Sunday, November 30, 2014

Julie Burchill on Green Guilt

You may have missed the roll out, but Julie Burchill has become an advice columnist. She is writing for something called Loaded magazine. Since it is published in Great Britain you need not, if you live elsewhere, feel embarrassed at never having heard of it.

If you haven’t read Julie Burchill, you are missing something. I am happy to help remedy the situation.

Anyway, some poor sod named Ted wrote to Agony Aunt Burchill. It was published in the October issue of the magazine, and thus its appearance here is slightly out of joint, season-wise:

Tod opined:

I can’t enjoy the summer because I’m afraid of global warming. What’s wrong with me?

Obviously, poor Ted was looking to get thrashed by JB.

If so, her response probably pleased him, in a special way:

Private Frazer in Dad’s Army used to get laughed at when he’d start muttering, “Doomed, doomed – we’re all doomed!” Amazingly, this now passes for informed political discourse among certain sections of conservationist ‘thinkers’ – and I use the term loosely there. I myself am not a conservationist – if it ain’t broke, break it! And I am sceptical about global warning. I do however have friends who are like you, and I find them boring beyond belief when they start up with their a-weepin’ and a-wailin’ over the fate of the poor polar bears – who, let’s face it, would take your arm off in a minute if they met you, no matter whether you have a monthly direct debit with Greenpeace or not. In such situations I’m inclined to say, “Yes, isn’t it shocking? Look – a rainbow!” Or just turn the car radio up really loud. They soon get the message.

Are you actually doing anything to make the world a better place, or are you happy to just sit around brooding over how bad things are, like a miser with money? If so, you may be what I call an ‘Amockalypsist’ or a ‘Why-oh- whiner’. The first gets a parasexual thrill from believing that he lives in the very worst of times; the second from moaning. What both have in common is that their lives are often quite dull, and utterly self-centred. Try volunteering. Your local church will be able to point you the right way, or just ask at any charity shop. If this doesn’t work, aim to stay home and inflict your buzz-kill attitude on cheerier folk. No one likes a moaner – unless they’re very hot, rich and famous. And there’s only one Lana Del Rey.

I am not sure what this all means, but the riff about polar bears is charming, to say the least.

Anyway, a dose of Burchill should cheer you up on even the dreariest Sunday morning. It will serve as the antidote to green guilt.

Time Management 101

Here’s some good advice from psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely.

Ariely notes that our brains, such as they are, work best immediately after we awake in the morning.  This burst of productivity lasts for around two hours. If you want to be more successful and to work more effectively, you should use those two hours to tackle difficult tasks. You should not waste them by lounging around and dawdling your way through social media.

As Ariely explains:

One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don't require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want. 

How do you master this skill? Melissa Dahl recommends this:

One way to fight against this tendency is to decide the night before what you want to accomplish in the morning, so you can jump right into your day. There is a time for mindlessness, but maybe save it for later.

Are All Children Created Equal?

Put aside for the moment the question of how deeply the government should be involved in child development. One suspects that parents are best qualified for the job. True enough, some parents are grossly inadequate, but still that does not justify a government takeover of childrearing.

If government-sponsored studies about Head Start are any indication, even the most highly touted programs do not make very much of a real difference anyway.

Today, Professor Jay Belsky reports on a new study about what he calls children’s resilience. He explains that a child’s genetic makeup will make him or her more or less able to benefit from developmental programs. The commonly-held assumption that all children are equally capable of learning, is false.

In Belsky’s words:

BEHIND a half-century of policies to promote child development, there lies an assumption: that children are essentially equally affected by the environments they grow up in, and that positive interventions like preschool education should therefore help all children. But what if this isn’t true?

How do children differ? Belsky answers:

Evidence suggests that some children are — in one frequently used metaphor — like delicate orchids; they quickly wither if exposed to stress and deprivation, but blossom if given a lot of care and support. Others are more like dandelions; they prove resilient to the negative effects of adversity, but at the same time do not particularly benefit from positive experiences. In this sense, resilience, long thought to be an exclusively beneficial characteristic, is actually a double-edged sword.

Some programs help some children but all programs do not help all children. Apparently, some children thrive when coddled but wither when faced with strict discipline. Others benefit from adversity but not from coddling.

One would like to know more about the distribution of these two. Are more children likely to respond well to discipline or are more children likely to respond well to coddling?

Belsky proposes something like what used to be called tracking. Children most susceptible to profit from certain forms of instruction would receive them. Those children who are least likely to benefit would not.

In his words:

One might even imagine a day when we could genotype all the children in an elementary school to ensure that those who could most benefit from help got the best teachers. Not only because they would improve the most, but also because they would suffer the most from lower quality instruction. The less susceptible — and more resilient — children are more likely to do O.K. no matter what. After six or seven years, this approach could substantially enhance student achievement and well-being.

