Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pimping Out the Coeds

Certainly, it feels harsh to say, as I have been wont to, that young women, especially college coeds are being pimped out. Others prefer to use the slightly more glamorous name of the hookup culture. Whatever you call it, it seems decidedly disrespectful of young women.

I have also had occasion to say that the current furor over “rape culture” on college campuses seems to be an effort to shut down the hookup culture. One would think that raising the cost basis of random drunken sexual encounters would diminish their appeal and their frequency.

I may have spoken too soon. After reading Suzy Lee Weiss’s account of her freshman year at the University of Michigan, I am having doubts. ( via Maggie’s Farm) Apparently, the hookup culture is alive and well. One would like to call it drunken debauchery but it sounds like much less fun than that.

As Weiss describes it, that college administrators and the fraternity system have conspired to sacrifice the honor and dignity of these young women.

Even before these first-year coeds are thrown to the tender mercies of the fraternity system the university prepares them. Should we say that the administration, in a strange way, grooms them? Or that the administration, acting in loco parentis, is setting down guidelines for good sexual behavior… in a context that does not involve dating.

Weiss describes her experience:

During the first six weeks of my freshman year, I attended no fewer than four "safe sex" seminars. I've watched a sex educator slip a blue condom onto a dildo before a room of 200 18-year-olds; witnessed a 30-minute fight between a student and a peer advisor over whether a nod counted as consent; and participated in a mock date proposal to practice how to politely turn someone down. ("No, thanks.")

I've clicked and peer-discussed my way through myriad sexual scenarios, many of which explored the gray zone of drunken sexual encounters. What if it's happening late in the afternoon on a Sunday after four shots, but before a solar eclipse, and she said she didn't want to go too far but seemed really into it?

If the statistics and headlines are to be believed, never has there been more assault and rape on American colleges campuses. Yet the same time, never before in the history of the American college student has there been more open, and increasingly procedural, talk about how to have sex.

Of course, the statistics and headlines have been vigorously contested. Be that as it may, one comes away with the impression that the college administration is telling these young girls that it is good to have sex… consensual, of course… protected, of course… because it is the normal thing to do.

Since college freshmen are especially desirous of fitting in, of being like the other students, any official message that tells their vulnerable souls what they need to do to fit in, will exercise an outsized influence on their behavior.

Can there be any doubt that these young women are being told that they should put this knowledge to use, that it is normal to do so?

Somewhat timidly, Weiss suggests that the college administrators’ emphasis on the mechanics of sex and on which words might or might not constitute consent among drunken teenagers ignores the emotional side of the equation. Assuming that the emotional connection is especially important to young women, the lectures are treating these women as though they were men.

Or better, a caricature of men. By ignoring the relationship side of the sexual equation and failing to respect human beings as something more than organs and orifices, educators diminish and demean everyone, but especially women.

Weiss explains:

With free STD testing and countless free condoms lobbed down the stairwells of dorms across the country, there is doubtlessly more "safe sex." But dental dams don't protect feelings. I'm not talking here about sexual assault, but about sex of the consensual but haphazard variety.

Weiss continues to describe what is called the “date party.” She makes it sound more like choosing an escort for the evening than like what used to be called mixers:

Take the date party — a traditional rite of passage of [insert your favorite Greek letters here] — in which pairings are arranged through mutual friends. Everyone wants to get invited, but a girl will only be asked if she is all but certain to put out. Often times, a boy's profile picture will be posted in a sorority-wide group text, with a comment along the lines of: "Who's interested? His date party is this weekend."

Then, a few texts will be exchanged between the duo. "What type of alcohol do you want?" and "The pregame starts at 8" are among the vital logistical concerns. No one goes to date party to talk about their childhood dreams in a corner of a loud dance club or the basement of a frat.

Combine the unspoken promise of some sort of sexual encounter with a heavy pregame- and sometimes even a pregame to the pregame — and the result is exactly what you'd expect. Order your Ubers early, ladies; chances are no one is making you pancakes. And certainly don't expect a text the next day.

Call it the Walmartification of sex: It's cheap, quick, easy and not built to last.

“ … all but certain to put out…” about what kind of women would you use that phrase?

Naturally, Weiss finds someone to hook up with. She does not call it a friends-with-benefits arrangement, but clearly she is being used. Of course, this is what her sex educators and peers were encouraging her to do, so she keeps hoping that she is involved in a relationship:

The weeks proceeded, our awkward daytime interactions a necessary hurdle to get to the parties and late nights where our "romance" would flourish. Coming back from a suspiciously non-communicative winter break, I found him distant and brusque. A few days of nervously — and obsessively — checking my phone culminated in pathetic display of waterworks and pent-up hysteria on a frat house lawn.

I imagined an enthusiastic reunion. Or at least a wave. He simply walked away, leaving in his wake the girlish monster we had both created.

The sad part is that he technically did nothing wrong. We weren't dating and hadn't even defined ourselves as exclusive for fear that if either of us assigned a label it would indicate that we wanted to go stroller shopping for our future child the next day.

One friend was similarly stung when she found out the boy she had hooked up with was in an open relationship with someone else. Another slept with someone all year who would only commit to the cringe-worthy expression "hanging out." The vast majority refused to be tied down in any way, citing a desire for "the real freshman experience."

