Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Domestic Violence and the NFL

The long knives are out for the NFL.

To a certain mindset the NFL must be a breeding ground for misogyny, domestic violence and child abuse.

After all, there is no gender equity in professional football. There are no laws mandating that a female tight end or a female wide receiver be on the field for each play.

Football is a quintessentially male sport. It’s violent. It’s competitive. It is fueled by testosterone. To a certain mindset, it makes sense that its players are more prone to hate women, to hurt women and even to beat children.

For those who believe that all men have been primed by the patriarchy to hate women the NFL proves the point.

For them, Ray Rice was a godsend. When Rice was shown assaulting his fiancée in Atlantic City, those who believe that all men are like Ray Rice picked up the ball and ran with it. They filled the media with stories about domestic abuse.

It’s one thing to recognize that some men are domestic batterers. They need to be punished to the full extent of the law. But, it’s quite another thing to try to show that all men are domestic batterers beneath the skin.

Those directing the media frenzy over Ray Rice want to make the latter, not the former point.

Rice, after all, was the proof that they were looking for. How better to indict all professional football players, and, by extension all men than to make Ray Rice the poster child for misogyny.

When Adrian Peterson was shown to have beaten his children, we had another piece of evidence showing that men are horrors, needing to be punished severely for their hateful and violent natures.

If you think that this is just about the NFL you are smoking something. The obsessive interest in these football players is an attempt to slander all male dominant organizations for fostering misogyny and, and by extensions, slandering most men as misogynists.

The solution is more mandated gender equity.

This raises the important issue: does Ray Rice manifest the truth of a culture or did he make a mistake? Are domestic abusers psychopathic misogynists or can they be treated? And, what role did upbringing play in Rice and Peterson's sense of right and wrong?

Elizabeth Bernstein offers us some rational perspective on the issue.

In her column yesterday, she explained that many of those who commit acts of domestic violence can be treated successfully. That is, if they stick to the treatment program.

It reminds one of alcoholism. It is treatable through AA meetings, but the alcoholic does need to work the program. The many alcoholics who drop out should not be counted as treatment failures.

She reports:

Decades of studies show that about 60% to 70% of abusive men who complete a comprehensive batterer treatment program can reform, says Jeffrey L. Edleson, professor and dean of the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on domestic abuse.

The track record is excellent, but note the caveat: the success ratio only applies to men who complete the program.

The most comprehensive study of treatment results showed this:

The study found that at the 30-month follow-up, more than 80% of the men had not re-assaulted their partner in the previous year, and at the 48-month follow-up, 90% of the men had not assaulted their partner in the past year. 

Obviously, some abusers are psychopaths. It is very difficult, if not impossible to change their behavior.

In other cases, domestic abuse is “learned behavior.” That suggests that men do it because they do not know any better or because they have come to believe that it is normal.

When Adrian Peterson was shown to have beaten his children, several people came forth and said that he was not doing anything more than what his upbringing dictated.

Bernstein writes:

Experts say intimate-partner violence is, like other forms of domestic violence, primarily a learned behavior. But someone who grew up witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse or who has a history of criminal behavior is much more likely to be abusive than someone who didn't.

One must mention that in some cultures wife beating is accepted to the point of being prescribed. Those who are trying to bring down the NFL have nothing to say about said cultures. If they attacked Muslim cultures they would be exculpating Western cultures, where such behaviors are criminal. And we know that they do not want to do that.

What constitutes therapy in such cases. Like alcoholics domestic batterers attend meetings:

A round of typical anger-management training isn't enough to help these men. They need to commit to a comprehensive batterer intervention program, often going at least once a week for four months to a year.

Experts say the best of these programs pair education with psychotherapy in a small group setting. The men learn communication skills. And they learn how to think differently about the situation they are in, how to change sexist ideas and how to tolerate conflict in a relationship without seeing it as an insult to their manhood.

While many of the men who attend these meetings do so because a judge ordered them to do so, the therapists have a good idea about which of them will complete the program successfully.

Men who feel ashamed of their behavior and who do not shift the blame to the victim will do better than those who feel no shame and blame their victims.

In addition, those men who are most motivated to restore their relationship—who are afraid of losing their wives-- will do better in treatment than those who do not care.

The Truth behind: Happy Wife; Happy Life.

Men have been known to recite it as a mantra: Happy wife; happy life.

To the best of my knowledge women do not intone the opposite: Happy husband; happy life.

And not just because it doesn’t rhyme.

Recent research has revealed a disparity.

