Friday, November 30, 2012

Benevolent Sexism

At first it looks like a parody.

It looks as though someone with less than tender feelings about feminism had published some pseudo-research that would make feminists look like fools.

The Onion could not have done a better job.

Unfortunately, it’s not a parody. It’s what passes these days for serious research by scholars from a serious American university.

With heavy heart we turn to Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker’s article, entitled: “Why Is Benevolent Sexism Appealing?” Co-authored by a graduate student and a professor at the University of Florida, is has been published by a scholarly Journal called the Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Here is how the PWQ describes itself:

Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ) is a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal that publishes empirical research, critical reviews and theoretical articles that advance a field of inquiry, brief reports on timely topics, teaching briefs, and invited book reviews related to the psychology of women and gender.

The journal is so reputable that it charges $25.00 to read Connelly and Heesacker’s pseudo-research.

The buzz words in the description—“scientific,” “peer-reviewed,” “empirical research”—would lead you to believe that the articles in this review aspire to present objective facts.

In truth, they present feminist propaganda organ gussied up as serious academic research. 

It’s easier to indoctrinate your students in your ideology if you pretend that your dogmas are hard science.

When a journal uses the trappings that accompany serious scholarship to hide its game, it is doing what I would call it cargo-cult scholarship.

The term cargo-cult originated with indigenous Pacific Islanders during World War II. Until the American military arrived in their midst these peoples had never before seen airplanes deliver provisions. When the cargo planes began to arrive they noticed that prior to each landing the soldiers set out two rows of smudge pots to demarcate a landing zone.

Naturally enough, they concluded that if they needed some now provisions all they had to do was to put out the smudge pots.

Thus, a cargo cult goes through the motions but does not deliver the goods.

A more benevolent soul than I, Charles Murray declares the Connelly/Heesacker research a window into the wild and wacky world of academic research. I see it as a sign of the systematic corruption of the marketplace of ideas.

Here is the authors’ abstract of the results of their research:

Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.

Murray points out that “benevolent sexism” means gentlemanly behavior. He entitles his post: “The bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy.”

I’m assuming that the authors are echoing the concept of “benevolent despotism,” an eighteenth century practice whereby European rulers tried to manage the rising demands for greater freedom by instituting “benevolent” reforms.

Connelly/Heesacker have discovered that when men behave like gentlemen toward women it produces “life satisfaction” for both parties.

They conclude that gentlemanly behavior is “dangerous” and that we must intervene “to reduce its prevalence.”

By their pseudo-reasoning, the positive benefits that accrue to men and women when men act like gentlemen provide a false sense of satisfaction that undermines the feminist revolution.

It’s not a new idea. It echoes an old idea that we owe to Karl Marx. Translated it means that “benevolent sexism” is the opiate of the masses.

Since I did not spring for the $25.00 fee to read the article, I can only surmise that by benevolent sexism the authors mean such simple courtesies as asking a woman out on a date, paying for her, holding the door for her, helping her with her coat, accompanying her home and so on.

This argument is not new. It came in with second wave feminism. It was intended to assert women’s independence and autonomy. It resulted in more men treating more women discourteously and disrespectfully.

From a feminist perspective, if a man acted like a gentleman, a woman was expected to act like a lady. This was a bad thing, a betrayal of a woman's allegiance to the feminist cult.

Feminists believed that gentlemanly behavior signified that women were the weaker sex, needing male protection.

They also believed that when a man paid for dinner and a show a woman felt obligated to repay the favor with her “favors.”

From a feminist perspective it’s better for women to give it away for free because then she will not feel that she is being bought.

As I say, feminists have been rebelling against “benevolent sexism” for around four decades now.

As a result, women are more likely to be abused. They are more likely to be used for sex. They are less likely to be involved in sustained relationships.

Men have been excoriated for acting courteously and politely, lest they be accused of being patronizing, so they have concluded that they need to act badly toward women.

Men concluded that they could further the revolutionary feminist cause by being revolting.

When feminism decided that courtship and even dating was a relic of a bygone age, all the rude, lewd, crude dudes rejoiced.

Today, Connelly and Heesacker have their backs.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Republicans Face the Political Cliff

Unsurprisingly, Ann Coulter is still defensive about her support for Mitt Romney. She has written two columns defending the candidate, and, by extension, herself from the charge of political misjudgment.

Even though Romney lost an eminently winnable election, leaving the Republican Party leaderless and rudderless, Coulter still insists that he was the best of the best.

If he is the best of the best, then Republicans have good reason to be demoralized, discouraged, and in disarray.

Coulter notwithstanding, Mitt Romney will never have a prominent role in the Republican Party. That says it all.

For those who are looking for consolation, Coulter opens her column today with some conservative Schadenfreude. She notes, sagely, that the people who provided the largest percentages for Obama are also the people who are most likely to suffer from his policies.

