Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Nation of Slackers

You remember the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua. When she published her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, cries of parental anguish filled the media.

American parents had blithely allowed experts to decide what was best for their children. They had wanted their children to grow up to be well-rounded creative innovators.

Amy Chua wanted her daughters to achieve and succeed, at their music lessons and in the classroom.

For reasons that escape me, many, many American mothers thought that Chua was a bad, even an abusive, mother. After all, she has great children. Many mothers took it to be an offense.

Now, Vicki Abeles has produced a documentary called  “Race to Nowhere.” I have not seen the movie, but it seems to fit into the genre of advocacy propaganda perfected by Michael Moore and Al Gore.

My impressions come from two excellent columns, one by Emily Yoffe in Slate, and another by James Freeman in the Wall Street Journal. They are linked here and here.

Abeles claims that the problem is that American children are working too much. They have become too obsessed with achievement. The fault lies with the school system. Their schools are too competitive; they give out too much homework; and they offer too many advanced placement courses.

Where Chua is advancing values associated with Confucian cultures, Abeles seems more concerned with promoting the more relaxed standards associated with Latin cultures.

Or better, with American therapy culture. One student newspaper in San Jose declared that the children featured in her movie seemed to be self-pitying martyrs. Which is their constitutionally protected right. But they do not have the right to criticize and demean children who work harder and do better.

Since Emily Yoffe claims that Vicki Abeles is the antidote to the Tiger Mom, let’s note some clear differences.

Since everyone is comparing Abeles and Chua, let’s note the most obvious difference. Chua was writing about a mother’s efforts to bring up her daughters. Abeles was filming a screed about the way school systems set standards and assign homework.

Abeles seems to want to create a class conflict between parents and schools. Chua, on the contrary, seems to have wanted to work with the school system to facilitate her daughters’ education.

One does wonder whether the American students Abeles finds would be as unhappy with their excessive homework if their parents thought that the extra homework was a good thing. And one wonders whether these children would have been as stressed if their parents were not showering them with pity, and telling them that overwork was going to ruin their lives.

It’s one thing to have a lot of homework when your parents accept the necessity of hard work. It’s quite another to have a lot of homework when your parents tell you that it is stunting your creativity and making you mentally ill.

It’s one thing if your parents are on board with tough algebra homework. It’s quite another when they want you to be out developing your creativity by making mud pies and learning critical thinking by taking things apart.

Abeles is an activist, and activists with a political or ideological agenda tend to distort facts, exaggerate the large picture, and manipulate emotion.

It is heart rending to read of a thirteen year old who commits suicide because she got a B, but how do any of us really know what really pushed this girl to such a desperate act?

As every social scientist knows, anecdotal evidence is the least meaningful kind. It’s only value is in its ability to agitate your emotions.

Blaming the school system and the culture of achievement for a child's suicide feels to me like a cheap rhetorical trick.

In America we have more than one school system. There are private schools and public schools. There are good private schools and bad ones. There are good public schools and bad ones.

From city to city and state to state, school systems are quite different across America. Saying that they are all bent on producing overachievers seems oversimplified.

It is no secret that New York private schools are extremely demanding. They require a great deal of homework. Parents spend a lot of money on these schools. They want their children to be working hard. They believe that hard work is the best preparation for college and for life. They believe that hard work will keep their children out of trouble.

Sometimes parents amazed at the amount of homework their children bring home, but they do not feel sorry for them. They certainly do not suggest that extra homework is making them insane.

Whatever Vicki Abeles or anyone else thinks, these parents are doing what they believe best for their children. And why would we trust experts and propagandists over real parents who are ultimately responsible for their children?

I am confident that many public schools adhere to the same standards, hopefully with the same level of parental support.

How much can we trust the facts that Abeles presents? While she is bemoaning the excessive homework children do, we also know that these same hardworking children are burning up massive amounts of time on Facebook and watching television. Unless they have Tiger Moms they have playdates, sleepovers, and all manner of creative afterschool activities.

So, you start wondering whether Abeles is trafficking in caricature.

And then, as James Freeman points out, for all its supposed emphasis on achievement, ours is a nation of underachieving children.

In his words: “The film reports that as hard as kids compete to win acceptance to name-brand colleges, they come out of high school without knowing much. The University of California at Berkeley, we are told, has to provide remedial education for close to half of incoming freshmen before they can handle a college course load. The film notes that American kids score poorly in international tests. If they work so hard, how do they learn so little?

“One possibility is that kids aren't working as hard as Ms. Abeles believes.”

Obviously enough, Abeles is a sworn enemy of the Protestant work ethic. Hers is a slacker ethic, gussied up with claims that it is going to enhance creativity, innovation, and critical thinking.

Yoffe explains the Abeles perspective: “She [Abeles] argues that part of America's greatness is born of our misfits and dreamers, that our gift to our children is time to engage in ‘aimless‘ play.”

If our nation’s parents are in an uproar about the school system, the reason does not just lie in poor test scores and chronic underachievement.

By now everyone knows that the nation is suffering because we have idolized misfits and dreamers, and have failed to put in the work necessary to support our standard of living. Aimlessness is not a way of life. It is a waste of time.

Critical thinking is fine in theory, but it is not, as Abeles seems to believe, the key to solving problems. If you want to solve problems you need to learn constructive thinking, how to put things together, not critical thinking, how to take things apart.

As it has been practiced in universities critical thinking teaches children to criticize. That’s what it means. By using critical thinking children learn to find fault with their country, with the business world, with the dominant culture.

This can only discourage and demoralize them. Who wants to play hard for a losing team. It is not the motivation you need to work hard and to enjoy it.

Learning that you belong to a failing system, a corrupt enterprise, and a criminal nation is not going to make you work harder to contribute to society and the culture.

It is going to turn you into an advocate, a grievance monger, who will blame the system for everything that goes wrong and who will try to take it down in the name of mindless play.

A nation of aimless dreamers and pseudo-creative types is not going to dig us out of the debt crisis that we are facing.

It is absurd to think that some new innovator is going to lead the economy into the promised land. Not when the people who do most of the work involved in bringing the innovation to market are located in India and China, in places where aimless slacking does not have a constituency and advocates.

Of course, if Vicki Abeles wants her children to slack off and to have more time for more spirited aimless play, that's her prerogative. When other Tiger Moms instill different values in their children, and when those children outcompete the slacker group, then, that is the consequence of her choice.

Abeles seems to know this. Her solution seems to be to change the culture so that everyone can be a happy slacker. One place to start is to denounce all of the Tiger Moms out there. If their children are doing better than the less competitive more self-pitying types, then surely they must be punished, criticized, and even looked down on.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Does the Royal Wedding Matter?

I’ve already offered my opinion of the Royal Wedding here and here, but I found Simon Doonan’s analysis to be especially clear and perspicacious. Link here.

The Royal Wedding matters because decorum and propriety matter. This Royal Wedding in particular, matters because it offers the world a chance to exorcise the ghost of Princess Diana.

As I posted a while back, Princess Diana was a model of moral indiscretion. I do not know how much she influenced the behavior of young women, but the example she set did no one any good.

Deep thinkers imagine that the media determines cultural and behavioral trends. That’s because they write for the media and are seriously self-important. If you read the learned dismissals of the
Royal Wedding from the cognoscenti, you will see that they are rather snobby, to boot.

We err, however, when we ignore the importance of role models, and especially when we neglect the influence of people like the British royal family.

Anyway, the Royal Wedding matters, as Simon Doonan suggested, because girls matter. And because the way girls dress matters. The way girls dress has an influence on their values and on how they behave.

If, as Doonan says, the Duchess of Cambridge can lead even a small number of American girls away from the world of “porno chic” and into a “new era of elegant restraint,” that would surely be a good thing.

For the record, here’s Doonan analysis: “As I watched her [Kate Middleton] sailing down the aisle like a romance novel heroine, a serious question formed itself under that powdered wig of mine. Might the lovely Kate, with her modest allure, her natural bosom and her quiet mystery, have the power to stem the flood of boob-jiggling hooker style which has engulfed not just fashion, but our entire culture? Could April 29, 2011 mark the beginning of a whole new era of elegant restraint?

“An entire generation has grown up in a world of hair extensions, pneumatic hooters, and stripper poles. In the absence of a Jackie Kennedy or a Grace Kelly, these kids—and their mothers!—have been subjected to an unadulterated diet of Girls Gone Wild, busty Real Housewives, Jenna Jameson, and The Girls Next Door. The message? "Hotness" is the single viable currency. The only effective way to get attention is to flaunt your lady bits. Now along comes Kate, the anti-hooker, garnering the attention and admiration of the entire world with barely a glimpse of flesh.”

“My prediction: If she keeps up the simple elegance, she might well make a dent in the all-pervading culture of porno-chic.”

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Was It Made in America?

The news from the mental health front is not good. Recent studies have shown that mental illness and emotional problems are not universal medical conditions, but are caused, even produced by different cultural expectations.

Those who are trumpeting the advent of a new scientific age where mental illnesses will be more and more treatable should temper their enthusiasm.

