others as they have done unto you.

Unable to accept any responsibility for the state of affairs to which she and the sisterhood contributed West denounces “powerful men.” You see, even in a world that has had its feminist consciousness raised, it’s always the patriarchy. By powerful men you can read capitalist warmongers. And you can read West's column as a veiled effort to enlist women in the revolutionary cause. Isn't she therefore trying to use the Weinstein victims as recruiting tools for her leftist caues.

But, you cannot put the patriarchy on trial. West is exonerating the men who committed sexual malfeasance by blaming all men… as though there is something about men that makes them into predators.

West ignores the fact that men are normally inclined to protect and defend women. As we know, feminists reject all such protection because they say it makes them feel weak. And yet, as one commetator remarked, one of Hollywood’s problems is that—with a couple of notable exceptions, like Brad Pitt—there weren’t any men around to protect and defend young women. Lest we forget, none of the strong empowered feminists in Hollywood were willing to denounce it either.

West is fuming against men, against:

… the smothering, delusional, galactic entitlement of powerful men.

She especially attacks Donald Trump—not Bill Clinton, of course—and his followers. Why miss the chance to make a cheap political point.

In her white hot rage West forgot that the men in Hollywood who have been preying on aspiring actresses were not Trump supporters. Heck, most of them were not even Republicans. She adds a bit of nonsensical psychobabble, presumably to show how bright she thinks she is:

Donald Trump, our predator in chief, seems to view the election of Barack Obama as a white man being fired. He and his supporters are willing to burn the world in revenge. This whole catastrophic cultural moment was born of that same entitlement, of Trump’s paws and Weinstein’s unbelted bathrobe, of the ancient cycles of abuse that ghostwrote the Trump campaign’s real slogan: If I can’t have you, no one will.

By West’s reasoning, the fault lies with the system. One cannot but agree. In a just system Weinstein would have been called out and ruined for his behavior. But, the system that, as she puts it, tolerated Weinstein for years, was not a bunch of church-going folks in Kansas. It was the entertainment industry, in Hollywood and downtown Manhattan. In small town America if someone tries to rape your daughter or your sister, he will not be seeing the next sunrise.

Unless you are sufficiently mindless to believe that all men are bad to the bone, and that all men do the same thing, the crime wave West is inveighing about was committed by card-carrying feminist men, men who have been financing the Democratic Party for decades now. If you ask who let Weinstein get away with it, the answer is: the power brokers in the film industry. It's not so much that they were cowed; I suspect that they did not care:

In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.

West is happy to show the world what some already suspected, that she is a witch. But, her wild-eyed harangue at all men, one that has been widely praised, demonstrates that emotional extremes often blind one to the obvious, and even to the self-evident.

Erasing the Obama Foreign Policy Legacy

Among the non-arguments proposed by the unhappy few we have this: Trump’s animosity toward Obama is causing him to undo the Obama legacy, brick by brick, piece by piece. The only reason for Trump's actions, these mindless mavens suggest, is that Obama did it.

By their poor excuse for reasoning, we should keep all elements of the Obama legacy intact… because Obama did them. Keep in mind, the American people, in casting their votes in hundreds of elections, repudiated the Obama legacy throughout the Obama presidency.

Uri Friedman addresses the question in The Atlantic, though he relies far too much on noted Obamaphile flack Ben Rhodes.

He summarizes the Trump wrecking crew:

When Donald Trump last week opted to decertify the nuclear agreement that Barack Obama forged with Iran, it appeared to fit a pattern in the president’s emerging foreign policy. In withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate-change accord, in announcing that he was “canceling” the U.S. opening to Cuba, Trump seemed similarly determined to dismantle Obama’s achievements in international affairs. 

But, it’s not just Trump, Friedman continues. Many Obama policy initiatives were wagers … like the wager on Iranian moderation. Reality has proved these to be bad bets:

But to the extent that Obama’s foreign-policy legacy is under threat, it’s not only Trump that’s doing the threatening. Some accomplishments are fraying for reasons that have nothing to do with the 45th president’s apparent contempt for the 44th. Obama’s legacy partially depends on his bets that certain countries—Cuba, Iran, Burma—would, with time, respond positively to diplomacy, which the former president once described to The Atlantic as “the element of American power that the rest of the world appreciates unambiguously.”

