Monday, October 31, 2011

The Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties

We live in a world of political double standards. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans do not need to play by the same rules because they are not judged as equals.

A male personage on one side of the political divide is accused of using obscene language with a female subordinate. The commentariat reacts with an outrage fitting a crime against humanity. 

A male personage on the other side is accused of sexual harassment and rape. Those who were outraged beyond reason at the first happily take these accusations in stride. No problem, kids, he's one of ours.

I don’t need to tell you which is which.

Liberals, progressives and other itinerant leftists are hellbent on fostering an American guilt culture.

Most of them do not believe in God, so they are slightly embarrassed to promote a culture that involves sin and penance and redemption ... but not too much.

The good of the tribe trumps all moral considerations.

If an unfortunate young woman is sexually assaulted in her Occupy Wall Street tent, the correct leftist response is to shut up.

Yet, it takes more than professions of faithlessness to escape the structures and strictures of religious thinking. Liberals may abhor religion but they will shun anyone who does not join them in worshipping at the Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties. (CWLP, for short.)

If you live in New York or San Francisco or Cambridge you know what I mean.

Verily, all human institutions are subject to corruption. In medieval Europe corruption infiltrated the Christian Church through the practice of selling “indulgences.”

We recall it because Martin Luther railed against the practice when he launched the Protestant Reformation.

Theologically, the issue is complicated and contentious. Receiving or purchasing an indulgence is like having your sentence suspended or commuted. In medieval Europe indulgences were happily given to those who  had made especially generous contributions to monasteries or to Church building funds.

The scandal went beyond the fact that an indulgence suspended or commuted your sentence. By making it so easy for the rich to receive indulgences, the Church also seemed to be saying: all is forgiven, go forth and sin again.

In a column relating the medieval practice to the workings of what I am calling the Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties, Victor Davis Hanson explains that medieval bankers who practiced usury—that is, loan sharking-- bought indulgences from the Church and then went out and continued to practice usury.

Similarly, when today’s enlightened plutocrats want to continue fouling the environment by burning obscene amounts of greenhouse gases, they can buy carbon-offset credits on exchanges that were set up by Al Gore, a high priest of the CWLP.

They can also, Hanson explains, be spared punishment for their extravagant waste of energy by loudly advocating for cap-and-trade legislation.

When the denizens of the CWLP rise up to point accusatory fingers at the hyperrich 1%, those members of this cohort who worship at the CWLP are automatically given a pass.

Demonstrators march on the abodes of Rupert Murdoch, John Paulson, the Koch brothers, and the Goldman Sachs bankers, but they bypass the equally extravagant homes of Michael Moore and George Soros.

In Hanson’s words: “Yet when asked about his own 1% status recently on CNN, [Michael] Moore was left sputtering and grasping for straws about his high-school education and all the philanthropic things he does. In other words, his liberal fides supposedly purchase him an indulgence from the supposed sins of being rich — in the manner that the left, the media, and popular culture do not go after George Soros for nearly breaking the Bank of England (making a $1 billion profit in currency speculation), or being convicted of insider trading in France (upheld on appeal). There are no signs at Occupy Wall Street damning the Soros speculations that fund ‘good’ causes.”

In medieval times you could buy indulgences by giving to the right charities. Today, you can purchase indulgence by giving to the right charities. Obviously, these are not the same charities, but the principle lives. 

If you are really, really rich and want to avoid the opprobrium of the left, you need but give generously to the right trendy causes. 

It doesn’t matter whether or not the superrich really believe what they say. Their liberal pieties and charitable giving ensures that they do not have to pay for their sins against nature and humanity.

Better yet, and this is the true scandal, they are then allowed to go back to their sinful ways.

Hanson writes: “Savvy wealthy people — whether the Kennedy Trust beneficiaries, a Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett — understand that minimizing tax exposure, trying to avoid federal inheritance taxes through foundations, or accumulating vast riches are, in the liberal sense of ethics, offset by progressive platitudes. In short, we are supposed to think differently of John Kerry trying to avoid taxes on his multimillion-dollar superfluous yacht than we do of a car dealer’s Lexus. Warren Buffett can praise big government and higher taxes as the indulgence necessary to feel OK about shorting the government billions of future inheritance taxes by giving his fortune to a privately-run foundation that apparently is felt to be more efficient than the Department of Human Services, who, after all, could use the cash in these times of mega-deficits.”

And then there are the universities. Academic thinkers routinely excoriate employers like WalMart for not paying a living wage, but universities exploit graduate students and adjunct professors with impunity.

These part-timers do much, if not most of the teaching, and receive salaries that often compare unfavorably with the minimum wage. 

Yet, no one ever accuses universities of exploiting and oppressing its labor force.

Hanson writes: “The university is a loudly progressive institution and so has bought itself an indulgence that the coal mine owner, retailer, or contractor cannot. So we are left with the near daily appeals from the presidents of our almae matres, appealing in letters and email for cash, citing all sorts of illiberal tendencies in our society that endanger university funding, but never a tad of introspection about the exploitation that props up his university.”

Those who attend the Church of the Wholly Liberal Pieties have also taken it on themselves to bring up their children in an atmosphere that reeks of ... indulgence.

