Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Nation of Spoiled Brats

Last year was the year of the Tiger Mom.

Considering the violent reaction to Amy Chua’s book it comes as no surprise that American children, in Elizabeth Kolbert’s phrase, are “spoiled rotten.”

The Tiger Mom inculcated values of hard work and discipline in her daughters. America’s parents were offended: how could the Tiger Mom not be spoiling her children? 

Privileged and pampered, cuddled and coddled, imperious and impudent, entitled and vainglorious America’s children have become spoiled brats.

According to the books that Kolbert is reviewing, America’s children not being brought up. They are not being taught the habits that would make them productive and responsible adults.

In fact, they are taught habits that will make them slothful, irresponsible adults.

Kolbert offers a picture from family life in Los Angeles:

In the L.A. families observed, no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.

Clearly, the father is uncomfortable exercising authority. His son has learned it and is happy to exploit it. A father lacking authority is reduced to asking his son, nicely to take a shower. His rules are made for breaking.

Here’s another cringe-inducing moment:

In another representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, “How am I supposed to eat?” Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.

Her wish is his command. How do you think that this girl will fare when she brings the same bad manners into school, the workplace, or an eventual relationship?

These parents seem to believe that children must be allowed to do what they please as they please when they please. They are even afraid to utter the word No.

Living in Paris and bringing up her daughter in the American style, Pamela Druckerman noticed that in any gathering hers was always the most ill-behaved child.

What were French parents doing that she was not doing? Why, they were saying No and meaning it.

In what world would it never cross your mind to say No to a child and mean it?

It appears that these parents have become servants whose purpose in life is to cater to their children’s every whim.

Everyone wants to know how we got into this mess, so let’s indulge in some speculation.

To some extent it depends on the fact that people are having fewer children. An only child is more likely to be spoiled that is a child who has siblings.

But there must be more to it.

Let us first hold the parenting experts responsible. After all, parents want the best for their children. In this day and age they means following advice from child-rearing experts, the credentialed authorities.

The result is that parents no longer trust their own judgment. They no longer rely on a set of moral precepts. They have outsourced authority to a crew of psychologists and developmental experts. And they have never considered the possibility that these men and women of science might be purveying an ideology.

Last year American parents were directing their anger and anguish at the Tiger Mom because, among other things, she dared to bring up her daughters using her own judgment and the moral teachings of Confucius.

Apparently, our current experts believe that happiness means never feeling frustration. They seem to be advising parents to do everything in their power to meet a child’s needs and to satisfy his desires. Otherwise, why would these parents be doing what they are doing.

Finally, the fault lies in our gender-bending, gender-neutering culture. As a culture we refuse to recognize the difference between men and women, fathers and mothers. Thus we have undermined the structure of the family and have produced a nation of spoiled brats.

The children Kolbert writes about have neither mothers and fathers. When eight-year-olds condescend to adults it seems that their parents are glorified servants, like the eunuchs who used to serve the Emperor and Emperor in ancient China.

In more contemporary parlance we no longer identify people as men and women, with distinct and defined roles in society. Everyone is a person. In place of motherhood and fatherhood we have the aberrant notion of personhood.

For the record, the word “personhood” is a recent ideological concoction. I looked it up in a fifty-year-old copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and it was not there.

As a culture we have acquiesced to the blurring of gender roles in the name of a specious notion like gender equality. We bow down to the goddesses of feminism by declaring that there is no real difference between men and women.

In the old pre-feminist days mother and father were distinct and clearly defined roles.

Mothers made homes and nurtured children; fathers protected and provided for their families. Mothers offered unconditional love; fathers imposed discipline and authority.

Of course, defined roles did not prevent fathers from helping around the house or women from working outside the home. Nor did they prevent fathers from loving their children or mothers from exercising authority.

But then feminism found that these roles oppressed women. They placed the blame on the patriarchy, thus with fatherly authority.

They instructed women, in name of liberation, to rebel against the patriarchy, thus to undermine and disrespect male authority.

Today, fathers have been relegated to the status of co-caregivers; their word does not count; they are neither feared nor respected.

Is it really a surprise that eight-year-olds treat their fathers with contempt. 

Why do they do it and how do they get away with it?

They do it because fathers who have abrogated their authority deserve contempt.

These fathers accept contempt because they know that they deserve it.

But, you will be thinking, can’t women also exercise authority? Of course, they can and they do. In the home, however, their success in doing so, to say nothing of their confidence, depends on the extent to which they do it in a father’s name.

