Thursday, June 9, 2016

When the Dream Fails

I will not say that Ask Polly, the New York Magazine advice columnist is always appalling. At times, her advice is just plain bad. At other times it shows even verges on helpful.

And yet, many of the columns are so awful that they produce a wave of existential angst, i.e., nausea.

One overcomes those feelings by recalling the wonderful columns written for Slate by Emily Yoffe. You may know that, as the story goes, Yoffe left Slate for the Atlantic, to be replaced by someone who is—if we are being generous—not as bad as Ask Polly, but who offers tedious and puerile advice. Where is Emily Yoffe now that we need her?

Nevertheless, in the annals of horrific advice, there is a special place for Ask Polly. In her most recent column, Polly systematically ignored the letter writer’s dire circumstances in order to opine at length about a subject she thinks she knows something about: herself. Yes, indeed, faced with a distressed letter writer, Polly goes on at a boring length about her own moods, her own feelings, her own life.

She may, as she says, love to write, but she should not be writing advice columns.

Worse yet, Polly’s attitude is so obviously the creation of her abysmally bad therapist and the therapy culture, that, if she had an ounce of good sense left, she would be so ashamed of herself that she would have long since tried another line of work.

When someone is suffering and in pain, the one thing you do not want to do, the one thing you never want to do, is to stand up and to say: Look at me! I am a winner. I got it all right. I am in touch with my feelings. I can expound about them and bore you to death with them. I even get paid for filling magazine pages with my own special swill.

In her defense, Polly adds that she was writing her column on her birthday so you have no right to upset her with the story of your failures.

You will notice that the letter writer, who dubs herself “Polluted Waters” blames her misery on the fact that her parents were veterans of World War II. For reasons no one has yet to ascertain, the only veterans we all have the right to slander were those who fought the last war that America won.

Polluted has learned enough to know that she was raised badly by people who hated themselves. Clearly, she has mastered the clichés of therapyspeak. Because of this bad upbringing she developed bad relationships. And she feels so much shame—in fact she is ashamed of being ashamed of being ashamed—that she is now an apparently unemployed single mother.

And yet, as we shall see, it’s not her militaristic parents, but the leftist and feminist ideology that has come to occupy and to colonize her mind. And she knows a little about therapy, too. She talks like someone who has undergone mind-altering therapy, to arrive at the conclusion that she had chosen the wrong boyfriends because there was something wrong with her—or with her upbringing.

Allow Polluted to explain what’s wrong:

I’m 45, and I was raised by two WWII vets who did their best but weren’t exactly enlightened. They both hated themselves profoundly, probably hang-overs from their experiences and their WWI parents. They found a way to piece their uniquely broken bits into something that worked for them in marriage, and they managed to raise two kids who to the outside world looked perfect — pretty, smart, fit, and tough. They put us in the best schools, and they also taught us some useful coping mechanisms. One that was particularly effective with me was the art of the codependent girlfriend/wife. I staggered along for years with different kinds of substance abusers and narcissists, each time peeling back more layers until I finally started seeing how the problems were linked to my behavior.

One day, overcome with feminist longings, Polluted quit her engineering job and set out on a feminist crusade to change the world, to change the way women saw their bodies. She would do it by working in fashion.

She explains her momentous and apparently not very bright decision:

Fifteen years ago I did launch myself out there and leave a comfortable home, circle of friends, the country I was born in, and a steady job as an engineer to pursue a dream of having my own fashion company. I wanted to help women feel good in their bodies. I wanted to do fashion in a different way — both by giving women a body-positive message, and by creating an environmentally friendly, family-friendly work environment and production chain. I made a plan to go back to school to learn the trade, then work for a few years for mainstream fashion companies to see what I was up against, what I didn’t want to do. 

Independent, autonomous, hard-working, cut off from all of her friends and family. She might have thought that she was being liberated, especially from that militaristic, colonialist, imperialist American culture. But, she was suffering from anomie.

Ask yourself where she might have gotten such dumb advice. And ask yourself why she felt a need to save women from the patriarchy. There is nothing wrong with having a fashion company, but how about a little rational thought, a little help from her friends, and perhaps a little contraception.

Because, don’t you know, Polluted got herself pregnant and became a single mother.

Now, she is forty-five and, though she does not say it, she might very well be thinking that her best years are behind her. It might sound discourteous, but her best dating years probably are. Worse yet, she is apparently not the best employee. She is not even a very good employee.

Being a child of the therapy culture, she believes that she is failing on the job because she feels too much shame. But, if she feels ashamed of her decisions—not the most irrational of emotions—why does she not pick up, go home to her family and more familiar surroundings and try again?

The thought seems not to have crossed her mind. It certainly does not cross Polly’s mind—if you want to call it that. Sometimes dreams do not work out. Sometimes you need to fold your tents and think more practically. Most of the time, being a feminist heroine becomes the royal road to feminist martyrdom.

