Saturday, November 30, 2019

Did Liberals Want to Destroy the Family?

In an especially wrong headed column Thomas Edsall assures us that liberals bear no responsibility for the breakdown in the American family. Ignoring the simple fact that the American left has been inveighing against the patriarchal family, against defined social roles, against the organized criminal conspiracy called the United States, Edsall fully absolves liberals for the consequences of their cultural policies.

Of course, it is not entirely fair to blame it on liberalism. The American left has long since taken its leave of liberal policies, and even of progressive policies. Calling it liberal or progressive is a misnomer. The American left has become radicalized. It was radicalized during the time of the Vietnam counterculture. The radical left attacked sexual morality. It attacked the family. It attacked the military for war crimes. It has and is still attacking men for being toxic male chauvinist pigs. It has taken over the educational system, degrading boys’ interests and elevating girls’ interests. It wanted to  uproot the social order. Now that its policies have been translated into real institutional chaos, Edsall believes that the left had nothing to do with it.

In truth, Edsall has nothing to say about any of these aspects of the Great American Cultural Revolution. Like all radical movements this revolution will never take responsibility for the mess it created.

Liberals, as he calls them, feel deeply about family dysfunction.

In practice, many, if not most, liberals are as deeply disturbed by familial dysfunction as conservatives, but they are not ranting about it. Instead of promoting the kind of anarchy described by Barr and others on the right, scholars on the left now acknowledge that the sexual revolution and the personal autonomy movement had significant costs as well as notable gains.

Again, not a word about the Vietnam counterculture or feminism. As for how deeply disturbed these people are, so what. Are they disturbed because things did not work out as they had hoped? Are they disturbed for being called out on their bad cultural policies.?

Among the bad results of the American Cultural Revolution is the large number of children raised in single parent households. We might ask how this came to be considered normal. We might recall when Vice President Dan Quayle was wildly excoriated for suggesting that single-parenting was not such a good idea. Edsall ignores it all. We might recall the feminists who argued that women do not really need men, should not function as wives, and so on. As for the fact that some of these households were formed because women delayed family formation too long and found themselves faced with the unenviable choice between single parenthood and childlessness, not a word. When certain women suggested that it would be a good idea to marry young, the feminist furies rose up to destroy them. This might be pure coincidence, but then again, perhaps it isn’t.

Edsall has no idea about how this all happened, but he sees the negative consequences:

Those negative consequences include the explosion of divorce, paternal absence and the growing legions of children raised in single parent households

In 2002, Sara McLanahan, a professor of sociology at Princeton, wrote “Life without Father: What Happens to the Children?” and found that:

Children raised apart from a biological parent are disadvantaged in numerous ways. They are more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to attend college, and less likely to graduate from college than children raised by both biological parents. Girls from father-absent families are more likely to become sexually active at a younger age and to have a child outside of marriage. Boys who grow up without their fathers are more likely to have trouble finding (and keeping) a job in young adulthood. Young adult men and women from one-parent families tend to work at low-paying jobs.

True enough, as has been well known for some time now, elite liberal city dwellers are now more likely to get married and to stay married than are their lower class counterparts. Surely, they have escaped the consequences of their policy proposals. Good for them. Bad for the rest of the country, for people who still believe the swill they have been exposed to via the media.

For his part Edsall offers up a smorgasbord  of causes for the shredding of family structure. Allow him his word:

There is a complex set of interlocking factors that produce social and economic disruption, destabilizing to communities, individuals and families. Technological innovation, from the contraceptive pill to the global transmission of capital and goods; deunionization and automation; rising standards of living freeing human beings to seek self-expression and individual fulfillment; and hyperintensive international competition — are only some of the factors underlying the turbulence, even the disintegration, of traditional norms and practices.

Unfortunately, he does not understand that it is not just abut disintegrating norms. It’s about substituting a new set of norms for the old ones. Aside from the fact that he ignores the American Cultural Revolution in its entirety, he does suggest that freeing individuals to seek self-expression and individual fulfillment is a recipe for social disaggregation. Now if only he were present these ideas in a somewhat less favorable light.

But, Edsall does not recognize the importance of the new social codes. He does not seem to understand that the war on men, widely documented, taking place in the classroom and in the media might have had a negative effect on men. We should mention that it has obviously also had a negative impact on women.

He continues:

Melissa S. Kearney, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, has developed a thought provoking argument on the interaction of economics and culture in rising dysfunction among working class men. In an email, she wrote:

My read of the evidence is that the declining economic position of less educated men (both in a relative and absolute sense) has probably been a key driver of the breakdown of the two-parent family among less educated populations for many decades.

But, she continued,

... now we are in a new social paradigm that has normalized nonmarital childbearing and child rearing among certain segments of the population, and it will take more than economic improvement to restore the stable two-parent family in the communities it which that norm has been steadily eroding.

Might it not be the case that classroom instruction today is designed to downplay the skills that boys possess. If we have decided to dumb down instruction in science and math, the better to push a touch-feely female centered approach, shouldn’t we also understand that it will have consequences in terms of workforce participation.

