Sunday, April 30, 2017

Liberal Arts Education, R. I. P.

In a long and learned article in City Journal, classicist Victor Davis Hanson bemoans the end of liberal arts education. America’s universities have given up on teaching the classics, the foundation of a liberal arts education.

They no longer teach Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Sophocles. They do not teach that democracy began in ancient Greece and that republican government comes to us from the ancient romans.

Hanson does not mention it, but I suspect that precious few of today’s professors know enough to teach the classics, or to teach the history of Western philosophy or literature. They were trained to indoctrinate their students, not to teach them. Let’s not forget, many of today’s courses are taught by poorly paid adjuncts. Fewer and fewer tenured professors walk the halls of academia.

And how many of today’s college students would be capable of studying Plato and Aristotle, or reading Homer and Virgil. I suspect that few of them could. All of the carping about the hegemony of Western white males is probably just a cover for students who cannot do the work.

So, the academy is being dumbed down. And this is sad indeed. But, perhaps we overreached when we decided that everyone should have a liberal arts education. Some people do not need it and would not know how to profit from it. One hates to say it, but for some people vocational training is probably best. The egalitarian notion that everyone is the same and that all students can learn something from reading Shakespeare and Milton was far too optimistic.

In other words, even if today’s professors could teach the classics effectively, many of their students, the products of America’s secondary schools, would not be capable of studying them?

There is, in other words, enough blame to go around.

Some universities have turned into indoctrination mills, more concerned with teaching students the supposed therapeutic benefits of political correctness. Others are offering vocational training. And much of the educational slack is being picked up by online courses. After all, Hanson notes, these courses probably offer better instruction than you get in college. Taught by academic stars, they not only provide exposure to the material, but they sometimes offer interactive homework assignments, tailored to each student’s needs.

Hanson tracks the movement:

As the American workforce increasingly needs retraining and as higher-paying jobs demand ever more specialized skills, students are beginning to pay for their education on a class-by-class basis through distance learning. Online classes, which do not require campus residence or commuting, also eliminate the overhead of highly paid, tenured faculty, campus infrastructure, and such costly elements of undergraduate education as on-campus lectures and extracurricular activities.

And also:

Perhaps their unspoken premise is that if universities do not believe in the value of teaching Western civilization as part of a mandated general-education curriculum, then why not simply go to the heart of the matter and offer computer-programming skills or aeronautical-engineering know-how without the pretense of a broad education? And who is to say that paid-by-the-hour instructors at the online University of Phoenix are less responsible teachers than their traditional counterparts? After all, their market-driven employers must serve a paying constituency that, unlike traditional university students, often demands near-instant results for its fees.

Those who want to find a more classical liberal arts education are gravitating toward more religious schools, like Hillsdale College, St. John’s College, etc.

Hanson is himself a classicist, so he defends the classics eloquently:

Classical learning dedicated itself to turning out literate citizens who could read and write well, express themselves, and make sense of the confusion of the present by drawing on the wisdom of the past. Students grounded in the classics appreciated the history of their civilization and understood the rights and responsibilities of their unique citizenship. Universities, then, acted as cultural custodians, helping students understand our present values in the context of a 2,500-year tradition that began with the ancient Greeks.

He continues:

Study of Athenian democracy, Homeric epic, or Roman basilicas framed all exploration of subsequent eras, from the Middle Ages to modernity. An Aquinas, Dante, Michelangelo, or Montesquieu could be seen as reaffirming, adopting, modifying, or rejecting something that the Greeks or Romans had done first. One could no more build a liberal education without some grounding in the classics than one could construct a multistory house without a foundation.

But, classical liberal arts education has been supplanted by more practical subjects:

Over the last four decades, various philosophical and ideological strands united to contribute to the decline of classical education. A creeping vocationalism, for one, displaced much of the liberal arts curriculum in the crowded credit-hours of indebted students. Forfeiting classical learning in order to teach undergraduates a narrow skill (what the Greeks called a technĂȘ) was predicated on the shaky notion that undergraduate instruction in business or law would produce superior CEOs or lawyers—and would more successfully inculcate the arts of logic, reasoning, fact-based knowledge, and communication so necessary for professional success.

And, as I have often noted on this blog, universities have come to see their mission as therapeutic. They do not want students to learn; they want students to attain a specious version of mental health.

In Hanson’s words:

A therapeutic curriculum, which promised that counseling and proper social attitudes could mitigate such eternal obstacles to human happiness as racism, sexism, war, and poverty, likewise displaced more difficult classes in literature, language, philosophy, and political science. The therapeutic sensibility burdened the university with the task of ensuring that students felt adjusted and happy. And upon graduation, those students began to expect an equality of result rather than of opportunity from their society. Gone from university life was the larger tragic sense. Few students learned (or were reminded) that we come into this world with limitations that we must endure with dignity and courage rather than deal with easily through greater sensitivity, more laws, better technology, and sufficient capital.

The radical left has turned the academic into an indoctrination mill, where political correctness reigns supreme. Note well Hanson’s observation: political correctness does not involve learning or inquiring. It is not about knowing but believing.

It seeks to persuade, to convince, to indoctrinate students in dogmatic beliefs. To be fair, this practice has its roots in the Socratic dialogues. They are not designed to teach the art of inquiry. They were designed to seduce unwitting dupes into believing something:

Political correctness, meanwhile, turned upside-down the old standard of inductive reasoning, the linchpin of the liberal arts. Students now were to accept preordained general principles—such as the pernicious legacy of European colonialism and imperialism and the pathologies of capitalism, homophobia, and sexism—and then deductively to demonstrate how such crimes manifested themselves in history, literature, and science. The university viewed itself as nearly alone in its responsibility for formulating progressive remedies for society’s ills. Society at large, government, the family, and religion were hopelessly reactionary.

Is there still a value to going to America’s great universities? Surely, if you are going to study STEM subjects, the answer is Yes. Beyond that, these schools are becoming places for the elite to form friendships and social alliances. They provide status and prestige… and yes, an access to privilege. Will ironies never cease!