So says Ethan Watters in several articles and a great and important book: Crazy Like Us.  Watters published a comprehensive essay on the topic here and a shorter column about post traumatic stress disorder here.

Writing in the Times about researchers who have done cross-cultural analysis of mental illness, Watters says: “Swimming against the biomedical currents of the time, they have argued that mental illnesses are not discrete entities like the polio virus with their own natural histories. These researchers have amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places.”

This is not to say that people who suffer from what we call mental illnesses do not have problems. Most of the time they do. It is to say that the way they present those problems, the symptoms they unconsciously choose, and their path to recovery is strongly influenced by the ambient culture.

Watters explains: “In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another.”

What are the underlying forms of emotional distress that manifest themselves differently in different cultures? In my view they involve anomie, loneliness, isolation, rejection, failure, and demoralization.

Many cultures see these as moral issues, to be solved or managed by family or community. Our culture has tended to medicalize and pathologize the problems and to pack sufferers off to mental health professionals.

In that way we absolve ourselves of responsibility for helping our friends and family. At the same time we feed the ever-growing and ever-hungry therapy industry.

Even where we are dealing with a brain disease like schizophrenia, the recovery rates have a great deal to do with the way a society sees the disease and the way the community relates to the person who has it.

Tuberculosis is tuberculosis is tuberculosis. No matter where you live, no matter your cultural background, the disease is caused by a bacterium and is treated with antibiotics.

Watters explains: “The course of a metastasizing cancer is unlikely to be changed by how we talk about it. With schizophrenia, however, symptoms are inevitably entangled in a person’s complex interactions with those around him or her. In fact, researchers have long documented how certain emotional reactions from family members correlate with higher relapse rates for people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

Among the worst things you can do for the schizophrenic, studies have found, is to surround him with people who express their emotions openly and freely. You might be surprised to hear this; I was not.

Evidence for the way a culture generates its own forms of mental illness has recently come to us from studies about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Comparisons between American and British soldiers returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that Americans suffer a far greater incidence of PTSD than do their British counterparts.

Watters reports: “Neil Greenberg of the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health at King's College London and colleagues reported that studies of American soldiers showed  PTSD  prevalence rates of in excess of 30 per cent while the rates among British troops was only four per cent. UK soldiers were more likely to abuse alcohol (13 per cent reported doing so) or experience more common mental disorders such as depression (20 per cent).”

And also: “’Despite some claims to the contrary,’ Greenberg et al write, ‘PTSD seems not to be a 'universal stress reaction', arising in all societies across all time. Evidence from both world wars suggests that the ways in which service personnel communicate distress is culturally determined and that the development of PTSD may be one more phase in the evolving picture of human reaction to adversity.”

Soldiers do not come home from war with PTSD. The condition develops over time. Watters explains: “This suggests that the psychological reaction to war does not happen in a flash like a shrapnel wound. Rather, it evolves as the soldiers integrate their experiences with the values and expectations of their culture.”

While British and American cultures have much in common, they do set “significantly different expectations for their psychological recovery…. In America, soldiers frequently return to a culture that fully expects them to be psychologically wounded by the experience.”

The evidence suggests that PTSD was induced or conjured into existence by psychiatrists who opposed the Vietnam War. If so, we are facing a situation where psychiatrists have used the pretense of science to impose their values on the nation.

How did it happen? According to Watters: “Diagnosis of PTSD began to take shape in the US after the Vietnam war and represents much more than a clinical set of symptoms. It has become a world view; a weapon in a battle between a militaristic view of the world – where going to war and using deadly force can be both morally justified and personally uplifting – and a therapy view of the world, where violence is an aberration that inevitably damages the human psyche and spirit.

“Originally called post-Vietnam syndrome, modern PTSD began in hothouse rap sessions held by Vietnam Veterans Against the War and supervised by antiwar psychoanalysts. The motivations behind the creation of the diagnosis are clear in early descriptions of post-Vietnam syndrome such as this one written by a young psychoanalyst named Chaim Shatan and published in the New York Times in the spring of 1972: These veterans were suffering because they had been, ‘deceived, used and betrayed‘ by both the military and society at large. That the creation of this syndrome would help the anti-war effort was clear. …

“The diagnosis of post-Vietnam syndrome was intended to highlight the psychological cost of participating in what many mental-health providers perceived to be an unjust war.”

This is not about science, or even brain chemistry. It’s an attempt by one group of people, the licensed professionals who purvey the therapy culture, to impose their values on those who fought honorably in a war. At the same time this group undermined the war effort and punished those who fought in it.

How does it work? Watters explains: “By isolating trauma as a malfunction of the mind that can be connected to discrete symptoms and targeted with specialised treatments, the disorder removes trauma from other cultural narratives and beliefs that might give deeper meaning to suffering. It claims to be value-neutral to cultural beliefs but this is problematic, given that those beliefs – be it God's plan for someone who's lost a child or patriotism for the soldier crippled in battle – are the very places where we once found solace and strength.

“In contrast to those angry but socially engaged Vietnam War veterans, the personal accounts of current-day US soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq often seem pigeonholed into a PTSD diagnosis that is tied to a particularly modern style of lonely hyperintrospection.

“Because the disorder focuses largely on internal states and chemical imbalances within the individual brain, this explanation for psychological problems often leaves the soldier – to borrow a recent US military marketing slogan – feeling like ‘an army of one‘.”

To clarify my own position, and I think, Watters’, I do not think it’s about cultural narratives. It’s about belonging to, being accepted by,  and even honored by your community and the society at large.

The first step toward inducing PTSD was to denounce returning veterans. During the Vietnam era soldiers were spat on and called baby killers; they were considered to be war criminals and were often treated as social pariahs.

If they took pride in their service, they were considered to be suffering from a form of psychopathy. If they re-adapted to American culture when they returned from the war they were considered to be in denial.

The therapy culture communicates values. It values you for feeling vulnerable, but not for being resilient. It values you for being emotionally expressive, but not for being discreet. It values you for being introspective, but not for being gregarious.

It values those qualities that isolate you from you community and make the psychiatrist’s office your last and only refuge.

If you want to be accepted by a psychiatrist you need to present with symptoms that make sense to his value system. Thus, you develop PTSD. It is amazing that psychiatrists, who are credentialed medical professionals, allowed their profession to be hijacked by political activists who wanted nothing more than to label America and those who defended it as deviants and war criminals.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Modern, Feminist, Egalitarian Types" in Love

For reasons that we need not try to understand, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s column, “The Unlikely Other Woman” was rejected by the “Modern Love” section of the New York Times.

Happily enough, a new website has just appeared, dedicated to publishing columns that were rejected by the Times. Among its first publications was Bussel’s column. Link here.

Bussel is a writer. She writes about sex. She writes about her own sexual experiences and about the sexual experiences of others. She has, dare I say, pretty much tried it all, and has emerged as an expert in matters erotic. We might fairly say that she is skilled in the arts of love.

I will not say that she is a sex professional, because that term has a pejorative connotation, but, were she living in a different time, she would happily fulfill the requirements to be a mistress, courtesan, or concubine.

I think it fair to say that if that is the way you want to be identified, you will naturally attract men who are looking for sexual adventure, who want to explore the wilder side of sexual experience.

Some of you might find it horrifying and profoundly offensive, but a woman who exposes her sexuality should not expect to marry and settle down in a conventional existence.

In fact, self-exposure will pretty much immunize a woman from having a conventional life. If that is her choice, that is her prerogative.

Bussel’s rejected column details a passionate love affair. In properly modest terms.

The affair involved her with a married man. Not an unhappily married man in a “loveless sexless marriage,” she specifies, but a man who was “happily married, in an open relationship.”

It happens that the marriage was not open enough for the man to tell his wife of the affair, but… let’s not be too nit-picky here.

Of course, Bussel was concerned that an affair with a married man might open her to emotional risks. She thought it through and concluded that she had the situation under control: “We were modern, feminist, egalitarian types who could separate sex and love, marriage and monogamy. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I started flirting with him—or so I thought.”

Those are the words of someone whose ideology has caused her to imagine that she is immune from a normal woman’s feelings.

Isn‘t that what all of this ideology about socially constructed gender roles is really supposed to accomplish; to allow women to have sex like men?

Bussel was especially enthralled by this man because he was reading her erotic writings and was willing to give her so much attention. After all, what with his career and his marriage, he was a very busy man.

She was so utterly enthralled that when they met for their first tryst, and when the man told her that he had had sex several times with his wife that very day, Bussel was undeterred. She soldiered on, basing her decision on the intensity of her feelings.

In her words: “He picked me up and I melted into him; there was no way an attraction that powerful could be wrong.”

Sorry to say it, but many women have been lured into the wrong relationship by telling themselves: “THERE WAS NO WAY AN ATTRACTION THAT POWERFUL COULD BE WRONG.”

If you do not understand that a powerful desire can, and often is, wrong, then you do not understand much about human relationships.

It doesn’t take that long for Bussel to decide that she wants more than just the great sex. Despite herself and despite her feminist convictions, her emotions become involved in the relationship.