On the other side, one political scientist has questioned the notion that we are suffering through a period of rising social disorder. At a time when many families cannot sit down to Thanksgiving without dreading a political argument, and at a time when we now consider it acceptable to harass people at restaurants and to engage in Nazi Storm Trooper attacks on those who disagree with us, it is rich indeed for a Harvard professor to declare that all is well. Neither Edsall nor the professor have the least notion of the simple fact that Americans are suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, and that their everyday interactions are laced with constant rudeness.

Anyway, herewith, from the professor:

Looking at these trends from a broad perspective, Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, also wrote me by email:

We need to address the underlying premise that there is a rise in social disorder. That claim does not hold up to scrutiny, in both the long and short term. In the United States and many other parts of the world, the last two decades have seen a remarkable decline in many of the most visible signs of social disorder.

 Enos continued:

You can see that many of these improvements in the quality of life have coincided with the creation of the modern liberal welfare state and many of place that enjoy the least social disorder are, in fact, places with leftist political systems that provide for social welfare.

Perhaps Edsall and Enos should take a leisurely walk through the homeless encampments that are now invading some of America’s great liberal-run cities. And perhaps they should measure the importance of the simple fact that district attorneys in many of these cities are now reducing the crime statistics by decriminalizing crime.

Edsall says that liberals did not want to destroy the American family. This may or may not be true, but good intentions do not necessarily make good policy. If their cultural policies have produced the situation we are now facing, they should man up and accept responsibilty for the conditions their policies have wrought.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Should We Put Nations into Therapy?

Apparently, famed geologist Jared Diamond has written a new book. You recall that Diamond famously argued in a previous book that if some civilizations outcompete others, the reason does not reside in culture or in intelligence, but in environmental factors. So, forget culture. Forget policy. What really matters is access to open waters and the presence of certain natural resources. Not to mention the weather.

Of course, this is nonsense. It does not explain why, as Joel Kotkin showed in his book Tribes—which has nothing to do with current tribalism—certain peoples from certain cultures enjoy great success no matter where they migrate to. Nor does Diamond explain why some peoples from some cultures can succeed in a territory where others have failed. The contemporary example of Israel comes to mind.

Now, Diamond has gotten in a bit over his head. In his new book he suggested that we ought to pretend that nations are like individual people and that we need therapy. Reviewing the book in The Times Literary Supplement, NiallFerguson suggests that Diamond is indulging in an advance case of pop psychology. Naively, Diamond accepts that therapy is great at crisis management. The statistics about American mental health tell a different story. The suicide rate suggests that we are not managing personal crises very well. And the prevalence of psychiatric medication suggests that our ultimate resource is a pill. If we were really good at crisis management, the nation would not be afloat on medication.

Ferguson summarizes the argument:

“Nations undergo national crises, which … may or may not get resolved successfully through national changes”, he writes. “There is a large body of research and anecdotal information, built up by therapists, about the resolution of personal crises. Could the resulting conclusions help us understand the resolution of national crises?” Diamond believes that they can. Here is the final twist to an extraordinarily eclectic academic career, which began with physiology and seems to be concluding with pop psychology: Diamond has reinvented himself once again, this time as shrink to the nations.

Funnily enough, in the English language, we do not say that we resolve a crisis. It makes very little semantic sense. We do not even resolve personal crises. We solve problems and we manage crises.

As Ferguson sees it, Diamond's book fails because he confuses nations and people. Nations are not individuals. They do not function like individuals. To pretend that they do is sophistry:

But there is a fundamental, inescapable problem with this book, which is that it runs counter to the obvious reality that nation states are not that much like individual people. It would be much more accurate to say that they, like any large-scale polity, are complex systems. As such, they are not governed by the same broadly Gaussian rules as individual members of our species.

Ferguson continues:

At best, Diamond’s book is a sustained metaphor. But precisely because complex polities are not subject to the same constraints as individual people, it is a misleading one. It is even more misleading when, in a final chapter, Diamond attempts to apply his framework to the entire human race and planet.

As Ferguson sees it, Diamond’s argument falls apart when he starts applying his rule to the United States:

… Diamond seeks to compare the US case with others. But the first rule of comparative history is not to liken apples to lemons, and this is what Diamond proceeds to do by repeatedly likening the US to Chile on the eve of the military dictatorship established in 1973. This analogy overlooks so many differences – not least in terms of the distribution of wealth, especially but not only land – that it is impossible to take seriously. Although Diamond knows that a military coup in the United States is far less likely today than it seemed to some observers in the 1960s, he nevertheless “foresee[s] one political party in power in the U.S. government or in state governments increasingly manipulating voter registration, stacking the courts with sympathetic judges, using those courts to challenge election outcomes, and then invoking ‘law enforcement’ and using the police, the National Guard, the army reserve, or the army itself to suppress political opposition”. This is the kind of febrile thinking that these days pervades American campuses, where professors seem collectively incapable of assessing the politics of their own country in a sober way and predictions of the imminent collapse of the republic are made on a weekly basis.

Allow me a couple of additional discouraging words.

We should also question the value of studying human beings as unique, autonomous individuals. All human beings exist within social groups. They belong to networks, from families to communities to states. A human being that does not belong to any group will not long survive.

