Thursday, July 31, 2014

Overcoming Procrastination

If he who hesitates is lost, what about he who procrastinates?

As long as people have been reflecting they have been reflecting on procrastination. It is puzzling that people can delay doing what they know they should be doing and want to be doing. And that they will keep delaying even when delay is unpleasant, even painful.

University of Calgary professor Piers Steel has studied the phenomenon. He has observed that people who procrastinate lack self-discipline. They are bad self-regulators. He also learned that procrastination is the “flip side” of poor impulse control.

Maria Konnikova explains the link:

Just as impulsivity is a failure of our self-control mechanisms—we should wait, but instead we act now—so, too, is procrastination: we should act now, but instead we wait.

We are indebted to Steel and the other neuroscientists for this observation. And yet, how do you know the difference between delaying a task because you are waiting for the right time or delaying it because you are afraid to do it. And what about people who seem to use their delaying tactics to provoke drama?

And the lack of impulse control is not always a bad thing. True enough, people who lack impulse control might very well do the wrong thing at the wrong time. But, it is possible to do the right thing at just the right time, spontaneously.

Neuroscience tells us that procrastination and impulse control are two sides of the same coin. It does not, however, tell us how to distinguish between the right and the wrong of any specific action.

Sometimes people delay a task because they are not ready to do it. Sometimes delay helps them to compose their thoughts and to do a better job.

If you have been hard at work on task 1, it is often not possible to flick a switch and to move on to task 2.

Sometimes, preparation is needed. At other times, people wait for the right moment because they want to do their best. Others procrastinate because they want to irritate the person who is waiting to see the report.

To know whether or not you are procrastinating you have to know how well you accomplish the task once you set about to complete it.

Of course, if you never complete the task you are not just procrastinating, you are failing to fulfill a responsibility.

If someone is constantly getting into fights in bars we believe that he has poor impulse control. And yet, if he is a tennis player and has developed his skill to the point where he does not think before responding to a shot on the court, we would not say that he lacks impulse control. We would say that he has attuned his impulses to the point where they serve his competitive purpose.

Again, neuroscience does not tell us the difference between right and wrong.

Be that as it may, today’s cognitive therapists have developed constructive ways to combat the negative effects of some forms of procrastination. They do not do it by exploring the depths of your mind, but they seek out new ways to motivate people.
Konnikova reports:

When it comes to self-control, one trick that tends to work well is to reframe broad, ambitious goals in concrete, manageable, immediate chunks, and the same goes for procrastination. “We know there is a lot of naturally occurring motivation as deadlines approach,” Steel pointed out. “Can you create artificial deadlines to mimic the same thing?”

Next, be more specific in defining the task. If you tell yourself that you must write you will be less motivated and less productive than if you tell yourself that you need to write a certain number of words or pages within a specific time frame:

For instance, Steel uses timed ten-minute sessions to get started on tasks that he doesn’t quite want to do. “The problem with a goal we’re avoiding is that we’ve already built into our minds how awful it’s going to be,” he said. “So it’s like diving into a cold pool: the first few seconds are terrible, but soon it feels great.” So, set the goal of working on a task for a short time, and then reassess. Often, you’ll be able to stay on task once you’ve overcome that initial jump. “You don’t say, ‘I am going to write.’ You say, ‘I will complete four hundred words by two o’clock,’ ” Steel says. “The more specific, the more powerful. That’s what gets us going.”

And then, eliminate distractions, preferably before they begin to tempt you:

Identify the “hot” conditions for impulse control—those moments when you’re most prone to give in to distraction—and find ways to deal with them directly. “One of the easiest things to do is to realize that maybe it’s your distractions, not your goals, that are the problem,” said Steel. “So you make the distractions harder to get to. Make them less obvious.”

According to the best thought on procrastination and motivation, you can best overcome your bad time management skills by reorganizing your time and redefining the tasks you need to accomplish.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Coming Together or Coming Apart

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

He’s outgoing. She’s more retiring.

He likes to go out all the time. She’s a homebody.

One might say that they complement each other. Don’t opposites attract?

That’s what they think. They find each other charming. Each is thrilled to be attached to his or her polar opposite.

Until they aren’t.

In time, she resents being dragged out every evening to meaningless events. He does not like being pressured to stay in and miss the party.

Are they falling out of love? Have they developed what the psychologists call a “fatal attraction?”

The label feels far too dramatic. Why classify this loving couple as psychopathic?

In truth, they and some psychologists have missed the first lesson of living together: the need to create couples routines.