For my part I am not very clear about whether or not Polluted is still employed. Yet, it seems that her bad attitude has made her nearly unemployable Note the following attempt at self-rationalization or, should I say, pseudo-insights:

Recently I’ve found myself in a work situation that feels as bad as being with an abusive cokehead. It’s similar to the codependent thing — I’m mired in shame, so I smear it on thicker to make myself a zero. When I get overloaded with work, I don’t organize it well so I can get a grasp on how much I can reasonably do and set boundaries where I can be honest with myself and co-workers, and then I don’t call it out soon enough when I’m getting swept under. It’s like I think I should be able to handle it, and fuck me if I can’t, I deserve to suffer. Maybe a lot of people have this problem.  My boss is a bully and a terrible manager, but it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that I’m being called out on low performance like this again. And today he fired me.

At least, there’s always the patriarchy to blame. Or, World War II veterans. In another context, Polluted—you ask yourself, is Polly short for Polluted—is surrounded by cheerleaders, by people who have been sufficiently therapied themselves to be giving her the therapeutically correct advice. And she needs, it. After all, her feminist dreams have turned into a nightmare:

So here I am now — the single working hot-mess mother, living in a foreign country, and still scheming about how to make that company I always wanted. Single mothers really do have to do twice what our partnered-mother friends do; that’s just reality. I try to remind myself of this and give myself credit for the things I do accomplish, but still, the expectations and the feelings of inadequacy are always there, ready to tell me that I haven’t done enough.

To be honest, I do hope that, even though she was fired for being so much of a hot mess that she could barely function on the job, she has a job. To me, it is not clear.

Sometimes you have to tell yourself that it is not working out and that it is not going to happen. Banging your head against the wall and having all your friends tell you how terrific you are does not really solve any of it.

Note how Polluted describes herself:

It means that you know that there’s a giddy rush of joy when you launch on a path after your dreams, but if you’re still stuck in shame, you will do a shitload of work and still never get to really be yourself. And it means that there is nothing scarier than imagining yourself on the street, with no steady job, when you’ve got a kid who relies on you alone. You write often about the courage in saying: I’m broken, I’m fragile, I surrender. Well, I’m there. I am starting to see that I am no longer swimming upstream; I’m now just becoming one with the sewage. I think what I want to know is where to go from here. It’s one thing to realize how low you are, but another to climb out from it. 

As I said, she is in a foreign country, with or without a job. Perhaps it’s time to go home to the good old USA, to find a place that is more familiar, more welcoming, more congenial.

I will spare you Polly’s efforts to cheer up this woman. They are foolish and pathetic… and, to her, all roads lead back to her.

The first line of Polly’s answer seems, regrettably, to be sincere, in a twisted way. And, note how effectively and effortlessly Polly shifts the emphasis from Polluted to herself. At least she understands that she is perfectly narcissistic and totally incapable of offering any useful advice. Where’s Ann Landers now that we need her?

Polly replies:

Congratulations on losing your job! And today is my birthday! It feels like we were meant to celebrate this day together in some outdoor café in whatever country you’re living in — I’m picturing Italy — eating good bread and olives and cured meats and sipping a nice Barolo. You’re 45, I’m 46. Here’s a toast to no more narcissists, here’s a toast to kids who have their own crazy independent minds and no longer need their asses wiped, here’s a toast to emancipation, here’s a toast to being deeply, profoundly uncool but still dressing like you’re a million times cooler than you actually are.

After some highly relevant reflections on why she does not get her anus waxed, Polly moves on to a more pertinent topic: self-indulgence. Because, to her strange mind, this is what Polluted really needs:

I am showing you how to indulge, Polluted Waters, because this is what you need to relearn at such a bone-deep level that you never lose it again. You don’t have to be the good one, the capable one in the background, or risk being too big, too vain, too spoiled and flighty and wild and petulant. Your kid is old enough now to need a role model in wild petulance. He’s had his generous, solid role model, and now he needs his Mother of Dragons. He needs to see you emerge from this burning building with a calm smile on your face and announce to the world, “The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands.” 

You see it. Polly doesn’t know what to say. She has no advice to give. So she recommends that Polluted reconfigure herself as a fictional character, a character in someone else’s fiction.

The sad part of it is, that is what Polluted had been doing. She decided to give up a perfectly good engineering job in order to cast herself as a feminist heroine. She was taught to disrespect her parents, made herself perfectly independent and autonomous and was shocked to discover that she was attracting narcissists. And, naturally, she wrote to the only advice columnist whose narcissism surpassed hers. Only someone who has attained the highest level of narcissism would congratulate her on losing her job.


Ares Olympus said...

The "advice" is certainly horrible, but its almost justified by the sweepingly hollow letter. There are not even any questions. It's all narrative. It's more like a plea "Please comfort me." while there's no more useful propaganda left in this path.