If a woman is bringing up a child in a fatherless household, no matter how definitive and determined she is, her child will have a great deal of difficulty respecting any authority. It’s the story of America’s inner cities.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Supreme Court, Obamacare, and the Economy

For the intelligentsia the Obamacare decision was the Super Bowl. It looked like the liberal team was headed for certain defeat. But then, with the clocking running down, liberal justices and their intellectual supporters threw a Hail Mary pass and Chief Justice Roberts caught it.

Since liberals prefer to be ruled by people who are just like them, that is, by a guardian class of philosopher-kings, they were thrilled beyond reason.

Politically, the court decision has now recast the presidential election campaign as a struggle over Obamacare, with the Republican charge being led by the architect of Romneycare… which happens to be the prototype for Obamacare.

For an excellent fact-based overview of the healthcare debate, and especially for the nonsense that has permeated it, I recommend and link an article by Cliff Asness: “The Healthcare Myths We Must Confront.”

But, how much does Obamacare really matter? Today, Gallup takes a look at the will of the people and finds that most of them are not very concerned about health care.

According to Gallup:

Although the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has dominated the news recently, with coverage exploding Thursday as the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the law, few Americans so far in 2012 mention healthcare when asked to identify the most important problem facing the country. Six percent say healthcare is the top problem in June, behind mentions of the economy, jobs, the deficit, and problems in government.

Of course, the poll was taken before the court ruled, but still… it’s useful to have some perspective.

Since I did not go to law school I am not qualified to guide anyone through the convoluted legal reasoning that informs the court decision.

Yet, I and many others were struck by this bit of moral teaching from the chief justice.

In his opinion, Roberts wrote:

It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices. 

The statement implies that if the duly elected representatives of the people enact legislation that violates the Constitution the court has no responsibility to overturn it. If the people got duped or voted wrongly they should suffer the consequences.

In another sense, Roberts is raising an important philosophical issue. The American people made Barack Obama the president and gave him a Democratic Congress for the first two years of his presidency.

Everyone is paying the price.

Will voters now accept responsibility for the Obama failure and vote him out of office?

It isn’t all that obvious.

Consider that the people who are paying the greatest price, in unemployment and lost wealth are most likely to vote for Obama again.

Many people in this country now see themselves as members of a permanently dependent class. They despair of ever taking responsibility for their own lives and therefore can only hope for government largesse. They have become wards of the state and vote accordingly. Big government is them.

They ask what their country can do for them; not what they can do for their country. They believe that their country owes it to them; they never ask what they can do for themselves.

It represents a government-induced moral failing.

Others have changed their minds about Obama. Among them is Mort Zuckerman, whose commentaries on the Obama administration have been especially cogent and thoughtful. Zuckerman was among the first Obama supporters to recognize the error of his ways.

A few days ago Zuckerman wrote a column asserting that the election will be a referendum on the Obama economic record.

He analyzes it thusly:

People see that the administration has invested $5 trillion to reverse the recession and achieve growth again, and the Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates down to record lows. But it's like strenuously inflating a tire with a leaky valve. Whatever we do, it is soon soft again and now the air still seems to be hissing out, so we fear we will soon be riding on the rim. The only certain result is that we will be paying interest on this $5 trillion for decades to come.

Compared with other economic slowdowns, how bad is it?

Zuckerman writes:

As David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff has pointed out, it typically takes 25 months to close the employment gap from the employment peak near the start of the downturn. This time around, 52 months after employment peaked in January 2008, non-farm employment is still approximately 4 million below where it started.

He concludes:

In effect, we are living with the statistics that mark a modern-day depression, hardly befitting the third year of an alleged recovery. There is little to show for a government stimulus of over $1 trillion a year for more than three years, a zero percent Federal Reserve rate policy, and a dramatic expansion of the money supply. We might say it could have been worse, but we still face secular headwinds from debt-burdened household balance sheets, eroding household-related wealth, structural unemployment, and the retrenchment in state and local government.

Zuckerman faults President Obama and his health care reform:

Part of the explanation lies in the administration's hostile attitude toward business, symbolized by the political and regulatory uncertainties best captured by President Obama's rushed healthcare bill which, according to studies by researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago, produced an estimated loss of 2 million to 2.5 million jobs.

Those who are cheering for the court decision about healthcare are cheering for lost jobs. The intelligentsia is crowing about its victory while the American people suffer. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's Wrong with "The Newsroom"?

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” is not as bad as most critics say, but it is not very good either.

Take Will McAvoy’s opening rant.

One might imagine that we are being shown a man who has suddenly freed himself from repression and can now speak the truth.

As a character says later, the role of journalism, as Sorkin sees it, is “to speak truth to stupid.”

And yet, McAvoy’s tirade has a dark side. The show makes clear that he has become unhinged, and is sorely in need of adult supervision. Besides, the question that provoked his outburst was asked by a pretty blond college student. In context, the tirade was abusive; it felt like McAvoy was beating up a child.