Strangely enough, Friedman suggests that the Trump war against ISIS is just a continuation of the Obama war against ISIS. He does not seem to recall that ISIS arose and prospered under the Obama presidency and that the former president exhibited his signature cowardice when confronting it.

On Monday the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa fell. Clearly, it was yet another Trumpian effort to undo the Obama legacy. Obama’s flacks and flunkies were not running around explaining that Trump had wanted to destroy ISIS because he held Obama in contempt. They preferred, in the media, to portray it as a defeat. After all, we cannot have it that Trump might look like he was succeeding, can we?

It took special talents with spin to make victory in Raqqa look like a defeat, but the New York Times was up to the challenge in its news analysis (via Maggie’sFarm):

Its de facto capital is falling. Its territory has shriveled from the size of Portugal to a handful of outposts. Its surviving leaders are on the run.

But rather than declare the Islamic State and its virulent ideology conquered, many Western and Arab counterterrorism officials are bracing for a new, lethal incarnation of the jihadist group.

The organization has a proven track record as an insurgency able to withstand major military onslaughts, while still recruiting adherents around the world ready to kill in its name.

Islamic State leaders signaled more than a year ago that they had drawn up contingency plans to revert to their roots as a guerrilla force after the loss of their territory in Iraq and Syria. Nor does the group need to govern cities to inspire so-called lone wolf terrorist attacks abroad, a strategy it has already adopted to devastating effect in Manchester, England, and Orlando, Fla.

I do not quite see how it happened, but the Times neglected to mention that jihadis far and wide were drawn to ISIS because it looked like it was winning, winning in Mosul, winning in Syria. Obama’s pusillanimous withdrawal from the region empowered ISIS and inspired jihadis in Europe and America.

The Associated Press echoes the Times worry that defeat is really a victory:

Over several nights in September, some 10,000 men, women and children fled areas under Islamic State control, hurrying through fields in northern Syria and risking fire from government troops to reach a province held by an al-Qaida-linked group.

For an untold number of battle-hardened jihadis fleeing with the civilians, the escape to Idlib province marked a homecoming of sorts, an opportunity to continue waging war alongside an extremist group that shares much of the Islamic State's ideology — and has benefited from its prolonged downfall.

While the U.S.-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have been focused on driving IS from the country's east, an al-Qaida-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee has consolidated its control over Idlib, and may be looking to return to Osama bin Laden's strategy of attacking the West.

For those bemoaning the erasure of the Obama foreign policy, it’s yet another occasion for anguish and anger.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Management Skills

On his Marginal Revolution blog Tyler Cowen brings us some good advice about corporate management… from venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. (via Maggie’s Farm)

First, Horowitz says:

People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?”  Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.  It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO.

Naturally, we tend to divide the world into good and bad. We know the right thing to do and we know the wrong thing to do. We admire those who do the right thing and assume that those who do the wrong thing could have done the right thing. Since we have been trained to think critically, we can find fault with any move.

As I see it, Horowitz is right. There are times when there is no right decision. That is, there are no good moves. But you have to do something. It's your job. As the saying goes… its now your move.

As for the psycho angle, Horowitz has a useful comment that feels like it came from Peter Drucker’s pamphlet: "Managing Oneself."

Horowitz said:

By far the most difficult skill I learned as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology.

It does not just mean that you should control your emotions, but that is certainly part of it. It means that you should be able to step back from a problem and think about the company’s best interest, not your own best interest. And it also means evaluating proposals objectively, regardless of how charming or convinced the person who promoted the proposal was. Think about the policy, not the person.

Of course, you will then need to persuade the person whose idea you just rejected to be on board with the decision.

Cue the Moral Outrage

It’s a rhetorical strategy like another. Call it the “cue the outrage” strategy. You will see it at work week after week, especially from the people who whine about facts and reason.