Lately I've been thinking self-pity might be the greatest sin of mankind because it enables passivity or wrong action like blame.

Perhaps perhaps I'd go with Byron Katie, and her "The Work" to try to help, but that requires an interactive process, not "advice".
The Work is a way of identifying and questioning any stressful thought. It consists of four questions and a turnaround. This is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The four questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? and
4. Who would you be without the thought?

What do you become when you realize every story you've told about yourself and the world is objectively false?

But even if the self-lies can be deconstructed, perhaps it would take someone like a life coach to help find out what's true in the here and now, where constructive action can be made.

sestamibi said...

This is all characteristic of the pussified culture in which we live, where life must be all bliss all the time, everyone (or at least everyone with a vagina) must never be offended and have her pwecious widdle feewings hurt, and no risk is ever worth it. As if it wasn't bad enough that this has motivated public policy for at least 30 years, when Hillary is president it will become turbocharged. Get set for accusation = conviction for rape charges, abortions at Catholic hospitals, and same-sex weddings at the Westboro Baptist Church.

Ares Olympus said...

sestamibi, wow, I was thinking the same thing about President Trump, at least about "accusations = convictions".

Trump considers his "pwecious widdle feewings" and opinions to be the only objective reality, so anyone who disagrees must be doing it to hurt him, and therefore they deserve unlimited retribution and slander that he can get away with.

"My motto is: Always get even. When somebody screws you, screw them back in spade." - Donald J. Trump, Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @June 9, 2016 at 2:14 PM:

Ares, you are remarkable. It is curious who you choose to convict and who you choose to acquit.

As if precious little Hillary doesn't hit people back with great viciousness. Ask Vince Foster. Oh, that's right... you can't. Slander? Are you serious? Look what Hillary did to Monica Lewinsky and the other "bimbos" (her words for women who actually would have sex with Bill). You are so silly. "Unlimited retribution and slander" is but an appetizer when you're up against the Clintons.

That, and I thought you said they was no "objective reality." You're certainly proof of that.

What a fool you are. Go back to your old blog. It needs you. Spare us. Please.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC, if you're right, then Trump is the perfect antidote to Hillary. He can beat her at her own game because he's clever and equally shameless about using power.

And I agree overt aggression is refreshing, and especially attractive if it's directed against people you also don't like.

In any election outcome we all lose, but still I'm quite sure Trump will be the more flagrant dictator. And Trump has promised he'll use Obama's EO usage as a benchmark for his own "benevolent" power grabs.
"I won't refuse it. I'm going to do a lot of things," Trump said when asked if he would use executive orders...

“I mean, he’s led the way, to be honest with you,” he added, referring to Obama.

The Republican primary front-runner said his executive orders, unlike the president’s, will be for the “right things.”

“But I’m going to use them much better and they’re going to serve a much better purpose than he’s done,” he said.

But oops, all of this is off topic, except for the fact the sorry letter writer was fired from her job, which is Trump's specialty.

Okay, well, that's not very close. I'll say sestamibi started it with his "pussified culture" which reminds my literal-mind brain of Trump's hair.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @June 9, 2016 at 6:52 PM:

I see we're back in a familiar place. Ares mocks others because he is so wise and morally magnificent, and gets testy when his own words are used to counter his flimsy, snide arguments and attempts at moral equivalence. So sad.

And your last paragraph completely validates sestamimbi's cultural concerns, at least in your case: "I'll say sestamimbi started it..." Where are we, in kindergarten recess?

You and others who share your thinking have no idea what you look and sound like when talking about Donald Trump. You think him a buffoon, yet you become so unglued and unhinged when considering anything about him. There's something incongruent there. I must confess observing this phenomenon is one of the my guilty pleasures in this campaign. Lefties and liberals have always thought themselves so smart and above it all. Ah, schadenfreude.

Dennis said...


If I can stop laughing for a minute I will comment. There my eyes are still watering a bit, but I wonder when you were going to address Ares' lack of maturity in his responses. One wonders if Trump resides in his head? Wait a minute I went back a reread your comment "And your last paragraph completely validates sestamimbi's cultural concerns, at least in your case: "I'll say sestamimbi started it..." Where are we, in kindergarten recess?" and the laughing continued again.
Thank you again for appealing to one of my guilty pleasures.
This does seem like the "blind leading the blind" It has been my experience that people who get fired created that results. Most employers spend a lot of money, time and effort on people they hire to turn around a fire them. Just not good business. In Trump's case he seems to have a lot of employees who regard him highly as opposed to the occasional person who does not. As an NCO and as a Systems Security Officer I have helped put people in the brig and fired from contractors. It is life and I suspect that they did not like me. Leadership requires actions that one may not like, but are required to maintain a highly effective and efficient organization that can meet the exigencies of the assigned mission. Far too many people like Ares think the job, the organization, et al is all about them and the consumer be DAMNED.
The appalling aspect here is the poor advise coming from the New York magazine. Did this person actually believe that any of this was going to help?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @June 10, 2016 at 5:35 AM:

Laughing is the best therapy. Otherwise, as we Irish say, we'd all cry.