In her words:

One bright spot of Barack Obama's re-election was knowing that unemployment rates were about to soar for the precise groups that voted for him -- young people, unskilled workers and single women with degrees in gender studies.

You may not think that it’s social justice, so let’s call it divine justice. It’s something to feel good about.

For those who are not too distracted by what are called social issues, budget issues are front and center.

Everyone is becoming more optimistic about the economy, but I believe that today’s political wrangling is really about who is going to take the blame when the economy fails.

My optimistic side says that Obama will take the blame—because who else can take it—but my pessimistic side tells me that Obama and the media are trying to set up Republicans to take the fall.

But now the Democrats are sullying my silver lining by forcing Republicans to block an utterly pointless tax-raising scheme in order to blame the coming economic Armageddon on them. 

Surely, Obama knows that raising taxes on the rich will do nothing to reduce the deficit. He must know that it will damage the economy.

Yesterday, the London Telegraph reported that when the British government raised taxes on people who earned more than a million pounds, two-thirds of the millionaires left the country. The net result was less tax revenue. 

More likely, Obama loves the politics and the symbolism of raising taxes on the rich. By forcing Republicans to choose between voting for higher taxes, and thus, alienating many of their constituents, and taking the blame for an incipient economic collapse, he has boxed them into a corner.

If the budget goes over the fiscal cliff and a recession ensues, the media will surely blame Republican intransigence. Moreover, Republicans they will be accused, as Coulter says, of “caring only about the rich.”

Coulter is persuaded, as I am, that the Obama program will ensure an economic calamity, no matter what.

In her words:

The economy will tank because, as you will recall, Obama is still president. Government rules, regulations, restrictions, forms and inspections are about to drown the productive sector.

Obamacare is descending on job creators like a fly swatter on a gnat. Obama has already managed to produce the only "recovery" that is worse than the preceding recession since the Great Depression. And he says, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

The coming economic collapse is written in the stars, but if Republicans "obstruct" the Democrats by blocking tax hikes on top income earners, they're going to take 100 percent of the blame for the Obama economy. 

With heavy heart, she recommends, as I have, that Republicans give Obama what he wants. They need, above all else, to ensure that the economy belongs to Barack Obama.

The key for Republicans, Coulter continues, is getting their message out. Considering the headwinds called mainstream media bias, it is easier said than done.

She does not notice that  a messaging problem is often the messenger. Which Republican leader of national importance can do the job?

The Romney campaign has made some Republicans nostalgic for John McCain, but the senator from Arizona has already demonstrated a marked ineptitude when it comes to communicating ideas about economic policy.

Republicans would be in a better place if they had had a presidential candidate who had made the case against Barack Obama, a candidate who took the fight to Obama.

Mitt Romney could not do it and did not do it. He ran scared and tried to run out the clock.

The Ann Coulters of this world should have considered the point when they were beating the drums for Romney.

And then there is Chris Christie. Arguably the best communicator in the Republican Party, admired by Coulter and by me, Christie has now taken himself out of the game.

Whatever he thought he was doing by embracing President Obama in the last days of the campaign, Christie has alienated major segments of the Republican Party. When push came to shove, the big guy blinked.

Four years is a long time, but Christie will have a very difficult time restoring his position within the Republican Party.

A communicator as savvy as Chris Christie could have found a way to lead his state, even to welcome the president to his state, without damaging himself by showering Obama with excessive and unearned encomia.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Marriage of Resentment and Contempt

It begins in the schools. There, empowered female teachers have set out to enhance the performance of girls by systematically favoring them at the expense of boys.

The Huffington Post reported that British boys are convinced that female teachers grade them unfairly. On the other hand, schoolgirls believe that male teachers grade them fairly.

I do not know the extent to which female American teachers try to punish boys in order to improve the performance of girls, but girls are consistently outperforming boys in schools and are taking up most of the places in colleges.

It seems inevitable that some boys are dropping out of school and failing to pursue advanced education because they have been demoralized.

Think about it, if all the girls receive great grades then boys will, at first try to improve their performance. Once they discover that they are still receiving lower grades, they will give up. This translates into depression.

Convinced, and not without reason, that the game is rigged, they stop playing.

Depression, as Martin Seligman defined it, is learned helplessness. When something is learned, someone is teaching it. When your female teachers convince you that you can never get it right and that you will never be judged fairly, you will become demoralized and depressed.

If any teachers are using their power to depress boys in order to favor girls they are engaging in child abuse. They might think that they are advancing a cause, but their behavior needs to be called out and stopped.

Of course, a boy’s experience with empowered female teachers will surely not encourage him to become very closely involved with girls.

If he is not allowed to express his anger toward his female teachers, he might try to avenge the slights by punishing the girls he becomes involved with. He will not be looking for love; he will be looking for payback.