Why is “stupid” always portrayed as a supposedly dumb blond?

McAvoy does talk down to the audience, but the show seems to believe that he is speaking a higher truth.

As a character, he seems to have lost control, but his views are not balanced by any alternate opinions.

For my part I found it implausible that McAvoy had at his disposal such an abundance of facts and figures. Only those who suffer from from Asperger’s syndrome can rattle off a page full of numbers on cue.

While most of the characters are not as deranged as McAvoy, they tend to be pompous and overwrought. 

Since the characters, for the most part, think alike, many critics have correctly concluded that Sorkin had made them all into mouthpieces for his own views.

Dramatically, this is ineffective.

Sorkin’s strong suit is rapid-fire witty repartee. Some critics have pointed out that no one really speaks that way. I take the point, but no one speaks like Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing or like Petruchio and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. No one ever reproached Shakespeare for it.

For my part I appreciate repartee. Yet, quick witted remarks only work when the actors performing it have perfect diction.

And, very, very few American actors even have diction. They slur their words and mumble their lines, often trying to cover up their bad diction by over-emoting.

Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue serves mostly to reveal his actors' inadequacies.

With the exception of the wonderful Emily Mortimer, who plays MacKenzie McHale, aka Mac.

(Someday someone will explain why feminism insists that successful women must not bear names that reveal their gender. If a woman is proud to be a woman she should revel in her feminine name. If she or her feminist sisters are not proud to be women, then tell us.)

But, I digress.

To this viewer Mortimer was the best thing about the show. Her acting performance was brilliant to the point where she overshadowed everyone else. 

Unfortunately, the McAvoy and McHale relationship suffers from a basic flaw: they were previously involved in a romantic relationship that went sour.

Thus their comic repartee contains elements of bitterness, contempt and blame. It’s very difficult to do romantic comedy when the two lovers are really former lovers who hold grudges against each other.

Sorkin did not have to give them a past history. The show would have worked better without it. As is, it functions as a gratuitous distraction. Beyond that, it places a fundamental implausibility, even an irritant, at the show's core. Who among us would ever want to work closely, day in and day out, with a former lover?

Critics were right to react with chagrin. Women, in particular, must have found the concept especially cringe-worthy.

Witty repartee between attractive young people—here, not so young—is great fun. Yet, as Shakespeare understood and Sorkin does not, such repartee is courtship behavior. It is pre-coital, not post-breakup.

If Sorkin had wanted to draw Will and Mac into a relationship, through romantic banter, we all would have been happy to witness the event. By making them ex-lovers he has made it nearly impossible for us to want to see them get involved.

Beyond the unromantic relationship between executive producer and anchor, there’s the news.

The show takes place in April, 2010. Presumably, it reports on the news as it would have been covered if only Aaron Sorkin had been running his own news department.

We are taken back in time-- back to the future, if you like-- to watch, yet again, earnest reporters cover the story of the Gulf oil spill.

Sorkin plays the story as a massive catastrophe, a game changer or black swan.

And yet, how many of us are sitting around today bemoaning the Deepwater Horizon blow- out?

The Gulf coast has recovered and life has moved on.

Sorkin, however, plays the story as a massive catastrophe that could have been prevented by more government spending. By his show's logic, more money would have meant more inspectors and more inspectors would have prevented it from happening.

This may be true; it may be false. One thing that is true, but never really mentioned,  is that the accident occurred on Obama’s watch, at  a time when the government was massively increasing spending. 

For my part I do not recall the media ignoring the story. Like Sorkin they did everything in their power to demonize BP and the big, bad Halliburton.

Still, if it was not bigger news the reason might have been that the media did not want to draw too much attention to an accident because that would have shone a distinctly unflattering light on the Obama administration. 

Perhaps the media feared the intelligence of the American people. 

The Case of the Pouty Boyfriend

Despairing for her relationship a woman wrote to Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax.

I quote her letter in full:

I am guilty of occasionally resenting my boyfriend because he doesn’t take it well when I say no. He pouts when I tell him I want to do something other than what he wants — like going to the grocery store instead of out to dinner.

Generally I give in, but if I insist that groceries must be bought, he stops speaking to me and leaves abruptly. Over the years I have tried to ignore the pouting, but I am basically a peacekeeper and want to know if there is a more amiable way to defuse the tension.

As expected, Hax responds that the boyfriend has some serious issues, that he is mistreating her and that she should enlist a therapist to sort it all out.

The column elicited a veritable orgy of male-bashing in the comments section. Of the hundreds that I read all but one agreed that the boyfriend was acting like a petulant child and had to be dumped, sooner, not later.

There you have it, an anecdote that illustrates much of what is wrong with relationships today.