As the poet said:

No man is an island, entire of itself….

Don't Blame China for America's Failings

America is working itself into a frenzy over China. I am sure you have noticed. When people become emotionally overwrought they lose perspective. We all root for the home team but we should never underestimate our competition.

Anyway, Newt Gingrich has written a new book, entitled Trump vs. China. In it, he tries to debunk some of the many narratives swirling around our competition with China.

David Goldman offers an apt summary:

Some rhetorical flourishes aside, [Gingrich] rejects the ubiquitous American view that China is about to collapse under its own weight, or that China inevitably must become a Western-style democracy, or that the Chinese people are waiting for a wave of America’s hand to overthrow their evil communist overlords, and so forth.

We would take one more step toward rationality if we got over our habit of blaming China for our own failings. A cold eye tells us the following. Gingrich writes:

“Some of the greatest failures and weaknesses in American can’t be blamed on China. Rather, we have to look at ourselves and our own mistakes and failures. The burden on us to modernize and reform our own system is enormous.”

“It is not China’s fault that in 2017, 89% of Baltimore eighth graders couldn’t pass their math exam…

“It is not China’s fault that too few Americans in K-12 and in college study math and science to fill the graduate schools with future American scientists…

“It is not China’s fault that, faced with a dramatic increase in Chinese graduate students in science, the government has not been able to revive programs like the 1958 National Defense Education Act…

“It is not China’s fault the way our defense bureaucracy functions serves to create exactly the ‘military-industrial complex’ that President Dwight Eisenhower warned about…

“It is not China’s fault that NASA has been so bureaucratic and its funding so erratic that… there is every reason to believe that China is catching up rapidly and may outpace us. This is because of us not because of them

“It is not China’s fault that the old, bureaucratic, entrenched American telecommunications companies failed to develop a global strategy for 5G over the 11 years that the Chinese company Huawei has been working to become a world leader…”

These are but a few. Perhaps some of us will recognize that, however bad the Chinese system is—and it has achieved an extraordinary level of economic growth in a very short period of time—it would not be a bad idea to heal ourselves. None of the problems that Gingrich identifies makes us a more fearsome competitor. None makes it more likely that China or other countries around the world will want to adopt the American system.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

America's Gratitude Deficit

Naturally, even on Thanksgiving, it is impossible to ignore the graceless whining of the identity politics crowd. No longer are we allowed to celebrate a national holiday without hearing an army of scolds remind us of how badly we treated indigenous peoples.

Giving thanks for our blessings, giving thanks to God for an abundant harvest … these no longer matter as much as having the chance to self-flagellate for our ancestors’ sins.

Given how obsessed we are with our Selves, we refuse to accept the generosity offered by others, and certainly not the generosity offered by God. We are no longer grateful because we no longer want to feel that we depend on anyone but our Selves. We are so independent and autonomous, so thoroughly atomized, that we refuse to enter into the most elementary transactions with other people. We trust no one. We rely on no one. And we cannot figure out why we are so isolated.

David DeSteno explains the force of gratitude in the New York Times:

Research by the psychologist Sara Algoe has shown that when we feel grateful for other people’s thoughtfulness, we consider that they might be worth getting to know a little better. Gratitude pushes us to take the first steps in forming relationships with new people. And once we know people better, continued feelings of gratitude strengthen our ties to them. Feeling grateful to one person for a favor also makes us more likely to “pay forward” favors to others we don’t know — a phenomenon identified by the psychologist Monica Bartlett — which, in turn, can lead them to want to get to know us.

As for our loss of social connection, Joel Kotkin lays out the sad story in a recent column. Evidently, the loss is most evident in the young:

Most Americans, according to a Templeton Foundation survey, feel they receive little gratitude at home or the office. The feeling of gratitude appears to drop with age. Today’s millennials are the least grateful. This is not surprising given the new generations’ low levels of interest in the very things we are likely to feel grateful for, such as family, religion or America itself.

It is a symptom of a society that is fragmenting, where citizens are at war with other citizens. We have lost our sense of togetherness. Feeling more alone, we are also more vulnerable:

This loss of gratefulness, not unique to this country, is tied to the decline of critical social conventions that long held society together. The religious nature of the Thanksgiving was self-evident to the Puritans who settled New England, but it was also deeply communal, a shared experience between family, neighbors and congregants. “We must delight in each other, make others’ own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together,” as colonial leader John Winthrop put it.

We have lost religion. Since religion turns isolated individuals into a community, losing it is hardly inconsequential.

Religion, for all its undoubted spurs to divisiveness, underpinned their sense of gratitude that extended well beyond the Puritans. It later inspired even outsiders, such as Jews, Latinos and African Americans, to celebrate the New England experience. As Americans, we all embraced the notion that we were all fortunate for the blessings of home and family, even when paltry, that divinity bequeathed to us.

With the decline in religious observance, Thanksgiving, not surprisingly, seems to have lost its spiritual essence. It is a holiday now more identified with football and gluttony than anything of spiritual value.

