Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Transgenderism as Social Contagion

Call it madness on the march. Call it societal madness working its way through the nation, changing minds and hearts, the better to rationalize child abuse.

In previous posts we have tried to draw attention to the monstrous behavior of health care professionals who have gone into the business of mutilating children… in the name of transgender liberation. 

And we have noted how a complicit media took to glorifying Caitlyn Jenner and even convicted traitor Chelsea Manning. Let’s not forget the Obama administration that commuted Manning's sentence for treason. Being transgender means that you belong to a victim class whose crimes are always forgiven. 

While we are mentioning it, the Trump administration effort to ban transgender soldiers from the military has seen pushback from the top brass, along with court decisions that declared that the commander in chief must respect everyone’s choice of his or her own gender. Who would have believed that so many minds have become undone over this.

Put it all together and you get a social contagion. Put it all together and you persuade more and more children to declare themselves to be of the opposite gender. After all, if gender is but a social construct why shouldn’t we all have a free choice to be whatever we want to be? Chromosomes and genitalia be damned.

Happily, in England, where transgenderism is all the rage, some parents are fighting back. Hopefully, they will fight back with lawsuits. And the culture at large should eventually fight back by throwing the medical professionals who are promoting this aberration into prison.

The story comes to us from the British press. Apparently, the American media are too busy drooling over Chelsea Manning and fighting with the Resistance.

The Daily Mail has the story about the pushback:

Children as young as 13 are being railroaded into changing gender by overzealous NHS therapists who parents fear are misdiagnosing their young patients.

Concerned parents have spoken of their worry that clinic staff are ‘blindly accepting’ children’s claims that they were born the wrong sex and are failing to treat serious mental health conditions.

A campaign group, Transgender Trend, is now receiving pleas for help from ‘desperate’ parents every week.

One mother was stunned when a 15-year-old girl was referred to a specialist transgender clinic after a consultation of just 40 minutes. The outcry comes as:

  • Doctors fear being sued after the NHS signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ banning staff from challenging patients who believe they are born the wrong sex;

  • Teenage YouTube stars who enthuse about changing sex are making being transgender ‘cool’, according to parents;

  • Children being referred for transgender treatment on the NHS have surged to record numbers – there are now 50 a week.
It takes your breath away. Read over the first bullet point carefully. If a child is seen by a pediatrician from the famed National Health Service and the child says that he or she is really of the opposite sex, the physician is not allowed to challenge the patient. 

We are dealing with children, many of whom are far younger than thirteen. A physician must take the word of these children at face value, as a higher truth, a dogma that ought never to be challenged.

The movement to spread this social contagion is afoot and well organized. Read about it and see what a collapsing culture looks like:

Messages promoting being transgender are being shared widely among young people on popular social media sites such as Instagram and Tumblr.

One message, entitled ‘just LGBT [lesbian gay bisexual and transgender] stuff’, provides advice on how to get ‘chest binders’ that can be used to enable a girl to look like a boy.

Web users can get tips on how to obtain hormone drugs and other sex change aids. But some of the messages are more sinister. Anonymous writers encourage teenagers to harm themselves or even to threaten suicide if their parents refuse to allow them to swap gender.

Parents have blamed these messages for sparking a ‘social contagion’, which has resulted in the rapidly increasing numbers of young people identifying as transgender.

While children are coming forward in ever-increasing numbers to say that they believe they were born the wrong sex, there are fears that therapists are ignoring the possibility of other conditions.

Do tell. People pay lip service to science, but they hold their own dogmatic beliefs to be truer than fact—especially considering that there is no scientific fact that demonstrates the accuracy of a belief that one is transgendered.

Parents are naturally appalled. But, how to fight the culture warriors? Parents are obliged to post their fears anonymously, lest they be harassed by trans activists:

Hundreds of alarming stories have been posted over the past two months on an online forum set up by a father who says his teenage daughter is making a mistake in seeking to change gender. The father, who asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘The universal experience [of the parents] is that whether the child has been diagnosed with autism, depression or ADHD, the therapists are completely discounting any other symptoms.’

The National Health Service doctors only offer one solution: a child who claims to be of the opposite sex must be allowed to undergo a sex change.

Here is how it looks in practice:

One mother, from South-West London, told how two years ago she received a call from her 15-year-old daughter’s school requesting an urgent meeting because the teenager was claiming she was ‘stuck in the wrong body’.

The next thing she knew the school had referred the matter to the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) where a psychologist diagnosed the girl with early signs of depression. She was passed on to an NHS ‘family therapist’ who, after a 40-minute assessment, decided to refer her to a gender identity clinic. The girl’s mother demanded that the whole process be slowed down.

‘I said I know she wants a referral to a gender clinic but I have concerns that I want to talk about before any referral,’ she recalled.

‘I’ve known my child for 15 years and he only saw her for 40 minutes yet he thinks he knows everything about her and is blindly accepting that she wants to be a boy.’

The Turkish-born mother-of-three said the therapist refused to listen to her worries that her daughter had been ‘groomed’ by a gay, male friend. The schoolgirl had been bombarded with hundreds of Instagram messages from the boy accusing her of being ‘ugly’ as a girl, encouraging her to bind her breasts and to start taking testosterone. The therapist dismissed the messages as ‘jokes’ and continued to insist on the child being referred, the mother said.

After two appointments, the mother complained to CAMHS about the therapist and the family stopped seeing him. However, the teenager – now 17 – was eventually referred to a gender identity clinic and against her mother’s wishes has started taking testosterone which she ordered online.

And you think that you have problems.

The Truth About Common Core

Even Bill Gates now admits that his Common Core educational reform program has failed. And yet, Joy Pullmann explains at The Federalist, he is not just going to fold his tent and go back to something he knows about. Not at all. Like a good apparatchik he is going to double down on failure. He refuses to believe that his idea was bad. He blames the implementation. 

One thing we know about philosopher kings, even high tech philosopher kings: they never admit to failure. They just call for more and better. Since the Gates funds are basically unlimited, he can keep throwing money at the problem.

Pullmann offers an excellent analysis of what was wrong with Common Core. And she even names names, shows us who was responsible, from Gates and his wife to the Obama administration.