When they were singletons each member of this couple could do as he or she pleased. Each developed single-person habits and routines. The routines were comfortable; they felt like second nature.

And then came the disruption. When the couple decided to build a life together they might have believed that they could each hold on to their old singleton habits. Unfortunately, that is far more difficult that it seems.

If she stays home while he goes out, he might feel that she does not want to be seen in public with him. If she stays home while he goes out, she might feel abandoned. If he stays home when he wants to go out he might feel that she is imposing her will on him and stifling his personality. And she might feel that the presence of a grumpy and resentful man is not such a good thing.

Such was the case of Laurie Davis and Thomas Edwards, reported by Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal.

One day Davis turned the dislocation into a conflict:

One Friday, Ms. Davis, 32, decided at the last minute to opt out of a weekend trip to the Hamptons the couple had been planning with friends. "Thomas, you go out way too much," she told Mr. Edwards.

He was completely shaken. "I felt like she was attacking the very nature of why she liked me," says Mr. Edwards, 29.

Truth be told, this has nothing to do with who liked whom how much. It had everything to do with Davis’s reneging on an agreement. By going back on her word Davis manifested the kind of bad character that makes relationships much more difficult, regardless of how much anyone loves or does not love anyone else.

Apparently, no one noticed this detail, so the couple did the next best thing. They tried to find a compromise, one that would allow him to go out more often, that would allow her to have more time with her girlfriends and for the two of them to have some date nights.

I would note in passing, that there is a significant difference between being a homebody and wanting to hang out with your girlfriends.

Bernstein explains:

Then they sat down and talked about what they wanted in a relationship, why they craved it and what it would look like. Ms. Davis said she wanted Mr. Edwards to set aside time and space so they could be alone together. Mr. Edwards told Ms. Davis he would like her to hang out with her friends more, "within reason, of course."

And so the couple, who wed two months ago, worked on their differences. Mr. Edwards scheduled regular date nights. Ms. Davis held sleepovers for her girlfriends and joined entrepreneur groups where she met new friends. When socializing together, they planned more outings with couples than with large groups, because large groups drain Ms. Davis. And while they were out, they would thank each other for going.

"That support and validation were good for us because they taught us to be more aware of each other's needs," says Mr. Edwards, who is a dating coach.

"Above all, we realized that we never want the other person to feel like they need to do something," says Ms. Davis. "It's just most important to us that we're both happy, even if that means spending a little time apart."

Happily, the couple has now taken some positive steps toward creating routines in which they can both participate.

And yet, having sleepovers with your girlfriends is not the same as being a homebody. Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that a married woman would want to have regular sleepovers with her girlfriends? Evidently, there are aspects of this relationship that we know nothing about. Thus, it is difficult to analyze what is really going on.

We were led to believe that Davis liked to stay at home with her husband because she wants to nest. Perhaps, she wants to have a family and wonders whether her peripatetic husband will be able to stay at home enough to help her out.

Surely, that is an important issue. Bernstein’s account does not address it.

Nor do we know anything about the nature of the outings that Edwards plans. Since he is a few years younger than Davis, she might find his friends to be puerile and childish, overgrown frat boys. The information we have does not address this issue, though the mention of “large groups” suggests as much, to me at least.

If that is the case, then clearly Edwards is doing well to abandon some of his partying in favor of dinner dates with other couples.

Interestingly, this solution represents the golden mean between his wish to go out and her wish for more good conversation.

The moral of the story is that in order to understand or to conduct a negotiation you need to command all the relevant details and even a few irrelevant ones.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Executive coach S. Chris Edmonds offers the three pillars of good leadership.

They are, with my variations:

Do not tolerate bad behavior.

Take all opinions into account.

Put it all in context.

To elaborate:

Surely, leaders must set an example of good behavior. They must be respectful and considerate, never rude, insulting or demeaning.

But, they should never countenance bad behavior in others.

Evidently, if they behave badly themselves they will not be respected when they reject rudeness in others.

Once an executive allows his staff to believe that rudeness, bullying and demeaning behavior is acceptable, he will have a very difficult time putting an end to it.

As for the ability to listen, we ought to be clear that there is much more to it than just listening. Being a good listener means taking what you hear seriously. You show yourself to be a good listener by including what you hear in your decisions.

Employees who do not believe that their concerns have been taken into account will be less motivated to implement company policy.

The purpose of good listening is to allow everyone to feel like a part of the decision making process, to give everyone a voice.