Hanson is not optimistic:

But their attractions—and especially the enticements of the Ivy League schools, Stanford, Berkeley, and such private four-year colleges as Amherst and Oberlin—will largely derive from the status that they convey, the career advantages that accrue from their brand-name diplomas, and the unspoken allure of networking and associating with others of a similarly affluent and privileged class. They are becoming social entities, private clubs for young people, certification and proof of career seriousness, but hardly centers for excellence in undergraduate education in the classical sense. For all the tens of thousands of dollars invested in yearly tuition, there will be no guarantee, or indeed, even a general expectation, that students will encounter singular faculty or receive a superior liberal arts education—let alone that they will know much more about their exceptional civilization than what they could find on the Internet, at religious schools, or on CDs and DVDs.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Echo Chamber of Their Minds

It comes as news to readers of the New York Times, but it’s old news to readers of this blog.

Yesterday, newly minted Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote his first op-ed column since leaving the Wall Street Journal. Obviously, it’s an important move for the Times, since it gives its op-ed page a strong supporter of Israel. Considering that it recently ran an op-ed by a Palestinian terrorist, and failed to identify the crimes for which he has been sentenced, the Times needed Stephens.

Since Stephens had remained intrepidly anti-Trump, some Journal readers did not regret seeing him go. On the other hand, Stephens strongly supports Israel, has no tolerance for people who want to kill Jews and has cast doubt on climate change dogma.

His first column addressed the latter.

Sensibly, Stephens made the case that scientific fact is not dogma. Just because we have some data we should not be lulled into thinking that we have attained a higher truth, a truth that may never be questioned.

In his words:

We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.

We ought to know this by now, but we don’t. Instead, we respond to the inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous. 

As for the dogma of anthropogenic climate change, Stephens quoted a Times story:

As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.

Hmmm… so much for settled science:

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.


… ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

As you might imagine, the left was up in arms, outraged at Stephens and the New York Times. The New York Post reported some of the reaction this morning. No longer even pretending to defend free speech, increasingly unwilling to address any dissent, they naturally wanted to shut Stephens down. When you have no arguments, you resort to censorship.

The Post reported on their obscene fulminations:

“Go eat dog d—s,” fumed one Twitter user.

“When is the Times going to get rid of you?” another asked.

Stephens even managed to tick off fellow journalists.

“You’re a s–thead. a crybaby lil f–kin weenie. a massive twat too,” tweeted Libby Watson, staff writer at Gizmodo.

“I’m gonna lose my mind,” seethed Eve Peyser, politics writer at Vice.

“The ideas ppl like @BretStephensNYT espouse are violently hateful & should not be given a platform by @NYTimes,” she said.

And, of course, some readers were canceling their Times subscriptions. How much time will it take for them to start demanding that advertisers boycott the Times?

Apparently, not very long:

“Each and every one of us should fully boycott the NY Times — don’t link to them, don’t click on their links. Their actions are inexcusable,” wrote one Twitter user. “You cannot be an ostensible paper-of-record and allow a science denier to spread propaganda.”

Adriana Heguy, a genomics scientist and professor of pathology at NYU, urged her colleagues to scrap their subscriptions, as well.

“Composing my letter to the editor today and canceling @nytimes,” she tweeted. “‘Balance’ means a VALID alternative opinion, not pseudoscience. I’m so sad.”

Feel free to look at some of the other vitriol that Times readers have put up on Twitter. Secure in their bubble they are appalled and outraged that their newspaper, the echo chamber of their minds, would utter a discouraging or even dissenting word.

As I said at the opening of this post, readers of this blog will not be especially surprised by the Stephens view. We have it on the best scientific authority that science is never settled. It runs on skepticism. There are degrees of certainty, but there is no such thing as absolute scientific certainty. I have often referred to the views of famed climate scientist Richard Lindzen, emeritus professor at MIT, who sides with the climate skeptics.

In a 2011 post I quoted Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman on the subject of scientific certainty. In his book, The Meaning of It All, Feynman wrote:

 “It is necessary and true that all of the things we say in science, all of the conclusions, are uncertain, because they are only conclusions. They are guesses as to what is going to happen, and you cannot know what will happen, because you have not made the most complete experiments. . . .”

“Scientists, therefore, are used to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is uncertain. This experience with doubt and uncertainty is important. I believe that it is of very great value, and one that extends beyond the sciences. I believe that to solve any problem that has never been solved before, you have to leave the door to the unknown ajar. You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right. Otherwise, if you have made up your mind already, you might not solve it.

“So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain. Scientists are used to this. We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. Some people say, ’How can you live without knowing?’ I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing.”

Now, that settles the issue, doesn’t it?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Learning How to Govern

In the American system political parties are made to govern. They are made to pass legislation and to advance a political agenda. On that score the Republican Congress has been failing. At the risk of repeating what all commentators have been saying, after insisting for seven years that they were going to repeal Obamacare, the Republican House seems not to have had a plan. In that they have been derelict and have clearly damaged the Trump presidency. If you cannot lead you own party, how can you lead the nation?

In 2009 Congressional Democrats held together and passed major pieces of Obama’s legislative program. Republicans seem still to be squabbling among themselves.

Perhaps that is why the generic Congressional ballot is now favoring the Democrats in 2018. Yet, Harry Enten of the 538 blog suggests that midterm elections are almost always about the president. And, in terms of popularity, the president has not been doing well.

The Democratic opposition, in Congress, in the media and on the streets, makes it look as though the nation has not come together under President Trump. If people are refusing to follow you, you do not look like a leader. True enough, the radical left bears considerable responsibility for this state of affairs, but still, the vicious vilification of Trump seems less to be sticking to the resisters than it does to the president.

I think it fair to say that this radicalism is part of the Obama legacy. Obama was very composed himself but his actions unleashed radical forces in the nation—whether BlackLivesMatter or campus witch hunts. After all, his Justice Department blamed black on black violence on white police officers. And it preferred hunting for Islamophobic Americans than fighting the enemy, radical Islam. And Obama ruled by decree, not, for the most part by legislative action.

