Sunday, October 20, 2019

Harold Bloom, R.I.P.


Famed Yale professor, Falstaffian lover of literature, orotund defender of the Western canon, Harold Bloom died last week.

If I dare say so, he was the last of a breed. A lover of literature, a defender of great literature, a man who stood strong against the hordes of social justice warriors, Bloom believed in the intrinsic value of art. He did not believe that aesthetic value was a social construct. He did not believe that a literary work was great because a lot of people said that it was great. And he did not accept the absurdist corollary, namely that if we all say that a literary work is great then it is great.

Time makes the decision, but the value is not determined democratically. You do not vote on which works will endure. You do not even run an election among the nation’s leading artists and art dealers. At the turn of the twentieth century the greatest Parisian experts were asked to predict which of their contemporary artists would be seen as great a century hence, in the year 2000. The list was topped by one William Bouguereau! Dare I say, they were largely off the mark.

Aesthetic value is not a social construction. It is intrinsic to the work itself. An important message at a time when the Museum of Modern Art has just completed its latest expansion and has chosen to fill its spaces, not with great works by great artists, but with works by a more diverse contingent. 

The thesis is: being a great artist means being shown in a great museum. And yet, if a great museum puts up mediocre works by self-important buffoons, how long will it still be considered a great museum. So, on one corner you have a great painting by Picasso. On another you have a work chosen because of the gender or ethnicity of the artist. One understands that New York’s philistines will moon over the mediocre works of fourth rate artists, but more savvy viewers will note that some of the works have not been chosen for their aesthetic value. Given the cultural climate, they might not say so, but they will know so.

The same principle is at work in auction houses, where a metallic toy bunny was sold for around $90,000,000. Admittedly, the artist in question, by name of Jeff Koons, did not fill a diversity quota, but imagining that the work contains intrinsic value because a couple of wealthy dupes bid it up to the stratosphere is a step into an intellectual void. As was noted at the time, Christie’s displayed the toy with lighting that made it seem to be a modern version of Michelangelo’s Pieta. As of now we do not know who dropped that much money on a toy, that is, who made a colossal fool of himself. Perhaps he is suffering a small pang of embarrassment for having been duped so completely. Remember the old adage about a fool and his money...?

At the least, the value of a work of art does not depend on its place in a museum, especially when social justice warriors have taken over all curatorial functions. And it tells us that the art market, such as it is, depends on a very small number of wealthy people, people who often have no taste, people who are treating art works as investment opportunities, like penny stocks.

One notes that the attribution of timeless value, because artistic value must reach across generations, beyond contemporary interest, means that we often do not know, upon seeing a new work of art, whether or not it will endure, whether it will manifest its value to those who do not inhabit today’s art scene. Thus, if you are going to attack the notion of intrinsic value, you do well to start with contemporary art… because very few people really know what will or not maintain its place on the museum walls.

You might have noticed that this debate has a close correlate in the world of finance. Without trying to explain something that I barely understand some people believe that the only real money is gold… being as gold is the only element that is immutable. Gold is forever. It never changes. Those who oppose the notion that gold has intrinsic value argue that money is what a government says is money, what a government accepts as money. In the vernacular this is called fiat currency… and if the day ever comes when the world decides that the dollar does not contain any intrinsic value… we are all going to be in a heap of trouble.

So, does art have intrinsic aesthetic value? Harold Bloom said that it did. He read everything, often many times, and he decried the tendency in the academic world to sacrifice art in the service of propaganda. University departments of literature and social science are currently being downgraded, because students and certainly their parents, do not see the point of paying to be indoctrinated with leftist propaganda. 

Among the deviant values we owe to totalitarian dictatorships is the notion that art should serve the Revolution, that it ought to impose correct opinions on everyone. Just about everyone in the world has discovered that making art into propaganda erases its aesthetic value. Everyone, that is, except those who teach in university humanities departments, people who do not owe their positions to their own intrinsic merit, but to other considerations.

Bloom led the denunciation of the notion of aesthetic relativity, but he was not alone. Among his compatriots was one Stanley Fish. A leading American academic geezer Fish wrote an appreciation of Bloom for The Atlantic.

He opens thusly:

For more than three decades Harold Bloom, Cassandra-like, warned America that the literary culture that sustained him and other lovers of the word was in the process of being sacrificed on the altar of social justice. “We are,” he said, “destroying all intellectual and aesthetic standards in the humanities and social sciences.” We eviscerate literary works to uncover the presence of exclusionary and discriminatory impulses and gestures; we feast on their contributions to social justice or their failures to contribute to social justice, and then discard the carcass. There is nothing more to be done with them, and surely no reason to reread them.

If the works have no intrinsic values, if they are merely propaganda to promote and advance white privilege and the ruling class, then we are no longer required to learn how to read them. Literary works either advance the cause or detract from it. There is no other value, than the revolutionary cause. As I say, everyone else in the world knows that the revolutionary cause has been tossed into the dustbin of history. Even China has a thriving artistic scene, where works are anything but propaganda.

Fish continues:

Rereading for Bloom, who died last weekend, was the hallmark of the aesthetic experience. Something that has, in Bloom’s words, aesthetic dignity is not disposable. It is not instrumental in relation to some other value. It is its own value, and it is not, Bloom wrote, “for hire.” Aesthetic dignity is not to be subordinated to some cause, however noble. It does not offer itself up for “rapid ingestion.” It does not exist to give the reader pleasure. Instead it gives the “high unpleasure or more difficult pleasure that a lesser text”—one in the service of an ideology—“will not provide.”