"Far too many people like Ares think the job, the organization, et al is all about them and the consumer be DAMNED."

This is actually one of the problems of crony capitalism and government's de-facto endorsement of monopolies being in "the public interest." When you look at the most atrocious customer service standards, you see companies like Comcast who change their company name to Xfinity thinking the consumer is that dumb. People hate Comcast, and one of the reasons for the lack of investment in set-top box-type cable service is all the lobbying tech/media companies do to have government protect their turf through limited spectrum sales, etc. The concentration of media ownership occurs to prop up profits. Fine, that's the "free market." But what these companies then do is collude with government to create massive barriers to entry.

So, in the end, it's all these "experts," regulators and other smart people who think they know what's best for us. But what government does is ossify technology and make large broadband/transmission companies into cash-rich monopolies, and the consumer faces limited choice. Yes, these industries require huge capital investments to operate at that kind of scale, but small, nimble entrepreneurs don't want to mimic that kind of size and scope... they generally want to concentrate in one geographic area or type of service. They're stopped because of regulation that's co-created by their competitors and their own government. It's ridiculous.

There is a lot of complaining about "failing institutions" these days, at all levels of society. The reason institutions are failing is because (a) they're run by individuals operating in the context of a hedonistically individualistic society; and (b) the institutions themselves are interested in their own preservation rather than their mission to serve the customer/consumer. We blame the "institutions" when we should really look at ourselves... they're a reflection of US. That's the "blind leading the blind."

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: You and others who share your thinking have no idea what you look and sound like when talking about Donald Trump. You think him a buffoon, yet you become so unglued and unhinged when considering anything about him. There's something incongruent there. I must confess observing this phenomenon is one of the my guilty pleasures in this campaign. Lefties and liberals have always thought themselves so smart and above it all. Ah, schadenfreude.

I find your pleasure curious, but whatever works for you.

I am curious about my own dislike of Trump and perhaps Dilbert comic Scott Adams can help:
On the stump, the real-estate mogul is not running on the knowledge of his numbers or the dissection of the data. He is running on our emotions, Adams says, and sly appeals to our own human irrationality. Since last August, in fact, when many were calling Trump’s entry a clown candidacy, the “Dilbert” cartoonist was already declaring The Donald a master in the powers of persuasion who would undoubtedly rise in the polls. And last week, Adams began blogging about how Trump can rhetorically dismantle Clinton’s candidacy next.

... Most simply put: Adams believes Trump will win because he’s “a master persuader.”

The Manhattan mogul is so deft at the powers of persuasion, Adams believes, that the candidate could have run as a Democrat and, by picking different hot-button issues, still won this presidency. In other words: Trump is such a master linguistic strategist that he could have turned the political chessboard around and still embarrassed the field.

Here is what Candidate Trump is doing to win campaign hearts and minds, according to Scott Adams:
1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.
2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.
3. By running on emotion, facts don’t matter.
4. If facts don’t matter, you can’t really be “wrong.”
5. With fewer facts in play, it’s easier to bend reality.
6. To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics — and identity is the strongest persuader.

It seems a good list, and explains why I dislike Trump, because he exploits people's weakness for a good story and disregard for reality.

And I also believe Trump could have run as a Democrat, although I admit its hard to imagine how good of a magician Trump really is. I mean we know selling himself to evangelicals is like stealing candy from a baby, but could that same technique really work on the left? Of course I really don't understand how evangelicals are so gullible either, while I understand many on the left are also gullible in their own echo chambers.

As a last attempt to close topics "When dreams fail", the letter writer admitted she wasn't doing a good job and was fired, while Trump's game for the Presidency does seem to be based on the audacity of apathy from truth.

For Trump, if he can say anything and as long as its dramatic, he gains attention, and all attention is good. Trump and the Mass Media love for spectacle can just keep working their pied piper routine and we can avoid all serious conversation for the duration of the presidential election. Somehow I imagine the Elites even appreciate this distraction.

If the American People really say to Trump on November 3, "You're fired." Perhaps he can write to the New Yorker with his sob story and Polly can say "Congratulations on losing your job!" and end with the same advice:
Sometimes you hate yourself only because you secretly love yourself a lot and you don’t want to dare to give yourself what you truly desire. But the more you give to yourself, the more you give to everyone around you and lift up your friends and your family and complete strangers, too.

Anyway, advice like that sounds very close to Trump-logic, so I'm sure it'll console him.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @June 10, 2016 at 11:59 PM: