Monday, November 30, 2009

When Women Lose Their Sexual Desire

This morning everybody is whispering about Daniel Bergner's Sunday Times Magazine article: "Women Who Want to Want." Link here.

According to Bergner: "Studies suggest that around 30% of young and middle-aged women go through extended periods of feeling dim desire-- or feeling no wish for sex whatsoever."

He continues: "More than any other sexual problem-- the elusiveness of orgasm, say, or pain during sex-- women feel plagued by low desire."

This is not a new phenomenon. I recall the Times writing about this years ago. While I am far from confident that we should just accept the number 30% uncritically, clearly something is going on.

Bregner approaches the problem as a clinical phenomenon. Appropriately so. For my part I want to place the problem within a cultural context. For several decades now female sexuality has been a major front in the culture wars.

Beginning in the late 60s counterculture thinkers decided that the capitalist patriarchy had been built at the expense of female sexual desire and its satisfaction.

Where Freud had opined that civilization had advanced at the expense of human sexual desire, countercultural thinkers, especially feminists, narrowed the scope the declared that women's sexual freedom had been stifled by the male will-to-power.

Some thinkers even declared that the greatest threat to the patriarchy was the female orgasm and that women could lead a revolution to overthrow the capitalist order by having more and better orgasms.

It sounds quaint; it might even sound exaggerated; but in the nether regions of advanced theoretical thinking these were commonly accepted precepts.

While women's liberation had everything to do with job opportunities and careers, it also promised to free female sexuality from the shackles of male-dominant cultural mores.

How would this be done? Primarily by eliminating the risk of conception from the female sexual calculus. The birth control pill, a product of the early 60s, contributed to the cause, as did Roe v. Wade in the early 70s.

And, feminists worked overtime to remove the association of feminine sexuality with modesty and mystery. Open and honest were their bywords. A woman who hid her sexuality behind a veil or who did not allow it its fullest expression was denounced for being ashamed of her body.

In an important cultural transformation, virginity and prudery became stigmatized while sexual freedom became a sign of mental and emotional health.

Surely, this had an impact. Women learned how to enjoy their sexuality more freely. They started having sex more often, when and where they wished, with whom they wished, by and large suffering no greater consequences than men suffered when they abandoned themselves to sexual wantonness.

Eventually, a culture of hook-ups, booty calls, girls gone wild, and the New York Magazine "Sex Diaries" was born. For some of my recent thoughts, see this post.

Women became sexually liberated in ways their mothers would never have imagined. Truth be told, their liberation seemed more often to horrify their mothers than the patriarchs.

We should, of course, question the value of making male sexual behavior the gold standard for human sexual freedom. And we should ask whether this caricature of male sexual behavior is more fiction than truth. And we should also ask whether it makes any sense to say that male and female sexuality should ever be the same, or even roughly equivalent.

Finally, we should question the early feminist notion that human sexual experience was about exploitation and repression. Given the radical leftist provenance of advanced feminist theory it is not surprising that exploitation and repression should have been the predicates of choice.

Unfortunately, when you cloak human sexuality in notions about exploitation and oppression you make men and women into enemies, not partners. For men this might be arousing; for women it often kills desire.

But why are we surprised that so many women feel so little sexual desire? Didn't the cultural revolution, mixed with the feminist revolution, wring the femaleness out of female sexual experience.

If you remove fertility from the equation, you also remove notions of emotional connection and attachment. And you remove the extremely important role of relationships in female sexual desire.

Could it be that these cultural transformations ultimately only served to unsex women, to repress female sexual desire?

After all, human sexuality does not exist in a vacuum; it is not a self-contained entity. Sometimes male sexuality seems to function in total disregard of relationships, but female sexuality almost never does. Or, it almost never should.

Most of Bregner's article addresses the efforts of clinicians like Lori Brotto to treat women who have lost their sexual desire. There is good and bad in her technique.

By combining cognitive therapy with Buddhist-inspired mindfulness she has trained women to become sensitized to their sexual arousal. At the least, this seems to be promising.

And yet, when you treat the woman in isolation, and when your technique involves her mind in isolation from her relationships, you also become part of the problem.

We have to await the end of Bergner's article to escape the hyperclinical approach that takes a woman's problem with sexual desire to be hers and hers alone. Bregner says: "What if the lack of excitement is due to a partner's ineptitude? What if it is caused by a lover's emotional disconnection? ... Is it the patient who has the condition, or the partner, or the couple?"

To that I would add: What if the lack if excitement is due to past sexual traumas, whether sexual abuse or unwise hook-ups?

In all of the hullabaloo over orgasms we lost sight of the simple fact that for a woman to trust a partner sufficiently to desire him she needs to be able to respect herself. If that self-respect is eroded through a pattern of poor choices, she will have far more difficulty experiencing sexual desire. If she has given away her intimacy indiscriminately she might find it difficult to trust any man.

In other terms, if you do not respect your sexuality it is not going to respect you. And if does not respect you it is not going to stay around for very long.

Obama and the Wages of Guilt

This morning Hopkins Professor Fouad Ajami offers a sobering assessment of the Obama foreign policy "reset." Link here.