The pattern should be familiar by now. President Trump says something that it dubious or false or both. Before you know it, the Obamaphile outrage machine is up and running. Its members, many of whom worked for the previous president, are out there fulminating about Trump’s stupidity, his ignorance, his incompetence, his worthlessness, his lack of patriotism, his defamation of his predecessors.

Before you know it the nation is consumed in a grand discussion about how bad Trump really is, what a horrible mistake he made, how he is unfit for office, how he should immediately be impeached or removed, how he is making Hitler look good.

Case in point: at a press conference on Monday when asked whether he had called the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Niger, Trump said that he was writing letters, and that, besides, previous presidents did not call all of the families of deceased service members. It is not exactly a pure falsehood, but it is certainly an exaggeration. In truth, George W. Bush called the families of many fallen servicemen, as did Barack Obama. Apparently, Obama did not call Gen. John Kelly, currently the White House chief of staff when his son was killed in action.

Since Trump has a habit of playing fast and loose with the truth the press corps and his political enemies were at the ready to pounce on the misstatement. One day he might learn not to shoot his mouth off without having been thoroughly briefed, but that day seems not to be dawning, just yet.

Cue the outrage. From the Washington Post:

Near midnight Monday, former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., who in 2009 accompanied Obama to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan, tweeted for Trump to “stop the damn lying.” He added, “I went to Dover AFB with 44 and saw him comfort the families of both the fallen military & DEA.”

And, of course, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy consigliere chimed in:

Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, called the statement “an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards.”

Rhodes was instrumental in the foreign policy debacles of the Obama administration, leading up to the brilliant deal that gave Iran legitimate access to nuclear weapons and enough cash to fund all the terrorism they want. Good to hear from Ben on Trump’s language.

Also writing in the Washington Post David van Drehle declared that Trump had shown himself to be unpatriotic. Keep in mind, refusing to stand for the National Anthem or to pledge allegiance to the flag are now patriotic actions. Don't believe me... ask that great patriot Hillary Clinton.

Anyway, something else happened Monday that showed the true patriotism and sound judgement of a great commander in chief. You remember the time when Barack Obama was commander in chief. You remember when he snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq? You remember when he opened the floodgates to ISIS, in both Iraq and Syria. You remember when he walked away from his red line in Syria, contributing to a bloodbath of mammoth proportions, coupled with a refugee crisis that is overwhelming Europe.

I am sure you remember those examples of a truly competent, truly patriotic commander in chief. Clearly, it all pales in comparison with the unmitigated horror that we must assign to a misstatement by Donald Trump. If, perchance you can flood the news cycle with your statements of outrage on the day that American forces, not led by the pusillanimous Barack Obama, liberated the ISIS capital of Raqqa, then no one will notice that you are basically using your moral outrage as a tool to distort the news coverage of important events.

Better yet, your gales of the insincere outrage have also served to cover up another story, a story that also occurred on Monday. If you are reasonably sentient you know it well. On that day Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to the charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy during the war in Afghanistan. You remember Bowe Bergdahl. You remember when Barack Obama held a welcome home ceremony with his parents at the White House. You recall when Obama declared Bergdahl to be a great patriot, a great soldier, a man who fought for his country. You remember all the lies, lie after lie after lie, that Obama used to justify his having made a deal… and traded a deserter for five Taliban commanders. How patriotic can you get?

Marta Hernandez wrote on the Victory Girls blog:

 In an interview aired by Good Morning America today, Bergdahl sniveled that it was “insulting” that he’s being portrayed as a traitor. You got that, boys and girls? The traitorous little prick is offended that after walking away from his duty station, hooking up with the enemy, causing the deaths of and grave injuries to several fellow service members, and finally being exchanged for five terrorist Taliban scum, who are running around, no doubt planning more attacks on Americans, poor little Bowe is offended at the “traitor” moniker!

She continues:

Eyewitness accounts recount Bergdahl had at some point decided he was going to be a warrior for Islam, whose captors even allowed him to carry a gun at times. Emails he sent to his parents prior to his desertion say he was ashamed to be an American. If this is true, punishment for misbehavior before the enemy should be the least of the charges against him! I vote wood chipper. Feet first.

