Sunday, November 17, 2019

Time to End the Engagement

You know what she should do. I know what she should do. Carolyn Hax knows clearly what she should do. The solution is not in question. The problem is the way people treat each other. In this case an engaged man makes decisions about who does or does not stay in their home without any concern for his fiancee’s opinion. He is a bully and a thug.

Here is the letter the put-upon woman sent to Hax:

My fiance's friend needed a place to stay for a night and I said okay as long as his girlfriend didn't stay. She is a miserable person who does nothing but complain about her life, and they fight all the time.

He stayed one night, and it was okay.

The next week he and his girlfriend stayed a night, which I was very unhappy about. Then two days later my fiance brings the friend over and tells me he needs a place to stay for two months, and my fiance told him yes without even asking me.

He slept on our couch last night and I couldn't even sit in my living room to read or watch TV. Anytime I wanted to get up to go to the kitchen, I had to get fully dressed. When he uses dishes, he just leaves them for me to wash.

I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the girlfriend is staying here.

I told my fiance I don't want him here and he got mad at me. What should I do?

— K.

Of course, it’s her home. She has veto power over anyone staying there. The point should not be subject to discussion or debate.

The solution: end the engagement and exit the premises. Without any further discussion. Hax writes:

Move out, call off the engagement, call yourself lucky he pulled this stunt before you married him. No joke.

There are a lot of problems couples can fix, but they all require listening to each other, caring about each other, and showing respect for each other.

You can’t fix someone who is openly inconsiderate of you and then “got mad at” you for it.

If anything, I am underplaying this. Save yourself. Get through the most painful part of this life upheaval by reminding yourself how much worse it was going to get, living with someone who treats you as if you don’t exist.

By the way, for next time: There’s no “it’s only a matter of time before the girlfriend is staying here.” Your power is in your ability to say no: No, she can’t stay here; no, I won’t live here if she’s moving in; no, I won’t marry or live with someone who makes decisions for me. Never throw your power away.

Of course, she might also have told her fiance’s friend that he was not welcome in their home.  The friend might have noticed how uncomfortable his presence made her. Such an intervention would have precipitated the crisis that she will be avoiding by moving out and ending the engagement.

One suspects that the boyfriend is dangerous and threatening. He has silenced her and probably threatens worse. Time to call off the wedding, without any further discussion.

That means, without giving him an ultimatum, of the sort: your friend moves or I am moving out… not just of the home but of your life.  As Hax suggests the matter requires no negotiation and no conversation. Time to act decisively, and to save herself.

How to Treat Heart Disease

Surely the study is noteworthy. It addresses an issue I know nothing about, so I will simply report the findings. The issue is the use of stents and bypass surgery to treat heart disease. While the study does not dispute the fact that patients who are suffering acute symptoms do well to receive surgical treatment, other patients do as well in the long run by taking medication and by improving their health habits.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the study.

Stents and coronary artery bypass surgery are no more effective than intensive drug treatment and better health habits in preventing millions of Americans from heart attacks and death, a large study found, shedding new light on a major controversy in cardiology.

Researchers and doctors have fiercely debated for years how best to treat people who have narrowed coronary arteries but aren’t suffering acute symptoms.

The standard treatment has been to implant stents—wire mesh tubes that open up clogged arteries—or to perform bypass surgery, redirecting blood around a blockage. Those procedures are performed even though these patients either have no symptoms or feel chest pain only when they climb a few flights of stairs or exert themselves in some other way.

The study is the largest and among the most rigorous research yet to suggest that while stents and bypass surgery can be lifesaving for people who are having heart attacks, they aren’t necessarily better than cholesterol-lowering drugs and other changes in health habits for most people with chronic, or stable, coronary artery disease, which affects about 9.4 million Americans.

“You won’t prolong life,” said Judith Hochman, chair of the study and senior associate dean for clinical sciences at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

But stents or bypass surgery work better than medicine and lifestyle changes alone in relieving symptoms for people who have frequent angina, or chest pain, the researchers found.

William Barr for the Administration

This past Friday evening Attorney General William Barr called out the radical left in a stirring speech to the Federalist Society. Republicans responded gleefully at seeing someone lay out the case against Democratic obstruction with clarity and precision. Democrats responded with calls for Barr’s impeachment. Being brain dead imbeciles they do not know how to do anything else.

For today, I will quote, without very much commentary, important segments from Barr’s speech. In it he reviewed the principles that governed those who wrote the Constitution and critiqued the way they are currently being subverted by the American left.