In his words: "Steeped in an overarching idea of American guilt, Mr. Obama and his lieutenants offered nothing less than a doctrine, and a policy of American penance. No one told Mr. Obama that [in] the Islamic world, where American power is engaged and so dangerously exposed, it is considered bad form, nay a great moral lapse, to speak ill of one's own tribe when in the midst, and in the lands, of others."

And also: "The crowd may have applauded the cavalier way the new steward of American power referred to his predecessor, but in the privacy of their own language they doubtless wondered about his character and his fidelity."

What does this tell us?

For decades now psychotherapy has been trying to replace traditional American shame culture with a culture based on guilt. Thus, it has worked tirelessly to transform our culture and our values so that our lives in community could become a permanent experience of psychotherapy.

It has been difficult to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of guilt-based therapies because it is nearly impossible to eliminate all extraneous factors from the equation, to discover whether good or bad effects in the patient were the result of therapy or something outside of therapy.

Thus, it has taken over a hundred years for people to have concluded that, by-and-large, therapy that attempts to rewrite your life history as a guilt narrative-- with crimes, guilt, penance, punishment, and redemption-- does not work.

And, I would contend, it has never really worked. Thus the need to inject a guilt narrative into the culture at large, to make the world safe for those who been acculturated in guilt by their therapists.

Be all that as it may, it is relevant to examine what happens when the guilt narrative comes out of the shadows and tries to work its magic in public. In this case, when it takes over American foreign policy.

Once we see this "reset" as therapy-based acculturation writ large, we can examine the results it produces. According the Ajami, a leading expert in foreign policy and the Arab world, the results are that you lose respect and people start suspecting that your character is less than good-- thus, that you are not trustworthy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Coaching Lessons: Living Your Values

Using Peter Drucker's concept of self-management I have begun to outline the coaching process. For Drucker's article, link here.

In my first post I discussed how an individual should begin by discovering his superskills. It is easier and more interesting to go from good to great than from poor to mediocre. Before choosing a direction in life, and before articulating goals and aspirations, you need to know what you are good at. Link here.

In the second post I followed Drucker's article in recommending that once you discover what you are good at you need to know how best to perform. Where therapy wants you to understand why you cannot perform, coaching wants you to perform at your best. Link here.

Both of these posts concerned you as an individual. The next step starts bringing you into contact with a group...whether a company or a team or bureaucracy. It raises the issue of how you can best choose your voluntary associations?

For Drucker this raises the question of values. You should only join groups whose values harmonize with yours.

This is a very fuzzy issue. Are we talking about the values that pertain to sacred or profane institutions? Religious people follow dietary restrictions because of their values. Which means, following the group's moral precepts. Presumably, doing so will enhance your spirituality and bring you closer to the sacred.

Peter Drucker has a rather different notion of values. A company's values may define its goals in terms of short-term profits or long term viability. Some companies want to make a lot of money quickly; others want to make a solid but reliable income over a long period of time.

For Drucker these types of companies have different values.

Some corporate cultures dictate that executives be promoted from within. Others prefer to bring in new people from outside. For Drucker this is a values-based distinction.

These issues concern corporate culture and strategy. Clearly, if you believe that good business practice involves creating a harmonious work environment you will not want to work at a company that sounds like the Salomon Bros. bond trading floor, as portrayed by Michael Lewis in "Liar's Poker."

I find Drucker's sense of values limited, however. Let's take it a step further and ask: What kind of work do you value? Knowing that you are good with numbers opens a myriad of possible career options. Choosing one from the others will engage your values.

Some people value commerce and finance; others find greater value in charity work; still others believe that the highest value lies in professions like medicine and teaching.

But these are not the only considerations. You also need to ask: What kind of work does the culture value?

Your self-esteem depends more on which groups you choose to join than in how many times you can tell yourself you are a wonderful person.

Clearly, cultures place different values on different occupations and professions. I would even say that cultures create a hierarchy of values. It values some work more than others.

You can tell by seeing how much prestige and compensation the culture grants to different professions.

Everyone believes that teaching is a noble profession. You may believe that your personal values can only be fulfilled by teaching children.

Yet, our society does not grant very much compensation or prestige to teachers. To teach is to make sacrifices. As our culture sees it, teaching is more a sacred calling than a way of participating in the world's business.

Some professions grant more prestige than monetary compensation. Soldiers and diplomats are not very well paid, but they are certainly high-prestige occupations.

And some occupations grant their practitioners great monetary rewards and high social prestige. Until recently bankers and financiers have fallen into this category. Lately, of course, many of them have lost their jobs and much of their prestige in the market crash.

When we arrive at the world of celebrity, we find successful entertainers being very well compensated, but, lacking in either prestige or respect.

Yet, great success in the entertainment field is only granted to very, very few aspirants. Most people who want to become artists and entertainers gain neither fortune nor prestige.

All of which means that you are not the sole arbiter of your value to society. All groups have a hierarchy of values; they reward some kinds of work more than others.

If your values involve being financially comfortable and highly respected in your community, this will direct you toward some professions and away from some others.

If respect and prestige are more important than money you might decide to work for a company or in a profession that does not pay very well but that does induce people to speak of you with awe. Exercising political power falls within this category.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Coaching Lessons: Preparing for the New

As human beings we are creatures of habit. We seek out the familiar and cling to our routines and rituals.

These bring harmony to our lives; they give us a positive rhythm. It is better for our lives to have a rhythm than to be drowned in noise.