For now, after half a century of childhood interventions that have generated exaggerated claims of both efficacy and ineffectiveness, we need to acknowledge the reality that some children are more affected by their developmental experiences — from harsh punishment to high-quality day care — than others. This carries implications for scientists evaluating interventions, policy makers funding them and parents rearing children.

I am not certain why we need to use advanced genetic testing. Can’t we try out different programs on different children and observe which ones work and which ones don’t?

Of course, once we start down the road of genetic testing, we open up another set of problems. What if we were to discover that different racial and ethnic groups were more or less resilient in one or the other sense of the term?

What then?

As for the value of “high quality day care” it is good that Belsky closes his column with a reference to the parents who are ultimately responsible for rearing children and who might know, without any genetic testing, what is best for their children.

After all, the notion that all children are equal does not come from parents. It comes from philosophers and psychologists. It is based on an idea, not on experience.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wonder Woman: Feminist Heroine

Most people know a lot more about Wonder Woman than I do. Even those who thought they knew a lot about her have been surprised to learn that the character’s creator, a psychologist named William Moulton Marston was a true-believing feminist, well before second-wave feminism landed on our shores.

In a brief review of Jill Lepore’s new book on Wonder Woman the Economist explains Marston’s view of women:

Her creator was an eccentric consulting psychologist, William Moulton Marston. “Not even girls want to be girls,” he wrote in his pitch to DC Comics, “so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power…Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones.” Wonder Woman was to be the magic bullet who, without bullets, would silence comics’ critics and, as Marston put it in 1945, act as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”

Strangely, now that feminism has made all women into strong, powerful creatures … girls no longer want to be girls. They think it's demeaning. Having been told to value activities that have traditionally been a man’s domain, they no longer want to be girls or, at times, even women.

Following Betty Friedan they no longer want to associate themselves with anything that smacks of traditional femininity.

As it happens, feminists did follow Marston’s lead in one area. They decided that they needed to recreate the archetype or the idea of womanhood, endowing women with force, strength and power.

That is why you can barely go a day without hearing one woman or another described as strong and empowered.

The feminist movement is based on the notion that you can change reality by changing an idea. And that you can change an idea by policing everyone’s thought and language so that everyone ceases referring to women with any term that denotes weakness.

Today’s modern feminist is a strong, empowered woman.

Up to the point when she is not.

In truth, if a woman, like a man wants to be stronger and more powerful she should do some weight training and perhaps learn to practice martial arts. If she wants to be powerful in business or politics she will need to work her way up a status hierarchy.

And yet, this poses a problem. Regardless of what they do, most women are still going to be weaker than most men. You do not make yourself stronger by saying you are strong. You do not make yourself stronger by forcing other people to say that you are strong.

After all, when a woman declares that she is as strong as a man, she is bluffing. Unfortunately, some men are going to call the bluff.

If you convince women that they are stronger and more powerful than they really are, they might make decisions that would be appropriate for the strong, powerful being that they are not. They might convince themselves that they are invulnerable when they are not.

When women convince themselves that they are stronger than they are, they sometimes engage in activities that are risky, reckless and even dangerous.

If they get hurt an army of feminists will rise up to scream that it is not their fault. True enough, it is not their fault. It's their feminist consolation prize. But, did anyone think that it might be better to figure out how not to get hurt.

Putting this aside, today’s strong, powerful feminists seems also to be more likely to need protection. From hookup culture to rape culture, we are now implored to reject the sexually liberated hookup queen in favor of the woman who is a victim of the rape culture.

Surely, as cultural attitudes go, this is strange. From one extreme to the next, from hyper-invulnerable to hyper-vulnerable.

In fact, today’s liberated women are so vulnerable to predatory males that even the criminal justice system is not sufficiently powerful to protect them. Some colleges have felt obliged to invent new sets of rules and new ways to try those accused of rape. Men accused of felonious activity are, according to those rules, deprived of the right to due process.

But, why have today’s women living under constant threat? One might say that today’s men are especially prone to rape women. One suspects that in the bad old days, the 1950s and early 1960s there was less rape, but that might have been because women in college were protected by parietal rules that obliged them to sign in to their single-sex dorms at midnight or 1 a.m.

Similarly, at that time, men and women were not allowed to visit their respective dorm rooms, except in very limited and controlled circumstances.

At the time, there was no sexual revolution. Hooking up had not yet been invented. Men were obliged to follow codes of gentlemanly behavior and women aspired to be ladylike.

Today, we have gone from the image of the strong empowered feminist to that of the helpless female victim of male lust.

It’s almost as though reality were saying that the archetype of the strong, powerful woman was a lie and that women needed to remain in touch with their vulnerability in order to feel like women, even to like being women.

It should not come as a surprise, as Lepore discovered by studying Wonder Woman that the character who embodied strong, empowered womanhood was often depicted as bound up or bound down… in submission.