The more they do, the more it becomes about her soul as well as her body. Then she discovers that desire is not the be-all and end-all of human relationships… especially for men.

She had made a grievous miscalculation. If you believe that desire conquers all, read carefully what happens when Bussel tries to open her soul to her lover: “I had tried to distill my feelings for him down to their simplest essence, and he’d dismissed me as a lovestruck nuisance. My birthday came and went without even a text.”

How does she explain where she went wrong? She writes: “I thought I was too smart to get hurt, which was my ultimate downfall.” Here I agree entirely. Intellectual arrogance led her astray.

She thought she was so smart that reality did not apply to her. She believed that the mind can control reality, that if you think differently or speak differently then you will change the world, or, at least, you will change your emotional makeup.

Keep in mind, Bussel was not looking for a husband. She was looking for a lover. She wanted to have an affair. She wanted to practice her advanced skills as master of sexual pleasure. And that was exactly what she found.

She claims to have no regrets.

The moral of the story is that a woman’s free and open expression of her sexuality will require her to repress her emotions.

When those same emotions escape their shackles and catch up with you, it will not be a happy day.

Bussel declares that she would not do it differently. I imagine that she felt that she had to say that. Since she described her experience as a “downfall” I suspect that she was saying what her readers want her to say, not what she really feels.

Think Small

David Nichtern found the idea in Buddhist teachings. It is probably common to most religions. Link here.

It’s a great piece of advice. If you want to improve your life, improve your relationships, and even improve your mood, do a good deed, make a small gesture of kindness and consideration.

Nichtern explains: “Each day in our lives is made up of tiny and discrete moments. Every relationship is made of specific and particular interactions.”

You do not want life to be a blur. You do not want to feel that you are floating along on a sea of emotion. You are not going to make the success of your relationships depend on how much feeling you express.

You do not want your life to feel like one psychodrama after another. You do not want to exhaust yourself by playacting your life.

And you certainly do not believe that you are going to repair your relationships by having heart-to-heart talks about repairing your relationship.

If you want harmony and serenity, productive relationships, start by making small gestures. Be nice on a small scale.

Nichtern is not talking about going to work for a charity, or sacrificing your life for a cause. He is talking about smiling and saying hello to the waiter. Or holding open the elevator for someone.

He is saying that we should recognize that good human relationship are built on an accumulation of small gestures. If you are cranky, hostile, sneering, and aggressive, you will not feel very good about yourself and others will not feel very good in your presence.

If you raise your voice unnecessarily, in a constant effort to bring some drama into your life, you will find yourself alone on the stage, without an audience.

Even if you are not a politician, you can contribute to the overall civility of society by being polite and courteous, to friends, family, and even strangers.

Being kind to others is a great way to get over yourself. Reaching out to others with a gesture of friendship is a wondrous way to better yourself.

People who are socially successful tend to think of the right gesture toward a friend in need. And they know how to make the right gesture when a friend is not in need. They know how to send the right note to a new acquaintance.

I am led to understand that Buddhist teaching suggests that kind gestures produce a wave of positive karma that is going to produce world peace.

Some people will find the thought motivating. For my part, I have my doubts. Hopefully, you will be able to improve the way you conduct your relationships without thinking that you are thereby saving the world.

All that niceness adds up. It adds up slowly, but it adds up surely. It facilitates your human interactions, builds your character, and attracts positive gestures.

You will have to get over the idea that relationships run on autopilot. You can actively improve yours, and those of the people around you, by thinking about how you can be nice to others. It’s a good way to get over yourself. And it costs less than therapy.

The Problem of Affirmative Action

Barack Obama once admitted that he had benefited from affirmative action programs.

If you, however, dare to say that he benefited from affirmative action programs, you are going to be accused of being a racist.

The election campaign is gearing up, and one of its least savory sides is the implication that if you do not believe that Obama is a great president and a towering intellect, even to the point of being too smart for the job, then you must be a racist.

How can you prove to the world that you are not a racist? You can vote for Obama.

It’s a form of psychological manipulation. It worked before, so why wouldn‘t its practitioners try it again?

But that is not the salient point about affirmative action programs. For that we turn to Mickey Kaus, who probably leans more left than right, and who certainly does not come to us from the political fringes. Link here.

Posting about the controversy, Kaus wrote: “The biggest problem with race preferences is that they taint the achievements, not just of those who benefit from them, but of everyone in the beneficiary group–even those who would have gotten into the college or gotten the job, etc., without the preference.  That is an unfairness Obama may acutely feel.  Race preferences are a big reason blacks feel they have to be twice as good as everyone else to measure up in society’s eyes–which is a powerful argument for ending the preferences.”

In all fairness, I believe that this argument was first proposed by Shelby Steele in his book: The Content of Our Character.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sex and Lawyers

Back in the old days, when the sexual revolution was just beginning to take hold, its proponents declared, with all due solemnity, that you can’t legislate morality.

They should have added that you can’t get people to behave morally through litigation either.

Nowadays, sexual behavior on college campuses has become a cause for concern. And I am not just talking about the hookup culture.

Apparently, women are more likely to be abused, harassed, an insulted sexually through behavior and language.

How are college administrators trying to deal with the problem? With a combination of new regulations and guilt trips.

Their approach gives new meaning to the term legalistic.

That means lawyers, lawsuits, investigations, committees, accompanied by sensitivity training, and activist demonstrations.

They all tell you one thing: what not to do. They have ushered us into the kingdom of No.

Since sexual morality has always meant telling people what they should not do, these new policies are yet another wrong-headed effort to legislate and litigate morality.

But then, how are they all working out? By all evidence, not very well.

William McGurn summarizes the sad irony brilliantly: “On the one hand, we have more Take Back the Nights, more sensitivity courses, and more performances of the Vagina Monologues than we've ever had. On the other hand, the same people who give us these things keep telling us the problem they are designed to fix is getting worse. Earlier this month at the University of New Hampshire, Vice President Joe Biden announced that this administration's answer will be more Title IX 'guidelines.'

“Some say we're in this mess because of the collapse of traditional sexual morality. Manifestly, when society's most educated members take the view that the only issue in what they see as a purely mechanical act is whether the involved were consenting, you're in for trouble. Nevertheless, the real threat to civility and common decency is this: the substitution of codes and committees for responsible adults exercising humanity and judgment.

“For example: How much formal ethics training do you need to know that you don't secretly film someone in a private moment? …Instead of taking direction from lawyers, shouldn't our college authorities decide the right thing to do—and then instruct the lawyers to make that work?” Link here.

Clearly, our sexual revolutionaries have a great deal to answer for. Largely with their encouragement and under their aegis the dating culture on college campuses has been replaced by the hookup culture.

The countercultural movement to normalize vulgar and obscene speech, has succeeded only too well.

All of it to the detriment of young women.

Are there any moral codes left? Indeed, there are. As McGurn suggests, the primary moral precept is that anything goes between consenting adults.

Without consent, everything is forbidden. With consent, everything is permitted.

Why doesn’t it work very well? That one is easy to understand. How does anyone expect two drunken and drugged out college students to offer informed consent.

Given that signals are sometimes ambiguous, and open to interpretation-- as everyone learns in elementary deconstruction classs-- the principle of informed consent can very easily lead to abuse.

While we’re at it, how can you know whether someone is or is not consenting when that person is not only drunk and drugged out, but is also a stranger?

How can anyone stop this level of abuse? Aside from the possibility that young people will start behaving as though they respect themselves-- you see, I am still a bit of an optimist-- those who wish to legislate and litigate morality seem to feel that the best way to promote healthy sexual behavior is to threaten people with prosecution if they do anything that crosses the line.

That might feel like a severe punishment, and, in fact, society has always punished rapists severely. Yet, everyone also knows that when ambiguous and abusive sexual contact is adjudicated in the criminal justice system, women are subject to yet another round of abuse.

Many women prefer to avoid the indignity of a rape trial except in the most extreme cases.

We may all wish that they would decide otherwise, but such is reality.

As it happens, there is another great modern principle of sexual morality: use a condom. Everything is permitted if you know how to use a condom correctly.

So we have two basic moral principles that have been used to try to control sexual behavior. If both adults consent, anything goes. And, if you are using a condom, anything goes.

The problem with these precepts, as the symbolic logic of implication will tell you, is that when young people hear them they conclude that, when it comes to sex, anything goes.

Unless you get caught.

Defining sexual morality through a series of threats is really very old school. We would do better to offer a more positive vision of sexual experience, and to place sex within something resembling a relationship.

We should also get over the notion that all sexual acts are created equal and that sex is essential to your mental hygiene.

All sexual acts are not created equal. They are not just different ways to achieve exquisite pleasure and enjoy apocalyptic orgasms. You have not gotten a step closer to the meaning of sex by saying that they are merely about pleasure and enjoy.

And let’s overcome the notion that sexual release is a form of mental hygiene. If you believe that your health depends on whether or not you have sex, then you are more, not less, likely to be abusive.