For instance:

Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called “The Resistance,” and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his Administration. Now, “resistance” is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power. It obviously connotes that the government is not legitimate. This is a very dangerous – indeed incendiary – notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic. What it means is that, instead of viewing themselves as the “loyal opposition,” as opposing parties have done in the past, they essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government.

As I have often pointed out on this blog, the French Resistance was a disloyal opposition. Too often the Democratic left has taken this point far too literally.

Barr continues that the Senate has been hard at work preventing the president from putting together a functioning government… and has then been criticizing him for not doing so:

A prime example of this is the Senate’s unprecedented abuse of the advice-and-consent process. The Senate is free to exercise that power to reject unqualified nominees, but that power was never intended to allow the Senate to systematically oppose and draw out the approval process for every appointee so as to prevent the President from building a functional government.

Yet that is precisely what the Senate minority has done from his very first days in office. As of September of this year, the Senate had been forced to invoke cloture on 236 Trump nominees — each of those representing its own massive consumption of legislative time meant only to delay an inevitable confirmation. How many times was cloture invoked on nominees during President Obama’s first term? 17 times. The Second President Bush’s first term? Four times. It is reasonable to wonder whether a future President will actually be able to form a functioning administration if his or her party does not hold the Senate.

While the Congress is obstructing and resisting, it cannot do its work of legislation:

Congress has in recent years also largely abdicated its core function of legislating on the most pressing issues facing the national government. They either decline to legislate on major questions or, if they do, punt the most difficult and critical issues by making broad delegations to a modern administrative state that they increasingly seek to insulate from Presidential control. This phenomenon first arose in the wake of the Great Depression, as Congress created a number of so-called “independent agencies” and housed them, at least nominally, in the Executive Branch. More recently, the Dodd-Frank Act’s creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Branch, a single-headed independent agency that functions like a junior varsity President for economic regulation, is just one of many examples.

Of course, Congress’s effective withdrawal from the business of legislating leaves it with a lot of time for other pursuits. And the pursuit of choice, particularly for the opposition party, has been to drown the Executive Branch with “oversight” demands for testimony and documents. I do not deny that Congress has some implied authority to conduct oversight as an incident to its Legislative Power. But the sheer volume of what we see today – the pursuit of scores of parallel “investigations” through an avalanche of subpoenas – is plainly designed to incapacitate the Executive Branch, and indeed is touted as such.

Constant harassment designed to cripple the executive branch.

The costs of this constant harassment are real. For example, we all understand that confidential communications and a private, internal deliberative process are essential for all of our branches of government to properly function. Congress and the Judiciary know this well, as both have taken great pains to shield their own internal communications from public inspection. There is no FOIA for Congress or the Courts. Yet Congress has happily created a regime that allows the public to seek whatever documents it wants from the Executive Branch at the same time that individual congressional committees spend their days trying to publicize the Executive’s internal decisional process. That process cannot function properly if it is public, nor is it productive to have our government devoting enormous resources to squabbling about what becomes public and when, rather than doing the work of the people.

Barr continues to make another salient point. Our radical left, pretending to be progressives, has made politics their religion. They want to remake the world and its people to conform to their ideals.

In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.

Conservatives respect tradition. They want above all to get things done:

Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise. We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing. This means that we naturally test the propriety and wisdom of action under a “rule of law” standard. The essence of this standard is to ask what the overall impact on society over the long run if the action we are taking, or principle we are applying, in a given circumstance was universalized – that is, would it be good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances?

Barr continues to note, sagely, that we should not use the model of judicial decision-making when conducting our lives. Life is not a criminal court. It is not an adversarial process where the goal is to destroy the adversary. If not destroy, at least to incarcerate:

In recent years, we have lost sight of the fact that many critical decisions in life are not amenable to the model of judicial decision-making. They cannot be reduced to tidy evidentiary standards and specific quantums of proof in an adversarial process. They require what we used to call prudential judgment. They are decisions that frequently have to be made promptly, on incomplete and uncertain information and necessarily involve weighing a wide range of competing risks and making predictions about the future. Such decisions frequently call into play the “precautionary principle.” This is the principle that when a decision maker is accountable for discharging a certain obligation – such as protecting the public’s safety – it is better, when assessing imperfect information, to be wrong and safe, than wrong and sorry.

This counts as the first time a member of the Trump administration has responded substantively to the tactics and strategy engaged by the Democratic Party against the duly elected president. It was late in coming, but we welcome it as an important contribution to a political scene that the Democratic Party has turned into a circus.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Security for American Ambassadors

Speaking of ambassadors, and especially about dismissed ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Matt Margolis recalls the time when the Obama administration left its Libya ambassador, Christopher Stevens to die in Benghazi.

