Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Postmodernism and the End of Art

To one ‘s shock and dismay one discovers, upon finishing Jason Newman’s article about postmodern art, that young Newman is a student journalist. This is shocking and dismaying because his article is so remarkably good. One cannot imagine an American student, no less an art critic, doing as good a job. 

Newman begins with a salient point. However much the world is gaga over Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can boxes and Brillo boxes—a critique of consumer capitalism, didn’t you know?— the artist filled his own home with the real thing, with art that had withstood the test of time:

However, when he died in February 1987 the world got a real look at Andy Warhol and what he really considered to be “worthwhile art.” Behind the doors of his neo-classical townhouse the rooms were not furnished by piles of Brillo boxes or indeed stacks of soup cans but objects of a rather different style. Classical busts sat on mahogany tables, portraits lined the walls, and on many surfaces sat fine antiques. Warhol had chosen to adorn his house with pieces that had stood the test of time, pieces that followed the old rules on aesthetic value, but most importantly pieces that would have been shunned in the art world he had created and dominated.

What is modern art? Newman tells us that it’s a fraud, a con perpetrated on unknowing collectors who want to feel like they are part of the intellectual elite. I know what you are thinking: it couldn't have happened to a nicer group of people.

He says:

… the mantra of the modern artist: willing to expose society’s greed, consumerism, and corruption so long as he receives generous compensation for doing so. The contradictions of Andy Warhol’s public and private tastes, along with the inherent contradictions present in modern art, expose it for what it really is – a fraudulent enterprise that does not stand up to close scrutiny; a con perpetrated by talentless hacks and the elitist snobs who give them both funds and oxygen.

One feels constrained to point out that a few collectors treat these artworks like penny stocks. They buy tons of it from young artists and hope that some of it will be worth a fortune. Of course, it’s all a game of musical chairs. You might end up with your walls covered in junk, looking like the biggest fool. Like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes—dutifully quoted by Newman—you will feel sorely inconvenienced if anyone, especially a student journalist, tells you that it’s all junk.

Such art is offered up to the intellectual elites, especially to the know-nothing elites called celebrities:

The fact is that from the time of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal to Damien Hirst’s pickled shark and beyond, the only people able to afford these modern art pieces have been the elite. An elite who, afraid they might fall behind the latest trend, nod their approval at a giant sculpture of a pair of buttocks (a Turner Prize-nominee), eager to show that they, like their elite friends but unlike the masses, “understand.”

It has all, Newman continues, lost the value to shock. It has become boring:

The whole modern art scene has become stale; the ugliness, the obsession with the scatological, and the gratuitous levels of sexually explicit content are now tiresome clichés. While conceptual artists no doubt like to see themselves as being experimental, revolutionary, and unorthodox they have simply become boring. From painting with it (The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili) to tinning it (Artist’s Shit by Piero Manzoni), the uses of faeces has well and truly been exhausted by these charlatans. Pieces that were once seen as shocking no longer shock, the taboo has been broken, displaying a sexual explicit piece is now no more revolutionary than painting a bowl of fruit.

Obviously, anyone can do it. It requires very little skill and no craft. It’s a world where talent does not matter:

Behind the grandiose pieces and the attention grabbing works created purely for shock value lies a very important question: “Where is the skill and ability in all this?” No skill is required to place a rotting cows head in a glass cube with an insect-o-cutor (A Thousand Years by Damien Hirst). No ability is needed to set up a room with a light that switches on and off (Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off by Martin Creed, a work that won him the Turner Prize). It is most probably the case that the electrician who installed said lights and the abattoir worker who severed the cow’s head possess more skill and expertise than either Mr. Hirst or Mr. Creed.

Among the intellectual patrons of this nonsense is the Frankfurt School. The thinkers associated with this school peddled Marxist fairy tales and wanted to stand firm against fascism. Recently, they have been treated as near-prophets for having predicted the rise of Donald Trump. Of course, no one cares to remark that their crystal balls became especially murky when they failed to understand the catastrophe of Marxist governance.

Newman describes the Frankfurt School:

Like the Dadaists, their genesis was in the interwar years but also like the Dadaists their influence really only started to be felt in the post-War years. They too came out of the first half of the 20th century traumatised. They were appalled by the rise of fascism, but also crestfallen at the failure of Marxist-Leninism to deliver utopia. Having conducted a postmortem on Marxism, they formed their own new ideology, still heavily influenced by Marx but with a new emphasis on the cultural rather than the economic. Like the Dadaists, they also felt the old traditions should be thrown on the rubbish heap of history – faith, family, and the nation had to be destroyed. And, like the Dadaists, they were convinced the subjective was king and objective truth was dead. Affirmation and construction were to be abandoned for desecration and destruction.

Have these postmodern artists finally destroyed art. One expects that they did not. One hopes that a new generation will restore the value of art… that is, if they have the skill to do so:

Having succeeded in destroying the underpinnings of art, declaring everything to be art–and moreover good art–while emptying the word ‘beautiful’ of meaning, modern artists are now stranded on an open prairie. With no fences to restrain them or give them direction, they wander aimlessly, often getting lost in the process. The very term “art” now means nothing. For if everything is “art” then “art” is everything, therefore why define it as “art” at all? Why have galleries or exhibitions?

Pigeons Deserve Dignity and Quality of Life

The story does not come from The Daily Mail. It does not even come from The Onion. Hold on to your hats, this story was reported by the Wall Street Journal.

It’s about Lisbon, Portugal’s war against its indigenous pigeon population. Apparently, the situation is so completely out of control that a small group of pigeon lovers has tried something new and more humane. Instead of gassing the pigeons or feeding them to the reptiles at the zoo, this group has created a pigeon hotel, a facility where pigeons can feel good about themselves, where they are treated with respect and dignity. If they lay their eggs in the pigeon hotel, the volunteers remove all but one egg… apparently, to make omelets. They believe that this will control the pigeon population... without even using contraception.

As I said, this is from the Wall Street Journal. The report begins thusly: 

In Lisbon, where city officials say the bird population is above the normal level of five for every human, pigeons swarm cafes in search of table scraps. Their droppings crown the city’s statues and coat its antique architecture.

One Lisbon resident spoke for many:

Cristina Saiago, who is fighting a losing battle to keep bird feces off the flowers hanging from her balcony, is one of many Lisboners whose view of the birds is considerably less munificent.

“Pigeons are flying rats,” she said.

How are things working out in the pigeon hotel? The Journal explains:

The obvious question, of course, is whether coddling pigeons is an effective way to hold down the population. So far, only a dozen pigeons have moved into the house, and Mr. Vieira, the hygiene director, said his office still gets 300 to 400 calls a month from citizens whose homes, cars and clothing have been slathered in droppings.

“We want to give the pigeons security and a space that is only theirs,” says Joana Antunes, a 28-year-old lawyer who oversees the house with five other volunteers.