In a stronger culture, children would be encouraged to learn from their mistakes. They would be taught to correct their bad habits and to work on improving their character.

In a culture defined by indulgence, parents forgive their children’s sins. They explain away bad behavior and see it as an opportunity to show unconditional love for an errant offspring.

Too many American parents feel that their role is to shower their children with love and affection, regardless of how they behave.

If it is never little Johnny’s fault, he need not be punished and he need not give up anything. Wouldn’t want to be cruel and abusive, would we?

If he did not really do something wrong, he need not hide his head in shame and need not offer anything more than a perfunctory apology.

Whether or not this is their intention, parents who attend the CWLP are allowing their children to go forth and sin again.

These children grow up to assume that if they belong to the right Church, if they support liberal causes, implement liberal policies, and mouth all of the proper liberal pieties, they can get away with just about anything.

Don't believe me? Just ask Bill Clinton. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reactionary and Misanthropic

If you’re reading about it in midtown Manhattan it doesn’t sound real. It sounds like a paranoid delusion that arose from an overheated mental swamp.

People in my neighborhood—which is, midtown Manhattan—wax poetic about old growth forests. They send money to groups that promise to save the spotted owl. They oppose to the mining industry because they know, to a certainty, that mining is dirty.

Visions of the pristine wilderness dance in their heads so they refuse to believe that environmental regulation is destroying the livelihood of our fellow citizens.

Some are pro-life and some are pro-choice. All should be pro-livelihood.

As the liberal denizens of the great metropolis sign checks to environmental groups they indulge their favorite reveries, of polar bears frolicking on ice floes and of mosquitoes feasting on caribou blood.

They know full well that we are the world’s greatest energy importer. And they are strongly opposed to it.

They favor new energy sources, but only as long as they do not damage the perfect harmony of nature.

They so love God’s wilderness that they cannot allow anyone to alter it. 

They fought long and hard to save the habitat of the spotted owl, but they thrill to the possibility of putting up more of those bird-killing machines called windmill farms.

Yes, the gentle folk in midtown Manhattan dream of a bygone era before nature had been fouled by human ingenuity and industry. They yearn for days of yore when humans lived in perfect harmony with nature and when their life expectancy was 32.

Therefore, they cannot relate to the conflict that is currently going on between environmental regulators and the citizens of Northern California. And they probably do not understand what Steven Greenhut means when he sagely notes that: the: “modern environmentalist ethos … puts wildlands above humanity.”

The people of Northern California have a problem. Environmental regulators have shut down the mining and forestry industries, so they have only two remaining businesses: farming and ranching.

Those businesses depend on water from four hydroelectric dams are on the Klamath River.

Naturally, this offends the regulators and they now want to destroy the dams. It’s almost as though they woke up one day and decided to take offense at the fact that these people could still make a living.

Greenhut explains the ravages that environmentalists are causing throughout California: “The people in Siskiyou were echoing points I've heard throughout rural California. As they see it, government regulators are pursuing controversial policies – i.e., diverting water from farms to save a bait fish, the Delta smelt, clamping down on carbon dioxide emissions to address global warming even if it means driving food processors out of the Central Valley, demolishing dams to increase a population of fish that isn't endangered – without caring about the costs to rural residents.

“When resource-related jobs leave rural areas, there aren't many other ways for residents to earn a decent living. Society collapses, and poverty expands. There aren't enough tourist-oriented gift shops to keep everyone gainfully employed.”

If it is anything, the environmentalist “ethos” is reactionary and misanthropic. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and their livelihood, and America, even the mass of it that lives on the other side of the Hudson, does not seem to give a damn.

Or else, Americans have been cowed into silence because they are afraid to look like they are pro-pollution.

The environmentalist mind is filled with visions of gurgling brooks and green fields. All of which serve to hide the ugly truth is that its efforts often hurt citizens who are trying to protect their livelihood.

It’s a modern form of human sacrifice. Livelihoods are sacrificed to the gods of Nature because someone got the idea that the only way to assuage their guilt was to scapegoat innocent citizens. 

The Coming Arab Winter

From the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, I have cautioned against optimism. Link to my articles here.

I thought it naïve to believe that liberal democracy was suddenly going to break out in the Middle East, and I had no confidence in the Obama Administration’s ability to manage the foreign policy challenges that events were posing.

Several recent articles in the media buttress the case against optimism.

I have already reported on the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt. I found it impossible to believe that a culture that systematically mutilates young girls will suddenly embrace civilized values.

Writing in The New Republic Betwa Sharma shows how the fall of Mubarak has allowed those who favor genital mutilation to recover the ground that they had been losing to a campaign initiated and directed by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak.

No one has much to say about this, but the truth is that Egyptian girls have been victims of the fall of Mubarak. You have to wonder why no one is reporting on this inconvenient fact.

At the Daily Caller Barry Rubin explains that when the Obama administration abandoned Mubarak it lost the confidence of many of our other allies in the region. Among them the King of Jordan, who now considers us untrustworthy. Rubin even suggests that under the circumstances the Iraqi government could not be expected to allow the troops of an inconstant ally like America on its land.