By “high unpleasure,” Bloom meant the experience of participating in the struggle of a supreme mind to understand the world and itself. The reward (please don’t say payoff) is the ability “to overhear ourselves when we talk to ourselves, and perhaps to accept change in ourselves, as in others, and perhaps even the final form of change,” which is of course death. Needless to say, this high unpleasure “is altogether solitary, despite all traditional obsessive attempts to socialize it”—that is, to make it yield a message or a marching order or, God forbid, a policy.

For Bloom the experience was aesthetic. We might go back to Aristotle and say that the aesthetic experience is something like a catharsis. In tragedy, the philosopher posited, the play first produces dread when we imagine that it might happen to us. But then when we recognize that the hero’s fate has not befallen us, when we pity him as someone with whom we do not identify, we feel a relief, a catharsis, a cancellation of our dread.

Let’s not forget that tragedy arose from pagan religious rituals, from animal sacrifice. The word itself, in Greek, means: the goat’s song… presumably, by one reading, the goat’s song before being ritually sacrificed. An alternative explanation saw the goat as the prize given for a choral competition. Why this should be tragic, I do not know. So I will opt for the first reading.

At the least, great art is not designed to produce paroxysms of pleasure or fear or any other emotional excess. It tells us something about who we might be and who we are not.

If I had to categorize Bloom’s aestheticism I would say that it has more to do with religious mysticism. Mystical journeys to see God are of a piece with the aesthetic experience. The best known medieval work, the cornerstone of the genre was Bonaventure’s Itinerarium Mentis in Deum… The Mind’s Journey to God.

Does great art offer something like an experience of God. One notes that many forms of therapy promise the same experience. For those who want to see the correlation between therapy and the religious experience, they can do no better than William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience.

As it happened, Bloom wrote extensively about religious texts, especially the Book of Genesis. To his mind these texts were primarily literary. I would take issue with him on this and posit that literature is a subspecies of scripture. They were not written to provide an aesthetic experience. As it happens literary criticism is a subspecies of Biblical exegesis, a tradition that largely predates literary criticism.

The difference is simply that Scripture lays down laws to live by. It lays down the rules that all members of a community should follow, because this allows them to live in a cohesive community. The stories in Scripture tell us what the rules are, explain them to us, show us how they came about, and offer us instances of people following or not following them.

So, Scripture has a communitarian purpose. The word religion derives from a Latin word that means, binding together. Religion, the rules and laws that are given by God, bind people in community.

Art addresses the individual. It shows individuals who do or do not follow the rules. In tragedy, of course, the heroes fall because they suffer from overweening pride. It is cautionary more than prescriptive.

If tragedy shows what happens to people who play by their own rules, who defy society’s rules, who even defy God’s rules, comedy shows what happens when people overcome their childish ways and learn to play by the rules. Tragedy is about disintegration. Comedy is about reintegration and reconciliation.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Is China our Enemy?


A country that is at war with itself will naturally seek to unite itself. No country can last very long if it is, to quote the Bible and Abraham Lincoln, divided against itself.

How can it produce unity out of division? One way, tried and true, is to find a common enemy. For a moment the United States saw Islam, even radical Islam, as an enemy. After all, Islam has rejected Western values and Western customs, even Western norms. It has launched terrorist attacks throughout the world, or at least, in any part of the world where Muslims congregate in large numbers.

And yet, we no longer consider Islam an enemy. We are more likely to be at war against Islamophobia… in many American precincts and certainly in Western Europe.

In Asia, like it or not, and mostly we are persuaded not to like it, nations have declared war against Islam. They have responded to terrorist attacks and terrorists threats, as well as to cultural customs that reject the local ethos, by running, in China, reeducation camps…. If we believe the reports coming out of these camps they are unmitigated horrors. In truth we ought to remain skeptical of these reports. And we note that leading Muslim political leaders around the world do not care what the Chinese are doing to their Uighur citizens.

And yes, I know that the ruling interpretation is that they are selling out their values in favor of business. But, what if they see Islamic terrorism as a threat to their reputations?

I will noe again, at the risk of being repetitious, that Chinese camps are designed to integrate Uighur Muslims into the Chinese nation. In America we have education camps called universities that are designed to teach students to hate America and to reject American capitalism.

Be that as it may, American intellectuals, especially those who are right-thinking, have taken up arms against China. Evidently they are trying to help unite America by naming a common enemy. And that enemy is fascistic communist China. For my part I am impressed by those who call China both fascistic and communistic at the same time. It might not make any sense, but, hey, who cares about making sense when you need to go to war against China.

They look at Hong Kong and see a yearning for freedom. They looked at Tiananmen Square three decades ago and saw a yearning for freedom. And they were horrified to see that the Communist leadership did not see a yearning for freedom. Deng Xiaoping and his cronies saw, as noted before, a yearning for a return to the Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guards took power and destroyed the nation.

Take it from a different angle. Most of our teeth-gnashing literati are sorely offended that China has not adopted the ways of Western democracy. For that reason the fascistic communistic authoritarian Chinese regime must count as an implacable enemy. They are hurting our feelings... and we cannot have that.

One notes that the Trump administration is treating China like a competitor. Donald Trump is not blaming China for taking advantage of American good will. He is taking our own leaders to task for allowing China to get away with intellectual property theft. Trump wants to have fair trade agreements. He has not said that he wants China to become a liberal democracy. As opposed to many of our leading intellectuals he is not offended that China has not been holding elections and electing people like AOC and Ilhan Omar.

Fair enough, China has not adopted any of the trappings of liberal democracy. And yet, if we want the world to follow our shining example, we would do better to try to make liberal democracy work here. It beats going to war against nations that look at us and decide that they do not want to descend into internecine political warfare… where large segments of our population seem consumed with a will to destroy, both their opposition and the nation itself.

But that is not the only piece of intellectual incoherence issuing from the overheated brains of our intellectual elites. Over the past four decades China has produced an extraordinary record of economic growth, of wealth and of prosperity. And yet, while we are spitting fire at China for being a fascist communist dictatorship, we should take a deep breath and ask ourselves whether we want to attribute such economic growth to fascist communist policies?

If we do we are saying, not explicitly, because that would require a higher level of intellectual sophistication, that fascist communism works as a way to run an economy. And that it produces more wealth in a shorter period of time than anyone anywhere has ever done.

In some ways China is a work in progress. It is a late comer to free enterprise and to the Industrial Revolution. Recall that the Western world, under the aegis of its Anglo-Saxon contingent industrialized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also implemented free enterprise policies. It should be a given that we are more prosperous than China, a nation that started privatizing agriculture in the late 1970s. Then again, we are today less prosperous than Singapore, which Chinese leaders have taken as their role model. 

Savvy China observer Joel Kotkin describes the progress China has made. For the sake of his argument he strangely gives the credit to socialism. Do you ever wonder why young people are so taken with socialism? Reason 1 is that socialism relieves them of having to compete in the world economy. But reason 2 is that serious thinkers believe that the Chinese economic revival was produced by socialism.

Anyway, Kotkin writes:

As someone who has been to China many times over the last 40 years, I acknowledge that the achievements of the reformed socialist regime are nothing short of astounding. Beijing’s streets, once crowded with horse-drawn carts, rickety bicycles, and people dressed in ragged Mao jackets, now accommodate Audis, shopping malls, and slickly attired hipsters. Urban Chinese are no longer so impressed by New York or even Tokyo; their country is home to five of the tallest buildings in the world.

And yet, he continues, China is not perfectly egalitarian, yet:

Yet this remarkable growth has come at the expense of China’s supposedly egalitarian ethos. Since 1978 the country’s GINI ratings—a system that measures inequality—have gone from highly egalitarian to more unequal than Mexico, Brazil, and Kenya, as well as the United States and virtually all of Europe. In avowedly socialist China, roughly 1300 individuals constitute roughly 20 percent of the country’s wealth, and top one percent roughly one-third.

Initially, China’s progress lifted up all classes, raising as many as 850 million people out of extreme poverty in 40 years, one of the greatest economic accomplishments in history. Yet the boom has been less successful in creating a Western-style mass middle class which analyst Nan Chen estimates at roughly 12 percent of the population. “Rather than replicating the middle-class growth of post-World War II America,” she observes, “China appears to have skipped that stage altogether and headed straight for a model of extraordinary productivity but disproportionately distributed wealth.”

In the time of Mao Zedong tens of millions of Chinese starved to death. It was the culmination of insane socialist policies. China today has not produced as much equality as we have—though Americans have been whining about inequality for seemingly forever—but it has ended extreme poverty in their nation.

That they did it without anyone being allowed to vote does not, as of now, seem to be bothering anyone. Did you notice that the protests in Hong Kong have not provoked any protest movement on the mainland. The 1989 demonstrations did. This might mean that the authoritarian regime oppresses people mercilessly. Though apparently the same authoritarian regime almost lost complete control of the country in 1989. Or else it might mean that things are good enough in China to deter anyone from choosing to emulate America. After all, many Chinese see America as weak and decadent, an eventual loser in the clash of civilizations.

And yet, Kotkin continues, China still has an underclass. And he believes that the underclass will one day rise up and overthrow  their masters. For my part I find it strange to see Kotkin deploying Hegalian and Marxist theories of revolutionary overthrow of the ruling capitalists:

Overall, two-thirds of all Chinese are either migrant laborers, peasants, industrial workers, or agriculture laborers—all groups unlikely to make it into the Chinese middle class by Chinese standards.1 Many work in the migrant labor force, roughly 250 million strong. These workers trekked from small towns and rural areas in order to bus tables, work on construction sites, and otherwise undertake the tasks that more fortunate Chinese with urban hukou or resident permits generally do not choose to perform.

This migration has been driven by the poor conditions suffered by over 400 million rural residents. In America, rural households are on average 4 percent poorer than urban households in China. The much-vaunted Chinese middle class is almost entirely a phenomenon of those with urban hukou, while the 40 percent of the population in the countryside struggles.   

These migrants threaten to swell into a massive, and potentially politically disruptive, urban underclass. As notes Leeds University’s Li Sun has noted, Chinese migrants unable to claim residency in the city generally lack access to education, healthcare, and most forms of insurance. Although they perform many of the most dangerous tasks in society, notably manufacturing and construction, barely one in four has any form of insurance if they get injured. But they are largely excluded from other, less dangerous jobs.2

China, notes Li Sun, may be “the world’s factory,” but much of the work is performed by these largely unprotected migrants—a million work for Foxconn, the manufacture of iPhone, alone. China’s great wealth derives, she points out, from a “worker-made” economy of people who labor 60-hour weeks for barely US$63 a week pay, reprising the role played for millennia by peasants, who provided the wealth of the Middle Kingdom but benefited little from it.3

For all I know, Kotkin might be right. And yet, I repeat that China has only been at the free enterprise game for a few decades now. We have been at it for centuries. And someone might have noticed that when the Chinese leadership look at America and Western Europe they see a culture that is disintegrating before their eyes. Their strict authoritarianism might be a way to ward off the terrible influence of Western civilization. If we expect China to adopt American democratic customs we need to show something more functional than the current American political system. We might not recognize that many people, largely on the left, want to destroy the nation, but, trust me, foreigners have seen it. And they do not want it to wash up on their shores.

American Inconstancy


In the matter of American constancy, a salient issue in the current debate about President Trump’s Syria policy, Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins offers some chilling reminders … of American inconstancy:

The United States abandoned half of Europe to the Soviets, which included abandoning the Free Poles who fought by our side in World War II. We let South Vietnam go down the drain in a fit of Watergate pique. George H.W. Bush called on the Iraqi people to remove Saddam Hussein and then allowed them to be massacred without U.S. assistance. The U.S. set matters right with the 2007 surge in Iraq whereupon President Obama withdrew the troops and let the place fall apart again. Mr. Obama also assured Syrian oppositionists that the U.S. would respond militarily if Bashar Assad used chemical weapons and then didn’t.

It would be nice if the U.S. could provide steady, wise and endlessly resourceful leadership. It would be nice if each of us, in our own lives, could be everywhere and do everything. That’s not life.

Consider it a thought for today.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Impeachment Game


In the impeachment game President Trump should be holding a strong hand. The economy is doing very well. The nation is prospering.  Trump’s enemies have been crying wolf for so long that they lack credibility. Joe Biden’s son was clearly profiteering from his lineage. So, the Ukraine card looks more like a boomerang. Elizabeth Warren is a serial prevaricator. And so on.

And yet, things are not looking as good as they should. Trump is losing support among Republicans and independents… and should be concerned. The reason has less to do with Ukraine and more to do with Syria. A man who won the presidency by looking to be stronger, more resolute and more courageous looks weak when compared to the Turkish strongman. Trump’s self-glorification for walking away from Syrian Kurds sounds more like bluster and less like the actions of a man in charge.

Sending out ill-considered and poorly articulated letters does not make Trump look strong. It makes him look weak. When it comes to reputation, the bottom line is observable personal behavior. Trump should not be feeding the anti-Trump forces by acting erratically.

Consider Peggy Noonan’s analysis from the Wall Street Journal this morning. Whatever Noonan’s personal views, she has the pulse of Republican thinking. If senior Republicans tell her that Trump is in potential trouble, then Trump is in trouble. The House vote on the new resolution about Trump’s Syria should have been a wake up call. It seems not to have been.

Noonan offers several reasons. Here is one:

First, the president, confident of acquittal, has chosen this moment to let his inner crazy flourish daily and dramatically—the fights and meltdowns, the insults, the Erdogan letter. Just when the president needs to be enacting a certain stability he enacts its opposite. It is possible he doesn’t appreciate the jeopardy he’s in with impeachment bearing down; it is possible he knows and what behavioral discipline he has is wearing down.

It will not be decided on the issues. It will not be decided on obstruction of justice or whatever. It will be decided on the president’s conduct of his office.

Noonan continues:

The president is daily eroding his position. His Syria decision was followed by wholly predictable tragedy; it may or may not have been eased by the announcement Thursday of a five-day cease-fire. Before that the House voted 354-60, including 129 Republicans, to rebuke the president. There was the crazy letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was alternately pleading (“You can make a great deal. . . . I will call you later”) and threatening (“I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy—and I will”).

There was the Cabinet Room meeting with congressional leaders, the insults hurled and the wildness of the photo that said it all—the angry president; Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, standing and pointing at him; and the head of Gen. Mark Milley, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bowed in—embarrassment? Horror? His was not the only bowed head.

The president soon tweeted about a constitutional officer of the U.S. House, who is third in line for the presidency: “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her ‘upstairs’ or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

In fairness, one must notice that Democrats and the media have been defaming President Trump from the moment he took office. They have diagnosed his mental state and declared him to be mentally ill. These same professionals have uttered not a word about the obviously mentally compromised Joe Biden. So, we understand why Trump took off after Nancy Pelosi. Unfortunately, it does not make him look like he is in charge.

Public perception matter. Public presentation matters.

And then there was the Erdogan letter, about which Noonan remarks:

The president tweeted out the picture of that meeting just as the White House made public the Erdogan letter—because they think it made the president look good. Which underscored the sense that he has no heavyweight advisers around him—the generals are gone, the competent fled, he’s careening around surrounded by second raters, opportunists, naifs and demoralized midlevel people who can’t believe what they’re seeing.

It was not a good letter. Sending senior administration officials to Ankara to beg for a cease fire, which seems not to be taking place, is not a good look. Unless Trump figures out a way to save face here, he will look like he is being played by the Turkish dictator.

One is not comforted by the fact that Trump’s erratic behavior has made him dependent on the incompetence of others, especially the incompetence of House Democrats. Considering how weak he appeared when so many House Republicans voted against his Syria policy, he ought to be seriously worried. But, then again, perhaps he is.

And then there is Admiral William McRaven, a former commander of the Navy SEALS, a man who has never been notably political. The good admiral took to the pages of the New York Times to outline his case for impeachment and removal from office.

As for McRaven’s possible bias, we note that he stood up strongly and proudly for John Brennan, former director of the CIA, a man who might be facing criminal charges for election interference, and a man who accused the president of having committed treason… a capital offense. If you think that McRaven is totally non-partisan, think again.

Anyway, we will examine McRaven’s argument, both for what it shows and for what it doesn’t show. At the least, it does not show that a great military commander is ipso facto a great political philosopher.

We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up?

President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years. If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.

I was waiting for him to say that diversity is our strength. McRaven believes that we are not a country but a cause. He asserts that our ideals make us great and that we must stand up against injustice and oppression everywhere.

I would not count that as a serious political argument. The world is replete with injustice and oppression. Does the good admiral believe that we should intervene willy nilly everywhere we see injustice? It makes no sense. And yet, it bears an eerie similarity to the Samantha Power argument that we must intervene anywhere genocide is taking place… because we are on the side of justice. As for America’s national interest, it does not enter the McRaven equation.

On the one side, he is making a salient point. If America abandons the Kurdish forces that fought alongside us, we look as though we cannot be trusted. Going back on your word does not make you look strong or reliable or trustworthy.

But now, for all the talk about Trump’s perfidy, McRaven does not seem to care about the fact that the Obama administration policy in Syria led to half a million dead and millions more refugees. He does not care that Obama gave Iraq and eastern Syria to ISIS. Did that make Obama a champion of American values, standing up against oppression and injustice. Shouldn't we consider that the massacres and gang rapes committed by ISIS should be on the Obama account? How's that for standing strong against oppression and injustice?

McRaven does not care that Obama rescued the terrorist regime in Iran and lied to the king of Saudi Arabia. He does not care that Obama was happy to see the Muslim Brotherhood take power in Egypt. And he certainly does not care about who lost Crimea and who cancelled missile defense systems that the Bush administration had sold to Poland and the Czech Republic.

Admiral McRaven might not have declared a political allegiance but his thinking reflects the deep state idealism that produced the Obama presidency, that systematically undermined American national pride and patriotism, and that proved itself to be weak and feckless on the world stage.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Who Is Meghan Daum?


You might not have heard of Meghan Daum, a fine New York writer who has a new book coming out next week. It’s called: The Problem with Everything. Evidently one has not read it. Just as evidently, it seems well worth mention, notice and even perusal. For the record, I do not know her. But, I like her writing. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Besides, Daum’s approach feels adult and temperate, a voice of reason in the midst of the cacophonous din. In an essay for a site that seems to be called M Gen, she writes:

In the end, the book isn’t an indictment of badasses or an evisceration of wokeness as much as a call for nuance. It’s an expression of my sincere hope that we can stop being afraid of our own contradictions and confusions and recognize that feeling conflicted is the essence of honest thinking.

Sounds good to me. If we lack anything these days, it’s nuance, the sign of flexible thinking, the antidote to fanaticism.

To market her book she has contributed an extended and enthralling essay for The Guardian. What’s it about the Guardian? The subject is the difference between older and younger feminists. To be fair, she writes, women have made great progress over the past five decades. Why has this progress left them embittered and angry, lashing out against men, even working tirelessly to destroy as many men as possible?

In the Guardian essay, Daum does not offer an explanation. But still, one pops immediately into mind. Today’s young feminists have been indoctrinated in leftist ideology, to the point where they no longer know how to think. Nuance escapes them. Negotiating difficult situations is beyond their capacity. They do not know how to build, buildings or lives. They rant and rave, lash out and destroy… because it’s what they know how to do. It’s all they know how to do.

To be more blunt, many young feminists have engaged in activities that they know they should not have been engaging in. And they do not feel good about themselves. But, rather than change their behavior, they blame anyone who thinks ill of them.

So, Daum begins by describing life as a young single woman in New York City two decades ago. I would mention, to keep it in perspective, that New York City was then and is now a special place. It was defined by a controlled anarchy, a place where multicultural diversity had made social interactions into something like a free-for-all. People were not concerned with getting along with each other, with working together. They were trying to see what they could get away with. When the social fabric is rent, it’s what happens. Unless, of course, as sociologist Robert Putnam discovered, people simply hunker down and avoid social commerce altogether.

Daum writes:

To be 20 years old in 1990 in New York City was, as far as I was concerned, to own the world. I owned practically nothing of material value back then, but somehow this was all part of a magical transaction in which I knew I’d eventually get ahead even if it seemed, for the moment, like I could barely keep up. The city was still a wild kingdom, a stone-and-steel fortress with rage burning inside. The crack epidemic was long under way and also a long way from ending. Aids was everywhere – ravaging the bodies of the visibly ill and beckoning from public service announcements that preached condoms or death. The graffiti was only beginning to come off the subway cars.

Every man, woman and, yes, many children (including those commuting to fancy prep schools) had been mugged or knew someone who had. Every woman knew what it was like to be creepily rubbed against by some dude in a crowded space, and when this happened many of us either jammed our elbows into his abdomen or rolled our eyes and moved away.

At the time, women believed it was part of the cost of living in a freewheeling fun house. They did not, Daum continues, see it as a manifestation of misogyny:

What I don’t remember is connecting the incident to anything like what would now be called institutionalized misogyny. This was not systemic oppression of women. This was simply life in the big city.

Women took in stride. They did not believe that a groper or a lusty geezer was traumatizing them for life. And they did not take the opportunity to express their boundless outrage. Recalling a woman she had seen in 1990, sitting at a folding table ranting against pornography, Daum says this:

Today, the angry, ranting woman with the folding table is gone from the sidewalk. In her place are millions of angry women marching in the streets and, even more so, ranting online. We are tiny pixels coalescing into a giant portrait of rage in all its definitions.

So, women have now declared all-out war against men. We will note, with Daum, that more often than not these men belong to the liberal power elite. They work in publishing and the media. Whether the same thing happens in flyover country, I do not know. But,in New York and Los Angeles, we see the epicenter of sexual harassment. It’s all so Clintonian, don’t you know?

Twenty years after the redheaded man shoved me on Columbus Avenue, men were going down like bowling pins against the unstoppable forces of #MeToo. What could you call the fall of 2017 other than the Fall of the Fall of Man. It was a season of hurricanes and rapid soil erosion, namely the mudslide that began with Harvey Weinstein and quickly pulled more men down with it than anyone could reasonably keep up with.

It ought to be obvious to everyone, but it still bears mention: this is not going to end well for women. Yielding to rage provokes an equal and opposite reaction. If you do not think there is going to be a reckoning, you should remove your blinders.

As for her own encounter with a creepy older man, a man who occasionally invited her to dinner, but never offered a quid pro quo, the younger Daum handled it with what she would call nuance, or, if you prefer, aplomb:

I was young and the man was twice my age. He may have had professional power over me, but it was limited and in no way unilateral. In fact, thanks to the personal details I’d siphoned out of him, I probably could have placed one phone call and made his life very difficult. And so I carried on with my coquettishness until somehow the meals became fewer and farther between and then finally ended, probably because he took up with someone else. I carried on this way because my life was an open horizon and his was an overstuffed attic.

I behaved this way because I must have known on some unconscious level that, at 25, I had more of a certain kind of power than I was ever going to have in my life and that I might as well use it, even if the accompanying rush was laced with shame.

Obviously, she means the power to attract, to capture the male gaze, to be worthy of a certain type of attention. Evidently, there was no assault and no harassment, but women who are railing against the predatory male gaze would do well to recall that women have always used their looks to attract and even to captivate said gaze.

But, Daum now sees a split between older and younger feminists, or, dare we say, women:

Like any sentient being, I’d been shocked and disgusted by the Weinstein revelations and saw no reason to equivocate about the reliability of his accusers or the severity of his punishment. But as the list of perpetrators piled up and the public censure piled on, the conversation around #MeToo (lacking a specific category, each new scandal was not a story or an issue but a “conversation”) began to split down generational lines….

And so the ground began to shake around the fault line. The older feminists scolded the younger ones for not being tough enough to take care of themselves. If the construction worker whistles at you, give him the finger! If the drunk guy sitting next to you at the wedding reception gets fresh, kick him in the shins!

In turn, the youngsters chastised the oldsters for enabling the oppressive status quo with cool-girl posturing. We shouldn’t have to suppress our humanity by letting insults roll off us! We shouldn’t have to risk our safety with physical violence because patriarchal norms have taught the drunk wedding guest he can act like that!

Naturally, today’s young feminists feel empowered when they destroy a man’s life. Without taking sides on the issue, I would simply point out that real power lies in your ability to build something, not in your ability to tear down what someone else has built. When these radical feminists take power and are faced with the responsibility for building something, they will discover that ranting and raving does not build anything. Or else, in case I got the sequence wrong, once they have replaced the men they have destroyed they will discover that they do not possess the skills needed to manage much of anything. And they will naturally blame men.

The problem is, if things have become worse, and especially for women working in notably leftist redoubts, then perhaps, just perhaps, feminism is part of the problem. After all, if you are putting out rage, you are likely to get it or something similar back. Perhaps a return to a more nuanced approach, a more complex understanding of female power, would help.

Our Hereditary Political Aristocracy


The least you can say is that Hunter Biden was profiting from his father’s position. Was it corrupt? Of course, it was. Would you have gotten the same deal from a Ukrainian gas company? It may or may not have been illegal, but building a career and collecting massive fees for nothing but your father’s position is so obviously corrupt that only the most partisan politician or commentator could even pretend to excuse it.

The fact that many Americans, from Anderson Cooper on down, are willing to excuse the Hunter Biden corruption is a very bad sign. It is of a piece with the simple fact, observable to anyone who has eyes and ears, that Joe Biden, bless him, is mentally deficient. Perhaps he is suffering from dementia, but the man is constantly incoherent, barely capable of formulating a correct English sentence. The world is rushing to forgive Biden his gaffes, but still, if Donald Trump had ever made such a series of gaffes, and had consequently avoided all sit down interviews, the psycho world would rise up and call for treatment… or at least disqualification.

That people drone on about Joe Biden’s gaffes, ignoring the true story of his mental deficiency, reflects ill on the state of the national mind.

Anyway, a few Democratic voices are crying out in the wilderness… to coin a phrase. Among them, one Hamilton Nolan, writing in the Guardian. Why, pray tell, do we need to turn to a British leftist newspaper to read some sensible leftist commentary about Hunter Biden? The American media has descended into propaganda… that’s why.

Anyway, corruption is not always corruption. And yet, the way that the sons and daughters of politicians are treated should be a major scandal. So says Nolan, and he is correct. It has nothing to do with meritocracy, a dim memory mostly done in by diversity quotas. 

It more closely resembles a hereditary aristocracy. But, weren’t America’s founders congenitally opposed to hereditary aristocracy… and in favor of meritocracy? One might suggest that the distance between diversity quotas, quotas that favor people for reasons that have little to do with merit, are kissing cousins with hereditary aristocracy, advantages that accrue according to blood. With diversity quotas you gain advantages by being a member of an oppressed group… not for anything you have done.

Anyway, Nolan opines:

The son of a longtime US senator gets his start as a lawyer with one of the biggest corporate donors to his dad’s campaigns; a friend of his dad’s gets him a job in the Clinton administration, and then as a lobbyist; later, while his father is vice president, he is given a $50,000 per month seat on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm, despite lacking any clear energy expertise. How does this all happen? It happened the same way that Chelsea Clinton became a “special correspondent” for NBC News, and Jenna Bush got a job as a Today show host, and the Trump children got jobs overseeing a real estate empire. It happened the same way, for that matter, that George W Bush – objectively, a flailing dumbass – became the governor of Texas and then the president of the United States.

Merit be damned, earning your way, being qualified for a position, contributing to the general good… these fall into insignificance if you belong to a dynastic political family:

When you are the son of a famous and powerful politician, you are showered with opportunity, whether you deserve it or not. This is nepotism, but it is also, if we are being direct, a form of corruption. Moral corruption. Not only because these prestigious positions are not earned, and because these celebukids are taking something that rightly should have gone to someone more deserving; but also because, even though there is rarely anything so crude as a direct quid pro quo, this undeserved largesse is always motivated to some extent by a desire by some powerful interest to take advantage of the halo of influence cast by the parents. That influence should properly accrue to the public, who their parents work for. The lavish lives afforded to famous kids are, in effect, stolen from the American people. Each coveted job handed to a president’s kid represents a small quantity of subversion of the spirit of the democratic process.

So, Nolan, evidently a man of the left, calls out Democrats. You know, the party that worships anyone with the name Kennedy. Nolan wants Democrats to speak out loudly and clearly, against Hunter and Joe Biden… and at least to call them on their obvious lies about whether or not they ever discussed business:

I don’t want to hear Democrats – members of the party that ostensibly stands for more equality and purer democracy – pretending that the fact that the VP’s son got a do-nothing $600k per year corporate handout is unremarkable. I want Democrats to demonstrate that we live our values. I want Democrats to send their kids to public school, unionize their workplaces and give money to the poor.

It’s a good thought. Republicans should do the same. Fat chance it’s going to happen.

Dominatrix Therapists


What is dom therapy? Glad you asked.

It’s a new form of psychotherapy, concocted by people who usually work as dominatrixes, that serves clients who have discovered that traditional talk therapy does not serve their needs.

In a way it mixes BDSM with therapy. It may not be to your taste. I am not recommending it. But I am reporting on it out of ethical duty. A blog called “Had Enough Therapy?” owes it to readers to keep them on top of the latest trends in therapy. OK, perhaps not on top… but you get the idea.

Anyway, the New York Post has the tantalizing story:

Five years in, traditional therapy wasn’t cutting it for David.

“I was thinking too much,” the 45-year-old, who suffers from depression, works in film and declined to share his last name, tells The Post. On the couch, trying to work through his problems, he felt trapped in his own head. “Is this guy listening to me? Am I whining too much? You’re hearing your own thoughts a lot.”

Like many frustrated talk-therapy patients, he was sick of digging into his childhood and being prodded for answers. He just wanted someone to tell him what to do.

In effect, David’s experience explains why many therapy patients have turned off from traditional, Freud-based practices. He was lying on the couch, exploring his childhood, talking to the walls… and his therapist was unresponsive. His therapist would not even look him in the eye. Evidently, the experience made him more depressed. Duh.

What did David do?

So he found a dominatrix.

The kinky and curious have long turned to dominatrixes for sexual satisfaction. But these days, it’s not just leather-clad ladies bossing around submissives in the boudoir. Now, doms tell The Post, they’re playing therapist between their dungeon sessions — and sometimes during. Though techniques vary, the goal is the same: to help clients sort through their emotional and mental health issues in a nontraditional setting.

David’s dom, Natasha Rabin, thinks this makes perfect sense.

“When you see a dom, it’s a physical and mental experience,” says the Brooklyn-based Rabin, who charges “in the hundreds per hour” for both kink and talk sessions. She says many of her clients turned to her after “not getting anything out of” traditional therapy. Although emotional epiphany isn’t the focus of traditional sexual domination, “overlaps and catharsis can happen, and often do,” she says.

As I said, I am not recommending this. If people want to gain direction and purpose in their lives they would do better to find a coach. In truth, dom therapy mixes meditation with cognitive behavioral approaches. And yet, the interesting part, that the dom therapy works better to produce emotional equanimity, should not be overlooked.

In David’s appointments with Rabin — that’s Ma’am, to him — there are no whips or chains. Instead, he turns his mind over to the Brooklyn-based dom. She combines hypnosis and nonphysical domination techniques to help him quiet his racing mind. Sometimes, she issues nonsensical demands, like ordering him to speak in Chinese. (David speaks neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, but Rabin says he responded with convincing gibberish.)

It’s hardly Freudian, but something about it “clicks” for David, who likens the experience to a kind of “cognitive behavioral therapy.”

Or else, it resembles meditation:

“You’re so in the present. It’s similar to meditation in that you’re able to quiet your brain and focus on one thing, even if the one thing is a power dynamic,” says the patient, who has been seeing Rabin for four years. He finds himself leaving the sessions feeling sharpened: his brain is working more efficiently, and he finds it easier to self-analyze.

A session with Rabin “kills two birds with one stone,” he says. “You can get a fun experience and change yourself for the better.”

As for the other side of BDSM, this is a family blog, so I will follow the fine example set by the Post and ignore it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

She Can't Go Back in Time


She’s a writer. Five years ago she moved with her husband, from New York to Los Angeles. She wanted to be in the center of the entertainment industry, for all the job opportunities and what not. She is begrudgingly admitting to being 37. She tells us nothing about her husband, what he does for a living… and the rest. One suspects that the two of them do not get along very well.

Being a product of the Los Angeles branch of the therapy culture she is lost and adrift. She has few friends in LA and has lost touch with her NY friends. But she is in therapy, and this entitles her to the usual quantity of psychobabble and utter nonsense.

If you are sentient you will quickly start thinking about the dog that does not bark. Not just the description of her husband but the most obvious question: does she want children, yes or no? While much of her complaining about the intellectual vapidity of Angelenos rings true—all you need do is listen to the idiocies that the average celebrity expels on a daily basis—it is also true that for people with small children many social interactions involve children. Couples that do not have children are often excluded from the group of parents who spend most of their time talking about school lunch, tutoring, homework and violin lessons.

Again, we do not know where she stands on the question of children, but certainly, for a 37 year old married woman, that is a salient issue. Naturally, we do not know what her husband thinks of it all… but her hint that he might just pick up and leave her does suggest that they are not in accord on the subject.

The symptom here is that she says nothing about the children issue. And Polly, bless her, is equally blind to reality.

Here is the letter, boldface added by yours truly.

I’ve always been under the impression that each decade of life gets easier. Blame women’s magazines in dentists’ offices, but are there not always features about how your 20s are total trash, your 30s are full of newfound self-compassion and peace, and by your 40s, well, you’re so happy and angst-free it’s basically like you’re floating around on molly for an entire decade? All of this increasing contentment seems to be pinned on knowing yourself more and becoming more comfortable with who you are as a person as you grow older, which totally makes sense, though it’s been the opposite of my experience. I’m now 37 (and FYI, I totally wrote 35 at first, and then thought, “If I can’t be honest about my age in an anonymous letter, that’s actually too sad”), and I feel like every year of my life I become more and more uncertain of who I am and what makes me happy. Which in effect means every year of my life I become more miserable.