Their experience with empowered female teachers will not encourage boys, once they become men, to trust women or become very closely involved with them.  

Rob Long suggests that when these boys grow up they are unlikely to believe that it is possible to have harmonious relationships with women. 

A recent poll bears this out. Suzanne Venker reports:

According to Pew Research Center, the share of women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997 – from 28 percent to 37 percent. For men, the opposite occurred. The share voicing this opinion dropped, from 35 percent to 29 percent.

More women want to get married and more men don’t. This suggests that men are increasingly being conditioned to dread close contact with women. It also suggests that men have discovered that, like school, the marriage game is rigged against them.

One would suspect that men who are brought up in such schools would be insufferable husbands. Yet, surprisingly, when men do get married they make a great effort to make their marriages work. If we believe Lisa Hickey these men marry women who resemble the harridans they have known in the classroom.

Hickey does not mention it, but I will assume that the modern marriages she describes involve people who did not marry young. I also imagine that these modern marriages involve two-earner couples who divide up household chores.

If Hickey’s article suggests anything, it tells us that the interactions between these modern married couples are contentious and bitter, a marriage of resentment and contempt. It demonstrates that this new modern version of marriage is unworkable.

Hickey believes that it can all be solved if couples merely learn how to communicate better, this being the therapeutically correct panacea for marital strife.

Yet, her male interviewees have largely passed beyond the stage of talking it out. They have discovered that they cannot win an argument with a modern woman. They know that it is impossible to negotiate or compromise with someone who is all take and no give.

Hickey describes husbands’ attitudes:

…there is despair in the voices of married men. The refrain heard over and over is some variation of “I want to have a good marriage. I love my wife. But sometimes, all I feel is resentment—from my wife, toward my wife, toward the marriage. I believe my wife thinks I am an asshole, and she treats me as such.”

One admires the stoic fortitude of these men, but still, they should have seen this before, not after they got married.

Bitter experience teaches them that if their wives are treating them contemptuously trying to talk it out is another losing game. 

These men can either tune their wives out or get angry. They have few other choices.

Marriage coach John Wilder offers a picture of what happens when couples try to communicate:

 “Women are constantly trying to control their husbands. If a man dares to critique his wife, she immediately goes on the attack, screaming and crying with the express intent of teaching, so that no good man would ever do it again. Most men learn the lesson well and early and learn to ‘seethe in silence.’ The resentment continues to grow. Men feel defenseless against this kind of attack and don’t know how to have any equality.”

Unfortunately, men try to placate their intemperate wives, the better to stop the criticism and the complaining.

Hickey explains:

Often a man will admit that a central issue in their [sic] lives is dealing with the irrational-seeming criticism from their wives in a way that isn’t defensive but shows compassion and love, despite the cost to their souls.

When a man engages with irrationality he will never win. If he tries to be compassionate and understanding, his wife will think less of him and feel more contempt. 

If, as Hickey suggests, these wives are dishing out far more humiliation than love, then the women need to change their mode of interaction. They need to tamp down the criticism and complaining and to stop expecting that their husbands should be just like their girlfriends.

Unfortunately, today’s modern woman has developed an expectation that men should act like women in a relationship. It's a formula for repeated disappointments. 

Women who have postponed marriage in favor of career, have, Hickey suggests, assembled a coterie of unmarried female friends who salve the pain of a singlehood they have chosen freely by commiserating and sharing their contempt for men.

It isn’t a good preparation for marriage.

Hickey contends that the men often have good intentions. Yet their good intentions and their best efforts never seem to improve the situation, so they become demoralized and give up.

In her words:

But almost always, the men we talked to start with an intention of trying to understand their wives, get a grasp on what would make the marriage work, and have an intense desire to move toward an increasingly great relationship, instead of one where they feel continually disconnected. And yet, they can’t seem to get there. Despair is the end result of ongoing frustration and disconnection. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Agony of Divorce

You probably don’t remember, but once upon a time feminists were encouraging women to get divorced. They declared it to be liberating.

What could be more liberating than escaping from a patriarchal institution like marriage?  Once divorced, a woman would be better able to develop an independent career.

As most people know, divorce is a painful experience. When women are lulled into believing that it can be liberating they are unprepared for the wave of negative emotion that descends on them after they get divorced. The emotion becomes even more painful when you believe that it is unintelligible or abnormal.

Writing on the Huffington Post Carissa Henry offers a harrowing portrait of what happened to her after her amicable divorce.

After explaining that there is no such thing as an easy divorce, Henry renders her emotional state in lines that offer a brilliant description of anomie:

I didn't realize how much of my identity was associated with being married, nor did I realize that I would suddenly feel like a stranger in my own life. Most of us are dedicated creatures of habit and the drastic change that divorce brings to our lives is shocking and disconcerting. Friendships change. Holidays change. Paperwork changes. Everything changes. Amidst my naivety, I was oblivious and unprepared for how different I would feel, how utterly uncomfortable in my own skin I would become. Order and routine were replaced by uncertainty and chaos, and I felt lost without the habits and rituals we had established as a family over the years.