Additionally he admitted to a fellow troop that if the deployment wasn’t badass enough for his standards, he would just walk, and that’s exactly what he did, resulting in years of rescue efforts, American casualties, and the release of five high-value Taliban prisoners in exchange for his worthless ass. This wasn’t about trying to draw attention to leadership failures. This wasn’t about a gnawing conscience about his mission in Afghanistan. This was about a narcissistic dick weasel, who was rejected by the French Foreign Legion, probably because his ego was writing checks his body couldn’t cash.

As for Obama’s gushing praise of the deserter, Scott Johnson recalls it on the Powerline blog:

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was President Obama’s designated liar. Her shamelessness must have been her foremost qualification for the high office she disgraced.

Obama sent her out to the Sunday gabfests to have her declare that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” And that’s not all. “Sergeant Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage,” she asserted, “he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield.” And further: “We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who are taken in battle, and we did that in this instance.” 

Johnson continued:

Obama’s statement foregoes outright lies in favor of falsehood by implication. In retrospect, we can see the calculated duplicity in it.

We have Obama’s fake bonhomie with the Bergdahls. We have the portrayal of Bergdahl as a heroic prisoner of war. Unlike Susan Rice, Obama omitted any assertion fact regarding Bergdahl’s capture. The heroic portrayal is implied in the depiction of Bergdahl’s deprivations. We have Obama’s negotiation with terrorists and exchange of a deserter for five-high ranking Taliban terrorists as a triumph of martial valor, fidelity to military tradition and brilliant diplomacy, all in the service of American ideals.

When undermining the United States, Obama frequently resorted to the refrain: “That’s who we are as Americans.” He didn’t give us the facts. He didn’t give us an argument to support what he had done. He gave us his refrain. Don’t play it again, Barry.

The Taliban treated Bergdahl as a high-value hostage. Obama accorded Bergdahl a similarly high value as a pawn to be used in his project of closing Guantanamo and getting out of Afghanistan. Here are brief profiles of the five Taliban butchers Obama offloaded for Bergdahl.

In today’s New York Post Paul Sperry revisits the deal. Sperry reports: “The Pentagon itself refused to list Bergdahl as a POW. That’s because an internal 2009 Army report found he had a history of walking off his post and more than likely deserted. It also found he shipped his laptop back home to Idaho, and left a note expressing his disillusionment with the war, before ending up in the arms of the Taliban.”

So, we have fervent moral outrage over Donald Trump’s misstatement. But, with a few exceptions, we hear no outrage over the lies that Obama told, openly and shamefacedly, about Bowe Bergdahl. After all, Obama knew that the media would never hold him to account for any of his lies, so he was free to say whatever he wanted. Sending five Taliban commanders back to the battlefield where they could fight against and kill American and Afghani forces… not a problem. Certainly not unpatriotic. If you say that it was an appallingly bad decision... then the thought police will descend on you like a band of locusts.

It is fairly obvious that we are living in the era of the big lie and where lies cannot be challenged when they are told by Democrats. We are living in a time when emotion has drowned out reason. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Saving Dr. Freud

A strange choice, I must say. Over the years Frederick Crews wrote many of his blistering critiques of Freud for the New York Review of Books. Now that Crews has produced a magisterial biography of Freud, the NYRB has chosen, as a reviewer, Lisa Appignanesi, Chair of the Trustees of the Freud Museum. Obviously, they were not looking for an impartial or objective or fair-minded reviewer. They did not find one. Whatever the faults of the Crews biography, he deserved better from the NYRB.

As for qualifications, Appignanesi is a writer, a teacher of literature and the widow of one John Forrester, a Cambridge professor who wrote extensively about psychoanalysis, particularly about Jacques Lacan. One imagines that she knows something about psychoanalysis, but she is hardly an expert in clinical matters. She has undertaken to rescue Freud's reputation and his ideas from well-deserved oblivion. Given her ideological blinders she does not know that Freud is beyond saving.