New York Magazine summarizes:

Among heterosexual married couples, the happier the wife is with her marriage, the happier the husband will be with his life overall. But the reverse isn’t true — a husband’s happiness doesn’t influence the wife’s well-being….

A husband’s satisfaction both with his marriage and his life was higher when his wife also reported being happy with the marriage; on the other hand, both dipped when his wife was unhappy with their relationship. No similar association was found for the wives, however.

The researchers are especially worried that their results affirm the existence of a difference between the sexes. So they have come up with a therapeutically-correct interpretation:

It’s hard to offer an explanation of these findings without creeping into stereotype territory. (“Men are like this and women are like that!”) Still, broadly speaking, women do tend to talk about their emotions more than men do, and that could help explain what’s happening here, said Deborah Carr, a Rutgers University sociologist and co-author of the study, in the press release. "Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships, and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives," she said.

Carr suggests that an unhappy wife will be more likely to share her feelings with her husband. Thus, she will implicitly or explicitly be reproaching him for failing to make her happy.

A man, however, will be less likely to share his unhappiness… thus making it clear that he does not reproach his wife for failing to make him happy.

Strangely enough, in attempting to escape stereotypes, Carr has made women into complainers, willing to blame someone else for their bad moods. And she is saying that men are stoic, willing to suffer in silence, unwilling to shift the blame to their wives.

The research also implies that the quality of the marital relationship matters more to a woman than it does to a man. A man’s pride and sense of self-worth is gained or lost in the marketplace or the arena. A woman’s pride and sense of self-worth is gained or lost in her home, in how well she makes a home, in how well she brings up her children.

Her husband’s well-being might certainly influence the quality of her home life, but it seems not to be decisive. In fact, his happiness does not seem to be as contagious as hers.

While attempting to avoid stereotypes Carr has fallen into a stereotype.

And yet, is it a sexist stereotype, a socially constructed gender role, or is it simply reality?

But, that is not all.

Carr is also suggesting that when a wife is unhappy, her husband will somehow feel responsible. If a husband is unhappy, her wife will not feel responsible. 

Also, if a man is happy, about himself, about his work, about his family... the happiness will not be contagious. His wife will not share it.

For my part I find it somewhat strange that a wife is not interested in sharing her husband's pride in achievement. Perhaps this is a universal characteristic. Or perhaps it arises when men and women both have careers, when they see themselves as competitors, not cooperators.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Is Schizophrenia?

Is schizophrenia a mental illness or a brain disease? Do those who suffer from it have enough free will to choose the best treatment?

By now most psychiatrists believe that schizophrenia is not a mental illness. The most recent research has shown that it is a genetic disorder. It has nothing to do with bad parenting or childhood traumas.

Time Magazine reports:

Schizophrenia is actually eight different genetic disorders rolled into one, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that there are different gene clusters that contribute to eight different classes of the usually hereditary disease. The researchers at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed the genes of more than 4,000 people with schizophrenia, and tallied the symptoms of patients against the DNA of people with and without schizophrenia in order to identify the gene clusters.

In patients experiencing hallucinations and delusions, the researchers found that the interaction between genetic variations created a 95% chance of schizophrenia, while disorganized speech and behavior in another set of patients revealed a set of variations associated with a 100% risk. The hereditary risk of schizophrenia is known to be about 80%.

[Addendum: Samantha Allen has a far more comprehensive, excellent article about the new research in the Daily Beast.]

Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and the Great War

PBS has just started showing a new Ken Burns documentary, The Roosevelts.

According to Jonathan Tobin, Burns allows Evan Thomas to denounce Theodore Roosevelt as a war-mongering imperialist and colonialist. For Thomas TR laid down the predicates that led America into Iraq.

Tobin summarizes the argument:

Thomas’s thesis was that the Spanish-American War was the precedent that served to entice Americans to wage other seemingly small wars over the course of the next century but especially the conflict in Iraq. In his reading of Roosevelt’s behavior, TR committed the original sins not only of imperialism and military adventurism but also embodying a lust for blood and war that should be regarded as evidence of madness, not courage. Burns allows Thomas to brand TR as “a dangerous figure” whose “glorification of war can’t be a good thing in the long run.”

He continues that George Will, no leftist he, also disparages Roosevelt’s affection for warfare:

Will says the fact that TR “liked war” and thought “might makes right” gives an “unpleasant dimension” to his legacy and should cause us to view him with “dry eyes.”

Today this counts as the conventional wisdom.

But let’s look at it all in a slightly different context.

In 1912 the American people elected a president who did not like war. Woodrow Wilson was an academic intellectual. He was not inclined to intervene militarily anywhere, and mostly stood aside when the world started falling apart.