When Edwards talks about context he means that employees must know how their jobs fit within the larger context of the company, perhaps even the industry or the nation.

Once the leader sets a strategy, he must not only show that it reflects the input he has been receiving, but he must be sure that everyone understands it. The higher an executive the larger his scope. His is a more global view.

And he should be sure that all employees understand how their jobs fit into the larger picture. Otherwise employees will feel isolated from everyone else.

In a word, the three pillars of good leadership are about making all employees feel like they belong, lare being treated with respect and are an integral part of the work process.

Slavoj Zizek, Plagiarist

Surprisingly, the story was important enough to appear in Newsweek.

Superstar Marxist (and Freudian) philosopher Slavoj Zizek was caught plagiarizing.

A discerning reader was surprised to discover, in a Zizek article, a couple of readable paragraphs. He understood that something was wrong.

In time he discovered that the offending passages had been lifted, nearly verbatim from another publication. Not just from any publication but from a white supremacist magazine called American Renaissance.

Of course, Zizek is not merely a Marxist philosopher. He is a leading proponent of psychoanalysis, especially that of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. I defined his role clearly in my book, The Last Psychoanalyst.

Writing about the kerfuffle in Slate Rebecca Schuman expressed some sympathy for the superstar. Don’t all great academic thinkers do the same thing? We do not expect such people to write every word that they publish, do we?

As for Zizek, he defended himself on the grounds that a friend had passed along the offending passages without telling him that they had been lifted from someone else’s work. Since the friend gave Zizek permission to transcribe his words verbatim, the superstar philosopher asks forgiveness because he did not know what he was doing.

He merely thought that he was plagiarizing a friend’s work. And besides, the plagiarized passages merely summarized an argument. They were, Zizek claimed, merely informative.

As Schuman hints, Zizek thereby showed that he does not understand plagiarism. You cannot plagiarize an idea; you can only plagiarize someone’s words. And on that count Zizek’s editor agrees that the philosopher stands guilty as charged.

And yet, said editor, from the journal Critical Inquiry now says that he would have dealt with the problem by asking Zizek to remove the plagiarized paragraphs. He would not, in other words, have held Zizek to account for his intellectual malfeasance and would have happily run the rest of the article.

Fortunately, Zizek does not much care about his reputation, but why would an apparently reputable journal of ideas adopt such an insouciant attitude toward a plagiarist?

Monday, July 28, 2014

"The Exercise Cure"

Everyone knows that exercise is good for your health. It’s good for your physical health. It’s good for your mental health. It’s one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself.

And yet, it requires work. In a culture that has taught people that there’s a pill for everything, exercise is often shunted off to the side, an activity for those who are less cerebral and thus less intelligent.

And, physicians do not profit directly when their patients exercise. You might say that fitness centers do and that Nike does, but the medical profession has very little vested financial interest in exercise.

Worse yet, exercise competes with treatments that earn more for doctors.

Everyone knows about exercise, but the message does not seem to have a privileged messenger. Perhaps, Dr. Jordan Metzl will be that messenger. As both a practicing physician—specializing in sports medicine—and a trainer, Metzl treats patients and teaches exercise classes.

Dr. Metzl’s specialty is treating injuries without surgery. His favorite medicine, he says, is exercise: It is one he takes often and prescribes to all of his patients. He’s completed over 40 marathons and Ironman competitions, and his goal is to do at least one Ironman every year.

Hopefully, Metzl’s training regimen does not make those who prefer a few hours on the treadmill feel inadequate.

In the course of his Times interview Metzl discusses his book, The Exercise Cure:

It takes what I believe in personally and puts it in a scientific approach, namely that exercise is medicine. I want people to learn how they can take exercise for their problems, whether its memory issues, depression, anxiety, heart disease or high cholesterol. How do you use exercise as a first line drug, and how do you talk to your physician about that? Those are things I want people to learn.

It’s a lot better than touting the transformative power of Prozac, don’t you think.

Fellow Feeling

Greg McKeown believes that if we want to have good relationships with our colleagues on the job we should develop filters to protect us from each other. We should learn how to protect ourselves from rude and caustic criticism and we should protect others from our own rude and caustic criticism.

It sounds like good advice. Yet, McKeown should have added that we would all get along better if we knew how to save face.

Keep in mind, the face you save is never just your own.

Of course, saving face means maintaining your dignity by keeping a stiff upper lip when you are feeling anguished or in despair. But it also means respecting the face of others, showing consideration for their feelings and their self-respect.