Mary Eberstadt has analyzed the problem. Kotkin explains her analysis, whereby the loss of patriotic loyalty has forced people to cling to factions, to identity groups, based on victimhood and grievance:

With family and community ties weakened, Eberstadt notes, more people, again particularly the young, seek to embrace not the overall community, but an “identity” group. These are often based on grievance ideology built around sexual preference, race, gender identity or physical disability. Such identarian ideology is particularly common in our key intellectual centers such as Manhattan, where a majority of households are single. The hotbeds of identity politics — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston — all have among the lowest rates of family formation in the nation.

At root, Americans have lost their patriotism. They have lost their national pride. That loss became particularly marked during the Obama years. Would you be surprised to read that leftist students and Obamaphile Democrats were leading the march to deconstruct American love of country and American pride in country?

This loss of faith is particularly marked among the young. Nearly 40 percent of young Americans, for example, think the country lacks “a history to be proud of,” less than half the average for boomers. One-third of young Americans, according to one recent survey, have a favorable view of communism and most seem ready to jettison the market system essential to America’s evolution.

Kotkin issues a wake-up call:

If the Puritans, freezing in the New England fall and simply relieved not to be starving, could feel gratitude about the world, perhaps we, living in unimaginable physical comfort and freedom, should take the hint and emulate them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Impeachment Gambit Is a Bad Bet

I have long since harbored the notion that Richard Nixon was not forced out of office by Watergate or obstruction of justice, but by the Vietnam War. The nation was failing in Vietnam and the intellectual elites who gave us the war needed to shift the blame. In Richard Nixon they found the perfect scapegoat. After all, LBJ had escalated the war. Nixon had de-escalated it. But, someone had to pay for Vietnam and Nixon had made the war his own. Ergo….

Along the same lines Ross Douthat wisely argues that the success of failure of a presidential impeachment and removal has less to do with supposed conduct in office and has more to do with the state of the nation. When things are bad in the nation, impeachment and removal become more viable. When things are good, those who are trying to punish the president seem to be sabotaging the nation.

Douthat explains:

But the simplest explanation is that Nixon didn’t survive because his second term featured a series of economic shocks — summarized on Twitter by the political theorist Jacob Levy as “an oil crisis, a stock market crash, stagflation and recession” — while Clinton’s second term was the most recent peak of American power, pride and optimism. In a given impeachment debate, under this theory, neither the nature of the crimes nor the state of the political parties matter as much as whether an embattled president is seen as presiding over stability or crisis, over good times or potential ruin.

As for Trump, the economy is good. No wars are going on. And Trump has stood up for America on the world stage:

But maybe it matters more to Trump’s not good but stable — amazingly stable — approval ratings that he is presiding over a period of general stability, at home and abroad, which would have to fall apart for the supermajority that turned on Nixon to finally turn on him.

You would never know it from the media, but the last years of the Obama presidency were not so good after all:

But one reason Trump managed to get elected was that the waning years of Barack Obama’s second term felt chaotic and dangerous across multiple fronts — with the rise of the Islamic State, the Russian seizure of Crimea and the Ukrainian quasi-war, a modest increase in crime and a series of terrorist attacks domestically, and a version of the child migrant crisis that has recurred under Trump.

While Congressional Democrats are looking increasingly pathetic in their defense of Trump’s Ukraine policy, they ignore completely Obama’s feckless response to the Russian annexation of Crimea. And they have forgotten that Obama refused to send Ukraine the anti-tank missiles it needed to defend itself against Russia.

Have you noticed that the Trump years have seen precious few mass terrorist incidents? No Fort Hood, no Boston Marathon, no San Bernardino, no Orlando. Obama was incapable of denouncing Islamist terrorism... and this seems not to have subdued the terrorists.

As for the Trump era, things seem to be getting better. Except perhaps in the so-called minds of the leftist media commentators and Democratic politicians:

the Trump era has been arguably calmer than 2014-16. The migrant crisis and white-nationalist terrorism have both worsened, but the late-Obama-era crime increase appears to have subsided, campuses and cities have been relatively calm, Russia’s aggression has given way to stalemate, the Islamic State’s defeat has been mostly completed and Islamist terrorism has grown more sporadic than in the period that gave us Charlie Hebdo, San Bernardino and much more. Meanwhile the economy has grown steadily, leaving a majority of Americans in their best financial position since the days when Clinton survived impeachment.

By Douthat’s calculus, the Democrats are holding a losing hand and are trying to bluff their way out of it. It makes good sense to me. And, to you?

AOC Got Them Fired

Once upon a time there was a solar energy company in New York City. Its name was: Bright Power. It was a good company. It was a growing company. It did a lot of public good.

And then one day a Queens bartendress corralled the employees of Bright Power. She told them that they were being exploited by their capitalist oppressors. She recommended that they unionize.

Rah. Rah.

So, the happy workers began taking the steps needed to form a union.

Rah. Rah.

But then, would you believe, the executive officers of Bright Power decided that they did not want to deal with a union. So they fired everyone. And they rehired their employees as contract workers.

Bye, bye, job security.

Another victory for AOC.

Here is the story, from Godfather Politics via Maggie’s Farm:

The owners of a solar power company fired their entire workforce after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agitated the workers and urged them to unionize.