One should say that in the realm of foreign policy the Trump team seems stellar. From Rex Tillerson to James Mattis to H. R. McMaster, the adults are now in charge of foreign affairs. And they present a better image of America around the world than did Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Susan Rice.

Last night Rex Tillerson presented administration policy to Bret Baier clearly and cogently. He was, as they say, in command of his brief. For those who are gnashing their teeth over the lack of an administration strategy in foreign policy, Tillerson presented one. His performance was so good that Karen Tumulty—scion of an important Democratic family—said that she did not understand why he did not do it more often.

For now, it seems that legislative inaction and chaos on campus has been creating the public attitude. Looking for consolation, Peggy Noonan finds it in enemies the Trump has made. They seem hell bent, she says, on emulating some of Trump’s worst behavior. The point is well taken. I have mentioned it before on this blog.

She notes that while Trump might have been the only Republican who could have won—a statement we greet with skepticism—he might also be the only one who cannot govern. The latter point remains to be seen.

For today, examine Noonan’s comments on Trump’s enemies:

Mr. Trump has struggled so colorfully the past three months, we’ve barely noticed his great good luck—that in that time the Democratic Party and the progressive left have been having a very public nervous breakdown. The new head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, performs unhinged diatribes. He told an audience in Las Vegas that “Trump doesn’t give a sh— about health care.” In a Maine speech, “They call it a skinny budget. I call it a sh—y budget.” In Newark, he said Republicans “don’t give a sh— about people.”

This is said to be an attempt to get down with millennials. I know a lot of millennials and they’re not idiots, so that won’t work.

The perennially sunny Rep. Maxine Waters of California called Mr. Trump’s cabinet “a bunch of scumbags.” New York’s junior Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, has taken to using the F-word in interviews.

I thought Mr. Trump was supposed to be the loudmouth vulgarian who swears in public. They are aping what they profess to hate. They excoriated him for lowering the bar. Now look at them.

And they’re doing it because they have nothing else—not a plan, not a program, not a philosophy that can be uttered.

The closest they got to meaning recently was when Mr. Perez found it helpful to say, of a Democratic mayoral candidate who’d backed some pro-life bills, that that kind of thinking had no place in the party. Bernie Sanders rightly called this out as madness. You can’t do this “if we’re going to become a 50-state party.”

The Democrats have nothing to offer. They do not have a plan or a program or policies. They have become what they accused Republicans of being: a party of pure obstruction. But they are also a party that is unhinged and out of control. You might think that this makes them look bad, but the public might also hold the president responsible for not uniting the country.

As for universities, what Noonan calls the progressive left has become radicalized. The hoary virtues of democracy, beginning with respect for the winner of a fair election, and extending to respect for the free speech rights of those you abhor, have been sent packing by bands of anarchist  radicals.

Noonan explains:

That most entrenched bastion of the progressive left, America’s great universities, has been swept by . . . well, one hardly knows what to call it. “Political correctness” is too old and doesn’t do it justice. It is a hysteria—a screeching, ignorant wave of sometimes violent intolerance for free speech. It is mortifying to see those who lead great universities cower in fear of it, attempt to placate it, instead of stopping it.

When I see tapes of the protests and riots at schools like Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna and Yale, it doesn’t have the feel of something that happens in politics. It has the special brew of malice and personal instability seen in the Salem witch trials. It sent me back to rereading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Heather Mac Donald danced with the devil! Charles Murray put the needle in the poppet! As in 17th-century Salem, the accusers have no proof of anything because they don’t know, read or comprehend anything.

Some liberals are taking notice of the way that campus radicals have been shutting down speakers whose views they do not like. They are beginning to direct their voices against the fascistic left.

Yet, few have pointed the finger at college administrators, portraits in pure cowardice, who are allowing it all to happen. If college authorities refuse to punish the students who have  undertaken to destroy everyone else’s education they are collaborating with the rising fascist tide.

While Trump is lucky to have as his opponents the mindless ranters of the radical left, if the country cannot get itself together, at some point people are going to look to the man in charge. Perhaps that is why the histrionics of the radical left are working to make Trump look like he cannot lead.

Now, if only House Republicans could get their act together and fulfill their commitment to the voters… they might look like they are in charge. And that the president is in charge. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

At War Against Fascism

Soon-to-be President of France Emmanuel Macron has a marriage problem. Given what many consider the clear and present danger posed by Marine Le Pen, most people within and outside of France will forgive Macron for having married his mother. Other people, profoundly ignorant of human biology, rant on about how if the sexes were reversed—think the Trump marriage—no one would bat an eyelash.

For all I know Macron is the best candidate. When I wrote about this Oedipal mismatch on Tuesday I wanted to emphasize that no matter how we see this situation and no matter how trivial we think the issue, the rest of the world will undoubtedly ridicule the overgrown schoolboy and his schoolmarm. The British press has done so already, as noted.

Individual pride is linked to national pride. And national pride is linked to whether or not your president can command respect on the world stage. It’s not about likeability. It’s about respect. The soon-to-be president of France, Macron will not be respected by most of the world. He will be an international laughing-stock. For all I know, Marine Le Pen would have been worse. That does not make him look like he didn’t marry his mother.

For many people Macron is the last bulwark against the rising tide of fascism. It may be enough to vote for him, but it is not an enviable choice.

Speaking of the war against fascism, Zoe Williams of The Guardian declares herself to be onboard for this great war. As she puts it: “we all have fascists to fight.”

But, that is the problem. Williams and her ilk are up in arms about the fascist menace. You would think that we are back in the 1930s, when fascism was a real menace and when Hitler was consolidating power. And let’s not forget the 1940s when the French Resistance was attempting to restore a shred of the national pride that France had lost in surrendering to and collaborating with the Third Reich.

One hates to repeat oneself, but the forces that defeated the Third Reich (aka National Socialism) and Mussolini were, for the most part, the armies of the Anglosphere, the armies mounted by those great bastions of free market capitalism, Great Britain and the United States.