The Economist explained:

But his [Marston’s] was an unusual brand of feminism. “Hardly a page”, Ms Lepore writes, “lacked a scene of bondage. In episode after episode, Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled.” Suddenly she began to appear a little less family friendly. Complaints were made, but Marston was resolute. “The secret of woman’s allure”, he apparently told Gaines, his boss, is that “women enjoy submission —being bound.”

Like a good feminist, Marston wanted to liberate women from domestic chores and kitchen duty. But, for what purpose? Did Marston want to move women from the kitchen to the boudoir, from a place where they exercised authority and bore responsibility to a place where they could be bound and gagged, tied, fettered or manacled... for his pleasure. 


This ought not to be news, but apparently we needed a research study to prove it.

Psychologists and ethicists know that people who practice self-control and self-discipline do better in their lives.

But, how does one learn self-control? How does one learn to resist temptation… whether the temptation to have another drink or the temptation to slack off?

One imagines that people build their capacity for self-control by exposing themselves to temptations and then either overcoming them or succumbing to them. Yet, that is not the case.

In truth, people who practice self-discipline make a habit of avoiding temptation. They do not put a muffin in front of them and then spend their time and mental energy trying not to act on the urge to eat it. They do not buy the muffin in the first place. If it is placed in front of them, they kindly decline it.

Researchers discovered this by performing the following experiment. Link here.

They gave some students a choice. They could work on a problem in a noisy lounge now or they could work on it in a quiet lab later. The students who had better self-control chose to work on the problem in the quiet lab, later.

Apparently, they were more interested in working effectively than in getting it over with, regardless of how well they did the job.

If your goal is to solve a problem, you do better to avoid distraction. Students with good self-discipline understand that if they put themselves in a situation where they are surrounded by distractions they will have less energy available to concentrate on the problem at hand.

It’s not about deferred gratification. It’s not about learning how to fight against distraction. It’s about doing what is necessary to find the best work conditions.

This ought to be somewhat familiar. It’s one of the pillars of 12 Step programs. Doesn’t AA tell recovering alcoholics to stay away from bars, not to hang out in places where everyone is imbibing and where alcohol is readily available? Doesn’t it tell them to avoid people who had in the past been their drinking buddies?

Apparently, the rationale is not merely that they are too weak to exercise any self-discipline when faced with temptation, but that exposure to alcohol or to people and circumstances that they associate with it will break down their self-discipline before it has a chance to develop.

You build discipline and even character by avoiding situations where your discipline will be tried and tested.

You cannot build self-control by struggling against constant temptation. You do so by using your ratiocinative powers to avoid situations that might undermine it.

Self-control is not about mental struggles. It is about how you conduct yourself in the real world.

The experimenters assumed that temptation is generated by outside circumstances as much as by inner emotions, but we should note that the idea is not uncontroversial.

Beginning with Plato theorists of the human mind have imagined that life is a constant struggle between what we will call, for the sake of this post, the rational and irrational portions of the mind. Plato fictionalized a rational charioteer trying to guide his unruly steeds—his instincts-- in the right direction at the right pace.

Freud used the same image.

But, it’s one thing to say that the mind is filled with irrational impulses that are trying to destroy you and yours. It’s quite another to say that some situations elicit irrational responses. And that you can guard against such impulses by learning how to avoid the situational stimuli.

Friday, November 28, 2014

You Disagree; You're Sick

Is psychiatry to blame?

Should we fault psychiatry when public intellectuals and even political leaders dismiss opposition ideas on the grounds that those who think them are mentally ill?

While psychiatry is not to blame for the way its diagnostic criteria are misused for political ends, it ought certainly to point out that this misuse is pernicious and irresponsible.

After all, if a right-winger were to psychoanalyze a great leftist, psychiatrists will probably rise up to denounce him for practicing without a license.

The habit of misusing psychiatry seems to have originated in totalitarian dictatorships. The Soviet Union often imprisoned dissidents on the grounds that they were suffering a mental disease or defect. Communist China did as much.

Precisely why totalitarian dictatorships needed to invent a rationale for imprisoning people remains a mystery?

In America, a more democratic and presumably open-minded place, certain groups of people are often denounced for being mentally ill.

In particular, those who do not believe in the prevailing leftist orthodoxy are said to be insane. One suspects that conservatism and Tea Partyism will become diagnostic categories in the next DSM.

In the past, religious leaders accused and denounced dissidents for heresy. They dragged these unfortunate souls before inquisitions and most often destroyed them if even a suspicion of heresy was noted. You can’t be too careful.

And then there were witch hunts, whereby women were prosecuted and persecuted for being in league with diabolical forces.

Modern thinkers, especially modern atheists reject these primitive means of enforcing correct thinking, but they happily denounce those who believe in God as… sick.