Looks like having the queen of the Green New Deal telling them to unionize was probably not the best advice, huh?

Last week, Bright Power decided to fire its staff and farm all the work out to subcontractors instead of maintaining their own workforce. The firing occurred just as the workers were following Ocasio-Cortez’s advice to form a union.

“We have come to the conclusion that our resources have been spread too thin with so many different kinds of work all being done in-house,” Bright Power CEO Jeffrey Perlman said according to “It makes business sense to return to a fully subcontracted solar installation model.”

According to reports, Bright Power had hired a full-time workforce, employing them for the last four years. But before that, the company used subcontractors.

Guess what, that Queens bartendress, the one who managed to convince Amazon to take its Eastern hub out of Queens… was seriously upset. It hurt her feelings.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Portrait of Parental Neglect

Hopefully, this is an anomaly. Hopefully, this family does not represent the way children are brought up in America today. 

Astonishingly, the letter writer, the oldest of three siblings, had grown up in a disorganized, chaotic household, where absent parents neglected their children. Largely neglected the children’s most basic needs. It wasn't just that there weren't family dinners. Often enough children were not fed at all. 

These parents sacrificed their children’s lives to their careers. And to their need to have some fun. Throughout the time that oldest sibling was at home, he never recognized that the situation was abnormal. I am calling the letter writer a “he” because we do not know its gender.

We should question the fact that the oldest sibling did not see anything wrong with his upbringing while he was living at home. Didn’t he have any friends? Didn’t he ever have any sleepovers or play dates? Didn’t he have an opportunity to see how other families lived? Did any neighbors or other family members know what was going on?

How does it happen that it falls on him to call out his parents for their monstrous neglect?

And we wonder how well he himself has turned out. Does he suffer from emotional problems himself? Has he been consulting with college mental health professionals? Did they tell him that there was something radically wrong with the way he was brought up?

He writes to Carolyn Hax:

Since going away to college, I've realized that the way I was raised wasn't normal. We often had nothing to eat, were ignored by my parents and lived in a messy, chaotic home. They're both gone about 12 hours a day for work. They make decent money but spend most of it on their phones, cigarettes and booze. They both might be functional alcoholics.

I'm back in school, but my brother and sister, 13 and 12, are stuck in that situation. When I was home on break, I made sure they had good food to eat and got some attention from me. When I tried to talk to my parents about this, they got angry and told me that between bills, work, commuting, yardwork — they do enough not to get fined — life is hard and they need their distractions.

But there's no reason for my sister and brother to have to make one box of cereal stretch for a week of breakfasts and lunches and then try to show up at a friend's house at dinnertime hoping they'll get fed. I don't want to risk their ending up in a foster home, where they'll probably be worse off, but I hate knowing how neglected they are. What can I do? Should I report my own parents?

— Neglected

As for what he should do, at the least he should do something. Perhaps a word or two with the siblings would be a good place to start. Perhaps there are other family members who are in a position to intervene. Perhaps he should put in a call to school administrators. Someone needs to have a talk with the parents. And it would clearly be better to find this type of intervention before calling in Child Protective Services.

What Is Positive Psychology?

When it comes to treating psychological disorders the latest and most promising development concerns something called “positive psychology.” Invented by Martin Seligman, through the influence of Abraham Maslow, it shifts the field’s focus away from psychopathology, curing illness, toward developing character.

In effect, it has replaced pseudoscience with ethics. And even with religion. For that it has incurred the ire of many psychologists. Especially those who still believe that they are doing science.

They would have done better if they had recalled a point made by philosopher David Hume around two hundred fifty years ago. Namely, that science is about “is” while ethics is about “should.” There is no science of “should,” for obvious reasons: what you should or should not do under this or that set of circumstances is not a scientific fact. It's a choice.

As we know there is no such thing as a scientific fact about the future. We have hypotheses. We have prophecies. We do not know for a scientific fact that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning. We certainly do not know for a scientific fact the state of the climate a century from now.

So, positive psychology tells people to build on their strengths, not to obsess about their weaknesses. It tells them that they should develop good character traits, not to obsess about their character flaws, their sins and their thought crimes.

Considering that Freudian theory had been hawking a negative psychology, a psychology that moralistically condemned everyone for harboring unconscious criminal desires, a psychology that prescribed penance as a treatment, we can see that Seligman is trying to lead us out of the Freudian wilderness.

As for those who criticize Seligman for relying too much on religion, certainly Freud and Jung were mired in religious thinking. The treatments that are most devoid of religious influence involve psychopharmacology. Surely, they have an important role in some treatment, but they do not build character.

One might find things to criticize about positive psychology, but in truth, it represents a consequential step in the right direction. For now, that should suffice.

Joseph Smith recounts the story of Martin Seligman for Vox. He begins with the following pronouncement, made by Seligman when he became the head of the American Psychological Association twenty years ago:

Seligman told the crowd that psychology had lost its way. It had “moved too far away from its original roots, which were to make the lives of all people more fulfilling and productive,” he said, “and too much toward the important, but not all-important, area of curing mental illness.”