Like modern-day Don Quixotes anti-fascist culture warriors are living in the past. They are living in a fictional world, fighting fictional enemies and feeling good about themselves. Just in case you thought that their drooling adulation of the weak-kneed Barack Obama cast aspersions on their toughness, they want to dispel your views by showing that they can fight the good fight against: Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopolis.

One understands that these deep thinkers have been on the warpath to fight the new Hitler, aka Donald Trump, but Trump is governing more like a traditional Republican than a fascist, or even, Heaven forfend, a conservative. (Charles Kesler recently argued in the New York Times that Trump was more like William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.)

As for the people who have gone to war against fascism, ask yourself this: Did they ever mount the same war cry against international Communism, a totalitarian system that surpassed Nazism and fascism in the number of lives destroyed? You know the answer: they had nothing to say about that. They were looking for the best way not to fight against that enemy. Besides they admired the idealism of Stalin and Mao Zedong.

Fighting the wrong enemy, like tilting at windmills, has a certain poetic charm to it. It makes for great literature, but not for good politics. It is even worse politics when you consider that the nations of Europe have been invaded by peoples who are trying to destroy their civilization, who have launched a crime wave, who are for the most part viciously anti-Semitic, who favor honor killings, who beat their wives, who believe that they have a right to rape infidel women and who believe that homosexuality is a capital crime.

You guessed it, the fascists in Europe’s midst are Muslims. Some are recent refugees; some have been there for a generation or two. France is in a state of emergency because of Islamic terrorism. Every day a new terrorist attack rocks the nation. The problem with Macron is that he has no plan or program to deal with the problem. Like many other European politicians he seems to believe if you don't talk about it and if you can control the information the problem will go away.

When pressed, culture warriors have one thing to say. They want their nations to be more tolerant, more open, more welcoming, more accepting of people who refuse to obey their laws, who live off of government handouts and who have terrorized their cities, especially the female population. In other words, they want Europeans to feel guilty for the crimes committed by Muslim refugees.

The Telegraph reports the latest on crime in Germany:

The crime rate among migrants in Germany rose by more than 50 per cent last year, according to new figures that have raised concerns the populist far-Right may seize on the issue in the run-up to September’s elections.

The number of suspected crimes by refugees, asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants rose to 174,438 in 2016 — an increase of 52.7 per cent, according to the interior ministry.

For more statistics, examine Sue Reid’s report in The Daily Mail:

This week it was revealed that the crime rate among German’s migrant population rose by more than 50 per cent last year.

The news coincided with figures yesterday from the EU’s data arm Eurostat showing the number of refugees granted asylum in the European Union has doubled in just 12 months — from 333,305 in 2015 to 710,395 last year.

Germany alone granted asylum to 445,000 people in 2016, a three-fold increase in a year, accounting for 60 per cent of all those given refuge in Europe. (Britain granted protection to 17,080, the seventh highest number in the EU.)

Most of the crime hike was not caused by genuine refugees fleeing the Syrian crisis, but migrants from other countries — such as Afghanistan, the Balkans and Africa — who have slipped in, are unlikely to ever get asylum, yet have not been deported

Marine Le Pen’s candidacy is a symptom of the failure of the French (and not just French) elites to deal with the refugee problem. While open arms in Germany is destroying the country, the bien-pensant European left is up in arms about Marine Le Pen. They are afraid, but their fear is misplaced. They are implementing a policy of appeasing Islam.

Sue Reid offers a picture of what is happening in the University of Freiburg:

Soon after 11pm, a BMW police car with lights flashing races through a pretty park in the university city of Freiburg at the edge of Germany’s Black Forest.

Out jump four officers with torches who chase five young men stumbling under the trees, swigging vodka and shouting loudly in Arabic.

I watch as one aggressive drunk is handcuffed before being frogmarched to an ambulance and taken to hospital. The others show their identity papers and are then thrown out into a side street, where they lunge at a small woman wheeling her suitcase from the railway station nearby.

For your edification in 1933 famed Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger was named rector of the same University of Freiburg. He proceeded to Nazify the university, declaring his support for Adolph Hitler. Heidegger was a rabid anti-Semite-- see his recently published Black Notebooks and letters to his brother.

And yet, American radicals have been defending Heidegger for decades now, declaring that his Nazism had nothing to do with his brilliant philosophy. The radicals who are rushing to fight fascism and Nazism do not understand that Heidegger was the progenitor of the practice of deconstruction, a practice that is nothing other than the textual equivalent of a pogrom. It is not an accident that students who learn this practice end up acting like the Brown Shirted Storm Troopers that Heidegger admired so much.

Back in Germany, let’s not forget this:

It was in the same park that Hussein Khavari, an Afghan asylum seeker, spent much of his time drinking vodka and smoking dope. He apparently set off from near here before raping and throttling to death 19-year-old German medical student Maria Ladenburger last October.

She was cycling home at 3am from a party at her university when she was ambushed. In a crime that shocked Germany, her body was dumped by the Driesam River, on the outskirts of the Black Forest, and discovered next morning by a jogger.

Was this an isolated incident? Not at all. More migrants has meant more rapes:

According to German police, in 2013 migrants committed two sex crimes a day. It was up to around three a day in 2014, five in 2015 and last year it reached ten daily.

However, Andre Schulz, head of the Criminal Police Association, a trades union for detectives, said recently that this is a fraction of the real number because just 10 per cent of sex crimes appear in official statistics. Only solved cases are counted.

All this leaves ordinary Germans in the dark amid accusations that the ‘liberal elite’ is closing down debate about difficulties with migrants.

One might ask what the people who are up in arms about rape culture on college campuses have say about the refugee rape culture in Germany and other European countries. I suspect that the answer is: nothing. They are too busy fighting fascists.

The German intelligence services note the problem, though not in public:

A leaked German intelligence report warned last year of heightened public concern about mass immigration, particularly from Muslim countries.

It said: ‘We are importing Islamic extremism, Arab anti-Semitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other people, as well as a different understanding of society and law. Germany agencies are unable to deal with these imported security problems and the resulting reactions from German people.’

The German migrants have changed the city:

Uwe Maucher, a journalist on the local newspaper, says his city is proud of welcoming migrants.