As you know, anyone who does not believe in the dogma of climate change will immediately be labeled a denier. The term comes to us from psychiatry. It is supposed to refer to people who are out of touch with reality. It has been applied to people who believe that the Holocaust did not happen… an execrable group of people if ever there was one.

Applying it to people who reject the dogma of global warming is trafficking in false analogies.

If you don’t believe in climate change, as many important climate scientists and physicists do not, you must be mentally ill. It is vastly easier than arguing the science with, say, Prof. Richard Lindzen, retired head of the climate lab at MIT.

Dismissing someone as mentally ill is easier than debating the issue. It is even better when you can walk away from a debate by saying that your opponent’s position is a sign of mental illness.

It’s the ultimate ad hominem argument. As we know, because I have mentioned it before, ad hominem arguments are the first recourse of the feeble minded.

Not everyone who indulges this form of debate-avoidance is feeble minded. Some are happy to make a few cheap debating points. As long as our culture accepts name-calling as a legitimate contribution to political debate, we will be seeing more and more of it.

If the only thing you learned in college was how to slander and defame those who do not think as you think, then you will be happy to denounce your enemies as mentally ill.

One suspects that the defamers and name-callers did not come to their convictions through honest labor, so they have no response to any opposing point of view. When confronted with dissent they panic because their inability to counter it makes them feel like imbeciles. And we know, it’s better to see others as sick than to see yourself as an imbecile.

When Rudolph Giuliani recently drew attention to the high levels of black-on-black crime, Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown accused him of suffering “the defensive mechanism of white supremacy.”

When conservative commentators criticized President Obama’s recent order on immigration, Charles Blow proclaimed:

Make no mistake: This debate is not just about the president, this executive order or immigration. This is about the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded, and about their desperate, by-any-means determination to deny that future.

Obviously, Dyson and Blow are seeing the world through an ideological lens. They see the world in black-vs.-white terms and pretend that anyone who criticizes President Obama is motivated by racism. Apparently, a black president can do no wrong.

Thus, they can dismiss all criticism of Obama without having to address its substantive points.

As Ian Tuttle explains, denouncing your opponent for a psychiatric disorder shuts down debate. It closes up the marketplace of ideas.

In Tuttle’s words:

And certainly this impulse was on display in the quarrels above. How is one to debate whether Rudy Giuliani says what he does merely because he is a white supremacist? “But I am not a white supremacist!” he might object — which is, of course, what all white supremacists say! And when Blow claims that the president’s opponents are desperately clinging to power, how is such an opponent to respond? After all, doctor knows best.

To psychologize the question at issue in a debate is to remove it from the realm of debate altogether. That is why liberals are eager to explain their opponents’ positions as the work of psychological “mechanisms,” operating subconsciously or unconsciously, of which the opponent is unaware.

One suspects that the proponents of this kind of modern witch hunt would propose cure-by-therapy.

Yet, if therapy, like sensitivity training, is merely a way to brainwash people into adhering to leftist dogmas, why are insurance companies paying for it as a mental health treatment?

Elizabeth Drew on the Chuck Hagel Firing

The world has been falling apart but former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took time out of his schedule to chat with reporter Elizabeth Drew.

It was time well spent.

When Hagel was unceremoniously dismissed, Drew rushed to his defense… so to speak.

In her blog post Drew portrayed Hagel as an honorable and decent man, caught in a job that was nearly undoable, unable to gain access to President Obama or to influence those who were really running foreign policy… that would be National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Apparently Drew did not have access to Rice. Thus she says what everyone thinks about Susan Rice:

Hagel particularly chafed at the White House’s governing style on national security policy. He believed—and in this he was far from alone within and outside the administration—that national security adviser Susan Rice is in over her head. And Rice’s admittedly abrasive style put off a large number of people. But she’s been close to the president from the days of the 2008 campaign, and that appears to be what matters most to him.

An astonishing statement: Obama does not care about how well or poorly he is conducting foreign policy. He cares about who he feels close to. He does not care about competence or incompetence in high executive office. He cares about how comfortable he feels with someone.

If you were wondering why the world is going up in flames, now you know.

Drew’s short post has been highlighted for another reason, a telling error that should have been caught by a quick-witted editor.

Speaking of Hagel, Drew wrote:

While I had come to admire Hagel as a thoughtful man, there’s a question of whether anyone can make the leap from a senator’s office—with an average staff size of 34 people, to the Pentagon, the world’s largest institution, which employs about 26,000 personnel on site, plus about a half million overseas, plus an active military of about 1.5 million men and women. In general, transitions from Capitol Hill to a cabinet office, in either party, haven’t been markedly successful. The Pentagon has been a sinkhole of failures.

It did not take very much time for Instapundit to point out that if Hagel’s experience was insufficient for the Defense Department,Barack Obama’s experience was not even remotely sufficient for a commander-in-chief.