McKeown is right to frame the issue in terms of protection, because when you are talking with someone else you must first protect his face. If you hurt his feelings, you need to apologize quickly. If he exposes too much of himself you must help him to cover up.

A culture that tells you to be straightforward and direct, to be open and honest, to get things off your chest and to blurt out what is on your mind… saves no one’s face. If you are rude, insulting and demeaning to others you are compromising your own dignity by attacking someone else’s.

McKeown offers some fine examples of how people act toward each other when they have no face.

He writes:

I once worked with a manager who gave blunt feedback in perpetuity: “You’re not a grateful person!” and “You’re just not a great writer!” and “Well, that was dumb!” My response, at first, was to listen as if everything she said was true. On the outside, I became defensive — but on the inside, I returned home emotionally beaten up. 

To deal with the emotional fallout from such assaults, one does best to consider, as McKeown said, the source. One does well to ignore the comments of people who do not respect you. One does better to find a better boss.

For having absorbed the attacks of an abusive boss, McKeown managed to pick up the habit himself. Without knowing it.

He explains:

On the other hand, I once worked with a leader with whom I felt I could be completely open. One day she said to me, “I value what you have to say, but sometimes it feels like I’ve been punched in the solar plexus when we talk.” 

Astonishingly, McKeown was unaware of his own rudeness. It felt right; it seemed to echo what he had been hearing; it must have been culturally acceptable speech.

If his interlocutor was signaling, with her facial expressions, her distress at hearing his words, he was oblivious. One might say that he lacked empathy or sympathy, but feeling her feelings would not, in itself have told him what to do about it. Empathy is not a moral principle.

Saving face begins with respecting the feelings of others. In conversation you read the facial expressions of your interlocutor. You mimic those expressions to learn what the person is feeling. In truth, you need to know the feeling more than you need to feel it. Can you know it without having something of an emotional intimation? Possibly, you can, but sensing the feeling does not, in tell you what to do about it.

One might call this a capacity for empathy. Surely, those who tout the virtue of empathy would say so. And yet, feeling someone else’s anguish is not a moral principle. It does not tell you what you should do in order to attenuate that anguish. Empathy does not tell you whether you should try to diminish the anguish or to take advantage of it.

You certainly want to know if your competitor is weakening, but you do not want to feel the feeling. The more you feel his feelings the more you will start acting as he does. That is, acting defeated.

If you are playing chess you want to size up your opponent. You want to know who he is, what his tactics are likely to be, how well he reacts to this or that move. You might even try to read his emotion through his facial expression.

Yet, nothing guarantees that you have read them correctly. The state of play on the board, combined with the possible moves and countermoves provides a context in which you can interpret the emotion you are sensing in your opponent. The fact that he feels confident in his moves and displays his confidence in his expression does not mean that the game is going his way. It might mean that he is oblivious to what is really going on.

If he looks like he is worried about the course of the game that might mean that he knows he is losing, but it might also mean that he has not yet seen the move that will spell your defeat. Surely, good competitors will try to trick their opponents into feeling the wrong feeling.

Feeling someone’s feeling might be a part of the knowledge you need in order compete effectively, but it is not decisive. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan

In a news report on Taliban advances in Afghanistan, the NewYork Times does not offer opinions. And properly so.

Yet, the picture is grim, and the facts are well worth your attention.

Here is the opening of the Times’s long, and well reported story:
MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan —Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

“They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,” one Western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. “They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait” until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

The rest of the story is well worth a read.

Empathy Makes You Feel Subordinate

Happily for my thesis, recent scientific research has shown that people who gain power in the world, who succeed in the arena, who are effective at competing… lack empathy.

You cannot compete effectively if you are attuned to the pain you want to inflict on your opponent.

The studies suggest that, with power comes an uncaring attitude toward those who are lower on the status hierarchy. The moral of the story sounds suspiciously like Lord Acton’s: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

After all, the study could have emphasized competitive advantage, success, authority or responsibility.

Be that as it may, in today’s New York Times,  Michael Inzlicht and Sukvinder Obhi write:

Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so).

As I have often emphasized, empathy is about feeling someone else’s feelings. The authors explain:

Our brains appear to be able to intimately resonate with others’ actions, and this process may allow us not only to understand what they are doing, but also, in some sense, to experience it ourselves — i.e., to empathize.