It’s one thing for her to decline to have sex. You will survive the experience. If you have been led to believe that sex makes an essential contribution to your mental health, then, when someone declines your sexual advances you will imagine that she is going to make you sick. In that case, you might get angry and might feel justified in acting accordingly.

Such reasoning cannot count as a defense to a charge of sexual assault. But wouldn't it be better if we figured out a way to prevent these things from happening, rather than focusing on how to punish punish the perpetrators once they do.

Clearly, this is grossly inappropriate and wrong.

But the solution is not to try to legislate and litigate morality. The solution is first for young people to act as though they respect themselves. And second, for those of us who are no longer young to offer a more meaningful definition of sexual experience.

How Much Does Character Count on Wall Street?

Who is responsible for the financial crisis? What is the ruling ethos on Wall Street and in the financial world? Did the Wall Street culture fail, or did flawed human beings make bad decisions?

If human beings bear some responsibility, why has no one been punished? What happened to justice?

Of course, there’s punishment and then there’s punishment. Being criminally indicted is one thing; being ostracized, losing your reputation and good name, is quite another.

The first requires the workings of the criminal justice system. The second requires a culture that promotes good character and sanctions bad character.

Call the first a guilt culture and the second a shame culture.

Yesterday Steven Davidoff offered an important analysis of the cultural ethos that pertains in the financial world. Link here.

He sees a prevailing system that no longer values reputation and good character but will tolerate anything you can get away with.

In a shame culture what matters is your reputation, your character, your good name.

If you get caught behaving unethically by putting your interest ahead of your client’s, then your reputation suffers and people will no longer do business with you.

In a guilt culture, what matters is whether or not you have broken a law, thus, whether or not you can be indicted and convicted by the criminal justice system.

Davidoff is certainly not suggesting that everyone who works in finance has bad character. Yet, he does provide examples of individuals who bore some responsibility for the financial crisis, but who did not lose their reputations.

They were not ostracized; they did not become pariahs in the financial world; they ended up with great new jobs.

Davidoff cites these examples: “Former directors of Lehman Brothers and Bear Steans still serve on the boards of public companies, and one, Jerry A. Grundhofer, a former director of Lehman, is on the Citigroup board. Traders responsible for disastrous mortgage bets have easily found lucrative jobs in finance.

"Or take Daniel H. Mudd, who not long after being ousted as chief executive Fannie Mae was named chief executive of the Fortress Investment Group. At Fortress, Mr. Mudd has been paid a salary and stock options worth more than $30 million in the last two years. This was despite the failure of Fannie Mae while he was at the helm, an event that wiped out almost all shareholder value and has cost the federal government more than $90 billion.”

It isn’t just that these bankers were not sanctioned for their failures; they were rewarded.

Has this always been the case? Davidoff says that it was not: “During the Great Depression, Goldman Sachs was caught up in a scandal involving the Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation. The taint of the scandal drove away business for more than a decade and made the firm extremely focused on reputation.”

Why does reputation no longer matter? Davidoff sees a number of forces conspiring to undermine the value of good character.

In brief, he says that the investment banking business has become less about people, thus less about reputation and character, and more about “size and technology.”

When trading and brokerage became more important than investment banking, the value of reputation and relationships diminished.

This was even more true as trading became mechanized and digitized. The geeks and nerds who were running trading platforms were not sociable people. Their jobs and their compensation did not depend on their contacts, their client relationships, and their good name.

The larger these firms became, the less important single individuals were. Where banking used to be conducted by smallish investment banks with a limited number of partners whose capital was at risk, reputation and relationships were the lifeblood of the business.

When the firms became larger and more public, no single individual could really be held to account for the activities that were being run by quants and trading programs.

One imagines that many senior executives barely understood what the traders were doing.

And there’s more. Davidoff explains: “Again, individuals were less important as size dominated. A client now trades or does business with a bank based on its positions or ability to make a market or loan. The executive at the bank executing the transaction is unimportant.”

This diminished any single executive’s personal responsibility: “These trends have become omnipresent in corporate America generally as it too has exponentially grown. And when these companies failed or otherwise committed a wrongdoing, their size allowed their reputation to be ignored. After all, it wasn’t the executive’s fault that the bad event happened. It was just the economy or other external factors.”

Finally, officers and directors of banks and major corporations are personal friends with each other. They are more likely to excuse friends who might have institutional authority but who did not really know what was going on.

Given that they themselves do not know everything that is going on in their own companies, and do not want to be held accountable for it, they are more than happy to excuse people they consider to be their personal friends.

Given this amoral universe, a universe where reputation does not really count, Davidoff believes that it was inevitable that the government would step in to impose more stringent regulations.

In his words: “In the absence of reputation, the government and regulators act as substitutes to ensure appropriate conduct. The government becomes the enforcer through civil and criminal actions for law-breaking. So what you get is more law to cover for lost reputation.”

Here we have something of a chicken/egg problem. Which came first: the diminishing importance of reputation or the increased regulation?

After all, the banking industry was not exactly unregulated. As many wise commentators noted at the time, the financial industry was heavily regulated. Surely, it was much more regulated than were hedge funds.

It makes some good sense, too. The more you live in a regulatory universe that attempts to control your every gesture and decision, the more you will feel honor-bound to find the fault line in the system, the one thing that they forgot to forbid.

Once you are thinking in terms of what you can get away with because no one has thought to prohibit it, you are not too far away from thinking about which prohibited actions you can get away with because you are unlikely to get caught.

If the financial crisis began in a highly regulated industry, then perhaps the way to restore the industry is to reduce regulations, not to double down with them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Will and Kate and the End of Matriarchy

It is fashionable in some circles to disparage the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

For reasons that escape me, many of our citizens seem to feel that, no matter what they have accomplished in life, they need also to pretend to be deep thinkers. The phenomenon is especially prevalent in New York.

Some people were designer logos on their shorts. Others assert their status by breathlessly quoting Tom Friedman.

Celebrities who undertake to defend leftist causes fall easily into this category. But the problem extends to members of the American bourgeoisie who seem to believe that they gain great status by echoing the thought of a New York Times columnist.

Until recently more than a few of my fellow New Yorkers opened the Sunday New York Times in order to receive their intellectual marching orders from Frank Rich.

If that thought doesn’t ruin your good mood, nothing will.

Among those who aspire to status in the thinking class, it is de rigeur to be utterly disinterested in the fast approaching the royal wedding. An estimated 2 billion people will end up watching it, but our pseudo-intelligentsia thinks that it is of no import.

They will tell you that America was founded on good, solid anti-aristocratic republican principles, and that our founding fathers were allergic to hereditary aristocracy?

How better to stand up for America than to look down on the British monarchy.

And then, those who suffered the influence of the cult to Princess Diana believe that it’s really about nothing more than celebrity.

Today in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens critiqued that notion and offered a cogent explanation for the importance of the royal wedding. Link here.

In his words: “Regarding this Friday's wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, curmudgeons have said that here is the ultimate celebrity pseudo-event, a manufactured fairy tale from the politically powerless and morally deficient House of Windsor, the significance of which is not only inversely proportionate to the global attention it inspires, but also a gross distraction from everything that ails our troubled world.”

He continued: “Still, it bears pointing out that royalty is the most venerable embodiment of British tradition, tradition is the lifeblood of identity, identity generates social cohesion without resort to force, and social cohesion is the sine qua non of a viable polity.”

Stephens makes a salient point. The British monarchy, shorn of political power, lives on as a symbol of the unity, the social cohesion of the British nation.

This would make it, reasonably, the antidote to the multiculturalism that has been running rampant in Britain for the last few decades. For a recent article about efforts to impose Sharia law in multicultural Britain, see this article.

For the nation that founded liberal democracy and liberated women from arranged marriages to tolerate Islamic extremists who threaten women with death of they do not wear head scarves and want to ban homosexuals is both abhorrent and countercultural.

Of course, the same people who disparage monarchy were thrilled by an award winning film called: “The King’s Speech.”

For those who consider the monarchy to be about nothing more than celebrity, Stephens has a final riposte: “Mainly, they're about people who have been asked to personify a vaguely defined—but deeply felt—idea of national identity through the performance of tedious duties they have no serious option to forgo. These aren't celebrities, but servants. And the 'events' in which they participate aren't 'pseudo.' They are the thin line between Britain and anarchy.”

There is only one angle to this story that still seems to have been overlooked. It is so politically incorrect that few thinkers even dared to broach it.

Most especially, after the debacle that was called Charles and Diana, and the peculiarities of the current heir to the throne, Great Britain is looking for a King.

The last time Great Britain had a King was 1952-- nearly sixty years ago. Ever since, it has had a Queen whose husband is a prince.

But, what about Prince Charles? You do not have to be quite as dyspeptic on monarchy as Christopher Hitchens is, but, frankly, he is correct to describe Prince Charles as a: “… morose, balding, New Age crank and licensed busybody.” Link here.

Worse yet, Prince Charles is an adept of Jungian psychology, and supports the multiculturalist claptrap that is currently sinking Britain.