Imagine the scene.

He says: How would you like to go out to dinner tonight?

She says: No.

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s easy. Saying No in this situation is rude, insulting and obnoxious. No one who is old enough to read this blog would turn down a dinner invitation with a flat No.

Good manners do not oblige her to say Yes. They encourage her to be polite and courteous, demurring on the grounds that she does not feel well, or some such thing.

When a woman receives an unwanted invitation from a troll she will usually not insult him by saying No. She will say that she is otherwise engaged or far too busy.

If the letter writer really sees herself as a peacemaker then she lacks the most elementary self-awareness. She is being confrontational, and she is picking a fight.

In walking away her boyfriend is refusing to take the bait. He is not giving her the silent treatment.

Unfortunately, Hax does not offer an amiable way to defuse the situation. She encourages the women's worst tendencies.

In her words:

The way to say no is with the conviction that you have every right to say no. Period.

Folks, he invited her to dinner. That’s all. Maybe he thinks that she has had a rough day. Maybe he wants to be nice to her. It is not an insult. He is not forcing her to perform a vile sexual act against her will. He is being generous.

Saying No to a generous invitation is bad manners. Period.

To add insult to injury, the letter writer, who apparently feels that her boyfriend is trying to impose his will on her, then decides that since she has said No to his invitation, he should be punished by being forced to accompany her to the grocery story.

Insisting that he go shopping with her compounds the rudeness. Having turned down his dinner invitation she has no business telling him what he must do. For all we know he invited her to dinner because he does not want to get into a fight about who should be preparing dinner.

If this embittered young woman cannot decline a dinner invitation graciously, and if she insists that he go grocery shopping with her, then she will most likely lay down the law in the kitchen, regardless of his wishes. 

Clearly, the letter writer is a zealot, someone who is following the ideological principles that have been undermining relationships for decades now.  

Her dilemma explains one and only one thing: why she is a girlfriend and not a wife.

She should have written to Miss Manners.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Practice of Freedom

The Egyptians held a free election? Does that oblige us to respect the results? Does that mean that Egypt is now a liberal democracy?

Those are the questions.

The answers depend on what you mean by freedom and democracy.

Public debate  takes for given that we all know what freedom and democracy are and that, moral beacons that we are,  we must respect the way the two are practiced in other countries.

Classical liberalism involves the practice of freedom in numerous areas of everyday life: from free expression to free elections to freedom of religion to property rights to the freedom to participate in the marketplace to respect for the freedoms of others.

If that is what freedom involves, then one would be hard put to see Egypt as anything like a free country.

For instance, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood despises the freedom enjoyed by its Israeli neighbors.

Bret Stephens clarifies the issue by comparing liberal democracy to pre-liberal democracy and post-liberal democracy. The distinction is well worth our attention.

We see post-liberal democracy in Greece, in Europe and in much of the advanced industrial West. We know it well.

Stephens describes it:

Post-liberalism seeks to replace the classical liberalism of individual liberty, limited government, property rights and democratic sovereignty with a new liberalism that favors social rights, social goods, intrusive government and transnational law.

In practice, post-liberalism is a giant wealth redistribution scheme. It bankrupted Greece and will soon bankrupt the rest of Europe.

In post-liberal democracy the collective good is considered to be more important than the good of individuals. It induces individuals to give up their personal liberties in the interest of a larger good. But then, who is to say what the collective good is? Shall we leave it to bureaucrats and government functionaries?

Post-liberalism wants to curb the workings of the free market when it does not appear to be distributing goods and services in a fair and just manner. Again, who decides what is fair and just?

Obviously, the free market is a collective enterprise. Equally obviously, when individuals compete and cooperate in a free market they are more efficient and effective than they would be if they were pursuing someone’s idea of the collective good.

Believers in post-liberalism worship ideas. They make freedom and democracy into moral absolutes, supremely good no matter how they are practiced. And they believe that the results of competition must be judged against their ideas of fairness and justice. If reality does not produce a result that pleases them, then they will try to force reality to conform to their ideas.

When it comes to pre-liberal democracy, we can see it at work in today’s North Africa.

Stephens writes:

It is democracy shorn of the values Westerners typically associate it with: free speech, religious liberty, social tolerance, equality between the sexes and so on. Not only in Egypt, but in Tunisia, Turkey and Gaza, popular majorities have made a democratic choice for parties that put faith before freedom and substituted the word of God for the rule of law.

He continues:

An Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood will respect democratic procedure only to the extent that it does not infringe on the Brotherhood's overarching goals: "Restoring Islam in its all-encompassing conception; subjugating people to God; instituting the religion of God; the Islamization of life," according to Khairat Al Shater, the Brotherhood's de facto leader.

