Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Camille Paglia on Rape Culture

Feminist rabble rouser Amanda Marcotte has encouraged young women to take naked selfies. It’s good clean fun, don’t you know.

Marcotte wrote:

It’s the nude photo leak version of blaming a sexual assault victim for a short skirt. It isn’t just that it shifts blame away from where it belongs, on the perpetrators. It’s not just because it’s the typical misogynist tendency to assume a woman is to blame for attacks on her. It’s because this attitude is anti-creativity, anti-fun, anti-sex and, in many cases, anti-love.

According to a leading feminist, love is sending naked pictures of yourself to … whomever.

By her lights, if anyone passes the pictures around in the locker room, if you suffer humiliation, you can console yourself with the idea that you are not to blame.

As though anyone ever believed such a thing. It is fair to mention that attorneys defending rapists sometimes try to exculpate their clients by saying that the woman’s attire was provocative, but you do better not to live your life preparing to testify against someone who assaulted you.

As every mother knows and as every mother tells her daughter, it is best to ensure that it not happen at all.

Marcotte, however, advises women to be reckless, irresponsible, incautious… because if anything bad happens to you, feminism will console you by saying that it wasn’t your fault.

Marcotte exemplifies a mindless feminism in which older feminists are willing to sacrifice, if not pimp out young women for the cause.

To counter this message, feminist firebrand and notable anti-prude Camille Paglia has offered a few words of sage advice for young women.

Beginning her Time column with a reflection on Hannah Graham-- the University of Virginia student who vanished a couple of weeks ago and who was presumably abducted, raped and murdered—Paglia responds that young people have been coddled into thinking that sex is just good clean fun.

They have not learned that sex comports serious risks and dangers, especially when you go out and have a drink with a stranger you met on the street in the middle of the night.

No one is saying or thinking that Graham is responsible for what happened to her, but it is worth pointing out that she seems to have behaved recklessly. There is no consolation is knowing that she was not to blame.

Paglia has no patience with the feminists who are railing about the rape culture on college campus:

Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

Feminists who denounce the campus rape culture are failing to inform young women of the dangers that exist off campus. And they are lulling young women into believing that they can go where they want, when they want, with whom they want… without fearing any consequences.

Apparently, people believe that if everyone keeps saying that women are “strong” and “empowered” then women will become strong and empowered. In fact, women who buy into the incantations become deluded about their true strength and forget that they are vulnerable.

Paglia continues:

Too many young middleclass women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.

If it’s all a social construct, evil exists only within the hearts and minds of those who belong to the ruling class. The oppressed of the planet will behave well if only we feel sufficiently guilty for their condition and show them sufficient empathy.

It’s reminds one of the Obama administration notion that if we reach out to Muslims with an open hand of friendship, terrorism will disappear. After all, terrorism is merely a just reaction to Western oppression.

Paglia writes:

The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

She adds:

Misled by the naive optimism and “You go, girl!” boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.

Young girls are told that they can do what they want, that they can become whatever they want and that nothing can hold them back. They never learn that their attire, for example, is sending messages and that these messages might be misread by sociopaths. If Paglia is correct, many young women do not even understand what it is to be a sociopath.

Clearly, a woman is not to blame if she is assaulted by a sociopath, but how much of a consolation is that, really.

Today’s young intellectuals no longer believe in God. Perhaps that is why, as Paglia suggests, they fail to grasp the reality of an evil that is not a social construct:

Liberalism lacks a profound sense of evil — but so does conservatism these days, when evil is facilely projected onto a foreign host of rising political forces united only in their rejection of Western values. Nothing is more simplistic than the now rote use by politicians and pundits of the cartoonish label “bad guys” for jihadists, as if American foreign policy is a slapdash script for a cowboy movie.

The gender ideology dominating academe denies that sex differences are rooted in biology and sees them instead as malleable fictions that can be revised at will. The assumption is that complaints and protests, enforced by sympathetic campus bureaucrats and government regulators, can and will fundamentally alter all men.

And today’s therapy culture, as I would call it, is not doing any better.

In Paglia’s words:

But today’s therapy has morphed into happy talk, attitude adjustments, and pharmaceutical shortcuts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

God and Science

When Newton discovered the laws of thermodynamics he did not conclude that therefore God does not exist.

When Kepler wrote down the formula for planetary orbits he did not continue to say that his work henceforth made it impossible to believe in God.

And yet, when Darwin discovered evolution, his followers insisted that you cannot accept the science and continue to believe in God.

Then, Darwin’s critics agreed: you cannot believe in evolution and still believe in God.

It's nice to see a meeting of the minds.

Now, with atheism on the rise among the American cognoscenti, a University of Washington biology professor David Barash gives his students something he calls The Talk. In it he tells his students that they cannot believe in evolution and believe in God at the same time.

You might wonder why a scientist would feel compelled to burden his students with his opinions on metaphysics, to say nothing about telling them what they can and cannot believe. You would be right to do so.