It’s worthwhile to read Rubin, if only to remind ourselves that there’s more to foreign policy than slaying the dragon. You need to know whose dragon you are slaying and you need to calculate the real world unforeseen consequences.

At the Fox News site, James Rosen offers some further analysis of a point that I underscored last week: the winners in the North African theatre of the Arab Spring seem to be the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist sympathizers.

Happy reading!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It Takes a State

Even if you believe, as I do, that American educators see themselves more as therapists than as pedagogues, the evidence still shocks.

And even if you believe that schools are wasting money on bureaucrats and pseudo-therapists, seeing it  in action still doesn’t feel quite real.

How, you ask yourself, can someone who is charged with educating a child exploit that child for sociocultural ends?

How can they rationalize the fact that their victims are most often poor and disadvantaged children? You know, and I know, that wealthy parents would never tolerate what is going on in the seventh grade of the Berendo School in California.

Heather MacDonald has the story. If you want to know why American schoolchildren cannot compete, this tells you more than you wanted to know.

At first, it feels innocent. The children attending this school live in a neighborhood that is infested with gangs. The school has chosen to combat this problem with… you guessed it… group therapy.

MacDonald described the scene: “In 2006, I visited Berendo’s Violence Intervention Program for children who show signs of gang involvement and their overwhelmingly single mothers. The students’ siblings often came from a dizzying array of different fathers. The Violence Intervention Program’s listless group therapy session did not inspire confidence that students were better off parked there than in front of a math textbook. “

Trying to combat the pathology of non-existent families with group therapy seems worthy of Candide. Taking such an approach seriously tells me that those involved are disconnected from reality.

More recently, the Los Angeles Times reported another therapeutic initiative: “On a recent morning, Trina Greene, manager of Peace Over Violence’s Start Strong program, faced a class at Berendo Middle School in Pico-Union and dived into matters of love and control.

“She took students through an exercise in which they had to decide whether to leave a relationship. Under one scenario, a girl pinched a boy for looking at another girl. The students said they would end the relationship. But when she bought him a gold chain for his birthday, a number of them wavered, saying they might stay.”

The point is almost too obvious, but apparently it needs to be emphasized. These twelve-year-old children do not need to learn how to conduct relationships. They need to learn algebra.

If this type of classroom exercise was coupled with rigorous training in math and science, it would be less offensive. But, a school that thinks that group therapy is going to cure gang violence is not going to promote rigorous academic standards.

In MacDonald’s words: “Only 35 percent of Hispanic seventh-graders at this overwhelmingly Hispanic middle school were deemed proficient in California’s English Language Arts test in 2010-11, and only 43 percent were deemed proficient in Math. Yet Berendo’s students are spending precious class time role-playing dating scenarios rather than studying the grammar of dependent clauses or poring over algebra work sheets.”

Now, of course, the school district is thinking about expanding its Peace Over Violence program.

You might have guessed that the program is designed to address a real problem: domestic violence and abusive relationships.

No one is surprised to learn that a household where one woman is bringing up several children, each of whom has a different father, contains more than the usual quota of conflict.

The administrators believe that they are striking a blow against domestic violence, especially violence against women, by taking a bunch of 12 year olds and teaching them how to take a stand against abuse.

Given these children's home lives, what concept do you think they have of caring and loving relationships?

It’s the kind of message you throw at middle class coeds, not  because it is going to prod them toward greater self-respect, but because it is going to make them better feminists.

It is good to learn how to walk away from an abusive relationship, but how many girls and young women are taught to behave with men as though they respect themselves? How many of them are being taught not to hook up?

Just asking?

Since the point requires further emphasis, MacDonald points out that “relationship” difficulties in poor and minority communities do not derive from a lack of empathy, but from the breakdown of the family.

If social workers have been trying to produce better family environment, perhaps they should start thinking that they have gotten it all grievously wrong.

She explains: “Schools have been piling on social services for decades, yet the illegitimacy rate continues to rise, most cataclysmically among blacks (73 percent) and Latinos (53 percent). (Teen birth rates have gone down since the early 1990s, though they are still magnitudes higher than in Europe and Asia.) The social dysfunction that results from this spiraling illegitimacy rate provides the pretext for further increasing the school social work bureaucracy.”

Those who support these therapeutic interventions must believe that they are doing God’s work. Were you to ask them, they would tell you that they have been called upon to compensate for what these children do not have at home. They would say that their fondest wish is for children to learn these things at home. Since they don’t, this army of do-gooders has been called into action.

MacDonald asks us to look at the question of causation here. When schools usurp parental functions, are they solving a problem or aggravating it?

MacDonald asks: “Isn’t teaching about dating the family’s responsibility? The all-purpose justification for the takeover of schools by the social work bureaucracy is: ‘Parents are not doing their jobs.’ But the causality here works both ways. The more that schools purport to take on the functions of parents, the more marginalized those parents become and the less class time is devoted to the academic material that could help propel students out of underclass culture.”

I would take it further. If parents are marginalized, and if their judgment is overruled by school counselors, this must tell young people that their parents are incompetent and are not deserving of respect or obedience. All children, those with good parents and those with bad parents, are being taught not to respect their parents' authority.

