Friday, September 30, 2011

Enough with the Multiculturalism

Civilizations clash; cultures compete. Some do better at it; some do worse.

Some cultures come out on top; some lag the rest. The results of competition, in the marketplace and in war, show which values spell success.

Success involves the ability to protect and provide for your people. You do not get points for producing great art or great philosophy. Nor do you get points for how you feel or how you think.

As happens in any competitive enterprise, when one culture sees that another is doing better, it may choose to emulate the other culture, the better to gain a competitive edge.

To do so requires humility. You have to accept that you have failed and that the game has been played fairly.

Otherwise you might choose not to change, but to find another way to challenge the winning value system.

Over the past few centuries the culture associated with Great Britain and America has led the world. It has demonstrated that a culture based on freedom-- whether it involves free trade, free elections, free markets, free speech, or freedom of religion—out-competes all others.

It is never a bad thing to remind ourselves of the greatness of Anglo-American culture. Bill Flax does so today in an interesting article in Forbes.

Put into practice Anglo-American values have produced economic and military success beyond those of any other nations or cultures in our time.

Freedom was not the only value that produced this success. The proper use of freedom requires trust. Without strength of character, freedom can easily yield to anarchy or despotism.

Also, Anglo-American culture invented and championed the greatest advance in modern civilization, the Industrial Revolution. It was the first and the best at adapting to the social disruptions this Revolution caused.

Of course, there’s a darker side to world historical competition. Some people are so attached to their culture that they refuse to believe that it has lost out in competition.

These groups demean and denigrate the standards by which competition is judged, insist that the game has been rigged, and cover their bruised egos with false pride.

Imagining that false pride is better than lost pride, they refuse to do what is necessary to regain true pride.

In some cases they refuse to abandon a culture that values art and philosophy for a culture that values practical results.

Often, they feel that avoiding competition grants them spiritual superiority. They persevere because they are convinced that God is on their side. Or else, they fear that God will punish them if they abandon the values their ancestors bequeathed them.

At times, such groups try to diminish, demean, and even destroy the achievements of their competitors. By tearing down what they do not know how to build, they can feel superior to those who put up the building or created the industry in the first place.

If there’s a better definition of false pride, I do not know what it is.

Sometimes they try to pretend that they are supremely powerful because they are extremely brutal. Mindless and senseless carnage, inflicted by people who suffer bruised pride, is designed to sustain their false pride.

I am not just talking about terrorist groups. What I am saying applies well to the philosophical method that is called deconstruction.

Intellectually speaking, multiculturalism is yet another way to avoid having to face the judgment of reality.

This academic shibboleth devalues competition between cultures. It asserts that all cultures are created equal and that if one outperforms the others, then it must be dishonest, oppressive, or exploitative.

Multiculturalism has done everything in its power to remove America’s competitive edge. It has tried to undermine the cultural strengths of the Anglosphere, to diminish its achievements, to sow doubt and guilt, the better to make America less competitive, and therefore to make others feel less bad.

Multiculturalism is a softening agent. It is especially appealing to those whose values or occupations are not on the front lines in the conflict between cultures.

If you do not belong to the corporate world or the military, if you are part of what Michelle Obama calls the helping professions, if you practice the soft arts, you will find that your personal prestige is diminished when cultures compete at protecting and providing for their people.

If you have studied certain kinds of philosophy you will feel deep resentment over the fact that corporate and military cultures do not grant you the power and prestige that you deserve.

Thus, you will not feel that you are undermining the dominant culture but gaining your proper place… at the top.

Mr. and Mrs. Softie

Yesterday our president was wondering why America has gone soft and has lost its competitive edge. He doesn’t have to look too far for the answer.

Jonah Goldberg grasped the irony and the complete absence of self-awareness: “Seriously, in 2008 we elected a community organizer, state senator, college instructor first term senator over a guy who spent five years in a Vietnamese prison.”

In 2008 it was hard vs. soft, and soft won. With our votes we abandoned the will to compete and embraced the will to feel.

A nation that is awash in empathy cannot be very competitive. A nation that defines its mission in terms of distributing wealth to those who are in need cannot be tough enough to nudge the less fortunate to get to work.

A softness ethic promotes weak character. Once a nation has been afflicted with weak character, it will not be able to find the grit, perseverance, or tenacity to dig itself out of the ditch.

It's not surprising that the age of Obama has turned us into a nation of softies. And there’s nothing surprising about the fact that our community-organizer-in chief does not have a clue about how his leadership has led us down this dead end.

Goldberg points out that none less than Michelle Obama drew up the road map that would lead us to the soft side.

Famously, she once declared: “We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do…. Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.”

