Monday, April 27, 2015

What Is Rape Culture?

The proponents of what is called rape culture assert that over 20% of college women have been raped. The statistics are subject to serious doubt. Scholars like Christina Hoff Summers have questioned the statistics, noting that women are safer on college campuses than they are in the society at large.

The notion that white male fraternity brothers are conspiring to abuse, humiliate and rape college women does not hold up to scrutiny. Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story of a gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia was a lie.

And yet, those who want believe that privileged white males are a crime wave embraced the story uncritically.

Even though the statistics have been distorted and the evidence for “rape culture” is questionable, this does not mean that American college campuses do not have a sex problem. In fact, they have a very serious sex problem. It might not be the one that the rape culture activists see, but it is there.

University of Virginia professors Vigen Guroian and WilliamWilson begin an in-depth analysis of the problem by pointing out the “sexual chaos in student life.”

They write:

But it is not credible that before the piece, the administration was unaware of the sexual chaos in student life. For nearly a decade, Bill Wilson was dean of the Echols Scholars Program at the university. He and others in similar positions reported to the administration what they had heard. Dozens of bright young college women told Wilson that they had been sexually humiliated, assaulted, or raped.

They offer further evidence:

A recent female graduate of the University of Virginia wrote the following for a class assignment:

Sex pervades almost every aspect of dorm life that I have experienced. I have seen “dorm incest” (the entire floor hooks up with everyone else on the floor), [been] “sexiled,” by my roommate having sex on my dorm bed, and witnessed date rape . . .

They quote another woman’s description of life in a coed dorm:

Most of the people in your dorm were in the “friend zone.” Everyone was a “guy.” But even with sweatpants on we recognized we had different body parts and late at night with a couple of beers things got more intimate. We were not so much male and female as we were xx who logically should give xy what they want and what we have. We were all one mutually using and abusing non-family.

Sexual license was actively encouraged and funded by the university. From “Spring-break fun packs” full of condoms and forms of contraception handed out at the student center with a cute note from a pudgy sunshine face wearing shades saying “Have a Fun Spring Break!” to “Sexual Arts and Crafts” flyers plastered on the dorm halls—the message is clear: college is a parent-funded motel party of casual and impersonal, but, yes, “safe sex.”

The problem did not begin yesterday. It began with the sexual revolution of the Vietnam Era and the advent of second-wave feminism.

The professors explain:

Fifty years ago, when the great campaign against single-sex education commenced under the banner of the sexual revolution, it was promised that by bringing the sexes into closer proximity, a healthier environment for relations between young men and women would form. It is possible that this might have happened had our schools not taken down the conventions and institutional arrangements that for generations had brought the sexes together in a more or less orderly and purposeful way.

Back then, we were told that the old order must be abolished because the standards and conventions it embodied favored men. Young women would be sexually liberated and the “playing field” leveled. Therefore, parietal hours were eliminated and mixed-sex dorms, once inconceivable, became the norm. In the process, the new unisex coeducational colleges and universities that are so familiar to us today came into existence. These institutions committed themselves to dismantling the culture of courtship that until then colleges had accepted and in a variety of ways fostered within an educational environment.

The idea was even bandied about that in a coeducational setting, women would be better able to “domesticate” the men. That goal was soon forgotten, once marriage no longer figured as a social value and was replaced by the monolithic aim of success in a career.

Think about it for a moment. Do women living in coed dorms feel that their space is being violated? Do they feel that they feel that their modesty and intimacy are being invaded?

Apparently, the new arrangement allows young men to believe that they can take advantage of young women. When colleges do not put any real barriers between men and women they encourage this misapprehension. When they do not provide institutional protections for women they are suggesting that women do not need protection, or even that those who abuse women will not suffer any consequences.

And yet, if a woman feels violated and invaded by the presence of males in her dorm, it would not count as rape within the criminal justice system. Surely, it is a problem, but it is not going to be solved by guilt-tripping young men and policing their behavior more vigorously.

Guroian and Wilson explain that the new living arrangements militate against the old customs of dating and courtship:

Our unisex colleges and universities have abolished those spaces. What remains, what they have gone about creating, are spaces that invite and accommodate hook-ups and casual cohabitation—and open opportunities for forms of sexual violence that were not likely to happen on campus grounds in the past.

The sexual revolution and feminism conspired to kill off courtship and dating. If women were going to put career ahead of marriage, they would be liberated to seek out sexual pleasure for the sake of sexual pleasure. That is, they would have sex like men. They would do their best not to get involved in the kinds of relationships with men that would draw them away from the career track.

Many young women have chosen to act accordingly. Thus they actively created the hookup culture.

How many women are really hooking up? Surely, fewer than the mania about it would suggest.

And yet, the question is not so much statistics as reputation. Once a significant number of young women choose voluntarily to engage in sexual acts with men they do not know and do not even care to know—the better to have sex like a man—word gets around.

If it were just an occasional woman here and there, it would be one thing. But when a significant number of women hook up, anyone who belongs to the group gains a certain reputation.