Pre-liberal democracy pays lip service to freedom. It uses free elections as a means to acquire and to exercise power. It legitimates tyranny and terrorism.

It dupes the populace into thinking that they are free when in fact they are voting for their own oppression. 

Stephens explains:

[Liberal abdicators is] a catch-all term for anyone who believes the result of any free election is ipso facto legitimate and that the world's responsibility toward Egyptians' democracy is to preserve a studied neutrality about their political choices. But a democratic election that yields a totalitarian result isn't "legitimate," except in the most cramped sense of the word. In reality, it's a double-barreled catastrophe: a stain on democracy's good name and a recipe for turbocharged political extremism.

You cannot affirm liberal values by respecting candidates who use them like a Trojan horse, a ruse whereby they can solidify their hold on power.

In a more recent column Stephens debunked the misconceptions about Egypt that our foreign policy experts have been feeding us. He calls them consolations; they serve merely to rationalize a massive and apparently bipartisan foreign policy failure.

In Stephens’ words:

Don't console yourself with the belief that the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country's first free presidential election is merely symbolic, since the army still has the guns: The examples of revolutionary Iran and present-day Turkey show how easily the conscripts can be bought, the noncoms wooed and the officers purged.

Don't console yourself with the idea that now the Islamists will have to prove themselves capable of governing the country. The Brotherhood is the most successful social organization in the Arab world. Its leaders are politically skillful, economically literate and strategically patient. Its beliefs resonate with poor, rich and middle class alike. And it can always use the army as a scapegoat should the economy fail to improve.

Don't console yourself with the expectation that the Brotherhood will play by the democratic rules that brought it to power. "Democracy is like a streetcar," Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Islamist prime minister, observed long ago. "When you come to your stop you get off." Any party that rules street and square makes its own "democratic" rules.

Don't console yourself, finally, with hope that Egypt will remain a responsible, status quo player on the international scene. By degrees, Egypt under the Brotherhood will seek to arm Hamas and remilitarize the Sinai. By degrees, it will seek to extract concessions from the U.S. as the price of its good behavior. By degrees, it will make radical alliances in the Middle East and beyond.

Of course, we are going to pretend to give democracy a chance in Egypt. We do better however not to believe that we are under any obligation to respect and to fund a government of, by, and for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Psychotherapy in Transition

Writing in The New Atlantis Ronald Dworkin provides an excellent overview of the history of American psychotherapy.

A practicing anesthesiologist with an additional doctorate in political philosophy Dworkin offers an outsider’s perspective on the field.

Dworkin emphasizes the role that managed care professionals and government policies have played in the field’s transformation. Since this aspect is often overlooked I for one welcome it.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that Dworkin ignores two of the most important and influential developments in psychotherapy.

Even though he discusses the role of Valium and other anxiolytics, he ignores the advent of Prozac and the SSRIs. I suspect that the new antidepressants greatly increased the status and prestige of psychiatrists. They have certainly influenced the movement away from long term talk therapy. This should have been mentioned.

Dworkin shows clearly how community mental health clinics and managed care led the field toward brief solution-focused treatment. Yet, he neglects to mention the most important recent intellectual development in psychotherapy: Aaron Beck’s invention on cognitive therapy, which gave short-term therapy more credibility and more substance.

Notwithstanding these flaws, Dworkin offers an interesting thesis:

Psychotherapy is no longer an intellectual movement today as it once was. But in the form of modern professional “caring,” it has assumed a new role, which is to provide a peculiar sort of substitute friendship — what we might call “artificial friendship” — for lonely people in a lonely age.

I am well-placed to appreciate the extent that psychotherapy used to be an intellectual movement with its own special priesthood. As the saying goes: Been there, done that. I have also spent a considerable amount of time and energy explaining to my former colleagues that the old days have up and gone.

Dworkin describes how it used to be:

In the old days, psychotherapists constructed vast philosophical fabrics out of the writings of visionaries. They dallied with ideas that bordered on philosophy and religion; their emotional natures were totally absorbed in the partisan passions of their analytic cliques; their subtle intellects concerned themselves with the dialectical splitting of dogmatic hairs. The words they used — id, ego, and superego, among many others — seemed like a transcendent manifestation of divine power, an example of humanity being vouchsafed glimpses of eternal truth flowing down through an elaborate and immense cascade of books, with individual therapists stretching back, through their pedigree of technique, to some godhead.

So far, so good.

Psychotherapy is in transition. It is still finding its way. It has not yet articulated and conceptualized what it is.

It makes sense for Dworkin to say that therapists today are more like caring professionals and artificial friends, but I detect a note of contempt in the description, a sense that it is not quite serious.