They are also telling these children parents do not need to create strong families or to provide children with a moral education. They are also telling these young people that parents need not become good role models for their children.

These programs send a clear message to these children. They tell the children that when they grow up they need only reproduce; the state will take care of the rest.

In this pedagogical dystopia, children do not belong to their parents; they belong to the state. They do not grow up in families; they are brought up by academic guardians to believe in politically correct values.

These practices enact a philosophy that many people embraced when it was presented in a more anodyne form in a book called: It Takes a Village.

The programs are now promoting a value system that is more likely to produce broken families.

MacDonald explains: “The dominant ethos of the social service lobby guarantees that it will fail to stem family breakdown, even if it had any hope of serving as a viable surrogate for parental oversight to begin with. The lobby is obsessively value-neutral about promiscuity and family structure. It’s fine for teens to have sex, so long as they do so in a nonsexist, non-heteronormative, condom-using way. It’s also fine for women and girls to have children out of wedlock; to suggest otherwise violates the first principle of feminism: ‘Strong women can do it all.’ Children don’t need fathers; they just need good ‘support systems’.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Is Bullying an Epidemic?

It’s an article of therapeutic faith. As a culture we believe that once we have identified a social problem we need to fill the media with stories about it.

In order to draw attention and resources to the problem, reporters and pundits start calling it an epidemic.

Everyone is horrified by the epidemic. It is destroying the lives of our children and our parents and ourselves.

And everyone takes the opportunity to show off his moral righteousness by declaring that he refuses to tolerate the epidemic. By making people more aware, he is striking a blow for  goodness.

For reasons that no one can quite explain, we believe that increased awareness and enhanced consciousness of a problem is the first step to solving it.

It feels like a vestige of what feminists used to call consciousness raising: a circumstance where women would become aware of how terrible their marriages were and how oppressed they were by the patriarchy.

Feminists rationalized consciousness raising by saying that these marriages were bad before women became aware of how bad they were, and that women were miserable before knowing that the fault lay in patriarchal oppression. If women were not unhappy in their marriages, they were induced to get with the program.

The result of all this consciousness raising was to send more than a few perfectly good marriages into divorce court. Invariably, this worked to the detriment of women and children. We expect nothing else from feminism.

Now, Larry Magid addresses the same issue in the context of the new so-called epidemic of bullying. Links here and here.

He reports on important research that shows that the more we talk about bullying and the more we become hysterical about the epidemic of bullying, the more we encourage children to become bullies.

The more we talk about it, even as we denounce it, the more it starts feeling like a social norm.

Peer group pressure being what it is, adolescents will hear about the epidemic and think that if they are not bullying someone they are not just like everyone else. As we know, adolescents want, above all else, to be like the other kids.
Of course, one wonders whether the same applies to the “epidemics” of sexting and of eating disorders.

Neither Magid nor I wish to minimize the negative effects of bullying. We are both saying that when you whip the public into a frenzy, you are not making the problem better. You are making it worse.

This is consistent with symptom selection theory, explained by Ethan Watters in his book, Crazy Like Us. If the press indulges an orgy of reporting about anorexia, as it did a while ago in Hong Kong, it will produce a rash of cases in a place where none existed before.

Of course, some people have a vested interest in getting the public lathered up. For them, more bullying means more business.

To render their panic credible, they tend to declare every childish taunt and insulting behavior to be bullying.

In Magid’s words: “Manifestations of cyberbullying include name calling, sending embarrassing pictures, sharing personal information or secrets without permission, and spreading rumors. It can also include trickery, exclusion, and impersonation.

“When talking about bullying and cyberbullying, it’s important to remember that not every incident is equally harmful.  There are horrendous cases where children are terribly hurt but there are many cases where kids are able to handle it themselves. That’s not to say it’s ever right — there is never an excuse for being mean — but parents and authorities need to avoid jumping to immediate conclusions until they understand the severity of an incident. And, of course, different children will react differently to incidents depending on a number of factors including their own physiological makeup, vulnerability and resiliency.”

More bullying means more sensitivity training and more bureaucrats to deal with the problem.

Children will be told, indirectly, that bullying is normal and that they are incapable of defending themselves. Not only do they need parental defenders, but they will need an army of educrats performing group therapy in high schools.

As always, the faux therapists will take the occasion to shower these children with empathy, the better to help them to get in touch with their kinder, gentler, more sensitive sides.

Bullying exists. In the best of all possible worlds the child who is being bullied learns to fight back.

Here’s the best known example, from Australia:

Can't Find Work

Let's hope, as the blogger Wizbang suggests, that its photoshopped, but still:

The War Against Fertility

Nudged by her mother, Columbia University undergraduate Boykin has written a long and cogent article about the feminist bias against fertility.

She describes her epiphany: “I am one of many driven Barnard women who exist to succeed, to graduate, and to excel in the way our college has prepared us to—to work one day in a profession on the same level as our male peers, in whichever field we desire. But that sunny summer morning a black, vaguely baby-shaped cloud impeded my images for the future—apparently, I’d forgotten to consider children.”