It may feel perfectly old-fashioned, like something a mother would say, but reputation does matter. Once a woman or a group of women gain a reputation for giving away their sexual favors promiscuously, men begin to treat them accordingly.

Worse yet, many women who engaged in hookups did not really want to do so. They had to get themselves severely drunk or stoned in order to do it.

Did they feel that they were then really consenting? Did they then feel that boys should have known that, in their inebriated state, their word should not be respected?

In some ways, as I have long suggested, the rape culture is an effort to put an end to the hookup culture and to restore some sense of honor to young women who abandoned theirs too quickly and now regret it.

You may think that the now well-known walk of shame was a sign of a failure to accept women’s new liberated sexuality, but, in truth, young women who had hooked up or who had too much sexual experience too soon must have discovered that it did not make them feel very good about themselves.

Some of them required medication. Few of them got to the point where they admitted that they had been duped by the sexual revolutionaries and used by the second generation feminists.

Following the prescribed narrative, they blamed it on white male fraternity brothers.

Women might imagine that they are now free to write their own narratives, but they have been captured by the feminist narrative. In it men are to blame and women (to say nothing of feminists) are blameless.

Telling themselves on the one hand that no one has a right to judge them and seeing on the other that many men are treating them in a certain way... they are at a loss.

The moral code of courtship behavior had evolved over centuries. Feminists decided that it demeaned and diminished women. Some even thought that it was a conspiracy designed to keep women out of the workplace.

Were you to suggest that the code of gentlemanly and ladylike behavior was designed to protect and safeguard feminine modesty and intimacy you would have been dismissed as patriarchal swine. Feminists insisted that these codes, coupled with parietal restrictions, assumed that women were weak and needing protection. The only protection a woman really needed was a condom, don’t you understand?

The authors explain:

… before the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, the “yes” and “no,” ­now­adays promoted as the be-all and end-all of sexual etiquette, were given moral force by a restraining and clarifying ensemble of conventions and threshold spaces that the colleges and universities saw fit to sweep away virtually overnight.

Having attended the university at a time before courtship and dating were undermined, Guroian and Wilson recall the reality of the ancient regime:

The truth is that never did we feel the ideal of being a Virginia gentleman licensed us to treat young women as inferiors with whom we could do whatever we pleased. Just the opposite. The ideal of a gentleman had the moral power to put the brakes on our most tawdry and aggressive male proclivities and to make us take pride in our manhood. Some of us took seriously one line of a poem titled “The Honor Men,” which we hung in our rooms. It said “pursue no woman to her tears.”

They continue to point out that these codes of behavior were designed to protect women from sexual violence:

Back then, everything possible was in place to prevent a rape or any other form of sexual violence from being committed in a fraternity house or university housing. Women were not permitted in dormitory rooms or fraternity bedrooms. Those notorious University of Virginia gentlemen at the “Playboy School of the South” enforced their own parietal rules, and housemothers could be found at fraternity parties until 1968. Young women who visited for an overnight stay were assigned to “approved housing” that their institutions selected, rooms more often than not in the homes of widows who had space to let. If a young woman was uncomfortable with her date, a refuge was available, and there was a curfew. “No” had the force of strong conventions and in loco parentis. There wasn’t the need for draconian rules and punishments, because the university and women’s colleges represented real standards that were reflected in the arrangements they had put in place to bring the sexes together in an orderly fashion.

Unfortunately, universities are incapable of accepting that their grand social experiment did not work out as expected:

Our colleges and universities have not fessed up to the sexual anarchy and formless sex that they helped bring into existence when they sponsored and institutionalized the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies. Even as the evidence has mounted to undeniable proportions that something has gone horribly wrong with relations between the sexes on our campuses, colleges will not admit culpability for the ugly scene. Most important, they will not admit that the great experiment of institutionalizing the sexual revolution has failed at the cost of many, many ruined lives.

Finally, in the anarchy created by the absence of customs that determine courtship, schools have imposed their own guilt narrative. They have replaced a shame culture with a guilt culture… not knowing that the latter is far less efficient and effective at regulating human behavior.

The authors write:

Consequently, when an act of sexual misconduct, violent or otherwise, is alleged, an avoidance of moral standards under the pretense of extending freedom to young adults quickly and perversely turns to finding guilt in any party conveniently at hand….

The same persons who in their youth supported the liberation of the sexes from so-called Victorian inhibitions and morals are now rushing to impose at colleges complex codes of sexual conduct that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. These codes reveal well the dilemma they face. When equality of the sexes became the epicenter of the sexual revolution, activists removed all of the conventions and arrangements that shielded females from aggressive male behavior. They had to do so, or else they would have appeared still to respect differences between men and women. But now, faced with rising numbers of damaged students, they must produce rules of sexual engagement that will stop the abuses and traumas. The dilemma is this: How do you acknowledge the special vulnerability of women to men while disallowing distinct codes of conduct for men and women? The current solution is to adopt a formal and abstract language that ­maintains the unisex ideal and keeps silent about male–female ­differences.