We are right to routinize our lives. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.

A life without routines is a life full of stress. Practically speaking, it would be unlivable.

Routines have their enemies. Those who proselytize the values of the therapy culture tell us to be independent and autonomous, to indulge in spontaneity and individual self-expression. They pretend that routines make us into conformists.

In fact, the absence of routines would make us all crazy. Routines are a way to economize your mental exertion. If you need to spend time and energy every morning trying to think of a new and exciting way to get to work you will have wasted your most precious resources on an unnecessary exercise.

When routines are disrupted people suffer traumas. This is not quite the same as saying that traumas disrupt routines, even though they do.

The path to recovery from trauma involves reconstituting your routines and participating in community rituals. Lose your routines and rituals, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, and you will feel like a pariah.

Just as there is no such thing as a productive human life without routines, there is no such thing as a life without disrupted routines. People grow and change. They live in different places at different times. They assume different career challenges. And they engage in different personal alliances, from marriages to club memberships.

All of these involve transitions. You may not like to think of them as traumas, but they do involve disrupted routines. And the term trauma does alert you to the difficulties you will inevitably encounter in any transition to something new.

Take marriage. Marriage is guaranteed to disrupt your bachelor routines. To some extent the success of your marriage will depend on whether you and your spouse can replace your old routines with new shared routines.

The same is true of a promotion. If you, as an outsider, have been hired to work as an executive in a new company, you will need to prepare for the disruption your presence will cause, both for you and for those who will be working with you.

Whether you are facing a new job, or have just moved to a new country or city, or are beginning a new marriage, or are facing a new normal or a new reality, you will need to learn how best to prepare for the new.

Michael Watkins works with corporate executives. He advises them on how best to plan and execute transitions into new jobs. When executives take on new positions, they often ask someone like Watkins to help them to plan out the transition. For his seven step approach to transitions, follow this link.

While reading his article I was struck by its applicability to other life-transitions. It is useful to break down the walls we use to compartmentalize disciplines and show how Watkins' precepts apply to other situations.

For example, Watkins believes that an executive preparing for a new position should exercise good self-management skills. Considering that the new job will be an emotional drain, his judgment will often be compromised by the stress and the trauma.

How should he prepare for this? By having in place a network of people whose advice he can rely on.

If we apply some of his precepts to a new marriage, we will gain some oinsights that you will rarely find in marriage manuals or even in couples counseling. These latter believe too fervently that the power of love will cure all the ills that attend a new marriage.

When you marry you will join a new family. Just as you would need to know the culture and the dynamics of a company you are joining, so too you will need to understand the inner workings of the family that you are going to join.

You should find out who is important, whose opinion holds sway, and whose tastes organize family activities.

And you should be studying this family well before you arrive at the altar. You should be building alliances with your future spouse's parents and siblings.

It is always a good things to offer small, thoughtful gifts to your spouse. But why not think about what you might offer to your spouse's family members. A meaningful gift will go a long way to cement alliances and create good feelings. They will show that you are happy to belong to their family.

If these are done before the wedding, they would count as the kinds of early successes that Watkins recommends for new executives. He suggests that new executives start out by tackling easy problems, thus establishing a record of achievement.

Evidently, a marriage would require something slightly different from changing the furniture, establishing weekly meetings, or buying your staff a new coffee urn.

You might want to organize a brunch for your future in-laws, invite them to a concert, or take care of their pet during a vacation.

Watkins also suggests that new executives need to have a vision for their company or department. All good executives have visions of where they want to take their company. They must share their vision, outline the policies that will help it become realized, and enlist the support of their colleagues and staff.

When it comes to a marriage, you also need to have a vision, in the sense of having a life plan, for the two of you. Most of the basic questions in this plan should be agreed upon before the marriage.
If one person wants children and the other does not, the couple will not be working from the same plan. If one wants to live in the country and the other in the city, they will risk conflict.

Decisions involving life plans need to be negotiated. They will always involve compromise. In that they have more in common with managing a company than you might first have imagined.

Falling Out Of Love With Obama

Sometimes it's much too easy to fall in love. I am not just thinking of love-at-first-sight, but also of those love affairs that begin when you think that your dream lover has magically appeared in the flesh.

Call it wish fulfillment, but when you are convinced that your prayers have been answered, that your dreams have come true, and that your hopes have been realized you are likely to throw yourself into the affair with uncommon haste. As the poker enthusiasts say, you quickly go all-in.

Falling out of love is much harder. Even if your lover betrays your trust, you might just hang on to love because you believe that betrayal is a test of your love.

Besides, it is not very easy to admit to friends and family that you have made a colossal error of judgment. How can you explain why you foisted that error on them, taxing their patience and good feelings?

The first sign of falling out of love is a thought: this is not the person I fell in love with. This thought is almost inevitable because if you fell in love at a single glance you did not fall in love with a person in the first place. You fell in love with your own vision become flesh.

For the record, I do accept that there are some cases where people who fall in love at first sight live happily ever after. I suspect, however, that most of those loves involve people who meet in controlled circumstances, in a club or community where people can vouch for each other's good character.

When you fall in love at first sight with someone you have met at random in a bar or on a street corner you are far less likely to arrive at the kind of happy ending you find in fables.