Barash tells his students:

… that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

It is big of Barash to tell his undergraduate students that they do not have to discard their religion. And yet, it’s only lip service. He continues to say that you cannot believe in science and believe in God at the same time.

And yet, since God cannot be measured or tested, it makes no sense to suggest that you can prove or disprove God’s existence scientifically. Perhaps he wants to recruit people to the atheist cause, but what makes Barash an authority on metaphysics?

Barash disparages the late Stephen Jay Gould, but Gould was closer to the truth. Following David Hume, Gould argued that religion set moral values and that science described reality.

Religion is about what you should or should not do. Science is about what is.

Moreover, why should we not believe that God created human beings through the process of evolution?

Barash summarizes the now commonly held view:

According to this expansive view, God might well have used evolution by natural selection to produce his creation.

This is undeniable. If God exists, then he could have employed anything under the sun — or beyond it — to work his will. Hence, there is nothing in evolutionary biology that necessarily precludes religion, save for most religious fundamentalisms (everything that we know about biology and geology proclaims that the Earth was not made in a day).

In order to refute this argument Barash introduces what I would call a straw God. Anyone who believes in God believes, he says, that God is omnipresent and omni-benevolent. How can a benevolent deity, he says, have allowed so much suffering in the world.

Of course, the same deity has allowed much joy in the world, and no serious theologian has ever held that God is obliged to eliminate all suffering.

Finally, Barash arrives at his conclusion:

The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

One might also say that the universe and the humans who inhabit a tiny part of it are involved in an orderly, not a disorderly process and that this process is intelligible.

As Jacques Lacan once opined, if the planets were following Kepler’s law before Kepler discovered it, and if the law is an idea, where did that idea exist before Kepler wrote it down?If it existed, was any mind thinking it?

In a sense Barash has proved Hume’s point. If you want science to be the gold standard you must eliminate morality. In an amoral universe there is no reason to follow the precept of benevolence. One might say that, in such a universe, cruelty is the order of the day.

It should be noted that not all religions are the same. Not all of them place divine or even parental benevolence at the center of their moral universe.

But if follow Barash's version of science, how can we avoid the conclusion that human beings, if they want to live in harmony with an amoral natural world should act as though there are no rules? Amorality means that there are no rules. Immorality means that there are rules, but that you break them.

[I will note that I discussed the socio-cultural implications of amorality in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. There I also explained the importance of the principle of benevolence, as articulated in Judeo-Christian tradition.]

It’s well and good to debate metaphysical questions, but in the case at hand we can also ask what happens when these different principles are put into human practice. What if you create a perfectly amoral culture, one that rejects the practice of benevolence?

Can we not judge that culture by what it does and does not produce? Regardless of whether religion is going to show you the way to Paradise, it also produces cultures and communities. We are within our rights to ask whether these cultures provide a good life for its people.

In other words, we may judge religious values on pragmatic grounds. How well do they work, how much social harmony do they produce when they are practiced by a culture?

And we know, Judeo-Christian values have produced both good and bad.

And yet, what has atheism done for anyone lately? We are within our rights to examine the track record of atheist cultures, the ones that follow the principles of a supposedly scientific amorality and that reject benevolence. I am, of course, thinking of totalitarian Communism.

Judeo-Christianity has produced both good and bad. Atheistic cultures, such as they are, have produced nothing good, nothing of real value. They have merely succeeded in destroying millions of human lives in a very short period of time.

Barash has shown that when you make science omnipotent, you do what Hume thought you would do: you eliminate morality and produce a purely amoral culture.

It is fair to say that many atheists would disagree, but Barash’s view should still be taken seriously.

Some scientists would say that science should not be judged by the results of putting atheism into cultural practice. They would say that science is not in the business of producing communities.

This is true enough. And yet, if science is to rule our lives; if it is going to hold itself up as a higher authority, doesn’t it need to find a way to bring social beings together in community?

If science merely wants to destroy the attachment people have to their religious congregations, ought it not to be responsible for the ensuing anomie?

Of course, there’s more to social life than attending religious services. And yet, religion seems to function universally as a mechanism for producing social cohesion.  The truth is, you cannot have social cohesion without moral principles. You cannot have a community unless everyone is following the same rules. Where these rules come from and why people are inclined to follow them, we might leave open. And yet, we do know that they have not been handed down by science.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Terror As a Weapon

The only chance Islamist terrorism has of defeating the West is exploiting our weakness.

So says David Goldman and his view is persuasive, to me at least. Surely, he is right to call out the Jews, including rabbis, who are excoriating Israel for defending itself in the recent Gaza war.

Hamas did everything in its power to force Israel to kill innocent civilians because it knew that some Jews would naturally sympathize with the victims, not the victors.

In that way, Islamists exploit Western weakness. What is our weakness? It consists in our humanity, our compassion, our love for our fellow human beings, our empathy.

Islamists are proud of the fact that they lack such delicate sensitivities. And they believe that, being more brutal, they are stronger.