With all the talk about marriage being an expression of love we sometimes lose track of the monumental social-psychological consequences of being married. Henry's lines correct the mistaken belief. 

As her mind went to war against itself, Henry found a limited consolation in the eventual realization that her emotions fit her circumstances.

If you expect to feel liberated and end up feeling an anguish that goes well beyond anything you can imagine, the pain of divorce is going to become excruciating.

Our culture is so thoroughly involved in the business of eliminating all negative emotion, numbing us to it, that we often forget that sometimes anguish shows that we have grasped the reality of our lives.

Note that it was not anyone's empathy that helped her. She did not find consolation in the fact that someone else could feel her pain. She found relief in knowing that hers was a normal, albeit painful, reaction.

Jeremy Grantham on American Economic Growth

After my previoust post commenter JP linked to a recent report by Jeremy Grantham on America’s economic future.

Effectively, the Grantham report is very important and very interesting. I do not want it to get lost in the comments section, so, with thanks to JP, I am giving it its own post.

I will spare you a summary, but will note that Grantham sees America entering a period of substandard economic growth. I would add that he is one of the most respected investment advisers in the world. Serious investors take his opinions very seriously, indeed.

This one is well worth a read and your attention.

Young Americans Find Jobs By Self-Deporting

When we Americans read that young people in economic wastelands like Spain and Greece are leaving their countries to search for opportunity, we often feel smug.

Yet, young Americans have also been self-deporting in greater numbers.

They are seeking economic opportunity, even economic freedom. They want to escape from a nation where big government is suffocating the economy with taxes and regulations.

Robert Samuelson wrote this morning:

The recovery's languor is striking. Bernanke, speaking to the New York Economic Club, noted that the economy's annual growth rate had averaged only about 2 percent since the recession officially ended in mid-2009. By contrast, the average growth rate of post-World War II recoveries at a similar stage is almost 4.5 percent. This means the economy is producing about $1.4 trillion less of everything, from Big Macs to cars, than it would if we'd had an average recovery.

More and more young Americans are escaping from Barack Obama’s America.

Some few are moving to South America and to Europe, but most are going where the action is, and that means the Far East.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Emily Matchar painted a grim picture of American self-deportation.

In her words:

According to State Department estimates, 6.3 million Americans are studying or working abroad, the highest number ever recorded. What’s more, the percentage of Americans ages 25 to 34 who are planning to move overseas has quintupled in two years, from less than 1 percent to 5.1 percent. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 40 percent are interested in moving abroad, up from 12 percent in 2007.

In the past, Americans often took foreign jobs for the adventure or because their career field demanded overseas work. Today, these young people are leaving because they can’t find jobs in the United States. They’re leaving because the jobs they do find often don’t offer benefits such as health insurance. They’re leaving because the gloomy atmosphere of the American economy makes it hard to break through with a new innovative idea or business model. “This is a huge movement,” says Bob Adams, president and chief executive of America Wave, an organization that studies overseas relocation.

Matachar herself moved to Hong Kong when her philosophy professor husband could not find a job in America. She is thrilled at having made the move.

Other Americans living abroad paint a picture of Asian economies that offer opportunity. In these nations policy favors economic growth, not dependency.

Many young Americans, in Matchar’s words: “… have lost faith in the United States as a place of innovation and possibility….”

Of course, very large numbers of young Americans voted for the culture that they are now trying to escape.

Call it social justice.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is There a Cure for Media Bias?

One hesitates to discuss media bias. So many writers have written so many articles and books about the bias of the American mainstream media that one feels that the prejudice is so deeply ingrained that it no longer responds to criticism.

Still, one soldiers on, because giving up does not feel right. Besides, of the alternative explanations, one is better than the others.

Peter Wehner asks whether the mainstream media is cynically manipulating the news in order to advance the candidates and agenda it prefers? Or do journalists really believe in their heart of hearts that they are purveying facts objectively?

Wehner compares press coverage of the September 11 terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens with coverage of the Valerie Plame kerfuffle.

Benghazi was a monumental failure:

The September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. We witnessed a massive failure at three different stages. The first is that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and others asked for additional protection because of their fears of terrorist attacks. Those requests were denied—and Mr. Stevens became the first American ambassador to be murdered in more than 30 years, along with three others. The second failure was not assisting former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty when they were under attack (both were killed). The third failure was that the administration misled the American people about the causes of the attack long after it was clear to many people that their narrative was false.