When Germany sank the Lusitania in early 1915, Wilson famously declared that he was “too proud to fight.” (Evidently, the event resembles the Spanish sinking of the U. S. S. Maine in Havana... event that incited a war in which TR fought bravely.)

The Great War began in September, 1914. It produced immeasurable carnage, millions of dead, millions more injured, a Bolshevik takeover in Russia, a post-war flu epidemic that killed millions more and a peace treaty that paved the way for Nazism.

At the time Theodore Roosevelt was writing newspaper columns. They are collected in four volumes, beginning with America and the World War.

In his columns TR offered a contemporaneous analysis of events in the theatre of war. Beginning in late 1914 he began arguing forcefully for American mobilization and believed that only American intervention could stop the horrors that were taking place. The columns provide a brilliant analysis of events. They are more impressive for having been written as events were unfolding. They are anything but the fulminations of a warmonger.

Anyway, Woodrow Wilson eventually sent an American expeditionary force to Europe in the summer of 1918. Within a few months the war was over. Interestingly, he argued that he wanted to make the world "safe for democracy."

George Kennan famously argued that World War I was the defining event of the twentieth century. Would it have happened if TR had been elected president in 1912? We do not know.

We do know that the feckless and pusillanimous Woodrow Wilson sat out one of the worst calamities in human history. We do know that a small American force could have ended the hostilities and perhaps prevented some of the unspeakable calamities that defined the twentieth century. We believe that a better and less arrogant diplomat could have negotiated a fairer outcome.

While he is denouncing about TR, Evan Thomas should defend the record of the Wilson administration during World War I.

True enough, actions have consequences. But, so does inaction.

Undermining the Work Ethic

High achieving high school students know that if they want to be admitted to a competitive college they must perform a certain amount of charity work.

Since schools seem to want to judge students by holistic criteria—in preference to using test scores and other measures of aptitude—students also do well to involve themselves in what are called “enrichment programs.”

This means that fewer and fewer high school students will, by the time they graduate, have held down real jobs.

Apparently, an ethic emphasizing community service has replaced a work ethic. It should not be surprising that these same students end up believing in the transcendent value of do-gooding government programs.

Allison Schrager describes the shift:

It’s likely that both the decline in teen employment and the lower returns from it are reflections of a broader cultural shift—parents, teens, and college admissions officers seem to value extracurriculars, community service, and enrichment programs over burger-flipping. For kids who don’t need the money, there’s little incentive to work; the kids who do need the money are by definition more likely to come from poorer families, with the attendant and well-documented academic and professional disadvantages. 

The question is: at what price?

Schrager suggests that young people who lack work experience enter the workforce at a disadvantage.

She explains:

Just because there are fewer economic benefits to high school work doesn’t mean teenagers are off the hook. Employers complain millennials lack soft skills, like getting to work on time, dealing with a boss, teamwork, and a positive attitude. Complaining about disrespectful and lazy youngsters is as old as time, but there may be something behind their concerns: Millennials are entering the labor force with less job experience than earlier generations.

Humility and soft skills come with maturity and the sort of work experience people used to get in a low-skill high school job. The data in this study doesn’t capture the later generation who didn’t work in high school. Perhaps as soft skills are increasingly recognized as a rare commodity, the premium on high school work will rise again.

Strangely enough, a child who does exactly what he needs to do to gain admission into an Ivy League school will have missed out on opportunities to engage in real work, to gain job experience and to build character.

And yet, in a world where character has been redefined as a capacity for empathy, what did you expect?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Do You Believe in Marriage?

As though you needed a new study to prove it … but marriage is good for children.

We know that children raised by two parents tend to be more successful — at school, in the future labor market, in their own marriages — than children raised by a single mom or dad. And from this fact, it might seem easy to conclude that marriage wields some outsized power over a child's life — that its absence creates unstable homes and chaotic families, while its presence nurtures them.

One hates to evoke Occam’s razor, but sometimes the simplest explanation is the truest.

Unfortunately, the scholars at the left-leaning Brookings Institute do not find the explanation satisfactory. They are looking for a public policy solution to America’s social problems and they do not want to admit that improved personal behavior is the only way to solve the problem of broken homes and out-of-wedlock births. 

The Post explains:

Making single parents get married, in other words, won't fundamentally change the other characteristics about them that really drive their children's success. The good news in this is that family income and parenting skills are more realistically addressed through public policy than marriage anyway.

Whoever had the idea that we need to make people to do anything, anyway? One wonders why the authors of the study do not propose to “nudge” people in the direction of marriage and nudge them away from divorce and out-of-wedlock births.