Ah yes, the helping industries. The ones that are allow you to mother people. The ones you might excel in if you lack a competitive edge.

Michelle Obama has contempt for the corporate world, the world where people make money. She prefers the helping industries where, in her worldview, people exercise their God-given right to spend the money other people make.

People who want to help are morally superior to those who just want to make money, so the soft crowd has an inalienable right to decide how it’s spent. 

Yesterday, we got a glimpse of what happens when someone who has suffered these lessons finds himself, by necessity, in the corporate world. We see what happens when a man who learned the lessons of anti-corporatism gets a corporate job. And we see what happens when a man with weak character finds himself in a world that requires strength of character.

The evidence comes to us from the DearPrudence column at Slate.

Here is the man’s letter: “Five years ago I went from working for myself to working for a Fortune 500 company. I acted like a spoiled child and did everything I could to push the envelope. I wore ripped jeans or other inappropriate clothing, wrote just-short-of-actionable comments in emails, treated working hours as flexible, and saw office rules as a challenge. I'm amazed I still have a job. However, this year I took a long look in the mirror and changed my behavior—having a baby on the way helped. For the past six months I’ve been doing everything I can think of to be the employee I know my colleagues want me to be, and nobody recognizes it. The only feedback I get is humorous: “Like this is going to last!” Is there anything I should do that will make people realize that I've changed? Or should I just go somewhere else if I want different treatment?”

Five years of behaving like a boorish lout and he still has a job. I would not give too much for his career prospects or for his chances at garnering a promotion, but if this man still has a job the Fortune 500 company must be run by a band of saints. Unless, of course, they are just afraid of lawsuits.

Following the Obama mantra this man rejects corporate culture. He does not understand that  it is designed to establish and maintain a competitive edge. In truth, he is doing everything in his power to subvert the culture, to render it more inefficient and more ineffective.

His company seems willing to tolerate his antics, but reality does not forgive and forget easily. When you have made a public spectacle of your weak character, you create a reputation for yourself. It takes more than a few months of good behavior to change your reputation. 

The estimable Emily Yoffee has some excellent, sobering advice:  “For five years you’ve been figuratively bashing your co-workers over the head, and now you expect some kind of reward because you’ve stopped for the past six months. Their skepticism about you is well-earned, and it’s going to take quite a while to gain their trust. It would be helpful to stop thinking you deserve a cake for simply starting to act like a normal employee. You might consider addressing your new attitude with a low-key apology tour. When you volunteer to stay late, you can add: ‘I know how many times the rest of you have had to put in long hours. It’s my turn.’ When someone thanks you for a helpful response, you can say: ‘I appreciate that. I’ve discovered life’s better when I don’t sound like a jerk.’ When they comment on your new attire, you can say, ‘I’ve decided to dress for work, not band rehearsal.’ If the lack of appreciation for being like everyone else makes you want to switch jobs, then go ahead. But just think about who your potential employers are going to call as references.”

I agree wholeheartedly. The moral of the story is clear: you are responsible for your reputation. Once you establish that you are soft and weak, it is devilishly difficult to move to the hard side.

Weak character involves a lack of self-control. People with weak character let it all hang out. They feel obligated to let the world know how they feel, regardless of the consequences.

People with weak character indulge in infantile, petulant, insolent behavior in the workplace. Many of them do not even have the presence of mind to accept, as this man does, that it is wrong to do so.

Thinking through Yoffe’s response, I believe that it would be appropriate for our president, to replace his whining about the nation’s softness with a new apology tour.

Instead of talking down the country, thus softening its character, Obama can now apologize for apologizing for America. And he can help restore America’s strength of character by declaring that he is not going to run for a second term.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Executive Women Anorexics

The story is painful to read. More middle-aged women, often business executives, are falling prey to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Recovery is often difficult; the results are sometimes tragic.

Naturally, we want to know what, if anything, it means.

I recall Ethan Watters’ book Crazy Like Us. There, Watters has a chapter where he shows that at one time anorexia did not exist in Hong Kong.

Then one day a girl came down with it, and the media jumped on the case with a flurry of stories about eating disorders. Before you knew it, there was a wave of anorexia among teenaged girls in Hong Kong.

No one is suggesting that these girls were not in distress. Watters and other epidemiologists have concluded that people select symptoms according to the standards defined by their culture.

I concur. If this is true, then anorexia does not express any mental conflict. It is chosen or selected as a culturally recognized way of coping with emotional distress.

Teenage girls might be suffering from a form of anomie that does not make any sense, to them or to anyone else. If the culture does not recognize their problem, they might select a set of symptoms that the culture does recognize and is happy to treat.