They report on the results of their study:

We found that for those participants who were induced to experience feelings of power, their brains showed virtually no resonance with the actions of others; conversely, for those participants who were induced to experience feelings of powerlessness, their brains resonated quite a bit. In short, the brains of powerful people did not mirror the actions of other people. And when we analyzed the text of the participants’ essays, using established techniques for coding and measuring themes, we found that the more power that people expressed, the less their brains resonated. Power, it appears, changes how the brain itself responds to others.

But then, it would also follow that if you induce people to feel more empathy they will end up feeling weaker, more subordinate and more powerless.

Would that be therapeutic?

Still, the question that needs to be asked is this: If a man builds a large business that gives jobs to thousands of people does he also need to feel empathy? Surely, he needs to care about the people who work for him, but does that entail feeling sorry for them or does it entail providing good work conditions and job security?

The researchers are optimistic that they can teach powerful people to feel empathy, but doesn’t that really mean that the culture will try to make billionaires feel so guilty about their fortune that they will give it away to charity? Some of those charities will do God’s work, but many of them will dedicate themselves to undermining free enterprise… in the name of empathy.

Meanwhile, Back in Libya

As all eyes are riveted on the Israeli efforts to discredit and humiliate Hamas, Libya, Walter Russell Mead explains, is imploding.

One recalls that the Obama administration partnered with NATO to overthrow the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. At the time we believed in the Arab Spring. Idealists in the Obama administration believed that democracy would burst forth in the region.

It was not alone in holding this belief. Hadn’t the Bush administration initiated the freedom agenda?

The impetus for leading behind in Libya came from the French government through the aegis of a philosopher named Bernard-Henri Levy. The tyrant Gaddafi needed to be deposed. NATO intervened on the side of the rebels. We did not know who they were, but we believed in rebels.

At the time, people who understood Libya did not think it was a very good idea. George Friedman of Statfor was pessimistic about the prospects for a democratic Libya.

Now, the situation in Tripoli is so bad that we have just had to evacuate the American embassy. We did what Hillary Clinton did not do in Benghazi in 2012.

Mead quotes the State Department description of the situation at length:

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed groups can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire.  Armed clashes have occurred in the areas near Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road, and Swani Road.  Checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli, and at times inside the capital.  Closures or threats of closures of international airports occur regularly, whether for maintenance, labor, or security-related incidents.  Along with airports, seaports and roads can close with little or no warning.  U.S. citizens should closely monitor news and check with airlines to try to travel out of Libya as quickly and safely as possible.

The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain.  The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament.  Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities.  In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational.  State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

Clearly, NATO and American policies have failed in Libya.

It seems almost redundant to ask the question, but Mead asks it anyway: what would the media coverage of the evacuation of the Libyan embassy look like if a Republican had been in charge.

He answers:

If Republicans had done this, the media would be on the administration non-stop, perhaps comparing Samantha Power to Paul Wolfowitz—a well-meaning humanitarian way over her head who wrecked a country out of misguided ideology. There might also be some pointed questions for future presidential candidates who supported this fiasco. But since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their fingerprints all over Libya, there isn’t a lot of press hunger for a detailed, unsparing autopsy into this stinking corpse of policy flub.

If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq….

 Why, the ever-admirable tribunes of a free and unbiased press would be asking non-stop, didn’t this poor excuse for a President learn from what happened in Iraq?  When you upend an insane and murderous dictator who has crushed his people for decades under an incompetent and quirky regime, you’d better realize that there is no effective state or civil society under the hard shell of dictatorial rule. Remove the dictator and you get chaos and anarchy. Wasn’t this President paying attention during the last ten years?

It’s the media double standard. The press protects the reputations and good names of anyone on the left and mercilessly trashes those of anyone on the right.

Mead is right to be upset about it, but it has been going on for so long and has become so endemic to the media that one sees little prospect for anything to change.

So instead, as Libya writhes in agony, reputations and careers move on. The news is so bad, and the President’s foreign policy is collapsing on so many fronts, that it is impossible to keep the story off the front pages. “Smart diplomacy” has become a punch line, and the dream Team Obama had of making Democrats the go-to national security party is as dead as the passenger pigeon. But what the press can do for the White House it still, with some honorable exceptions, labors to accomplish: it will, when it must, report the dots. But it will try not to connect them, and it will do what it can to let all the people involved in the Libya debacle move on to the next and higher stage of their careers.

As the world spins out of control, the media tells us that the world is always spinning out of control and that Obama could not have done anything about it anyway.

Do you really believe that if Bush were president and his Libya policy had just imploded, the media would be saying the same thing?