Keep in mind, Chuck Hagel had an extensive career in business. He had managed companies. He had spent a dozen years in the Senate. He knew something about the way Washington ran.

Barack Obama brought far, far less to the White House.

We are all awaiting Drew’s explanation for her implicit and inadvertent rejection of the rationale for the Obama presidency. I would lay odds that she is not a closet Republican.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


By now the psychologists have figured out what the ethicists have always known. Gratitude is good for you. Their studies have shown that those who express gratitude, frequently and fully are rewarded with better mental health.

And, you don’t even have to feel it spontaneously. If a psychologist tells you to write down things for which you should feel grateful, you will feel better and function better… even though the idea did not pop into your mind all by itself.

Some believe that gratitude is an emotion or a value. This is slightly off the point. Gratitude only exists in the practice.

Gratitude exists when you send a thank you note. If you don’t feel grateful and still send a note, you are expressing gratitude. In principle, you will feel it after the fact. If, however, you feel grateful and forget to send the note you are an ingrate.

That is why we all participate in our national ritual, Thanksgiving dinner…  actively giving thanks for all that we have received. 

Gratitude is ultimately a social practice. It constitutes human beings as social beings.

We connect with other people when we accept that they have done us a kindness, done for us something that we could not have done on our own.

Gratitude is part of a transaction. It is part of an exchange. It is part of gift-giving. It connects us to other human beings, not so much because we feel connected but because our behavior connects us.

Surely, human beings who are grateful to others are less full of themselves. They are more humble, less isolated, more connected.

And yet, Emma Green explains, gratitude can also be a transaction between mere mortals and divine beings. We are all grateful to our parents. No one has a problem with the concept. And yet, all human communities from time immemorial have developed rituals to show gratitude to forces beyond the merely human.

Green explains:

Religions from Christianity to Hinduism to Wicca all emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. This is because they rely on the premise of an other, some sort of non-human being that has some sort of control or influence in the world who you can thank for the world and the good things in it.

This means that psychologists, especially those who are committed atheists have something of a problem when they try to explain all levels of gratitude.

Green asked psychologist Robert Emmons. He responded:

We all begin life dependent on others, and most of us end life dependent on others. If we are lucky, in between we have roughly 60 years or so of unacknowledged dependency. The human condition is such that throughout life, not just at the beginning and end, we are profoundly dependent on other people. ...

Gratitude is the truest approach to life. We did not create or fashion ourselves. We did not birth ourselves. Life is about giving, receiving, and repaying. We are receptive beings, dependent on the help of others, on their gifts and their kindness.

Obviously, we do not give birth to ourselves. We did nothing to have the parents we have, the home we were brought up in, or the talents that we may or may not spend our lives developing.

Feeling gratitude for our parents means expressing filial piety. Feeling gratitude for our talents means actualizing their potential.

Gratitude involves moral agency.

We are morally obligated to thank those who have done us favors. We are also morally obligated to return the favors.

And we have a duty to develop the potential we have been given. We might choose not to develop our talents, but then we are acting ungrateful.

When someone does a good deed, when he does something good for you, he is doing something that he was not obligated to do. Since gift-giving involves free will, it produces the risk that it will not be received or reciprocated.

If you offer someone a gift and do not receive an expression of gratitude your relationship with that person has become one of exploitation.

But, why be thankful to God?

Even if you earned the income that bought the Thanksgiving dinner, you did not create the natural process that allows food to grow. You or someone might know how to make use of that process, but the process itself was not created by a human being. Most likely you did not dream up the culinary actions whereby raw food is going to be cooked.

Expressing gratitude means that we understand that we did not do it on our own, but it also means that we have a responsibility, a moral responsibility to make use of nature responsibly. If we do not, it will stop providing us nourishment.

Those who do not believe in higher powers will assert that these natural processes just happened. We do not owe anyone anything.

In the hands of atheist governments, especially the Communist variety, a refusal to respect the natural order, a will to impose certain ideas on it has produced mass starvation.

Of course, if it’s all just a natural process, then apparently we do not owe it anything. You cannot derive moral rules from a natural process. When we ascribe what psychologists correctly call “agency” to the natural world—say that some Being has created it—we are producing conditions where we can act as moral beings by entering into an exchange with with a metaphysical source.

Green explains how one psychologist defines it:

By "agency," McCullough means something along the lines of "a force that can act in the world and cause events to happen." In crude sociological terms, people give thanks to the forces that act in the universe—God, or god, or gods—as a bid for cosmic benevolence, whether that means making it rain or preserving a loved one's health or bringing a baby into the world. But these thanks are also an implicit metaphysical claim: Humans owe their existence, their longevity, and perhaps even their daily fortunes to a being beyond ourselves.

If we owe our existence to a being that has agency, then we too are beings with agency. We are morally obligated to behave in a certain way, but we are not forced to do so.