On the one hand women insist that they are in every way equal to men. On the other hand women insist that they are especially vulnerable to men and in need of the kind of special protection that only the state can provide:

In January of this year, the National Panhellenic Conference, an association of national sororities, instructed sorority women at the University of Virginia for their own safety not to attend the annual Boys Bid Night fraternity parties. This prompted an immediate counterreaction that has not yet played out entirely. Female students protested that this directive contradicted the gains women have made to stand on equal ground with men in social and sexual matters.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Do you ever feel misunderstood? Do you ever feel that-- try as you might-- people are misreading your feelings?

If you do, you are not alone.

Professor Heidi Grant Halvorson has written a book about it. Emily Esfahani Smith opens her discussion of the book with this anecdote:

In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.

But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.

There’s something strange here.

Have you ever told yourself that you need to put on your “active-listening face” in order to convince people that you are listening to them? Clearly, there is something wrong with Tim’s way of showing people that he cares about what they are saying.

For my part I would like to know where Tim heard about the “active-listening face.”

In truth, he was putting on a mask. He believed that the mask accurately expressed his intentions, but he later discovered that there is more to listening than adopting a pose.

Surely, Halvorson is correct to say that there is a major gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Smith explains:

This gap arises, as Halvorson explains in her book, from some quirks of human psychology. First, most people suffer from what psychologists call “the transparency illusion”—the belief that what they feel, desire, and intend is crystal clear to others, even though they have done very little to communicate clearly what is going on inside their minds.

People believe that everyone can read their emotions, so they do not bother to communicate them. One suspects that this is a cultural attitude.

Many people have overcome the idea that they should hide or mask their feelings. They have been told that it is bad to keep up appearances and to maintain a stiff upper lip.

This implies that we have reached a cultural apotheosis where we are perfectly transparent, to the point where we do not even need to express ourselves very clearly. Everyone knows what we feel without our expressing it.

It’s variation on the cultural attitude that tells us to express ourselves openly, honestly and shamelessly. Only, in the advanced lesson, we feel that we are perfectly transparent, that we do not hide anything and thus that everyone should know how we feel.

But, is that really Tim’s problem? Tim thought he knew what he was showing that he was listening because he had read in a book or heard from a consultant that the best way to show you are listening is to put on a specific kind of facial expression.

He did not think that he was transparent. He thought that he needed to put on the right mask in order to show that he was listening. One wonders how he got to his exalted executive position.

While Tim was sporting his “active-listening face” those who were talking to said “face” believed that he was scowling at them, that he was angry with them.

Why might this be so? One suspects that Tim was not reacting to what they say. He did not change his facial expression as a function of what he had heard. And he remained mute, seeming to give people the silent treatment.

If you want people to know that you are listening to them, you cannot adopt a mask that does not change regardless of what you are hearing. (Obviously, this shows why someone who is conversing with a friend whose face has been Botoxed will have an eerie feeling that his interlocutor is somehow not there.)

Also, if you want to show people that you have listened attentively to what they are saying, how about asking a question that reflects your understanding? Better yet, if you are an executive listening to your staff's opinions, how about adopting some of their ideas?

We show that we are listening by the way we respond to what is being said. If someone’s remarks merely elicit a blank stare, he will feel that he has been dismissed.

Of course, there are other kinds of misunderstanding. Smith offers some of Halvorson’s examples:

One person may think, for example, that by offering help to a colleague, she is coming across as generous. But her colleague may interpret her offer as a lack of faith in his abilities. Just as he misunderstands her, she misunderstands him: She offered him help because she thought he was overworked and stressed. He has, after all, been showing up early to work and going home late every day. But that’s not why he’s keeping strange hours; he just works best when the office is less crowded.

These kinds of misunderstandings lead to conflict and resentment not just at work, but at home too. How many fights between couples have started with one person misinterpreting what another says and does? He stares at his plate at dinner while she’s telling a story and she assumes he doesn’t care about what she’s saying, when really he is admiring the beautiful meal she made. She goes to bed early rather than watching their favorite television show together like they usually do, and he assumes she’s not interested in spending time with him, when really she’s just exhausted after a tough day at work.

Beyond our tendency to believe that those nearest and dearest to us can read our minds, we have a tendency to prejudge, to jump to conclusions, to believe that a specific gesture can only have one meaning.

In these examples, the problem lies in the assuming. The person seeing the gesture assumes that it can only mean one thing. He or she does not ask, does not inquire, does not engage a conversation.

Why do we make such assumptions? First, we believe that some faces can only mean one thing. Second, we believe that they are necessarily only relevant to the two people present.

It’s all about the here-and-now. One can only surmise where people might have gotten that idea.

And, oh yes, there’s our culturally-imposed narcissism. Having been taught that we are all the same, we read the emotions of another person as though we had been having the same emotion. We empathize, but do not ask the most elementary questions and do not even consider alternative interpretations.

A final point, one that Halvorson might have discussed in her book. Since I have not read the book I do not know whether she did.

In a multicultural world the possibilities for misunderstanding multiply. Since verbal and non-verbal gestures belong to localized social codes, when different people from different communities are following different social codes, they will have more misunderstandings.