“Pigeons deserve and need dignity and quality of life,” she says.

After all, pigeons have rights too. But, dignity and quality of life. Offering dignity and quality of life by using a cheap trick to turn their progeny into omelets. Someone has completely lost her mind. You knew it would be a lawyer.

How is the new plan working out? Glad you asked:

Since the shelter opened in May, the birds haven’t exactly flocked to it. A dozen of the house’s 63 total nests are occupied. As a result, only 111 eggs—including some found outside the house—have been confiscated. The city continues to catch and gas the birds, killing anywhere between 20 and 400 on a given day for a cost of €500.

One would like to say that the pigeons were smart enough to see through the ruse. But, truth be told, they are not smart enough to avoid being gassed by the municipal authorities.

Something There Is That Loves a Wall

Robert Frost once wrote that “good fences make good neighbors.” When Sarah Palin quoted the line to show that building walls was a good thing, Andrew Sullivan retorted that the narrator in the Frost poem was arguing with his neighbor against the neighbor’s wish to build a wall.

Precisely why Sullivan knew which one of the neighbors was correct, we do not know. The last line in the poem, quoted in my first sentence, is the neighbor’s response—to the effect, that boundaries can contribute to neighborliness. Once you have a wall you can no longer intrude on your neighbor’s property without reason or permission. Isn't that the more civil solution.

Anyway, we know from Israel that walls work. When Israel constructed a wall to separate it from West Bank terrorists, lo and behold, terrorist acts from that region stopped. What is wrong with that?

Now, Hungary is reporting on what happened when it built a wall to keep Middle Eastern refugees out of the country. 

Breitbart reports (via Maggie’s Farm):

Speaking on the second anniversary of the government’s move to seal Hungary’s border with Serbia — which is also an external border for the European Union — Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Chief Security Advisor, György Bakondi, announced that the fences have caused illegal immigration to collapse from 391,000 in 2015, to 18,236 in 2016, to just 1,184 in 2017.

“The system of technical barriers is the key to the success of border security, and without it, it would be impossible to stop the mass arrival of immigrants”, the security chief explained.

Of course, Hungary was responding to Angela Merkel’s foolish open borders policy:

Hungary had to respond rapidly to the migrant influx which burst upon Europe after Germany’s Angela Merkel announced there was “no limit” on the number of asylum seekers her own country would accept, so its frontiers are defended by twin fences peppered with watchtowers and patrolled by thousands of newly recruited border guards rather than a solid wall — which would have taken longer to construct.

Nevertheless, as it has been steadily reinforced illegal migration has slowed to a trickle — drawing the ire of open borders activists like billionaire financier George Soros and globalist officials at the European Union and the United Nations.

Naturally, the United Nations took serious offense to the notion that Hungary might open its borders to whomever wanted to enter the nation:

For example, UN Refugee Agency chief Filippo Grandi visited the border and complained: “When I was standing at the border fence today, I felt the entire system is designed to keep people, many of whom are fleeing war and persecution, out of the country”.

Grandi also called on Hungary to get rid of the border-spanning transit zones it has established, which allow all asylum seekers entering the country to be detained while the validity of their claims are assessed.

One reason for the wall was to stop terrorists:

The Hungarians introduced these zones after it was discovered that many of the Paris 2015 terrorists had passed through their territory — a step-change from other EU member-states, which leave migrants more or less at large, with sometimes deadly consequences, in obedience to EU law.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Power of Shamanism

It doesn’t do much for your faith in shamans, but it has a certain entertainment value.

A shaman in Indonesia jumped into a crocodile infested body of water to recover the body of a teemager who had been attacked there the day before.

As it happened, the shaman did not have the powers that he thought he had.

The Daily Mail reports:

This is the moment a man claiming to have supernatural control over crocodiles died after one of the reptiles appeared to drag the shaman under water.

The man, named Suprianto, died after the suspected crocodile attack in Kutai Kartanegara, Indonesia, despite his supposed powers.

In the shocking video, he is seen swimming into the waters to look for the body of a teenager, called Arjuna, who was attacked the previous day.

But Suprianto was dragged under mid-mantra as he was swimming and chanting while on a mission to find the boy.

I hope you caught it. He was attacked while “mid-mantra.” Now, if only he had been able to complete his mantra, his stunt might have had a happier ending. Or better, he should have remembered to tell the crocodiles of his powers.

The moral of the story is: What would we do without the Daily Mail?

Why Are Suicide Rates Among Female Veterans So High?

Here are some awful statistics. According to the Veterans Administration suicide rates among veterans is significantly higher than rates among non-veterans. Most of those who are committing suicide are veterans of the Vietnam War.

Suicide rates among all veterans is 22% higher than suicide rates among non-veterans. Yet, and here is the most disturbing point, suicide rates among female veterans is 250% higher than among female non-veterans. Obviously, this group does not include very many female Vietnam veterans.

Now, tell me why America’s experiment with a gender neutered military is such a good idea?

Not Free to Choose

One has refrained from commenting on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale. To comment fairly one would have to read it, and one does not have that much time to waste. One understands that the story has been widely praised by feminists. One knows that Hulu has produced a television show about it, starring culture heroine and noted Scientologist, Elizabeth Moss.

One has also resisted the lure of the handmaid’s tale because it feels like theatre of the absurd. Roughly equivalent to Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, but lacking in artistry. After all, when you are offering mindless propaganda wrapped in paranoid thinking, you do not deserve to be read.

Given that I have not read the book or seen the television show, I rely on Rich Lowry’s summary:

Based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, the series depicts a misogynist dystopia. Christian fundamentalists have established a theocracy that — after an environmental debacle craters the birth rate — forces fertile women, called handmaids, into sexual slavery. 
Is this remotely plausible to any but the most fevered paranoid thinkers? Since the Anglo-American world has actually led the world on women’s issues, it makes no sense to say that American is going to become the dystopia that Atwood conjures in her book.

This is not to say that such a world cannot exist? It does exist, Lowry notes, but not in the Christian world:

Fair enough. The Handmaid’s Tale does have something to tell us about, say, Saudi Arabia. But, in an uncomfortable fact for Christian-fearing feminists, none of the world’s women-hating theocracies are Christian.

But, why are feminists thrilling to the Atwood message? Easy… they have equated the prospect of turning women into human incubators to… you guessed it… defunding Planned Parenthood and undoing the Obamacare contraception mandate:

What this means is that Republicans want to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, and roll back Obamacare’s contraception mandate. If they succeed, this would mean less government intervention in matters of sexual morality, rather than more. The progressive mind is unable to process that it has won the culture war in a rout (except for abortion, where conservatives are trying to chip away at our extremely liberal laws at the margins). We live in a country where Christian bakers get harried by government for politely declining to bake cakes for gay weddings, yet progressives still believe we are a few steps away from enslaving women.

