Sunday, June 16, 2019

Learning How to Practice Thrift

Now, here’s some great advice that you can use… beginning today. It has nothing to do with feeling your feelings or getting in touch with your repressed infantile wishes. It has nothing to do with empathy. It has nothing to do with your ability to atone for your greed. It’s about recovering the outdated practice of thrift.

Yes, indeed. It’s about restraining your urge to spend. It’s about self-discipline and self-control. It’s about doing, not thinking or feeling. It’s about pausing and taking a deep breath before you spend.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed several economists and even one psychologist, asking them where the average individual can economize. In an era where our therapy culture has taught us to express our feelings, without filter or constraint, the virtue of thrift seems quaint and outdated. In truth, it is a great idea, great advice. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

I will share some of the advice, from different advisors.

To begin with, do you have too much house? Are you wasting money on its upkeep in order to impress yourself with how big you are? That is, do you feel like you need a big house to sustain your bloated self-esteem? The truth is, technology has made it less necessary to have a large kitchen, filing cabinets and large numbers of bookshelves..

So, point one:

Big houses are a waste. People are still in a mode of thinking about houses that is kind of 19th century. As we modernize, we don’t need all this space. For example, we don’t need elaborate kitchens, because we have all kinds of delivery services for food. And maybe you don’t need a workshop in your basement, either. You used to have a filing cabinet for your tax information, but now it’s all electronic, so you don’t need that, either. And bookshelves, for people who read a lot. We have electronic books now, so we don’t need bookshelves anymore.

From the big to the small, we waste an enormous amount of money buying Starbucks coffee every day. Add to that the expense of bottled water. So, brew your own coffee and drink filtered tap water. You will get rich:

Small-dollar purchases like coffee and bottled water. When you ask people why they don’t save, why they don’t invest, why they don’t use their 401(k) plans, the No. 1 reason is “I don’t make enough money.” Five dollars a day makes a huge difference. If you’re sipping a latte right now and you’re not saving, well, that’s dumb.

And then there are gadgets you buy to show off your virtue… even when you do not use them. Like the Peloton bike. We have all seen the ads. We find it incomprehensible that so many people are yielding to temptation and wasting money on these bikes:

You buy the Peloton bike for $2,000 because you care about your health, but you are not ready to do the hard physical work, so it sits in your basement.

And then there are the status purchase, the objects you buy to show people how successful you are… when you are not:
Compensatory purchases. Essentially anything that people use to signal to other people that they are successful in some domain because they don’t feel so successful in reality can be a compensatory product. So, conspicuous things like luxury goods and accessories that have big showy logos, to signal that they have money and social status.

And also:

To show that they are something, perhaps something they currently feel that they are not. In other words, to compensate for what they don’t feel that they have. We have found that people who have purchased items that symbolize a discrepant area of the self actually do worse in subsequent tasks, like solving math questions or persisting in a difficult task.

And now for your instructions. How should you go about changing your spending habits? Because, as the economists point out, profligate and wasteful spending is a bad habit.

Start by tracking where you spent money for a day. The fastest way to find money is to go through what you’ve already signed up for that you pay for automatically every single month. There are a lot of apps that make this easy.

Surely, it will help to keep a notebook or a file where you can see what you spend, on what, where and when. If you do it honestly, you will be horrified to discover how wasteful you are.

And the, meal planning will prevent you from making countless trips to the grocery store. If you take too many trips to the grocery you will be making impulse buys, wasting money and buying junk food you do not need:

Meal and grocery planning is one of the biggest ways to trim your budget. If you plan a week’s menu and grocery shop once per week for those items, you’re far less likely to stop at the store and spend on unexpected items.

And then there is the practice of self-discipline. Don’t get in touch with your feelings. Take a step back from your impulses and think before you buy:

Take 30 seconds just to notice the urge to make a purchase, and say: “Can I let this pass?” And if you can wait five minutes, you will very likely discover that urge to buy that thing will have come and gone.