They had felt lost; now they find acceptance, interest, and a new identity as anorexics.

Anorexia is about young girls who feel lost and adrift, trying to find help. If they say that they feel lost and adrift, suffering from anomie, the culture will not know what to do. If they say that they suffer from eating disorders a battery of professionals will be there for them, will care for them, will comfort them, and will set them on the road to cure.

This analysis of the illness deviates significantly from the standard therapy culture view that anorexia expresses body image or appetite issues.

In the past anorexia and bulimia had been largely limited to adolescent females. Now, however, clinicians are starting to see increased numbers of mid-career executive women with eating disorders.

Some of them suffered from the disorders while teenagers and are falling back on a bad habit: regulating mood and mind through chemistry… not medication but alimentary chemistry.

Meghan Casserly points to another, social cause. Her article is worth examining.

When it comes to executive women, the most important stressor seems to be career anxiety. Not just the high-stress job, but what is called the “juggle” between career and family obligations.

Dr. Holly Grishkat is an expert in the field. She describes the specific form of anomie that afflicts these women: “It can be a high pressure job situation with a divorce, an illness, a child leaving home…. It could be work and an aging parent. For this age group there’s a lot of anxiety to ‘keep it together.’ They’re grappling for something to hold onto. For many, the eating disorder is something they have complete control over in an otherwise out-of-control time.”

Control is a very tricky concept. Grishkat suggests that when a woman’s life is spinning out of control, when the circuits have been overloaded to the breaking point, she will fall back on anorexia as a way of exercising control.

If she can control nothing else, she can control her food intake.

Unfortunately, it does not take very long for anorexia to take complete control over a woman’s life.

The concept of control is multi-faceted, to the point where I have my doubts about its usefulness.

I prefer to ask how it happened that all of these women have been lured into a life that is beyond what they want or need or can handle?

What is there in our culture that tells women that they have a moral obligation to conform to an ideal, one where a woman can and does do everything, independently and autonomously?

These high-powered career women seem to believe that they must work hard at their careers even if they would rather spend more time at home with their children.

What forces in our culture deprive women of their ability to choose a better balanced life? What forces tell them that they must have dynamic careers lest they betray a sacred cause?

If a group of women, under the banner of ideology, tells other women that they owe it to the cause to break glass ceilings or to work as hard as any man does, then that cause takes control of their lives, depriving them of their free choice.

Sacrificing your life to an ideological imperative is never a good idea.

At the least, we should stop shifting the blame to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

I do not need to name the cause that has gotten women into this bind. I do not need to tell you that forcing a woman’s life into the template created by this cause is going to cause significant psychological distress. We are still waiting for its zealots to step forward and take responsibility for the ill-effects it has caused women.

How do the middle aged executive anorexics solve their problem? Casserly reports that many of them end up quitting their high-powered corporate jobs and replacing them with lower stress work.

We are not surprised.

Environmentalist Birdbrains

What’s the matter with you? Don’t you care about the birds? Don’t you have any feelings for the polar bears and the Delta smelt?

How can you call yourself a person of the left without having the right feelings for all of God’s creatures?

In a world where your moral probity is measured by whether or not you feel the right feelings, you had best care about the birds and the polar bears and the Delta smelt. And you had best ignore the practical consequences of your deep feelings.

It sounds good on paper. It allows you to proclaim that you have deep feelings for what is right.

In truth, it’s a moral scam, a way to seduce you into allowing environmental policy to be run by a bunch of mindless zealots, aka birdbrains.

Witness the following, reported in a Wall Street Journal editorial. In North Dakota, U. S. Attorney Timothy Purdon is taking seven oil and natural gas companies to court for killing 28 migrating birds. The dead birds were found near oil waste lagoons.

The Journal explains: “Continental Resources is accused of violating the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act because ‘on or about May 6, 2011 in the District of North Dakota’ the company ‘did take [kill] one Say's Phoebe,’ of the tyrant flycatcher bird family. Brigham Oil & Gas is accused of killing two Mallard ducks. The Class B misdemeanors carry fines of up to $15,000 for each dead bird and up to six months in prison.”

If you are tempted to conclude that we have the most bird-friendly administration in human history, you are getting ahead of yourself.

When it comes to bird slaughter, the oil and gas companies are bush league. The champions at this sport are wind turbines. Next to the hydrocarbon industry the wind industry has produced a veritable avian holocaust.

Does anyone in this greenest of administrations care? Are you kidding?

The Journal explains: “…this prosecution [of the oil and gas companies] is all the more remarkable because the wind industry each year kills not 28 birds, or even a few hundred, but some 440,000, according to estimates by the American Bird Conservancy based on Fish and Wildlife Service data. Guess how many legal actions the Obama Administration has brought against wind turbine operators under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act? As far as we can tell, it's zero.