Margolis emphasizes Trump’s tweet, but, the Obama administration failure to protect an ambassador surely counts as dereliction of duty.

But what really gets me is how it's been almost seven years since Barack Obama left one of his ambassadors to die in a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate, and the same people who defended the Obama administration endlessly over that, are feigning outrage over Trump's tweet expressing his opinion. Democrats have been crying "impeach!" over everything for years, and now every time Trump expresses an opinion, we're hearing "intimidation." The same party that defended the Obama administration's failure to protect our consulate in Libya from an attack that claimed four American lives, including that of a U.S. ambassador, are now trying to tell us that we should be outraged over a harmless tweet—a tweet that, regardless of what one thinks of the content, was written after Yovanovitch started testifying, and as far as Trump knew, she wouldn't have even had an opportunity to see until well after her testimony concluded? A tweet that she'd have been oblivious to had Schiff not brought it up.

Colleges Discriminating Against Minority Applicants

The greatest irony in the current white privilege mania is that the people who are doing the best under the current rules are not white. They are Asian. At any university that practices truly color blind admissions, Asian children are more likely to be admitted because they are more likely to excel.

Lionel Shriver explains that Asians in America have often been persecuted. (via Maggie’s Farm) They have often faced discrimination. They have been disadvantaged. And yet, they continue to outperform by all measures of scholastic achievement? And how does it happen that they are increasingly doing better economically than many other ethnic groups?

Could it be something in their culture? 

Shriver opens her essay thusly:

Riddle: when is discrimination against a historically disadvantaged racial minority perfectly legal? Answer: when they do too well.

She continues to point out the rank injustice of the recent federal  court decision in Massachusetts. You know, the one that declared that Harvard had not been discriminating against Asian applicants:

The first ruling on the Students for Fair Admissions suit against Harvard University is in. A federal judge in Massachusetts concluded last month that for America’s be-all-and-end-all university to discriminate against Asian applicants in order to serve the all-hallowed goal of ‘diversity’ is constitutional. (Or strictly speaking, if you can follow this logic, the university did not discriminate against Asians by discriminating against them.) The reasoning: ‘Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process.’ The decision has already been appealed, and the case is likely to land in the Supreme Court.

You see, too many Asians are simply too good. American children cannot compete. Thus we must handicap the Asians to ensure that the Americans do not suffer from lower self-esteem:

What makes the Students for Fair Admissions case different is that it’s not white high school students with excellent records objecting to being shafted. Asian applicants to Harvard with dazzling grades and perfect test scores, who play the violin, speak four languages, volunteer for the Big Brothers program, captain the volleyball team, adopt rescue dogs and memorize the value of pi to 31.4 trillion digits have still received rejection letters in droves.

You already know how Harvard rationalizes its discriminatory practices:

… admissions staff have systematically downgraded inconveniently accomplished Asians on their ‘personal ratings’ — purely subjective assessments of character traits such as leadership. Although the federal judge allowed that these dismal personal ratings could have been the product of ‘unconscious bias’ (stereotypically, Asians are compliant and unimaginative), the truth is clearly more disagreeable. Depressed personal ratings are intended to skew the data and suppress Asian admissions.

Now, in a sane culture, non-Asians would look at these Asian applicants and would emulate their example. Not in today’s American academy. They prefer to punish excellence:

Asians are doing too well and have to be stopped. They work too hard. They are too disciplined. They are too willing to make short-term sacrifices to reach long-term goals. They are too inclined to obey their parents. They stay up too late studying and get up too early to resume studying. Obviously it’s not fair.

As has often been noted on this blog, one good reason why these Asian students are doing so well is that their culture demands it. They do not indulge the Spockean permissiveness that has infested American childrearing. They are not allowed to while away the hours playing video games. They do not go to school to find themselves. They do not believe that they ought to self-actualize. They learn to be industrious not indolent. Strange to say it, but they have adopted the Protestant work ethic and are working to achieve:

Some believe that the ‘Tiger mom’ phenomenon is likely to grow more dilute as these over-achievers bear children who are lazy and unambitious, like real Americans. Until then, I’m happy for Asian students to colonize elite universities to their hearts’ content. These are kids who have forgone TV, video games, drugs, booze, sex and skipping school to vape in the bathroom to get into the college of their choice. True, they may find on arrival that in America the overpriced top-tier university isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but they’ve earned the right to make that disappointing discovery for themselves.