Goldman explained:

Since 9/11 I have argued that the strategic plan of Islamist terrorism is to poison the Western soul with horror, by setting in motion atrocities too grim for the Western mind to bear….

At some point, the Western mind will say that it is easier to reconcile with these forces than to fight them. Since they know no fear, they become, in Western eyes, an invincible warrior.

Goldman is also at pains to point out, as he did in 2001 that today’s Islamist terrorist has more in common with yesterday’s Nazis than he does with yesterday’s Muslim conquerors:

This is not simply the brutality of the pagan world employed by the Romans with their mass crucifixions as much as it was by Muslim conquerors of the Middle Ages: it is a refined and exquisite sense of horror learned by modern Muslims from the Nazis, whose example inspired the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Ba’ath Party. Strictly speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing more than the Arab-language wing of National Socialism, and movements like ISIS a more radical version of the same thing, something like Ernst Roehm’s Sturmabteilung.

We have seen this throughout, and most recently in Gaza, where Hamas used every means possible to maximize its own civilian casualties in order to horrify the world. Whatever the circumstances, one should not rejoice in the death of civilians, but it is necessary to harden our hearts against an enemy who detects weakness in our delicate sense of humanity. 

In October of 2001, in the shadow of 9/11, Goldman expressed the same thought:

The West confronts not a throwback to medieval Islam, but a Westernized version of Islam transformed into a totalitarian political ideology. Although it draws upon Islamic sources and overlaps with some strains of Muslim belief, the ideology of Al-Qaeda has greater kinship with Nazism, another synthetic pagan religion, than with traditional Islam.

Like National Socialists, Islamists are driven by ideology. In particular they are enacting an ideology of destruction for the sake of destruction. Whether their motives are purely sadistic, as Goldman suggests, I will leave to others to decide.

As it happens, destruction for the sake of destruction reminds us of the agenda of the critical reading method called deconstruction. Of course, practitioners of deconstruction tend to limit themselves to texts, but the progenitor of this movement was a Nazi philosopher named Martin Heidegger. The French and English term deconstruction derives from Heidegger’s concept of Destruktion. Keep in mind, Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in Germany at time when the Storm Troopers of Ernst Rohm were beginning their pogroms against German Jews.

Goldman explained the difference between today’s Islamist terrorists and past Islamist conquerors. Being purely amoral Islamist terrorists have gotten beyond good and evil, to the point where they can show off their power, not by building anything, not by uniting peoples, not by creating community, but by destroying same.

In his words:

No traditional society destroyed for the pleasure of destruction; at least none of which we have had reports. The Islamic conquerors of the past raided for identifiable goals. They wished to rule new territories and bring new peoples under their sway. Whether greed or missionary zeal drove them on, let historians argue. 

Al-Qaeda wants no territory, no conversions, no loot, no slaves. It wishes to destroy the West and happily will sacrifice millions of Muslim lives in order to do so.

Evil for its own sake becomes imaginable only when the Christian civilization of the West abandons Christianity and stares into the abyss of its own destruction.

Of course, Islamists do want the West to submit to Allah. They want to impose Shariah law on everyone. Their goal would seem to be the triumph of their faith… and yet, if Goldman is correct, and if the project is as nihilistic as he makes it out to be, Muslim civilization is dying out and believes that it can only save face by making the West’s victory Pyrrhic.

After all, if Islam conquered the West, it would have to produce. It would have to show that it could produce peace and prosperity. Thus, it makes more sense that it wants more to destroy than to conquer.

"Generation Wuss"

It feels like a bit of a rant, but apparently Bret Easton Ellis has earned the right to critique the younger, Millennial generation.

Even if you don’t like his judgments—and his point is that Millennials do not like and cannot handle any negative judgment of their worth—his writing is still worth reading.

In effect, Ellis describes what happens to children when they are brought up to have high self-esteem, regardless of their accomplishments. People who have chosen to follow the dictates of the therapy culture have apparently done damage to their children.

Ellis has been here before, and has been attacked for generalizing. He offers this portrait of what he calls Generation Wuss:

My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity, and, of course, all of this exacerbated by the meds they’ve been fed since childhood by over-protective “helicopter” parents mapping their every move. These are late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X parents who were now rebelling against their own rebelliousness because of the love they felt that they never got from their selfish narcissistic Boomer parents and who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. And Generation Wuss responds by collapsing into sentimentality and creating victim narratives rather than acknowledging the realities of the world and grappling with them and processing them and then moving on, better prepared to navigate an often hostile or indifferent world that doesn’t care if you exist.

When Ellis first offered his views of Generation Wuss, he was deluged with stories that proved his point:

… a father related a story how he remembered watching in frustration as his son participated in a tug-of-war game with his classmates on the field of his elementary school and after a minute or two the well-meaning coach announced the game was officially a tie, told the kids they did a great job, and everyone got a ribbon. Occasionally there were darker stories: guilt-ridden parents chastising themselves for coddling kids who when finally faced with the normal reality of the world drifted into drugs as an escape…from the normal reality of the world. Parents kept reaching out and told me they were tormented by this oppressive need to reward their kids constantly in this culture. That in doing so they effectively debilitated them from dealing with the failures we all confront as get older, and that their children were unequipped to deal with pain.