“At the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area Northern California, some 5,000 wind turbines each year kill scores of golden and bald eagles, which are highly protected under federal law.” You will not be surprised to learn that the Obama administration has not brought any legal actions against the windmill operators.

Birdbrains, indeed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Does It Mean to Get Better?

There’s getting better, and then, there’s getting better.

Getting better in the sense of feeling better is not the same as getting better at tennis.

When a friend gets sick, we hope he will be getting better. When a star athlete wants to get better at his game, he is not just looking to feel better.

Therapy has been derived from the medical model, so therapists tend to think in terms of whether or not their “sick” patients are getting better. They aim at improved health and functioning.

This assumes that people who consult with therapists are really sick and that once they “get better” they will return to normal functioning. If these patients never functioned normally, therapists tend to believe that insights into the root causes of their condition will help them assume normal functioning.

Atul Gawande does not quite put it this way in his great New Yorker article about coaching, but he shows clearly that coaching differs radically from therapy.

As a surgeon Gawande felt after eight years that his technique had plateaued. So he hired a coach, a retired surgeon who would sit in on his operations, would observe what he was doing right or wrong, and would help him to improve his performance.

Perhaps it’s a sign of something afoot in the culture, but Gawande does not think that his surgical technique has not been improving because he has a mental block, an unresolved infantile neurosis, or emotional issues.

He does not think therapy; he thinks coaching.

He remarks that all great performers have coaches. From Rafael Nadal to Itzhak Perlman to Renee Fleming to all manner of executives… people who want to improve their performance hire coaches.

Based on his own experience of being coached in surgery, Gawande offers some cogent remarks about what a coach does and why it is difficult for people to accept coaching.

In his words: “The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.”

Coaching comes to us from sports, from a highly competitive field of human endeavor. It does not come to us from the clinic.

Gawande compares coaching to teaching, not to therapy, because it works to help you improve your skills, not to gain into insight into why you don’t have any.

If you have a teacher, you are a student. Gawande points out that the role of student is time-limited. At some point you graduate and no longer have a teacher.

Coaching, however, is a longer term commitment. The better you get the more you need the services of a coach to help you to get better.

Once we get good at something we tend to bask in our glory. Why work to improve performance when we are enjoying the fruits of success?

A coach is an objective, outside observer. Therein lies the rub.

It takes a good sense of humility to accept that the way you think of yourself is not the way others see you. And it is very difficult to accept that someone else sees something other than what you think you are showing the world.

You may think that you are an effective and accomplished surgeon. Your confidence is based on your sense of your own competence.

When your coach reviews the flaws in your performance, you need to be humble to accept what you are hearing.

This is even more difficult for those who have learned from their therapists that they should not care what other people think of them.

When therapists tell you that you should only care about how you feel and how you express your feelings, they are consigning you to mediocrity.

Being susceptible to coaching requires that you accept how you look to other people and are willing to take whatever steps are required to improve your performance.

Dr. Gawande was not aware of the bad habits he acquired while honing his surgical skills. Athletes often do not know what they are doing wrong. Renee Fleming explains that you never know how you sound when you are singing.

Therapy looks at these problems from a different angle, inside/out, not outside/in.

For most of its history therapy has addressed how you feel about how you feel. It is an introspective exercise that is supposed to allow you to discover what is lurking and hidden in the recesses of your mind.

If it derives from Freud, as most talk therapy does, it will provide a means to correct those errors by a type of penance, usually in the form of self-criticism.

I have in the past related this technique to a culture based on guilt.

Coaching has a different cultural root. It has nothing to do with how you feel about how you feel, but about how you look to an outsider while performing or behaving.

A coach is primarily an observer, someone who sees the faults in the way you are playing the game and prescribes ways to overcome them.

Since a coach sees things that you had successfully managed to hide even from yourself, the experience of hearing a coach’s observation has more in common with shame than with guilt. It is, as I said, a humbling experience.

If your narcissism has been fed a steady diet of therapy, you will very likely have a great deal of difficulty accepting anything offered by an outside observer.

The more your mind has been worked over by therapy, the less you will be able to accept advice.

Thus, therapy consigns you to mediocre performance.

Note well, coaching does not involve criticism. It involves advice.

It does not aim at mental health but at excellence. Gawande explains it well: “Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.”

When famed basketball coach John Wooden taught his players the correct way to put on their socks, he was not criticizing them or their mothers. He was pointing out that peak athletic performance involves getting the small things right, especially, as Gawande notes, because putting your socks on wrong can spell injuries for basketball players.