It’s a sad story of what happens when people who know nothing about education believe that, because they are rich, they can assemble the best people and produce the best results. In truth, if they had wanted to develop a better educational program they could have gone to places like Shanghai and Seoul and Singapore to look at what works in real world situations.

Pullmann writes:

Since 2009, the Gates Foundation’s primary U.S. activity has focused on establishing and implementing Common Core, a set of centrally mandated curriculum rules and tests for what children are to learn in each K-12 grade, with the results linked to school and teacher ratings and punitive measures for low performers. The Gates Foundation has spent more than $400 million itself and influenced $4 trillion in U.S. taxpayer funds towards this goal. Eight years later, however, Bill Gates is admitting failure on that project, and a “pivot” to another that is not likely to go any better.

“Based on everything we have learned in the past 17 years, we are evolving our education strategy,” Gates wrote on his blog as a preface to a speech he gave last week in Cleveland. He followed this by detailing how U.S. education has essentially made little improvement in the years since he and his foundation — working so closely with the Obama administration that federal officials regularly consulted foundation employees and waived ethics laws to hire several — began redirecting trillions of public dollars towards programs he now admits haven’t accomplished much….

But it looks like this is as close to an apology or admission of failure as we’re going to get, folks. Sorry about that $4 trillion and mangled years of education for American K-12 kids and teachers. Failing with your kids and money for eight years is slowly getting billionaire visionaries to “evolve” and pledge to respect the hoi polloi a little more, though, so be grateful.

Someone should ban the overuse of the word: evolving. In truth, the program failed. In truth, government largesse did not help any of America’s children learn better or faster. In truth, this means that Gates and Co. should scrap the program and perhaps get out of a business they know nothing about.

Pullmann offers Gates the best advice. One trusts that he will not take it and that American schoolchildren will suffer for his arrogance:

I have been hard on Gates over the years for Common Core because he has used his fabulous financial power irresponsibly. He’s forced American citizens into an experimental and at best academically mediocre policy fantasy that has further eroded American government’s legitimacy, which depends upon the consent of the governed. He and Melinda may mean well, but they haven’t done well on this major initiative. It’s going to take a lot more than passive-aggressive side references to their failure to make up for the years of classroom chaos their bad ideas inflicted on many U.S. teachers and kids without their consent. A direct apology and dedication to the “first, do no harm” principle would be a start.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Should We Ban Men from the Workplace?

Of course, she doesn’t mean it. Ruth Graham is indulging in rhetorical license. Specifically, she is using irony to make a point. One appreciates the effort, because it is difficult to control irony. It is even more difficult to make it say what you want it to say. In the current case, Graham seems to be playing off gender stereotypes, by declaring that our long national experiment of having men in the workplace has failed.

It’s a silly thought, mostly because men have always been in the workplace. And, men have always dominated the workplace. She wants us to reverse the genders. So, let's take the bait and see what happens.

For example, she writes:

The long experiment of having men in the workplace has failed.

But, what if she had written:

The long experiment of having women in the workplace has failed.

We agree that we have been running a massive social experiment by having a lot more women in the workplace. We have also been forcing companies to seek gender equity, to have proportional numbers of women in all jobs at all positions.

Saying that it’s an experiment means that we have been trying it out and want to see whether or not it works. Does Graham want us to think that it has not worked out, that the current wave of sexual harassment incidents shows that the experiment has failed? Or does she want us to see that gender stereotypes are elastic and that the men who accuse women of being too emotional, for example, are really manifesting all of the qualities they find in women. 

Examine the way she develops her argument. She begins by noting that men were welcomed into the workforce after World War II because companies had a patriotic duty. As though it would have been feasible to welcome back a conquering army and set them off to do become homemakers. 

As it happened, after World War II the Greatest Generation rebuilt the nation. By and large they did an excellent job. To pretend that the entry of men into the workforce after WWII was somehow anomalous immediately detracts from the argument… such as it is. Graham also suggests that the women who were working in factories during the war would have been happy to continue doing so… now that their husbands were home and now that they wanted to start families.

In what appears to be an attempt at humor, Graham continues:

Let’s start by asking an important question: Is it even natural for men to be in the workplace in the first place? 

Since the workplace has always been dominated by males—a frequent feminist complaint—the question is ironic, perhaps sardonic. Without even looking at the record of what men, over the course of human history, have accomplished, what they have built, what they have provided, Graham launches a feminist critique of men, filled with contempt.

She notes that men are not as good as women with money. Happily she has a few learned studies showing that women are better with money, but in order to explain why women are not more prominent in the workplace she would have to say that a vast right wing conspiracy is so afraid of their awesomeness that it has kept them down in the kitchen and the home. This is standard feminist thinking, and perhaps Graham is lampooning it too, but in truth, it ignores the possibility that women might prefer to spend more time at home and less time on the job....

Surely, many feminists shower men with contempt and cannot understand why men sometimes return the favor. One ought to distinguish between women who enter the workforce wanting to do their jobs and women who enter the workplace wanting to reform it to make it more female friendly. If a woman believes that the workplace is a patriarchal conspiracy and that she must revolt against it in order to bring about a revolution, she is not going to do very well.

If, as Graham says, some industries are basically affirmative action programs for men, one might say that these greedy capitalists have sacrificed their profits in order to keep women oppressed. Evidently, in a free market, if women are really as good as the studies suggest, the first company to hire more of them will outcompete the rest. As it happens, the most competitive businesses in America, companies in high tech, consistently have problems finding competent women.

Graham continues to suggest that men have been responsible for everything bad that has ever happened in the markets and the economy. Since she does not mention any of the good things that men have done, she is simply trafficking in stereotypes, presumably on purpose:

Yet even after all these advantages, men have not only failed to live up to their potential but have also been responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis, defrauding investors, destroying hardworking people’s retirement funds, and triggering worldwide economic crashes. Instead of learning from their mistakes and misdeeds, they have often rewarded themselves with bonuses and lobbied to remove regulations that prevent them from hurting people again. We must ask ourselves, do men really have judgment and intellectual abilities to be entrusted with our most important resources?