Are we talking about a real freshman experience or a girlfriend experience?

I do not think that we are stretching things to say that Weiss might very have come away from her initiation and grooming feeling used, abused, disrespected and even violated.

Since she was fully consenting she does not see it that way, but she is right to object that her initiation into college sex was a transaction where she gave herself up and got nothing in return, not even a nod of recognition.

But she is not correct when she writes this:

Sexual assault-and various shades of not-totally-consensual episodes — is a real problem on college campuses, including my own. And I don't think that a return to old-fashioned mating rituals would do away with the problem.

In truth, the current college sexual scene, which resembles something that used to be called a meat market, came about because certain people decided that old-fashioned mating rituals were disrespectful to women. Would a return to the latter solve the problem? It would certainly go a long way toward that end. Compared to today’s hookup culture, old fashioned dating rituals were a model of decorum and respect.

Be that as it may, Weiss ends her essay with a cri de coeur to her feminist foremothers:

As a feminist, I ask: Is this the victory feminism imagined for itself?

I am confident that this is not what feminism imagined. And yet, as the old saying goes: you broke it, you own it. Feminism overthrew the old mating rituals. Even though feminist opinion is sharply divided on these questions, feminism bears some responsibility for the way Suzy Lee Weiss and her fellow coeds were pimped out in college.

If you prefer not to think such thoughts, you can also ask yourself whether Weiss-- had she not been a feminist-- would have done what she did.

Creating an Unreal Reality

Writing in National Review Peter Kirsanow offers a sobering look at our new reality. It’s not the reality you used to know and perhaps even like, but it’s a new fictional world that fulfills a certain number of ideological preconceptions. 

Strangely enough, no one seems to care any more that its unreal.

Kirsanow sums it up:

Exchanges established by the federal government are exchanges established by the state. Rachel Dolezal is black. Iran will honor an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons. ISIS is a JV team. There’s an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. Michael Brown had his hands up and pleaded “don’t shoot.” Caitlyn Jenner is a woman. Obamacare is working. 2+2 doesn’t necessarily equal 4. The polar ice caps are disappearing. The IRS is doing a decent job. The border is secure.We’ve ended two wars responsibly. Hillary Clinton turned over all work-related e-mails. An $18,200,000,000,000 debt can grow without mention. People who burn down buildings and overturn cars aren’t thugs. The OPM hack is manageable. We’ve reset relations with Russia. Entitlement reform can be kicked down the road. We’re more respected around the world.

One might call it a mass delusion, as Kirsanow does, but, whatever one calls it, he is right to say that it is not going to end well.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Giving and Taking Advice

It shouldn’t come as too much of a revelation. We are better at giving advice than at taking it. To be more precise, we are not very good at taking our own advice. Of course, this assumes that the advice we give to ourselves is as good as the advice we give to other people.

Yet, Melissa Dahl’s New York Magazine column about giving and taking advice does not address the question of whether we are better at taking advice that others give us than we are at taking our own advice.

And that is not the only level of complexity here. When we give someone advice, our remarks exist within a conversation and within a constituted social connection. When we give ourselves advice, we are often thinking to ourselves. Self-advice does not count as a verbal act and it does not constitute a commitment.

To make the comparison more germane, the researchers should have considered the difference between the advice we give to others and the advice we tell others that we are going to follow. 

If I tell my friends that I am going to stop smoking and if they see me smoking, I will lose face. If I tell myself that I should stop smoking and I keep on smoking I will compromise my health but I do not lose face. 

But then, if I advise a friend against smoking, I am saying that I am willing to take responsibility for what happens when he follows my advice. If I give advice and my friend follows it and it turns out badly, I will be held accountable. Evidently, this rule does not apply to stopping smoking.

Supposedly, we give the best advice when we are objective observers of a situation. If a friend asks us what he should do in this or that circumstance, we often know the answer. If we find ourselves in the same situation, we might think about the same solution, but we are unlikely to follow the same piece of advice.

Apparently, we do not trust ourselves to give ourselves good advice. The example, as given, does not consider what we do when someone else, an objective observer, or perhaps even a friend, offers similar advice.

Note well, the advice has a different value if comes from a friend or from a random stranger. We are surely more likely to follow the advice of a friend than that of a stranger. And we are most willing to follow advice if the person giving it is a recognized authority.

It’s not just about objectivity. Some people know more than others. Some people have more experience than others. Some people are smarter or wiser than others.

Psychologists suggest that we do not often take our own advice because we are too emotionally involved. Or else, we might distrust our advice because we know that we are not being objective about it.

Of course, reality is often far more complicated than questions posed to college students. 

Take this example, from Dan Ariely, reported by Dahl:

Ariely tells me about an experiment he once did that neatly proves his point. “Think about something like getting a second opinion from doctors,” Ariely said. Imagine, Ariely asked his study participants, that your regular doctor has given you some serious diagnosis. Would you ask for a referral so you can get a second opinion? Most people, he found, say no — they don’t want to offend their doctor, even if the health stakes at hand are high. “But if we ask them if they would tell somebody else to go for a second opinion, they say, Of course, yes,” Ariely continued, adding that the insight is applicable in a wide range of situations.

This feels like a trick question, so one must question the way it has been reported. Asking your own doctor for a referral for a second opinion is not the same as recommending that someone else seek out a second opinion.

Obviously, you can seek out a second opinion without asking your own doctor for a referral. When you tell someone else to seek out a second opinion, you are not necessarily telling him to ask his own physician for a referral.

Why would you not ask your own doctor for a referral? Perhaps you do not want to offend someone who might literally have your life in his hands. This is not irrational.

Also, you might question whether anyone chosen by your doctor can be truly objective. Perhaps, the other doctor will be a colleague or friend of your doctor. If so, he might be less inclined to offer an objective opinion because of the risk to a friendship or a referral source.

At the least, we see that these situations are often far more complex than we imagine and that the subjective/objective division does not suffice.

Let’s examine another of Dahl’s examples:

You definitely should just confront your friend about how much it annoys and hurts you that she has a habit of canceling plans at the last minute; I, on the other hand, have known my own flaky friend for far too long to bring it up at this point. It’s complicated. Don’t worry about it.

Here she is suggesting that advice given in the abstract, advice that articulates a general principle might not be applicable in a specific situation. Most of us know a certain number of moral principles. Applying them in specific situations with different people is not as easy as it seems.

In this case, another problem lays in the principle of confrontation. It is wrong to believe that you need to choose between confronting and saying nothing. If that is the choice, many people, who reasonably want to avoid giving offense, will do nothing. It’s like advising women to “lean in” and then being surprised to see that the women who receive this advice are less likely to lean in or are more likely to lean in at the wrong time, in the wrong place with the wrong person.

Is it so obvious that people normally follow the advice they receive from their peers? Your close personal friends do have an objective perspective. In general, however, they probably do not know any more than you do. Following a friend’s advice might feel like following your own advice. True, it’s objective… but it is not based on wisdom or experience. It’s like the blind leading the blind.

And then, Dahl continues, we commit what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error:

It’s a consequence of something psychologists call the fundamental attribution error, the idea that people explain their own actions by the circumstances, but judge others’ behavior as clear signals of their glaring character flaws. “So if I trip on the sidewalk, it must’ve been uneven,” Hershfield said. “But if you trip, you’re clumsy.”You need to follow this writing advice because you’re a beginner; I, Professional Writer, am above it, and that lede wasn’t coming to me because … because I just needed caffeine, or something.

Dahl had offered the example of a friend who asked her for advice about how to overcome writers’ block. She responded that the friend should not worry about having a great opening paragraph. She should just start writing.

Is this good advice? Effectively, it is. The only way overcome writers’ block is to write. The more you think about it, the more you think about what you are going to write, the less you will get down on the page or the screen.

The amateur who has writers’ block does not know the basic rule and therefore is not following it. The professional, like Dahl, knows the rule but might not believe that the rule applies to her... she is a professional. When she has writers’ block, the reason must lie elsewhere.

Of course, it might also be the case that she is a young writer and has not yet fully developed the habit of sitting down and writing even when she does not know what she is going to say.

Intriguingly, Dahl then offers a quotation by William James:

Famed 19th-century psychologist William James, for instance, spent much of his career harping on the subject of habits: The key to a happy, productive life, he often argued, was to automate as much of it as possible. “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation,” James wrote in his book Psychology: A Briefer Course. 

Is this good advice? Yes, it’s very good advice.

And yet, it gets critiqued by authors like Mason Currey:

But, as Mason Currey points out in his (delightful) 2013 book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, James might as well have been describing himself — all his life, the psychologist struggled to stick to a regular schedule, according to his biographer.

Perhaps James did not fully succeed in living his life according to strict rituals and habits. Few people succeed fully at anything. Yet, James was not ignoring the advice. He was trying to live according to the principle. 

Besides, the notion was certainly not unique to William James. The concept of "habit" goes back to Aristotle, and the theory of learning to do the right thing without thinking is intrinsic to military training. In another context, it's called resilience.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Didn't Anyone Think of Same-Sex Marriage Before?

Hanging over the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage is a simple question: Why didn’t anyone think of it before? Why did the question never come up? Why has no other culture institutionalized marriage between two members of the same sex?

In his dissent John Roberts wrote:

And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational.

He adds that there are reasons why marriage has always been between a man and a woman. He dismisses the notion that marriage was defined in order to exclude gays and lesbians.

In his words:

Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history— and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and a father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.

Of course, the Court majority pointed out that we no longer have arranged marriages, but have marriages based on love. As I pointed out in my book The Last Psychoanalyst this represents a misunderstanding of history.

Marriage was revolutionized when women gained the freedom to choose a mate. Perhaps romantic love is more important to women than it is to men, but surely women do not choose husbands purely on the basis of romantic love. Saying as much is saying that women are hopeless sentimental and irrational. Most women do love their husbands but their choice is based on a myriad of other factors—good character, status in the world, capacity as a breadwinner, parental approval.

Women do not fall in love with just anyone. Men don’t either.

When arranged marriage was supplanted by what we call love marriage no one imagined that marriage expressed romantic love. It remained a social institution, albeit one where women gained more freedom and more responsibility for their choices.

Even when love enters the equation, it does not make marriage as an expression of romantic love. Throughout most of human history the province of romantic love has been adulterous relationships. And those, we know, have been open to both men and women.

Roberts makes the same point.

In his words:

They did not, however, work any transformation in the core structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

But then, Roberts makes the following statement, statement that led Washington Post reporter Ishaan Tharoor to do some historical research.

Roberts wrote of the Court’s decision:

As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis for human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?

Of course, five justices are saying that their wisdom is greater than that of nearly the entirety of the human species. It may be true, but then again, what if it isn’t?

When he read Roberts’ statement, Tharoor responded that the four cultures mentioned did not have “traditional unions.” It would be a useful argument if Roberts had said that these cultures practiced traditional unions. More likely the chief justice was saying that even some of the most extreme human cultures, cultures that experimented with sexual behavior and rules, recognized marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Tharoor summarizes the customs and behaviors of the four groups, beginning with the Kalahari Bushmen:

The Kalahari Bushmen don't have very strong wedding practices, and don't pay much attention to ceremonies around mating.

Early European accounts of tribes and kingdoms encountered in southern Africa included details of warrior women styling themselves as kings (not "queens"), polygamous households where lesbianism was common, and even ancient Bushmen rock paintings depicting explicit homosexual sex.

What about warrior women depicting themselves as kings? Doesn't that sound familiar?

As for the reference to paintings depicting explicit homosexual sex, if I recall correctly, Giotto’s Last Judgment at the Arena chapel in Padua shows homosexual sex. And surely, the Decameron does not depict a very virtuous group of pilgrims. So what?

As for the Kalahari Bushmen, are we really sure that we want to make them our role models? Do we really want to emulate them?

Tharoor mentions that gay marriage is not and has never been legal in China, not even among the Han Chinese. What exactly does he think that that proves? He adds:

During the Han dynasty, the ancient lineage of kings that gives the Han their name, homosexuality was rife. Almost all the emperors -- you know, the lawgivers of the land -- of the Western Han dynasty apparently had same-sex lovers.

Again, so what? Plato talks about homosexual love. Having gay lovers has not throughout the course of human history had any effect on the institution of marriage. If these relationships were openly acknowledged, then perhaps they were not always considered to be shameful. Gay sex, after all, does not hold the risk that other forms of adultery had: conception.

Tharoor mentions that Carthage was a paradise for homosexuals. It may or may not have been true, but recall how Carthage fared in the Punic Wars with Rome. They were not fought over the question of homosexuality: they were fought for dominance in the Mediterranean. In the end Carthage was completely destroyed.

Again, do we really want to emulate Carthage? And besides, however rife homosexual love was in ancient Carthage it did not change the nature of marriage.

Tharoor then quote a description of marital customs in Aztec civilization:

Marriage was conditional in that the parties could decide to separate or stay together after they had their first son. Marriages could also be unconditional and last for an indefinite period of time. Polygamy and concubines were permitted, though this was more common in noble households and marriage rites were only observed with the first, or principal, wife. Aztec families could live in single family homes, though many opted to live in joint family households for economic reasons.

But, what is a conditional marriage? Doesn’t it exist in a slightly different form in a culture where divorce is easy to obtain… like ours?

Tharoor mentions that the Aztecs also practiced human sacrifice, so perhaps we should not be too eager to emulate their way of doing things.

As for living arrangements, these have differed in different places and at different times throughout human history. So what. Obviously, these arrangements do not resemble the nuclear family, but that might merely demonstrate the flexibility of some human customs. It might tell us that the nuclear family is a better solution. It might also show that cultures that practice these alternative living arrangements do not survive for very long. Surely, the Kalahari Bushmen are not leading the world in technological innovation and industry.

And, by the way, where are the Aztecs now? How did all of that work out for them?

Pope Francis Embraces Naomi Klein

Think what you will about Pope Francis’s foray into climate change politics, he is making no effort to appear to be fair and balanced.

Having already resurrected the South American radical leftist doctrine of liberation theology—an unholy amalgam of Catholicism and Marx—he has now chosen extreme leftist firebrand Naomi Klein to co-chair this Friday’s Vatican conference on climate change.

The Guardian reports:

She is one of the world’s most high-profile social activists and a ferocious critic of 21st-century capitalism. He is one of the pope’s most senior aides and a professor of climate change economics. But this week the secular radical will join forces with the Catholic cardinal in the latest move by Pope Francis to shift the debate on global warming.

Naomi Klein and Cardinal Peter Turkson are to lead a high-level conference on the environment, bringing together churchmen, scientists and activists to debate climate change action. Klein, who campaigns for an overhaul of the global financial system to tackle climate change, told the Observer she was surprised but delighted to receive the invitation from Turkson’s office.

At a time when the horrors of Communism cannot be denied, Klein continues to wage war against capitalism. Communism may have murdered around 100 million people and destroyed the lives of many, many more, but Klein refuses to accept reality. She has decided that capitalism will destroy everyone and everything because it has made it impossible to combat global climate change.

Otherwise she would have to admit that she and her fellow-travelers were grievously wrong, and people like Klein are constitutionally incapable of doing so.

For example:

Indeed, the three pillars of the neoliberal age—privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending—are each incompatible with many of the actions we need to take to bring our emissions to safe levels. And together these pillars form an ideological wall that has blocked a serious response to climate change for decades.

One ought not to have to say it, but in the post Mao era in China privatization succeeded in feeding hundreds of millions of people and raising nearly a billion people out of abject poverty. So naturally, Klein wants to return to Communism.

Among her other pronouncements, Klein attacked the Iraq war as an effort to bring capitalism to Iraq. As Wikipedia notes, she pledged her allegiance to Muqtada as Sadr:

Klein's August 2004 "Bring Najaf to New York", published in The Nation, argued that Muqtada Al Sadr's Mahdi Army "represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq."[34] She went on to say "Yes, if elected Sadr would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran, but for now his demands are for direct elections and an end to foreign occupation"

Obviously, Klein is more than just another committed leftist. Her support for a man who would turn Iraq into a theocracy, given the consequences for women and gays, makes her a crackpot and a flake.

She is an ideological fanatic whose hatred of America and free market capitalism is so great that she prefers to consign people to an Iranian theocracy rather than to a liberal democracy. Since hatred knows no limits she has no concern for human life or human beings and should be disqualified from appearing at international forums on political economy.

By making Klein, a notorious atheist, a co-chair of a conference the Pope discredits himself.

Naturally, Klein is also a committed anti-Semite. Comparing Israeli policy toward Palestinian terrorists to South African apartheid she supports the Boycott Divest Sanction movement against what she calls Israeli “criminality.”

In 2009 she wrote:

The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa. In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era". The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions was born.

Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause - even among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors in Israel. It calls for "the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions" and draws a clear parallel with the anti-apartheid struggle. "The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves ... This international backing must stop."

One does not, in her article read a single word condemning Palestinian terrorism. About the fact that Hamas has pledged not only to destroy Israel but to kill Jews everywhere, she is silent.

Naomi Klein is a left-wing extremist and fanatic. She has no place in a Vatican conference on climate change or on anything at all. One would have thought that Communism was dead and buried. And yet, some political and religious leaders are still irresistibly drawn to it.

No respectable political leader ought to enhance the reputation of Naomi Klein. Not if he wants to remain respectable.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pimping Out His Girlfriend

In one sense it’s kid stuff: college students trying out new lifestyles because they, in their extraordinary genius, refuse to be chained to the old lifestyles. They are so smart that they can reinvent human institutions. In the best cases they can change human nature itself.

One sympathizes. If college is not the place for unbridled adolescent narcissism, what is?

On the other hand, reinventing the wheel does is not a risk-free enterprise. Many people do not walk away from their adolescent follies in one piece. It seems not to have caused Eliza Kennedy too much pain but it does not always have a happy ending.

As a college student Kennedy had a serious boyfriend. They lived together. They had a home together. But, her boyfriend was an aspiring philosophical genius. His brilliant mind had told him that they needed to have an open relationship. Otherwise theirs would not be true love.

Apparently, his adolescent notion of freedom allowed each of them to fool around with other men and women.

In reality, Kennedy followed the terms of the agreement, not so much because she wanted to wallow in her boyfriend’s conception of freedom, but because he had persuaded her that it was the best way to show how much she loved him.

In another context this would be called: pimping out your girlfriend. Since no money was exchanged in Kennedy’s romantic extra-relationship trysts, we will call it the postmodern version of pimping out your girlfriend. It used to be called: free love.

Kennedy explains what she did in a Modern Love column in the New York Times:

During college, I spent a few wonderful evenings making out with a longhaired poet. I spent a few weeks messing around with a gentle, funny religion student. I even briefly, if accidentally, dated a high school student (since when do 17-year-olds have beards?).

This is what you do in college. No longer tethered to childhood routines and unburdened by the judgments and prejudices of people who know you best, you explore and experiment, sampling new ideologies, new points of view. New people.

One might say that today’s college students are also unburdened by the judgments of the people who care about them the most… but that would be caviling. Don’t you think?

She continues to explain that she got the idea that she would allow herself to be pimped out from her deep thinker of a boyfriend:

My boyfriend was committed to living his life according to strict intellectual principles, and for him, personal freedom was paramount. Love could not require constraint, foreclosure or deprivation. He argued that even though we planned a future together, we should always permit each other to do as we pleased, including dating other people.

Evidently, this was not the way she had been brought up:

Whoa, sorry, what? I was from a small town in Illinois. My idea of romance was as conventional as could be, involving me and my boyfriend “sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” First comes love, then comes marriage, and so on.

Her boyfriend instructed her to jettison her upbringing in order to live her live according to his philosophical principles. That he had only the most superficial notion of the concept of freedom did not prevent him from insisting that his girlfriend follow it to the letter:

 I was supposed to be exploring, experimenting, sampling new perspectives. I wasn’t a philosopher like my boyfriend, but I was studying English literature, including Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I had no wish to shackle anyone to me, especially not the person I loved best. I didn’t want to concede — by being possessive, by demanding fidelity — that my love was anything less than capital-T True. If an open relationship was necessary to prove how well I loved my boyfriend, I was happy to comply.

Like I said, she was persuaded that her love was being tested and would be judged by how many extra-curricular flings she had. So much for non-judgmental youth.

How did that work out? She declares that it was a disaster. Who would have guessed?

This young couple, in their own bumbling way, has demonstrated that the commitment to another person in a love relationship is not just a social construct. It’s hard-wired into the genes. Even great philosophers cannot repeal human nature.

Her aspiring philosopher boyfriend apparently had a poorly repressed voyeuristic tendency. He wanted to know about what Kennedy was doing on her trysts. And he could not handle it:

Then my boyfriend’s attitude changed. He started emerging from his study with questions when I arrived home. Who was this guy? What was his major? Where was he from? What did he read? Was he smart?

Questions morphed into criticism. That poetry was awful. His handwriting wasn’t that hot, either. Look at those “t’s.”

Then my boyfriend caught a glimpse of the guy, and full-on outrage ensued. Are you kidding me with that hair? He doesn’t look soulful; he looks constipated! What are you doing wasting your time with this clown?

It’s charming to see that he was competing against these men on the basis of mental prowess.

Kennedy had no desire to torture her boyfriend, so she suggested less openness in her relationship. He refused:

I was … wasting my time, very enjoyably. But it wasn’t worth my boyfriend’s interrogations and disbelief, his implicit suggestion that by choosing poorly, I had made myself less lovable to him.

So I chucked the poet and asked whether we needed to rethink our arrangement.

Of course not. There was nothing wrong with our principles, only with how I had implemented them. I was free to continue being free. I just had to do it better. Or something.

By this point, one is beginning to see that said boyfriend is not going to be one of the greatest philosophers in human history. So be it.

But, Kennedy kept on trying… that is, allowing herself to be pimped out… in a postmodern way. Things did not improve:

A pattern emerged. My boyfriend would react at first with nonchalance. He would become mildly curious. Then subtly judgmental. Then not so subtly.

He always ended up in the same place: offended, incredulous and scornful of my romantic interests for their obvious flaws, and of me for my apparent blindness to them. He was so convinced of his own correctness and so skilled at arguing his positions that pushing back was always an exercise in futility. So I would capitulate and abandon each new love interest, causing a lot of undeserved pain.

His petulance managed to force Kennedy into a series of short-term, ultimately meaningless sexual encounters. Like I said… pimping her out.

Ironically, her Dionysian boyfriend had so completely overcome sexual stereotypes and his Darwinian predisposition to amass a harem that he became perfectly chaste:

How were my boyfriend’s own adventures in free love progressing? They weren’t. He didn’t date anyone else as long as we were together. Why? He never gave a clear answer. Too busy. Too picky. I felt like the butt of some twisted joke. Romantic freedom was his principle, and yet I was the only one out there living it.

“… the butt of some twisted joke…”

I can’t think of a better description of this experiment in living philosophically. Somewhere Nietzsche is laughing.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Biggest Mistake

What was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biggest failure?

Obviously, his failed marriage.

He explains it to Howard Stern:

"This was without a doubt the biggest setback and the biggest failure [in my life]," Schwarzenegger said about the demise of their marriage. "Not only failure, but you really feel like, 'I'm to blame for it. It was me that screwed up,' and you can't point the finger at anyone else."

But, his biggest failure is not the same as his biggest mistake. What was his biggest mistake?

Trying to fix his marriage in couples therapy.

He says:

"Because the guy was so full of sh*t," he said bluntly. "He said more crap and more nonsense. It was absolutely totally counterproductive to our future relationship, or to any hope to get together or anything like that. It was just nonsense talk."


"I don't have to go through anyone to have him explain to me anything. You know, I apologized to Maria, I apologized to the kids, and I tried to move forward and make the best of it ... It has worked out really so well with the help of Maria, with the help of the kids, but not because of the shrink or some psychiatrist."

Is it fair to tar all couples therapists because one poor soul could not communicate with the terminator? Perhaps not. But, Arnold’s words ring true. Effectively, he knew what he had to do, and he did it. He did not need bullshit explanations. 

Obviously, we are talking about a superior therapist, someone with impeccable credentials, someone who is at the top of his profession. No one wants to say that his work reflects on the profession as a whole, but if he is the best that is on offer in Los Angeles, we are within our rights to raise some eyebrows.

Others have pointed out that couples therapy is singularly ineffective. Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger offers another ringing anti-endorsement.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Russia Leads a Counterrevolution

We tend to believe that everything gets decided by the government. We even believe that the executive, the legislature and the courts can create new realities. Even new values.

At present, America is undergoing a cultural revolution. It began during the Vietnam era and has proceeded apace, with ups and downs.

We are so fully confident of our revolutionary values that we are selling them around the world, in term of liberal democracy and human rights.

America is now thoroughly open about all things sexual. We do not merely obsess; we show off our new liberated attitude toward all things sexual.

We continue to flagellate ourselves for the sins of the past, the better to create a culture where guilt prevails. America’ success was purchased on the backs of the oppressed and now we are duty-bound to make reparations. Everyone who is not a privileged white male can now line up to receive some form of largesse. It’s not about any oppressed minority, because the oppressed are a majority now.

America has increasingly rejected religion in favor of atheism. We don’t believe in a Creator who produced reality as we know it. We believe that we can create our own realities: either by interpreting things differently or by believing that we are one thing or another.