As Hitchens puts it, Britain’s great hope is that Prince William’s “supposed charisma can save the country from what monarchists dread and republicans ought to hope for: King Charles III.”

And that the luminous Miss Middleton can save Britain from Camilla Parker-Bowles.

I agree with Hitchens up until the point when he blames Charles’s father for his failings.

When trying to understand why the current British royal family seems to be so dysfunctional, we ought, at the very least, to mention that it is a matriarchal family.

Matriarchal families have always had problems bringing up male offspring. In some parts of America it is central to the social pathology.

In polite society we have all learned to blame the father,  but when it comes to the current British royal family, the fault seems to lie in hereditary circumstances, not in bad parenting.

By that I mean that Prince Charles was brought up in a family where his mother, quite literally, outranked his father.

He could not emulate his father or take him to be his role model, because he was not going to succeed his father. Charles was designated to succeed his mother. Thus, he was obligated to emulate his mother… not a very good position for a boy or young man to find himself in.

Perhaps that is why, when it came to choosing wives, Charles has chosen unwisely and unwell. From marrying a girl who was least like his mother, Charles moved on to a woman who reminded people of his mother.

At the least, and to everyone‘s great relief, Prince William seems to have made a far better choice of wife than did his father.

Could it be because his father outranked his mother? That would be a strange thought indeed.

Tough Talk from Trump

Thomas Sowell sees clearly the political danger that is called Donald Trump. Link here.

Being a clearer thinker than most, he has chosen not to wade into the birther controversy.

Instead, he renders us the service of identifying why Donald Trump appeals to so many people. He sees Trump taking the rhetorical fight to Obama while most other Republican candidates are projecting rhetorical weakness. As he puts it: “Republican rhetoric tends to range from low key to no key.”

Sowell explains: “Trump has what so many other Republicans are so painfully lacking: the ability and the willingness to articulate arguments clearly, forcefully, and in plain English. Too many Republicans talk like the actor of whom a critic once said, ‘he played the king like he was afraid that someone else was going to play the ace.’”

He continues: “What electrified so many Republicans about Sarah Palin in the 2008 election campaign was that her speeches offered such a contrast to the usual mealy-mouthed talk common among other Republican candidates, including Sen. John McCain. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her position on the issues, you didn’t have to wave your hand in front of her eyes to see if she was awake.”

Sarah Palin’s recent speech in Madison, Wisconsin offered the same stark contrast. Very few Republican contenders could have made the speech. No others did.

The Coming Egyptian Winter

Remember Egypt? It wasn’t too long ago that the chattering classes were rejoicing at the gale of freedom that was moving across Egypt.

The idealists in our midst thrilled to the vision of the idea of liberty on the move in the Middle East.

For my part I was more cautious, even circumspect. While I am well aware that some of the world’s great philosophers see the march of history as a movement of ideas, an idea on the march is nothing more than a metaphor. If you are not a poet, you should not go out and traffic in metaphors. History is not an epic poem.

However much metaphors move you; they do not move world history.

Now the world is in the midst of the Arab Spring. Sage commentators have been noticing that the Arab Spring might easily become prelude to an Iranian Winter, but for now the world’s attention is riveted on Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Libya, Syria, and Yemen are where the action is, and the action plays well on the nightly news. We are transfixed by the violence, the horror of it all. It commands our attention.

Meantime, back in Egypt, while no one has been paying too much attention, events have taken a more ominous turn. Gideon Rachman reports today from Cairo for the Financial Times, and his view, while still retaining a whiff of hope, is gloomy indeed. Link here.

I also recommend Roger Kimball’s report here.

As some of us predicted, the Egyptian Revolution has brought Islamic fundamentalist groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists onto the public square and far closer to power. Remember that Hosni Mubarak had banned these groups and forced them underground.

The Salafists seem to want to drive Egypt straight back to the seventh century. They make the Muslim Brotherhood look liberal in comparison.

If an alliance of Islamic groups gains power in the next election  they will write the new Egyptian constitution.

As Rachman says, this will be very bad news for Egyptian liberals.

How are Egyptian liberals dealing with the situation. Rachman reports that they are hard at work purging the remnants of the old regime, the better to achieve what we recognize as social justice. Why does this sound eerily familiar?

In Rachman’s words: “Unfortunately, much of the energy of liberal Egypt seems to be focused on pursuing the old regime rather than preparing for the future.”

And also: “ Some liberals argue that the pursuit of justice and the exposure of the crimes of the old regime are crucial to the establishment of a new Egypt. They also fear that the ‘deep state‘ of the Mubarak era will re-emerge and thwart change, unless it is exposed and pursued through the courts. These are legitimate arguments. But an overconcentration on the past risks losing the future. The political dangers are heightened by a serious deterioration in the economy. Tourism is a crucial industry, but many tourists seem too frightened to go to Egypt at the moment. Visiting the Pyramids in Giza last week I virtually had the place to myself.”

Of course, Rachman is not speaking of liberals in the American sense of the term. He is speaking of classical liberalism, the kind that favors democracy, free enterprise, free markets, and free speech.

And yet, Egyptian liberals who are dissipating their political energy by pursuing corruption are acting very much like the American liberals who are currently in the White House. By focusing too intently on the past, they are about to lose the future. By trying to actualize an ideal, the ideal of justice, they are losing touch with reality.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Obama's Multiple Personalities

Most commentators on the right and the left feel that we should not even be asking where Barack Obama was born.

Beyond the fact that a goodly majority considers the “birther” issue to be settled science, many serious Republicans believe that the issue makes Republicans look bad.

Republicans are not really short on issues where they can challenge, and hopefully, defeat Barack Obama.

Besides, searching for Obama’s birth certificate is beginning to feel like Monica Lewinsky redux. Remember how well that worked out for Republicans?

And what if the birth certificate issue is a trap? What would happen if Obama pulled an October surprise and released his birth certificate in the midst of the election campaign, proving that he had been born in Hawaii?

But, that isn't really the issue. Like it or not, there is something about Barack Obama that does not feel right to large numbers of American citizens. It’s playing out in the “birther” issue, but most Americans feel that they do not really know who Barack Obama, where he came from, and whether or not they can trust him.

Many Americans bought into a well-crafted fictional character called Barack Obama, only to discover that they had been fooled, tricked, and deceived. They had thought that they were voting for one set of policies and discovered that they had really voted for another.

When there’s a crisis, we do not know who is going to show up or whether anyone is going to show up. It’s looking to many Americans that they elected Chauncey Gardiner.

If you’re confused, fear not. David Brooks is here to explain that we cannot pin down Barack Obama because there are many Barack Obamas. Link here.

It recalled to mind Walt Whitman's famous quote: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

This is fine for a poet. Poets do not make policy. Poetry is not about giving and keeping your word. Whether or nor Obama's multiples rise to the level of multitudes, the truth is, we expect and deserve more from a president.

Brooks reassures us that it is good to have multiple personalities. To his mind, it makes Obama a supple thinker, someone who can shift attitudes and policies on a dime, who does not go “all in” on any one policy.

Among people who are supposed to lean right, Brooks has already distinguished himself as a perfect dupe. Even before Obama was running for the presidency, he sat down for an interview with Brooks. When Brooks gazed meaningfully on Obama’s neatly creased trousers and had an epiphany. He saw that the man with the perfectly creased trousers was going to be President of the United States.

Now, he seems to hanging on to that epiphany the way a dog fights to hold on to a dirty old rag, tenaciously. Brooks does not seem to understand that dragging out new rationalizations only makes him look like a greater fool.

Anyway, Brooks tried to explain the enigma of Barack Obama on CNN.

In his words: “He’s multiple animals. You know, I would say we’re all – we all have multiple personalities. My psychobabble description of him is he’s a very complicated person who has many different selves, all of them authentic, but they come out in different contexts. And he is — has always has the ability to look at other parts of himself from a distance, and so it means he has great power to self-correct and I think it gives him power to see himself.  It means that he rarely is all in.”

He continues: “You know, President Bush didn’t have as much – many multiple selves, so when he made a decision he was all in, he was just going to be there. But as I think President Obama is much more cautious, because he’s a man of many pieces and many parts and not all of which I understand or I think anybody understands.  But it may — it leads to that caution that we see time and time again and almost a self-distancing I see.”

On one point, Brooks is right: this is psychobabble. As sometimes happens Brooks does not know what he is talking about.

He seems to believe that we all have multiple personalities. To him, this means that we are complicated.

For the record, in today’s psychiatry, multiple personalities are more often called Dissociative Identity Disorder. You may know of the fictional version, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Dissociative identity disorder is a serious illness. It is not just a variant on normal human behavior. Nor is it just a malign form of something we all do when we act differently in different situations. Sometimes we are kind, sometimes we are rigid; sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are sad; sometimes we are garrulous, sometimes we are taciturn.

Still and all, if you are talkative with one group and reticent with another, that does not meant that you have put on a new personality. It means that different circumstances require different behaviors. Regardless of which personality trait you adapt, there should never be any doubt about who you are.

Someone who suffers from dissociative identiy disorder can change personalities quickly, often forgetting what he was doing when he was in a dissociative state.