Two people from two different cultures will need to offer more detailed explanations of what is on their minds.

People who have been brought up in the same community, who have the same social codes, who follow the same customs will be less likely to misunderstand each other.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Overcoming Narcissism By Asking for Advice

Some people know how to take advice. Others do not.

Those in the first category will invariably do better on the job and in life than will those in the second.

It stands to reason. Anyone who is sufficiently humble to know that he does not know everything will do better than someone who is so arrogant that he thinks he knows it all.

Psychiatrists diagnose those who refuse to take advice to be narcissists. The diagnosis rings true, but it needs to be qualified.

For decades now therapists have been encouraging people to introspect, to get in touch with their feelings, to follow their bliss… thus, to become more self-absorbed, more self-involved and more narcissistic.

Therapists often pursue a political and ideological agenda, regardless of whether it is best for their patients. They encourage their charges to defy authority, to rebel against experts, to disrespect age and experience, to assert their independence and autonomy.

This suggests that medical science or psychological science is telling us all not to take advice. It also denigrates anyone who would dare ask for advice.

People who have suffered the influence of the therapy culture do not understand that refusing to take or to ask for advice makes them look incompetent, self-absorbed and disrespectful.

Therapy has convinced people that when they ask for advice they are looking subservient and dependent.

When someone faces a difficult dilemma, he might well repair to his neighborhood therapist. In many cases he will find someone who refuses to offer advice.

If your therapist feels your pain but does not offer advice he is telling you that it is futile to try to find a way to resolve your dilemma by taking action in the world. He is rendering you more passive.

If the prospective patient makes the “mistake” of consulting with a therapist who is willing to offer advice, he might very well reject it out of hand and reject his therapist for lacking empathy.

It’s one thing to diagnose narcissism. It’s quite another to encourage and foster it.

When therapists are not encouraging you to become more narcissistic they are bemoaning the fact that your narcissism is so intractable. They might even believe that it has been caused by traumatic events from your childhood.

As long as they are encouraging you to be more narcissistic, they should dispense with the effort to recall the past and turn their attention to the old saying: Physician, heal thyself!

If you want to overcome your narcissism, you should develop personal habits that bespeak the opposite of narcissism. You might start thinking in terms of “we” or “you” over “I.” You might start doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. You might perform a good deed for someone else every day.

Or else, you should start learning how to take advice.

Begin by asking for advice. If your gut or your bliss is directing you to do this or that, you do well to run your plan by someone who is older and wiser.

Taking advice does not mean doing what you are told. You might hear a piece of advice and recognize that neither it nor your prior inclination is best. 

Surely, you can take the advice as given. But, if the discussion causes you to think up a new and better plan--better than both plans-- you are free to follow it.

If you seek out advice, you can take it or you can use it to formulate a better plan. Taking advice means that you will not be following your initial inclination, your gut or your bliss.

If you are starting out on your career, you should always give full consideration to the views of those older and wiser than you. Often they will offer advice, whether you like it or not. If they do not do so, ask for it.

If you actively ask for advice you are humbling yourself. If you have only been on the job for a month, no one will expect that you know everything... yet. 

Also, when you ask for advice you show respect for the other person, for his age, his wisdom and his experience.

If you do not respect people, you have no right to expect that they will respect you.

By asking for advice, you are striking a blow against your narcissistic tendencies.

Better yet, when you ask for advice, you will look smarter than the guy down the corridor who believes that he must make his own mistakes.

New research has shown that people who ask for advice are considered to be smarter and more competent.

There is no special virtue to making your own mistakes. It is best to avoid avoidable errors when it is at all possible.

Of course, this only works when you ask someone for advice about something in which he or she possesses expertise. Asking an auto mechanic for advice on how to cook lasagna does not make you look exceptionally bright. Asking a chef for advice on an oil change does not make you look very smart.

Naturally, some people ask for advice because they want to flatter their superiors. Some people follow advice because they have told—by people like me—that’s it’s the right thing to do.

None of it matters. It’s better to ask for advice for the wrong reason than not to ask for advice at all.

If you are not in the habit of asking for advice, if your narcissism is such that you find it distasteful to ask for advice, if you feel like you are selling out and making yourself look weak… then your first effort to ask for advice will not feel very good or very right. It might feel fake and insincere, as though you are acting like a sycophant.

If you ask for advice and act as though nothing has changed, then you are, by definition, being an insincere flatterer. If you ask for advice and then take it you are being sincere. This is true even if you do not believe that the advice is very good.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Fall of the House of Clinton

Rush Limbaugh is shocked and perplexed. He would never imagined, in his wildest wish fulfillment dream, that the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters and New York Magazine would be bringing down the house of Clinton.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported, in slightly less than 5,000 words, that Clintons facilitated the sale of 20% of America’s uranium to a Russian company.

It’s jaw-dropping:

The headline on the website Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir V. Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when its precursor served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”

The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.

But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not just the Russian president, but also a former American president and a woman who would like to be the next one.