Unable to deal with failure, unequipped to deal with pain. Instead of changing their ways, they believe that negative emotions have nothing to do with their actions in the world and do not require them to do things differently. They have learned that negative emotions are merely a chemical imbalance that needs to be regulated through the consumption of psychoactive medication.

Are Humans Really Guilty of Having Caused Climate Change?

It’s not just that the climate is getting warmer—or not. Those who believe in the “settled science” of climate change believe that variations in climate are being caused by human activity.

Had they said that activity on the sun or some other naturally occurring phenomenon was causing the planet to warm up or cool down, it would have been one thing. Their assertion, however, is and has been that the activity of human beings, especially the burning of fossil fuels is directly causing the change.

If the latter is the case, then human beings are guilty-as-sin and must immediately repent and change their wicked ways. They must now curtail their use of fossil fuels, the better to save the planet. This is, at the very least, empowering. It says that human beings, by casting off their plastic shopping bags, can impact the earth’s future climate. Who would not feel flattered?

In the meantime, the New York Times reports a recent study that seems to debunk the second of the tenets of global warmism. This scientific study, published in a peer-reviewed journal, explains that certain changes in the weather patterns in the American northwest state have nothing to do with fossil fuels.  They occur because of something that is happening naturally within the ocean.

The Times explains:

A new and most likely controversial analysis of Pacific Ocean weather patterns concludes that a century-long trend of rising temperatures in the American Northwest is largely explained by natural shifts in ocean winds, not by human activity.

The analysis, published on Monday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, effectively suggests that the region has warmed because ocean winds, on average, have weakened and shifted direction.

Scientists have long known that sea surface temperatures are lower when strong winds whip up ocean waves, and higher when the seas are calm. Researchers generally have assumed that the phenomenon was but one factor in that warming, and that increased levels of carbon dioxide from human activity play a major role in driving rising temperatures.

But the new analysis, which relies on wind, barometric pressure and temperature data recorded from 1900 to 2012, concludes that human activity has little impact.

“The concept of winds controlling or affecting ocean temperature in that very way is not controversial, but the strength of that relationship was quite amazing” in the northwestern Pacific, said James Johnstone, a climatologist and the study’s lead author. “It explains practically every wiggle in the ocean temperature variations. It’s a phenomenal correlation.”

As for the influence of rising levels of carbon dioxide, the Times explains:

The study cast doubt on the possibility that the wind changes were themselves caused by rising carbon-dioxide levels, noting that simulations employing the latest climate-change computer models found no such link, and that temperatures rose most sharply when carbon dioxide levels were lower.

Now, Al Gore can exhale without feeling guilty.

Credit to the New York Times for reporting on this study. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Varieties of Sexual Violence

The University of Michigan wants us to know more about abuse, especially sexual abuse. It wants us to be aware of it, to be conscious of its many faces and facets.

As happens with all lists of sins, it’s all about what not to do. It requires you to cultivate your internal policing mechanism, the better to control any tendency that UMich considers to be abusive.

You might think that Freud is dead or outmoded, but the psychology behind this listification is recycled Freud. It implies a conflict between an unruly criminal id and an ego that tries to control it. It lends itself well to the addition of a superego that punishes transgressions.

The list tells you what you should not do. It does not tell anyone what to do to best conduct a relationship. It does not tell you how to get along.

Worse yet, it makes the university and the government into moral scolds, not merely protecting people from abuse—an admirable goal—but intruding into everyone’s more intimate relationships.

If the advent of the hookup culture created the impression that anything goes, the reaction is creating the impression that nothing goes.

When it comes to sexual violence, UMich outdoes itself. In many cases the imprecise wording lends itself easily to misinterpretation:

Examples of sexual violence include: discounting the partner's feelings regarding sex; criticizing the partner sexually; touching the partner sexually in inappropriate and uncomfortable ways; withholding sex and affection; always demanding sex; forcing partner to strip as a form of humiliation (maybe in front of children), to witness sexual acts, to participate in uncomfortable sex or sex after an episode of violence, to have sex with other people; and using objects and/or weapons to hurt during sex or threats to back up demands for sex.

What is going on here? Let us count the ways.

What does it mean to “discount” partner’s feelings about sex? I assume it means ignoring them. I assume it means pressing partner for sex when partner does not want to have sex.

Yet, the term is so vague that it could mean almost anything. If partner wants to engage in one specific sex act and you do not want to do it, does that mean that you are failing to accept partner’s feelings about sex?

What does it mean to criticize the partner sexually? I assume that it has something to do with complaining about poor performance or about too much or too little sex. It sounds like a good precept, but still… do really need to put ourselves on the path to criminalizing such behavior? Let’s not overlook the fact that many people will argue that if you never tell partner what he or she is doing wrong he or she will never improve his or her sexual performance.