This is very bad news for the person who cannot recall what he did while he was acting as another personality, and it is bad news for anyone who has dealings with said person.

It’s not just that your husband or wife is in a bad mood one day and a good mood the next, but it’s like coming home and not knowing who is going to greet you at the door.

If you are dealing with multiple personalities, all of whom have the same face, you have a problem. You cannot know whether promises made by one will be kept by any of the others, or whether the others even know about the promises made by the one.

As always, Brooks is really defending Brooks. He cannot bring himself to believe that his trouser crease epiphany misled him. His powers of rationalization far exceed his powers of ratiocination.

So, let’s say that we have a president who is inconsistent, inconstant, ineffectual, and who does not seem to know who he is and what his role is, who made promises as a candidate that he does not feel obliged to keep.

You should not try to rationalize character flaws by saying that we all have multiple personalities. If someone tells you the truth half the time and lies half the time, he is a liar. It’s not very complicated.

We have a president who seems to believe that giving his word is expedient, but that he is not obliged to keep it.

Since our president, as was reported today, prefers “leading from behind,” the nation and the world are effectively leaderless. As you watch the unfolding turmoil in the Middle East, doesn’t it look like a world where no one is in charge?

Brooks does not see it this way. He wants to tell us that Obama is really just like all of us, only better.

To his mind, Obama possesses superior intelligence, a towering intellect that allows him to shift with the wind, to change course more rapidly than the rest of us.

But, what is the difference between what Brooks calls “the power to self-correct” and going back on his word? If one personality is as authentic as another, then why would you ever trust either?

I will not make too much out of Brooks misuse of the term “authentic.” It has become a pseudo-intellectual shibboleth, made more meaningless for being applied to the term personality.

As everyone knows, or should know, the term personality comes from the Latin persona, which means “mask.” Saying that we all don authentic masks abuses the human mind.

If there are many Barack Obamas that explains why so many people have been trying to solve the mystery of Barack Obama.

Brooks seems not to respect it, but with George Bush, we knew who he was, what he stood for, and how he was going to lead the nation.

If Obama has multiple personalities then that would explain why so many citizens feel that they need to find out who Obama really is. The fault does not lie in the citizens who are trying to solve the riddle, but in the president who does not seem to know who he is, where he is, or what he is doing.

Now, doesn't that make you feel better?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Does Botox Numb Your Soul?

It’s not really new news. It’s more like old news. I myself have blogged on the emotional downside of Botox. And I was reporting on research studies that had been widely disseminated. Link here.

It almost a cosmic irony that our therapy culture, as obsessed as it is with feeling and expressing your feelings, would co-exist with a cosmetic procedure that makes it more difficult to feel your feelings, more difficult to know your feelings, and now, according to the newest research, more difficult to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

As Jezebel reports, Botox makes you insensitive. Link here. In my terms, it numbs your soul.

It’s easy to understand, and it’s very interesting, to boot. Scientists have discovered that we read other people’s emotions by looking at their faces and mimicking their facial expressions.

If a person has no facial expressions, we are strangely disquieted in her presence.

When a woman numbs her face with Botox she will inhibit her capacity to mimic the facial expressions of others and she will, the research shows, have far more difficulty feeling any sensitivity or empathy.

This means, among other things, that that psychotherapists who tout the value of empathy, as though it were a kind of healing balm, should work with their patients, face-to-face.

If therapists are scrupulously avoiding looking at their patients’ faces, they are undermining the virtue that they believe they are promoting. The therapist’ couch is an antidote to empathy, and also an invitation to stilted communication skills.

Is this anything more than a mildly amusing side effect of Botox usage?

To Kiri Blakeley, there is more to the story. Blogging on Forbes, she suggests that Botox might provide women an unnatural advantage. Link here.

If women are naturally more empathic, and if Botox renders them insensitive, perhaps it is leveling the playing field, Blakeley says, between women and the more insensitive other sex.

(For the record, Blakeley uses the word “empathetic.” According to the dictionary, both “empathetic” and “empathic” are correct. It may just be one of my own pet peeves, but "empathetic," to me, is on much too intimate terms with “pathetic.” And thus, I much prefer “empathic.”)

As Blakeley puts it: “In fact, might not a shot of Botox before a big meeting make women less concerned with others’ perceptions, and more concerned with what men are concerned with: themselves, the bottom line, and maybe, gasp, a raise or promotion? Could there not be some benefits to women being a little less empathetic?”

Sorry to have to say it, but this is not serious thinking. It is not serious to imply that men are just insensitive women. Nor is it serious to say that women should sacrifice a skill in which they are stronger in order to pretend to have a more of a skill in which they seem to be weaker.

It's so unserious that I will tell myself that she is being ironic. Still, Blakeley is running the risk that women take her seriously.

Blakeley does not seem to understand that an insensitive woman does not automatically develop the skills that might be associated with the male of the species.

Besides, as I was saying in my last post, the way to chart your course in life and to get ahead in business is to build on your strengths. If women are naturally more sensitive or empathic, they should definitely make use of this skill, to manage and motivate and lead.

A woman possessing these skills might not lead in the same way a man does. In truth, she would do best not to try. Most perceptive men, and women, will notice immediately that she is not really a man.

Remember, good leadership is not about adopting the right persona; it’s about the results that your team produces.

"Don't Do What You Love"

It’s one of the better pieces of advice a young person can receive. If  you are charting your path in life or looking for your first job or just choosing a major in college, don’t follow you passion or your bliss... do what you are good at.

It’s not a new idea, not even on this blog. See this link.

More recently, Dorie Clark expressed the point well when she argued, provocatively, that you should not do what you love. Link here.

Clark argued that if you are not good at what you love, you are not going to be very successful, and your lack of success will undermine your contentment.

As Peter Drucker expressed it, it’s easier to get from good to great than from mediocre to good.

Clark also pointed out that you have to like the work that is involved in doing what you are good at. If it’s a lot of paperwork you had best enjoy rustling through papers. If it’s managerial you had best have a good feel for other people.

Her third point is essential for writers, so Clark uses them as an example.  Don’t fall so completely in love with your mellifluous prose that you refuse to accept editing, advice, or counsel.

The same applies to all other jobs. No matter how good you are, no matter how much you love what you are doing, if you lack the requisite talent and are trying to cover that up by an excess of passion, you will lose your humility and become an arrogant lout.

And that was not your goal. Right?

Fourth, your choice of a path in life must be in harmony with the market. If your greatest skill is fashioning buggy whips, you need to recognize that there is now a very small market for buggy whips. You might be good at making them, but if no one wants to buy them, you need to look more closely at your talents and skills, the better to take them in a different direction.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Obama's Fading Brilliance

How many stupid things do you have to do before they stop calling you brilliant?

If your name is Barack Obama, the answer is: a very large number.

Christopher Dickey has his eyes wide open. He takes the full measure of Obama’s failure to manage the crisis that is rolling across the Middle East. Yet, he continues to feel compelled to affix the label “brilliant” to Obama. Link here.

Yesterday, the Syrian tyrant, Bashar Assad, gunned down dozens of protesters. The White House put out a vigorous, and balanced call for peace: “We call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence.”

Dickey writes: “Surely President Obama can do better than that. Or perhaps not. The drama—the tragedy—increasingly apparent at the White House is of a brilliant intellect who is nonetheless confounded by events, a strategist whose strategies are thwarted and who is left with almost no strategy at all, a persuasive politician and diplomat who gets others to crawl out on limbs, has them take big risks to break through to a new future, and then turns around and walks away from them when the political winds in the United States threaten to shift.”

No, the real question is when will people like Christopher Dickey recognize that there is no brilliant strategist or persuasive diplomat in the White House? We are being governed by a man who is in over his head, who is out of his depth, who is doing a job for which he has no qualifications.

While we are on the topic, let’s add that the same applies to the current Secretary of State.

For my part I would like to hear how people like Christopher Dickey could ever have thought that Obama had a brilliant intellect? And, given the evidence that they so forcefully analyze, how can they continue to believe in his brilliance?

To his credit, Dickey recognizes that this does not all date to the most recent crisis. In his words: “They were evident from Year 1 of the Obama presidency in his excruciating deliberations over the Afghan surge, in the hand extended ineffectually to Iran, and the lines drawn in the sand, then rubbed out and moved back, and further back, in the dismal, failed efforts to build a Palestinian peace process. But in Libya the crisis of American tentativeness has grown worse almost by the day. Muammar Gaddafi holds on, despite Obama’s demand for him to leave, and the civilians that the Americans, their allies, and the United Nations vowed to protect are being slaughtered.”

Right now the situation in Libya seems to have reached a stalemate. This is not a good thing. Dickey explains: “But a protracted stalemate in Libya, which is where NATO’s noncommittal commitment appears to be headed, will be an unmitigated disaster, precisely, for American interests.”

I like the phrase, “noncommittal commitment.” It's an excellent way to capture intellectual incoherence.

I recommend that you read all of Dickey’s analysis of the situation. We can make it make some sense if we understand that Barack Obama does not much care about American interests.