Lowry continues:

The progressive mind is unable to process that it has won the culture war in a rout (except for abortion, where conservatives are trying to chip away at our extremely liberal laws at the margins). We live in a country where Christian bakers get harried by government for politely declining to bake cakes for gay weddings, yet progressives still believe we are a few steps away from enslaving women.

Free to choose… free to choose… Great God almighty we’re free to choose.

But, don’t be so quick to draw a conclusion. There's method behind the delusion. Feminists love Atwood’s story because it allows them to ignore the damage that feminism itself has done to women’s reproductive choices.

In the  world that feminists created more and more women are not free to choose. Women who followed the feminist life plan have often found themselves unable to conceive. Because, biology is not a social construct. Obviously, feminism has been a boon for reproductive endocrinologists, but for many women, even modern medicine cannot undo the damage.

Since feminism instructs women to avoid pregnancy or childbearing until their careers are well established, a considerable number of women who would have wanted to have children have discovered that biology has taken away their freedom to choose to have a child. Is this not worth noting?

And let’s not forget that other great feminist accomplishment: the hookup culture. Somehow or other feminists convinced women that engaging in random sexual acts with semi-anonymous men was liberating. Anything, but not pregnancy....

Tufts professor Nancy Bauer pictured modern liberated women matching men shot for shot—the equal shot principle—and then dropping to their knees to service them. At the least, fellatio is foolproof contraception. 

As for the nation’s STD rates, we shall leave that for another day.

[Addendum: See also the reflections of Mallory (sister of Kate) Millett, in Frontpage Magazine.]

Is Physics a Pissing Contest?

Does identity politics make you stupid or does it make you into a blithering fool?

Researchers in Australia  seem to have given up on actual physics, so they have put their pee-brains to work trying to figure out why boys do better than girls at physics. (via John Ellis at Pajamas Media.)

The reason: boys pee standing up. No kidding. You can’t make this stuff up. And no, they assure us, they are not writing for The Onion.

Note well: if you have to disclaim the possibility that you are engaged in self-parody, you should keep your research to yourself.

Of course, by wasting their time on such questions the politically enlightened physicists are showing us that they, two out of three of whom are female, prefer the fever swamps of gender politics to doing actual physics. Might that be the hidden explanation for their foolishness. 

Here, they explain their theory:

Playful urination practices – from seeing how high you can pee to games such as Peeball (where men compete using their urine to destroy a ball placed in a urinal) – may give boys an advantage over girls when it comes to physics. And we believe there’s something we can do about it.

No doubt you have some questions, the first is probably: what could possibly lead us to believe this?

Well, for starters, our recent analysis of the kinds of physics questions females generally do worse at than males. Add to that strong evidence for the widespread nature of certain kinds of pee-based game-playing among young (and not-so-young) boys. Finally, throw in our observations on curriculum sequencing and the ways in which formal, mathematically codified physics is often introduced to children and young people.

In truth, no law in the universe says that girls should be just as good as boys at physics. Or that boys should be just as good as girls on verbal aptitude. Why don't these these hand wringers and teeth gnashers do a pseudo-scientific study to show that girls do better at verbal tasks because they pee sitting down. Have you?

The researchers have been observing this phenomenon-- watching boys pee-- for some time now. But, don’t they have anything better to do with their time? And, doesn’t this intrusion into a private space constitute some form of child abuse. Allow them to explain:

Like many parents of small (and not-so-small) boys, two of us (KW and DL) have observed the great delight young males take in urination, a process by which they produce and direct a visible projectile arc.

The fact that boys (and men) play with their ability to projectile pee is hardly contentious. Boys are trained to pee into toilet bowls with floating targets, a huge variety of which can be bought on Amazon; Amsterdam Airport Schiphol famously cleaned up its urinals by encouraging men to hit flies etched next to the drain; and Peeball is now a worldwide phenomenon.

Meanwhile, YouTube videos explain how to write your name in the snow with your pee; and the post-match celebration peeing antics of sportsmen are widely reported in the media. Indeed, the very notion of a pissing contest – furthest, highest, most precisely aimed – is a deeply embedded part of some cultures. Alexander Pope includes a pissing contest in his narrative poem, the Dunciad. Our own children describe a stepped wall behind their primary school that’s used by male pupils for competitive target practice. And a colleague who grew up in the Canadian arctic describes boys competing to see who could perfect the trajectory so that what ascended as liquid fell as ice crystals.

All this is experienced up to five times a day, so by 14, boys have had the opportunity to play with projectile motion around 10,000 times. And 14 is when many children meet formalised physics in the form of projectile motion and Newton’s equations of motion for the first time.

Guess what, this activity is “self-directed and hands on.” You would never have guessed:

This self-directed, hands-on, intrinsically (and sometimes extrinsically, and socially) rewarding activity must have a huge potential contribution to learning, resulting in a deep, embodied, material knowledge of projectile motion that’s simply not accessible to girls.

One is amused to see that the pseudoscientists declare that this activity “must have a huge potential contribution to learning.” According to whom? What about the characteristically male activities of throwing balls—activity at which few girls excel or even want to excel? And, what about brain structure, the difference between male and female brains? The researchers do not care and do not recognize it as a reality.

Happily, our intrepid researchers have a solution to the problem. They want physics courses to begin with something other than experiments in projectile motion… because such a topic puts girls at a disadvantage. They do not consider questions of verbal aptitude, especially as it applies to math. Is there a correlation between algebra and peeing standing up? And they do not consider why boys prefer to play with trucks while girls prefer to play with dolls. Is there something in the brain of male and female humans that directs them in one or another direction?

Had they been as resourceful as some other practitioners of gender politics they might have suggested—as has been reported in Sweden—that boys must be forced to pee sitting down. There, that will solve the problem.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What Is Islamophobia?

As Pascal Bruckner explains, after the fall of Communism the radical European left was lost and bereft. It's god had not failed us. We had failed its god.

Good leftists needed to find a replacement proletarian to continue the struggle against capitalist hegemony. For this purpose it chose Muslims. To advance its agenda and to render Muslims a privileged oppressed class it invented Islamophobia and granted it the same status as racism and anti-Semitism.

Bruckner, like all of us, admires the raw hypocrisy of the left. Beyond the inability to admit that the reigning Marxist narrative has failed abysmally, leftist radicals have happily embraced a faith that murders apostates, practices honor killings, oppresses women, executes gays… and so on. Even the noted gay activist Michel Foucault happily embraced the Iranian ayatollahs while they were executing young men for being homosexual.

Islamists no longer present their religion as one among many. They present it as special, as exempt from the rules that determine the place of religion in a secular democratic world. How better to undermine the liberties that found Western democracies?