Why had the thought never crossed her mind? Why had it been repressed from consciousness? Clearly, the feminism had forbidden it.

When it comes to sex, feminism worries most about contraception, abortion and STDs. It has militated for the right not to conceive, and for the right not to bear children. It has always placed far more value on orgasms than on fertility. Motherhood, feminists say, can wait.

For decades now, feminism has been at war against female biology. The victims have invariably been women. Those who have suffered the most are those who put off having children until it was too late.

Feminism has been in the business of repressing female reproductive potential. It has made fertility the enemy of women’s career success, but, most especially of women becoming feminists.

Boykin writes: “The practice of sublimating biological conditions in order to achieve greatness is cemented by a mindset cultivated in college. At Barnard, and at many colleges, it is the norm for students to have a full course load and an internship, straight As and a great set of extracurricular activities. Students overload their schedules and forgo sleep, proper meals, and often, sanity, in order to keep all the balls in the air. But with this extremist devotion to academics and passive attitude to our physical selves, what does the future look like? If you spend your college years ignoring your body’s needs in order to get ahead, what’s to stop you from accepting an 80-hour workweek in the future? What’s to stop you from being too afraid to ask about maternity leave, or cheating the biological clock to satisfy your professional dreams even if you desire children?”

As I say, Boykin gets it.

She gets that every woman knows about the biological clock. But she also gets that young women are indoctrinated to believe that fertility is their enemy, something to be suppressed, controlled, or ignored.

So, Boykin set out to learn about how fertility is or is not discussed at Barnard. She discovers, unsurprisingly, that it is always defined in terms of work/life balance, as though it were an accretion that will naturally follow after graduate study and a brilliant career.

Boykin's mother is hinting at the joys of motherhood, especially the joys of grandmotherhood, but campus feminists have nothing to say about the joys of motherhood or the miracle of conception.

Feminism is willing to acknowledge motherhood, but it never sees it as something to be embraced, enjoyed, or relished. Surely, it has never seen motherhood as something to be done when the body is better equipped to do it.

Feminists have never been honest about fertility. They have told young women that postponing childbearing will bring them a great career, a great husband, a great family.

Boykin discovers that it’s a lie. Life is never about having it all. Life is about making trade-offs.

As a friend of mine, a working mother, once told me, a woman can have a successful career and be a mother, but she cannot work full time and be a great mother.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Cure for Narcissism

What time is it?

It’s time to get over the idea that insight is therapeutic.

Those psychotherapists who still believe that they are in the business of doling out insights are not going to like the news.

Then again, how did they ever come to believe that a mere idea, a wisp of a thing, if even that, is going to cure what ails you.

Hopefully, they are not so addicted to this idea that they get DTs.

The new research on narcissism should disabuse them of their belief.

If therapists are still hoping that they can cure a narcissist by telling him that his precious and charming personality is really a disease, they are not going to be happy to read the new research.

Telling someone that his personality fits into a bona fide category in the bona fide DSM IV does nothing to impel him to change his errant and arrant ways.

If you read Jeffrey Kluger’s report in Time Magazine, you will be struck by the fact that narcissists are well suited to one-night stands, but ill-suited to long term relationships.

All things considered, this must give us pause.

In Kluger’s words: “It's a deep and all but certain truth about narcissistic personalities that to meet them is to love them, but to know them well is to find them unbearable. Confidence quickly curdles into arrogance; smarts turn to smugness, charm turns to smarm. They will talk endlessly about themselves, but when they ask about you — well, never mind, because they never do.”

I doubt that a man (or woman) can live on one-night stands alone, but our culture encourages them.

If adult Americans attain puberty during their teen years and choose, thanks to cultural influences, to marry in their thirties, then they are more likely to have more one-night stands and fewer relationships.

If they choose to postpone marriage in favor of career advancement, then relationships are a threat to their careers. The culture has primed them for one-night stands.

Those of us who are older, and presumably, wiser, believe that one-night stands are bad for most sentient humans.

Still, if that is what you know, then you will have developed the skills that make you a more proficient pick-up artist, or make it more likely that you will be picked up.

A narcissist is the kind of person who is most likely to thrive under such conditions.

If a narcissist is being rewarded for his narcissism with a steady stream of hot, commitment-free sex, it’s not going to be very easy to persuade him that there is something wrong with his personality.

The same applies to celebrities, especially those who work on short-term projects, like movie shoots or recording sessions.

People who work in an office or on a team are going to have a very strong incentive to get over their narcissism.

Narcissists are not, however, going to take it all lying down. They will defend their arrogance. As the eminently narcissistic architect, Frank Lloyd Wright said: “Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no reason to change."

This means that Frank Lloyd Wright should not be your role model. It also tells you that it is difficult to treat narcissism if you live in a culture that values authenticity over sociability.

If you do really do not care about other people beyond serial quickie encounters, or if you are so thoroughly infatuated with your own greatness that you see no need to have other people in your loife, then you can only overcome these habits with hypocrisy and fakery.

If one set of social skills makes you great at short-term encounters, then, if you should want to develop long-term relationships, you will need to learn new social skills

Narcissists love themselves, true enough. They receive rewards for their self-love. Yet, many of them remain narcissists because they do not know any better.

If the narcissist knows in his heart that he is better than everyone and that he need not descend to their level, then he needs to train himself to show respect and consideration towards other people.

At first, it will not feel natural; it might even feel hypocritical.

If authenticity allows people to rationalize rudeness, then perhaps we should be on better terms with inauthenticity.

Narcissism is impervious to insight. What it really needs is what I will call outsight, but only in the sense that it knows how it looks to other people.

Insight will not motivate the narcissist to change his ways. For that he will need to look at himself as though he were looking at someone else. If Narcissus did not recognize that the image he was looking at was his own, then narcissists need to understand that their feelings about themselves are inaccurate representations of how they look to others.

A narcissist might become mesmerized by his beauty, but he should also be made to see that, for all of his boundless self-esteem, he looks to the world like a complete and utter fool. Narcissists are trapped in an aesthetic; they need to learn to function according to an ethic.

The New Middle East

While Barack Obama is basking in the glow of his latest foreign policy success, it is worthwhile, as always, to take a deep breath and take a closer look at what has been happening in the Middle East.

For now Obama has earned considerable street cred for having killed or been instrumental in killing three major terrorist leaders: Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Moammar Qaddafi.

These executions are surely a good thing. Assassination makes for great political theater, and more than a few people, on the left and right, are cheering Obama’s grand performance.

One cannot exclude the possibility that these are merely pre-election heroics, designed, above all, to make the commander in chief look commanding. At the least, they make him look like a brave defender of American interests.

Yet, offing a terrorist leader is not the same thing as implementing policy. In the past, when people spoke of terrorism, they spoke of draining the swamp that bred it. That swamp has been and still is Islamist ideology.

Those who are cheerleading the Arab Spring are persuaded that the swamp is being drained. Others are much less optimistic.

Whether by intention or inadvertence Barack Obama has changed the map of the Middle East. If we ask ourselves whether it has changed for the better, in terms of American interests, the situation becomes more murky.

Here’s the problem. Say what you will, but Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Qaddafi were American allies. As was the former leader of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine bin Ali.

They were not good guys, but they were our guys. The little I know about foreign policy—and I do not pretend to any expertise—has taught me that forging and nurturing alliances matters more than grand theatrical gestures.

Most Americans may have missed the fact that America just eliminated three allies, but the Saudis have not missed it. They have learned that being an American ally is not good for your health in the age of Obama.

For now, the Saudis are busily crafting new alliances with Russia and China, the better to protect their own influence and maintain their own power.

Nor have the Saudis or the Israelis missed the salient point that the group that has gained the most from the rebellions in North Africa has been the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak and Qaddafi were tyrants. They were oppressing their people. But they were also suppressing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.

We all know that the Muslim Brotherhood is a fever swamp that has bred more than its share of terrorism.

As a new Islamist dawn rises over Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, there is cause for caution, if not concern.

Supporters of the fiction of an Arab Spring think that it’s all growing pains and that a new birth of liberal democracy is inevitable.

Others say that it’s too early to know whether the new regimes in those countries will be hard line Islamists or moderate Islamists.

It seems clear, however, that they will be Islamist, and thus, no friends to America. It is also clear that by the time we find out it will be too late to exert any influence.

The learned Max Boot tells us not to worry about the advent of Sharia Law in Libya and Tunisia. An Andrew McCarthy counters that we have just replaced an American ally, however flawed he was, with groups that adhere to Islamist ideology.  To top it off, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy is already whining that things in Libya are not turning out as he had predicted.

McCarthy and others have pointed out that the Libyan insurgency arose in Benghazi, which was also an exceptionally fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.

While America’s allies in the region are not doing so well, its enemies are not doing so badly. When the Green Revolution came to Iran, the Obama administration said nothing. The mullahs and they allies were given free reign to murder, torture and rape. They suppressed the nascent rebellion.

When it comes to the current uprising against in Iran’s great ally, Syria, the Obama administration has been all talk, and no action.

Most importantly, a monumental diplomatic failure  will now force America to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The winner in this fiasco is surely Iran.

The administration is saying that it has accomplished its mission in Iraq, but few observers doubt that continued American troop presence in Iraq would have served as an impetus to Iraqi democracy and as an impediment to expanding Iranian influence.

If you look at developments in the Middle East in terms of American interests and American alliances, things have not been going so well.

Does the new Middle East enact the vision of the leftist American president? Was Obama simply so inexperienced in foreign policy that he could only rely on leftist instincts that had been marinating in a mythic world where the people rise up against fascist tyrants and autocrats?

At the least, neither Obama nor his vice president nor his Secretary of State seems especially concerned with protecting American allies or American interests in the region.

History will render a verdict on the Obama policies, but it will probably wait until after the next election.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Judging Character

You will not get very far in this world if you’re a poor judge of character.

But, how do you go about judging someone’s character?

You can’t do it in the blink of an eye. You might fall in love at first sight with someone who has good character, but it’s more likely that you will misjudge.

Of course, if the person you fall in love with is a friend of a friend, or has been vetted by your community, the chances are better that he or she has good character.