Somehow, someone in the media ought to figure out that Barack Obama mostly cares about Barack Obama’s interests. Right now, he is out and around preparing for the next election campaign. If events in the world threaten to intrude on the campaigner-in-chief, then will have to wait.

Did Political Correctness Kill Antonio Calvo?

It didn’t happen in some despotic third world country. It happened at Princeton University, a pre-eminent educational institution. There a cabal of graduate student night riders forced a Spanish professor out of his job. Link here.

Antonio Calvo was a lecturer at Princeton. Apparently, he had once raised his voice to a female graduate student and had once made a vulgar and insulting remark to a male graduate student.

To the best of our knowledge, those were his crimes.

In the politically correct academy, Calvo’s statements were hanging offenses. A group of graduate students banded together to destroy his reputation and to make him a pariah on a campus where he had taught for ten years.

Not only was Calvo’s contract not renewed, but Princeton University subjected him to the humiliation of being escorted off the campus in mid-semester, like a common criminal.

A Spanish immigrant, Calvo’s green card had been sponsored by Princeton. In the ultimate indignity he was going to be expelled from the United States.

It was more than Calvo could bear. He went home and stabbed himself to death. Score one for the thought police.

Funny thing, if Calvo were an illegal immigrant who had snuck across the border, these same graduate students would surely have defended his right to stay in the country.

Now, Princeton has forbid all members of the Spanish department to talk to the press. Concerned with its own reputation, and unwilling to explain why a respected teacher was forcibly expelled from its campus, Princeton is enforcing a code of omerta.

As for those graduate students who destroyed Antonio Calvo, they have become mysteriously silent. If they believe in what they did and are proud of their actions, they should face the world and take responsibility for what they have done.

We can only hope that, before long, we will see their grimaced faces in the press.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Johnny Can't Write or Think

We know it so well that we believe that we are beyond being shocked. We know that political correctness has infected American universities to the point of turning education into ideological indoctrination. And we ought to know that this  process has dumbed down the experience to a point where it amounts to professional malpractice.

However well we know this, nothing really prepares us for for Mary Grabar’s account of a convention of university writing teachers. Link here.

Grabar explains: “After spending four depressing days this month at a meeting of 3,000 writing teachers in Atlanta, I can tell you that their parent group, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, is not really interested  in teaching students to write and communicate clearly.  The group’s agenda, clear to me after sampling as many of the meeting’s 500 panels as I could, is devoted to disparaging grammar, logic, reason, evidence and fairness as instruments of white oppression. They believe rules of grammar discriminate against ‘marginalized‘ groups and restrict self-expression.”

This band of imbeciles has gone completely over to the dark side. They do not even pretend to be teaching writing; they could care less about whether or not their students can formulate a clear sentence that expresses a concept.

They want to use their professional expertise to indoctrinate their students into their ideology. They are almost surely grading their students based on their adherence to politically correct thought.

The examples are so egregious and so mindless that I could not have made them up if I had really tried. Grabar is especially taken by the trio of native American drummers whose “music” is supposed to be akin to expository prose. Naturally, that part of the program is capped off by a plea for everyone to learn to speak Cherokee.

It would take a very talented group of joke writers to invent that kinds of discussion topics that absorbed the interest of these English instructors.

Even then, if you are an outsider to the field, you would not laugh because you would never believe that any college instructor could be that stupid.

Surely, this malfeasance rises to the level of malpractice. It is grossly unethical for people who are being paid to teach English composition to refuse to teach English composition.

When you are hired to do one thing but do another, you are severely lacking in integrity. You are exploiting and abusing your professorial privilege.

These teachers are so thoroughly arrogant about abusing the system, and so thoroughly unaware of how unethical they are, that they do not even try to hide it.

Why should anyone care? Don‘t these academics have a right to their kumbaya moments? Doesn’t everyone?

Unfortunately for all of us, the people who are the core editors and writers in the mainstream media have probably had their skills honed in English composition classes where good prose style was ignored in favor of rants against white privilege.

If you wonder why so many journalists do not bother to offer an objective view of the facts, but are hell bent in forcing us to think the way they want us to think, the reason might be that they received indoctrination in place of education, that they were rewarded for political correct opinions and not prose style, and that they were taught by teachers who were  unethical and unprofessional.

They must have learned it somewhere.

Where the Jobs Are

In America we like to say that the states are the laboratories of democracy. We are a pragmatic people; we believe in trial and error; we want to see what does and does not work.

By now most of us have figured out that California does not work. And that Texas does. The exodus of jobs and citizens out of California is becoming so pronounced that even the politicians can see what is happening. John Fund reports here.

Fueled by liberal utopianism, California is becoming a great American dystopia. Unemployment in California is 12%; in Texas it’s 8%.  Seventy businesses have left California this year; fourteen of them have moved to Texas. With businesses leaving California at a rate of 4.7 a week, the exodus is accelerating. Last year businesses left at the rate of 3.9 a week.

A week ago a group of California legislators traveled to Texas to try to figure out why Chief Executive magazine rates Texas the best state to do business and California the worst. Given the advantages that California enjoys, it takes real effort to come in last in anything.

The largely Republican legislators were accompanied by Democratic Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

Where were the Democratic state legislators? You guessed it: the public employee unions prevailed on them not to go. As though anyone needed more evidence of labor union hostility to any policies that might lead to job creation.

As John Fund explains in the article linked above, there is nothing mysterious here. It’s not about what’s in the Texas water.

California is failing because of higher taxes and more regulations, accompanied by an obsession to impose a certain kind of liberated lifestyle.

Tax and regulate, empower labor unions, let tort lawyers go wild… you cannot have a better formula for creating a modern dystopia.

Oh, and by the way, while California has produced the worst business environment, it is doing its darndest to lead the nation in political correctness.

Fund points out: “And just as Texas business leaders were testifying about how the state's tort reforms had improved job creation, word came of California's latest priority: On April 14, the state senate passed a bill mandating that all public school children learn the history of disabled and gay Americans.

“One speaker from California shook his head in wonder: ‘You can have the most liberated lifestyle on the planet, but if you can't afford to put gas in your car or a roof over your head it's somewhat limited‘."

Why can’t California create jobs? Because they just do not care. They are otherwise preoccupied.

Political correctness is not just an absurdity; it is not just a dangerous absurdity that seeks to control people’s minds and circumscribe their freedoms. It distracts from the task at hand. If you do not work on the task at hand, it will not just get up and fix itself.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's Your Anxiety Quotient?

Nearly everyone agrees that totalitarian cultures do not produce great art. An artist working for a communist or fascist dictatorship will invariably produce propaganda that looks like, but does not attain to the stature of, art.

The same is not true of artists who have worked under the patronage of the Catholic Church or Italian princes. Since these institutions are responsible for many of the greatest works of art in the Western world, they are, on this score, anything but repressive.

If totalitarian government makes bad art, does it also make people stupid? If you are being forced to toe the party line, if you are too afraid to question party orthodoxy, does that diminish your mental capacities?

Here, the question seems less clear. In the twentieth century many great thinkers have been lured by despots. Think of Martin Heidegger’s love affair with Naziism or the many European philosophers who plighted their mental troth to Marx, Stalin, and Mao.

Did their adherence to an ideology compromise their work? It may be true that a philosopher who admires Hitler might still say something interesting about Heraclitus, but once he gets involved in politically charged issues, one suspects that his mind will buckle under the weight to conform.

Again, the same does not seem to apply to theologians working under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Medieval Catholic theology is one of the greatest intellectual productions in the Western world. And it does involve considerable and substantive differences of opinion.

All that to introduce an article by one Taylor Clark. Without any doubt, Clark is not a great thinker. Even as a journalist who writes about matters psychological, he is simply mediocre. He is not nearly as good as Jonah Lehrer or Benedict Carey.

As opposed to those writers, Clark maintains a distinct bias toward feminist ideology. But, has his embrace of the feminist party line compromised his mental capacities? For today, that is the question. Link here.

You know the feminist party line: gender differences are not innate, but are socially constructed. Given what happened to the unfortunate Larry Summers when he dared opine that gender was not a social construct, we all understand why Clark would not want to run afoul of the feminist matriarchy.

As it happens, good feminists do not really believe in objective facts. This has help them to distort scientific research, the better to fulfill their ideological expectations.

As a good feminist, Clark is worried about the anxiety gap. By all rational measures, women have a higher anxiety quotient than men. Clark does not use the term anxiety quotient-- I bear the responsibility for that-- but he is at the ready to attack any measure that suggests that men and women are not identical.

One suspects that Clark is trotting out his own anxiety in a vague attempt to close the anxiety gap. After all, the gap can be closed by women becoming less anxious or by men becoming more anxious.

In his words: “Women, according to countless studies, are twice as prone to anxiety as men. When pollsters call women up, they always confess to far higher levels of worry than men about everything from crime to the economy. Psychologists diagnose women with anxiety disorders two times as often as men, and research confirms—perhaps unsurprisingly—that women are significantly more inclined toward negative emotion, self-criticism, and endless rumination about problems. From statistics like these, some have even leapt to the Larry Summers-esque claim that women are simply built to be much more nervous than men—an idea that has outraged many women inside (and outside) the psychology community.”