Does she want us to think that men are blaming women for everything that has gone wrong in the economy? Does she want us to think that the grand social experiment has damaged the economy because women are less capable than men and much more of a distraction.

She continues to ask whether men are incompetent or malicious?

Sadly, however, it has now become clear that many men are not just incompetent but also dangerous. One recent poll found that 30 percent of women have endured unwanted advances from men they work with, with the majority of those women saying those advances rose to the level of sexual harassment. … We can hold endless conferences and panel discussions on “Men in the X Industry.” But when will we admit that “the industry” is not the problem?

The answer is, of course, both. Graham then regales us with charges against men. Since men have at times leveled these same charges at women, she apparently thinks it’s amusing to turn them against men. It isn’t. It makes her sound silly and unserious:

Many male workers are also simply too emotional to thrive in the modern workplace. They struggle with anger, jealousy, and pride; they are easily distractible and prone to tantrums. And have I mentioned the "constant sexual harassment" issue yet? Now, it’s important to remember that some male behaviors, like drinking Soylent and playing Nerf basketball in the office, are nothing more than harmless quirks of their sex. But in other cases, a man’s “adorable” childishness—his tendency to tweet angrily at other world leaders, for example—can actually be dangerous. It’s simply not worth the risk to entrust men with real power.

She continues to suggest that men should stay home where they belong:

And yet, over and over, they have failed: harassing, assaulting, leering, grabbing, menacing, rubbing, “joking,” and on and on. These failures have cost employers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements, and harmed tens of millions of women. Think of all the financial and emotional damage that could have been avoided if men simply stayed home where they belong.

As it happens, no one, except for Graham, is suggesting that women should stay home where they belong, because their presence in large numbers in the workplace has caused trouble. But, her strange ironies do suggest a very simple cure for the problem: fewer women in the workplace. As you know, many men will no longer have private meetings with women who work with them. Many older men refuse to mentor younger women. And, now, some men are simply saying that it’s not worth the trouble to hire women at all.

One suspects that Graham has picked up on some of this chatter and is presenting it as a counterargument. Of course, her argument turns so neatly against women that you have to wonder what her purpose is. Do the editors of the XX column at Slate really want us to believe that the great feminist social experiment has failed? Would they admit that it was an experiment, to be embraced or rejected depending on the outcomes?

She concludes:

While certain exceptional men are able to control their weak natures and rise to the challenge of behaving appropriately in the workplace, it’s time to do what’s right and end this grand experiment before anyone else gets hurt.

For all I know, Graham might be skewering the patriarchy. But, she might also be underscoring the simple fact that the orgy of accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault might not necessarily be a good thing for women in the workplace. It might and probably will lead some men to conclude that hiring and mentoring more women is not worth the trouble.

In a more literal sense, you can follow Graham and blame it all on men. And yet, would these men be misbehaving, would they be mismanaging their companies if they were not surrounded by so many attractive women?

If the piece was intended as humor, it has failed. It simply is not funny. If it was intended to skewer feminism, it is intriguing.

Somewhere Sheryl Sandberg is weeping.

Somewhere else Christopher Hitchens is smiling.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Enduring Mystique of Communism

How does it happen, Bret Stephens asks, that liberal and progressive thinkers, up in arms at the least whiff of fascism or Nazism, are perfectly insouciant when it comes to Communism? They must know that the horrors produced by those who followed Karl Marx’s musings about political economy count among the worst events of the twentieth century. With a body count above 100 million Communism counts as a pestilence, comparable to the bubonic plague.

And yet, Stephens writes, Communism passed away with a whimper, not with a bang. Intellectuals pay lip service to its failure, but keep it alive with their Che Guevara tee shirts and quotations from the little red book of Chairman Mao. 

People who fight in the streets against all things fascistic happily support continuing efforts to make Communism work… in Venezuela, for example. As that country disintegrates, as its people starve en masse, a sympathizer like British Labor Party chief, Jeremy Corbyn is on the verge of becoming the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Had Corbyn or any other politician uttered the mildest racist epithet, he would have been immediately expelled from public life. Expressing sympathy with a regime that has immiserated the people of Venezuela is not a problem. If you don't believe me, ask Bernie Sanders, someone whose speeches will never be interrupted or shut down on an American college campus.

Stephens explains that we—by which he seems to mean, American students-- do not even know the history of the Soviet Union. When millions of people were starving in the Ukraine, the New York Times correspondent declared that nothing was happening:

“In the spring of 1932 desperate officials, anxious for their jobs and even their lives, aware that a new famine might be on its way, began to collect grain wherever and however they could. Mass confiscations occurred all across the U.S.S.R. In Ukraine they took on an almost fanatical intensity.”

I am quoting a few lines from “Red Famine,” Anne Applebaum’s brilliant new history of the deliberate policy of mass starvation inflicted on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin in the early 1930s. An estimated five million or more people perished in just a few years. Walter Duranty, The Times’s correspondent in the Soviet Union, insisted the stories of famine were false. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for reportage the paper later called “completely misleading.”

And that is not all:

How many know the name of Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalin’s principal henchmen in the famine? What about other chapters large and small in the history of Communist horror, from the deportation of the Crimean Tatars to the depredations of Peru’s Shining Path to the Brezhnev-era psychiatric wards that were used to torture and imprison political dissidents?

Why is it that people who know all about the infamous prison on Robben Island in South Africa have never heard of the prison on Cuba’s Isle of Pines? Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press? Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts?

One begins thinking that American educators no longer teach history and no longer want to be fair, balanced and objective.  They have set out to indoctrinate their students in leftist ideology.  In the media, American politicians speak up louder and stronger when rightists have done something wrong. You cannot define yourself as a warrior against racism and sexism while also attacking Communism.

After all, Communism promoted all of your favorite gauzy ideals: like equality. Keep in mind Communist governments always label themselves as true democracies… the ones whose elections were not influenced by Facebook ad buys.

Under its aegis all people were equally miserable… except for the great thinkers who belonged to the Party and who ran the country. Democracy meant that the Party ruled according to the general will of the people, what was best for them, even if they did not know it.