Have the behavioral economists, the ones who gave us Obamacare, set their minds to this problem?

Besides, how much nudging occurs when people read that a stable parental marriage is not really very important when it comes to bringing up children?

When marriage is systematically disparaged and demeaned, mightn’t that contribute to the problem, by nudging people toward reckless behaviors and socially dysfunctional living arrangements?

If we ask ask which citizens are most susceptible to these messages, it appears that their purveyors are less influenced than are those of lower educational and socioeconomic background.

It is probably true that more income is better than less, but how is government intervention going to accomplish this? Has the Obama administration implemented policies that have caused family income to increase for the average citizen?

And besides, how will a policy solution enhance parenting skills?

If the government is going to involve itself in parenting, what makes you think that this will not discourage parents from doing a better job. Isn’t it demoralizing when the government declares you to be incompetent?

The Brookings study raises the old correlation/causation problem.

People who are married do tend to earn more, but this might be because they work harder because they have a more developed sense of their responsibility toward family.

The study recognizes the point:

Today, better-educated, higher-income adults are much more likely to marry. That means their children benefit from the marriage, and the income, and the education of their parents. Howard and Reeves also point out that the same skills that make marriages work (like commitment and patience) also come handy for good parenting. And so perhaps it's not that children are better off when their parents marry — it's that the qualities that enable successful marriages also make good parents.

But, was it always true that poorer citizens had less functional marriages? Was it always true that these citizens always had broken homes or non-homes?

How many of the problems that exist in some communities derive from too much free love. When a single mother is bringing up four children, each of whom has a different father, none of whose fathers are present in the household… isn’t this a formula for anomie?

How can such children know where they belong or whether they belong? Children whose family relationships are chaotic, even anarchic are not going to have a very good chance in life.

One fails to see how the problem will be solved by absolving parents of all responsibility for the upbringing they are or not providing for their children?

We cannot make all underprivileged children wards of the state, can we?

"All the Lonely People..."

Loneliness distorts perception. The need for human connection is so strong that if you cannot connect other human beings you will develop a relationship with a pet rock. Or better, you will be more likely to mistake a doll for a human being.

It’s not just a question of lowering our standards when we are alone. More importantly, when we are feeling isolated, disconnected and bereft our condition will distort our perception… to the point of believing that a doll is a human being.

So says recent research by Harvard postdoctoral fellow Katherine Powers.

Business Week summarizes the study:

It’s an intuitive enough finding; the desirability of friendship and the idea that we’d therefore lower our standards if necessary to try to attain it makes sense. What is striking, though, is that loneliness can affect our perception at such a basic level, and that it could have counterproductive effects: A heightened awareness for social information is helpful in trying to find and make friends, an inability to tell fake people from real ones is not. But maybe the behavior is adaptive in another way. Recent research has shown that loneliness can have dramatic health impacts, and even shorten our lives. In situations where there aren’t any good friend options—a desert island, say—it might make sense to fool ourselves into believing that inanimate objects are animate, to stave off not only the psychological but the physical effects of solitude.

The pain of solitude is such that we are all prone to accept anyone or anything as a stand-in.

If that is true, why not computer avatars?

Business Week says:

In that sense, the animacy study’s findings are hopeful, in a creepy way—the lonelier a person is, the easier it is to assuage that loneliness, perhaps with a simple computer avatar or a not particularly sophisticated robot.

Of course, we suspect that it is better to make a friend with another human being and to make a friend with someone of good character, thus to establish a durable connection than to befriend a pet rock or a robot.

Perhaps a robot is better than nothing, but still. And we ought also to ask whether computer games and social media that produce complex relationships with avatars facilitate or detract from true friendship.

About the question of skewed perception, we see it when someone falls in love with the wrong person.

Someone who feels alone and isolated is more likely, the research suggests, to be blinded by love. He or she is less likely to see the faults in a prospective lover and will idealize that person beyond reason.

Feelings of loneliness make it more likely that someone will fall in love with the wrong person. And loneliness will make it more likely that people who fall desperately in love be more threatened by the loss of love. Thus, they will be more likely to do whatever is necessary, even to the point of accepting abuse, in order to maintain the relationship.

This means: if you are feeling lonely you are vulnerable to being deceived. If you are feeling lonely your perceptions are very likely to be askew. If that is your situation ask a friend or a parent to offer a fair evaluation before you fall head-over-heels....

For a social being, human connection is a vital need. In the absence of prospective friends, humans are capable of developing friendly relationships with dolls, avatars, pets and robots. The lonelier they are the more they are likely to humanize the inanimate and the inhuman.