However, he admits pick-pocketing is on the up, women share cars home from the cinema in the evening so they are not alone and at one popular meeting spot for Gambians, a grassy square overlooked by the magnificent Sacred Heart church, hard drugs are traded, with the police seemingly unable to stop it.

With sadness, he said: ‘Unfortunately, you have to say that the overwhelming majority of the alleged offenders are asylum seekers. It’s certainly changing the atmosphere of the city.’

Better to fight the faux-fascists than to deal with the real problem: fascistic Islam.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Princess Diana's Legacy

You might have missed it, but England’s Prince Harry recently opened up to the media. He told everyone that he had had a difficult time after his mother died. So he thought he could render a public service by continuing his mother’s unfortunate legacy: de-privatizing one’s inner life.

One of Britain’s royal princes has revealed to tens of millions of his closest and dearest friends and acquaintances, via an interview in a newspaper, that he found the period after the death of his mother difficult. He was widely praised for his openness when, of course, he should have been firmly reprehended for his emotional incontinence and exhibitionism. Alas, this kind of psychological kitsch is fashionable, with all kinds of princely personages—footballers, rock stars, actors, actresses, and the like—displaying their inner turmoil, much of which, unlike the actual prince’s, is self-inflicted. They parade that turmoil as beggars in some countries display their amputated stumps.

Nicely put. It’s an apt description of the therapy culture. I would only add, for special emphasis, that one of the leading purveyors of said culture was Diana herself.

Dalrymple describes the corrosive effects of said culture:

… we turn sufferers and victims into heroes merely on account of their suffering or victimization, so that those celebrities who confess to misery, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. are even more to be adulated than they already were.

When all is said and done Prince Harry is his mother’s son. He was perpetuating the regrettable example she set, an example of emotional incontinence and moral exhibitionism.

Diana made the monarchy into a reality show. She made her royal role more about celebrity than decorum. She was a leading consumer of therapy, from Jungian analysis with Dr. Alan McGlashan to feminist therapy with Susie Orbach. She made her complaints against her husband into a national media event.

Some commentators have also remarked that the William and Harry had erased their father from the picture. If you ask who devoted a considerable part of her later life to humiliating Prince Charles, the answer is: Princess Diana.

Diana died in Paris during an assignation with her lover Dodi el-Fayed. In him she had found the perfect boyfriend for a woman who loved to shop. His father, after all, owned Harrods.

Before she had gotten to Paris Diana and Dodi were cavorting in the Mediterranean on a large yacht, in full view of the paparazzi who had made it their life’s work to stalk the princess. Pictures of Diana and Dodi were all over the British tabloid press. Undoubtedly, she was showing off her new lover as a way of saying: See what Charles is missing. How could he reject me in favor of someone who was so much less attractive? Diana was not a deep thinker.

All of it was compelling tabloid fodder but, we can also ask whether her boys would have avoided the trauma if only she had spent more time at home with them. Diana hardly seems to have been the most conscientious mother.

One understands her compulsion Diana to find true love—mostly to make her husband look like a fool for having abandoned her. But, one also understands that Diana neglected her children.

Unfortunately, it ran in her family. When Diana was six, her mother ran off with her lover, abandoning her husband and their five children. When Frances Shand Kidd sued to regain custody of her children, her own mother sided with Diana’s father. Shand Kidd lost her case.

As for Diana, we know that she suffered from what appears to have been a borderline personality disorder. This means that she had an excessive fear of abandonment. Given that she was abandoned by her own mother, it makes good sense.

As for extreme behaviors, once, when pregnant with her son William, Prince Charles came back late from a trip somewhere. The distraught Diana threw herself down a flight of stairs. No one much talks about the antics of the sainted Diana.

Of course, Prince Charles did not have an idyllic childhood either. Influenced by Diana people seem to believe that his mother was not warm enough. We may offer another view. When Charles was a young boy his mother ascended to the throne of England. Henceforth, he was brought up by parents who had a role reversal marriage. It was by necessity, not by choice, but it did not do the prince very much good to see his father in a secondary position to his mother.

One understands that Diana’s public efforts to make her husband look the fool could not have helped her sons’ moral development.

Dalrymple notes that British Prime Minister Theresa May embraced the message that the princes were peddling and decided that she would have the government hire more therapists for public schools:

The British prime minister, Mrs. May, immediately spotted an opportunity to demonstrate to her sentimental electorate (just ahead of the election she was soon to announce) how much she cared for even the least of them by announcing, in the wake of the prince’s banal revelations, that she wanted to put a mental health professional in every secondary school so that the little ones should experience distress no more.

Dalrymple calls it the triumph of psychobabble. It is certainly part of the legacy of Princess Diana:

The cultural triumph of psychobabble, that type of psychologese that allows people to talk endlessly about themselves without revealing anything of their inner life, and certainly without the painful necessity of true self-examination, is thus now complete. There will be a new social contract: I will listen to your shallow clichĂ©s about yourself if you will listen to mine.

In America this is called having a superior capacity for empathy.

For all the talk about providing more mental health treatments, Dalrymple considers it more of a make-work proposition for those who feel their feelings deeply. It offers jobs to those who want to signal their virtue but does not provide treatment for those who really need it.

He writes:

Anyone who has had dealings with the so-called mental health services in Britain, whatever they may be like in other countries (and the very notion of mental health is doubtful reality), knows that they are, as currently organized, frequently cruel and stupid, simultaneously neglecting the raving mad while concentrating their desultory and ineffective efforts upon the voluntarily inadequate. They are so arranged that patients rarely see the same mental health worker, so-called, twice in succession; and anyone who has examined the records of such patients (as I have done) knows that they consist largely of forms filled out by people who believe that form-filling is the work they are paid to do.

Dalrymple is a psychiatrist who worked for decades in the British health system; he surely knows whereof he speaks. His words ought to be a cautionary note for those who wish to expand the reach of therapy, to hire more therapists, and to direct more and more people into an activity where they will not be able to provide very much of a benefit. In America male college students are most likely to study engineering and other STEM subjects. Women gravitate toward art history and psychology. When a government looks for ways to increase the number of therapists in public employ, it is favoring women ahead of men.