Keep in mind, this is the New York Times. It is not repeating information it got from a book written by a conservative. It is reporting the results of its own extensive investigation.

The Times story does not stand alone, but it stands forth.

Rush Limbaugh is gobsmacked to see the Times run such a negative story on a presumptive Democratic presidential candidate. Especially at a time when there does not seem to be a viable alternative.

In his words:

Here's the New York Times story.  This and the Reuters story, well, the Washington Post, too, they're equally devastating.  The New York Times article, 4,337 words.  Now, the average op-ed column in a newspaper is 750 words, just to give you something to compare it.  Eighty-eight paragraphs.  It is one of the most amazing articles I have ever read in the New York Times.  It is one of the most unexpected articles I have ever read in the New York Times.  It actually doesn't require all those words to do this.  It exposes the Clintons as the most shameless influence peddlers in the history of the world to the point of treason, folks, to the point of criminality. 

It's unprecedented for the New York Times to go after any Democrat like this in my lifetime or memory.  There may be one that I've forgotten, but none as prominent as are the Clintons.  And I'll tell you something else about this New York Times story.  Because it's from the New York Times, it completely destroys Hillary's claims that these charges are all just from the vast right-wing conspiracy. 

Many conservatives suspect that it’s a ruse, Rush continues. They believe that the Times must have an ulterior motive. And yet, Rush says, we should also consider the possibility that the Times has no ulterior motive.

For all  you and I know, the Times might have decided that it needed to recover its own journalistic integrity, something that it and many other mainstream media outlets sacrificed in order to elect Barack Obama.

Also, keep in mind, the publisher of the Times summarily fired his first female executive editor—i.e. editor-in-chief—for following Sheryl Sandberg’s bad advice and leaning in.

Keep in mind, the Times, a few months ago ran a cover piece in its Sunday magazine extolling Fox News host Megyn Kelly. The article, dutifully covered on this blog, was more than generous toward Fox News.

The Times loves Megyn Kelly because she is fair and balanced. Often she takes positions that run directly counter to the Times editorial position, but she calls out both liberals and conservatives, equally.

Also, keep in mind, that when it comes to dollars and sense, Fox News is easily the most profitable news organization in the country today. If you were running a newspaper would you rather be known as the print version of MSNBC or the print version of Fox News.

OK, the Times is not going to become Fox News, but its chief executive has to be asking himself why Fox News has been succeeding while CNN has been failing. And if he knows that the Fox audience contains a significant number of liberals and independents, he will ask himself what Roger Ailes knows that he doesn’t.

Perhaps he will conclude that his paper and the rest of the mainstream media has been losing audience because it is perceived to be biased. As someone from the Times told me many years ago, Noam Chomsky once said that with the Wall Street Journal you can trust the facts.

If a newspaper earns the reputation for skewing the facts, it will be competing with the Nation and the New Republic. Opinion journalism has never been a great money maker.

So, before jumping on the latest conspiracy theory and concluding that the media outlets that are trashing the Clintons are really trying to put Hillary in the White House, we should, because we are gracious and generous, consider that they are trying to be good journalists.

Besides, they never much liked Hillary anyway. However much she fashions herself the champion of women’s rights, Hillary Clinton owes nearly all of her august titles to her husband.

Beyond all of that, there’s the money issue. With Bill Clinton the issue was sex. With Hillary, it’s money.

From the point of view of the newspaper that covers “all the news that’s fit to print” stories of salacious sexual encounters are tabloid journalism, beneath its dignity.

Bill Clinton was a charming rogue. He might have been decadent, but while he was in politics, he wasn’t in it for the money. In fact, he wasn’t even in it for the girls. He would have had as many women if he had never been president.

People seemed not to care about Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions because they believed that he wanted to do what was best for the country, not what was best for his own bottom line.

With Hillary Clinton, things are different. While there have been some suggestions of salacious sex scandals, her most serious problems, from Whitewater to cattle futures trading, have been about money.

The Clintons did not really walk away from the White House broke, but they most likely entered it broke. As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton had been earning something like $35,000 a year. Clearly, Hillary had been outearning him, but they were certainly not wealthy in 1993.

They were surrounded by people who had immense wealth. In comparison, they had nearly nothing. If they weren’t broke, it felt as though they were.

Now, in the aftermath of the presidency, Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed a fortune in the tens of millions. All of a sudden, the Clinton’s do not look like selfless public servants. They do not even look like the souls of charity. And yet, the media seem to believe that the drive behind amassing a fortune must come from Hillary.

If the editorial pages of the mainstream media are opposed to anything, they are opposed to the corrupting effect of money in politics.

Selling your office, doing what is best for you regardless of whether it is good for the country… such actions are the ultimate form of corruption.

To people who believes the money corrupts, selling a large chunk of America’s uranium to Russian interests who might very well ship it to Iran… feels like the ne plus ultra of corruption.

If Hillary is really in it for the money, she will certainly not be a reliable champion of liberal causes.