Dworkin attributes the change in therapy to the fact that the government and the managed care companies want to make it more widely available. This has caused therapy to take a turn toward the pragmatic, away from explaining problems to solving them.

In his words:

Short-term therapists tend to take a client’s self-described problem at face value; they believe using common sense and good humor to fix a client’s problem — in the fashion of a friend — is a legitimate goal of therapy. They think significant psychological change can occur in the experience of day-to-day living by simply behaving or thinking differently. Long-term therapists believe no real change can occur on this level.

He continues:

Clinical psychologists, counselors, and social workers who performed therapy worked together to promote a rival view, changing their image to that of the caring professional. They began to present themselves less as disinterested scientists and more as “caregivers” eager to talk to patients about their everyday problems — unlike doctors, who just wanted to drug them.

And also:

Indeed, the clinical psychologist today is not entirely different from the caricature painted by the profession’s academic critics: earnest, well-intentioned, subjective, and imprecise. Yet academic psychologists err in assuming that clinical psychology is still a branch of psychology, and therefore of science. It is not.

I have made the point before so I am pleased to second Dworkin’s idea that being a caring and empathetic listener or friend has nothing to do with scientific training.

And yet, cognitive therapy, which is currently on the ascent cannot be taxed with being unscientific fluff.

Dworkin’s larger problem is the way he conceptualizes the issues.

Caring about someone is not the same as helping him to solve a problem. Many therapists feel so deeply about their patients’ problems that they never get around to solving them.

Besides “caring” is a very tricky concept in itself. It does not necessarily coincide with friendship. True, you care about your friends but you also care about people who are not your friends. Some of us care deeply about celebrities; some of us care about what happens to fictional characters.

Dworkin is right to emphasize the fact that today’s therapists make a considerable effort to connect with their patients. Many therapists now believe, correctly, that the connection between patient and therapist is one of the most powerful healing tools.

If most people are suffering from feelings of disconnection, therapy cannot help them if it stays stuck in the old psychoanalytic model that proscribed human connection.
He is also correct to emphasize friendship, even though he seems to be disparaging it.  

In his words:

Once a consecrated priesthood, therapists today walk along the smooth road of ordinary duty. They help people with their everyday problems. They speak in a casual manner and even crack jokes. They are friendly. They smile. They differ neither outwardly nor inwardly from the clients they serve, for whom therapy has become a useful organization, a convenient and respectable appendage to existence, a sometimes necessary form of artificial friendship.

But, why is the friendship that develops between therapist and client artificial?

If it’s because clients pay their therapists, then one would note that you can be friends with your accountant or stock broker, both of whom you pay for their services.

If it’s because the relationship is so one-sided, well, so is your relationship with your accountant and your broker. Have you ever seen your accountant’s tax returns? Do you know what is in your broker’s portfolio?

Dworkin seems contemptuous of friendship, but I would recall that Aristotle considered friendship to be the basis for ethical behavior in human community.

If you behave badly toward members of your family they are still your relations. If you behave badly toward your friends you will soon find yourself friendless, lonely and isolated.

Also, friendship is freely entered into, thus it is a primary moral basis for freedom.

Finally, Aristotle points that friends see the best and bring out the best in their friends. So, the concept works as a perfect counterpoint with psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysts have tended to see the worst in people, even when it is not there. They ignore what is best about people, even to the point of not accepting it as real.

Friends trust their friends; friends respect their friends; friends have confidence in their friends.

If your job is helping people to solve their problems it is good to show them that you trust them to do the right thing and that you have confidence in their good character.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gender Parity in the Workforce

Should we have gender parity in the workplace?

Anne-Marie Slaughter raised the issue last week in The Atlantic. Writing in The Economist’s Democracy in America blog M. S. agrees with her but doesn’t know quite why.

Be that as it may, the blogger summarizes Slaughter’s recommendations cogently:

In order to give women a fair shot at gaining 50-50 parity in the ranks of societal leadership, Ms Slaughter says, we need to reform the workplace. That means making working hours coincide with school hours, appreciating the discipline of employees who raise kids as much as we appreciate the discipline of employees who run marathons, and scrapping the "culture of face time" that demands that employees spend huge amounts of generally pointless overtime at the office in a sort of potlatch to demonstrate their willingness to destroy their own lives in homage to the organisation.

Slaughter and the blogger find it to be a reasonable idea, but neither have an opinion  about how many rules and regulations would be required and who would enforce them.

But, why do they both believe that working extra hours is superficial and superfluous? Ergonomic studies have suggested that a little extra time at the office yields disproportionately large productivity gains.

The blogger introduces a more important issue: women in many advanced industrial societies are not reproducing at what is called the replacement rate.