He adds:

The idea that for every human distress there is an equal and opposite form of therapy, whether psychological or pharmacological, is a modern superstition, compared with which almost any religious belief is highly rational. It is also a very shallow conception of human distress, which can often be immeasurably deepened by talking about it.

And, as for the larger issue, how are the children doing, Dalrymple offers this description of how children are brought up in England:

British children are regularly found to be the most miserable in Europe. This is because a large proportion of British parents fear or hate their children, and by the time they have finished bringing them up are right to do so: which does not, of course, absolve them from their responsibility. Their preferred method of child-rearing is neglect by indulgence, with or without a little violence and emotional abuse thrown in. By the end of childhood, a British child is considerably more likely to have a television in its room than a father living at home. It is the consequences of all this that Mrs. May wants, or claims to want, to correct by the employment of mental health form-fillers. The latter will at least be inclined to vote for her.

In some sense this must be part of the legacy of the sainted people’s Princess. Diana died two decades ago, but her influence on the British psyche persists.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oedipus in Paris

The first round of the French presidential election is over. On May 7th France will have to choose between a woman who will end civilization as we know it and a man who married his mother. Not the most appetizing choice.

The world and the markets and the French people breathed a sigh of relief when they saw that their next president would most likely be a young technocrat with no real party affiliation who married his teacher, a woman who is twenty-four years his senior. Being as he is the same age as her children from her first marriage, one can only wonder whether the future president of France sits at the adult or the children’s table at dinner.

In political terms, the French president gains his power when his party controls the French parliament. Since Emmanuel Macron does not have a real political party—he is a former Socialist—the chance of having his political loyalists win the parliamentary elections in June is slim, indeed. He might just become a figurehead.

Some have wondered how the British, for example, would deal with a French president who married his mother. Can the staid and stolid British comprehend the true love that blossomed between Emmanuel and Brigitte from their first encounter in the drama class she was teaching? Was it what the French call a coup-de-foudre (or coup-de-foutre) when she a fortyish married woman with three children first cast her eyes on the beauteous Emmanuel, aged 15. Or was it when he, faced with the choice between his fellow student, Brigitte’s 15 year old daughter and Maman, made a beeline for the older woman.

Of course, the British press is on the case. It is more than happy to shower young Macron—he’s 39—with gales of ridicule. The French people might be overjoyed that they are not going to be ruled by Marine Le Pen, but they should brace themselves for the simple fact that their reputation and status on the world stage is going to take a major hit. By electing a Mama’s boy they are about to lose a considerable amount of face. If they imagine that Emmanuel Macron is going to restore injured French pride they are not living in the real world.

In America we call women like Brigitte Macron cougars. In France, they come down from an ancient and venerable practice called courtly love. Dating back a thousand years courtly love was a form of adultery, committed by a married woman and a teenaged boy. Women whose husbands went off for months and even years on end to fight the crusades were alone in their castles with the “help.” Boys who were too young to fight but old enough to love were easy prey for these women. We know the boys as troubadours, or guitar heroes.

In principle, these love affairs were not consummated, but clearly the older women were teaching these boys lessons in love. Since the newspaper stories about the love of Emmanuel for Brigitte always emphasize that he pursued her—a married woman—until she divorced her husband and married him, we should also note that in courtly love poetry the boy always pursues the woman, and refers to her as his Lord.

It takes precious little knowledge of human romance to see that Brigitte seduced Emmanuel when he was under age. Rumor has it that they did not consummate their love until he was 18, but let us be clear, he was played by an older and much more savvy woman. In France this kind of relationship falls under the category of “corrupting the morals of a minor” but Macron’s parents did not press charges. I find it difficult to imagine an American mother, watching her fifteen year old son be ensorcelled by a forty year old woman, would not have had said temptress thrown into prison.

One understands that the Macron parents were seriously unhappy to see their son become the boy toy of a much older woman. Perhaps not as unhappy as the French will be when they discover that, on the world stage, surrounded by other heads of states their president will be dubbed President Boy Toy.

The French know all about the Macron marriage. But, they are so sophisticated that they accept it. After all, what is France if not the epicenter of romantic love? And, what good was all that immersion in French Freudian thought if you cannot elect as your next president, Oedipus reincarnate?

Note the comparison. In Freudian theory you want, above all else, to marry your mother. In Darwinian theory— more scientifically correct— you will  be attracted to someone who is more fertile, who can produce offspring. God help us, but British thought retains its pragmatic streak.

After all, if everyone acted on their Freudian desire a community would quickly die off. Yes, I do recall, and have mentioned before, that Oedipus had four children with his mother. The fecundity of Jocasta was simply a MacGuffin—not to be taken literally.

As you might imagine the Daily Mail can barely restrain its glee over this story. One of their Agony Aunts—that is, advice columnists—addresses the salient questions in today’s paper.

Jan Moir cranks up her imagination and writes the latter that Macron would write, if he had asked her what to do about his problem.

So, faux Emmanuel writes:

How can I get the world to take me seriously if they think I am a mummy’s boy with a wife who is 25 years older than him?

On the world stage, will I look like a swot who married Madam De La Drama because maybe he wanted forever the classroom chastisement of the spanky-spanky? But no. That is the fantasy of the English schoolboy, not for moi.

‘Bibi’, as I call her, was 40 and married with three children when we met. It was complicated, but I knew I had to be with her. Mama and Papa sent me away to Paris to stop the romance, but I wooed her from afar.

Being as the French are psychologically sophisticated in matters of the heart they imagine that the only way a real man would marry his mother would be if she was to be his “beard,” that is if he was gay and was hiding it to the world. In order to advance his political ambitions.

Faux Emmanuel addresses this hoary issue:

Now, as your own BBC reported, a website has suggested I am secretly gay and live a double life. What? I got so upset, Brigitte had to calm me down with a Babybel and a carton of juice.

This wild allegation is impossible!