Lest we forget, the forces of Western capitalism defeated Communism. Surely, it was one of the most momentous events of the late twentieth century:

It’s a bitter fact that the most astonishing strategic victory by the West in the last century turns out to be the one whose lessons we’ve never seriously bothered to teach, much less to learn. An ideology that at one point enslaved and immiserated roughly a third of the world collapsed without a fight and was exposed for all to see. Yet we still have trouble condemning it as we do equivalent evils. And we treat its sympathizers as romantics and idealists, rather than as the fools, fanatics or cynics they really were and are.

Might we say that Communism dulls our moral sense by asking us to accept horrors as tests of our faith, of our adherence to a greater cause? Besides,for a good Communist all bad outcomes are caused by counterrevolutionaries, by capitalist roaders, by patriarchal oppressors, by people who remain wedded to the discredited ideology of capitalism.

Being a good Communist means never taking responsibility.

Communism manifests an idealist tendency to disregard fact and to ignore empirical evidence. Pragmatists care about what works. They discard policies and even theories that are disproved by outcomes. Empiricists allow their theories, their hypotheses to be tested against real experience or experiments. If the hypotheses are disproved, they are discredited.

Idealists believe that great theories, like Hegel’s or Marx’s will always prevail over facts. Setbacks, even the most appalling disasters, are merely blips on the road to the Worker’s Paradise.

It beats having to admit that you were wrong. Intellectuals, as almost an occupational hazard, never admit that they were wrong. They chose to be intellectuals rather than political leaders because they wanted to avoid responsibility for what happens once their ideas are put into practice. Theirs is a world of thought, a world that does not pollute the environment, a world that does not oppress anyone, a world where no one lies, cheats or steals. If implementing the ideas produces mass starvation, that can only mean that bureaucrats have not understood the ideas correctly. Marxism, like Freudianism, has sustained itself because it has skillfully found a way to explain away its own failures.

Intellectuals hate fascists because fascists, presumably, are not great thinkers. When they discovered, to their mindless chagrin, that their favorite twentieth century philosopher, Martin Heidegger was a Nazi they rushed out to proclaim that his great ideas had nothing to do with his politics. He might have been a university rector; he might have turned on Jewish colleagues; he may have supported the Hitler program; he may have loved the inner truth of the Third Reich. But, he was a philosopher and philosophers should never be held to account.

Curiously, those who have governed Communist countries have dispensed with the ideology far more easily than have Western intellectuals. Bearing no responsibility for the well-being, even the lives of citizens, Western intellectuals remain trapped in idealist fictions, the kinds that gave us Marxism.

Besides, bad habits die hard. If Marxism is a bad intellectual habit, one that can only be acquired with thousands of hours of hard work, it must be good for something. It cannot simply be wrong. It cannot be toxic.

After all, it makes narrative sense, and, in the mind of those who do not govern, but who sit on the sidelines and opine, that suffices. In a world where narrative coherence counts for more than practical results, keepers of the ideology reign supreme.  

Once people learn to think within the parameters set down by an ideology, they see everything through that lens. Asking them to toss it all aside and to learn how to think differently is simply too much for them. The more time they have invested in mastering Marxist theory the less likely they will be to abandon it.

You might believe that Marxism is dead, and yet, people still declare with the utmost seriousness that we must continue the struggle against the patriarchy, against capitalism, against free enterprise and against predatory men. Have you noticed that today’s feminism still bears the traces of its founding document, Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State? It’s no longer about the class struggle, but about the struggle between the sexes.

I am sure you recall that the New York Times has been running a series of nostalgic pieces about Communism. For those who wish to cling to their ideals, the Times even reported that women living under Communism had more orgasms.

As they say, keep the faith. Because that's all that's left.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Great Therapy Con

Strangely enough, some people take exception to my posts about therapy. A glance at the title of this blog should have told them that one of its purposes is to critique both therapy and the culture it has spawned. Since the therapy culture has largely replaced religion as a source of moral precepts it seems worthwhile that someone somewhere calls it to account.

Very few people are doing so. Thus, I soldier on… despite the criticism.

At times, I critique the so-called advice offered by Ask Polly. At times I express admiration for the advice offered by therapist Lori Gottlieb. At times I write about other advice columnists, like Carolyn Hax, because, they generally offer better advice than therapists.

Anyway, a man recently wrote to therapist Lori Gottlieb. He is engaged to marry a psychiatrist who is apparently undergoing therapy herself. For all I know, she might be undergoing psychoanalysis and might even be training to be an analyst. Naturally, she wants to share all of the goodness with him. Or else, she has become a cult follower and wants him to belong to the cult. This is commonplace among psychoanalysts… though Gottlieb does not seem to recognize it.

The letter writer, calling himself Needs Clarity, is questioning the therapeutic process and perhaps, with any luck, is questioning whether he really wants to marry a woman who is about to join a cult that often feels like scientology for people with triple-digit IQs.

He writes:

My fiancée and I recently started going to couples therapy. It wasn’t my idea, I will admit, but she’s a psychiatrist, so I expected it to happen at some point. She goes to her own therapist at least twice a week, independent of our session. Prior to this, I have never seen a therapist of any kind. Our relationship is good, and while we have the occasional spat, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. She feels we don’t communicate as well as we could, and I don’t disagree. Although therapy wasn’t my idea, I was open to the idea, and I happily get out of bed at the crack of dawn so we can see the doc before work. The benefit so far is that it generally makes her happy that we’re doing it. And therefore, I’m happier.

While I’m finding our sessions to be helpful, I think it’s proving something I’ve long suspected about therapy. That is, it’s a forum for a person (or couple) to just talk out loud. The feedback is minimal, and it comes off as pretty well rehearsed. I like our doctor, but I get the feeling his jokes, patter, and advice aren’t from coming from great insights into how I behave — or how we behave as a couple — and that it’s more or less canned answers and advice.

As long as you understand that this couples therapy is more about recruiting him to the cause than about solving any of their mutual problems, you will be able to understand this. As it happens, he finds therapy to be rather vapid and unprepossessing. He finds that it’s all canned answers, psychobabble and clichés. Now, I ask you, how could anyone take exception? The man has exceptionally good judgment. That should be the end of the story. 

When I read Gottlieb’s response, I feel a deep sense of gratitude. She has succeeded in showing us how therapists con their patients. You know that Oxford biologist and Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar declared psychoanalysis to be a con. And you know that famed Freudian Jacques Lacan called it a scam. Most therapists believe that they have gone beyond Freud, but, thanks to Gottlieb, we see that they are still conning people.

The first part of the con is to convince the man that if he thinks that therapy is a waste of time, that it is stupid and inconsequential… this means that he has a problem. Freudians call it resistance. We note that Gottlieb never really considers that the man might be right. She glosses over the possibility that it mitht be a waste of time. He is being played by his fiancée and the therapist. Now Gottlieb tries to do more of the same:

In order for you to gain more clarity about your therapy experience, NC, it will help you to consider your feelings around being taken care of. How comfortable are you with dependency, vulnerability, and acknowledging the need for help? I wonder if it might be easier for you to assign these traits to someone else (like, say, your fiancée). You minimize your “spats” as “nothing out of the ordinary,” though they’re out-of-the-ordinary enough for your fiancée to notice a communication problem. Even when you agree with her, you do so from a place of remove. Instead of simply saying that you two have difficulty with communication, you tell me that she feels there’s a communication problem, and that you “don’t disagree” (which sounds different from the affirmative, “I think there’s a communication problem” or, simply, “I agree”).

It’s natural to want to feel in control, and it’s also true that some people have early experiences that make being in control not just desirable, but necessary for their very survival. A person who perceives himself to be cool, calm, and collected might protect himself from any underlying emotional stirrings by distancing himself from the need for help, while also devaluing those who see people at their most vulnerable: therapists.

It is not a classical Freudian con, but con it is. The man has been told that he is uncomfortable because he has not gotten in touch with his feminine side… blah, blah, blah.
Gottlieb pays lip service to his concerns and turns them back on him:

It’s possible, of course, that your therapist is a frustrated stand-up comedian, presenting you with “patter” and “jokes” that are “well-rehearsed.” It’s possible that he tosses out “canned answers” and “advice” like candy. I have no way of knowing, NC, if that’s what goes on in your sessions or if you’re distorting the experience by projecting your preexisting beliefs onto him. I do wonder, though, how you came to suspect, before experiencing therapy yourself, that therapy is “just a forum for people to talk out loud.” If that were so, wouldn’t a friend or a wall or a mirror do? And if you truly believed this prior to meeting your fiancée, why did you choose a partner whose work you have so little respect for?

In the second part of the con Gottlieb tells him that he should bring all of these thoughts and feelings to therapy. Thus, she is telling him to get more involved in the treatment. Considering that she has already dismissed his opinions by declaring them symptoms of his own emotional problems, you would have expected nothing less:

If you’re going to therapy to improve communication, why not start now? Share your concerns with your fiancée and ask what her experience of your couples therapy has been like so far. But don’t do this at home. Do this in your next session, in front of the therapist, so that he, too, can hear about your questions and doubts. Tell both of them that you don’t feel paid attention to in these sessions; that you don’t feel truly heard or understood as deeply as you’d like. Share with both of them that you don’t see the value in the therapy you’re getting, other than as a means to make your fiancée happier. Share your impression that you’re getting patter and stock advice.  Ask your fiancée to share with you why couples therapy is making her happier when you’re finding it so empty and superficial. And ask yourself why you wrote “I like our doctor” if you feel like an audience member in a bad comedy show for which you’re paying three figures an hour. Bring all of this into the therapy, and see how both your fiancée and your therapist respond.

Gottlieb believes that the man should learn how to be a better couples therapy patient and thus how to be a better husband. She does not understand that couples therapy counts among the forms of therapy that has been the least successful. But, at least she is doing her part to keep the con going.

The Importance of Mothering

Images of the brains of two three-year-old children clearly showing the effects of neglect 

It’s all in the brain. Neurologists have long known that brains do not just develop naturally and independently. A child’s brain develops best when the child has constant interaction with his mother. When a child is neglected by his mother his brain circuits will not develop. Once they fail to develop they will never develop. For lack of the proper stimulation his brain will be damaged for life. 

The London Daily Telegraph describes the radical difference between the brain of a three year old who has been properly nurtured and one who has been neglected:

The brain on the right lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left. Those deficits make it impossible for that child to develop capacities that the child on the left will have: the child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathise with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left. The child on the right is much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on welfare, and to develop mental and other serious health problems.

The way mothers care for their children is the decisive factor:

The primary cause of the extraordinary difference between the brains of these two three-year-old children is the way they were treated by their mothers. The child with the much more fully developed brain was cherished by its mother, who was constantly and fully responsive to her baby.

The child with the shrivelled brain was neglected and abused. That difference in treatment explains why one child’s brain develops fully, and the other’s does not.

Note the fact that an infant needs constant attention, constant interaction and a mother who is fully responsive to her child. Do you think that even the best day care can suffice?

Neurologists have studied the problem extensively:

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, who has surveyed the scientific literature and has made significant contributions to it, stresses that the growth of brain cells is a “consequence of an infant’s interaction with the main caregiver [usually the mother]”.

The growth of the baby’s brain “literally requires positive interaction between mother and infant. The development of cerebral circuits depends on it.”

Prof Schore points out that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, the genes for various aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot operate, and may not even come into existence. Nature and nurture cannot be disentangled: the genes a baby has will be profoundly affected by the way it is treated.

And also,

Suffice it to say that there is now a very substantial body of evidence that shows that the way a baby is treated in the first two years determines whether or not the resulting adult has a fully functioning brain.

Most importantly, if the brain cells have not developed in early childhood they will never develop:

Eighty per cent of brain cells that a person will ever have are manufactured during the first two years after birth. If the process of building brain cells and connections between them goes wrong, the deficits are permanent.

This means that rehabilitation programs do not and cannot work:

The second persistent feature is the dismal failure of rehabilitation programmes that aim to diminish the rate at which persistent young offenders commit crimes. Many different approaches have been tried, from intensive supervision to taking young offenders on safaris, but none has worked reliably or effectively. Recent research indicates that a large majority – perhaps more than three quarters – of persistent young offenders have brains that have not developed properly.

The only effective way to address the problem involves teaching mothers how to interact with their children.

The article notes:

There is a way to break the cycle, and it is not terribly difficult to achieve. It consists in intervening early and showing mothers who neglect their children how to treat them in a way which will lead their babies’ brains to develop fully.

“Early intervention”, as the policy is called, has been tried in parts of the US for more than 15 years. It consists in ensuring that mothers identified as “at risk” of neglecting their babies are given regular visits (at least once every week) by a nurse who instructs them on how to care for the newborn child.

Data from the city of Elmira in New York State, where such programmes have been in place longest, show that children whose mothers had received those visits did much better than children from a comparable background whose mothers were not part of the programme: they had, for instance, 50 per cent fewer arrests, 80 per cent fewer convictions, and a significantly lower rate of drug abuse.

Friday, October 27, 2017

China Rising

While the eyes of America have been focused on America’s dysfunctional political scene, the eyes of the world have been directed at China. There, president and party leader Xi Jinping has enshrined himself as the nation’s supreme authority, on the same plane as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

We must mention, if only in passing, the political curiosity of seeing Mao, a man who brought untold misery to China, a man whose economic policies have been very largely repudiated, continue to hold the position of revered leader. Perhaps the Chinese are using him as a symbol for national unity, but otherwise it does not make a great deal of sense.

By elevating the status and stature of Xi the Chinese are stepping forth onto the world stage. They are asserting a more important role for themselves as a player in world politics. Having spent the post-Mao era building their economy and creating wealth, they are getting ready to assert leadership in the world. As Fareed Zakaria notes, they are ready, first to assert an equal place with the decadent and dying West. Eventually, they expect to take a larger leadership role themselves.

Some have noted that China is becoming more authoritarian and less democratic. Anyone who imagined that the movement of world history would lead to more liberal democracy has been shown, in the immediate, to have been mistaken. Not only in the reading of history but also in the reading of Hegel. The endpoint of the Hegelian master narrative of history never was and never could be: liberal democracy.

People have also noted that Chinese leaders lack diversity. We did not see very many women or minorities among the leadership cadres. Since America and Western Europe seems wedded to the notion of diversity, this tells us that China wants to go its own way and does not want to follow the West down the path to self-deconstruction.

Zakaria analyzes the situation:

In his speech last week to the 19th Communist Party Congress , Xi declared that China is at a “historic juncture,” entering a “new era” that will be marked by the country becoming a “mighty force” in the world and a role model for political and economic development. He asserted that China’s “political system ... is a great creation that offers a new choice for other countries.” And he insisted that the country will defend its interests zealously while also becoming a global leader on issues such as climate change and trade.

Note the importance of climate change. Obviously, China has no intention of tanking its economy in the name of a reactionary effort to repeal the Industrial Revolution. It is happy to play along. It is happy to sign treaties it will not honor. And it is more than happy to sell solar panels to the West. 

Please do not expect the Chinese leadership to be fighting against global warming. After all, they have enough trouble with the pollution in their own country. And they understand that said pollution is not being caused by carbon dioxide.

Importantly, Xi wants to put the relative isolation prescribed by Deng behind him:

Ever since China abandoned its Maoist isolation in the 1970s, its guiding philosophy was set by Deng Xiaoping. At that time, China needed to learn from the West, especially the United States, and integrate itself into the existing international order. According to Deng, it should be humble and modest in its foreign policy, “hide its light under a bushel,” and “bide its time.” But the time has now come, in Xi’s view, and he said the Middle Kingdom is ready to “take center stage in the world.”

From our perspective, it matters most that the Chinese do not want to copy the failed policies they see at work in the West. While Western Europe has coddled Islamist extremists, China has taken a much harsher and less tolerant attitude to the Muslims in its midst. While Western Europe and America has been doubling down on diversity and has gotten themselves caught in identity politics, China has promoted those it felt were the most competent. And where American cultural elites are trying their best to ensure that their children cannot compete in international academic competitions, China is continue its authoritarian educational ways, the better to produce some of the smartest students.

Of course, Zakaria tends to blame Trump, but the shift has been going on for decades now. It certainly dates to the moment when we started having Baby Boomer presidents. Thanks to the last four presidents and to its American political dysfunction, America has been losing standing and stature in the world:

Countries such as Australia, the Netherlands and Canada now all have a more favorable view of China than of the United States. Many of the countries surveyed — including Germany, Chile and Indonesia — have greater confidence in the leadership of Xi than that of Trump. China has aggressively sought to improve its image in the world, spending billions on foreign aidpromising trade and investment, and opening Confucius Institutes to promote Chinese culture.

Meanwhile, consider how the United States must look now to the rest of the world. It is politically paralyzed, unable to make major decisions. Amidst a ballooning debt, its investments in education, infrastructure, and science and technology are seriously lacking. Politics has become a branch of reality TV, with daily insults, comebacks and color commentary. America’s historical leadership role in the world has been replaced by a narrow and cramped ideology. Foreign policy has become a partisan game, with Washington breaking agreements, shifting course and reversing policy almost entirely to score political points at home.

The shift in reputation that we are witnessing around the world is not so much about the rise of China but rather the decline of the United States.

Were it not for the fact that Zakaria seems to want to blame it all on Trump, the point would be well taken. He does not recognize that Trump did grasp the fact that America is in decline. And that he wants to end that decline. Whether he is temperamentally suited to repair the damage done by his predecessors remains to be seen. Now, if only he could stop tweeting!

Of course, Trump does not support an ideology. While some complain that Trump has gone back on agreements, i.e. deals, signed by his immediate predecessor, it should also be noted that his immediate predecessor circumvented the Senate’s authority to ratify treaties… thus making the treaties an expression of the will of a single individual, not a commitment by the nation.

The Case of the Woman Left Behind

All of her friends are getting married or getting pregnant or both and “Same As Always” finds herself left out, shunted aside. She has known these girls for quite some time and considers them to be good friends. And yet, she is neither married nor attached nor pregnant. She does not understand why her friends are not including her, and are moving away from her.

Before any further ado and before looking at whatever Ask Polly was able to conjure up, examine the letter:

I’m 32, and at this point, all but three of my friends have either gotten married or engaged, and six of my friends are now pregnant. I’ve been single most of my adult life, and while it really bugs me sometimes, most of the time I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished on my own, the things I’ve learned, and the life I’ve built for myself. I may not have had sex in two years, but I created a life of my own in a big city, I’ve traveled, I’ve met a hundred men through online dating or setups, I have a condo, a career, and great friends.

But as more of those friends get attached or preggo, I feel like I’m missing out on those big life milestones that everyone else is reaching. I feel left behind, like things are changing in big ways for my friends and I’m just standing here, single as always. They’ll have less and less time for me, which is natural — they have other things to worry about now! — but I’ll have the same amount of time for them. They don’t often ask me about dating anymore; I don’t get plus-one invitations to weddings; it’s as if they’ve given up on me, and I’m here, stagnant, in the same place I’ve always been for the past decade.

How can I not feel left behind when everyone around me is moving forward?

Same As Always

Naturally, you are not worrying so much about SAA’s friends as you are about SAA. She travels; she dates; she owns her own condo; she has met a multitude of men… and she is alone, friendless and, by the by, sexless. She has not had sex in two years. One would like to think that she is waiting for a good marriage prospect, but clearly she has never gotten very close to any of the men she has met.

We do not know whether she is too involved in her work, is decidedly unattractive, or simply does not like men. Her scene, such as it is, is a mating and dating scene. One suspects that these friends have husbands and friends. Normally, they would attempt to fix her up. If they have not or if they have stopped trying, then clearly she has a problem.The veil she has thrown over this aspect of her life leads us to believe that the explanation is easy and not very flattering.

Again, we do not know what her problem is, but clearly she has not been working on finding a man as much as she has building her career, having an independent life. Which is a life choice among others. And yet, didn’t her Women’s Studies professor teach her that people, even women, tend to share their time with others with whom they have more in common. Being an independent, autonomous, self-involved career woman does not attract very many men. We all knew that. But, it also causes her to be shunted to the side by friends who took a different life path.

Now, you are probably dreading the moment when I share what Polly offers as a response. You are right to do so. Here is a snippet. Thank me for sparing you the bulk of it:

And speaking of using reductive, oversimplified language that doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the situation: You say that your friends are moving forward without you. But this isn’t a board game. They haven’t moved ahead several spaces just by getting married or having kids. The fact that so many people believe that procreating is like landing on a space with a magic gumdrop that sends you closer to the finish line reflects just how deeply fucking juvenile and asinine our culture can be.

So don’t demean yourself by using the wrong language or telling the wrong story about your life. Women do this so often because our culture always tells inaccurate, reductive stories about us. 

Yes, indeed, Polly recommends what many therapists would recommend: namely, that SAA start telling herself a different story, that she change her vocabulary. Yes, indeed. Because Polly thinks, as does just about everyone else, that life is just a story and that our culture promotes narratives in which women are infantilized.

So SAA should tell herself that she is strong and empowered and independent and autonomous… which is exactly what the feminist matriarchs have been pounding into her head. And, that has alienated her from her friends.

Polly notwithstanding, there is nothing juvenile or asinine in getting married and having children. The statement is stupid, even by Polly standards. In fact, telling women that they must be self-involved and self-sufficient and self-absorbed is, if not juvenile, at least counterproductive when it comes to the mating game. Is that the hidden secret, here?

One suspects that SAA has gotten herself in this predicament by reading people like Polly. Her first resolution should be to stop taking bad advice. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Case for Empathy

In his spare time, while not pursuing his graduate work at Harvard, Nathan J.Robinson edits a magazine called Current Affairs. Like most graduate students, Robinson is smug beyond human endurance. Apparently, there’s a market for smugness these days, so who am I to call him out on it.

Recently, Robinson, whose bailiwick is sociology, waded into the empathy wars. Specifically, he took on the work of Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom, a man who has written a book called: Against Empathy.

Robinson is seriously torqued over the way Bloom analyzes empathy. He is especially upset that Bloom does not recognize the way the term is used in everyday psycho theorizing, where it refers to the capacity to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to affirm our common humanity and to feel for them. 

By Robinson’s lights and by the lights of most psycho professionals we would cure our capacity for abuse by feeling for other people. Of course, he vaguely recognizes that you cannot win a war if you start feeling for the enemy and recognize his common humanity, but with the wide-eyed optimism that one should have outgrown as soon as one is old enough to vote, he adds that more empathy will make the world more peaceful and loving. No one will compete; no civilizations will clash; we will all live in peace and harmony.

If this means losing wars, or losing football games or losing out in economic competition, it does not matter. The grad student wants to create a world where people all love each other and where, by a peculiar non-sequitur, we end up knowing who we are:

…a soldier who empathizes with the enemy won’t be able to shoot, and lives will be lost. And that may be right. But if we’re ever to actually eliminate war, to create a world based on mutual understanding, it’s vital for everyone to realize that the planet is filled with nothing but fellow creatures, that we’re all just holding our trousers up. Not only is empathy a “good thing,” but until we learn to empathize, we will never truly know who we are.

By his own testimony Robinson is enraged that Bloom did not write:

a beautiful manifesto for loving and understanding each other. 

We appreciate his willingness to show us the workings of the mind of a graduate student, but still… if you take the Robinson view of empathy out into a world where people compete and contend and even fight, you will find yourself on the losing side.

Bloom, who is decidedly not a graduate student, understands empathy correctly. It refers to the capacity to feel the pain of other people, as Bill Clinton famously said. Most especially, as Bloom has argued, in following Adam Smith, if you see someone who is unjustly humiliated in public, your empathy for the person will cause you to want to avenge his pain. And this form of empathy will make you someone who mindlessly inflicts pain on others. I called such people sadistic empaths. Robinson missed the point.

In effect, Bloom is being theoretically rigorous. Anyone who wants to analyze human psychology should be rigorous. Robinson conflates empathy with compassion and sympathy. He does not seem to understand that feeling someone else’s feelings is not the same as feeling for someone else.