Still, you do not judge character at a glance.

Many of us know this. And many of us still do it. How often have you dismissed a person from your circle for a momentary lapse of judgment, an offensive or insensitive remark?

Forgiveness is a virtue, and it's not a bad idea to learn to forgive singular mistakes. But you cannot forgive someone who does not ask to be forgiven. And you cannot keep forgiving someone who keeps making the same mistakes.

Habitual mistakes are another story. Character shows itself in what we do habitually. Our habits, good or bad, are our character.

If you always show up on time, I know something relevant about your character. If you only rarely keep your word, I have the right to conclude that you have a significant character flaw.

But, if you mostly keep your appointments and then forget one, I will not consider that episode a sign of bad character.

Character reveals itself over time. It shows itself in consistent behavior.

If you have fallen into one or another bad habit, you can only repair the damage to your character over time.

Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day. It wasn't rebuilt in a day either.

Knowing how to judge character is not the same as making  a psychiatric diagnosis.
When psychoanalyst Justin Frank muses that George Bush had unresolved childhood sadistic impulses and that Barack Obama suffers from an accommodation disorder he is merely showing that psychoanalysis is pathetically inadequate to judging character.

For all of his years of training Frank can do no better than to descend to the level of playground taunts: George Bush was too mean and Barack Obama is too nice.

This is simple-minded to an extreme.

As it happens, George Bush has always been considered, by friend and foe alike, as a nice guy. Barack Obama has never impressed people as a very caring individual. For someone with an accommodation disorder, he was extremely intransigent during his administration’s first two years.

As has always been the case, psychoanalytic insights have nothing to do with reality.

Obviously, Justin Frank is covering his political bias with pseudoscientific cant. He is, however, demonstrating that psychoanalysis has a lower calling, lower than the mere effort to treat mental illness, task at which it has never distinguished itself.

Psychoanalysis has a lower calling, that being its use as an instrument of character assassination.

Those who take offense to this view should reflect a little about what constitutes real sadism. Which was more sadistic: the capture, trial, and execution of Saddam Hussein, or the capture, sodomization, and assassination of Moammar Gadhafi?

Now that Barack Obama is notably proud of the way Gadhafi was sodomized and assassinated, is it really fair to ignore his sadistic impulses?

We learn nothing when we imagine that world leaders are acting out unresolved childhood issues. If you think that George Bush invaded Iraq because he had an unresolved Oedipus complex, you can just as easily argue that if he had not invaded Iraq it would have been because he had an unresolved Oedipus complex.

We should judge world leaders in terms of their leadership: the policies they implement and the success or failure of those policies. We should not try to assassinate their character because we disagree with their philosophy or policies. 

And how does the supremely arrogant Justin Frank come to think that he knows the answers to difficult public policy issues?

Looking for childhood antecedents is an exercise in futility. If we want to know about a leader’s character, we should not pretend to have special insight into his psyche.

Leaders are individuals and individuals have character traits. They have habitual behaviors that count as part of their character. If these behaviors are visible to the naked eye, they tell us as much as we need to know about the leader’s character.

They certainly tell us much more than do a psychoanalyst’s fantasies about the leader’s toilet training.

When it comes to our current president, classicist Victor Davis Hanson has observed something that seems to have escaped the psychoanalyst’s notice.

Hanson points out that Obama habitually condescends to people. Sometimes they are friends; more often they are enemies. Clearly, Obama sees a political advantage to disdain.

In Hanson’s words: “After only one year plus of campaigning and three years of governance, there is already a sizable corpus of Obama’s targets. The common theme is less ideology, politics, race, class, or gender than a sense that many groups and people simply don’t measure up to Obama’s high standards. Some are deemed lazy, stupid, greedy, fearful, or clinging; others are too affluent, of questionable ethics, and ill-informed and ill-intentioned — and thus are culpable for our current problems.”

Obama is a master of the art of demeaning caricature. Whether he is calling Wall Street bankers “fat cats,” or chastising  Pennsylvanians as “… bitter [people who] cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment.”  Or when he calls Donald Trump “a carnival barker.” Or saying that doctors: “Needlessly chop off the limbs of diabetics and take out tonsils to increase their own profits”

Hanson has many more examples. At the least, they show that Obama’s tendency to condescend is habitual. Obama insults with impunity.

For one thing, this shows us that Obama is wildly insecure about his own status and stature. Confident people do not puff up their self-esteem at someone else’s expense.

Hanson offers his own, non-psychiatric, analysis: “Yet lecturing, demonizing, and caricaturing are not just symptoms of narcissism or being socially dense, but are also a revelation that Obama feels that he can say almost anything he wants, with the expectation — always borne out in the past — of few consequences. Still, his handlers worry about this habit, which explains both the serial use of teleprompted scripts even for the briefest of commentary and the almost lightning response from the White House, either that the latest target had it coming, or that the president’s critics themselves were suspect in noticing such insults, or that the remarks were meant only in jest. Note as well that while almost everyone else is culpable, the president himself rarely is — at least not as much as ATM machines, George W. Bush, tsunamis, the European Union, the nine-month-old Republican-controlled House, the Arab Spring, and skyrocketing oil prices. Others err; but the president has made all ‘the right choices.’”