One understands that hitting and beating someone is abusive, but what about inappropriate touching? Sometimes you have to try it before you can know whether it is appropriate or uncomfortable or unwanted. Does this mean that you need to ask permission? And what happens if you receive written permission to touch her in this or that place, but then when you do it she finds it uncomfortable? Does your agreement absolve you of sin?

In all seriousness, how many adolescent males have never tried to touch a girl inappropriately? Aren’t we moving toward criminalizing normal adolescent behavior?

Obviously, if a man walks up to a woman and grabs her—anywhere—he has committed an assault… which is surely an act of sexual violence.

What about withholding sex and affection? How do you know whether your partner is withholding sex or is just not interested? There are a myriad of reasons why someone might not want to have sex. Do we need to declare such behavior to be abusive?

What if he has behaved so badly that she does not feel very close or very libidinous? What if his behavior has nothing to do with her; it might have been something he did to a third party.

Should she be taxed with withholding sex? And then, how often does a couple need to have sex before neither one can be said to be withholding sex? If withholding sex is abusive, should a partner feel obliged to have sex when he or she does not really want to, lest he or she be accused of withholding sex? 

As for withholding affection, how do you measure it? How can you tell? Is a man going to be accused of withholding affection if he does not say “I love you” often enough? Will he be brought up on charges of abuse for not showing sufficient empathy? Do you think it is healthy to indict people for not being sufficiently affectionate? Who decides the right and the wrong quantity of affection?

One understands that it is offensive when one partner always demands sex, but, then again, does this imply that it’s OK to demand sex sometimes. Besides, who demands sex anyway? Isn’t it a turnoff to demand sex?

And, what about forcing one’s partner to strip naked in front of the children? Who thinks of these things? If people want to imagine perverse scenarios, it’s their constitutional right. But, whatever makes them imaginie that they need to share them with the general public?

And, why give people ideas for new ways to humiliate their partners?

As for the sexual violence inherent in what is called witnessing sex acts, does that mean that making pornography part of your erotic interlude is now considered to be verboten? What if you are watching a tape of the sex act that you and your partner performed? Does that count as witnessing sexual acts?

Or does it only apply to peep shows?

What about the injunction against having sex with other people? Does this spell the end of threesomes, of foursomes or polyamory? I had thought that the next frontier in the sexual revolution involved multiple partners. Did I miss something?

Perhaps, the Michigan scolds are just saying that thou shalt not commit adultery. Is this news? Is adultery now going to be re-criminalized?

As for the use of objects or weapons to hurt, one is inclined to sympathize with the need to mention it. As it happens, some sexually advanced couples like to use objects and weapons to hurt each other because they find that it’s the best way to achieve higher levels of satisfaction. Are we going to criminalize sado-masochism… all the while accusing those who have a more traditional attitude toward sexuality of being repressed prudes.?

You might imagine that it’s alright if the abusive and violent actions are performed by consenting adults. Perhaps if they draw up a contract stipulating what forms of pain are acceptable and what forms are not.

This sounds like a very modern idea, but the classical manual for masochism, Leopold von Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs prescribes this kind of contract to better enhance a sado-masochistic relationship.

The most fascinating part of this exercise is that a group of people that presumably favored the free and open expression of sexuality has become a bunch of ordinary scolds. They might believe that they are fighting against sexual repression, but they have become a sexually repressive force.

You might believe that, given the influence of the hookup culture and given the fact that college students are indulging in all manner of sexual abuse—at times intentionally, at times out of ignorance—that someone had to do something. Still, criminalizing most sexual behavior is merely going to introduce a new form of mental conflict, between forces that want to do perverse things and agencies that are trying desperately to control them. If that is the conflict, and the dialectic, and if that is all there is to sexual relationships, then it’s inevitable that the forces of abuse will at some point break free from their chains. 

Where Are the Bureaucrats?

A question for today. Which country has the most bureaucrats and functionaries, per capita: the United States or Communist China? And how do they all rate next to great European democracies like France and Germany?

Tyler Cowen quotes from a new book by Nicholas Lardy (via Maggie’s Farm):

…the size of the Chinese government and party bureaucracy is surprisingly modest…In this respect, the Chinese communist Party is similar to previous Chinese dynasties as far back as the Han, which ruled the vast Chinese empire with a modestly sized civil service.

…China has only 31 government and party employees per thousand residents.  The number of civil servants per thousand residents in France is 95, in the United States, 75, and in Germany 53.

Cowen wants us to note that this number does not include state-owned enterprises. He says that they are significant, but shrinking in size.

We should also note that the number from China also includes employees of the Communist Party. Numbers from democratic Western nations do not include party members.

So, anytime asks you which nation has the most bureaucrats, you will know that France, the United States and Germany have far more per capita than Communist China.

A fact worth noting.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Demonize and Tyrannize

Hillary Clinton’s most recent trip to Iowa allowed her, yet again, to be overshadowed by her husband.