Our Vital Interest in Ukraine

Whereas the president of the United States can dismiss any ambassador and no small number of other executive branch personnel for any or for no reason, why were we subjected to the teeth gnashing and anguished tears over the dismissal of former ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich?

Apparently, the tough-as-nails strong empowered woman named Yovanovich was sorely offended that anyone, especially Rudolph Giuliani had spoken ill of her. Her presence at the House Intelligence Committee hearings yesterday had nothing to do with impeachment, and frankly, nothing to do with intelligence—which quality was sorely lacking from the minds of Democratic outrage mongers. And yet, the crowd stood up and cheered for a woman who has landed a teaching job at Georgetown. Oh, the indignity of it all.

One feels compelled to mention that the president’s hostile tweet, offered as the proceedings were beginning, tended to draw attention away from the show trial and toward his bad habit of throwing himself in the middle of a hearing that his allies would have worked in his favor. Bad move, undermining your supporters at just the wrong time.

As for ambassadors Taylor and Kent, star witnesses on the opening session, Mark Steyn offers a few thoughts on the work of these distinguished gentlemen. (via Maggie’s Farm) In truth, they were both seriously distinguished foreign service officers. In truth, foreign service officers do not make foreign policy… point that seems to have escaped them. Again, they seem largely offended by the fact that a New York real estate developer is not doing things as they would have wished.

Given the warped minds running these hearings, when the Obama administration refused to send arms to Ukraine to defend itself against hostile Russian aggression, it was no problem. When the Trump administration did send said arms to Ukraine, it was really, really bad. Perhaps not an impeachable offense, but still, very, very bad.

It takes boundless stupidity to take these hearing seriously. Steyn is the perfect man to point this out. He begins by exploding the myth that Ukraine is a vital national security interest of the United States:

In fact, northern Mexico is a vital national-security of America's, but under the mass wankerization of public policy Perma-Beltway cares more about the borders of Ukraine than it does about the borders of the United States.

As Ambassador Taylor put it:

Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States, important for the security of our country.

We will not mention how well the Obama administration sat idly by while Russia annexed Crimea… duh, but Steyn offers his normally tart description of the overwhelming importance of Ukraine:

Does any rational person believe either half of that sentence? Ukraine is endemically corrupt and its principal exports are, to London and Paris "escort" agencies, its comely if unibrowed blondes and, to America, Hunter Biden's monthly stipend. Ukraine is a "strategic partner" of the Biden Family trust fund, and one can see that it might be inconvenient for sleazy corrupt princelings thereof to have to find new oligarchs to be on the take from. But out there in America Trump was elected because Americans think "the security of our country" starts on the Rio Grande not the Donets.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Esther Perel, Executive Coach?

Famed psychotherapist Esther Perel has taken the leap. She is not just limiting herself to couples counseling. She is now doing executive coaching.

Those of us, like yours truly, who preceded her in this metamorphosis wish her the best. I for one am happy to welcome her to the coaching fraternity. At the very least, she has excelled at marketing herself, first through podcasts of real couples counseling sessions, then through bestselling books.

As for the propriety of podcasting real sessions with real patients, I will speak for myself and for every other therapist I have ever known… and say that the thought has never crossed my mind. The sanctity of the therapy session, the confidentiality and discretion should never be compromised, even if patients agree.

Now, the Wall Street Journal is helping promote Perel’s executive coaching practice. Sad to say, the article is none too encouraging. Perel makes several rookie mistakes, though apparently the people she works for do not much care.

The most basic error, an error that has bedeviled psychotherapy from its onset, is to confuse the rules that govern activities within the home with the rules that govern the marketplace and the business world.

Note her first question to clients:

Sessions with Ms. Perel often begin with questions about clients’ childhoods: Did their parents leave them to figure things out for themselves, or were they raised with a sense of interdependence?

Seeing all human relationships as an outgrowth of childhood is fundamentally wrong. 

For the record and for you edification, I will emphasize that cognitive and behavioral therapists do not make this mistake.

As for Perel, the Journal article offers a first exemplar of her interpretative acumen:

Michael Lovitch and Hollis Carter sat side-by-side on a therapist’s couch in a Manhattan office tower late one Friday, getting ready for the move that would take Mr. Carter to Utah and make theirs a long-distance relationship.

“We’ve never done this,” said Mr. Lovitch, who would be staying behind in Colorado.

You both rely on each other’s physical presence, the therapist noted, then asked: Which of you will feel the separation anxiety most?

I trust that I do not need to explain that therapists define separation anxiety within what they call the mother/infant dyad. It refers to a child’s anxiety at being detached from his or her mother.