So, she debunks Crews by saying first that Crews is fighting a straw Freud. She declares that no one really cares much about Freud himself or his practice or his patients. It’s all in the ideas. We can dispense with the rest. If Freud were a scientist—Appignanesi still thinks he is—this might be pertinent. But Freud was a culture warrior, dedicating himself to subverting Western civilization, especially the kind associated with Protestantism.

She seems to understand that Freud was a world class storyteller, one who would appeal to a novelist like Appignanesi, but that his theories are nothing more than that:

The idealization of Freud the man that Crews is so keen to prove a blinding illusion is hardly prevalent. Most scholars, commentators, and even analysts don’t need it to make use of Freud’s insights into the opacity and unpredictability of the human mind, or the ways in which love and hate coexist, or how our childhoods echo through us, sometimes trapping us, or how our identifications with early figures in our lives shape the complicated humans we become.

Having a special fondness for empty arguments from authority she declares that Freud must have been a scientist because he was welcomed by the Royal Society of British scientists. She adds that Pope Pius XII himself declared Freud to be a scientist and that Pope Francis had been in psychoanalysis. Thus, she considers the case closed:

Perhaps Pope Pius XII hadn’t noticed this when in 1953 he formally approved “the use of psychoanalysis as a healing device,” indicating that “science affirms that recent observations have brought to light the hidden layers of the psychic structure of man.”1 Pope Francis himself recently revealed that he had had psychoanalysis at the age of forty-two. He called his analyst a courageous woman.

Since Appignanesi ignores the fact that Freud’s claim to be a scientist was definitively debunked by Karl Popper, who remarked that since Freud would not admit to their being any evidence that could falsify his theory he was not doing science. Add to that Nobel prize winning biologist Peter Medawar’s point-- published in the NYRB, I believe-- that Freud knew nothing about biology and was perpetrating a massive confidence trick, and you shrug your shoulders over the claims of a cult follower like Appignenesi.

And yet, she adds that psychoanalysis is more like religious movement, even a cult. In truth, I have written about this extensively myself, but I only note here that the same simple-minded thinking that declared Freud to be a scientist on the say-so of two popes does not recognize that you cannot be a scientist and a cult leader at the same time.

In her words:

Crews doesn’t explore—as Ernest Gellner did in The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985)—how the growth of psychoanalysis may be understood as akin to the development of a religious movement, or how its claims, while pretending to be scientific, are actually those of a belief system in disguise.

She is correct however to point out that, when Freud began his work, treatment for mental illness was not very good.

Crews has a good grasp of the general culture of neurological and psychiatric medicine at the turn of the last century, but in his zealous attempt to indict Freud, he fails to give it proper historical weight. There were no cures for psychiatric illnesses, including hysteria, with its wide range of often severe symptoms. Treatments were harsh, penitential, and sometimes terminal.

At the time, these were not considered to be psychiatric illnesses. They were not considered to be neuroses. They were considered neurological disorders. Some, especially the outbreak of hysteria, was produced by social contagion.

Much of the rest was considered the work of witches and devils, and was treated by priests. Freud understood this and wrote about it in the case of Christoph Hatzmann.

She continues:

But hypnotism was one of the time’s scientific experimental methods, and in Charcot’s case a diagnostic tool. Crews chooses not to mention that what Freud learned from Charcot was “la chose genitale”—the sexuality that was everywhere in the hospital and in the stories the hysterics told about themselves and to which Freud, unlike Charcot, listened.

Of course, I myself gave weight to these facts in my last book about Freud. The author ignores it.

Appagnanesi gives Freud credit for trying to cure the mental ill, many of whom were people suffering from neurological disorders. Psychoanalysis has often overreached, in its effort to treat people who suffered from brain diseases or neurological or metabolic disorders.

She does not fault Freud for not curing his patients, but she should have mentioned that in his early case studies Freud claimed to have cured them. Thus, a so-called man of science presented fraudulent representations of the effectiveness of his method.

Freud at least attempted to do so. At the time, mental hospitals and private clinics used whatever drugs they could find, from chloral to potassium bromide, to calm their patients. The anguished behavior of the ill—often verbally, sexually, and physically agitated—is well known. It’s hardly surprising that Josef Breuer used sedatives on Bertha Pappenheim, known as Anna O., the first patient in the Studies on Hysteria, or that Freud at first tried that and whatever other techniques were available to him. Managing such patients was the best that could be done. Failure was the norm.