The larger question, the one that is not in Gawande’s purview, is how much of what goes wrong in life is a matter of poor performance and how much is a matter of a lack of insight.

If you want to be a better husband, is it more important to mull over the forces that are making you a bad husband or to work with a coach to improve your performance as a husband?

If you are falling down on the job, do you need to gain more insight into your self-destructive tendencies or do you need how to develop better work habits?

If you are not succeeding at your career, do you need to understand why your father did not want you to succeed, or should you ask whether you are really suited for the career you have chosen?

And what if you want to be a better parent? Should you try to discover what there was in your upbringing that prevented you from being a good parent or should you think of parenting as a performance and allow someone else to observe what you are doing right or wrong?

If you don’t have very many friends, should you seek out the root cause in your past or should you ask an objective third party to observe the way you behave in social interactions?

The same applies to relationships, dating, and a myriad of other human activities.

Are people suffering from what are called emotional disturbances because they do not know how to behave or do they have psychological impediments that are preventing them from getting better?

Shane Bauer, Brainwashed at Berkeley

Two years in the worst prison on earth is for nothing compared with the kind of brainwashing you receive at Berkeley.

Many of us have been railing against what is being taught in America’s finest institutions of higher learning.  At the risk of being accused of having taken our leave from rational thought, some of us have even labeled them indoctrination mills.

To more sensible people, it must seem that we are exaggerating. It cannot possibly be that bad.

From the brief glimpse we have just been granted into the mind of recently released American hiker, Shane Bauer, apparently, our exaggerations are very close to the truth.

Bauer and his hiking companions were, we know, Berkeley trained anti-war activists, monsters of moral equivalence, full of the right kind of politically correct anti-American and anti-Israeli feelings.

Apparently, they thought nothing about hiking on the Iran/Iraq border because they believed in the just cause of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and thus, that they would be greeted as friends, not enemies.

The international left rallied to their cause because, after all, they were sympathetic to the Iranian regime. For leftists it was another occasion to blame America. If Iran was going to take hostages, Noam Chomsky implied, why take people who are sympathetic to the Iranian regime and who hate America?

Think of the injustice. These young people seem to have been motivated by a preternatural fear of terrorism.  They must have thought they could immunize themselves against it by adopting the terrorist mindset.

With the help of their Berkeley enablers, they screwed their minds into an attitude of pure sympathy for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Imagine the indignity they felt when they were treated like plain ordinary Americans.

This morning James Kirchick explained it well in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

To give us a look into the mind of Shane Bauer, Kirchick sets the scene.

He writes: “On July 31, 2009, you're traversing a mountain trail in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the Iranian border. You're with one of your best friends and your girlfriend. Suddenly a group of Iranian border guards capture you, and the next thing you know you're in Tehran's infamous Evin prison accused of ‘illegal entry’ and ‘espionage.’

“Your girlfriend is kept in solitary confinement and you can see her only for an hour each day. The Iranian government prevents you from contacting your family for almost a year, at which point they decide to let your mother visit you for two days at a Tehran hotel.

“While your captors treat you humanely and provide three square meals a day, your Iranian co-prisoners aren't so lucky. Every night you hear their screams. Evin is the world's most notorious torture dungeon, where political dissidents (men and women) are routinely raped, beaten and subjected to all manner of physical and psychological abuse.

“Ahmad Batebi, a student activist who spent 17 months in solitary confinement there, reports that guards kicked him in the teeth, dunked his head into a toilet ‘stopped up with feces,’ and whipped his back and testicles with a cable. When he tried to sleep, they slashed his arms with a knife and rubbed salt in the wounds.”

If you were educated at Berkeley, you are witnessing all of this horror and injustice and thinking that it’s all the fault of George Bush.

The president of Iran’s Holocaust denial does not register. When you hear that the Iranian government routinely executes boys for being homosexual it does not move your moral compass. If you know that the Islamic regime systematically oppresses women it does not affect your judgment.

Your education has disembarrassed you of your capacity to exercise moral judgment. And it has also wiped your mind clean of the virtue of gratitude.

Kirchick explains Bauer’s excursion into moral equivalence: “Following two years of strenuous work on the part of committed American diplomats, you are freed on $500,000 bail, paid by the billionaire Sultan of Oman. And what is the first thing you say upon your release?

"’Two years in prison is too long and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in America and Iran.’”

Kirchick then highlights Bauer’s ingratitude: “While neglecting to thank either President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for helping secure his freedom, Mr. Bauer expressed gratitude toward Hugo Ch├ívez, Sean Penn, Noam Chomsky and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens).”