My wife shares my life from morning to night and, like Popeye, I am what I am. As I said at the time, if you hear these rumours about me, it’s my hologram that has escaped, it can’t be me.

Jan Moir understands the Oedipal aspect clearly:

As Oedipus knew, a great number of men secretly want to marry their own mothers — but this is not possible, not even in France.

However, getting hitched to your favourite teacher is a pretty close second.

In truth, if we want to be theoretically correct, in the world of French psychoanalysis the close second is: adultery.

Moir offers her best advice:

My advice is to forget about the gay accusations. In European politics, any man who is handsome, smells nice and wears good suits — I notice some of yours are bespoke because the buttons on the sleeves actually work! — gets this treatment.

However, with regards to looking like a mummy’s boy, we are in much more difficult territory.

Everyone knows that when you were economics minister, you took Brigitte along to important meetings as if she were a fluffy lapdog.

Apparently her presence cheers you up, and helps you to make better decisions because you value her opinion and trust her.

She has also played an active role throughout your campaign, where advisers have noted ‘her presence is essential’ for her little ‘Mani’, as she calls you.

Uh oh.

Obviously, if she is always with him, even at ministerial meetings, he could not have a double life. But, is she with him all the time because she knows that he is tempted to have said double life? Enquiring minds want to know.

Moir advises Emmanuel not to drag his wife with him everywhere. It looks like he cannot stand on his own:

Brigitte may be an amazing woman, but don’t drag her everywhere with you. It looks as if she is waiting for an opportunity to wipe your mouth clean after lunch, or give you a smack for not standing up when Mrs Merkel walks into the room.

Moir closes with a note of caution: she strongly recommends that Emmanuel not run off with a younger woman. I doubt that we have to worry about that.

Monday, April 24, 2017

More Free Therapy, Please!

If you believe that today’s college students are hopeless, a glimmer of light has just appeared in the person of Sophie Mann, a junior at California’s Scripps College. If you despaired to read the editorial published by The Wellesley Illiterati you will be pleased to see that Mann can write in clear, coherent English prose. Will wonders never cease?

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mann reports on a strike called by her college’s resident advisers. As soon as the RAs announced their action, student tour guides made a gesture of solidarity. They threated to “trash-talk their own college” to young people who were touring the college in order to decide whether or not to attend. It's disloyalty run amok.

Mann cites the tour guide manifesto:

Citing “intersectionality,” Scripps’s “admissions ambassadors”—the student tour guides—joined the strike. “In our act of solidarity, the majority of us will not guide the normal tours beginning Monday, April 17th,” they declared in a statement. “As an alternative, we will use our tours as a platform to share with prospective students and families the toxic and frustrating climate that Scripps has created and perpetuates against marginalized students.”

One suspects that the toxic climate involves classes and tests. Apparently these students do not succeed in that climate... so, instead of working harder, they complain. And they blame it on a lack of free therapy. Surely that will improve their grades.

Mann describes their plight:

Scripps RAs, most of whom are African-American and Latina, get room and board worth almost $16,000 a year. They feel their work is worth more. In an April 13 letter to new college president Lara Tiedens, the RAs declare that they’re on strike to “put pressure on Scripps to fulfill its obligation to students” and to “demonstrate the extent of the labor we perform on campus.” That “labor” largely consists of opening dorm doors for residents who forget keys, asking students to turn down music on weekend evenings, and so forth.

Now, the good part:

Then there are the mental-health problems purportedly generated by the “emotional labor” RAs do. The letter acknowledges that Scripps already subsidizes students’ visits to private, off-campus therapy. But the school only pays $75 a session, and even if students can get insurance to cover the rest they must “front” the cost. “This financial burden,” the letter complains, “should not be put on any student who seeks to improve their mental health.” Should a college provide therapy to RAs whom it pays to be the mature authorities in its dorms?

The irony of these “mature authorities” whining about their need for free therapy did not escape Mann. As it happens, the students already receive free off-campus therapy. The school pays part of the fee. Insurance picks up the rest. The problem that has driven these students to the barricades is: reimbursement. You see, they are required to pay for their therapy up front, only to be reimbursed by the insurance companies later.

You can cringe at the indignity of it all. Entitled students are up in arms because they have to advance a payment. They have to wait for reimbursement. Evidently, they have not mastered deferred gratification.

And why, pray tell, do they think that their problems derive from not having had enough therapy? Where did they ever get that idea? And where did they get the idea that they should be given things for free, to the point of not having to advance any of their own funds? How are they going to compete in a world where the ability to whine is not considered a job qualification.

As for the outcome, the college president quickly caved in to these demands:

Ms. Tiedens quickly caved in. She promised to pay for students’ private therapy and to hire a “wellness” administrator. 

It sends the wrong message. It allows students to believe that protesting can be a lucrative occupation. College administrators are doing these students no favors.

Trump Derangement Syndrome

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik has all the answers. He might not have the questions, but he does have the answers. If you don’t believe me, just ask him. He pretends, for a paragraph or so, to ask whether Trump Derangement Syndrome is a thing, that is, a clinical condition that mires people so deeply in their own hatred that they are blind to reality. But then he continues to show us what TDS really looks like… when he shows off his own.

Since Gopnik seems to be a master of New Yorker group think—recall that the magazine’s editor David Remnik saw in Barack Obama a long-awaited Messiah—he decides that the only Trump Derangement Syndrome worthy of the name is the one suffered by Trump himself. Since he does not base his opinion on any professional qualification, he entertains us with a rant against Trump, an attack that is short on facts and long on bias. And then he says that Trump is deranged. His superior knowledge of psychology leads him to suggest that if people are deranged about Trump they have good reason to be so: it’s the rational reaction to someone who is deranged.