Now, once you have fallen out of love with someone you fell madly in love with, it is extremely difficult to fall back in love.

If falling in love means buying a story, once you find that the story was a fiction, you will find it far more difficult to blind yourself to the person's faults.

All of that to introduce Peggy Noonan's new column about President Obama. Noonan understands, as many others have before her, that America, especially in precincts on the political left and in the mainstream media, fell madly in love with Barack Obama. Link here.

Obama was their knight in shining armor, their champion, their savior, their Prince Charming who was going to save America from the devil George Bush and those wicked Republicans.

Barack Obama was charming, witty, urbane, sophisticated, eloquent, intelligent... he had all the qualities that the political left was seeking in a lover. He embodied their culture and their values, their hopes and their dreams.

And he was manifestly a winner. For liberal politicians who had, for far too long, been excluded from the corridors of powers, Obama offered a way back in. What was there not to love?

Whatever deficiencies Obama had, they ignored. Blinded by love they went all-in for Obama.

Now, as Noonan notes, the first tangible signs of disappointment and disaffection have appeared in articles by seasoned liberal commentators like Leslie Gelb and Elizabeth Drew. Links to their articles are here and here.

Gelb and Drew offer highly critical assessments of the way Obama is conducting his presidency. They are among the first on the left to declare publicly that Obama is not the man they thought he was. They are saying that Obama is in way over his head. The lack of experience that they and others ignored during the campaign is coming back to bite them.

Surely, Obama is still witty, charming, urbane, sophisticated, intelligent, and eloquent. He still fulfills the conditions of the narrative that they bought in the first place. The trouble is, as Noonan notes, that Obama is beginning to be seen as fundamentally incompetent.

It's one thing to get your hopes up when you see Prince Charming riding to the rescue of the damsel in distress. Quite another when you start thinking that the Prince was a mirage and that a mirage is not going to save the damsel or the country or the world or the earth.

Noonan adds a point that I have blogged about: Obama's failure to understand the most elementary aspects of diplomatic protocol. In her analysis Obama's bow to the Emperor of Japan, following upon his bow to the King of Saudi Arabia, is becoming an iconic image. It is beginning to stick to him, defining him and his presidency.

I would add another striking moment. During an interview with Major Garrett of Fox News, Obama declared with a straight face that we would have to get our fiscal deficits under control, lest we risk a double dip recession.

Barack Obama, budget hawk! The image was jarring because it was so completely out of character. The biggest spending president ever, a president who fought for a massive stimulus program that would save the economy, who signed a supplemental spending bill that added hundreds of billions to the deficit, who was going to work his hardest to pass a health care reform bill that would add further hundreds of billions to the deficit... this Barack Obama was worried about the debt!

To be an effective president or an effective leader you have to know who you are and what you stand for. Perhaps during a campaign you can be all things to all people, you can be Protean, a chameleon, but as president, such arrant posturing will seem false and unlovable.

[Paul Rahe offers some illuminating comments on the same Noonan essay on the Powerline blog. Link here.]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Message for Thanksgiving Day

Given my preoccupations, it is fitting that I would wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving with the following piece of information.

According to the most recent psychological research, saying "Thank you" is good for your health. Link here.

As the article says, it is not sufficient just to say it today. It is better to make it a habit. Gratitude will stand you in good stead, on this and many other days.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Coaching Lessons: How To Say the Right Thing

We have all said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. When it happens, a pleasant conversation can quickly turn into a major fight. All for failing to choose the right words.

Clearly, it is not easy to say the right thing to the right person at the right time. I was thinking about this as I was reading an article called: "The Healthiest Way to Fight With Your Husband." Link here.

In truth, when I saw the title I was tempted to ignore the article. I do not encourage couples to fight; I do not want couples to learn how best to fight with each other: I do not consider reciprocal exchanges of verbal abuse to be healthy for a marriage.

Once I overcame my initial negative reaction, I found myself reading an interesting article about the importance of finding the right wording for certain sentiments. The article was telling wives that saying the right thing can defuse a tense conversation.

I regret that Sarah Elizabeth Edwards, or her editor, did not follow the good advice contained in the article and come up with a more felicitous title.

Saying the right thing will not just help you to avoid fights. It will produce amity and comity, and not just in marriages.

As the article reports, this means that it is not enough to encourage feuding couples to talk things out. Many couples do not have the verbal and social skills, to say nothing of the rhetorical savvy, to control their language well enough to turn a potential verbal sparring match into a negotiation. More often, they do not think, but let fly, and watch the sparring match turn into a brawl.

Research recommends that wives, in particular, use words that refer to thought processes, words that denote understanding and rationality. It is best to take a deep breath, and assert that you are thinking things over or are working to understand what you have heard.

Surely, thoughtfulness is better than an emotional outburst. It brings you closer to the other person and avoids the descent into drama and conflict.

Better yet, using words like think, understand, and reason will open a space in which negotiation can take place.

This research confirms what couples therapists often tell their clients. Couples who are prone to fighting should reply to contentious or tendentious remarks with something like: What I understand you're saying is....

While this exercise in reformulating is a good step, it should be accompanied by an additional step. A wife should assert that she accepts some of the validity of the point her husband is trying to make.