In fact, Hillary was so thoroughly blinded by her love of money that she made one serious miscalculation. She expected that the mainstream media would have her back. For now it looks like she made a very grave mistake.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Political Reporting as Theatre Criticism

Derek Thompson singles out Maureen Dowd, but he might also have been thinking of Frank Rich.

After all, who better to epitomize a journalist who writes about politics as though it were theatre? A theatre critic by trade-- previously having reviewed shows for the New York Times-- Rich now offers commentary on the political scene from his perch at New York Magazine.

We know how severely Maureen Dowd has chastised Hillary Clinton, but here is Rich, a fervent liberal Democrat, on Hillary’s handling of her email server problem:

That it took Clinton as long as it did to respond to the rising chorus of these questions, and that she did so as defensively and unconvincingly as she did, is yet more evidence that she’s not ready for the brutality of a presidential campaign. This hastily called, abruptly truncated press conference was reminiscent of the mistakes she made last year in her ill-fated book tour. She didn’t schedule yesterday’s appearance until after the most senior of Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein, essentially demanded that she speak up.

Some of what Clinton said didn’t pass the smell test. It reminded me of an episode in the first season of Veep where the vice-president announces she will release all her internal office correspondence to quell a controversy and then instructs her staff to make sure it’s “Modified Full Disclosure Lite.” That’s what we got here. Why, for instance, would Clinton say that she “didn’t see any reason to keep” her personal emails? Those are precisely the emails that every American keeps. 

If she doesn’t become more forthright and less defensive when she’s under fire, this is going to be a very long campaign for her. Though we keep being told that she and those around her are determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2008, so far there’s no evidence of that. And the much tougher questions — starting with those about the donors to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation — are yet to come.

Rich is not going to convert to Republicanism, but his analysis rings true. Having been written six weeks ago it feels prescient.

While Thompson is correct to say that journalists indulge in too much theatre criticism and not enough policy analysis, one must also note that theatre criticism attracts and holds the attention of far more readers than does policy analysis.

Beyond the fact that a newspaper or magazine that does not attract readers will not long survive, most citizens prefer entertainment to rational debate. In many cases it’s the only way they can understand what is going on.

Before we blame the writers, we should look at the audience and the marketplace.

Then again, many journalists who are writing about political theatre do not know enough to perform policy analysis.

Be that as it may, Thompson takes Maureen Dowd to task in these paragraphs:

… Maureen Dowd criticized Clinton for not adequately performing the following parts: "Macho Man," "Humble Granny," "Tumblr Chick," and a "clawing robot who has coveted the role as leader of the free world for decades." This is the same writer who recently blasted President Obama for not demonstrating sufficient joy in the Oval Office and who, 15 years ago, wrote that Democratic presidential candidate "Al Gore is so feminized ... he's practically lactating."

This guide to presidential etiquette is, at best, punctilious, and, at worst, nonsensical: Disliking the presidency is a sin, and so is coveting it. A nerd being himself is effeminate, trying to appeal to your audience is craven, but changing your message in reaction to critics who call you out for cravenness? Well, that's downright condemnable. These sort of writers have painted a behavioral strike zone where a candidate can miss high by being too aware that politics is performance art, or miss low by being too cool to play the part.

One accepts Thompson’s point, but the spectacle of a leading New York Times columnist trash-talking Hillary Clinton and Al Gore does have redeeming social value.

To allow Thompson his say, he defines the problem thusly:

A great deal of political writing these days is indistinguishable from theater criticism: Its chief concerns are storyline, costumes, and the quality of public performances.

True enough, and yet the optics, as they now call it, do matter. Until the American people decide to choose presidents on the basis of competence and positive achievement, optics are the default position.

Thompson intimates, but does not quite say it, that politicians who have not accomplished very much tend to promote themselves by looking presidential. One can easily summon up the name of a current president who is all show and no substance.

In a culture that is based on celebrity, how you look has come to take the place of what you have achieved.

It might be that too  many people cannot tell the difference between confidence that comes from achievement and simulated confidence that has been mastered by politicians who have figured out how to act the part.

According to Thompson, they use what is called method acting:

In the early twentieth century, the famous acting coach Constantin Stanislavski devised a theater method that called for "psycho-physical unity." The central conceit is that when actors get a part, they ought to plumb their emotional memories and their arsenal of physical gestures to fully render the psychological life of the prescribed character….

In Stanislavski's method, verisimilitude is inside-out. What the audience sees as authenticity comes from the performer's authentic connection to her inner life. The opposite can also be true: If the audience doesn't see it, the actor must not feel it.

One believes, as one has occasionally said, that method acting, the inside/out expression of deep feeling has been a ruinous influence on the American theatre and the American movie business.

In the end, it does not matter what the actor is feeling. What matters is how it looks to the audience. Being angry or jealous is not the same thing as looking as though one is angry or jealous in order to sustain the telling of a story. Emotional authenticity is a ruse.

I assume that Thompson is getting at the fact that many political journalists do not know the difference between a candidate who presents himself as having achieved something and a candidate who can make himself look confident. To use an example that by now is a cliché: David Brooks believed in the future of Barack Obama because of the crease of his trousers.