If he has one last ounce of moral judgment, Bauer  should now change his name to Shame Bauer.

Bottoms Up

Some people think it’s offensive, but, then again, some people think that just about everything is offensive.

Still, we do well to learn how to think about human relationships in marketplace terms. Call it an effort to think more rationally and less emotionally.

We all believe that we think rationally, but we have been brought up to think of human behavior in terms of feeling and spirituality.

Lately, behavioral economists and sociologists have been studying human behavior in marketplace terms. They have also used the tools provided us by Darwin. In so doing, they have shed new light on the economics of the hook-up culture.

In the blogosphere Susan Walsh at HookingUpSmart has been guiding us through this way of thinking for quite some time now.

Yesterday, she posted on some new research into hooking up. I had duly noted it in my post, Love on the Cheap.

Walsh’s post was entitled: Has the Priceof Sex Bottomed Out? If I had no other reason, I would link it for the pun in the title. You will notice that Walsh’s pun inspired the title of this post.

As always, Walsh provides us with good training in how to think about human relationships in market terms. She and the others who are working this field may not have all the answers but they are helping us all to think more clearly and rationally and objectively about what goes on between people in this world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Power Minus Status Equals Abuse

It feels like an equation: Power minus status equals abuse.

Several recent studies have shown that individuals who have power over others but who do not receive the respect that status confers are more likely to be rude and abusive.

An individual who has both power and status tends to be more respectful toward others.

If abuse and rudeness are problems, one could diminish them would be to rectify the relationship between power and status.

Researchers point out the example of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib. These individuals had power over the inmate population, but within the military hierarchy they themselves were low status individuals.

They took it out on the prisoners, demeaning and humiliating them.

Researchers believe that the guards resented their low status and were showing their true feelings. Alternately, I suggest that they might be trying to rectify the disconnect, by increasing their feelings of status.

If they cannot have true status they can do what is necessary to feel as though they have it. Humiliating others enhances feelings of status.

Something similar happens when you are trying to speed up your exit from the store, thus granting power to the cashier, only to find that he or she is taking a perverse delight in slowing you down.

Obviously, this does not happen all the time. Yet, it happens often enough to be a problem.

Look at the equation in a different context.

Imagine a relationship where a woman has higher status than a man. Let’s us posit that the man is more powerful, in the sense of being physically stronger.

I recognize that it does happen occasionally that a woman is stronger than a man, but when it comes to brute force, men are largely stronger than women.

Status, whether social or job related, is more fluid.

If the equation is correct, a man who has more power and less status would be more likely to be rude and abusive, or to demean or humiliate his partner. 

By standard feminist thinking a woman who gains more status in the workplace, for having a better career, will be loved and respected as a person and not merely as a sexual object.

If the most recent studies are correct, the same woman, attached to a man who has lower status, will more likely to suffer abuse.

When a successful woman wants to find a man who is more successful than she is, perhaps she is revealing her understanding that getting involved with a lower status male spells danger. 

Leading by Example

If you get your leadership lessons from what you see on television and in the movies, you will come away with the impression that a great leader gives lots of orders and tells everyone what to do.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Leaders lead by setting the right example. If they set the wrong example, they cannot compensate for it by giving the right instructions.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review Roger Martin explains how it works at Procter and Gamble.

In his words: “Because people in organizations watch what their leader does and follow suit, the CEO wields a powerful lever: modeling desired behaviors.

“When P&G CEO A.G. Lafley insisted that in-home visits with consumers be arranged for him in whatever city he visited in the P&G worldwide network, executives throughout P&G realized that if the CEO wasn't too busy to do in-home consumer visits, neither were they. When he worked with the board to get his stock-based compensation to vest in one-tenth increments in each of the 10 years following his retirement from P&G, his organization got the unmistakable impression that P&G was focused on the very long term and that obsessing about one's own short-term compensation wasn't very CEO-like. When he spoke only rarely about shareholder value and only then as utterly derivative of P&G's performance on winning the consumer value equation and building powerful brands, P&G employees came to appreciate that while he cared about shareholder value, he saw it is an output of the things he aspired for P&G not a singular and direct goal.”

To be slightly more pedestrian about it, last night the Dallas Cowboys played the Washington Redskins. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo played the game despite serious injuries. The week before he had suffered fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, a doubtful starter because of a thigh contusion, tweeted: “I wasn't for sure about going tonight but if a guy with a puncture lung and broken rib can get out there and play I can.. Tony inspired me.”

Love on the Cheap

In the old days people used to protest for free love. Nowadays women do not give away their love for free, but still, if we believe the social psychologists, they have been reducing the price.