Similarly, the universe is as it is. Science can tell us how it is.

And yet, it need not be as it is. It need not be orderly and it need not be intelligible. Strangely, it need not even be moral.

On this day we keep in mind that the universe need not support human life. It need not feed us. It need not provide the conditions under which we can thrive and prosper.

For that we all give thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Democracy, Chinese Style

It will not come as a surprise, but apparently the Prime Minister of Australia does not read this blog.

Had Tony Abbott done so he would not have embarrassed himself when commenting on some remarks by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Economist has the story:

RECENTLY Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia, embarrassed himself a little by gushing over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s talk of China becoming “democratic”. Specifically Mr Xi said China had the goal of becoming “a modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” by the middle of the century. Mr Abbott responded in wonderment that he had never before heard of a Chinese leader promising full democracy by 2050. Australia’s prime minister would have benefited from an explanation of what China’s leader means by “democracy”. What did Mr Xi really mean?

As I have been wont to point out, China does not really have a concept of liberal democracy. And it does not share our notion of human rights. These have never really been practiced in the Middle Kingdom.

As another group of pro-democracy demonstrators see their protest die out with a whimper—this time in Hong Kong—one needs to appreciate how alien these Western notions are to China.

The Economist elucidates the matter:

The word “democracy”, or “minzhu”, is relatively new in Chinese, added to the language by Japanese writers during Japan’s Meiji Restoration more than a century ago (along with the word “freedom”, or "ziyou"). In the early 1900s “democracy” had the same meaning as it did in the West—and after the fall of the Qing dynasty China even held real elections in 1912-13. But democracy didn’t stick. The victor of those polls, Song Jiaoren, was assassinated before he could become prime minister, and decades of turmoil and civil war followed. In leading the communists to power Mao incorporated the word "democracy” into party-speak to gain popular support. But what Mao actually meant in 1949 became clear when he declared that China would be ruled by a “people’s democratic dictatorship”.

And also:

The Chinese government has long said it protects “human rights”. It has a Western-sounding constitution that says the country enjoys the “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly” and so on. In October, the Communist Party’s Central Committee held a plenary session on “rule of law”, in which it fully endorsed the constitution. But China prefers a narrow economic definition of “human rights”, and none of these declared freedoms, nor the authority of the constitution itself, goes so far as to protect anyone who challenges the Communist Party’s rule. That is why Ilham Tohti, a university professor, was sentenced to life imprisonment in September for criticising the party’s ethnic policies.

Of course, the People’s Republic of China is not exactly what we would call a republic either.

By democracy, the Chinese leadership means the will the people as embodied in the Communist party. It feels a lot like Rousseau’s concept of the “general will.” Therein Rousseau was referring to the will of the people, not as expressed by the people but as known by the people’s rulers.

What Is Happiness?

Happiness is….

Maybe it’s not a warm puppy, but one understands that a warm puppy might make you feel so good that you become seriously distracted.

It turns out that when you are happy you are more likely to ignore danger and more insensitive to the other people’s negative emotions.

Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

For example, happy people, New York Magazine tells us, have such a good opinion of themselves that they declare themselves more empathetic than they really are. If you believe the research, they are better at shutting out the negative emotions of other people.

One imagines that this contributes to their happiness. If you are running around feeling everyone’s pain, the chances are good that you will feel like you are in pain.

The more you feel pain, the more you will feel unhappy.

Of course, being happy need not preclude gross insensitivity to other people. The research notwithstanding, those who are insensitive are less likely to sustain good relationships. And good relationships are essential for happiness.

Feeling someone else’s pain is often an exercise in futility, anyway. If your friend is crippled by anxiety you do not help him very much if you too feel crippled by anxiety.

You can be a good friend if you know that someone is in pain and are willing to try to help out. You will not be very much of a friend if you can do no better to feel the pain and offer nothing that would help out.

Clearly, there are times when it is best to ignore someone’s pain. Sometimes physicians downplay their patients’ pains because they do not want to add any unnecessary anxiety.

Moreover, happy people are also not very good at details.

Again, this is paradoxical. If depression entails confusion and lack of focus why would it not be that happy people are more focused?

Apparently, this is not the case. Link here.

When you fly off to who-knows-where today would you rather the air traffic controllers be happy or not-so-happy?

Studies suggest that stressed-out air traffic controllers are more attuned to what might go wrong and thus are better at their jobs. Their happier colleagues are more insouciant, more confident that things will work out and less focused on the problems that might arise.

What does this mean?

It suggests that smiley folk defend their happiness against anything that would encroach on it. But then, if they love their happiness too much, one suspects that they will become less functional on the job and less friendly.

How long will the happy air traffic controller remain happy if he overlooks a problem that causes a crash?

Naturally, we do not want to pick a fight with the researchers, but we would do well to ask how they are defining happiness.