What does Obama’s character flaw mean? It means that he is radically incapable of taking responsibility or admitting error.

Happily enough, we can judge Obama’s character without knowing or even imagining anything about how he long he was breast fed or how often his diapers were changed. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mother Knows Best

It could have been a story about another one-night stand. It could have read like another sad tale of a woman trying to get in touch with her inner slut. It could have been yet another piece of bad advice from the Jaclyn Friedman school of proud sluthood.

It isn’t, but that is not all that makes this one-night stand interesting.

First, the author of the Jezebel article retains her modesty. She does not give her name. She writes as Anonymous.

She knows that she made a mistake when she had sex with a man she had known for four hours, and she does not want to be publicly identified by a mistake.

Refreshingly, she is practicing the virtues of modesty and discretion.

Anonymous met the man online; she went out for drinks with him; she told herself that since she was interested in developing a relationship with him, she should not go home with him that evening.

She knew all of the arguments against hooking up, yet, in the heat of the moment, she yielded. She was powerfully drawn to him; he was lusting after her. What could be wrong with following your bliss? Aren’t strong feelings a sign that it is right?

I suspect that someone once told her that if it feels good you should do it.

Anonymous had had a few drinks, but she knew what she was doing. She makes no effort to pawn her decision off on alcohol.

Thus, she demonstrated the virtue of responsibility.

Still, she was crushed to discover that for the man in question… alternately called a “boy” and “them”… she was nothing more than a one-night stand.

Her pride was bruised, she says, not by her immorality, but by her foolishness and lack of judgment.

Once she grasps what happens, she confided in her girlfriends. But she does not—or does not say that—she consulted a therapist. Happily, she seeks advice from her mother.

For everyone’s edification, here’s her account of her mother’s analysis:

“When you first meet someone, she [her mother] said, you don't actually see them. You see a flimsy construction of their personality, created by your interpretation of the signals available. The way they make eye contact. How they interact with the bartender/waiter/homeless man asking you for change. The facts they choose to divulge about themselves. Because you have no other point of reference, every little detail resonates with added significance. Your mind, faced with a scarcity of information, is forced to create a projection of them.

“It is fiction.

“The fiction fades over time, as you get to know someone, she said. You witness them in different moods, interacting in multiple environments. Your construction of their personality deepens, nudges closer to reality. But on that first meeting, while you may get a peek, or even a full throttled gaze at their character, it is impossible to see the real person in front of you. It is a grand mirage.

“The mirage is sexy. But herein lies the danger. The potential for a schism to exist between the mirage and reality is huge. The probability of being disappointed is gigantic. That disappointment is compounded when intimacy is involved. You sleep with a stranger. You feel like you know them. But you likely don't at all.”

For Anonymous, this was an epiphany. She already knew that hooking up with a stranger was a bad idea. This was the first time that she understood why it was bad for her.

She no longer had to take it on faith.

Her mother’s argument was clear, cogent, and persuasive on its own terms.

But, it was also persuasive because it wasn’t coming from just anyone. Surely, her mother cares about her more than does a man with whom she shared a few hours of intimacy.

Unfortunately, the culture has portrayed parents as singularly unqualified and inept at giving advice to their children. It has led people to rely on the opinion of so-called experts and even of activists like Jaclyn Friedman.

Anonymous knew that hooking up was a bad idea. And yet, she could not act on what she knew because she felt confident in her intuition about the man.

Who, in this day and age, trusts a rule over a feeling?
I find her mother’s advice especially pertinent because it uses a distinction that I wrote about yesterday in my post about Daniel Kahneman. The post is entitled: The Confidence Game.

In part this story raises the issue of confidence. But it also addresses the relationship between inexperience and fiction or stories

The less experience you have the more you are going to rely on fictions to fill in the blanks.

Anonymous felt confident in her decision to have a one-night stand with the boy she had met online. She felt confident that the two of them were embarking on a relationship.

To which her mother explained that her confidence had so little basis in experience that she had really been making love with a mirage, an image, a fictional being.

She was not just concerned about her reputation, but she was questioning her confidence in her own judgment. She had discovered, as her mother explained to her, that she was basing her judgment on insufficient data.

Some people have been lured into believing in love-at-first-sight. They have been told that they can know from a single glimpse of someone’s eyes that he is, as the quaint expression goes, the One.

Yet, your first glimpse provides so little real information that your rapture will have more to do with the mirage you have made up to fill in the gaps in your experience than with the real person.

As a relationship develops facts garnered from experience replace and refine your sense of the other person. The more you know the person, the more he comes into focus.

Your tendency to fictionalize people derives from inexperience. Kahneman notwithstanding, experience is a great teacher. How you deal with inexperience does not mean that you will always love fictional beings.

As a relationship develops, you learn more about the other person, not just about his quirks and foibles, but about his character. Can you trust him? Is he reliable? Is he responsible?

You will also learn who his friends are, how he functions in different social situations, and how he gets along with his family.

All of these, and many more questions, need to be answered before anyone should consider commitment.

Unless you want to commit to a mirage….