Wehner then states the obvious:

In the Benghazi story, we have four dead Americans. A lack of security that borders on criminal negligence. No apparent effort was made to save the lives of Messrs. Woods and Doherty, despite their pleas. The Obama administration, including the president, gave false and misleading accounts of what happened despite mounting evidence to the contrary. And the person who was wrongly accused of inciting the attacks by making a crude YouTube video is now in prison. Yet the press has, for the most part, treated this story with ambivalence and reluctance.

If the exact same incidents had occurred in the exact same order, and if it had happened during the watch of a conservative president, it would be a treated as a scandal. An epic one, in fact. The coverage, starting on September 12 and starting with Mr. Friedman’s newspaper, would have been nonstop, ferociously negative, and the pressure put on the president and his administration would have been crushing. Jon Stewart, the moral conscience of an increasing number of journalists, wouldn’t have let this story die. 

He then describes the media-generated hysteria that surrounded the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity:

It’s not that it hasn’t been covered; it’s that the coverage has lacked anything like the intensity and passion that you would have seen had this occurred during the presidency of, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. I have the advantage of having worked in the Reagan administration during Iran-contra and the Bush White House during the Patrick Fitzgerald leak investigation—and there is simply no comparison when it comes to how the press treated these stories. The juxtaposition with the Fitzgerald investigation is particularly damning to the media. Journalists were obsessed by that story, which turned out to be much ado about nothing—Mr. Fitzgerald decided early on there were no grounds to prosecute Richard Armitage for the leak of Valerie Plame’s name—and obsessed in particular with destroying the life of the very good man who was the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential victories (thankfully they failed in their effort to knee-cap Karl Rove).

Wehner observes:

They appear to be completely blind to their biases and double standards. If you gave them sodium pentothal, they would say they were being objective. Self-examination, it turns out, is harder than self-justification. And of course being surrounded with people who share and reinforce your presuppositions and worldview doesn’t help matters.

In some ways I think it would be better if they were perfectly cynical and were consciously slanting the news. Pretending to have integrity is better than not having any at all.

If this is not true they might simply see themselves as propagandists using their power to destroy those who disagree with them.

If neither of these is true, they have been brainwashed to the point where they believe that they are being objective and fair. They really believe that the Valerie Plame scandal was an unmitigated horror while the Benghazi terrorist attack was, in Tom Friedman’s words, a “tragedy.”

Adding it all up I would rather think of them as cynical. At least then they would know that they are being dishonest.

Obama's Man in Cairo

To survive in the Age of Obama you will need to brush up on your irony. You no longer live in a world where your government says ways it means and means what it says.

John Hinderaker uses irony to reveal the gross disparity between what the administration says and what it means when it comes to Obama's friend in Cairo:

Mubarak was our friend, but a bad guy. So he had to go, and Obama denounced him and helped force him out. Morsi is our enemy, and also is a bad guy. So Obama thinks he’s A-OK, and helped Morsi take power. That’s called “smart diplomacy.” You probably wouldn’t understand.

Other things are confusing, too. Did Obama know that Morsi was about to claim dictatorial powers when he made Morsi the “hero” of the Israel-Gaza cease fire? If so, did he mind? If Obama didn’t know–which seems more likely–does he now think that Morsi double-crossed him by capitalizing on his faux diplomatic mission to proclaim himself a dictator? Or is that one more thing that is A-OK with Obama? If Obama doesn’t like the fact that Morsi has cut “Arab Spring” democracy off at the knees, does he intend to do anything about it? Or, when bad things happen, is it “smart diplomacy” to do nothing and pretend you don’t mind?

Investor’s Business Daily also compares administration statements about the last year’s Arab Spring with this year’s Morsi coup:

Just don't expect White House press secretary Jay Carney to announce that the Egyptian people's "grievances have reached a boiling point, and they have to be addressed," as his predecessor Robert Gibbs did when Mubarak was on the ropes.

And don't hold your breath for Clinton — or whoever her successor is at the State Department — to call for "an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy" in which "the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive," as she said two years ago during street demos against Mubarak.

It took 24 hours for Morsi to take advantage of the prestige Obama and his secretary of state handed him. Now he's using America's stamp of approval to oppress his own people.

We can choose between thinking that the administration speaks with forked tongue or that it favors an Islamist regime in Cairo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is Therapy Dying Out?

Call me prescient.

When I began this blog four and a half years ago I named it “Had Enough Therapy?”

It didn’t make me a lot of friends in the therapy world.

Yet I could see around me that traditional psychotherapy, the kind that peddled insight and understanding had outlived its usefulness. If, indeed, it ever had any.

Patients no longer wanted it. Insurance companies were refusing to pay for it.

It had lost out in free market competition. Patients preferred medication and cognitive-behavioral treatments.

They had also discovered that four hours a week on the treadmill will improve your mood while four hours on the couch would disprove it. Come to think of it, the choice was obvious.