Multiple factors have caused women to lose control of what Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus calls: “the meet market.”

The Pill has made it easier for women to have sex without worrying about the consequences. Gender equality has made it easier for women to dispense with a male provider. A surplus of women on college campuses has made it difficult for any individual woman to place a high price on her intimacy. Internet porn has reduced the price of sexual stimulation to zero.  

The New York Post reports: “Regnerus likens the price of sex to the housing market. Too many foreclosures in one community, and the price of neighboring homes start to plummet. This is why single women in New York sometimes feel as though sex on the first date is a given: According to the market, it is.”

In old days women used to exchange sex for a lifetime commitment. Nowadays they give it away for the price of a couple of beers, if that.

Women might not feel very good about the way they are behaving, but they do not feel that they have a choice. In our non-judgmental age women who band together to address intimacy issues are likely to claim that they are proud of themselves for acting like sluts.

Yet, in market terms, women who are proud of their slutty behavior are lowering the value and the price of feminine sexuality, not just for themselves, but for all women.

Blaming men for this state of affairs is disingenuous, because women set the price and conditions for their intimacy. And women must bear responsibility for their own behavior.

The way women behave is the primary factor determining the market price for female sexuality.

In the not-too-distant past, and throughout most of human history, women found the behavior of prostitutes, strippers, porn stars, and sluts to be grossly offensive. They abhorred having to compete against women who were giving away, relatively cheaply, something that they held dear.

Today, women are actively competing against these less-than-reputable women, by  lowering the price of intimacy. It may have become a societal norm, but it is still not a good thing.

Today so many women have been giving it away cheaply that they refuse to believe that their behavior is in any way wrong. As they see it, hooking up is the rule more than the exception.

The research raises an important point that needs to be underscored. In a marketplace your behavior does not just affect you. It affects all other participants in the market.

When a group of participants bands together to lower the price of its merchandise, this affects all other market participants.  Many other merchants will discover that they have a choice between matching the low price or closing up shop.

The solution is for women to band together and withhold their sexual favors, to pull a Lysistrata.

Yet, the notion that a group of women in this feminist age is going to band together to withhold sex seems unrealistic. That does not make it a bad idea.

It might be bad for sex-positive feminism, but it would be good for women. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eating Alone

To be perfectly honest, I am not much interested in mice. I am willing to examine experiments involving these rodents, but I hesitate to draw stark conclusions from them.

I am going to make an exception today, because Time Magazine had just reported on a set of experiments that show that a sociable mouse will eat better and maintain a better weight than will a lonely mouse, without even being on a diet.

Time concludes that people who socialize are more likely to have better control over their weight. It does not quite make the next leap, to recognizing that eating alone is bad for your health, your weight, and your appetite.

It sounds like reinventing the wheel, but the experiments seem to telling us that the best way to control appetite is to eat with other people.

Today a goodly number of Americans are acting like mice running on an endless treadmill. As a nation, we are obsessed with dieting and counting calories, as though that were the pathway to health. 

If we believe the mice, however, the solution to America’s obesity epidemic might lie in formal eating rituals. I would add that table manners probably also contribute to proper alimentary habits, but that hypothesis, alas, cannot be tested with mice.

Could it be that this culture-driven emphasis on you, your appetite, and your calorie count is just a smokescreen? Could it be that the solution to America’s obesity problem lies in cafeterias and refectories, family dinners and business lunches, power breakfasts, Sunday brunches, and company picnics?


The Ethics of Income Redistribution

Having run out of policies and ideas Barack Obama is getting down to the real business, the one he understands.

Not knowing how to govern, Obama is back in campaign mode, rallying his base, the people who do not pay federal taxes, and urging them to revolt against the rich.

When Obama tells his audience that Congress must pass the bill, he is really saying: make the rich pay. The unstated subtext is:  they can afford it.

He has taken as his inspiration the oracle of Omaha, one of the world’s greatest investors, a man who has recently chosen, for reasons that escape reason, to drag his reputation through the muck and mire of partisan politics by proclaiming, with all due hypocrisy, that he should be paying the same tax rate as his secretary.

When the world’s commentators rise up with one voice to explain to the great Buffett that nothing prevents him from making a generous donation to the treasure, he responds that he refuses to take the initiative until the government metes out equal punishment on all of his fellow billionaires.

You would not expect Buffett to set a good example, would you? After all, he has already chosen to set an example of tax avoidance by refusing to take a salary. Thereby, he avoids the higher tax rate on salaries and enjoys the lower rate on capital gains.

Better yet, Buffett has tried to set an example of tax avoidance by donating his fortune to charity and by leading a campaign to encourage other billionaires to do the same.