Given that mental illness is, in truth, a contradiction in terms, Seligman was surely making an important point. If we do not confuse the mind with the brain, we understand that the mind is not an organ, and therefore cannot be healthy or sick. Unless we are speaking metaphorically. It would certainly be colossally ironic if we based our scientific approach to mental illness on a specious metaphor.

The practices promoted by positive psychology feel very much like a religion. As though there is something wrong with that. Studies have shown that people who worship regularly enjoy better mental health than do those who do not. The difference is that positive psychology does not direct people to attend services. Perhaps it encourages them in that direction. Wouldn't that be constructive?

What Seligman named “positive psychology,” using a term coined in 1954 by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, promises personal transformation through the redemptive power of devotional practices: counting blessingsgratitudeforgiveness, and meditation. And it is expressly designed to build moral character by cultivating the six cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, humanity, temperance, and transcendence.

Again, we can question Seligman’s definitions, and even his humanistic pretense, but still, he is surely correct to reemphasize the importance of moral action and of good character.

The purpose of life, he said, is well-being, or flourishingwhich includes objective, external components such as relationships and achievements. The road to flourishing, moreover, is through moral action: It is achieved by practicing six virtues that Seligman’s research says are enshrined in all the world’s great intellectual traditions.

Psychologists since the time of Freud have pretended not to care about ethics. They have pretended to be men and women of science and have refused to offer advice or counsel.

Philosophers such as Chapman University’s Mike W. Martin say it has left the field of science and entered the realm of ethics — that it is no longer a purely factual enterprise, but is now concerned with promoting particular values.

As it happens, negative psychology has always been in the business of promoting values, values like expressing your feelings, ignoring what other people think of you, and doing what you want. Of course, these are values. They happen to be useless, designed to make us into authentically self-actualized individuals, not to build character and to make us into functioning members of community.

Fair enough, the Maslow connection has led some people to believe that positive psychology is purely individualistic. In truth, negative psychology has failed to help people because it sees people as self-involved self-important self-indulgent human monads.

Thus I am inclined to dismiss this critique as wrongheaded:

Professors Edgar Cabanas and Eva Illouz, authors of the 2019 book Manufacturing Happy Citizens, have accused positive psychology of advancing a Western, ethnocentric creed of individualism. At its core is the idea that we can achieve well-being by our own efforts, by showing determination and grit. But what about social and systemic factors that, for example, keep people in poverty? What about physical illness and underserved tragedy — are people who are miserable in these circumstances just not trying hard enough?

Obviously, Cabanas and Illouz want us all to become social justice warriors, the better to blame others for our problems. And also to make us feel that the system is so completely rigged against us that we can never succeed. If it sounds like a dodge, a lame excuse for doing nothing, a cultivation of helplessness, that’s because it is.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Is Social Media a Danger to Democracy?

When Donald Trump won the presidency the American left threw an epic tantrum. They rushed out to proclaim, not merely that Trump was illegitimate, but that a vast right wing propaganda machine had addled American minds, forcing them to vote for Trump.

The radical left, the American intelligentsia, the media elite, the academic elite had assumed, with some justification, that during the Obama presidency they had taken over the American mind, that they owned it. They could not imagine that people could not vote the way that their philosopher kings were telling them to vote.

They were not going to allow it to happen again. They rose up in a vast spasm of anger to rid the national debate of any thought that they did not approve. They wanted to shut down the voices of the right, often by slander and defamation. And they would take over the great news purveyors, like Facebook, Twitter and Google… the better to ensure that only left thinking news sources would appear in searches. Didn’t that model of human ineptitude, Sen. Kamala Harris, propose that Twitter silence the president of the United States?

And yet, you might have noticed that the master minds who control social media do not belong to the vast right wing conspiracy. They are serious leftists. Little import that. Philosopher kings have denounced them as monopoly capitalists who must be controlled by leftist government bureaucrats, lest another Donald Trump win another election.

The effort to shut down the marketplace of ideas, lest diversity of thought comes to infect the American mind, is of a piece with the new rage against capitalism. You would have thought that people who value empirical results would have accepted that free enterprise is the best economic policy. Apparently not. They keep telling us that capitalism produces inequality—God forbid—and thus needs to be controlled by the government.

On the other side of the debate, we also note that the American economy has long since been hobbled by a surfeit of bureaucrats, regulators, lawyers, environmentalists, diversity activists and assorted thought police. Add to that the influence of central bankers, who will do anything to prop up the financial system and drive us into more debt than we will ever be able to pay off, and you see a system that is not entirely free.

Anyway, when nitwit celebrities weigh in on the issue, we are unfortunately obliged to take notice. Even Ross Douthat takes the words of Sasha Baron Cohen seriously enough to put them in a New York Times column. As you know, SBC invented the character of Borat, a character whose goal in life was to humiliate whomever he could.

Now SBC is speaking in his own words, sounding the tocsin of alarm over the expanding influence of social media monopolies. He condemns:

 “a handful of internet companies” for building the “greatest propaganda machine in history” and driving the rise of authoritarianism, demagoguery and bigotry.

SBC is sorely disturbed to see that not everyone has descended to his level of stupid. So, he denounces them all as bigots and wants to regulate the internet companies for propagating leftist propaganda. Did you notice that Iran has recently fulfilled SBC’s wet dream, shutting down the internet. He can now start a new movement, fascists against fascism...

But, Douthat sagely notices, those who vote for populist candidates, who dare to defy the conventional wisdom laid down by idiot celebrities, rarely get their news from the internet:

… Twitter also surfaced a recent study from academics in France, Canada and the United States, which examined the relationship between social-media echo chambers and support for populism in France, Britain and the United States. The authors found that there was either no relationship or a negative one: Populist voters were somewhat more likely to hang out with people of a similar ethnicity or social class offline, but on the internet they were no more likely than other voters to inhabit an echo chamber. And social media use was a strong predictor of opposition to the campaign of Donald Trump.

People who used more social media were more, not less, likely to oppose Donald Trump. Does this mean that the internet is a left wing propaganda mill, taking control over the gullible minds of coastal pseudo intellectuals? A sobering thought that.

Leftists who denounce right wing propaganda are simply projecting their own lazy intellectual habits. They love online forums because they can feel like they belong to the more intellectual class… the one that is inhabited by idiot celebrities like SBC.

This poses two problems for leftists. For one, they ignore the real world reasons that people have for voting right. Second, they form the false impression that their views are the only views.

Douthat explains:

First, you end up downgrading the obvious real-world forces driving populism’s appeal, persuading yourself that an algorithmic tweak or better fact-checking will deal with deep trends — economic stagnation, social crisis — that would exist with or without fake news.

Second, you lose sight of the ways in which your own information bubble is a potential radicalizing force — including for people observing it from outside, for whom it makes political liberalism seem like an airless world filled with hyper-educated ideologues. Indeed, on the evidence of a Democratic primary that seems made for the social-media bubble, it’s liberalism that’s being warped by online feedback loops and radicalization cascades.

The Climate Wars, an Update

At the Manhattan Contrarian Francis Menton asks who is winning the climate wars. (via Maggie’s Farm) He points out sagely that a gulf has opened up between the green propaganda that we read in the media and the reality on the ground.

Take the notion that China is weaning itself off of coal power. Take the idea that China is going all-in on renewables.

Well, think again. Menton reports:

Actually, out there in the world, reality continues to trump hysteria. Do you remember reports from a couple of years ago that China was ceasing to develop fossil fuel power and was becoming a “climate leader” by going all in for trendy renewables wind and solar? Well, that was to fool the dopes. Just this month, something called Global Energy Monitor is out with a new report on what’s going on on the ground in China. Bottom line: 148 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity under active construction or with construction being resumed after suspension. The Global Energy Monitor people (who seem to be associated with the End Coal campaign) could not be more horrified:

[A] permitting spree [from 2014 to 2016] brought a cohort of 245 GW of new projects nearly equivalent to the U.S. coal fleet (254 GW) into the developmental pipeline, inflating what was already an overbuilt coal power fleet, with the average running hours for China’s coal plants hovering around 50% since 2015. Today, 147.7 GW of coal plants are either under active construction or under suspension and likely to be revived—an amount nearly equal to the existing coal power capacity of the European Union (150 GW). . . . Coal and power industry groups are proposing the central government increase total coal power capacity by 20 to 40% to between 1,200 and 1,400 GW as part of China’s 2035 infrastructure plan.

At 1400 GW of coal power capacity, China would be closing in on 6 times U.S. coal power capacity. Why again are we bothering with this whole decarbonization thing?

As for Germany, you recall that the singularly inept Chancellor Merkel decided to shut down the nation’s coal and nuclear power plants in order to switch to renewables. How is that one working out?

And over in Germany, the fantasy that wind power can be competitive with fossil fuel power also keeps running into the wall of the real world. Der Spiegel reported on November 19 that the end of certain subsidies, along with opposition from local environmentalists who don’t want forests of ugly wind turbines in their localities, has put the German (and European) wind industry in “free fall”:

The manufacturers of turbines and solar panels are dropping like flies, as subsidies are rolled back across Europe. So-called ‘green’ jobs are a case of easy come, easy go. The wind and solar ‘industries’ that gave birth to those jobs simply can’t survive without massive and endless subsidies, which means their days are numbered. With the axe being taken to subsidies across the globe, their ultimate demise is a matter of when, not if. The wind back in subsidies across Europe has all but destroyed the wind industry: in Germany this year a trifling 35 onshore wind turbines have been erected, so far. Twelve countries in the European Union (EU) failed to install “a single wind turbine” last year.

Happily for Germany, the nation is still building a pipeline with Russia, the better to become dependent on Vladimir Putin for its energy supply. Menton closes by noting that petrostates like Venezuela and Russia and even Saudi Arabia are having problems. All the while American fracking is providing our nation with a plentiful supply of fuel. Or at least it will until President Warren shuts it all down.

The War Against Good Grammar

It is well enough know by now, but bad grammar is bad for business. When you send a barely literate text or email, the recipient will judge you ill if it is riddled with grammatical mistakes.

And yet, in New York schools today, grammar is an afterthought, when anyone teaches it at all.