Perhaps the problem lies more in the definition of happiness than in the behavior of happy people.

If happy means bright, bubbly, cheerful and always optimistic… then we might simply have defined it as the contrary of despair.

At times, we suspect that overly cheerful people are trying too hard to convince themselves that things are better than they are.

If happiness involves the feeling that attends to success, to achievement or to a job well done… it loses some of the giggly, giddy sense that researchers seem to have granted it.

A happiness that looks like disengagement from other people and from the tasks at hand will feel like an illusion.

If happiness is doing a good job and feeling proud of your children then perhaps it is not quite as giggly or smiley. Such a happiness would not be based on ignorance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Are Renewables the Great Green Hope?

Climate change activists have long touted the intrinsic virtue of renewable energy sources. What could be more pure than sun and wind and geothermal?

If these natural energy sources are goodness, fuels deriving from dark, ugly stuff like coal and fossil fuels are evil. To achieve true virtue we must replace the bad with the good, the impure with the pure, the disgusting with the fragrant.

Unfortunately, it can never work. If put it all into practice, it will immiserate and impoverish the people of the world.

It's fair to note that for some people, it would not be too high a price to pay.

Two engineers from Google have studied the question. A British publication called The Register brings us their conclusions:

Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that renewables will never permit the human race to cut CO2emissions to the levels demanded by climate activists. Whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren't guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or "technology" of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE

This ought not to come as a surprise. The Register continues:

Koningstein and Fork aren't alone. Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn't feasible. Merely generating the relatively small proportion of our energy that we consume today in the form of electricity is already an insuperably difficult task for renewables: generating huge amounts more on top to carry out the tasks we do today using fossil-fuelled heat isn't even vaguely plausible.

What would it take to replace the current energy production facilities with others that use renewables?

The engineers crunched the numbers and discovered:

Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms - and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

What would happen to the real world if we tried to apply these ideas:

In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive - which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably). This in turn means that everyone would become miserably poor and economic growth would cease (the more honest hardline greens admit this openly). That, however, means that such expensive luxuries as welfare states and pensioners, proper healthcare (watch out for that pandemic), reasonable public services, affordable manufactured goods and transport, decent personal hygiene, space programmes (watch out for the meteor!) etc etc would all have to go - none of those things are sustainable without economic growth.

A Feminist Look at Men

On the off chance that you would like to read about something other than Ferguson….

Apparently, Laura Kipnis has written a new book about the state of men. Not just men per se, but men in America living under feminism.

Kipnis makes much of her boundless empathy for these pathetic creatures—and yes, at one point she calls them pathetic—but she cannot restrain herself from showering them with boundless contempt.

Obviously, Kipnis wants us to think that she is describing today’s man. In truth, she seems to be describing men who are trying to become the men that feminism wants them to become. Trying and failing, we can say.

One might imagine that any man who tries to reconfigure his being in order to appease or placate feminists deserves a woman’s contempt. Perhaps that is the hidden message in Kipnis’s book.

Taking a page from Freud—always a bad idea—Kipnis suggests that men humiliate themselves by their public behavior—think Anthony Weiner and John Edwards, good Democrats both—because they are moral masochists and really, really want to be humiliated.

From a feminist perspective this might mean that they have bought into the notion that men bear guilt for all the ills of humanity and deserve to be taken down a peg or two or three.

Kipnis tells Hanna Rosin:

... a lot of men in power seem to be acting in such incoherent ways in public. It’s almost as if something was afflicting them and they had some need to be shamed in public, to be disgraced and act out these private psychodramas in public, and I was just fascinated by that.

Kipnis is describing a certain kind of man, mostly the man who wants to atone for the sins of the patriarchy and to align himself more closely with feminist expectations.

Unfortunately, some men are reacting against the new regime. Ironically, they are doing so by fulfilling the darkest of feminist expectations… by becoming bullies, louts and abusers.

Having learned that they are patriarchal oppressors and sexual predators—scumbags, con men and lotharios, as Kipnis calls them—they embrace what feminism has declared to be the truth of their being.

But, these men might be tired of receiving so much contempt. They might not want to be humiliated, so they might be responding to the provocations they are receiving from their new feminist masters.

For her part, Kipnis empathizes with these pathetic male creatures:

I think I became more empathetic about whatever causes I was speculating about. There’s a kind of precariousness for men now about their position—you’ve written about this. There are changes in the role in the aftermath of feminism as a result of massive economic restructuring, and this is affecting them on an interpersonal level. They don’t know exactly what’s going on in the context of heterosexual male-female relationships, what’s expected of them.

How badly have men been affected by feminism? Kipnis declares that:

You are constantly hearing men indict other men for their misogyny. 

Since she is an academic, a professor at Northwestern, she is probably talking about men in the world she knows best. One hesitates to call such creatures men.

Hanna Rosin asks Kipnis a salient question:

You write that men these days seek humiliation. What do you mean by that?