But even here, Bloom is misleading: the thing he calls “empathy” throughout the book has little to do with our ordinary use of the term. Bloom says “empathy” is not the same thing as “compassion,” even though many people understand the word that way. In fact, Bloom’s definition of empathy is downright peculiar: he makes clear that what he is condemning is “emotional empathy,” by which he means “feeling what other people are feeling.” He distinguishes this from “cognitive empathy,” which he defines as trying to understand other people’s perspectives.

To those of us, like myself, who argue that people should generally have “more empathy” for one another, Bloom’s version of “empathy” is unrecognizable. I have always understood empathy to mean “trying to imagine what it is like to be other people” so that we can compassionately understand where they are coming from. But Bloom defines it as literally feeling other people’s emotions, suffering when they suffer, being distressed when they are distressed, etc. It’s possible to frame these two definitions so that they seem similar: both can be described using the expression “put yourself in another person’s shoes.” But the version in which we literally feel as if we are other people takes us far afield from the term’s everyday usage.

Robinson is unhappy that Bloom prefers rigor to sloppy thinking. He continues his jeremiad, that is, his extended whine:

Because Bloom defines empathy as “experiencing what other people experience” rather than “imagining other people’s experiences for the purposes of better understanding and caring about them,” he is able to offer absurd caricatures of the pro-empathy position. He suggests that an “empathetic doctor” would be a bad doctor, because an empathetic doctor would be in pain while their patients were in pain, and this would inhibit their ability to offer good treatment. But does anyone who advocates having empathetic doctors believe they should literally feel as if they have whatever ailment the patient has? The point is not that you should literally experience what another person does (partly because, in the absence of swapping bodies, it’s not actually possible to experience someone else’s experiences), but that you may be better at caring for someone if you have gone through the exercise of imagining what it might be like to be them. Similarly, Bloom points out that we can “be concerned about starving people without having a vicarious experience of starving,” and that if we comfort a child who is afraid of a thunderstorm or a barking dog, we don’t literally need to be afraid of thunderstorms and barking dogs. For Bloom, the fact that we are not experiencing starvation or fear when we think about people who are hungry or afraid means that “there’s no empathy there.” That’s only true, though, if we adopt his bizarre definition of empathy. Of course, it’s true that if I comfort my child during a thunderstorm, I don’t need to be afraid of thunderstorms myself, and if I worry about starvation, I don’t need to feel hungry. But in order to understand why I should care about fear and hunger, it might help if I thought about what it feels like for a person who is experiencing those things. Pro-empathy people like myself do not advocate actually trying to become afraid of thunderstorms in order to understand how small children feel about them, but rather spending time remembering what it is like to be a small, scared child, in order to appreciate why thunderstorms might frighten them.

Actually, a good doctor does not need to feel anyone’s pain. His job is to diminish the pain by treating or curing the illness. Strangely, Robinson seems to miss this point. You do not need to have had cancer to treat cancer. And while a physician will certainly feel for his patient, the more he tries to feel what his patient is feeling, the less he will be an effective physician. A therapist does not need to be depressed to treat depression. He needs to know the best way to help the patient. If your patient feels helpless you do not do him any favors by feeling his helplessness.

Robinson writes:

He [Bloom] sticks to his belief that an empathetic psychotherapist would be a psychotherapist who actually has depression, rather than a psychotherapist who has previously had depression or who seems to appreciate what it is like to be depressed. The latter, he says, has “nothing to do with” empathy, even though it’s the only version of the idea of the “empathetic psychotherapist” that even makes any sense. Bloom says that when we talk about empathy as simply “understanding other minds,” we are talking about something called “cognitive empathy,” which is different from the “emotional empathy” he is against. “Cognitive” empathy, he says, is morally neutral: it’s what psychopaths, con men, and seducers do, since they “understand” the workings of other people’s minds very well indeed. But since people who advocate that kind of empathy also advocate being a compassionate person, it’s hard to see how this matters.

Robinson is recommending that we feel humanely sensitive when someone else’s child has been killed. Who would disagree with that? Yet, sympathy and compassion involve feeling for the other person. If empathy  enters the equation one might also feel angry with whoever or whatever it was that caused the child’s death.

Robinson offers:

Empathy, in the sense in which people advocate it, is not a plea for people to weep when they see others weeping, but to better appreciate what it is like to weep. It is not, as Bloom says, that when somebody else’s child is killed I literally feel as if my own child has been killed. It is that I do my best to imagine what the experience is like for the person experiencing it, so that I am able to deal sensitively and humanely with the person who is going through it.

Robinson’s grad school version of empathy tells us that we should feel what it is like to be other people. He must know that Bloom effectively argued against that position when he took on the empathy you feel for someone who has been wronged. And besides, ethical behavior requires you to learn codes of correct behavior. You cannot know who you really are unless and until you know to which groups you belong.

After all, you cannot communicate with other people by having a mind meld, by trying to become one with their feelings. You need a medium, like language and table manners, to function within a group. Despite what the bright eyed grad student thinks, we are not all bathing in the same humanity. We belong to different social groups. We learn correct behavior because we identify as members of a group. One imagines that universalist thinkers want us all to relate by using a universal language of feelings, but in truth empathy has little to do with the way people relate to each other in society.

Apparently, Robinson wants us all to be citizens of the world, of a world without borders and boundaries. You recognize the underpinnings of certain immigration policies:

The aim is to get a real sense of the diversity of human perspectives, and to remind ourselves that other people experience consciousness just like we do. Empathy isn’t a moral philosophy in and of itself, it’s a technique for acquiring a better sense of the world as it really is.

We can only wonder how he knows that different people, belonging to different communities, following different moral codes and even different sumptuary codes, experience consciousness just like we do? It is an absurd notion, one that requires a leap into a conceptual void.

Robinson is look forward to a world community of people who are not identifiable by their membership in a group. As I said, he thinks like a grad student.

But the more I realize that others truly are just slightly different versions of myself, that they have dreams, itches, and fears just like I do, that they have eyeballs, teeth, and an anus just like I do, that they must fumble their way through the bewildering process called life just as I must, the more I begin to feel a powerful and moving sense of community, one that I believe is essential for creating a peaceful and mutually supportive world. 

The only word for this is: bullshit.