This is an important negotiation tactic, one that we should all practice in all of our everyday conversations. If we tell our friends and colleagues that we respect them sufficiently to take their ideas seriously, up to acknowledging that we grant them a measure of validity, the world will be a more peaceful place.

I am not sure why the article suggests that these skills are more apt for women than for men, but everyone, in my view, should practice the skill of not dismissing other people's ideas out of hand.

The fact is: if you are unwilling to hear your friends out, they will feel obliged to return the favor. And vice versa. If your goal is to find common ground, then you can take a step in the right direction by granting some validity to points of view you disagree with.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Culture of Caring Or Culture of Competition

Caring and competing are not the same thing. They do not involve the same value system. A culture that values competition over caring is not the same as a culture that values caring over competition.

Most cultures have both competition and caring. Some confer status according to the results of competitive striving. Others confer status according to the quantity of compassion.

In competition-based cultures greater status is granted to military leaders and their civilian counterparts, those who succeed in business or sports. In a caring-based culture greater status is granted to saints, to teachers, to environmentalists, and to others who sacrifice their material well-being to care for the sick, the indigent, and the vulnerable.

Great competitors do not, by definition, care about whether or not they are hurting the feelings of their opponents. If they want to win, they know that, in a competition, someone else is going to lose. If you worry about your opponent's feelings, you are not going to function well as a competitor.

Those who are great at caring want to have as little as possible to do with the competitive culture. Exception made for those who try to induce those who have gained fortunes by competing to give their money away to those who will distribute it to the needy. More often, they prefer to ignore, abhor, or sabotage a culture of competition.

When a schoolteacher decides that competition between pupils should be discouraged because it will make some children feel bad she is teaching the values of a culture of care. In training them to empathize with their opponents, she is also making them them into
weaker competitors.

You cannot be a great competitor is you believe that competition is organized cruelty.

These two cultures view psychological problems differently. If you feel badly the first will want you to learn how better to compete, how better to function as part of a group, and how better to conduct yourself in civil society. It will encourage you to work with a coach.

The second will see your suffering as a sign that you need to be cared for. And it will offer various kinds of treatments, from therapy to medicine. These will not get you back in the game, but they will make you feel better about not being in it.

On a broader level the two cultures involve two different sets of values. As David Brooks wrote today, we need, as a nation, to decide where our values lie. As he sees it, this is what is in play in the debate over health care reform: are we a culture of competition or a culture of caring? Link here.

Surely, the two can coexist; we can render to Caesar that which is Caesar's while still rendering unto God that which is God's. But the balance is always fragile, more so when one culture attempts to gain hegemony over the other.

In a time of economic distress, we are tempted to become more caring. Yet, a culture that devalues competitive striving risks not having the resources to care for all of those it has committed to care for.

In Brooks' words: "In the real world, there's usually a trade-off. The unregulated market wants to direct capital to the productive and the young. Welfare policies usually direct resources to the vulnerable and the elderly. Most social welfare legislation, even successful legislation, siphons money from the former to the latter."

So it is not simply a choice between the one or the other. If the culture of caring gains hegemony to the point where society, and especially business, becomes less competitive and less capable of generating profits, there will not be enough resources to buy very much care.

See also Robert Samuelson's analysis of the problem with siphoning money from the productive to the indigent segments of society.
Links here and here.

Finally, if Obamacare does not make sense economically, perhaps its supporters believe that it will be an act of cultural psychotherapy, made to cure us of our excessive interest in competition.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who's Your Daddy? One Pillar of Darwinian Psychology

In the seemingly never-ending battle between Darwinians and Creationists it is not difficult to side with the Darwinians.

Not so much because there is no validity to the notion of intelligent design, but because questions about metaphysical entities are best left to philosophy and theology. They have no place in biology classes.

The real issue, however, is that many of Darwin's staunchest defenders would never agree to the basic principles of Darwinian psychology. See my previous post on the topic.

To put the human in human sexual behavior Darwinians begin with two basic facts: human females do not go into sexual heat, that is, their biology does not advertise their fertility; and human males can never be completely sure that they are the father of their wife's children.

Men know that they are fathers because their wives say that they are and because they believe their wives.

Fatherhood must involve trust. Until recently it was impossible to verify. It was impossible to say that paternity was an objective fact; it always retained the possibility of being a fiction.

When a woman has a child, her husband is called upon to protect and support that child, as his own. Evidently, if his genetic self-interest involves propagating his own genes, he will want some kind of assurance that he is not working to support someone else's child.

Until recently, it was trust, but not verify. Now, with DNA testing men can find out with absolute certainty whether or not they fathered the children their wives said were theirs.

This new reality has elicited a long and fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine. Authored by Ruth Padawer, it is entitled: "Who Knew I Was Not the Father?" Link here.

Padawer does an excellent job of tracing the emotional turmoil that men have undergone upon discovering that the children they thought were their own were not.

And she draws a fascinating picture of the way the American legal system is attempting to weigh the different interests of the aggrieved parties when DNA reveals that the mother has defrauded the putative father.

Given the title of her article, Padawer focuses on the unfortunate men who discover that their wives have tricked them into supporting someone else's child. She offers little insight into the women whose behavior caused the problem in the first place.

More strikingly, however, is the picture of the rationality of the process by which our culture is trying to work through the difficulties that this new DNA testing provides. The man has surely been defrauded, but the child has interests also. Padawer leads us through the legal system as it attempts to balance these competing and complex interests.

Many cultures are far less sanguine about these matters. After all, the male anxiety about paternity, and about potential female perfidy, is responsible for many, if not all, of the most savage forms of misogyny.

Terrified men have made a fetish of virginity; have required that their wives be genitally mutilated; have refused to allow their wives to go out alone in the world; have treated women like chattel slaves; have prohibited their wives from being educated; and have murdered their daughters for the hint of an indiscretion.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that women living under these conditions are victims of a permanent reign of terror.

At root, these forms of misogyny derive from a single source: a failure to respect and trust women. As you know, they exist today within the Islamic world. Their persistence is one of the reasons we need to defeat terrorism.

As Padawer points out, our own legal tradition, based in the British common law, has always assumed that the woman's husband was the father, except in those cases where he was senile, impotent, or absent at the time of conception.

Just as the British common law respected and trusted women, it was also part of a culture that was the first to overthrow the custom of arranged marriage and to give women a free choice of husbands.

Clearly, all cultures are not equal in their treatment of women. For all the criticisms of the patriarchal nature of Anglo-American culture, we should note that this very culture has led the world in trusting and respecting women.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism has a pathological need to see all cultures as identical and of equal value. Thereby, it has distracted us from the fight against modern misogyny.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don't You Need Somebody to Hate

Before they hated Sarah Palin they hated George Bush. Before the character assassins set their sights on Sarah Palin they had already honed their skills on George Bush.

Successfully, one must admit. They had covered the Bush presidency in ignominy and had spread the taint to the entire Republican party. The 2008 election was a victory of sorts for the Bush haters.

Is there a link here? Neo-neocon suggests that those who hated George Bush with a passion have now displaced that hatred onto Sarah Palin. With George Bush out of the picture, they transferred their emotion to Palin. Link here.

Her point is well taken. Bad habits are not that easy to break. If you live for hatred, your passion does not just disappear once its object has been removed from the scene. It travels around like an itinerant stranger, looking for a place to settle down.

If George Bush taught a certain segment of the population how to hate, you would hardly expect that it would discard that hard-won skill once Bush retired from office.

You do not just discard a skill like that. Especially when, as I said, it had worked effectively.

This means that some of our politically-correct neighbors are so filled with hatred that they would not recognize themselves if they did not have a right-winger to hate.

As an example, take blogger Andrew Sullivan. Way back when, in the good old days, Sullivan wrote insightful commentaries about the political scene. Then one day something happened-- I suspect that he overdosed on therapy-- and Sullivan became violently critical of the Bush administration. Apparently, the possibility that some terrorist might have been tortured caused Sullivan to become unhinged. He stopped supporting the war; he learned to hate George Bush; and he devoted his considerable intellectual and rhetorical skills to bringing down the Bush administration.

Once George Bush was no longer on the scene Sullivan transferred his hatred to Sarah Palin. Specifically, he became one of the major purveyors of the slanderous insinuation that Sarah Palin had not really given birth to her Down syndrome son. The real mother, according to character assassin Sullivan, was Palin's daughter, Bristol.

Of course, hatred of Sarah Palin has a slightly difference valence. It partakes of an especially virulent form of misogyny. And it is not directed against the commander-in-chief of an army that is fighting a war.

Palinhatred began as a way to convince people to vote for Barack Obama. More than a few people became so terrified at the prospect of an inexperienced governor being one heartbeat from the presidency that they were happy to make a less-experienced politician no heartbeats from the presidency. Go figure.

In the past hatred was an emotion we were told to avoid. It was bad to hate. It was bad to let hate fester in our souls. It was bad to allow ourselves to be consumed with a passion that was impervious to reason. We were supposed to overcome hatred; we were supposed to conquer our tendency toward hate speech.

Now, it's fine to let rip with the most violent thoughts and images that you can direct against another human being. As though expressing the hate would produce something like an emotional catharsis.

Considering that the hate has now been transferred from Bush to Palin, the pipe dream about emotional catharsis has now been revealed to be just that... an illusion.

I hope that everyone knows that there is something radically wrong with this picture.

"Now Try Being President"

Mark Steyn's advice to Barack Obama: "Now try being president."

An interesting take on some leadership topics that I have occasionally blogged about. Link to Steyn's article here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hating Sarah Palin

You won't be surprised to hear it but there are salons and cocktail parties that will only allow you to enter if you pronounce the right password: IhateSarahPalin. You must say it loudly, with feeling.

Palinhatred has now become so pronounced in the media and among the liberal intelligentsia that it seems to have a life of its own. It is no longer about electing Barack Obama; it is no longer about undermining the governor of Alaska.

If you think that it is a preemptive attack on a possible presidential candidate, you should also know that Sarah Palin would not make a very strong candidate. By 2012 America will likely have had its fill of inexperience. And besides, there is the not-so-small matter of her having quit...

Admittedly, Sarah Palin is not really a very influential political figure; she is neither sufficiently informed nor sufficiently articulate to lead a challenge to Democratic hegemony. And yet, she still attracts a level of mindless vitriol that has made her an increasingly sympathetic figure. The spectacle of feminists attacking Sarah Palin with a discourse that expresses little more than a visceral misogyny has inevitably provoked a counterreaction.

Sarah Palin might not be a feminist-in-full, but she is, as I posted about last year, a woman-in-full. Some people are not about to forgive her for this.

Palinhatred seems then to be a cultural phenomenon; her new book has turned a small skirmish into a large battle in the culture wars.

To read some of the reactions to Sarah Palin you would think that you were watching a band of Puritan scolds that had just discovered a witch in its midst. The attacks on Palin have the feel of a witch hunt, against someone who threatens them at a level that they are barely able to articulate.

Of course, this effort to drive a stake through the heart of the Republican witch contains its own delicious irony. Way back when, in 15th century Europe, witches were persecuted because they were thought to be responsible of male sexual dysfunction. The classical Inquisitors manual, written in 1485, called "The Malleus Maleficarum," reads like a prototype for later works in the field of sex therapy.

By those standards Sarah Palin would be anything but a witch. She is more vamp than witch, more temptress than witch. Compared to Hillary Clinton, the great of heroine of the feminist matriarchy, Sarah Palin is, I would say, more womanly.

And the love and adoration of Hillary Clinton is part and parcel with the hatred of Sarah Palin.

Bill Clinton did marry the mousy and not very attractive Hillary Rodham, but his lust was always directed elsewhere, toward the Sarah Palins of this world. If you were a Hillary acolyte that would make you crazy too.

It all goes back to college. Remember when the coolest and brightest guy in the class developed a strange friendship with a nerdy, not very attractive woman. She was with him in the library; she helped him with his term papers; she prepped him for his exams; she gave him advice, counsel, and succor freely and unstintingly.

She was always there for him, devoted, loving, and caring. She was his intellectual equal, his Platonic soulmate.

But she was not the prettiest or sexiest in the class. She did not imagine that she could ever seduce him or charm him or lure him into a relationship with her. Unrealistic as it may have seemed to some she still lusted after him, she yearned for his touch, she pined away for him, she craved him with every fiber of her being.

Besides, he owed her. She had given him everything he ever asked of her, and wound have given him more, if only he had wanted it. She had done it selflessly, yet, she knew that he owed her.

How do you think she felt when he turned away from her and ran off with a woman like Sarah Palin. Can you imagine how much venom she bears toward any woman who reminds her of Sarah Palin?

With all she has done for him, with everything that they meant to each other, he gets lured away from her by something as vulgar and pedestrian as feminine wiles.

She does not blame the man. She knows that men are weak and susceptible to feminine machinations. She blames the woman, and bears a hatred toward her and her ilk that knows few bounds.

To a certain type of woman, Sarah Palin represents someone who is inferior to her in all but one way, and yet, who gets HER man.

Of course, on rare occasions the mousy library mate does manage to get the man. As in, Hillary Rodham. To all of those intellectual, career-driven women who have been shunted aside in favor of feminine glamor and beauty Hillary Rodham is a heroine.

Against all odds, she married the handsome, brilliant guy. And yet, he still succumbed to the siren songs of brazen hussies like Sarah Palin.

If you were Hillary Clinton, you put up with it, you suffered the repeated humiliations, because you know that you got the biggest prize of all. He comes home to you. Maybe he reeks of some other woman's perfume; maybe his antics are threatening your own all-consuming ambition; but, at the end of the day, he is yours.

Besides, if you are Hillary Clinton or one of the other library mates, you have chosen not to enhance your femininity. You are a true believing feminist. You learned from Betty Friedan that femininity is a mystique and you read in Naomi Wolf that beauty was a myth.

Thus, you sacrificed your femininity, or better, you traded it in for a career. You might not have done as well as Hillary did in landing the world's leading womanizer, but you have risen up through the corporate or professional world.

You are convinced that the patriarchy would never have allowed it if you had come across as cute and charming and sexy in a traditional feminine way. The patriarchy was threatened by real women. You know it because your feminist sisters told you so. You wanted to advance the cause of women's liberation, if that cost you your femininity, well, it was only a patriarchal construct anyway.

Of you are one of those women Sarah Palin is your worst nightmare. The notion that she could succeed in building a successful political career without sacrificing her femininity appalls women who made the sacrifice. Better to hate Sarah Palin than to think that they may have made a grievous mistake, that they might have suppressed something essential in their being in order to join up with an ideological cause.

For that they despise her, not for anything she has said, but for what her life represents, and, most especially, for the feelings of doubt that her life calls up from the darker corners of their souls.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Coaching Lessons: How to Live in Troubled Times

It is not good to live in troubled times. When the world as you knew it has been upended; when your plans are being undermined by realities you have little control over; when it feels like you have been set adrift on a troubled sea, without a compass or a sextant, it is not just an everyday challenge.

Everyone is still trying to get accustomed to these troubled times. People are trying to grasp the new realities and to develop new plans for the future and new coping strategies for the present; everyone has gone back to the drawing board, only to discover that the old verities and certainties no longer apply.

An adage that is generally, probably mistakenly, taken as an old Chinese curse says: May you live in interesting times. Surely, I am not over-interpreting by changing "interesting" to "troubled."

As for the real Chinese antecedent of this cures, the best guess has been: "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period."