He explains it:

If you've got an economic system where the rules and incentives are profoundly interfering with society's ability to produce and raise kids, you're going to encounter massive problems. This, to a great extent, is what's going on in Japan and in southern Europe, where birth rates have dropped way below the replacement level because sexist societies have failed to make it easy for women to have both careers and children. In a post-industrial society where women are educated, if you really force that choice, you'll end up with a lot of women who choose the career, and birth rates of 1.2 to 1.4 children per woman. Long-term GDP growth flatlines, pension schemes become unaffordable, and a lot of things start to go wrong. North America and northern Europe have been much more progressive on this front, and we have much less scary population outlooks. France has the most generous, comprehensive child-care scheme in the euro zone; it also has the highest birth rate.

The low birth rate in countries like Spain and Greece is making their pension systems unaffordable and is driving them to the edge of insolvency.

But are economic incentives really the problem? The blogger does not want to pay women to have children and does not want women to have to choose between career and children.

In his words:

We don't want a society in which we pay women a huge amount to convince them to have children, despite the accompanying sacrifice of any chance at a career. We want a society in which having kids is a normal, natural, rewarding part of life for women and men, and can be integrated with having a career just as playing sports or involvement in local charities and churches can.

Different cultures have different policies about motherhood. Sometimes they are rational; sometimes they are not. In China, where feeding the people is a challenge, women are forbidden to have more than one child. In other cultures women are encouraged to have many children, regardless of whether or not they can afford it.

When overpopulation is a problem people will have fewer children. When a culture believes that there is strength in numbers women will be pushed to have more children.

Also, in some cultures women choose to have fewer children because men cannot earn a sufficient income to support them and their children. Given the choice many women would be happy to spend more time at home with their children. If the economy does not provide good jobs for men then women will not be able to have more children and to care for them. 

The question is pertinent, but complicated.

Finally, the blogger supports Slaughter’s position for no real reason:

For the moment, though, I can't get any further than saying I agree with Ms Slaughter that we should work on our attitudes and reform our workplaces to make it possible for women and men to spend lots of time raising a family and still get to the top of their professions, because doing so makes our country a more splendid place to live.

As soon as competition enters the picture this dreamy wish becomes just that.

When two men are competing for a promotion and one can work longer and harder than the other because his wife is a full time parent, he will have an appreciable advantage.

Surely, there are exceptions to the rule, but when a father and mother share parenting equally the most common result will be that neither will be getting to the top of their professions. Who knows how they will react to being passed over for promotions in favor of their more industrious colleagues. 

To create the world that Slaughter and the blogger yearn for you would have to ban free market competition.

Even if you rewire everyone's brain and convince every American company to sacrifice its profitability to a utopian fantasy, you would merely be making America less competitive in the international marketplace.

How Is Science Being Taught in American Schools?

Science is our future.

If children do better on scientific subjects, including technology, engineering and math, we will be a stronger nation with a more vibrant economy.

And, of course, students who excel at science have better job and career prospects.

So, how well are America’s schools teaching science?

A study prepared in the Department of Education suggests that when it comes to science America’s teachers are failing America’s children.

Actually, the report suggests that America’s children are doing poorly at science. You may give me credit or blame for holding teachers responsible.

In some areas of basic science American children do fairly well. But when they face more complex problems they come up short. When called upon to explain their reasoning they also do poorly.

Maureen Henderson describes the fall-off:

For example, 75% of high school seniors could successfully use test strips to test water samples for the levels of four pollutants, record the data and interpret whether the results exceeded EPA standards, but only 25% of students were able to design and conduct an investigation using a simulated calorimeter and related patterns in temperature changes in two different metals to determine which metal has the higher specific heat capacity. Results were the same at the lower grade levels, where only 24% and 35% of eighth and fourth graders respectively were able to handle the more difficult experiments. Students also had difficulty in explaining how they arrived at a correct conclusion, with only 27% of twelfth graders able to both select a correct answer and explain why they did so in one section of the test. And in another section, only 11% were able to make a final recommendation that was supported by the data they had worked with in the experiment.

American children know how to make observations; they know how to run simple experiments;  and they know how to draw correct conclusions.

Yet, when new experiments introduce complex variables, the students do much worse. When they are asked to conceptualize, they are lost.

We might not be able to explain why this is happening, but we can take a step toward understanding it.

Henderson offers a clue:

If there’s a bright spot in the NAEP report, it’s the fact that female students are matching or exceeding the performance of their male peers in both hands-on and interactive tasks.

Schools are not teaching advanced scientific problem-solving and reasoning, but they have achieved gender parity.

Is this an accidental correlation or is the connection causal? 

It is certainly possible that educators have chosen gender parity over scientific excellence. If so, then that would help to explain their failure.