First, Bruckner explains, Islamist groups insisted that the freedom to blaspheme religious faith did not apply to Islam. No one was allowed to speak ill of Islam or of its prophet. Those how did would be punished through the criminal law:

In Istanbul, in October 2013, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, financed by dozens of Muslim countries that themselves shamelessly persecute Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, demanded that Western countries put an end to freedom of expression where Islam was concerned, charging that the religion had been represented too negatively as a faith that oppresses women and that proselytizes aggressively. The signatories’ intention was to make criticism of the religion of the Koran an international crime.

Bruckner explains that Muslims have now become the new proletariat, the vanguard of the Revolution:

And here is where the strangest factor in the whole Islamophobia controversy emerges: the enlistment of a part of the American and European Left in the defense of the most radical form of Islam—what one might call the neo-Bolshevik bigotry of the lost believers of Marxism. Having lost everything—the working class, the Third World—the Left clings to this illusion: Islam, rebaptized as the religion of the poor, becomes the last utopia, replacing those of Communism and decolonization for disenchanted militants. The Muslim takes the place of the proletarian.

Of course, true leftists are now required to abandon all of their most sacred liberal principles:

Now, it was the believer in the Koran who embodied the global hope for justice, who refused to conform to the order of things, who transcended borders and created a new international order, under the aegis of the Prophet: a green Comintern. Too bad for feminism, women’s equality, salvific doubt, the critical spirit; in short, too bad for everything traditionally associated with a progressive position.

Supposed progressives now thrill to the symbols of Islamist misogyny:

This political attitude is manifest in progressives’ scrupulous idolatry of Muslim practices and rites, especially the Islamic veil: “modest fashion” is praised to the skies, so much so that, for certain leftist commentators, an unveiled Muslim woman who claims this right can only be a traitor, a turncoat, a woman for sale. The irony of this neocolonial solicitude for bearded men and veiled women—and for everything that suggests an oriental bazaar—is that Morocco itself, whose king is the “Commander of the Faithful,” recently forbade the wearing, sale, and manufacture of the burka in his country. Shall we call the Cherifian monarchy “Islamophobic”? Shall we be more royalist than the king?

And also:

Generations of leftists saw the working class as the messianic leaven of a radiant humanity; now, willing to flirt with the most obscurantist bigotry and to betray their own principles, they transferred their hopes to the Islamists.

To advance the narrative, Muslims have now become the new Jews. By the terms of leftist ideology, the Jews in Israel are now capitalist oppressors. Their victims are the world’s Muslims.  As Islamists take over Hitler’s project, they promote themselves as victims:

It is well known how much of the Nazi legacy has passed, since the creation of Israel, to the Arab Middle East, where a classic of anti-Jewish propaganda like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, forged by the czarist regime at the end of the nineteenth century, has been a best-seller for years. Was it not the late king of Morocco, Hassan II, who said: “Hatred of Israel is the most powerful aphrodisiac of the Arab world”?

Muslims have been oppressed by Judeo-Christian civilization. When radicals on American campuses attack Western civilization they are attacking Judaism and Christianity, now fashioned as Zionists and Crusaders:

Once the equivalence between Judeophobia and Islamophobia is established, the next step is to put in place the principle of elimination—a subtle but effective process of symbolic expropriation. It is our turn, say the Islamic fundamentalists. In this way, Islam is able to present itself as the creditor of humanity as a whole: we are in its debt because of the wrongs inflicted since the Crusades, the wound of colonization, and the occupation of Palestine by the Zionists—and finally because of the bad image from which the religion of the Prophet suffers.

As Muslims arrive in larger and larger numbers in Europe, they demand a special status, a status that sets them apart from other religions. Being victims Muslims do not have to work for a living. They do not have to follow the rules that define civil society. Europeans owe them a living… and owe them exemption from criminal laws. Strangely enough, in yet another instance of cognitive dissonance, these refugees are acting like conquerors:

Islam is part of the contemporary French and European landscape, yes, and thus has the right to our sympathy, to freedom of worship, to police protection, to appropriate places for prayer, and to respect. But it must in turn respect republican and secular rules, not claim an extraterritorial status with special rights, such as exemption from swimming and gymnastics for girls, prayer places within businesses, separate instruction, and various favors and privileges in hospitals. Believers must be protected, but so must unbelievers, apostates, and skeptics. I proposed as early as 2006 the creation of a vast support system for dissidents from Islam, just as we helped Soviet dissidents. We must advocate freedom of doctrinal criticism, too, just as we do for Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. The point is not to make Europe Islamic but to make Islam European, so that it is one religion among others and might, someday, help spread tolerance and a renewal of critical thought to the rest of the umma.

Apparently, Canada is leading the way in the fight against Islamphobia. It has enacted a law saying that no one is allowed to criticize Islam… while everyone can still criticize any other religion. Bruckner says that this is a poisoned gift, more likely to promote contempt for Islam:

The notion of Islamophobia is meant to give the religion of the Prophet a status of exemption denied to other spiritual systems. Thus, we have the reprehensible law enacted by the Canadian Parliament this March that prohibits criticism of Islam, while other confessions still can be denigrated without any problem. Such a law is a poisoned gift that risks producing the opposite of what it intends, since it can incite anger and resentment against the believers of the crescent. To regularize the presence of Islam in free societies means giving the faith exactly the same status as other confessions: neither moronic demonizing nor blind idealizing. Muslims in free societies must accept what Jews and Christians have accepted: that it is not a superior religion that should benefit from advantages refused to other confessions. We must beware when fanaticism borrows the language of human rights and dresses up as a victim in order better to impose its grip on power. There is an old saying: the devil also likes to quote scripture.

Obviously, this is not going to end well. Certainly not for the Western European nations who have happily embraced people who want to destroy their civilization.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Who Was in Charge of Equifax Security?

If Google is now being sued for gender discrimination, one suspects that other lawsuits will soon be raining down on other tech titans. Considering that these companies and their management swears eternal fealty to the dogmas of the Church of the Liberal Pieties, one is not exactly chagrined to see them, in a slight variation on the bard's words, hoist on their own petard.

Some unenlightened souls have suggested that the paucity of female computer science concentraters must have something to do with this problem. To which the credit rating giant, Equifax, responded by hiring a music major to head data security. Yes, indeed, folks. Equifax hired a humanities major to be head of data security. Diversity is great, isn’t it?

You know what happened. Your and just about everyone else’s most personal information has been hacked… it is now floating around the dark web, to be used and abused by whomever.

 The New York Post explains it clearly:

It’s being called one of the biggest data hacks in history, and now the Equifax breach is spreading around the world.

After the Atlanta-based credit-rating organization admitted that the Social Security, credit-card and driver’s license numbers of up to 143 million American consumers were hacked from its computer systems over a two-month period last summer, the company’s affiliates on two other continents have also seen their data compromised.