In The Economist, Lexington mused about Mr. Clinton’s ability to define an issue:

Mrs Clinton’s husband has a talent for defining the political issue of the moment, and proved it again at the steak fry. America faces a puzzling problem, he mused in his speech. “We are less racist, sexist and homophobic than we’ve ever been.” At the same time: “We don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.” Put another way, even as some big divisive arguments lose their potency, partisan divisions are growing ever sharper.

Bill Clinton is well suited to the job. After all, he is a leader in a Democratic Party that has done everything in its power to raise everyone’s consciousness of racism, sexism and homophobia. The same party, through its friends in the media and the school system has used the thought police to repress all expressions of politically incorrect thought.

The Democratic Party owes its electoral success to its ability to demonize the opposition. Surely, Bill Clinton was not the worst at this. The current president is. But between raising the threat of racism and denouncing the Republican War on Women, Democrats have much to answer for.

Everyone knows that it is impermissible to express politically incorrect thoughts. And not just in public. If you say the wrong thing in private and if your words are picked up on someone’s recording device, you can be in extremely serious trouble.

This means that citizens of the Republic are no longer honorable people who might have differences of opinion. Failure to toe the politically correct party line will cause others to demonize you, to shun you, to expel you from polite society.

Surely, it involves demonizing the opposition, and, sad to say, today’s Democratic Party has mastered the art. Look at how well it succeeded in demonizing Mitt Romney and in shutting down all criticism of BHO.

This does not necessarily mean that racist, sexist and homophobic thoughts and feelings have vanished from everyone’s consciousness. It means that everyone knows better than to express them in public. Or better, to express them around people who are not known to be like-minded.

We are all living under a threat. It’s not sufficient just to shut up about certain matters. You should not even risk being associated with anyone who thinks differently. If an errant turn of phrase can ruin your life you are likely to be ever-so-careful in choosing your friends.

It’s alright to associate with Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and Father Pfleger… but there will be hell to pay if you are caught socializing with Paula Dean.

Perhaps it is necessary to tyrannize minds. Perhaps it's what you do when persuasion fails. Two decades ago no one had heard of same-sex marriage. No one had really even thought of it. Now, if you do express your wholehearted support for it, you will be denounced as a near-Nazi.

It used to be the case that gays reveled in the fact that they were not just like everyone else. They were proud to be different. Now, if you do not believe that same-sex and opposite sex marriage are the same thing you will be treated like a pariah.

On this among other issues democratic deliberation no longer exists.

Moreover, teaching people what not to say is not the same as teaching them how to get along with each other. Nothing about the assault on politically incorrect speech tells you how to get along with anyone else.

Multiculturalism militates against getting along. If everyone is speaking a different language, practicing different customs and  following different dress codes, the chances for getting along, for connecting are extremely limited.

Bill Clinton notwithstanding, the Democratic Party trots out the specters of racism, sexism and homophobia to rev up its base and to win elections. One would like to see Bill Clinton lead the charge against it, but one doubts that that will ever happen.

Who Lost Iraq?

Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey reports on a conversation between Dexter Filkins and Hugh Hewitt. (Via Maggie’s Farm)

Filkens covered Iraq, among other things, for The New York Times. Now he does the same at The New Yorker. He has been a critic of the Iraq War, but has reported honestly and objectively about the situation in that country.

Morrissey introduces him:

in 2008, while at the NYT, he wrote extensively about the success of the surge just a few months before the presidential election. A month later, Filkins wrote again about the “literally unrecognizable” and peaceful Iraq produced by the surge. Six years later, Filkins was among the skeptics reminding people that the Iraqis’ insistence on negotiating the immunity clause for American troops was more of a welcome excuse for Obama to choose total withdrawal — and claim credit for it until this year — rather than the deal-breaker Obama now declares that it was.

The last line should not be news. Yet, the Obama administration continues to harp on the notion that the Iraqis made it impossible for us to stay, thus to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement.

Here is Filkins’ description of the results of President Obama’s withdrawal policy. He told Hewitt:

We left, the United States left in 2011. We went to zero, and we left. I mean, we packed up and left. So when you drive around Baghdad now, there is not a trace that the United States was ever there, and I mean apart from the American weapons, but in terms of like American presence and projects and guidance, gone. And I think that we spent almost a decade there. We paid with a lot of lives and a lot of blood, and building, essentially, rebuilding the Iraqi state that we destroyed. And I don’t think it was ready. I mean, it just wasn’t ready to function on its own. And it couldn’t function without us. And actually, Ambassador Crocker, who was on your show, had a really good description of it. He said you know, we build ourselves into the hard drive of the place, and so we, the United States, were the honest broker. We were the only people that could sort of bring all the Iraqi factions together, and then we left. You know, and so the thing doesn’t work without us. And you can see that in Iraq at a micro level, like when I talked to that deserter, who said as soon as the Americans left, the commanders started stealing all the money and everybody left, and everything fell apart. Or you can see it at the macro level. I mean, that’s what’s happened to the Iraqi state.