I moved to Los Angeles five years ago, and I guess I haven’t really adjusted. It’s hard to make friends here — or at least friends who want to hang out more than once every three months. I’m in a marriage that makes me feel anxious and bad probably 60 percent of the time, but I’ve felt like this for two years now and I’ve done nothing about it. I have a job in a TV writers’ room, which had always been my dream and is why I moved out here. But while there’s a ton of stuff that’s great about it (okay, well, mostly the money), it’s not as fulfilling as my old job. Not to sound like a snob, but people are dumber and shallower here? The old network hacks pretty much control the room, and we end up spending large parts of the day looking at all the $5 million houses they want to buy on Zillow, or listening to them complain about how their wives spend all their money on purses (barf). I come home at night feeling numb and dumber and wondering if tonight’s one of the nights my husband’s going to start crying and say he’s not happy in our marriage and then take it all back the next day. I pretty much live in dread and fear of the next day, but keep waking up and living it anyway because I don’t know what else to do.

Actually, I know what I want to do, but unfortunately it’s impossible. I want to wake up and be 28 again and do the last decade all over again. I want to be with my best friends in New York and feel confident and happy and funny and like I have a distinct personality again. I want to be the person I used to be, the one who didn’t put up with bullshit from men, or who, at least, had an inner voice telling her, “This person is not right for you. LEAVE.” Maybe I’m looking back at my halcyon youth with rose-colored glasses, but it really feels like I was a whole person then. I stood up for myself. I knew who I was. I knew what I wanted and had the energy and ambition to at least try to go for it. It was the last time I felt like there was actually a core me.

I try to tell my therapist about this and she, wisely, always advises, “Channel your 20-year-old self. Do what she would do.” But I just don’t know how to. Because all the circumstances of my 20s have changed. My beloved group of friends have all gotten married and had families of their own. Half of them left the city. They’re still my best friends, but our contact is way more sporadic. The place I used to work has all but shut down. And I can’t find the little voice inside me anymore. The one that would tell me what to do. I think I’ve just lived in sadness and anxiety for so long she felt ignored and up and left.

I don’t even really know what my question is — this whole letter is a meandering mess, pretty much a verbal representation of the nonentity that is my personality right now. I guess I’m asking: When does it get better? How does it get better? How do you rediscover yourself? Or is this just life? Am I being an optimistic idiot to believe that there’s some means by which I can become “happy”?

Not Really a Person

Tell me now, which is more pathetic, the therapist’s advice or NRAP’s belief that it’s wise advice?

A 37-year-old woman is facing some important life decisions. She tells us nothing about them in her letter. She does not tell us what her husband thinks. Her licensed and credentialed therapist tells her that she should pretend that she is 20. At which point she would not have to make any decisions about child bearing. A licensed credentialed professional tells her patient to pretend that she is not who she is.

As for the absurd notion that the letter writer is “not really a person,” what is wrong with being an adult woman? What is wrong with being a wife? Apparently, she yearns for singlehood and despises her wifely role. 

As for why she cannot go back to the old hood and hang out with the old friends, they have all grown up and have families of their own. By not having children she has marginalized herself. Unfortunately, neither her therapist of Polly sees the point.

Why else aspire to become a persona, that is, a character in a play. Except that characters in plays do not live in the real world, surrounded by real people who have made real decisions.

As it happened,  NRAP did make some adult decisions, to get married and to move to Los Angeles. And those are the decisions that she is regretting. Perhaps she learned it from therapy, but wherever she learned it, she should unlearn it.

As it happens, Polly gets it backwards and launches a typically mindless rant about how NRAP should be herself, should feel her feelings, should lie on the floor crying… as though she were taking a method acting class. Very Hollywood that....

The hard part is feeling where you are and where you’ve been. The hard part is tracing your path back to when you resolved to stop feeling your feelings, to rise above them permanently. The hard part is recognizing that you’ve lost yourself because you’re never genuine with anyone. You’re playing a part — to make new friends, to get along with those mutants at work, to keep your husband from crying, to avoid your insecurities and your longing and your rage, to avoid standing up for yourself in any real way. You’ve lost yourself because you’re sure that if you show your true self, whoever she is, no one will like her….

You need to be the miserable freak that you are right now. That’s not possible at work, but it is possible everywhere else. It’s what your husband is already doing. You need to lie down on the ground and cry right along with him. You need to admit to him that you’re also lost and unsure of what comes next. If there’s any hope for your marriage, it lies in that dark place where two people who’ve been pretending for years finally tell each other the whole truth. You are two bewildered animals who feel all kinds of crazy things. There shouldn’t be any contempt in the air when you describe your emotional reality to another human being. It’s not personal. Surviving in a marriage requires accepting that both partners have wild, unexpected feelings that are not some moral verdict on who they are. Being brutally honest without feeling ashamed will set you both free and make you closer.

This kind of thinking might have a special appeal to a high school girl. An adult deserves better.

Anyway, Polly notes in passing that Los Angeles, a place where people are not especially smart or engaging, is awash in therapy. We all think that therapy solves problems. What if it produces problems?

The hardest thing to be in L.A. is not a freak, but a conflicted, sad person who doesn’t realize how conflicted and sad she is. This whole town is either in therapy or talks like they’re therapists themselves. It’s grating, but if you lean way the fuck into it, you’ll figure out that a lot of the people around you are more interesting than they seem.

Not one to deprive us of a cliché, Polly manages to mangle her insight by trotting out a discredited meme: she advises NRAP to lean in.

In truth, NRAP should make up her mind, in consultation with her husband, about the childbearing issue. Personhood can wait.