Perel is analogizing the relationship between business partners to that between a mother and an infant. An absurd error. Obviously, it sees the relationship between business partners in mothering terms. And it infantilizes. 

And then, the article uses the term “long distance relationship.” Normally the term refers to a romantic relationship, even a marriage. I am assuming that it too is being misapplied. Thus, a business interaction is being reduced to something that might occur in the nursery or the boudoir.

The partners learned from therapy that they should treat their partnership like a marriage. Apparently, it works for them, but I would ask whether you think it’s a good ideal to treat the workplace like a boudoir. Might it not be the case that the failure to observe the rules of proper workplace behavior, to mistake it for what goes on in the home or in marriage and courtship rituals, has produced far too much bad behavior.

Of course, we do not know why one partner is moving, and we do not know how the two interact on a daily basis. Surely, the communication between two people who see each other face to face and the communication that two people have over text is not the same. Besides, the move will undermine many of the work routines that they had established in their office. About that the savvy therapist seems to have very little to say.

Perel is exploiting a situation that therapy culture has produced, a situation that has been harming relationships, in the home, in the boudoir, and in the boardroom.

She explains it thusly:

In Ms. Perel’s view, a pair of revolutions has transformed relationships at home and work. Marriage, once an economic arrangement, is now seen as a path to self-actualization, a way for each partner to become their best self. (“We used to leave marriages because of misery,” says Ms. Perel. “Now we leave because we could be happier elsewhere.”)

At work, a similar shift is under way as white-collar employees use terms like passion, purpose and fulfillment to describe their career ideals—things individuals previously sought in their off hours. “We don’t just stay for the salary,” she says, “we leave [jobs] because we’re not growing and getting promoted.”

Seeing marriage as a path to self-actualization is a good way to undermine marriage. Surely, the culture has been trafficking in this aberrant concept. The more it does so  the fewer people get married. The more it does so the more people get divorced.

And naturally, the therapy culture metaphor about personal growth has infected the workplace… especially in a business environment where jobs are plentiful. Emphasizing personal growth and self-actualization on the job will make you an inferior employee, one who is more dedicated to personal therapy than to working as a loyal and valuable member of the team.

Perel speaks the language of self-actualization and has made a career of it. In truth, she and the rest of us should be repairing the damage that such a culture has produced.

In one sense the companies themselves are not really responsible for the bad habits their millennial employees bring to the job... from their years of schooling, from their dysfunctional families and from the culture at large.

The Journal continues:

Yet managers’ people skills are out of practice in what Ms. Perel calls a “dehumanized” work environment. Daily conversations with co-workers occur via email and chat, candidates interview for jobs by videotaping answers to prompts on a screen and remote employees can feel, well, remote. Companies complain that young staffers seem allergic to picking up the phone and calling someone, and burnout, in the form of constant email and notifications, is a growing concern in human-resources departments.

They do not suffer these problems because they have not had therapy. They suffer them because they have had too much therapy, because they see life as endless therapy.

So, one cheer for Esther Perel for beginning to deal with real world problems. And two demerits for seeing the workplace as a nursery or a boudoir. 

The Trouble with Empathy

If you are moderately tuned into cultural memes, you have heard, over and over again, ad nauseam, that we can cure our political divisions by developing our capacity for empathy. It’s as though the ability to feel the same feelings as other people will naturally make us more kind and caring.

Your humble blogger has long since warned against this simple-minded approach to healing human divisions. Empathy is oversold and overrated. Yale Professor Paul Bloom has written cogently about the problem in his book Against Empathy. I recommend it highly.

For his part Bloom, following the venerable Adam Smith, argued that if we see someone getting beaten up or berated and we empathize with him, we are likely to feel his vengeful feelings. We are likely to want to retaliate for the slight. And we might be inclined to do so against someone we encounter in our daily lives. To imagine that empathy produces virtuous actions is absurd. The point is well worth repeating.

We recall it upon reading Robert Wright’s essay on a new study by political science researchers. They have discovered, not only that empathy does not reduce animosity, but that, at times, it aggravates it.

Wright explains:

There are people who believe that the political polarization now afflicting the United States might finally start to subside if Americans of both parties could somehow become more empathetic. If you’re one of these people, the American Political Science Review has sobering news for you.

Last week APSR—one of the alpha journals in political science—published a study which found that “empathic concern does not reduce partisan animosity in the electorate and in some respects even exacerbates it.”

The more empathy you have the more likely you are to want to shut down speakers you do not like. Hmmm. Evidently, if you believe that a speaker is a bigot or that he utters hurtful speech, you will want to shut him down, even if you do not belong to the targeted group. You will feel the feelings of those who will take offense and will show empathetic solidarity by shutting down the speaker.

Wright explains:

Students who had scored higher on the empathy scale were more likely to applaud efforts to deny the speaker a platform.

It gets worse. These high-empathy students were also more likely to be amused by reports that students protesting the speech had injured a bystander sympathetic to the speaker. That’s right: According to this study, people prone to empathy are prone to schadenfreude.

As noted above, Wright explains that this view of empathy has not yet made it into public consciousness:

As the authors note, their findings are in many ways consistent with conclusions reached by other scholars in recent years. But the view of empathy that’s emerging from this growing body of work hasn’t much trickled down to the public. And public understanding of it may be critical to shifting America’s political polarization into reverse somewhere between here and the abyss.

It’s not just about the feelings involved. If you identify as a group member on the basis of shared feelings, of shared victim feelings, you will be more likely to disparage someone from another group, for not sharing your feelings. If you live your life within a narrative of oppression you will define your experience in terms of the ongoing struggle against oppression. You might identify with the oppressed group. You might even identify with the oppressor group... and want to do penance for your and everyone else's sins.

You might gussy it up in terms of supposedly virtuous emotions, but it is important to understand that your behavior and your emotions are dictated by your identity as a member of a cult or faction. As long as we are inclined to define ourselves in terms of a faction and not in terms of our loyalty to the nation, this will persist. 

The Problem with Make-Believe Clinicians

A few words of unimpeachable wisdom from Philip Galanes, etiquette columnist at the New York Times.

The issue is simple. A woman believes that her sister is on the autism spectrum. Said sister has never been diagnosed with any form of autism, but the letter writer wants to help anyway. 

Here is the letter (boldface mine):

My sister is in her 50s. She suffers (and has benefited) from autism spectrum disorder. It’s given her brilliance at the expense of social functioning. Sadly, she is not aware of her A.S.D. or formally diagnosed. But she gets furious if anyone challenges her; she is unable to forgive small slights and doesn’t perceive other people’s intentions correctly. I think she would benefit from understanding her condition, but she brushed off my suggestion that she is on the spectrum. Meanwhile, she is alienating herself from our family with her behavior. I feel like shouting: “You have Asperger’s! Embrace it!” How can we fix this situation?

Now, Galanes offers the perfect response:

Make-believe clinicians who hand out diagnoses like Tic Tacs are dangerous. Unlike you, professionals have been trained to assess A.S.D. And pathologizing your sister based on an amateur understanding of autism not only hurts her, but also people who live with the disorder.

Brilliant-but-difficult does not always mean Asperger’s syndrome. Moody is not a synonym for bipolar. And sadness is not depression. I know it’s become common to offer such analyses (maybe to make ourselves feel superior?), but they trivialize the disorders and perpetuate the stigma of them. Please knock it off!

Everyone is now a clinician. It’s a sign that we live in a therapy culture.

I would add that not a few clinicians are incapable of differentiating between “brilliant-but-difficult” and Asperger’s syndrome. And that not a few clinicians are incapable of differentiating sadness from depression. In the latter case, we note, with some chagrin, that a goodly part of antidepressant medication is prescribed by general practitioners. Make of that what you will.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Obsessed with Her Nemesis

New York Magazine advice columnist Ask Polly finds this situation intriguing. So do I. Polly asks some relevant and pertinent questions. I applaud her for doing so.

A letter writer is a married mother of two. with a secret obsession. She obsesses over her husband’s previous lover, a woman he had dated more than 15 years ago. She calls the other woman her nemesis. She follows her every movement. She competes with her. She judges her many successes against those of her nemesis. 

As Polly notes, the woman writes well. She expresses herself clearly and concisely. And yet, surely something is wrong. We do not, Polly notes, have enough information to see what it is, because the letter writer does not tell us anything about her life. In itself, that must be a clue.

Anyway, the letter writer, who dubs herself Nemesis Anonymous, has what anyone would consider the perfect life:

I’ve been with my husband for 13 years. We met when I was quite young, and I have to say, without tooting my horn, that we’re pretty happy. We have two sweet (but often annoying) kids, we both run interesting (but often challenging) businesses, and we have lived in four different countries together. He’s a seriously amazing co-parent, cooks like a professional chef, and only sometimes feels the need to lecture me about my inability to put the lid on the toothpaste. We fight now and again, but we’ve worked out how to do that without going nuclear. All in all, pretty great.