As we watch clips of our president announcing with great pride how happy he was to leave Iraq, it’s good to keep in mind the consequences of his cut-and-run policy.

Trouble in Apple Valley

Where’s Steve Jobs now that we need him?

Apparently, the bloom is off the new iPhone. To say the least.

For the record, I do not now own and have never owned an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone, either. Thus, I have no personal opinion on these matters.

The same cannot be said for Jessica Roy at New York Magazine.

For your edification she has listed some of the most serious defects with the new iPhone 6.

Some you already know. The new gadget seems to have a tendency to bend. The new OS doesn’t work very well. The fingerprint censor can easily be deceived. It’s too big to type while you eat.

And, of course, it looks like breakfast food.

But then, the worst thing about the new instrument, for diehard Apple fans, is this:

The screen is too big to discreetly view porn in public.

The indignity of it all….

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who Knows What Is Best for You?

For those who believe that government bureaucrats should control our lives behavioral economics has been a boon.

One of its eminences, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein even worked in the Obama White House. There, he was trying to modernize the principles of government regulation. One must mention that the Obama administration has issued a veritable of business-crushing regulations. It has proven to be a champion at the game.

Along with economist Richard Thaler, Sunstein developed the concept of the nudge. Government would not force people to what was in their best interest. It would nudge them in the right direction. No more compulsion; just a little paternalistic push toward the good.

Of course, this assumes that other people know better than you what is good for you.

As many people noted at the time—among them Thomas Sowell—nothing about the theory obviates the fact that regulators might have a less-than-perfect understanding of what is best for all citizens. They, like the rest of us, are human beings, subject to error.

Great thinkers like Sunstein believe that bureaucrats can make more objective judgments because they are not corrupted by the profit motive. They possess more virtue because their intentions are less venal.

One would be correct to see creeping socialism in this bit of sophistry. Were we to respond to it, we would say that, lacking a profit motive, government officials need not heed the judgment of the marketplace and have no real interest in whether their nudging works.

Who is going to regulate the regulators?

You might respond that our elected representatives should be charged with the task, but we all know that government employees belong to unions and that the unions are in the business of buying politicians.

In any event, the objections against nudging are not only coming from libertarian and conservative circles. Recently, the New York Review of Books published a review of two books by Sunstein. The author, NYU and Oxford Professor Jeremy Waldron critiques the concept from a more classically liberal perspective.

Waldron’s review is excellent and well worth your attention. By the time he is finished there is very little about Sunstein’s nudgery that is still standing.

Waldron begins by noting that Sunstein has divided people into two classes: ordinary people who don’t know and those who do know. Plato would have called the latter group a guardian class, people who have privileged access to the world of big ideas and who therefore have the right to make decisions for the first group.

In Waldron’s words:

Let’s think about the dramatis personae of Sunstein’s account. There are, first of all, people, ordinary individuals with their heuristics, their intuitions, and their rules of thumb, with their laziness, their impulses, and their myopia. They have choices to make for themselves and their loved ones, and they make some of them well and many of them badly.

Then there are those whom Sunstein refers to as “we.” We know this, we know that, and we know better about the way ordinary people make their choices. We are the law professors and the behavioral economists who (a) understand human choosing and its foibles much better than members of the first group and (b) are in a position to design and manipulate the architecture of the choices that face ordinary folk. In other words, the members of this second group are endowed with a happy combination of power and expertise.

Of course regulators are people too. And like the rest of us, they are fallible. In the original Nudge, Sunstein engagingly confessed to many of the decisional foibles that Thaler exposed. Worse, though, is the fact that regulators are apt to make mistakes in their regulatory behavior: “For every bias identified for individuals, there is an accompanying bias in the public sphere.”

Continuing, Waldron raises the important issue of trust. If everyone is trying to nudge us in one way or another, why would we not become a nation of cynics? Are we being trained in the habit of mistrust?

In his words:

I am afraid there is very little awareness in these books about the problem of trust. Every day we are bombarded with offers whose choice architecture is manipulated, not necessarily in our favor. The latest deal from the phone company is designed to bamboozle us, and we may well want such blandishments regulated. But it is not clear whether the regulators themselves are trustworthy. Governments don’t just make mistakes; they sometimes set out deliberately to mislead us. The mendacity of elected officials is legendary and claims on our trust and credulity have often been squandered. It is against this background that we have to consider how nudging might be abused.

And then there are the questions of dignity and free will. It is certainly important that those who want to use behavioral economics to nudge us in one direction or other have no real use for free will.

What happens when we are no longer accorded the option of making a mistake, even of learning from a mistake?

Waldron writes:

Deeper even than this is a prickly concern about dignity. What becomes of the self-respect we invest in our own willed actions, flawed and misguided though they often are, when so many of our choices are manipulated to promote what someone else sees (perhaps rightly) as our best interest? Sunstein is well aware that many will see the rigging of choice through nudges as an affront to human dignity: I mean dignity in the sense of self-respect, an individual’s awareness of her own worth as a chooser. The term “dignity” did not appear in the book he wrote with Thaler, but in Why Nudge? Sunstein concedes that this objection is “intensely felt.” Practically everything he says about it, however, is an attempt to brush dignity aside.