Somewhere along the line Gopnik forgot about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. For him, it’s: Do unto others as others do unto you. Which is, truth be told, the law of  the talion, a primitive system of justice that settles scores by taking an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Allow Gopnik to speak for himself:

We’re told by many wise and well-meaning people that it is a huge and even fatal mistake for liberals (and for constitutional conservatives) to respond negatively to every Trump initiative, every Trump policy, and every Trump idea. There are bound to be—in an Administration staffed not by orcs and ogres but for the most part by the usual run of military people and professional politicians—acceptable actions, even admirable initiatives, and we would do ourselves and our country a huge disservice by simply responding to them all with the same reflexive hatred. This may be especially true if that reflexive hatred, however unconsciously, mirrors and mimics the reflexive hatreds of the Trump White House itself. We owe it to our country and to our sanity to go on a case-by-case basis, empirically evaluating each action as it takes place, and refusing to succumb to the urge to turn politics into a series of set responses—exactly the habit, after all, that we so often deplore in Trump and the people around him.

So, Gopnik has created a caricature of Trump-- a New York Democrat turned populist nationalist-- and is using it to rationalize his own inability to think straight, to think rationally, to offer anything cogent about the Trump administration.  After all, Trump has shifted positions on various issues— pragmatically-- and has filled his administration with people who are not going to be pushed around. Those who think that Trump is an autocrat will need to explain whether Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster will be Trump’s puppets. If not, they throw out the notion that Trump is ruling like an autocrat. After all, he has not even been able to keep the Republican House caucus together.

If you were expecting Gopnik to be thoughtful and rational and dispassionate you were expecting too much. He thinks that there are two equally plausible sides to the question of Obama’s responsibility for the catastrophe in Syria, but only believes that there is one side to  the unmitigated insanity of Trump’s bombing a Syrian air base.

As for Obama in Syria, no less an Obama supporter and a Trump detractor as Roger Cohen of the New York Times grasped the reality far better than Gopnik:

Syria will be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency, a debacle of staggering proportions. For more than four years now, the war has festered. A country has been destroyed, four million Syrians are refugees, Islamic State has moved into the vacuum and President Bashar al-Assad still drops barrel bombs whose shrapnel and chlorine rip women and children to shreds.

For a long time, those who fled waited in the neighborhood. They wanted to go home. They filled camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon. When it became clear even to them that “home” no longer existed, nothing could stop them in their desperate flight toward the perceived security of Europe. The refugee crisis is the chronicle of a disaster foretold.

Cohen continued:

American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it. The pendulum swings endlessly between interventionism and retrenchment because the United States is hard-wired to the notion that it can make the world a better place. Looking inward for long is a non-option for a nation that is also a universal idea. Every major conflict poses the question of how far America should get involved.

You get the point, offered by someone who has the moral sense to place blame where blame is due.

As for Trump’s bombing of Syria, no less than Obama administration stalwart Anne-Marie Slaughter, cheered the Trump action. Gopnik, who thinks he is not deranged, disagrees.

Gopnik explains himself:

It was, as best as anyone can understand, simply a reaction to an image, turned into a self-obsessed lashing out that involved the lives and deaths of many people. It was a detached gesture, unconnected to anything resembling a sequence of other actions, much less an ideology. Nothing followed from it, and no “doctrine” or even a single speech justified it. There is no credible evidence that Trump’s humanity was outraged by the act of poisoning children, only that Trump’s vanity was wounded by the seeming insult to America and, by extension, to him.

One likes the rhetorical flourish— “as best as anyone can understand”—but it is merely a lure to trick the gullible. Gopnik does not understand it because he does not want to understand it. He does not care to understand how political leaders engage in gamesmanship. Vladimir Putin understood perfectly that Trump was signaling that America was back in the game and was going to take charge—a necessary gesture after Russia and its allies did not include the Obama administration in the last round of peace talks. And readers of this blog understand that, given Putin's loss of face, Trump does best now not to rub it in.

For Gopnik what matters is not policy but ideology. He does not care about tactics and strategy, but about ideology. He is seriously torqued that Trump does not seem to have an ideology or even a doctrine. Trump does not seem to have a dogma which one might or might not believe. He does not see the world through the blinders of ideology, as a fiction that an author can rewrite.

Obama’s ideology was weakness and cowardice. But wait, those are not ideological commitments; they are character flaws. When Obama consistently sided with Iran against Israel and against Sunni Arab states, minds who are deranged about Trump had nothing to say. Was Obama manifesting an ideological commitment to the Iranian Revolution? Surely his actions suggested as much. Do we know what the Obama doctrine was, beyond leading from behind? What was the Obama doctrine in Benghazi: ducking under the covers?

We do know that Obama projected weakness around the world for eight years. And we know that no American president is going to make the nation a player on the world stage overnight. One suspects that Gopnik is looking for someone to worship and something to believe in.

Anyway, Gopnik continues to insist that what really matters is ideology:

People who have acts and actions that add up to some coherent plan—or even to an evil scheme—tend to have an ideology. It possesses them, or they are possessed by it. With Trump, it is perfectly clear that he only has a series of episodic wounds and reactions—it’s all fears and fits.

Leaders tend to have plans but not ideologies. They have strategies and tactics, but not ideologies. What was Dwight Eisenhower’s ideology? Presidents who have ideologies, I have long since claimed, tend to have no sense of reality and no real competence. They retreat to the fictional world defined by their ideology because they are lost in the real world. The fact seems to describe Obama well. It does not fit Trump very well.

Gopnik concludes about Trump:

… the one appetite that he does have is for announcing his authority through violence, a thing capable of an unimaginable resonance and devastation. 

As opposed, one imagines to the pusillanimous Obama who ducked the fight in Syria, who removed Qaddhafi in Libya and then went home, who pulled out of Iraq because he could not or would not negotiate an agreement to stay and who announced his departure from Afghanistan months in advance… the better to help the Taliban to plan.

Gopnik is terrified of a few Tomahawk missiles sent as a message to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. He has nothing to say—for example—about Trump’s effort to  build an alliance with Chinese president Xi Jinping and to deal with the North Korea problem--created by Bill Clinton’s deal with that nation, and left unresolved by both Bush and Obama. But, building an alliance with the President of China would not fit in Gopnik’s slightly hysterical rant about violence and devastation, so he chooses not to mention it.

Normally we expect much better from Adam Gopnik. He should have kept his Trump Derangement Syndrome to himself.