Educators may have chosen to close the gender gap at the expense of boys. They may have devalued certain types of reasoning because girls do not do as well on them. They may have changed the content of experiments to make science a more girl-friendly field?

We know that when boys believe that a field is identified as more feminine, they turn off and go back to their video games.

We know that teachers of the humanities and social sciences now actively discriminates against boys.

Is the same thing true of science?

If you read through the Department of Education report you will observe that the tests mostly involve girl-friendly and environmentally correct topics. They ask how sun-loving plants grow, how to test for pollution, and, how heat is conducted in frying pans.

Do you believe that ten or twelve year old boys will crank it up to study how to cook an omelet?

Sometimes the questions are directed at more boy friendly topics like electronic circuits and magnetic fields but they do not teach about cars, guns, and boats. They do not address questions about mining, agribusiness and construction.

Does it matter? I suspect that it does. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"The Obama Event Registry"

At first you think it’s a bad joke: life imitates The Onion.

Just when you thought that the Obama administration couldn’t go any lower, its re-election campaign comes up with: The Obama Event Registry.

Our president is offering you the opportunity to politicize your wedding, your birthday, or your anniversary, even your bar mitzvah.

Don’t ask for gifts; tell your friends that you would prefer that they give their money to thee Obama re-election campaign in their name. Forget about setting up your home; forget about the extra dollars you would put save for a rainy day. If you believe in Obama you will forego your gifts and ask your friends to give it to Obama.

And I thought that Obama’s support for same-sex marriage was a sign of respect for traditional marriage.

What were they thinking at campaign headquarters? Have they been spending so much time dodging bullets in Rahm Emanuel's Chicago that they forgot to think?

Was the campaign trying to out-vulgar the opposition? Was it trying to give Miss Manners a stroke? Did it want to wring the joy out of a blessed occasion? Has it lost even the most minimal sense of decorum?

It’s pathetic to the point of self-caricature.

The site opens like this:

Got a birthday, anniversary, or wedding coming up?

Let your friends know how important this election is to you—register with Obama 2012, and ask for a donation in lieu of a gift. It’s a great way to support the President on your big day. Plus, it’s a gift that we can all appreciate—and goes a lot further than a gravy bowl.

Setting up and sharing your registry page is easy—so get started today.

Hey, all you happily engaged couples the Obama folks are giving you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make your wedding into a political statement. They know, even if you don't, that when you were growing up and dreaming about your wedding day, you were hoping against hope that you could use it to support Barack Obama.

If you do, you will be helping to suck more money out of the private economy.

The campaign sneers at the gravy bowl, but that object is someone’s business. Manufacturing, shipping, marketing and selling gravy boats is someone’s livelihood.

If they had been trying, the Obama campaign could not have found a better way to express it tone-deaf contempt for the commerce and industry.

The campaign website continues:

Instead of another gift card you’ll forget to use, ask your friends and family for something that will go a little further: a donation to Obama for America. Register your next celebration—whether it’s a birthday, bar or bat mitzvah, wedding, or anniversary—with the Obama campaign. It’s a great way to show your support for a cause that’s important to you on your big day.

How long do you think your friends will be your friends when they realize that you are exploiting their good feeling to hit them up for campaign donations?

The campaign is saying that you should not celebrate your son’s bar mitzvah. Don’t allow him to collect gifts that he might put in a college fund.

According to the Obama campaign his college fund is nothing compared with your transcendent duty to re-elect Barack Obama.

Gift-giving is a basic social ritual. Celebration is another. The cohesion of the social fabric depends on exchanging gifts and on public celebrations of important events. In one absurd gesture the Obama re-election campaign has demonstrated that, next to political divisions, neither gift-giving nor celebrating are of any importance.

It’s a new low. Turn your wedding, a sacred event, a time of joy, into a political fundraiser. Hit up your friends for contributions to the Obama campaign.

An administration that pledged to represent all Americans, red, blue and purple, now wants to turn events that are apolitical into political brawls. It wants to give you a new way to offend friends and family.

What if your friends and colleagues and clients have been cured of their Obamaphilia? What will happen to your job and your career if your colleagues and clients think that you are trying to make your wedding into a fund raiser for Obama?

Do you really want your wedding to be tarnished by a brawl about politics?  

Does the Obama campaign live in a world where everyone thinks the same thoughts and feels the same feelings? Does it have any idea what will happen to your wedding if you set out to offend your guests by asking them to express their political opinions?

Speaking for the younger generation Ben Shapiro gets it right:

This is truly insulting. Young couples have been the folks hardest hit by the Obama economy; unemployment rate among the young is at all-time highs. Yet Obama suggests that we should send money not to those couples, but to the campaign of the man who has put them on the bread lines.