Freud did contribute the notion that remembering past traumas would release patients from their hold. Crews wrote about the way this notion informed the abuses of the recovered-memory movement in the New York Review of Books. Appignanesi ignores all of it.

She sees Freud as a nice man performing a harmless procedure. If it did not work, nothing else did either:

Yet Freud left drugs and hypnotism behind for his new, far gentler talking and listening therapy. Most hospitals and asylums, even clinics, did not. In the course of the more “scientific” twentieth century came miracle cures, often deadly on application, such as insulin, tooth-pulling, lobotomy, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Modern ECT entails a more powerful application of electricity than the nineteenth-century electrotherapies the young Freud used, and for which Crews mocks him.

And she adds that Freud’s patients did not commit suicide. Psychiatrists have long known that if you do not want your patients to commit suicide the best approach is not to treat suicidal patients. Yet, she ignores the case of Victor Tausk—a sometime patient of Freud’s—and, in France the case of Lucien Sebag. She also has nothing to say about the psychiatric clinics that were run according to psychoanalytic principles. Before the advent of modern medications, those clinics produced some very ugly results—for pretending that they could treat schizophrenia and severe depression with talk:

Whatever Freud’s highhanded and patriarchal misreadings of this troubled adolescent girl, Dora didn’t commit suicide, as her parents were worried she might; nor did Freud’s other patients. That may not be a miraculous result, but neither is it a total failure, as anyone working in today’s challenging mental health environment would surely agree. Freud, unlike many in his time, at least acknowledged that women’s voices were worth listening to—that women were sexual beings with desires.

Trust me, Freud did not discover that women were sexual beings with desire. The notion is risible on its face. And he did not, as he claimed, discover that children were not innocent. The major theologians in Christendom were on the case centuries before him.

Appignanesi draws a stark parallel between the benign psychoanalysts on the one side and the terrible drug companies on the other. She fails to notice that if psychoanalysis had been an effective treatment people would not have been flocking to these medications:

The recent exposure of the extent to which negative evidence in clinical trials of much-hyped psychoactive drugs was massaged away with the help of doctors on pharmaceutical company payrolls, the way clinical results highlighted only what would prove profitable, the masking of side effects, suicide among them—all this has made the purported misdeeds of psychoanalysts look benign.3 The talking therapies may produce no instant miracles; neither do they do comparable harm. Insurers may want to think again about costs over a patient’s lifetime. Then, too, hand in hand with the development of these new, highly touted “scientific” psychoactive drugs, the number of sufferers from mental disorders has grown enormously.

One might say a word about correlation and causation. The use of psychoactive drugs does not necessarily cause mental illness. One suspects that the increased cases of mental illness derive from psychosocial factors, from  an increasingly fragmented society where children are not taught to fit in and to get along with other children, but to seek individual autonomy, independence and self-actualization.

For all we know the therapy culture, brought into the latter half of the twentieth century by one Benjamin Spock is a major culprit in producing social anomie. Or else, we might say that the tyranny of science, the sense that science can answer all questions has produced an ethical morass where people have no reliable principles or precepts to guide their lives.

Of course, one needs to distinguish between SSRIs and the other psychiatric medications. When it comes to psychosis or severe depression or phobias or bipolar illness… these medications have been a godsend for many patients. Those psychoanalysts who advise patients not to take their medications ought to bear some responsibility for the negative outcomes, including suicides, that befall those who refuse treatment. Of course, the anti-psychiatry movement of R. D. Laing did its best to persuade patients not to take their drugs. It certainly caused damage. It was not benign.

And let’s not forget the efforts of French psychoanalysts to ensure that autistic children in France not receive the best available treatment, that being cognitive and behavioral. Let’s not forget the social service agencies that remove autistic children from their homes in France because Freudian analysts have persuaded them that these children became autistic because their mothers were frigid or otherwise toxic. Put that on the account of Freudian theory.