Anyway, Buffett has become the poster child for income redistribution, and also for gross hypocrisy. His reputation is falling faster than Obama’s poll numbers. It makes no sense to me that Buffett would want to besmirch his good name with such an absurd campaign, but that does not prevent him from doing so. 

Income distribution has become Obama’s favorite campaign slogan. In the last campaign Obama said that we needed to spread the wealth. The nation elected him to the presidency.

Now he is trying to tell the poor and disadvantaged that the fault for their chronic joblessness lies in the fact that Warren Buffett does not pay enough tax.

In truth, Obama is not offering more jobs; he is promising more government-subsidized joblessness.

This morning Victor Davis Hanson called income redistribution schemes a symptom of “aging societies.” I would add, of aging rich societies.

Drawing on his expertise as a classicist, Hanson points out that we’ve seen it before: “Redistribution of wealth rather than emphasis on its creation is surely a symptom of aging societies. Whether at Byzantium during the Nika Riots or in bread and circuses Rome, when the public expects government to provide security rather than the individual to become autonomous through a growing economy, then there grows a collective lethargy.”

It is not just about rich individuals. Hanson wisely extends the concept to apply to society itself.

In his words: “All affluent societies believe that they are just too rich not to be able to afford another regulation, just one more moralizing indulgence, yet again an added entitlement. But as we see now in postmodern America, idle 250,000 acres of farmland for a tiny fish, shut down an entire oilfield, put off a new natural gas find in worry over possible environmental alteration, add a cent to the sales tax, mandate yet another prescription drug entitlement not funded, or offer yet another in-state tuition discount to an illegal alien — and the costs finally equate to an implosion as we see in Greece or California. And as we know from past collapses, a new entitlement in a matter of minutes becomes an institutionalized right whose withdrawal causes far more anguish than its prior nonexistence.”

The mantra that defines the restributionalist ethos is: we are so rich that we can afford it. If you say we can’t afford it, you are saying that we are not very rich. Thereby, you are attacking national pride.

As a rich, proud nation, we can afford to shut down industries, take time off, slack off, and enjoy a life of indulgence. Heck, we are so rich that we can provide everyone a good life, even one that they have not earned.

If you disagree, you are carrying water for all the avaricious misers, the ones who want to hold on to their ill-gotten gains, gains that they cannot possibly spend, gains that they can only spend their time counting.

Why are their gains ill-gotten? Because no one is intrinsically that much better than anyone else.

Why, after all, should Warren Buffett be so much richer than his secretary? Wouldn’t fairness dictate that the government disembarrass him of a goodly portion of his wealth?

True enough, some people have earned their wealth. No one should ever begrudge them their success.

Unfortunately, more than a few of the wealthiest people in the world have not earned what they have.

Some have won the genetic lottery; they are spending the money that was earned by their ancestors.

Others have won the celebrity lottery; they are rewarded far beyond what they contribute to society.

Unearned riches often produce spoiled brats and decadent aristocrats. They also produce dimwitted celebrities.

Unearned wealth is more often spent than invested. The vision of the idle rich spending money they did not earn often provokes outrage. .

Hanson writes: “But the rub is not whether they are rich but whether they are idle, whether they send a message that affluence can make life better, rather than affluence is inevitably corrupting.”

To be fair, many of the very wealthy are anguished over the spending habits of their progeny. They often despair over the fact that their heirs might never know the joy of hard work and earned accomplishment. And many of them set strict limits on how much will be passed down to the next generations.

No discussion of unearned wealth would be complete without pointing out celebrities.

The people who are outraged at the idle rich are often happy to revel in the antics of an overpriced, untalented celebrity.

For reasons that no one seems able to explain the culture sees nothing wrong with a movie star earning tens of millions of dollars for pretending that he is someone he is not while it sees something radically wrong in a banker or an industrialist earning the same income for managing a corporation that provides employment for tens of thousands of people.  

A teenaged singing sensation has earning power that has no real relationship with the amount of work he has put into his career or to what he is contributing to society. Thus, his income will largely feel unearned and unreal.  

Often enough, a celebrity will not think about how to put his money to work but about how to spend as much of it as quickly as possible.

When you feel that your gains are ill-gotten, you are more likely to try to waste them.

The culture of celebrity is a culture of affluent leisure. It is a culture that values clubbing and vacations, not hard work and effort.

Often enough, celebrities join billionaires in pushing for income redistribution. They do not feel that they have earned what they have and prefer to give some of it away before it is all taken away. Many of the superrich are so wealthy that no tax burden would ever affect their lifestyle. Thus, lobbying for higher taxes is a cost-free way to show that they do not count among the greedy rich.