In troubled times the data you used to project and plan your future are no longer relevant. It is one thing to feel that you are lost, quite another to feel that things are not going to return to normal. It is one thing to lose your bearings; quite another to feel that there are no more bearings. In troubled times you cannot project a predictable future. How can you plan for it?

Today it feels like the storm that engulfed the financial system last year has passed. People are not as afraid as they once were. They are talking about green shoots and reliquefied bank balance sheets.

Yet, the anxiety still lives. It feels like we can all breathe a sign of relief, yet the anxiety is there, below the surface, ready to roar again.

No sensible person lives through a hurricane and declares that that was the last one he will ever see.

In normal times the young lawyer who amassed a pile of debt to finance his education could expect to land a great job in a top law firm. In fact, he had been already been offered the job. He was preparing himself to set out on his life plan.

In troubled times firm just called to rescind the job offer. Or else, to cut his salary. The result: he can no longer service his student loans. The few jobs he has rustled up pay so little that he will have to live at home with his parents.

His life plan has come crashing down around him. And he is not the only one involved. Can he still propose marriage to his girlfriend? Can he, a trained attorney, ask a woman to suffer through the indignity of living in his parents' basement. Especially if he does not know what his future will look like. Or whether he will even have a future.

Or, think about the couple that is planning to retire. They had saved up for this moment, had squirreled away as much as they could, and invested as conservatively as possible. Last year, however, they discovered that there was no safe haven for their assets. Financial stocks... obliterated. Bonds... severe decline. Blue chip stocks... down more than 50%.

And let's say that they have recovered a large portion of what they lost. Now what? In troubled times how do you secure your financial future. Bonds seem to be safe, but how safe can they be with the government issuing more and more debt to increasingly reluctant lenders. And what about the dollar? What will the decline in the dollar do to their purchasing power. Much of what they buy comes from foreign countries. How much will their lifestyle be hurt by the falling dollar? And, what if there is a bout of inflation. How can they live on a fixed income from their bond investments if the currency becomes seriously inflated?

In normal times people would sit back, hunker down, and put their money in treasury bonds. They would think that the American dollar is as good as gold. Now, the the only thing they are sure of is that they are sitting on a powder keg. In these troubled times they do not know what to do. So, they don't.

Take another married working couple. They have two children and two jobs and a mortgage. In normal times these would be good things. In these troubled times they are both facing the prospect of losing their jobs.

Even if they are among the happy few who are still working, the threat of unemployment, of defaulting on their mortgage, of not providing for their children hangs over their dreams. Their companies are downsizing. They need to make room for younger lower-salaried workers.

These people may still have jobs but they are surrounded by friends and neighbors who have lost theirs. Every day they go to work to find empty workstations, remnants of lost jobs, and an eerie silence where once they were hearing the bustle of activity.

Those few remaining colleagues are exuding dread. Who knows who will be next?

And then, in New York, there are people who have spent their careers in journalism, publishing, or the print media. In troubled times they are not worried about the fact that the company just outsourced a few jobs, or even that it cut back. They are facing an unprecedented situation: their entire industry is failing; it seems to be disintegrating before their eyes. It is going away, and there is no point waiting for it to rise from the ashes. It is simply not going to happen.

Where can they go now? What can they do? They love books and reading and writing. How are they going to be able to make a living now that the print media has entered a death swoon?

In troubled times they might find new jobs, even new careers. But how well will those jobs pay? Worse yet, how much of their social standing and prestige will be compromised in the transition from managing editor or investment banker to maitre d'?

A job is not just a paycheck. It is a network of social relationships, of insider gossip, of cocktail parties, of company picnics. When you lose your job, and especially when your industry implodes, you find yourself without your social bearings.

Of course, it is not all gloom and doom out there. Some people are thriving, most conspicuously anyone who works for Goldman Sachs. The bank had a banner year and will soon be distributing giant bonuses. Bravo!

Is it time for these bankers to pop open the champagne and celebrate their good fortune? Not on your life. In troubled times you do not celebrate. You apologize.

Thus Goldman CEO Blankfein has been apologizing for its role in last year's financial debacle, and is trying to limit the damage he did by saying recently that Goldman was doing God's work.

In troubled times those who do well are prohibited from enjoying their success. The rich feel like they are walking around with a target on their backs. They used to be Masters and Mistresses of the Universe; now they are treated like common criminals, as though they should feel guilty for being wealthy.

Surely, it would be a boon to the New York economy if these bankers went out and spent their bonus money like drunken sailors. But they can't. In troubled times, profligate spending looks bad; it provokes envy and resentment; it elicits ever-growing tax bills.

Forgetting the bad PR, these same titans of the banking industry have friends and neighbors and relatives who have been far less fortunate. It is the height of poor taste to flaunt your success when so many of your former colleagues are out of work, with mortgage and tuition payments breathing down their necks.

We are not living in a time of change, transformation, and growth. The trouble beneath the surface of the national psyche manifests itself as a vacillation between anxiety and complacency, between an anguish that recognizes that the world has undergone a change for the worst, and a complacency that refuses to admit that it is real.

It can't be happening here; it can't be happening to us. Yet it is.

It is not surprising that more and more people are using coaches to help them to get through the difficulties that this sea change has produced. Thankfully, many therapists are doing more coaching and less therapy.

They have grasped the first lesson: in troubled times the one thing you do not want to do is go it alone.