To which Kipnis replies with Freudian claptrap:

I guess when I look at these figures—Edwards, Weiner—there seems to be something not quite random about how they are all flogging themselves in public. I’m still very interested in Freud, and he writes about masochism and aligns it with femininity. But we are now seeing another version of male masochism. I think there’s something about childhood humiliations getting imprinted on you, and I think that was the case with Weiner. I actually talked to someone who dated him, and she said that was the case with him. There’s some form of self-destruction that’s just woven into our constitution.

She adds:

I want to focus a bit more on male vulnerability, to point out that these men are wounded and needy and pathetic.

Is this what feminism has wrought? Do feminists feel so confident in their absolute power that they imagine that men will not react, at times not kindly to this level of contempt?

If the only choice is between being a wimp and being a prick, a certain number of men will choose the latter. It's in the DNA.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The War Against Suicidal Cultures

We credit David Goldman with the concept of the death of civilizations. By his reasoning Islam is in the process of self-destructing, committing cultural suicide. Apparently, it wants to go out with a bang, not with a whimper.

Goldman despairs because we do not understand this process of cultural suicide and thus do not know how to fight it. We do not know how to neutralize it or to direct its energies toward production.

In his words:

The suicide of cultures is incomprehensible to liberalism, which places the human condition in a Petrie dish for the edification of social scientists. It is also incomprehensible to the main currents in American conservativism, that is, the Straussian and Catholic versions of natural right and natural law. We flounder in the face of suicidal cultures because we lack the intellectual tools to confront them. Men do not always seek the good, as Aristotle opines in at the outset of the Nicomachean Ethics: often they seek nothingness. When in history have so many volunteered to commit suicide to murder civilians, as the jihadists now do? When in history has a combatant tried to maximize the number of casualties among its own civilians, as does Hamas? The liberal mind reels with horror at the phenomenon of mass suicide.

So, how do you fight nihilism? How do you fight people who are seeking nothingness? How do you fight people who embrace death, who do not fear for their own lives?

You cannot beat them by killing them. They will take it as a triumph. Their followers will call them martyrs.

Yet, despair is the wrong response. If your opponents can convince you that there is nothing you can do to defeat them, they have won a psychological victory over them.

How do these suicidal maniacs assert their superiority? For one, they commit acts of unthinkable brutality. The Nazis excelled at this task and used it to show, not only that they were not afraid to die but that they were stronger and more powerful than everyone else. If so, then their victory should have been inevitable.

It would be good to get over the notion that Islamist radicals are looking to achieve nothingness. It would also be good to get over the notion that if they do not fear death they are stronger than everyone else… even to the point of being invincible.

The truth is, they, like their Nazi forbears are looking to assert their own importance by destroying what others have built.

In common parlance, it’s called deconstruction. You do not built anything yourself, but you destroy or dismantle what others have built. Thereby, you gain a false sense of pride, but false pride is surely better than the abject humiliation that we associate with failure.

It’s one way to overcome the shame of losing out in economic or political competition.

When Hamas terrorists put their money and their effort into buying rockets and digging terror tunnels they are saying that they can only affirm their self-worth at the expense of Israel. The success that Israel has enjoyed in the midst of civilizational failure provokes Arab shame. Better to think that the fault lies with Israel than to imagine that the fault lies with a failing civilization.

Of course, if certain peoples believed that they could compete in the marketplace they would not be resorting to terrorism. Having no confidence in their ability they resort to deconstruction. But, this works both ways. In some cases the deconstruction induces feelings of despair.

So, how do you fight people who do not fear death and who are hell-bent on destroying what others have built?

First, we should recognize that something is worse than death. That would be: shame and humiliation. Terrorism is not a sign of strength but an effort to cover up and disguise shame.

If we do not understand that, we will never defeat it.

Thus, the Obama administration, and in some cases the Bush administration got it wrong.

Showing respect for Islam, speaking reverentially of Islam, calling Islam a religion of peace is precisely the wrong tactic.

One does better to respond to terrorism with contempt and derision, with force where need be, but without respect. If Islamic terrorism degrades the character and reputation of all Muslims, then it is for Muslims to restore their good name and the good name of their religion.

We should be unflinching in our support of Israel and stop trying to make the Israelis and the Palestinian terrorists moral equivalents. We should be supporting those Islamic forces that are fighting against the terrorists, leaders like President Sisi of Egypt. And we should respect those Islamic countries that have renounced terror and have successfully joined the world economic order… like Dubai.

There is only one way to overcome the shame of failure: success. Trying to cover up shame by blowing up the products of someone else’s success is ultimately a losing strategy. Those who oppose it should expose the shame that drives it.

More humiliation is the correct counterattack, not more respect and reverence.

And let's not forget: unabashed pride in the achievements of Western civilization would also put us on the right path.