He also suggests that nudging does not provide a moral education. It does not teach us how to make better decisions or how to correct our bad decisions:

Consider the earlier point about heuristics—the rules for behavior that we habitually follow. Nudging doesn’t teach me not to use inappropriate heuristics or to abandon irrational intuitions or outdated rules of thumb. It does not try to educate my choosing, for maybe I am unteachable. Instead it builds on my foibles. It manipulates my sense of the situation so that some heuristic—for example, a lazy feeling that I don’t need to think about saving for retirement—which is in principle inappropriate for the choice that I face, will still, thanks to a nudge, yield the answer that rational reflection would yield. Instead of teaching me to think actively about retirement, it takes advantage of my inertia. Instead of teaching me not to automatically choose the first item on the menu, it moves the objectively desirable items up to first place.

In the end, what Waldron calls a “nudge-world” deprives us of free will and human dignity… and it presumably does so for our own good. It is all about manipulating other people. How long can we expect that that will last?

He explains:

Still, it is another matter whether we should be so happy with what I have called “nudge-world.” In that world almost every decision is manipulated in this way. Choice architects nudge almost everything I choose and do, and this is complemented by the independent activity of marketers and salesmen, who nudge away furiously for their own benefit. I’m not sure I want to live in nudge-world, though—as a notoriously poor chooser—I appreciate the good-hearted and intelligent efforts of choice architects such as Sunstein to make my autonomous life a little bit better. I wish, though, that I could be made a better chooser rather than having someone on high take advantage (even for my own benefit) of my current thoughtlessness and my shabby intuitions.

Multitasking Shrinks the Brain

It’s good to see science catch up with this blog.

For years now I have expressed my serious doubts about the value of multitasking. See posts here and here.

Now, scientists have discovered that too much multitasking will shrink your brain.

The Daily Mail has the story:

If you are sending a text, watching the TV or listening to the radio, you may want to stop and give this your full attention.

Multi-tasking shrinks the brain, research suggests.

A study found that men and women who frequently used several types of technology at the same time had less grey matter in a key part of the brain.

University of Sussex researchers said: ‘Simultaneously using mobile phones, laptops and other media devices could be changing the structure of our brains.’

Worryingly, the part of the brain that shrinks is involved in processing emotion.

The finding follows research which has linked multi-tasking with a shortened attention span, depression, anxiety and lower grades at school.

And also:

Multi-tasking with gadgets may shorten attention span, making it harder to focus and form memories, the researchers said, adding that youngsters may be particularly affected by stress. 

So, it better to learn to focus on one task at a time. Your brain will thank you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Does Valium Cause Dementia?

When it comes to psychiatric medication, it’s best to be informed.

Some psychiatrists think that mental illness is all about brain chemistry and that a little of this and a little that will make all your troubles go away.

And yet, how much do we really know about the long-term effects of taking these miracle drugs? And how much do we know about taking them in combination?

Apparently, not as much as we should. Since many of them have not been around for a very long time, our knowledge is perforce limited.

Recently, newspapers have been reporting on research suggesting that benzodiapines and other anti-anxiety and sedative drugs might, when taken in excess, produce dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Benzodiapines include Valium and Klonopin, among other drugs.

One recalls that, for quite some time, psychiatrists did not know that Valium was addictive.

Those who defend the drugs suggest that it’s about correlation, not causation. People who are anxious and suffer from insomnia are more likely to get dementia, and thus, are more likely to use these medications.

The latest studies, however, suggest that it’s more about causation than correlation.

Now French and Canadian researchers are reporting — in a study designed with particular care — that benzodiazepine use is linked to higher rates of subsequent Alzheimer’s disease, and that the association strengthens with greater exposure to the drugs.

“The more the cumulative days of use, the higher the risk of later being diagnosed with dementia,” Dr. Antoine Pariente, a pharmacoepidemiologist at the University of Bordeaux and a co-author of the study, told me in an interview.

He and his colleagues reviewed medical records of almost 1,800 older people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the public health insurance program in Quebec, and compared them with nearly 7,200 control subjects. Most were over age 80.

About half those with Alzheimer’s and 40 percent of the control subjects had used benzodiazepines, the researchers found. That translated to a 51 percent increase in the odds of a subsequent Alzheimer’s diagnosis among the benzodiazepine users.

It was not short-term use that drove that finding: Older people who took prescribed doses for 90 days or fewer over the course of the study — patients were followed for six years or longer — had no increased risk.

But those who took the drugs longer were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In older patients who took daily doses for 91 to 180 days, the risk rose 32 percent, compared to those who took none. In those who took daily doses for more than 180 days, the risk was 84 percent higher.

Let’s say that it is not yet settled science. But still, the scientists who have performed and examined these studies recommend that those who continue to take these medications be informed of the risks.