The answer is so obvious that one almost feels a need to apologize for asking it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Always Blaming the Woman

I don’t know about you, but I have just about had it with people who are always blaming women. You have a male who cheats on his wife, who cheats on her often and with many women.  And we are told that his mother made him do it.

Told by whom? By his loyal and dutiful wife, that's by whom. Admittedly, it’s nicer than to say that she married a model of moral dereliction, or worse, that, being married to her made him do it.

Naturally, she will say that he is really a sex addict. He can’t control himself. Poor guy! How did he get this way? His wife will explain, with a straight face that his mother abused him so badly when he was a child that he was cursed to have a voracious appetite for sex.

Imagine how painful that must be.

Aside from the fact that sex addiction is most likely a spurious diagnostic category, the notion that a man might not be responsible for his behavior because Mommy made him do it is insulting and demeaning. It absolves him of responsibility for his serial adultery.

Of course, if the sex addict is a black man and he has been having too much sex with too many blonds you must attack him in public and then send him to rehab. Do not pass Go, do not collect… any more blonds.

Think Tiger Woods.

If the sex addict in question is Bill Clinton, he does not go to rehab. He is lionized. His wife steps forth to defend him and to denounce anyone who would think ill of her poor suffering husband.

If he is accused of having sexually assaulted a woman, the woman is lying. If he is accused of having sexually harassed a woman, the woman is lying. They are all trailer-park trash anyway. How can you believe a word they are saying?

Besides, it was all his mother’s fault. When he was a child Bill Clinton was horrifically abused by his mother. He was caught between his mother and his grandmother. Imagine the horror!

The Daily News reports:

 "He was abused. When a mother does what she does, it affects you forever," Hillary said, according to the new book.

She did not specify the nature of the abuse but said it was the source of her husband’s infidelities. "I am not going into it, but I'll say that when this happens in children, it scars you," she said, according to Franks’ account. "You keep looking in all the wrong places for the parent who abused you."

In the original 1999 Talk piece, Hillary Clinton's description of her husband's tough childhood spoke more hazily about an abusive atmosphere — focusing more on Kelley's problems with her mother Edith Cassidy, who cared for Bill when he was small.

"He was so young, barely 4, when he was scarred by abuse and he can't even take it out and look at it," Hillary was quoted as saying in Talk's debut issue.

As a credentialed expert in child development Hillary Clinton is happy to report that children never get over abuse. One might ask what message this sends to children who have been molested. Do we really want them to believe that they are ruined for life?

Besides, for a martyred victim, Bill Clinton did not do so badly for himself. If the worst thing that ever happens to you is that you are respected as a successful president and have gotten away with God knows what… this is not quite the same thing as lifelong institutionalization.

Then again, perhaps we are being too hasty to dismiss Hillary’s psychobabble. For all we know Bill Clinton’s childhood abuse might explain why he made the one life decision that most people do not understand: he married Hillary Rodham.

Strong, Silent Women

It makes sense that women and only women. mother. Their bodies are made for gestating and nourishing infants. They possess maternal instincts that tell them how to care for an infant or a child.

When it comes to mothering, men and women are not interchangeable. Anyone who ignores this reality will probably pay a price.

Whoever it was who made human beings as men and women seemed to have known what he was doing.

Moreover, if the researchers are correct to believe that a child’s brain  develops better if he hears more words before he is three, then it makes sense that a woman’s maternal instinct would make her more talkative. It’s about quantity, not quality. It’s all about a child’s flourishing. Link here.

As you know, feminists find that these realities offend their ideology. An ideologically driven true believer will never let facts get in the way of the narrative.

At times, ideologues try to skew the facts. At times, they try to convince you that facts are irrelevant. They even make up facts. Any way, they will ignore or neutralize any facts that make them look like fools.

So, on the grand question of whether men or women are more talkative, feminists insist that the talkative woman, like the silent man… is a stereotype.

Keep in mind my context. I am not asking whether women, in all situations are more talkative, but whether they would naturally, as mothers tend to talk more to an infant or a small child.

So, when the research, reported by Anna North, tells us that women are more talkative in small groups and that men are more talkative in large groups, it tends to prove my point.

But, North notes, another study has shown that when women are in legislatures, where they are often not in the majority, they speak up just as often as men. Thus, their behavior runs counter to the idea that women speak less when they are in groups.

If you look closely, however, you will see that women speak more under specific circumstances. They are more talkative when they are weighing in on issues that skew toward the maternal.