As for the benefits of this wonderful advice, the Journal tallies up how much you would save, by not going to Starbucks every day:

$1,277: What you would save annually if you didn’t spend $3.50 daily on coffee

$85,305: What you would earn over 30 years if you instead invested the money monthly and earned an annual 5% return

Applying the same calculation to bottled water, you arrive at these numbers:

$548: What you would save annually if you didn’t spend $1.50 daily for bottled water

$36,608: What you would earn over 30 years, if you instead invested the money monthly and earned an annual 5% return

If you think that that is impressive, consider how much you would have if you cut out both Starbucks and bottled. Ka-ching!

Is that a sufficient incentive? Let’s hope that it is.

White Guilt Rising

Twelve years ago Shelby Steele wrote a bo0k about white guilt. Apparently, things have not gotten any better since. It should not come as a surprise. It's the structure of guilt. Once you feel guilty you punish yourself, to pay your debt. Then you feel cleansed of guilt. But, if you are defining your existence in terms of your guilt, you will need to go out and do something that makes you feel guilty. And then you can punish yourself, do penance or atone... the better to repeat the cycle.

Nowadays, woke white people have learned to foster and cultivate their guilt, guilt over their racism, guilt over their privilege, guilt over everything that every white person has ever achieved. Who was it who said: You didn't earn that!

John McWhorter comments wryly on the spectacle of white people lapping up insults directed at them. Because how better to atone for your guilt than to submit to insults.

Obviously, he continues, it is not about helping black people. It is not even about respecting black people. It is about white people seeking moral superiority. Seeking absolution, seeking grace, seeking access to the Heavenly City.

And also, they are seeking to protect themselves against any potential or actual charge of racism.

Let’s not overlook the fact that blaming white people for everything that has ever gone wrong for non-white people makes white people extremely powerful. And it disempowers everyone who is not white and male.

It’s a pathetic spectacle. Ed Driscoll quotes McWhorter on Instapundit.

[T]oday’s “woke,” educated white people would quite often lap up being apprised of the racism inside of them by a black speaker they paid, lodged, and fed. That speaker as often as not today is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who charismatically limns America as a cesspool of bigotry in his writing and in talks nationwide, and is joyously celebrated for it by the very people he is insulting.

Coates is a symptom of a larger mood. Over the past several years, for instance, whites across the country have been taught that it isn’t enough to understand that racism exists. Rather, the good white person views themselves as the bearer of an unearned “privilege” because of their color. Not long ago, I attended an event where a black man spoke of him and his black colleagues dressing in suits at work even on Casual Fridays, out of a sense that whites would look down on black men dressed down. The mostly white audience laughed and applauded warmly—at a story accusing people precisely like them of being racists.

This brand of self-flagellation has become the new form of enlightenment on race issues. It qualifies as a kind of worship; the parallels with Christianity are almost uncannily rich. White privilege is the secular white person’s Original Sin, present at birth and ultimately ineradicable. One does one’s penance by endlessly attesting to this privilege in hope of some kind of forgiveness. After the black man I mentioned above spoke, the next speaker was a middle-aged white man who spoke of having a coach come to his office each week to talk to him about his white privilege. The audience, of course, applauded warmly at this man’s description of having what an anthropologist observer would recognize not as a “coach” but as a pastor.

That one is new to me. A coach goes to a man’s office once a week to instruct him on the perils of white privilege. It is, as McWhorter says, pastoral counseling. In some quarters I suspect that it passes as therapy.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Coveting His Neighbor's Wife

Advice columns show us a slice of American life, a glimpse into people’s lives,. It shows us how people live their everyday lives... even if, at times, we would largely prefer that they didn't.

In many cases, we are relieved that the people who write to these columnists are not our personal friends. Today is one of those days. A new mother writes to Carolyn Hax about an uncomfortable social situation. She calls herself, Complicit in Mommy Shaming:

I had a baby six months ago. Because of luck, general good health and diet/exercise, I gained a fairly small amount of weight during pregnancy and shed it pretty quickly afterward.

My friend "Mia" is 18 weeks pregnant with her first baby and has gained substantially more weight than I did but looks great and apparently is in good health. Our families get together often, and her husband has taken to casually interviewing me about how I stayed in shape through pregnancy.

He is totally transparent — he only asks when Mia is in the room, presumably either to help motivate her or to outright shame her for gaining weight.

I don't want to be complicit in this. What should I say to Mia's husband, and do I say it in front of her or privately? I don't just want him to stop asking ME for advice, I want him to stop shaming her altogether.

Is the man shaming his wife? Yes and No. He is, but there is more to it. The man is commenting on the physical attributes of another man’s wife. It is a flagrant breach of decorum. He is coveting his neighbor’s wife. It is beyond poor form; it is vulgar and crude.

In the best circumstances, CMS should simply cease socializing with the couple, especially with the husband. She does not need to say anything to Mia’s husband. Certainly, she should not take him aside and engage in an intimate tete-a-tete. It’s the one thing she should never do… because it implies that she it taking a step toward conversing with him one-to-one.

In fact, CMS’s husband should have noticed that something was going on. And he should have been the one to call out Mia’s husband. One is slightly surprised that CMS says nothing about her husband, about his awareness of the situation and about his reaction.

When another man is openly admiring your wife’s physical attributes, you ought to take offense and to call him out… if not to dismiss him from your social circle.

David Brooks Falls in Love

In some ways the story is banal. Aging and largely overrated “narcissistic blowhard” trades his aging wife in for a new younger model. I trust you will not object to my describing David Brooks as a “narcissistic blowhard.” After all, he himself coined that epithet and he himself applied it to himself.

When you are David Brooks you do not just fall in love with a devoutly religious younger woman. You package it as a spiritual awakening, pretend that you have discovered, or re-discovered God, and write it into a best selling book. You do not just believe that you have found your eternal reward here on earth. You do not just exclaim that she is the reward for all of your labors. Hosannas all around. Joy to the world... but especially joy to Brooks' self.

Apparently,Brooks new younger wife is a devout Christian. She was his research assistant. We suspect that she is a wonderful human being, because the besotted Brooks has bought her spirituality and her beliefs, with no reservations. One suspects that she was not a home wrecker. The first Brooks marriage had pretty much dissolved before he took up with his assistant. I for one do not know the story and am willing to give the happy now-married couple the benefit of the doubt. Brooks makes clear that his first marriage was over before he discovered true joy with his new wife... so we will grant him the point.

As Brooks tells the story of his spiritual awakening, he was bereft and forlorn, undergoing what religious mystics have traditionally called a dark night of the soul, when he suddenly, and of a pace, discovered the God within all of us.

Andrew Bacevich quotes the epiphany that the Times columnist experienced while stepping off a New York City subway in Penn Station. Dare I say that anyone who finds God on a New York Subway train is far more spiritual than I am. A normal human being would be appalled at its inefficiencies, and by the degradation to which New Yorkers are subjected by that ineffective and inefficient system.

Brooks, however, saw something else:

Normally [he continues] the routineness of life dulls your capacity for wonder. But this time everything flipped, and I saw souls in all of them. It was like suddenly everything was illuminated, and I became aware of an infinite depth in each of these thousands of people.

I have not read the book. I have no great respect for people who use invented words like: routineness. I do not plan to read the book, filled, as Bacevich says, with “poppycock,” but perhaps we would all have been better saved if Brooks had not found redeeming features in the New York Subway system. And if he had found something more constructive to do than to pry into the souls of his fellow subway passengers. To plumb the infinite depths of the souls of thousands of people feels like a Herculean task. Might he not have done better to mind his own business?

Such banalities are no longer within the Brooks purview. He has conquered the world of journalism. Even with his limited talent, he has gained untold fame and fortune. So, he has set out on a quest to find what he calls “joy,” which exceeds happiness and which involves spiritual fulfillment… and a younger, prettier wife.

This tells you that Brooks got rolled. He is not the first master of the universe to think that he owns the world and that he cannot possibly be seduced. He will not be the last. It’s not the reward you get for achieving worldly success. It is not, as Brooks makes it appear, Heaven on earth, a foretaste of eternal life. It is far more banal than that.

Bacevich renders us yeoman service by describing Brooks’ soul’s journey toward joy:

That summer, hiking in Aspen, Colorado, surrounded by natural beauty and reading from a book of Puritan prayers, he experienced “a sensation of things clicking into place, like the sound of a really nice car door gently closing.” He felt a sense of deep harmony: “that creation is a living thing, that we are still being created and we are accepted in it.” And with it came a sudden recognition that “there is an animating spirit underlying all creation.” After his visit to Aspen, Brooks writes, “I realized I was a religious person.”

He now embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery, encouraged by friends who among other kindnesses showered him with over a hundred copies of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. He also fell in love with and eventually married a devout Christian woman, who had been his research assistant and is twenty-three years his junior.

Brooks is perfectly at home with banality, so he does not remark that his highly personalized sense of spiritual transcendence is really all about him, and about nothing but him.

Considering that he spends a considerable portion of his new book inveighing against the highly individualized and selfish strain in current American culture-- with which we are inclined to be sympathetic-- it would have been better for him to have noticed that his own spirituality, which makes him something like a Jewish Christian or a Christian Jew-- he cannot make up his mind-- derives from a long and distinguished tradition of Christian mysticism. It dates to the Middle Ages. It ranges from autobiographies of St. Catherine of Seina and St. Teresa of Avila, through the main medieval guide to spiritual awakening… Bonaventure’s The Mind’s Journey Toward God. The Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum.

Apparently, Brooks seems to believe that there is something original in writing about his personal experience, even if he must pretend that romantic love, especially romantic seduction, represents a religious experience. I suspect that he has not read William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. About that I hope that I am wrong. And I do not know whether he is familiar with the greatest piece of confessional literature in the Western canon-- that would be Augustine’s Confessions. Those who prefer a more secularized, yet still spiritual version of confessional literature will enjoy Rousseau’s Confessions… and many of his other writings. Dare I note that there is nothing conservative about this.

Above all else, Brooks seems to want to escape from practical concerns, from empirical matters... to feel liberated from... personal responsibility, perhaps.

Brooks pretends that he has found God. But, as distinct from the earlier Christian works, all of which are great works, Brooks does not place his joy within the context of an organized religion. He seems to be looking for something more personal, more individualistic, and less attached to a real religion.

Spirituality without religion is the bane of our current existence. It is the goal of much of what passes as psychotherapy today. The problem is not merely that it does not cure anything and does not diminish mental distress. The problem also is that it leaves you vulnerable to cult leaders. When you become detached from social groups, when your joy, as Brooks calls it, merely involves your personal relationship with God-- or with Anne, as it were-- you will be more easily be seduced by any cult that affirms you experience as a higher truth. If it is a lower truth, disguised as a higher truth, you are in trouble.

Brooks is correct to attack our current infatuation with hyper-individualism, but he does not seem to understand that he has been caught in it himself. And then he believes that once he has found spiritual transcendence, he is ready to fall in love. In truth, this is what therapy promises. One of the reasons we are at the impasse that Brooks analyzes correctly, is that people have been living their lives according to the rules set down by therapy. These rules promise that once you have found yourself, and have gotten in touch with your deepest spiritual feelings, you will find true love.

Bacevich quotes Brooks’ last sentence:

Love emerges between people out of nothing, as a pure flame.

As Bacevich says, this is poppycock. It is a metaphor, the kind that mystics have often used. It is not quite Cupid’s arrow, because it lights up the darkness and warms your cold selfish heart.

Obviously, thiatsentence gives the game away. Classical mysticism directed people toward God. Those who set off searching for God maintained a foothold in organized religion. Mystics attended services and had their own confessors. Brooks, however, is confused about which religion he belongs to. He finds true love, the kind that you can transform into a best seller. And, in the interest of modesty, slings the mantle of spiritual transcendence over it.

We wish him and his wife every manner of happiness. But, please do not pretend that he is showing the way toward God or toward spiritual joy.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Muslim Migrants in Sweden

If the American states are the laboratories for democracy, Sweden has become the laboratory for open borders immigration. As you know, the warm-hearted Swedes opened their nation to a proportionally large number of Muslim migrants. They offer generous welfare benefits and imagined that they would have no problem assimilating the new arrivals. They count among the most “woke” governments in the world, and thus assume that their superior virtue will inspire similar virtue in new migrants.

As you know, the truth lies elsewhere. Gang violence and bombings are booming… excuse the expression. Sweden is blowing up. Paulina Neuding has the story:

Sweden has experienced a sharp rise in explosions in recent years, predominantly related to conflicts between warring criminal gangs. The use of explosives in the Nordic country is now at a level that is unique in the world for a state not at war, according to police. In response, the government issued a first-ever ”amnesty for explosives” in the fall of 2018, allowing people in possession of such weapons to hand them over to police with immunity. But this didn’t stem the tide: some 50 explosions were reported in the first three months of 2019 alone—an average of more than one every other day and an increase over the same period in 2018, a year that saw a record number of more than three blasts per week.

Amnesty for explosives… reminds us of New Zealand’s failed efforts to buy back guns. Another policy failure…

Sweden has also seen a marked rise in shootings… often perpetrated by migrant gangs. Who else?

There has been a corresponding marked escalation in gang-related shootings, which increasingly take place in broad daylight. Sweden had 45 deadly shootings in what police refer to as ”criminal environments” last year, which is an increase by a factor of 10 in one generation. In contrast, neighbouring Norway has less than three. Deadly shootings per capita in Sweden are now considerably higher than the European average. And systematic witness intimidation, paired with a code of silence in the country’s socio-economically weak immigrant areas, has made this type of crime difficult for the Swedish legal system to tackle.

As noted in a previous post, one of the consequences has been that women are more afraid to go out at night. Consider the irony: in the world’s first feminist government, women feel unsafe:

The rise in gang violence and other types of crime—including sexual offenses and a wave of robberies against children—has had far-reaching implications for Swedish society. In a country which boasts ”the world’s first feminist government,” a third of young women now report feeling unsafe going out at night. A recent survey in the country’s three largest cities showed that safety is now the main priority for Swedes who are looking to buy homes. Crime emerged as a top priority among voters ahead of the election to the European Parliament in May.

Since Swedes boasts one of the world’s most generous welfare states, by the theories of those who believe that crime is caused by socio-economic deprivation, all of these bad things should not be happening. Since it is, we should, Neuding says, rid ourselves of the notion that more welfare will produce less crime:

According to the prevailing ideology of the Swedish political establishment, this wave of violence, which is baffling to many European neighbours, should not be happening. A longstanding cornerstone of the country’s political conversation dictates that crime must be understood in socio-economic terms, and that welfare provisions are a cure-all against violence and social unrest. Yet Sweden is one of Europe’s most generous welfare states.

The Swedish government sees it differently. If it cannot be happening, then it is not happening. It is easier to cover up the problem than to address it. It is easier to see it as a public relations problem, not as a Muslim migrant problem:

Before any specific issues can be addressed the Swedish government must acknowledge the severity of the matter. In the past few years, the rise in violent crime in Sweden has attracted growing attention from international media. How has the Swedish government responded? By launching an elaborate PR campaign for foreign audiences that plays down the challenges—especially those in the country’s immigrant areas. Nothing will change if the government continues to respond to the reality in the streets with cynical rhetorical spin.

The next thing you know, they are going to blame it on Islamophobia.

Exploiting Generosity

Here’s an interesting ethical conundrum. OK, it’s not that much of a conundrum, but it’s still interesting.

A couple is celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. It’s a second marriage. All involved are in their 50s. That means, they are not children. Friends of the couple propose a soiree at a fancy restaurant, on them. The friends are wealthy and can presumably afford the expense.

The wife chooses to invite her brother-in-law, a man she praises for having a good heart, but who is decidedly lacking in couth, in manners or in character. Shall we say that the man abuses privileges? We shall.

Here is the letter, written to Carolyn Hax:

My very generous and wealthy (this is relevant) friends offered to throw a dinner for me and my husband for our 10th wedding anniversary. This is a second marriage for both of us so we're all in our 50s. They asked for the guest list and we gave it to them, including my brother-in-law.

He's the sweetest guy in the world, would do anything for you, but does have this flaw that he's always looking to "make out" or game the system, if you know what I mean.

He ended up ordering pre-dinner drinks that had to total in the hundreds (three shots of a very expensive scotch), he ordered two steaks for dinner and no sides, and he chose a bottle of wine that my friend who sat next to him later told me ran five figures.

Our friends didn't balk at the check, but you could tell they were surprised at the final total since they discreetly asked the waiter to confirm the charges. I would like to address it with them and offer to pay toward my brother-in-law's extravagance. My husband says they had to expect that sort of thing since they picked such a fancy restaurant and didn't choose a set menu, and we'd just be embarrassing them. Which of us is right?

Of course, Hax sees well that no one is right. She is rightly appalled.

The letter writer should have known better than to invite her grifting brother-in-law. If she thinks that his good heart makes up for his inability to follow the normal rules of decorum, she suffers from a grotesque failure of judgment.

One does not know how this man is related. Is he her sister’s husband or her husband’s brother? Hax assumes that the man is her husband's brother, but it is not quite as clear from the letter.

Still and all, her husband is suffering from a decided absence of character. Their friends, soon, I suspect, to be ex-friends, have a reasonable expectation of proper decorum. That means, they would not expect their guests to choose a bottle of wine that costs five figures.

The issue is, how can the letter writer recover what she has lost? How can she repair the damage to the friendship? One does not know whether the friendship has been damaged beyond repair, but surely it is on life support. Be clear, she herself is at fault for inviting her miscreant brother-in-law. She is an adult and she knows him well enough. It's like inviting a fox into a hen house.

Hax offers the following:

Call your friends and say you’re horrified by your brother-in-law’s behavior, of which you are only now fully aware, and offer to make them whole; either way, the next dinner or three will be on you. Also tell your brother-in-law you are upset he took advantage of your friends’ generosity, and let your spouse know you’re doing it; and, finally, when it’s up to you, don’t invite your brother-in-law for anything that involves a menu again, unless you’re ready to pick up the tab.

This is cogent and sound. She or her husband ought to confront the brother-in-law about his derelict behavior. And, perhaps she should go beyond what Hax suggests, and cease to invite him to family functions. One suspects that this was not a one-off event.

She ought to explain the state of play to her obtuse husband and then offer a generous gift to the offended couple. Without, I would say, asking whether they want it or not. She ought to apologize and to offer a gift-- to make amends.Not, however, by giving an expensive bottle of wine.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Case of Miss Heartbroken

As you know, men and women no longer date. They no longer spend time to get to know each other before doing the dirty deed. Still and all, when women engage in coital relations it means something. To men, the same act does not mean quite so much.

So, men and women hook up. A woman might imagine that she is engaging in correct relationship behavior. A man will most likely imagine that nothing very important has happened. And the woman will get hurt.

The solution is dating. It’s old fashioned. It’s no longer in style. With more and more women hooking up, any woman who chooses to date before consummation is likely to feel rejected and overlooked, even shamed for being a prude.

It’s a new form of sexual abuse. We have all heard the horror stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault, in and out of the workplace, in and out of frat houses. And we have all learned that what really matters is consent, point we accept completely. We all understand that men who commit such atrocities ought to be punished, severely.

And yet, we ought also to understand that, as a prophylactic strategy, this does not work too well. It might diminish bad male behavior in the workplace, but it will not have quite as profound an effect in clubs and at parties. Trying to control sexual behavior by issuing a series of taboos and prohibitions tells men that they can do what they please to women as long as they get permission, as long as there is consent. It no longer matters whether the sex is good or bad. The only issue is whether or not it is prosecutable.

So, we end up in a situation where men treat women badly, in situations where women have consented. Creating an ethos where the question is not how to treat women with respect but what a man can get away with does not work very well for anyone. Especially, it does not work very well for women.

So, we live in a hostile cultural environment, where men and women are enemy antagonists. And we wonder why men and women cannot get along. Duh? And we wonder why women end up getting hurt and having their feelings ignored.

But, if you ask yourself who created this new ethos, you would be hard put to come up with anything other than: that women, especially feminists, created it. After all, courtship was created by women in the Middle Ages, initially as courtly love. Dating and courtship developed over time, and they were women’s domains. How many of the great novels about courtship were written by or for men? How many women take advice from men in matters of romance and dating?

So, we have a letter from a young woman, a college freshman, who finds that her first forays with men have been painful and traumatic. She is, as she says, doing what her friends are doing. She is a late bloomer and has little experience with men.

So, she writes to Ask Polly, New York Magazine’s highly challenged advice columnist, who tells her that men are at fault, that men are both evil and pathetic. And Polly defends feminism, because, how else can she show how defensive she is, that is, how quickly she walks away from responsibility. As it happens, the woman’s behavior was not prescribed by the patriarchy. Most fathers would largely prefer that their daughters not engage in such behavior.

And yet, it is easier to blame the patriarchy. As opposed to what, you ask? As opposed to taking responsibility for having created a hostile cultural environment where men and women act like enemies. In short, Polly’s answer is the problem, not the solution.

The letter writer, aka Miss Heartbroken, describes her experience:

Enter my first boyfriend. I should have seen the red flags sooner, and I did see them, I just didn’t exactly think they were red flags. He was my first kiss, the first night I ever met him. For months and months we were practically dating, but we weren’t dating. He wouldn’t date me because he “didn’t want to hurt me and ruin our amazing friendship.” I told him I wouldn’t have sex with him unless we were dating.
I suppose that’s the reason why eventually he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was so excited I thought I was in love. And, more importantly, I thought he really liked me and cared about me. Two weeks into our relationship, he cheated on me on my 18th birthday.

Let’s be clear, she was taking advice from her girlfriends, certainly not from any men. She wanted something other than a hookup. She wanted to be his girlfriend. So he was happy to oblige, by saying the words. Who knows what it means to be “practically dating” but I assume it to mean that they were not dating.

She wanted a relationship so badly that she conjured one out of nothing. And he took it a step further, by punishing her for not having sex ... by having sex with another woman. I am happy to label him a cad, but the woman with whom he had sex was not the epitome of moral virtue. If other women had not been doing the deed, the letter writer would not have felt the same level of pressure. And the man in question would have had more of an incentive to “date” the letter writer.

And then, along comes her second boyfriend, so to speak:

Then comes the next guy on my very short romance journey. Long story short, I lost my virginity to him and then he ghosted me. This hurt almost as much as my boyfriend cheating on me. I gave him something that I can never get back. To him, I was just another girl he could brag to his friends about fucking, but to me he was the guy I really liked and will always remember as the person I lost my virginity to.

She made a mistake. She is young and is allowed to make mistakes. But, she was also doing as her friends had been doing throughout high school. She was having sex because she was ashamed of being a virgin. It’s the weight of peer group pressure, and it functions even when peers are looking to share their misery, not trying to give out good advice.

As it happens, Miss Heartbroken shares it all with her friends. They sound like the kind of people who read Polly’s advice. And, of course, they blame men. Because women are angels and men are devils. Sad to say, if women are giving it away for free, some men will take it. They do not want to offend a woman who has such low self-esteem.

Every time I tell people how I feel, they say the same thing: “Men are garbage. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’ll find the right person eventually.” It’s not that I’m trying to find the person I’m gonna marry right now, I just want to meet a man, romantic or otherwise, who doesn’t end up being a huge disappointment.

I know that I shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with me and that’s why guys walk all over me, but I do. People tell me to just not feel that way, but what do I do if I do feel that way and I want to know how to feel better?

I mean, am I just completely unlovable? Why do guys only want to have sex with me, never more? They don’t even want to be my friend. I feel like I’ll never have the answers I’m looking for.

Miss Heartbroken

Evidently, she is young and still somewhat innocent. This will sound somewhat crass, but she should make men earn her favors. And her friends should do the same. This is not one woman’s experience, but we are seeing a new set of cultural standards playing out in one woman’s life.

Naturally, Polly blames it on men. And she wants Miss Heartbroken to feel contempt for men. Apparently, she will boost her self-esteem by looking down on men.

And yet, think about this for more than a nanosecond. If women shower men with contempt and if they treat men as creatures worthy only of contempt, why do you think that men are going to want to get along with them? Why do you think that men will treat contemptuous women with respect? We might argue, correctly, that men should be better than that. They should. But, keep in mind, in matters of the heart, in matters of romance, women have home field advantage. And most men will take what they are given. It’s sad, but men did not invent the game of romance. Most of them do not even care about it.

Anyway, blaming it on toxic males ends up making women feel weak and powerless in their relationships:

A lot of women are disappointing, too, but it’s easier to remain fundamentally selfish and ignorant of other people’s needs when you’re a man who’s grown up in a patriarchal culture and continues to navigate a patriarchal world. Men can blunder around, barely able to communicate their feelings, barely able to employ even a shred of sensitivity and diplomacy, and people (women and men) in our culture excuse it.

Polly then says something sensible. Sleeping with a man is not the best way to learn about men, to get to know men or to develop relationships. She suggests hanging out with men, but she should have said, dating men.

You don’t know what a man even is. You can’t just sleep with men and learn about them that way. You have to observe and get to know men in a safe environment. You have to hang out with them and watch them and resist the urge to build your life around one of them. You have to see what men are from close range, but without imperiling your sense of yourself. You need to stand on firm ground first and foremost.

Then, of course, Polly walks back what she said above, and, instead of blaming men, she blames the culture. It is silly enough, even for Polly, who just a few paragraphs ago suggested that patriarchy created the culture. After saying that men are not garbage, she trots out some more contempt:

When you’re on firm ground, you’ll know that men are not garbage. Men are simply enabled by our deeply stupid, unbelievably greedy, unnervingly ignorant garbage culture. They’re like babies in rolling chairs who believe that they can walk. They’re so proud of themselves! It’s almost funny, except when it isn’t funny at all. But try to get a little emotional distance. Tune in to reality. When it comes to love, reality is much less frightening than your imagination. It’s also much less dangerous.

And she concludes by a paean to female strength. Now that #MeToo had been providing a multitude of instances where women appear vulnerable and victimized, we need to hear that women are strong.

And the thing you need to know about women is that we are really fucking strong. We have a very high pain tolerance. And once you notice that, you start to welcome the pain. You say Bring the pain, motherfucker.

No, telling herself to bring the pain is idiotic. Polly is suggesting that when Miss Heartbroken feels ashamed of herself, then she should go out and do it again. This is wrong. Shame is your moral sense in action. Her shame is telling her that she made a mistake. It is telling her to correct her mistake. Polly is telling her that she did not make any mistakes and can never make any mistakes, because she is strong and empowered. It is genuinely bad advice, even by Polly standards:

And when you notice how cowed you’ve been by your shame for your whole life? You start to welcome shame. You can’t hurt me now, shame. Step up and try. Do you know how good it feels to step around your shame and do exactly what the fuck you want for a change? Do you know how good it feels to finally know your own power?