Psychotherapy was losing customers because it did not provide what it was supposed to provide. When a product does not offer value, consumers they look elsewhere.  

By now the therapy profession has caught up. Within limits, of course. It doesn’t really understand why it no longer attracts patients, but it knows that the party is over.

Lori Gottlieb sums it up today in a long article in the New York Times Magazine.

In her words:

What nobody taught me in grad school was that psychotherapy, a practice that had sustained itself for more than a century, is losing its customers. If this came as a shock to me, the American Psychological Association tried to send out warnings in a 2010 paper titled, “Where Has all the Psychotherapy Gone?” According to the author, 30 percent fewer patients received psychological interventions in 2008 than they did 11 years earlier; since the 1990s, managed care has increasingly limited visits and reimbursements for talk therapy but not for drug treatment; and in 2005 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent $4.2 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising and $7.2 billion on promotion to physicians, nearly twice what they spent on research and development.

According to the A.P.A., therapists had to start paying attention to what the marketplace demanded or we risked our livelihoods. It wasn’t long before I learned that an entirely new specialized industry had cropped up: branding consultants for therapists.

So far so good.

Therapists lost out because they have no sense of reality. They are all about image and feeling. Seeing their business crash they have decided that the profession needs to be rebranded. That is, it needs an image make-over.

Since Gottlieb is not a very clear thinker, she spends much of her article explaining that she, as a trained therapist, is not just rebranding herself. She has begun to offer an entirely different service: she has started working as a life coach.

When they know what they are doing, coaches are not doing therapy. They are helping people to solve real problems and real dilemmas in the real world.

When Gottlieb consults with Casey Truffo, a former therapist become branding consultant, she hears this:

“Nobody wants to buy therapy anymore,” Truffo told me. “They want to buy a solution to a problem.” This is something Truffo discovered in her own former private practice of 18 years, during which she saw a shift from people who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves better to people who would come in “because they wanted someone else or something else to change,” she said. “I’d see fewer and fewer people coming in and saying, ‘I want to change.’ ”

People no longer want the ephemeral change that comes from self-understanding.

Of course, no one asks whether change is change for the better or the worst. 

Gottlieb wants to show us that her six years of graduate training were not for nothing, so she follows the time-honored therapeutically-correct path and blames everyone but herself and her training for the problem.

Why has the marketplace cast such a negative judgment on therapy?

First, therapeutically correct self-awareness encourages patients to withdraw from their lives, the better to transform them into new stories.

It’s better to live your life than to narrate it.

Second, the therapy that Gottlieb spend years learning offers patients little more than a warm bath of empathy.

Since therapy is now a woman’s profession, it teaches aspiring therapists, both male and female, how best to mother their patients.

Many years ago young women therapists claimed they could offer something that male therapists could not: that experience of being mothered with empathy.

It was inevitable that clients would wake up to the fact that you do not need six years of graduate training to learn how to mother or to empathize.

Once patients decided that they would rather solve their problems than share the pain, they decamped from the offices of these mother therapists.

If are now seeking out coaches who will help them to solve their problems, we should applaud, not whine.

Unfortunately, Gottlieb and her team of consultants seem to prefer whining about the current state of affairs.

Significantly, Gottlieb’s fails to acknowledge the importance of cognitive and behavioral therapy.

Since cognitive treatment is notably more effective than empathy baths and emotional insights patients increasingly prefer it.

In much of Gottlieb’s drawn out article she shares her feelings about changing from therapy to coaching. She does not understand that sharing feelings is not very interesting or very useful activity.

Finally, she blames the world because it is not interested in something that she spent six years learning.

In her words:

It’s precisely this double bind in which many of my colleagues and I feel caught. If we give modern consumers the efficiency and convenience they want, we also have to silence our nagging sense that we may be pandering to our patients rather than helping them. Will we do therapy in 140 characters or less, or will we stick to our beliefs but get a second job to put food on the table? It’s one thing to be more than a blank slate and even to focus on finding solutions, but will we throw away so many doctrines of our training that we cease being therapists entirely? The more we continue in this direction of fast-food therapy — something that feels good but isn’t as good for you; something palatable without a lot of substance — the more tempted many of us will be to indulge.

After explaining that her coaching practice has produce more beneficial results than her therapy work Gottlieb begins to flagellate herself for “pandering.”

Inadvertently, Gottlieb tells you all you need to know about why no one wants to do therapy any more. For all of their graduate training therapists cannot even think straight; they are stuck in a world of image and feeling. They whine about reality and fail to develop clear concepts.

Why would anyone pay for such an intellectually inferior product?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Is Breast Cancer Overdiagnosed?

Yikes is the word. Writing at Jezebel Laura Beck has found just the right word to describe the latest research on the value of mammograms.