“This is now an international problem with untold exposure that could impact hundreds of jurisdictions,” said Isaac Boltansky, a Washington-based policy analyst and vice president of Compass Point Research and Trading.

Hackers had access to the names, dates of birth and e-mail addresses of nearly 400,000 people in the United Kingdom, said Equifax’s British subsidiary in a statement last week.

In Canada, sensitive data belonging to 10,000 consumers may have been hacked in the breach, said a statement from the Canadian Automobile Association.

In Argentina, one of the company’s portals was so easily accessible that it allowed quick exposure to the personal information of more than 14,000 people.

Brett Arends asks how Susan Mauldin was hired to be in charge of data security, and why, by the by, efforts are now being made to cover it up:

Equifax “Chief Security Officer” Susan Mauldin has a bachelor’s degree and a master of fine arts degree in music composition from the University of Georgia. Her LinkedIn professional profile lists no education related to technology or security.

This is the person who was in charge of keeping your personal and financial data safe — and whose apparent failings have put 143 million of us at risk from identity theft and fraud. It was revealed this week that the massive data breach came due to a software vulnerability that was known about, and should have been patched, months earlier.

The last sentence is the most salient. Equifax knew about the vulnerability months earlier. The company should have repaired it repaired months earlier. But, at least, the chief security officer was a "highly qualified" woman. 

When Size Matters

Sad to say, this story does not come to us from The Onion. It comes from the Daily Mail. The tabloid  reports on a human male who is as dumb as a dumbbell. In truth, I find it radically impossible to figure out what possessed said male to insert his male member in a dumbbell weight. I leave it to your imagination. 

At the least, this seems to have been the first time in written human history that a man underestimated the size of his member.

Anyway, here’s the story. It comes to us from the German city of Worms—more notable for its association with one Martin Luther.

We note how difficult it was for firefighters to release him:

A man who stuck his penis in a dumbbell weight spent three hours surrounded by firefighters who sliced him free with power tools.

Angle grinders, a saw and a hydraulic rescue tool usually used to prize crash victims from vehicle wreckage were used to smash the 2.5kg disc on Friday….

The agony was such that the man had to be sedated:

The victim had to be sedated as firefighters from the city of Worms smashed the weight to free his penis, according to Metro

Firefighters shared a picture of the smashed weight on social media with some helpful advice for anybody tempted to squeeze their manhood into tight spots, saying: ‘Please do not imitate such actions!’

Parenting, American Style

We have already examined, in some detail, the authoritarian parenting practiced in Shanghai. Today, we are afforded a glimpse into a scene that perfectly renders the American style of parenting… based as it is on the doctrine of unconditional love.

This story comes to us from The Onion:

LOS ANGELES—Maintaining her complete dedication to the comfort and happiness of the teenager who just threw a sweater at her face, local mom Julie Macon reportedly continued to give unconditional love on Thursday to her daughter Kara, who just called her a bitch in the middle of a local Hollister. “You’re being such a bitch,” said Kara to the woman who brought her into the world and nurtured her from helpless infancy to adolescence with nothing but pure devotion and care, continually putting aside her own needs and desires to ensure the success of the 15-year-old who just suggested she leave her credit card and wait in the fucking car. “Are you retarded? I told you it doesn’t fit. Either get me the right one, or leave me the hell alone.” Sources confirmed that the teenager who could do literally nothing to jeopardize her mother’s love for her later screamed “I wish you would fucking die!” and locked herself in her room for the rest of the night.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Depression in Great Britain and America

Dr. Max Pemberton, resident psychiatrist at The Daily Mail, raises an interesting question. He does not seem to have the answer, but then again, neither do I.

The question is: if we can now treat depression effectively with anti-depressant medication why does Great Britain, which is awash in the stuff, have such a high rate of depression?

Dr. Max explains:

What is wrong with this country? I mean that quite seriously. Something clearly is not right because, according to new statistics, people in the UK are among the most depressed in the Western world.

The data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that our rates of depression are more than double those of countries such as Poland, Greece, Italy and the Slovak Republic. And that is despite this country having a relatively high standard of living.

Certainly, Great Britain has a higher standard of living than do these other countries. Greece, after all, is the basket case of Europe.

Still, British people, awash in free anti-depressants, count among the most depressed people in Europe:

Consider this: we have some of the highest rates of antidepressant prescribing in the world — and this is rising. The NHS issued 64.7 million prescriptions for antidepressants last year, double the amount from a decade ago. Yet research also shows people are getting more depressed, not less. So what is going on?

The problem, I think, is that the way we understand depression has been dominated in recent years by the idea that it’s just a chemical mishap in the brain; a random imbalance of chemicals.

This has been fuelled by the pharmaceutical industry, which with the development of SSRIs (a group of antidepressants, including Prozac, which are now the most commonly prescribed) has propagated the idea that depression can be treated with pills.

As it happens, America is leading the world in anti-depressant use, followed by Iceland, Australia, Canada and Sweden. Apparently, white privilege is not all it’s knocked up to be. Being guilty about being white and being successful... those qualities, sold relentlessly by our culture ... might well contributing to the problem.

One should also note that American physicians often prescribe opioids for psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety.

Are Americans, like the British, getting more depressed? Are all those anti-depressants improving the national mood? I suspect that they are not. If psychiatric patients graduate to opioids, the SSRIs are probably not helping. Besides, improved mood comes from belonging to social groups, acting as an ethical individual and having a purpose in life. None of these can be provided by a pill.

Why are there so many prescriptions for antidepressants? For one, it is easier for a physician to prescribe Prozac than to take the time and make the effort to engage with the patient. It is far more cost effective to write a prescription than to conduct cognitive therapy. Somehow or other the famed British National Health Service seems to privilege writing prescriptions… perhaps because they are short on practitioners.

In America the insurance industry bears a considerable part of the blame. Many American psychiatrists stopped doing most kinds of talk therapy because prescription writing was far more lucrative. A psychiatrist receiving three patients in an hour and writing prescriptions will make more money than he would doing an hour of talk therapy. Better yet, the payment for the twenty-minute session is often greater than that for one hour of talk therapy.

As for the numbers, one in six Americans is taking an anti-depressant. Yet we also know that physicians, especially primary care physicians, tend to hand them out for just about anything.

Anyway, Dr. Max declares that our obsession with chemical imbalances has caused us to overlook the social and cultural factors in depression.

He does accept that some depressions come out of nowhere. They seem to have no connection to the patient’s life experience. One might say that he ought to look harder, but depression is not a singular condition. At times there are biochemical causes—as in unipolar depression—but more often there are not.

He offers the gruesome case of a woman had very good reason to be severely depressed:

I remember being asked to see a middle-aged woman who’d come into A&E because she was so depressed she’d stopped eating and drinking.