America has embraced pharmacology as the cure to everything that ails it. Licit and illicit drugs are becoming increasing available. We’re becoming a stoner nation.

We have become mindlessly hypersensitive to the possibility of giving offense and we insist that people use language differently, lest they give offense. It’s bad enough when colleges ban The Vagina Monologues because it might offend women without vaginas, but when JP Morgan Chase bank tells its employees to avoid words like “wife” because someone might take offense, you know that the cultural decline is accelerating.

Of course, these values are now being enshrined by the courts in the name of equal rights and non-discrimination. It’s as though people have come to believe that because people have equal rights they are equal in all other things.

Some believe that this cultural revolution has brought us closer to the truth. Others have suggested that it’s a grand cultural experiment that may work but that may not. Time will tell.

Dare we point out that the playing field is not the Supreme Court. The playing field is international economic, political and military competition. If America becomes too slothful to compete effectively, the future will look less bright. When Camille Paglia sounded an alarm about America’s new decadence and when she said that the minds of American college students were like jello, this is what she was talking about.

Of course, some countries are following America’s lead. Others are not. They do not accept the new cultural values and are leading a counterrevolution.

Ironically, to say the least, the leading counterrevolutionary force today is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. So says Roger Cohen. One might add Xi Jinping’s China to the list, but more on that later.

Putin has very bad press in the West. He is often portrayed as a new type of autocrat… not without justification. Putin’s actions in the Ukraine have provoked economic sanctions. He has ignored them.

It’s not just that he does not care. Why should he when his approval rating in Russia is around 89%.

Roger Cohen raises the issue in his column today:

The escalating conflict between the West and Moscow has been portrayed as political, military and economic. It is in fact deeper than that. It is cultural. President Vladimir Putin has set himself up as the guardian of an absolutist culture against what Russia sees as the predatory and relativist culture of the West.

To listen to pro-Putin Russian intellectuals these days is to be subjected to a litany of complaints about the “revolutionary” West, with its irreligious embrace of same-sex marriage, radical feminism, euthanasia, homosexuality and other manifestations of “decadence.” It is to be told that the West loses no opportunity to globalize these “subversive” values, often under cover of democracy promotion and human rights.

The Cold War against godless Communism was well worth fighting. Now the tables seem to have turned. It’s Vladimir Putin, in an increasingly close alliance with China and even Turkey who is fighting culture war against the godless West:

Beyond Putin’s annexation of Crimea and stirring-up of a small war in eastern Ukraine (although large enough to leave more than 6,000 dead), it is this decision to adopt cultural defiance of the West that suggests the confrontation with Russia will last decades. Communism was a global ideology; Putinism is less than that. But a war of ideas has begun in which counterrevolution against the godless and insinuating West is a cornerstone of Russian ideology. To some degree, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey shares Putin’s view of the West. China, meanwhile, finds uses in it.

Of course, Putin has suffered economic sanctions. But, he does not very much care about having been expelled from the G-8. (As a sidelight, famed investor Jim Rogers thinks that Russia is a great investment.)

Putin does not care about the West because he is pivoting toward Asia, and in particular toward China:

This Russian decision has strategic implications the West is only beginning to digest. It involves an eastward pivot more substantial than President Obama’s to Asia. Putin is now more interested in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose core is China and Russia, than he is in cooperation with the G-8 (from which Russia has been suspended) or the European Union.

China reciprocates this interest to some degree because a Moscow hostile to the West is useful for the defense of its own authoritarian political model and because it sees economic opportunity in Russia and former Soviet Central Asian countries. But China’s fierce modernizing drive cannot be accomplished through backward-looking Russia. There are clear limits to the current Chinese-Russian rapprochement.

What we all want to know is: who will win. Cohen believes that the West should cling to its values and that Russia will ultimately fail.

He writes:

As a senior European official attending a conference organized by Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs put it, Russia’s is a “loser’s challenge” to the West, because it has given up on modernization and globalization, whereas China’s is potentially a “winner’s challenge,” because it is betting everything on a high-tech, modern economy.

Cohen believes that Russia has given up on economic modernization and globalization. Time will tell whether this is true or false. Given Putin’s popularity in Russia, he has clearly grasped something essential about what is going on in the world.

One does not know how the rapprochement between Russia and China will affect both nations. Perhaps Russia will adopt a more Chinese free enterprise-driven model of economic growth?

To offer some needed historical perspective, Russia under Gorbachev and Yeltsin tried to modernize according to the Western democratic model.  People all over the West cheered.

At the same time Deng Xiaoping led China to modernize by using an authoritarian capitalist model.

By most objective standards, the Chinese model prevailed. Russia has a higher per-capita GDP, but much of it is due to commodities. Today, the commodities market--let by oil--is declining. With it, Russia economic growth is falling. China has been growing far more rapidly and seems capable of continuing to do so. So, Putin is not merely rejecting the decadence of the West but he is trying to reverse course after the Russian democratic experiment.

But, Cohen retorts that refugees the world over are flocking to Western Europe and America. Surely they are seeking freedom and opportunity and human rights. Or, are they seeking refuge from the culture wars in the Middle East and Africa. Then again, they might want welfare and generous entitlements?