In Thompson’s words:

This sort of Stanislavski critique is weirdly common among journalists who assume that when a candidate has trouble connecting with audiences, it is not a sign that they are, say, uncomfortably shy or naturally reserved. It is, rather, a deeper failure on the part of the candidate's character—a failure to find psycho-physical unity with the part we've all decided the candidate should play before the footlights of a national campaign.

Since the American press, to a person, decided that neither competence nor achievement mattered in the case of our current president, they systematically failed to fulfill one of the basic functions of journalism: to inform the public.

Not just about policy matters, but about resume. What significant achievements does the candidate bring to his campaign? What makes him competent to do the job of president?

While it is true enough that the marketplace prefers theatre criticism, journalists are not innocent victims.

They have, in the past gone far beyond mere theatre criticism by purveying biased coverage of candidates. They seem more interested in telling people who to vote for than in reporting on campaigns.

And they are suffering the after-shocks of an educational system that prefers to tell people what to think rather than to teach them how to think.

Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Extra credit to Time Magazine for listing some of the bad habits that produce bad mental health.

It writes:

Depression is usually brought on by factors beyond our control—the death of a loved one, a job loss, or financial troubles. But the small choices you make every day may also affect your mood more than you may realize. Your social media habits, exercise routine, and even the way you walk may be sucking the happiness out of your day, and you may not even know it. Luckily, these behaviors can be changed. Read on for 12 ways you’re sabotaging your good moods, and what you can do to turn it around.

For those who think that there is a magic potion or a pill or even an insight that will one day free you from depression, this list shows the complexity of the condition and offers a number of constructive ways to overcome it.

Among the bad habits that contribute to your depression and anguish are these:

1. Slouching.

Agreed, how we feel influences the way we walk. Yet, if we improve the way we hold ourselves when we walk, we can elevate our mood. Walk like you feel proud of yourself and you will feel more proud of yourself.

Aside from basic military training, the best way to improve your posture is: Pilates.

2. Taking too many pictures.

If you believe that no experience is complete unless you have taken a picture of it, think again. Putting a camera between you and the world diminishes the quality of your experience and your ability to remember it. Life does not need a filter.

3. Being bullied.

If you allow someone to disrespect you, demean you, defame you, insult you… with impunity… you will not feel very good about yourself.

If such is your case, check with a professional who understands how to manage complicated relationships.

4. Lethargy and sloth.

Other terms for insufficient exercise. Everyone now knows the value of exercise, even to your mental health. You no longer have a good excuse for not doing it.

5. Procrastination.

Being anxious about completing a task often causes people to delay and defer. It’s a bad idea.

How can you overcome a tendency to procrastinate? Try writing down a daily agenda, a schedule of your activities. Follow your agenda, not your bliss.

6. Toxic relationships.

This is another way of saying that you should choose your friends well. Those who treat you badly or whose bad behavior reflects poorly on you should be dismissed… without prejudice.

7. Too much texting, not enough conversation.

It’s a modern malady. We write all the time and have lost the art of engaging in a real conversation with someone who is present to us. When we do not have face-to-face conversations, we lose face and we feel disconnected. I don’t need to tell you how to overcome it.

8. Multitasking.

Doing too many things at the same time means that you do not have focus. When you do not have focus you do not work as effectively.

The rule applies to conversation. When you are involved in a conversation be present to the conversation. If you are distracted by your phone or even the people around you, you will be rude to your interlocutor and will feel increasingly isolated.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Psychoanalysis Today

In the old days psychoanalysts never shared details about their personal lives. Aspiring to perfect blankness, they wanted to incite their patients to mistake them for someone else.

At times they had from their patients’ line of sight. At other times they remained silent for an embarrassingly long time.

If you don’t know who you are talking to, you are very likely to take that person for someone he is not.

Analysts believed that patients who indulged this form of mistaken identification would naturally evoke people from their past.

Were they to justify their practice, psychoanalysts will tell you that their neurotic patients are incapable of relating to real, live human beings. They are trapped in their past history and trying to escape it.

So said Freud, and most analysts have not gotten very much further.

Of course, the Viennese neurologist did not explain why he held such a bleakly negative view of his patients’ competence. Surely, they were not entirely trapped in the past.

And he did not explain, to anyone’s satisfaction, why people who are trapped in the past or in their dreams or in their fantasies can best escape by getting more involved with their past, their dreams or their fantasies.

Evidently, helping their patients to engage with their lives, to become active participants in their lives, to learn how to conduct and manage their lives… these were outside of the purview of serious psychoanalysis.

Of course, analysts were allowed to speak on occasion, but when they did they were limited to interpretation. They did not tell their patients anything of their ideas. They did not share anything about their own lives. They explained what their patients meant to be saying. By interpreting they tried to make good Freudian sense of their patients’ free associations.

It sounded like this:

“You are talking about trees and birds and traffic jams… what you really mean is that you want to copulate with your mother. If not that, you are in love with your mirror image.”