She was a shell of a human being, totally exhausted and devastated by her depression. She’d previously been admitted for it and little seemed to make it better. She was so depressed she could hardly be bothered to look up.

It transpired it was the anniversary of the deaths of her husband and two children, caused when she had momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel of the family car.

Is what she was experiencing a problem with her brain chemistry? As I listened to her story, her voice thin and distant, her eyes dead and hollow, I asked myself what other possible response there could be to what had happened.

Of course, this is extreme. The woman manifestly feels enormous guilt for a mistake that destroyed the lives of those she loved the most. Surely, we are not in the realm of brain chemistry. Even if the guilt and depression has influenced her brain, taking a pill is not going to make it all right.

Were you to ask me—I know you haven’t—I would say that religion would probably provide more comfort than a psychiatrist’s office. For people who feel socially dislocated, religion provides community. It binds people together. In effect, that is what the Latin root— religio-- means. Could it be that destroying everyone’s religious faith has left people alone and bereft when facing tragedies?

Dr. Max adds this:

I’ve thought the same when I’ve worked with patients with depression who’ve survived genocide and seen terrible atrocities, or at the less extreme end of the scale, the single mum who’s living in a high-rise with screaming kids, trying to make do on a minimum wage job.

Culture warriors have destroyed people’s connection to religion. They have undermined the other social institution that binds people together—the military—and have done significant damage to marriage and family.

Thus, people feel increasingly alone and isolated. They suffer from pervasive social anomie. I suspect that there is more anomie in countries like Great Britain, and even America, than in Italy or Greece. These countries are not doing well... so people must feel more of a need to hang together. In our prosperous nation, people are too full of themselves. They no longer respect social institutions. They feel radically unbound. You are not going to fix it with anti-depressants. You will certainly not fix it with opioids. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

How I Learned to Give Advice

As a footnote to today's post about whether or not therapists should give advice, I offer a link to a previous post-- by yours truly-- about a situation where I learned how to give advice. Pass it along to Lori Gottlieb.

It's called: Up From Off Of the Couch.

Should Therapists Give Advice?

It’s Friday, so we have, looking us straight in the eye, another piece of therapy culture nonsense from Lori Gottlieb. New York Magazine’s resident therapist becomes starkly defensive when asked why therapists refuse to give advice. Gottlieb offers up a mountain of post-Freudian silliness, to the effect that she cannot offer objective advice and that even if she gave it her patients would ignore it. 

As normally happens, Gottlieb confuses giving advice with telling people what to do. When you give advice the other person is free to take it leave it. When you tell someone what to do, the person is not. The distinction is crucial. Most therapists miss it. Such is life.

The shadow hanging over this is Freud. And the other shadow hanging over this is Socrates. Yes, that Socrates. Why? Because Socrates said that he knew nothing, except his desire. Freud said as much. Since these great minds did not know anything they could not transmit any knowledge, certainly not any objective, fact-based or experience-based knowledge. Their goal was to help you to discover your truth within yourself, to find out what you really, really want. 

One recalls incipient Tiger Mom Lenore Chu who took her three-year old to school in Shanghai and discovered authoritarian teaching. She discovered that the technique was effective and that children who respected the authority of a knowledgeable teacher learned math better than did those who were induced to try to dream up mathematics by introspecting and discovering their desire.

To fashion her own version of this theory Gottlieb and begins with the notion that she, a therapist, possesses no objective knowledge about how to conduct one’s life. She even pretends that everything she thinks is so starkly colored by her own personal bias that she cannot see another person’s problems objectively. 

But then, what good all that professional training ? And one might add that overcoming personal bias and offering an objective professional opinion is the sign of being a professional. If you lawyer told you that he could not offer an objective piece of advice because he was so narcissistic and so solipsistic that he referred everything to his own personal experience, you would fire him. Gottlieb has inadvertently exposed the shortcomings of her own profession. Can you think of one other professional who would dare offer such a cop-out?

Allow Gottlieb a say, just in case you think I am exaggerating:

For one, despite my good intentions, whatever I suggest will be mediated by my own biases and life experiences. So while I took your living situation into account, it’s also true that I advised you to buy a place partly because I bought my first home in my 30s and in hindsight I wish I’d bought earlier. In other words, my advice was clouded by my personal beliefs about real estate appreciation. Likewise, I suggested that you go on the date because if it were me — if I were almost 30 and really liked a guy and wasn’t close to a woman who briefly dated him over a year ago — I’d go on the date. But you might have different ideas, values, and tolerance for any potential fall-out. What might be a good idea for me might be a disaster for you. And by giving you advice, I might be projecting my own values and beliefs about the world onto you, rather than helping you to gain a stronger sense of your own.

If a therapist cannot tell the difference between herself and her patient, what is she doing? Perhaps she should get over her own self-absorption.

As for the problems presented, the therapist should probably not tell the woman whether or not to buy the house. The therapist is not an expert in the real estate market. She might recommend that the patient consult with someone who had some expertise in the field. And she might help her to figure out how to make the decision. Knowing whether you want a house is only a small part of the elements of a complex decision-making process.

As for whether the patient should go on a date with someone an acquaintance dated a while back when she knows that doing so would hurt the acquaintance, the answer is: No, she should not. Unless she is willing to suffer the consequences of hurting the acquaintance, and is willing to risk compromising her reputation among the friends of the acquaintance, she should pass. You see, that was easy. It was a moral issue, and is not of the same order as deciding whether or not to buy a house.

And, of course, therapists do well, in most circumstances, not to advise people to divorce. The decision is too consequential for a therapist to get involved. And yet, when a couple is in a brutally abusive relationship or marriage, a therapist should not hide under a mask of neutrality. When people are getting hurt or are in danger, one should offer advice. Perhaps not always about whether to stay or to go, but certainly an assessment of the situation.

Gottlieb engages in typical therapist doublespeak:

A therapist might see a couple and think they should divorce, but some people prefer to be in a highly-conflictual marriage than to be alone, no matter how much the therapist might personally champion being alone for a time over a highly-conflictual marriage where one partner refuses to change. Our patients’ lives are theirs to live, not ours.

Of course, if your patients are adults they do not expect that you will have the definitive answer to their real estate problems. A therapist is being paid for knowing something and should impart it when appropriate. If he does not know the answer he can perhaps help the person to make a better decision:

I’m asked all the time questions like which job a person should take, whether they should have another kid or freeze their eggs or confront their friend, and whether they should go to their chaotic family’s house for the holidays or do something more pleasant instead. And when I don’t meet that desire, it can feel like I’m sadistically withholding “the answer” that, in their view, I can easily provide and that will solve their pressing problem.

As I said, Gottlieb is trapped in the post-Freudian thought. She wants people to discover what they really, really want… as though that will tell you whether to buy a house or to rent an apartment. Somehow she confuses giving advice with making life choices for other people.