Whichever is true, these people also know that Russia would never allow masses of undocumented aliens to invade its territory. The same applies to China.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Elizabeth Gilbert's Diary of a Seductress

All things considered Elizabeth Gilbert is an exceptionally fine writer. She is one of the best. It’s not just about the mega-quantities of books she has sold—in particular, her Eat Pray Love—but about the quality of her prose. For example, check out her book: The Last American Man.

Agree or disagree with her point of view, accept or not accept her tendency to overshare, she is always worth reading.

Now, she has just written an article for the Times about her history of seducing men. At a time when we are obliged to live in a fictional world where women are victims of predatory males Gilbert draws back the curtain on the mind and the activities of a woman who perfected the art of seducing men. It's a mix of femininity, empowerment and abuse.

It is not a pretty picture, but it is well worth showing.

When she was younger, Gilbert was addicted to seducing men. It did not always end in a party, but it was always filled with drama. After all, when you live your life as a fictional character you will surely attract more than your share of drama.

She writes:

It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.

What was she looking for? It is not altogether clear:

I can’t say that I was always looking for a better man. I often traded good men for bad ones; character didn’t much matter to me. I wasn’t exactly seeking love, either, regardless of what I might have claimed. I can’t even say it was the sex. Sex was just the gateway drug for me, a portal to the much higher high I was really after, which was seduction.

Was she seeking power and control? Many of today’s therapists would say that she was. But she was also competing against other women, competing for conquests. But, she was not acting as a huntress but as a woman who was gathering up men as she went. Clearly, she was trying to prove something, to assert something about herself… and she did not care who got hurt in the process.

Gilbert concludes correctly that seduction, as she practiced it, was thievery and coercion, taking something on false premises, conning a man by convincing him that she really wanted him, and using him for her own psychological purposes:

Seduction is the art of coercing somebody to desire you, of orchestrating somebody else’s longings to suit your own hungry agenda. Seduction was never a casual sport for me; it was more like a heist, adrenalizing and urgent. I would plan the heist for months, scouting out the target, looking for unguarded entries. Then I would break into his deepest vault, steal all his emotional currency and spend it on myself.

One is surprised to see this much raw honesty. In our liberated time, we imagine that women are perfect and that men are fatally flawed. The notion that a woman might use men without any regard for their feelings, strikes a truthful, but discordant note.

Gilbert did not care about whether the man she set her sights on had a girlfriend or was otherwise attached. She had no moral scruples about hurting other women.

How did she do it? She explains that her secret was, being different:

If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different. (The novel doesn’t always win out over the familiar, mind you, but it often does.) The trick was to study the other woman and to become her opposite, thereby positioning myself to this man as a sparkling alternative to his regular life.

She was looking to invade their minds, to watch them obsess about her, to see them throw everything to the winds for her:

That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always.

Unfortunately for Gilbert, the love she elicited and even stole did not last very long. Besides, being a woman she was not looking for extra notches on her bedpost. She was looking for true love, no matter the cost. She did not seem to realize that her style of seduction would preclude anything resembling a durable relationship:

But over time (and it wouldn’t take long), his unquenchable infatuation for me would fade, as his attention returned to everyday matters. This always left me feeling abandoned and invisible; love that could be quenched was not nearly enough love for me. As soon as I could, then, I would start seducing somebody else, by turning myself into an entirely different woman, in order to attract an entirely different man. These episodes of shape-shifting cost me dearly. I would lose weight, sleep, dignity, clarity. As anyone who has ever watched a werewolf movie knows, transmutation is excruciating and terrifying, but once that process has been set into motion — once you have glimpsed that full moon — it cannot be reversed. I could endure these painful episodes only by assuring myself: ‘‘This is the last time. This guy is the one.’’

For Gilbert, marriage was not a cure. Her first marriage did not cause her to change her ways:

In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for. You know you’ve got intimacy issues when, in the space of a few short months, you find yourself visiting two completely different couples’ counselors, with two completely different men on your arm, in order to talk about two completely different emotional firestorms. Trying to keep all my various story lines straight (Whom am I angry at, again? Who is angry at me now? Whose office is this?) made my hands shake and my mind splinter.

At times Gilbert thought that she was a hopeless romantic. At other times she saw herself as a feminist heroine. Eventually she began to feel ashamed:

Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop.

How did she break the spell? She credits a good therapist with helping her to get her bearings. And, six months of abstinence helped out. But the decisive change occurred when, one day, she met a new man, was thrilled to be invited back to his apartment, and demurred:

Then one afternoon I ran into a guy I liked. We went for a long walk in the park. Flirted. Laughed. It was sweet. Eventually he said, ‘‘Would you like to come back to my apartment with me?’’

Yes! My God, how I wanted to unwrap this man like a Christmas present!

But I also didn’t want to: I was only beginning to pull myself together, and I feared unraveling.

Uncertain, I tried something radically new. I said, ‘‘Do you mind if I take a moment to think about this?’’

After some reflection, Gilbert told the man that she was not ready to go any further.

What worked for her? Two things stand out: first, the shame she felt when she took a step back and looked at herself… judgmentally. That shame gave her a choice… to accept or not to accept the erotic interest that she had cultivated. Second, she made a real world decision that ran counter to her habit and she acted on it. Thus, she took a step toward breaking the habit and overcoming her desires.