Actually, it’s feminists, not scientists, who have been the most outraged. That might lead us to ask how much scientific research has been skewed in order to placate chronically outraged feminists?

Mustering a level of confidence and arrogance that we often find among the brainwashed, Clark asserts what his feminist minders want him to assert. Gender, vis-à-vis the anxiety gap, is a social construct.

In his words: “While women are indeed more fretful than men on average right now, this difference is mostly the result of a cultural setup—one in which major social and parenting biases lead to girls becoming needlessly nervous adults. In reality, the idea that women are ‘naturally’ twice as anxious as men is nothing more than a pernicious illusion.”

Pernicious to whom, exactly?

Clark does not answer this question, even though it is, as we shall see, salient.

Apparently, researchers have observed that little boys are, if anything, slightly more anxious than little girls. They have also seen that the situation changes markedly after the children reach puberty.

Does this suggest that the anxiety gap has something to do with biological, not social, realities?

Yes, and no. Clark and his team of crack researchers conclude that it’s not about puberty per se, but about the way parents react to puberty. In case you didn‘t know, it’s all in the discourse.

In Clark’s words: “Well, one answer is that as a flood of adolescent hormones sends these boys' and girls' emotions into overdrive, the difference in their upbringings finally catches up with them. After all, whether parents intend to or not, they usually treat the emotional outbursts of girls far differently than those of boys.”

Now the fault lies in the fact that parents treat male and female children differently. One has a right to be somewhat surprised. After all, haven’t all of these parents received a full dose of feminist indoctrination? Don’t they know that it is heresy to treat boys and girls differently.

This line of argument also suggests that we should not trust parents to bring  up their children, but rather, that we should put all of our trust in ideological zealots who pretend to be scientists.

As Clark sees it, parents tend to tell anxious boys to suck it up; then, they try to shelter their pubescent daughters from life’s challenges. This apparently explains why girls have a higher AQ than boys, and why women have a higher AQ than men.

Let’s all take a deep breath and do a little reality check. When boys and girls reach adolescence, their bodies change in very different ways. Where boys and girls were roughly equal in size and strength before puberty, after it, for reasons that have nothing to do with the patriarchy or  parental bias, boys become bigger, stronger, and more aggressive.

This is the natural consequence of ginned-up testosterone production.

Some of that new aggression is directed toward other boys, through team sports, video games, and even gang activity. But some of it will be directed toward girls. Even when it is not directed toward girls, girls tend to feel threatened in its presence. Because they are not as strong....

Is it crazy to teach girls that, by virtue of puberty, they have become more vulnerable to male aggression and male predatory tendencies?

Why ignore the fact that a heightened AQ is adaptive? It allows girls to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with boys and men.

Girls have more anxiety because they have more to be anxious about. Being more vulnerable, and recognizing that they are more vulnerable, they are more anxious. It's not that complicated.

A woman walking home late at night is likely to be more anxious, thus, more on her guard, than a man. Is there anything strange about that? Would you prefer that she be less anxious and more reckless in her behavior?

If she is your daughter, I would wager that you would have a strong opinion on the matter, and not because you are a dupe of the patriarchy.

We should note that if you think that girls’ high AQ has nothing to do with anything real, then you are saying that all girls and women have been subjected to mind control.

Clark’s argument is profoundly disrespectful to women and to their feelings.

In short, there is no real mystery. If you are smart enough to reject feminist dogma, you will have no problem  understanding why girls might be more anxious than boys and why it is not necessarily such a bad thing.

It is not a difficult point; it is almost too obvious to mention. Yet, Taylor Clark, good feminist that he is, misses it completely. You've heard it before, perhaps not often enough, but: Beware male feminists!

Feminism claims that women are as strong, as tough, and as aggressive as men. For this reason they do not need anyone‘s protection. The old ethic that makes men protectors of women is outmoded and detrimental. It‘s sole purpose is to make women feel weak.

Once girls discover that they are fated to be smaller, weaker, and less aggressive, they will also discover that men are not allowed to claim to protect them. This gives them even more reason to be anxious.

You might believe that no one is really dumb enough to believe that, from adolescence forward, the biological differences between men and women should not have emotional consequences.

You would be wrong.

While it is implicit in Clark’s feminist analysis, it is explicit in television crime dramas.

The next time you are watching an episode from one of the Law and Order shows, or any other television crime drama, you will notice that whenever there is a violent altercation, even an actual fight, between a female police officer and a larger male criminal, the female police officer almost always wins.

I often wonder how stupid the shows’ producers think we are. If you are not smart enough to recognize propaganda when you see it, the shows leave you with the impression that women need not be more anxious than men because they are just as strong as men. If that is true, then it is fine and good for a woman to act as a man would act in any and all circumstances.

A woman would therefore have a choice. She can either listen to her anxiety and heed its message, or she can take unnecessary risks because feminism has told her that she is just as strong as a man. If she then gets hurt, she can feel that she has martyred herself for the cause.

The Blogosphere versus the Punditocracy

This month the New York Times put up a pay wall. I was not even tempted to subscribe.

I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and happily pay for the Economist.

When purchasing anything, we look at the value of the product. Is it worth the price? With the New York Times, it clearly isn’t.

Occasionally, the Times prints something compelling. But since political correctness has so thoroughly infiltrated its journalistic marrow that it can’t be trusted to report the news objectively, that seems to me to undermine its claim to my or anyone else’s money.

Of course I still have access to some Times material through Twitter, and I do comment on its material… mostly because it influences the way New Yorkers think and the way the news is covered in the media.

When it comes to the ramblings of its columnists I am amazed at how bad most of it is.

You wouldn’t want to be shipwrecked on the intellectual version of a desert island and have only Tom Friedman, Nick Kristof, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman and their ilk to provide you with mental sustenance.

Pretty soon, you would become a living echo of vapid party line thinking. And you would think that you were saying something interesting and intelligent.

Such is the price of believing the hype that surrounds the New York Times.

According to Rob Long at the Ricochet blog and John Hinderaker at Powerline, it makes sense that the mainstream media hates the blogosphere. It turns out that bloggers are more competent and more expert on various subjects than are the supposedly deep thinkers at places like the New York Times.

Some bloggers have ripped away the veil of illusion that is covers the general ineptitude of Tom Friedman.

Hinderaker succinctly states: “Still, Friedman must be one of the most overrated people in the world.”

What occasioned this critique? Over at the Ricochet blog Rob Long unearthed a Friedman prediction from 1999. He discovered that Friedman had predicted that online bookseller and retailer Amazon was doomed to fail.

As is his general wont, Friedman larded up his prediction with some pseudo-cleverness about how someone working out of his living room in Iowa could easily crush Amazon.

As Long analyzed it, the problem was not that Friedman was wrong. The problem lay elsewhere.

In Long’s words: “Look the point isn't that Friedman made a stupid prediction.  We all make stupid predictions.  The point is that we have a pundit class that's uniquely unqualified to pronounce on business, and business opportunities, and yet arrogantly and pompously does so anyway.  There's something monumentally irritating about Friedman's flatulently confident assertions, backed up as they are without a shred of experience, knowledge, or skin in the game.  It's worth remembering -- especially these days, when business and economic predictions keep erupting from the noisy, nasty, uninformed bowels of the pundit class.”

Reading this, John Hinderaker was inspired to check out how Amazon stock had performed since the moment that Friedman dissed it. Then he took a look at the performance of New York Times stock.

You know where this is going. While Amazon has grown and expanded and enriched its stockholders-- even counting the tech wreck of 2000-- the New York Times stock has collapsed.

In Hinderaker’s words: “… there is a delicious irony in the fact that there is indeed one industry with respect to which Friedman's dire prediction came true: Friedman's own industry, journalism. It turns out that amateurs, many of whom have far more expertise with respect to business, politics, the arts--you name it--than Tom Friedman and other pundits with newspaper columns can, almost for free, turn out exactly the same product that Friedman does. Only better.”

When you get right down to it, Hinderaker adds, the reason why people no longer rely on the mainstream media for information and opinion, is that the quality is lacking. If the barons who control these media outlets whined less and stopped blaming technology, then perhaps they would see that their own editorial practices have contributed significantly to their downfall.

If all you’re reading is Tom Friedman you might imagine that he has something interesting to say. I hope you don’t, but you might. If you have access to a variety of opinions offered by people who are not members of the pundit class, then you will discover that membership in the pundit class is anything but merit-based.

In Hinderaker‘s words: “The Times has declined for a number of reasons, but one of the important ones is that citizen journalism turned out to be not just a viable alternative, but a superior alternative, to the myopia that Friedman and his colleagues represent. Friedman was perceptive enough to diagnose the problem that micro-competition could cause for Amazon (albeit incorrectly) but not perceptive enough to apply the same reasoning to his own industry. That fact speaks volumes about how much trust we should put in the pundit class, especially when it opines about business matters.”