Americans believe in mammograms. They believe in preventative testing. They believe that the sooner you catch an incipient tumor the better the chances for effective treatment.

Americans believe so strongly in mammograms that President Obama made a campaign issue out of the Republican proposal to defund Planned Parenthood. He claimed that Republicans would thereby deprive countless women of their access to mammograms.

Of course, Planned Parenthood does not perform mammograms, but why let reality get in the way of a good story line.

Anyway, most of what we think we know about mammograms turns out to be questionable.

Allow Laura Beck to summarize the new research:

Roughly one third of tumors found in routine mammography screenings are "unlikely to result in illness, according to a new study that says 30 years of the breast cancer exams have resulted in the overdiagnosis of 1.3 million American women."

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claims that the increase in breast cancer survival rates over the last few decades is because of improved therapies and not screenings, and not because of the widespread use of mammograms. In fact, the widespread mammogram usage resulted in overdiagnosis of breast cancer in roughly 70,000 women a year. Which is a problem as being diagnosed with breast cancer is a big fucking deal — think about the cost, anxiety, radiation exposure, false positives, and overtreatment. Yikes.

"Our study raises serious questions about the value of screening mammography," wrote Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine. "It clarifies that the benefit of mortality reduction is probably smaller, and the harm of overdiagnosis probably larger, than has been previously recognized."

Breast cancer screening are often unnecessary. In many cases they cause harm. 
1,300,000 women have been overdiagnosed because the tumors discovered by mammograms will probably not become illness.

And then, Beck adds, think of how much this overdiagnosis costs in emotional well-being and in aggressive cancer treatment.

As for the idea that screening has helped increase the survival rate of breast cancer victims, Dr. Welsh asserted that the improved results derive from improved treatments, not from early detection.

He concludes that women who are at higher risk for breast cancer should receive mammograms but that the test is not necessarily appropriate for everyone.

Naturally, the research is controversial. Beck adds the opinion of a physician who believes that Welsh’s research is bunk.

Singapore: Less Emotional, More Prosperous

A new Gallup poll has just discovered that Singapore is the least emotional nation on the planet. Gallup also determined that the Philippines is the most emotional country in the world.

Naturally, the Gallup pollsters consider that the people of Singapore are missing out on the good things in life. They might be rich but they are not, according to Gallup, really enjoying their wealth.

The Guardian reports:

"If you measure Singapore by the traditional indicators, they look like one of the best-run countries in the world," Gallup's Jon Clifton was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg report on the survey. "But if you look at everything that makes life worth living, they're not doing so well."

If you live in a therapy bubble, you might actually believe that your emotional state defines your happiness. You might even believe that a life filled with emotional storm and stress is a good life. And you might believe that living in one of the freest, most prosperous nations on earth is bad for your emotional well-being.

Of course, Singapore has the highest per capita GDP in theworld. Depending on how you calculate it, it is between $50,000 and $60,000. The per capita GDP of the Philippines was closer to $2,300.

Where would you like to live?

Of course, Singapore has both good and bad. It does not rate very high on the free expression or free assembly scales. Yet, when it comes to other measures of freedom it surpasses even America.

Wikipedia explains:

The Singaporean economy is known as one of the freest,[58] most innovative,[59] most competitive,[60] and most business-friendly.[61] The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Singapore as the second freest economy in the world, behind Hong Kong. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, along with New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries.

Is Gallup correct to see a direct correlation between emotionality and happiness? Of course, not. People in the Philippines are wallowing in emotion, but they are also the most depressed in their region.

According to the Guardian:

In the Philippines – which ranked as the world's most emotional society, followed by El Salvador and Bahrain – analysts were quick to point out that being emotional doesn't necessarily equate with being happy. One reporter at GMA News stressed that the nation ranked 103rd out of 155 countries in the 2012 World Happiness Report – and that its 95 million inhabitants are said to be the most depressed in all of south-east Asia.

You would think that the conclusions would be obvious. Apparently, this is not the case.

To summarize: if you have to choose between a culture where people are relatively unemotional and a culture where people are relatively emotional, then the choice is clear: the first is associated with prosperity; the second is associated with depression.

If you want to achieve economic growth and prosperity, you need less, not more therapy.

In a dysfunctional culture people are more emotional because they do not understand what is going on and have little power to change things.

In a functional culture people do not need to emote all the time. They employ their rational faculties to solve problems because the problems are solvable. If the problems are not solvable, then they will fall back on plan B-- they will become slaves to their emotions.

But why does the Gallup organization persist in itss absurd idea when the evidence shows that the most emotional nation is also the most depressed?

Hillary's Much-Praised Diplomatic Failure

Fresh from his victory in Gaza, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi quickly moved to consolidate his power.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, coming off a heady week of high-stakes diplomacy that thrust his government onto the international stage, pushed to consolidate his power at home with a set of decrees aimed at sidelining a judiciary that has been one of the last institutions challenging the Islamist government.