We interrupt the proceedings to point out that it all depends on what she means by pretty great. She has a perfectly egalitarian marriage, though, strangely she often finds her children to be annoying. We suspect that all of the business success she has enjoyed does not numb her to feelings that she is failing as a wife and a mother. 

She continues:

This letter is about him, but not really. A few years into our relationship, on a night out, one of his friends told me at length about a woman my husband had dated for a few years. I got all the gossip, the usual stuff around the fact that this particular friend disliked her and was happy to see the back of her when they broke up. Rightly or wrongly, it’s the sort of stuff you like hearing about your partner’s ex.

Most people might have just forgotten about it, but I’ve always had an unhealthy interest in my partner’s exes. So obviously, I committed it to memory and when I had some downtime at work went into deep internet sleuth mode and found her online. It turns out she was running a business at the time, which she wrote about in detail online. She has a know-it-all tone that sucked me in, if only in a train-crash type of way. I couldn’t help but tune in every day to find out what she was doing. It became almost like a tic that happened when I was bored.

This was back in the early days of the internet, and seeing what she was doing inspired me to spend a bit of time on my own passion. I launched a business that was in line with my interests and values, but ultimately I can admit that it was what she was doing that inspired it. Turns out, I was good at it, and after a short time I left my corporate job to work on it full time. I’ve had recognizable success in my field, and I’ve been doing this for over a decade. Three books, a podcast, hundreds of thousands of followers later, I’ve been staying completely abreast of what she’s been up to all the while: her breakups, her business ventures, her kids, the inability she has to just commit to one thing. I know it all, and have also spent a decent amount of time reading between the lines of her various blogs, tweets, and posts.

It might sound insane, but I think all the while I have been watching her, she has also been watching me. Often I would see a reflection of what I had done in her work, or a pointed jab made to something I had published or worked on in her posts. Recently, she started a business based on an idea that I had originally launched, in a similar format and tone and using the same contributors and tagline. And in case you think I’m just nuts, she also continually blocks and unblocks me on social media. Her life has been playing out in real time (as has mine) and it’s the ultimate form of reality TV. Bad and kind of boring but you can’t look away.

And you know what? It’s got absolutely nothing to do with my husband. He barely registers in this situation, and (before you say it) I don’t feel romantically threatened by her, or anyone. When I brought her up with him a few years ago (or any time since), he barely remembers her. It’s like she was a tiny blip on his radar, whereas for me she has shaped my whole existence. Albeit from afar.

She has become, without a doubt, my nemesis. On days she is doing great, I feel a little worse, and on days life seems to suck for her, I feel better. If she tweets something amazing and people love it, I feel empty inside. If she’s quiet for a few months, I gloat that maybe she’s struggling (although, as we now know, being offline is the biggest luxury of all). Sane me tries to remind myself that one of us doesn’t have to fail for the other to succeed, but the other, more Schadenfreude-ian part thinks that in life there are winners, and there are losers. But can’t we both be winners?

Recently my husband and I decided to move back to the West Coast to spend more time with my family (my father has a degenerative illness). Chances are we’ll end up living in some sort of close proximity to this woman. And although proximity doesn’t make much of a difference (I stay up to date on her no matter where I am), it does make me think that maybe it’s time to kick this habit. In some ways it feels so toxic to tune into this woman’s life, to watch her and also feel watched by her. But on the other hand, what she does encourages me to do better. When she does really well, I first feel jealousy, and then I work a little harder and vow to get a little better. In many ways she’s the competition I need to do what I do well. I freely admit that without her influence, I may have stalled and may not have created a business that not only gives me money but also flexibility and freedom. That said, perhaps I’ve been lazy in choosing my nemesis, given that she’s not exactly changing the world … Maybe I need a new one?

As for the fulness of her life, here goes:

When I spend time with friends, I realize that I have more interests than most women — I do yoga, run daily, read a wide range of news, and sing in my spare time. (My other hobby is general existential dread about climate change and the fate of the planet, but that’s for another time.)

I guess what I’m asking, Polly, is whether or not you think this is an addiction that’s ruining my life. Should I try my hardest to give it up? What would life look like without my daily check-ins? Do I need to go on some sort of 12-step program? Or is it normal and kinda good to have a nemesis that encourages you to do better?

Looking back, part of me wants to thank her for sending me down a path I love, but the other part knows that maybe it’s time to let it go. But how?

Nemesis Anonymous

It depends on what she means about being motivated to do better. Better in business, better at parenting, a better wife. 