North writes:

In 2012, the political science professors Tali Mendelberg and Christopher F. Karpowitz found that in groups with the power to make political decisions, women spoke less than men when they were in the minority (men were no less talkative when outnumbered). When they made up the majority of the group, though, women spoke just as much as men, were interrupted less often, and advocated for policies that would help families in poverty. In a New York Times op-ed, Ms. Mendelberg and Mr. Karpowitz wrote:

“When there are more women in legislatures, city councils and school boards, they speak more and voice the needs of the poor, the vulnerable, children and families — and men listen. At a time of soaring inequality, electing vastly more women might be the best hope for addressing the needs of the 99 percent.”

Does this prove that women are just as talkative as men when they belong to groups? It does not. It tells us that being more talkative belongs to the category of maternal instincts.

North reviews the evidence, some of which suggests strongly that women are more talkative, but she concludes, like a good feminist, that it is a cultural stereotype, thus something that good feminists are duty-bound to destroy.

Whoever it was who created human beings as men and women must have made a mistake. Feminists know better so they will continue their effort to transform the human species, to make it fit their ideology.

Funnily enough, success would mean creating a new stereotype, the strong, silent woman. How else can you make it appear that men and women talk equally as much.

At least, it wasn’t my idea to silence women!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Obama's Grand Idea

Many people, Charles Krauthammer writes, believe that Barack Obama has checked out of his presidency.

Obama excels at campaigning, so he continues to campaign. He has no idea how to be a chief executive so he avoids playing the game of governance and leadership.

I have suggested that Obama’s inexperience with the ways of the real world forced him to use an ideologically-driven fiction as a frame of reference. He sees himself as a character in the great scheme of history, a scheme that will work itself out, regardless of what he does. He can only position himself correctly and history will vindicate him.

Three weeks ago I wrote on this blog:

If you are living a fiction, you are obliged to play your role. The outcome is inevitable. If you are playing a game you can take actions that can influence the outcome.

Barack Obama believes that he is right and that everyone who does not see it his way is wrong. He does not see a need to change course, because he believes that history will vindicate him.

If history is a grand narrative whose ending is predetermined, the best Obama can do is to place himself on the right side and wait.

And I quoted Peggy Noonan to the same effect:

He thinks he is in line with the arc of history….

This morning Krauthammer picks up the same point. Rejecting the notion that Obama’s disinterest is psychologically motivated, Krauthammer suggests that Obama has tuned out of leadership because he is confident that he is on the right side of history:

Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it . He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

Since history is on his side, Obama does not need to intervene actively in world crises. History will vindicate him.

At what price remains unclear.

Behind this thinking lies the notion that we are all for nothing when faced with the great tide of history. This Hegelian or neo-Hegelian notion has infected many minds. It tells us that we need but get on the right side of history. It also tells us that human agency, human actions based on the exercise of free will are for nothing in the equation.

As I argued in The Last Psychoanalyst, you can see the world as a drama or as a game. If it is a drama or a fiction you are a mere character following a predetermined script. The denouement will come to pass, regardless of what you do. If life is a game, you are an agent. Your actions will be instrumental in determining what happens.

Authentically Black?

At a town hall meeting in Washington, D. C. President Obama rejected the what multiculturalism was doing to the African-American community.

Sometimes African Americans, in communities where I've worked, there's been the notion of 'acting white'—which sometimes is overstated, but there's an element of truth to it, where, okay, if boys are reading too much, then, well, why are you doing that? Or why are you speaking so properly? And the notion that there's some authentic way of being black, that if you're going to be black you have to act a certain way and wear a certain kind of clothes, that has to go. Because there are a whole bunch of different ways for African American men to be authentic.

Hopefully, his words will resonate.

If African-Americans are taught that they must reject any behaviors that signify whiteness, in order to be more authentically black, they are marginalizing themselves. If they choose to read less and to study less, in order to be more authentically black, they are hurting their own prospects. If they choose not to speak proper English, they are undermining their own futures.

If African-Americans underachieve, it isn’t all the fault of white racism. Obama did not call out multiculturalism in particular for the scourge that it is, but he was correct to tell his black constituents that they are hurting themselves by seeking out an authenticity that separates them from the larger American culture.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making Introductions

We have, some would say, overcome propriety and good manners. We avoid formal rituals, like making introductions, and believe that meeting new people should involve exchanging witty remarks.