Some more modern psychoanalysts have found a way to share some selected thoughts. They might say that, while listening to a patient ramble on about rainbows, they had a flash vision of medieval armor.

Lest you imagine that his vision says something about the analyst, he will tell you that the armor is relevant to his patient’s mental life.

If a patient imagines that his analyst had actually become present to him, had offered something of himself, he will quickly be disabused. His analyst will invite him to offer up more of his own associations about medieval armor.

Still, the analyst remained opaque; only now he was more like a pure mind offering pure thoughts to your impure mind.

Today’s psychoanalysts believe that they have gone beyond Freud and beyond the bygone era of the blank slate and the silent treatment.

To which one might respond that they are no longer really doing psychoanalysis, but that would sound churlish, n’est-ce pas?

And yet, bad habits die hard. Many of today’s more enlightened therapists still refuse to share any personal information with their patients. Even those who do not practice anything resembling psychoanalysis have difficulty overcoming the curse of Freudian technique.

When he was undergoing treatment for lymphoma Adam Baer was assigned to a therapist, named Dr. Morgan. Hers was more of a cognitive/mindful approach to therapy. And yet, she never disclosed to him that she herself was also suffering from cancer.

Baer writes:

I’d been seeing Dr. Morgan, the founder of the hospital’s psychosocial oncology program, for about six months, ever since my Stage 4 lymphoma had relapsed. I had never seen a psychotherapist before, and I was resistant. I was sullen. I felt that I had a right to be depressed, a right to all these unusually helpful professionals.

But Dr. Morgan didn’t fight me. She just wanted to help. So I let her try, and she did.

She introduced me to mindfulness meditation, or, as she put it, thinking in the moment, feeling everything. This wasn’t indulgent psychoanalysis. We had short-term, practical goals: Keep the anxiety down; learn how to relax by tensing and releasing my muscles; focus on the good things, despite the nausea, chest pain and fear.

Dr. Morgan occasionally said that, like my parents, she had a son named Adam. This was, for her, a rare crossing of boundaries.

I would underscore two points. Baer emphasizes that Dr. Morgan was not offering “indulgent psychoanalysis.” The reason, he avers, is “she just wanted to help.”

You may believe that he has misunderstood what psychoanalysis really is, but he, as a consumer of mental health treatment, certainly has a right to his opinion.

His negative view of psychoanalysis counts as bad PR.

Later, when he tried to get back in touch with Dr. Morgan, Baer discovered that she herself had had lymphoma. And that she had died from it. She had chosen not to tell him that she shared the same illness.

Dr. Morgan had been sick, it turned out, the entire time that I’d known her. She’d had lymphoma, too. She died after an infection had overwhelmed her chemo-compromised immune system.

“She cared about you,” the woman continued. “She’d asked me to let you know if anything like this ever happened. She was sorry that she couldn’t tell you. She didn’t want you to feel betrayed.”

I couldn’t believe Dr. Morgan had never told me that she was sick with a version of my disease.

“There are boundaries,” explained the woman.

I said that that made sense. It didn’t.

One might say that Dr. Morgan was also suffering from the bad Freudian habit of not disclosing any personal information. Then again, it is not at all clear that the information would have helped Baer to learn mindfulness meditation.

You would normally expect that your dentist or accountant would share some information about his own life. Not too much and not too little. Too much makes the transaction about him. Too little is disrespectful.

Professionals have a job to do. They are providing a service. They ought to forge a real connection, to treat you as a fellow human being, someone with whom they might even socialize.

Telepathic (even empathetic) communications do not make for a connection.

When psychoanalysts refrain from sharing anything about themselves they are saying that, even if you are a fellow human, their job requires that they only deal with your diseased mind. Treating you like a human being would presumably make the task more difficult.

One is obliged to conclude that analysts do not really care about you as a human being. 

They are saying that they, being well-analyzed souls, liberated not only from mental illness but from the constraints imposed by civilization, are only willing to associate with you because they are being paid to do so. Apparently, they feel that you do not deserve the fellowship of a true conversation with so exalted a personage as they are.

Being unable to continue working with Dr. Morgan, Baer consulted with another psychiatrist, one who had a more flexible sense of boundaries.

He describes his experience:

When I began to resume some kind of life, my oncologist recommended that I see an old pal of his: a psychiatrist-oncologist in his 80s who disavowed the rules of therapy, including the maintenance of boundaries.

It worked out. This anti-therapist told me stories from his life. He even hugged me. “Boundaries,” he said, were “bull.” Therapy was for “suckers.” He worked with terminal patients who adored him and his no-nonsense attitude. His mantra: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” We had an entirely different kind of relationship than the one I’d had with Dr. Morgan. We became friends. With his help, I healed.

Some will tell you that psychoanalysis is alive and well and thriving.

It isn’t.

Adam Baer’s article appeared in The New York Times in a series called “Couch.”

If the newspaper of record has chosen to present psychoanalysis as an indulgent and ineffective treatment, and if it has offered a case study showing that the old habit of being a blank slate and refusing to offer any personal information, refusing to connect is ineffective, psychoanalysis is pretty much over.