Polly identifies a yawning hole in the letter. NA has failed to describe her relationships with any other human beings. She has precious little to say about her husband or her children. They feel like shadows, afterthoughts. :

I looked for clues about your relationship with your husband and your friends and yourself, and I found very little there. I tried to find impressions of how this obsession is affecting you emotionally — hurting you or distracting you or possessing you — and I found nothing. Aside from how it started, your situation boils down to the kinds of rotating professional rivalries most writers and creative people flirt with but never completely succumb to: She’s doing well, you feel worse. She’s doing badly, you feel better. There’s this notion (common, as far as I can tell, among those with nemeses) that less for her means more for you, as if attention and success are scarce resources.

As for whether it’s time to let go of her nemesis and to get into her life, the answer is clearly yes. The lack of specific information, motivated by the wish to hide all identifying details, suggests that she is sacrificing the little things that make for a life interesting in favor of a fictionalized obsession with her doppelganger. Does the word narcissism pop into mind?

What is the problem? As Polly puts it, NA cannot feel her success. How is it possible that she is doing everything right and she feels like she isn’t? Not to be too simple minded, but perhaps she is not doing right by her husband. Perhaps she is not doing right by her children. Polly notes astutely that the woman’s husband does not know about her nemesis. At that point, what is her marriage really about?

Perhaps she is doing everything right according to a game plan defined by contemporary culture. What if the plan is skewed… against women?

I believe that what you really want to know is why you can’t feel your success. I think you’re wondering if there’s more to life than this. Maybe you need a new nemesis, which is just another way of saying maybe you need another way to feel your way forward, toward a new goal or a new life that might fulfill you more than this one does. You’re doing everything right. So why does everything feel so empty?

I guess I have to leave behind the question of what your relationship with your husband is like, or why you’re still a little fixated on being better than other people, but my guess is that there’s a lot of fear hiding just beneath the surface of everything you do. You’ve had some incredible success — which is excellent and deserved because you’ve worked hard and you’re obviously smart and you don’t let yourself get tripped up on bullshit very often. But for all of that success, you’re running a very tight ship emotionally. And honestly, I don’t know what the point of marriage is if your spouse doesn’t even know what you’re obsessed with, day after day. 

So, Polly recommends that the woman give up her nemesis, perhaps to replace her with a mentor. I heartily agree with her point, namely that replacing a bad habit with a good habit is far more constructive and even more effective than trying to go cold turkey. 

As for the larger question, why has NA become obsessed with the nemesis? How healthy is it for women to compete with other women? Or better, if men define their manliness in competition with other men, can women do as much, defining themselves in comparison to other women rather than in terms of their relationships with men?

In large part, NA is trying out the feminist position, which is, not to allow herself to be defined as wife or mother, but as an autonomous, independent self-actualized person. I would say, from the evidence of her letter, that it is not working out too well. She is using her nemesis as an excuse for not fulfilling her duties as wife and mother. For that, she feels a failure. Having a nemesis is a symptom of the problem. It has certainly not solved the problem.

Women in Combat: A Failed Social Experiment

Given that they saw no significant difference between men and women the Obama Defense Department opened all military jobs to women. The military might not have had much ammunition, it might not have had very many functioning fighter planes, but it sure had diversity.

How is that one working out?

The CNS news service reports (via Maggie’s Farm):

In a new report, the Center for Military Readiness says that 84% of women fail the New Army Combat Fitness Test and that “all military officials should drop the ‘gender diversity’ agenda and put mission readiness and ‘combat lethality’ first.”

“It makes no sense for recruiters to devote more time and money recruiting ‘gender diverse’ trainees who are more likely to be injured, less likely to want infantry assignments, and less likely to remain through basic training or physically-demanding combat arms assignments for twenty years or more,” states the  CMR report.

Reality bites. It bites into the best theories. As for the Obama efforts to introduce more diversity into the military, here was the plan:

“Pentagon leaders pushed for gender quotas of 25-30 percent of women and 10 percent in the Marine Corps,” which the CMR says led to lowering the requirements with the implementation of the “gender- neutral” Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). 

The result:

In this ACFT, women have “a high failure rate,” states the CMR report. The final results will not be released until October 2020 but the report contends that the results will not change “the inevitable: more female injuries, less-demanding training for men, and overall standards that are ‘equal’ but lower than before.”

Why are we so desirous of putting women in situations where they are far more likely than men to suffer injuries? Could it be that the Obama Defense Department enjoyed watching women fail and enjoyed watching women be injured. 

Misogyny anyone:

“Women are serving with courage as they always have,” said the CMR. “But in two major categories – unequal physical capabilities and sexual misconduct – signs of a failing social experiment are increasingly obvious.”