The declarations, which appeared to stun the Obama administration, brought into the open a long-simmering confrontation between Mr. Morsi's Islamist government and a judiciary that is populated with many secular-leaning judges appointed by the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.

U.S. officials on Thursday said there was no indication that Mr. Morsi was going to make this move when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cairo Wednesday, and the administration widely praised the Egyptian president for brokering the cease-fire between the militant group Hamas and Israel that also involved the U.S. and a host of regional powers. The agreement ended more than a week of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and repeated bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military.

Since Obama administration policy has wanted to enhance the power and prestige of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt, one does not quite understand why it is surprised. Who did it think it was dealing with?

As for the overview of Hillary Clinton’s much-praised diplomatic failure, David Goldman offers the best analysis:

Hamas fires 275 rockets at Israel and is rewarded with de facto acceptance as a legitimate negotiating partner in the Middle East peace process, as well as with a relaxation of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza coast. Israel is prevented from exacting a price for Hamas’ actions sufficient to deter future attacks or degrade Hamas’ capabilities. In one stroke, the Obama administration has overturned thirty years of American policy, which rejected negotiations with Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Secretary of State Clinton, to be sure, did not negotiate directly with Hamas, but rather with Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, who supported Hamas unequivocally and encouraged its attacks on Israel. Morsi is the leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian chapter. It is astonishing that American officials and the world media have hailed Morsi simply because he first sicced his dog on his neighbor, and then called the dog off.

As readers of this blog know, Goldman has been among the best guides to current events in the Middle East. Again, I am happy to recommend his analysis. It’s well worth a read.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Proper Show of Gratitude

Today we Americans will join together as one people to consume the remains of our ancestral totem animal: the turkey.

Yes, I know, you thought that the great American totem was the bald eagle… but, have you ever tried to eat a roasted bald eagle?

At Thanksgiving we express our gratitude for a bountiful harvest. We are especially grateful for the bounty that God gave us… on credit. As long as God, that is, the Fed keeps the credit flowing we are going to be just fine.

We Americans are a grateful lot. We love Thanksgiving, perhaps above all holidays.

Thus, this is a good time to ask how well we show gratitude in our everyday lives.

As the old saying goes, once is not enough. Saying thank-you one day a year does not make you an individual of sterling character. It means that you like a good party.

To build character you need to learn to say thank-you often, sincerely, under the appropriate circumstances. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done.

Sue Shellenbarger explained yesterday that American business is suffering from a gratitude deficit. Everyone knows, in the abstract that good management requires frequent expressions of gratitude. 

And yet, we are far more likely to say thank-you to friends, family and neighbors than we are toward the people we work with.

Shellenbarger writes:

The workplace ranks dead last among the places people express gratitude, from homes and neighborhoods to places of worship. Only 10% of adults say thanks to a colleague every day, and just 7% express gratitude daily to a boss, according to a survey this year of 2,007 people for the John Templeton Foundation of West Conshohocken, Pa., a nonprofit organization that sponsors research on creativity, gratitude, freedom and other topics.

Everyone knows that frequent injections of gratitude, especially from the person in charge create a better office culture.

But when you ask why it is expressed so infrequently, the answer seems to be that people do not know how to do it. They fear getting it wrong.

In Shellenbarger’s words:

Some bosses are afraid employees will take advantage of them if they heap on the gratitude. Other managers believe in thank-yous but are nervous about appearing awkward or insincere—or embarrassing the employee they wish to praise.

In truth, getting gratitude right is far more difficult than you think. Saying it the right way to the right person at the right time with the right feeling is a very difficult task.

The best way to understand the problem is to follow Shellenbarger as she outlines the wrong ways to express gratitude.

Relying on consultant Bob Nelson, Shellenbarger outlines the wrong ways to express gratitude.

First, if a manager expresses gratitude in a rote exercise offered to the staff at a designated time, regardless of whether anyone has done anything to deserve it, his expression will sound insincere. 

Second, if a manager offers gratitude promiscuously, it will lose its meaning. When a manager who has never allowed the words thank-you pass his lips reads an article one day and decides to offer effusive expressions of gratitude to everyone all the time, regardless of whether it was deserved, his words will ring hollow.

Third, if a manager qualifies his gratitude by saying that your work was riddled with mistakes he is taking back what he is giving.

Fourth, if the expression is too little too late, it becomes less significant. If the manager waits too long before saying thank-you it will appear to be an afterthought, thus, insincere.

Fifth, if the manager is using thank-you to manipulate an employee, his gratitude is self-interested. If he has an ulterior motive to expressing gratitude-- like trying to induce the person to work late-- than his gratitude is insincere.

Those are the wrong ways to express gratitude. Unfortunately, no one ever learns how to get it right without getting it wrong a few times.