We no longer behave like ladies and gentlemen, because those terms are certainly sexist. We see ourselves as gender-neutered persons who are not trying to become friends or to work together, but to exploit each other… with mutual consent.

If we think of meet new people, we are more likely to conjure up the one-liners that are the stock-in-trade of the pick-up artist than the genteel, ceremonial way of presenting Mr. Smith to Ms. Jones. And yet, which would you prefer, being introduced to a prospective date or picking him or her up at a club.

And yet, formal introductions engage us as social beings. They invite us into a group, identify us by name and title and perhaps occupation to other members of the group and do the same for the other members of the group.

You are more fully human, you are more yourself when you participate in this ritual than you are when you try to pick up that comely blond at a club by trotting out a clever remark about … whatever.

Being human means belonging to groups. It does not involve being a uniquely autonomous individual being introduced to another uniquely autonomous individual.

At The Art of Manliness blog, Bret and Kate McKay have offered some advice about how to introduce people to each other. (Via Maggie’s Farm.)

These behaviors are so important that communities have ritualized them and have made them an important social obligation. When you are part of a conversation group at a party and a friend who is a stranger to the rest of the group approaches, you are morally obligated to make an introduction.

If you fail to do so, you will have shunned your friend and put your fellow group members in an awkward position.

Making introductions a formal ritual means that you will be forearmed, that you will know what to do when the situation arises. You will not be left thinking of a clever quip that, doubtless, will not soon cross your mind.

The McKays present the issue:

Have you ever been at a party with a guy who runs into somebody he knows and starts yammering away while you stand there awkwardly, holding your drink? Man, I hate when that happens. You’re left in social limbo. I usually have to just take things into my own hands and introduce myself, which is fine, but the exchange would have been much smoother had my friend introduced me to his buddies.

Being introduced invites you into the conversation and makes you feel like part of the group, which is why making an introduction shows your respect for your guest. Neglecting to make an introduction leaves a person feeling ignored and, well, awkward. Making introductions is particularly important in business settings as they establish a rapport of respect, get relationships off on the right foot, and give you an aura of being confident, prepared, and in control.

Formal introductions are based, the McKays explain, on deference and respect.

They write:

You show chivalrous deference to women by introducing the man to the woman. You show respect for your elders by introducing the younger to the older.  And in a business setting, you show respect to higher-ups by introducing the person of lower rank to the person of higher position. Below we break down this rule into a few easy to understand examples so you can see how this works.

I will leave it to the McKays to explain in detail the practice of introduction. We all say that we want to be respected and we know, or we should know that the best way to garner respect is to offer it to others. And yet, respecting people means treating them with courtesy and good manners. It is ritualized behavior, not an expression of feeling. If you do not know how to do it, I recommend that you study the examples the McKays offer.

"Mere Anarchy Is Loosed Upon the World"

Yesterday in the New York Times, Peter Baker presented a sobering assessment of President Obama’s efforts to manage foreign policy.

He wrote:

Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once — in Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — but making the current upheaval more complicated for Mr. Obama is the seemingly interlocking nature of them all. Developments in one area, like Ukraine, shape his views and choices in a crisis in another area, like the Middle East.

The crosscurrents can be dizzying. Even as Mr. Obama presses Russia to stop fomenting a virtual civil war in Ukraine, he is trying to collaborate with Moscow in a diplomatic campaign to force Iran to scale back its nuclear program. Even as he pressures Iran over its nuclear program, he finds himself on the same side as Tehran in combating a rising Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Even as he sends special forces to help squelch those insurgents, he is trying to help their putative allies against the government in Syria next door.

And then there is the mushrooming conflict in Gaza, where Mr. Obama seems to be losing patience. While backing Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rockets, he sent Secretary of State John Kerry to work with Egypt to force a cease-fire. This is the same Egypt to which Mr. Obama cut financial aid for a time because its leaders came to power after the military overthrew the previous government….

A few months back, Mr. Obama argued that foreign relations is not a chess game. But at times, it seems like three-dimensional chess. Admirers said Mr. Obama’s strength was seeing those connections and finding ways to balance them. Critics said he allowed complexity to paralyze him at the expense of American leadership in the world.

As has been noted, here and elsewhere, the proliferation of seemingly unmanageable crises must be a direct function of President Obama’s failure to lead. The world is spinning out of control because no one is in charge.

In his six years as president Barack Obama has convinced the world that he wants out of foreign policy. Developing events and crises are a function of the void at the helm.

I am reminded of this passage from William Butler Yeats. In his 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” Yeats wrote:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.