In the first place, giving advice and guidance is not the same as making life choices. And most patients who receive advice weigh it along with other advice they give. If a therapist like Gottlieb imagines that her patients will jump at everything she recommends perhaps she has not taught them how to deal with advice, when given:

As a therapist, I’m trained to understand people and help them sort out what they want to do, but I can’t make their life choices for them. I’m not a real-estate specialist, career counselor or, most importantly, soothsayer. Part of what people want from my advice is relief from uncertainty — if my therapist says X, I don’t have to sit with my anxiety around ambiguity. But one thing that’s certain about life is its uncertainty, and the inability to tolerate the uncertainty of what will happen if they decide X or Y or Z leaves people trapped in indecision. Learning to slow down and reflect on their choices and anticipate the potential consequences of their actions helps to decrease their anxiety in the long-term. Taking a therapist’s advice alleviates anxiety in the moment, but it won’t last.

Gottlieb is right, however, when she says that people should learn how to anticipate the potential consequences of a decision. It’s called policy analysis. And yet, how are they supposed to do this if their therapist does not offer up some advice, and does not teach them decision making skills. If Gottlieb thinks that when a patient discovers what she really, really wants she will automatically know what to do—regardless of reality—she is suffering the same foolish illusion that doomed psychoanalysis. 

One suspects that if Gottlieb’s patients resent her advice, they must find it especially lame. I have not had the same problem, so I assume that she is not offering good or sensible advice. As for whether children want to have agency in their lives and want to make all of their own decisions without referring to anyone who might know more than they do, I again refer to the experience of Lenore Chu in Shanghai. Gottlieb’s position is simply wrong. You do not need to jump into an empty swimming pool to know that you should not do so:

Yes, they may ask — repeatedly, relentlessly — but after you actually tell them, their initial relief is often replaced by resentment. This happens even if things go swimmingly, because ultimately humans want to have agency over their lives, which is why children spend their childhoods begging to make their own decisions rather than have them made for them.

As I said above, if a therapist is offering advice the patient is perfectly free not to follow it. If said patient turns it all into a massive psychodrama, this only shows what she has learned from therapy. No patient has to defend not taking advice. As for the value of advice, the value always lies in whether or not it works.

Apparently, that is not the way it happens in Gottlieb’s office:

Despite getting exactly what you asked for, you might not do it. You might procrastinate, coming up with all sorts of reasons why you haven’t gotten around to it yet. And then you’ll feel bad for not doing it. And you’ll start to think, I feel bad because my therapist made me feel bad by trying to tell me what to do. How dare her! I’m not doing this, dammit, just because she told me so. Who is she to boss me around? And you’ll sit on her couch every Friday at 5, not telling her that you didn’t do the thing she suggested, because you resent her for intruding on your voice, for making you feel like your own opinion doesn’t matter; and on top of that you’ll be consumed by the shame you feel for displeasing her by not doing the thing she wants — which is what this whole interaction will have gotten twisted into in your mind, even though the ostensible point of her giving the advice was to please you, not her. In the end, nobody’s happy.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

An Existential Crisis

It reads like a modernized existential crisis. A young man who dubs himself “Staring Into the Void” writes to Ask Polly to get advice. He wants to follow his passion and become a writer. He finds in Polly a kindred spirit, perhaps someone who has developed a career as a writer with somewhat limited talent. He thinks that Polly gives the best advice … causing us to question his judgment.

At the least, Polly sees through the ploy. She sees him as a flatterer, though also as someone who is in trouble. She is reading the plaintive wail of a young man who is not doing well and who needs a pep talk. He needs someone to tell him that he has the talent to succeed as a writer. 

Polly is in no position to burst the bubble and she does not burst it. She is an awkward position and does the best she can. She tells him that he ought to get some kind of job while he is pursuing his writerly passion. It’s a tactful way of saying that he should not invest too much in the passion.

More importantly, Polly sees a young man who does not get along with other people. He has his parents and his long distance girlfriend, but that is all. So Polly offers the only sensible advice: he has to go out and connect with other people. Retreating into his shell, his cave, will lead him into the void.

Staring Into the Void tells us that his parents and his girlfriend do not believe in his writing. If he cannot find anyone who thinks that he the talent, that tells us something. If the only person he can find is Polly, she cannot do otherwise but to tell him to keep at it.

Staring Into the Void opens his letter with this self-description. He makes himself look pathetic:

I have never desired the advice of others, until you, Polly. Like a misguided, pathetic, helpless whelp of a 25-year-old man, I submitted major life quandaries to a search engine connecting me to one of the most hopeless, abyssal planes in known existence: the internet. Super-great idea, I know. I waded through cesspools of advice given by youngsters and decrepits alike.

He is not looking for advice as much as he is looking for a reader... and a cheerleader:

Every time I thought you’d give some bullshit answer, you gave the opposite. Every time I thought you’d say something like “Follow your dreams,” you said, “Your dreams may never come true, ever, accept it and live the life you want.” You are the first advice-column writer to reach me, and I have read many. So, naturally, as my weak psyche tends to do, I took it as some grand sign that I should at least attempt to be read by you. Make no mistake, I don’t labor under the delusion that you care about my shitty life or anything that I have to say. But I respect your craft so much that I simply had to try. So, let me get to the question, if you’ve even read this far.

Like an existential hero he feels radically disconnected from other people. Perhaps he believes that it will make him a better writer. For now we do not know what he has done to advance his career, how many contacts he has made, what he has tried to place in which publication, and so on. As far as we know, writing is his passion. With a token that will get you on the subway:

Yet, despite my choice to pursue my ultimate passion and having the support from everyone around me, I feel empty. Obviously, I am terrified of not being able to succeed in a career that has so many uncertainties. My family would never say it, but I can see on their faces that they don’t believe in me or my passions, same for my girlfriend, honestly. In my life, all I have are my parents and my girlfriend, literally no one else.

However, my lack of ability to connect with those of my own age leaves me unable to create windows for meaningful friendship and developing love.

And then there is the girl that got away. Read his description of what happened when he fell in love with Sierra, and see if you can tell what is wrong with this picture:

All that changed when I saw Sierra. My body went ripe with rigor. God, she was beautiful. Slightly crooked nose (from an incident in her youth when it broke), a soft angelic lisp, flowing locks of golden hair, all that sappy load of crap. What they say is true, you know, everything turns into this slow-motion glide and your legs feel swollen like a couple of gourds. Do people say that? Anyway, completely against my character, I approached her and the swarm of hyenas cackling around her. For once in my life, my feelings for something were so strong that I fought against everything I am, and to my surprise I walked away with her number. The next few days were intense. We talked like we were the only two people on earth. We stayed up late swapping biographies the size of novellas through text. It would sometimes be 3 a.m. and we’d both need to be up by 7 a.m. We didn’t care. 

Anyone who uses images like “the swarm of cackling hyenas” is not a natural born writer. Be that as it may, the bubble was burst when Sierra told him that she had a boyfriend:

Everything was going so gloriously. I had concocted a brilliant scheme to marry this girl and then suddenly the most horrid word in the world was dropped. “Boyfriend.” Sierra had a boyfriend of four years. She was madly in love. The one person in all of creation who shared my every interest, my every philosophy on life, yet maintained sizable differences enough to keep us interested, was gone. She was instantly removed from my world. They’ve been together seven years now. I still think of her every day. Which, to me, makes so little sense because I don’t even speak to her anymore. We aren’t connected on social media, I have no portal into her life other than what I occasionally see by accident from our mutual friends’ posts.

Staring into the Void does not quite understand that he was played. He was played for a fool. He was manipulated and subjected to emotional abuse. If Sierra spent that much time sharing her deepest and most intimate secrets with him and did not bother to tell him that she had a boyfriend, she is a witch. He ought to be angry. He ought to erase her from his memory bank. If he still whines and moans over someone who subjected him to that kind of torture, he has a problem. Polly does not catch this—I suspect that she wanted to tread very softly considering his fragility—but someone should tell him that he should not be pining after Sierra. He should not be wallowing in abjection and thinking that it was true love.

As it happens, Staring was wiped out by Sierra. He has however recovered enough to have a girlfriend, which is not a bad thing:

Right now, I’m at the crossroads of my life story. Staring down the path I choose and the road not taken. Peering into the possible Odyssey or the twisting nether. The Turning Point. I am horrified, because I love both my girlfriend and writing, and want to give up neither. Yet, as I examine my feelings and where I am, I feel wrong, disturbed somehow. 
His feelings are skewed because he does not see what happened with Sierra. Again, it’s a problem. It’s troubling. The writing in the last paragraph is not every encouraging either.

So, he can choose between pursuing his passion and getting a normal job.

Should I just simply surrender to the mundane and get a normal 9-5 management job, and marry the girl I know will always have my back? Or, do I take that road not taken, take a chance on myself, and forego all safety and comfort to experience some form of thrill and accomplishment?

Polly believed that he is depressed. She paints it more broadly than I would… he does have a girlfriend… but I cannot fault her:

I’m lingering in this land of extremes because you paint the world with the same strokes: You have black paint and white paint. Things are either glorious or useless. People are either ordinary or they’ve got sparks shooting from their fingertips. Seeing the world this way is a gift. It makes you a natural writer. You’re absurdly sensitive and very afraid of the real world. No wonder Disney World was literally the Happiest Place on Earth for you. When you’re pried away from mundane concerns and interactions, you feel like you have supernatural powers. Until the veil is lifted, and then you feel like it was all just a pretty dream and you’re just another self-deluded whelp begging for scraps from some master’s table.

Again, to her credit, Polly tells him to go out and get a job, one that he enjoys. After all, as Dr. Richard Mollica once said, and as I quote from time to time: “the best anti-depressant is a job.”

On the one hand, I want to tell you to humble yourself, to learn some trade you enjoy that will supplement your writing income and free you from financial dependence on your parents (and free you from the intense emotional servitude that comes with it). I want you to wipe the notion of yourself as “better” from your mind and recognize yourself as just another overly romantic young adult in the herd. I want you to stop privileging this magical Disney princess over the rest of womankind. I want to tell you that your black and white thinking is a manifestation of your depression and anxiety, a way to retreat into a private inner world where you can be safe and special enough to suit your tastes. But on the other hand, I want to acknowledge and even celebrate this romantic, bizarre, sparkly, absurd, black and white wonderland you’ve created in the confines of your mind. You can grow some pretty wild and beautiful flowers in the hothouse you’ve created, with enough rotting leaves and corpses and shit in the mix. By accepting and embracing your darkness and your dramatic impulses and your laserlike focus on love as salvation and your intensity and your obvious distaste for the mundane, you might access the parts of yourself that you already love and cherish the most. You might learn to focus and savor hard work and — eventually — create things that you can feel proud of.

Polly is going to encourage him to dream his dreams, but she also suggests that he find a job that does not leave him with enough time to write:

You’ll benefit from taking a shitty day job that leaves you with not enough time to write. You’ll gain a lot from reaching out to people you feel are both scary and not good enough for you yet, the way you reached out to me. You just need to remember that people don’t have to be gorgeous or special-seeming or popular or even all that clever to deserve your laserlike focus and attention. The more you humble yourself, and admit the enormous shame that goes along with being the kind of romantic you naturally are, and (in spite of all of this knowledge) defend your right to continue being the exact kind of hothouse flower you’ve always been (even as your girlfriend and your parents and the new friends you’re going to make offer up eye rolls and smirks at how INTENSE you can be sometimes), the more you’ll be able not only to connect with other people but also to focus on the hard work at hand.

Most importantly, she recommends that he connect with other people:

But you MUST step out into the world and dare to connect. Connecting includes recognizing other people as separate entities with separate feelings and lives that have nothing to do with you. Your Disney princess already had a boyfriend; you had no choice there. Those pedantic millennials around you have their own hopes and dreams and fantastical horizons inside that you can’t even begin to imagine from your casual interactions with them. Young artists like you tend to feel lonely and alienated until they learn to respect and empathize with the people around them, which includes accepting that people are very, very different from each other. The same basic elements exist inside everyone — longing, despair, shame — they just manifest themselves in very different ways.

And yet, after telling Staring to get a job and to connect with other people, Polly tells him to dump his girlfriend if she does not see how great a writer he is. We do not know anything about the girlfriend and for all we know, from our reading of his writing, she might well see him correctly. Besides his relationship with her is neither black or white; it is gray. I would not tell him to dump the girlfriend:

But if your girlfriend truly doesn’t see what’s amazing about you, and you don’t see her as anything but a security blanket, then you should move on. Whatever you decide on that front, you have to know that you’re someone who will be loved by lots of people, not just your loyal girlfriend or your family. You have to decide that your crazy demented self-important visions are full of magic and even though they’re close to your flaws, they’re also close to the heart of what drives you forward and makes you who you are. 

And then Polly concludes by telling him that he is as great as he thinks he is. Probably not the best advice. Especially if no one else in the world agrees. But it is probably necessary, given the circumstances:

Even when we start to transact cynically, we can make some sweet, real connection, almost by accident. And even when you reach out the way you did in your letter to me, feeling misguided, pathetic, and helpless, you’re reaching for a way to bring the magic and the darkness you feel in your heart into the real world. Above all, keep doing that. You are divine, and you are surrounded by a sea of divine souls. Let them know that you see their divinity. You have that gift. Take it seriously. Show them that even in the dark, something exotic and beautiful is growing.