Apparently, teachers believe that they must choose between individual self-expression and good grammar. Yes, you heard that correctly. This, from the Wall Street Journal:

Whether in public or private schools, teachers worried that their students with bad writing mechanics would suffer in college and the workplace. Some felt torn between their desire to enforce the rules and their fear of sucking the joy out of self-expression. And many were uncertain about how to help teenagers who weren’t taught—or didn’t learn—the foundations of grammar in earlier grades.

Apparently, the Self that you are being told to express is a functional illiterate. Of a lower social class. 

And, how will these children succeed at an SAT verbal aptitude test if they know nothing of grammar? Will they be going to college? Evidently, it is not in their future.

As it happens, there is a social class aspect to all of this. Having bad grammar, speaking barely literate English will consign an individual to a lower social class. No one is going to sit around a dinner table with people who do not know how to speak correct English. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Good-Bye Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

The 2019 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Has Been Canceled

Women on the left and women on the right are cheering the demise of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. In truth, ratings have been declining for some time now, and, what with the notable association of Leslie Wexner, who owns it, with one Jeffrey Epstein, it makes good public relations sense to scuttle the display.

Apparently, a conservative woman named Madeline Fry sees this through the lens of feminist ideology, sort of.

While the company has tried to brand itself as helping women feel good about themselves, its advertising has always been about fulfilling male fantasies.

As though there is something bad about being attractive to men. And, as though anyone ever believed that the company was in business to make women feel good about themselves. I think that the idea was, to feel sexy beneath it all. Perhaps not only to feel sexy... to feel mysterious.

So, Fry complains about how women are being hypersexualized and commodified by Victoria’s Secret. She thinks that she is striking a blow for modesty:

Now, after last year’s fashion show had the lowest ratings ever, the sordid event appears to be gone for good. “Oh, Thank God,” ran a headline in New York magazine’s website for women, the Cut. “It’s Over Now.”

Whether concerns about the show center around “the male gaze” or the hypersexualization and commodification of women, both radical feminists and conservatives can agree on one thing: The Victoria’s Secret fashion show was no good for women, and we're better off without it. Good riddance.

In truth, we are all for a return to modesty. We recall that when Wendy Shalit proposed it two decades ago, the notion was widely rejected as prudish and Puritanical.

One understands, to the extent that one is capable, that women look at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and see something that they hold sacred being rendered vulgar. They see such shows and feel that they are no longer the gatekeepers to feminine sexuality, that it is being bought and sold on the marketplace.

And yet, sad to say, the ubiquity of pornography has caused many women to feel dispossessed of their sexuality. It is no longer something private, something intimate. It is everywhere. Everyone can see it, and thus reduce its mystery. The sexual revolution, with a prompt from many feminists, has destroyed the feminine mystique.

Now, young women are trying to take back possession of their sexuality by sexting images of their resplendent nudity over their iPhones. In that context, Victoria’s Secret must have seemed like a relic. After all, women and girls do not sext in order to show off their underwear.

I would also note the important role that hookup apps like Tinder play in the social lives of more and more young American women. Strangely, women have come to believe that they can retake possession of their pornified sexuality by giving it away for free.

In truth, modesty begins at home. Modesty begins with personal behavior. At a time when the world is awash in pornography, blaming it on lingerie merchants seems like a quaint throwback.

"Swedish Conditions" in Norway

Norwegians are worrying that “Swedish conditions” are coming to their country.

We all know that “Swedish conditions” refers to the crime wave perpetrated by Muslim migrants in several Swedish cities. I have reported on the problem extensively.

Surely, it’s not surprising to see the tolerant Norwegians start paying for their weakness toward Muslim migrants. Like many multiculturalists they are more worried about not being racists than they are protecting their homes, their children, their nation.

A Norwegian emigrant, Kathrine Jebsen Moore describes the current state of Oslo in Quillette (via Maggie’s Farm):

Over the last month, however, Oslo’s city centre has witnessed an eruption of unprovoked attacks on random victims—most of them ethnic Norwegian men—by what police have described as youth gangs, each consisting of five to 10 young immigrants. The attacks typically take place on weekends. On Saturday, October 19, as many as 20 such attacks were recorded, with victims suffered varying degrees of injuries.

One of the incidents involved a group of young men, originally from the Middle East, detained for attacking a man in his twenties in the affluent west end. According to police, the victim had been kicked repeatedly in the head while lying on the ground, in what appeared to be a random, unprovoked beating. Another victim that weekend was the uncle of Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr, who suffered several broken ribs after being mobbed at the Romsås subway station.

The crimes are not being committed by ethnic Norweians:

Immigrants from certain backgrounds—particularly Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghanis—were many times more likely to commit violent crimes than other Norwegians (including other immigrant groups). In 65 out of 80 crime categories, non-Norwegians were over-represented. The largest discrepancy was in regard to domestic violence: Immigrants from non-Western countries were found to be eight times more likely to be charged for such crimes. Rape and murder were also heavily skewed toward these immigrant groups. Worryingly, the figures showed that second-generation immigrants were more likely to be criminals than their parents.

Even a Labour Party politician is sounding the alarm:

Heidi Vibeke Pedersen, a Labour politician representing the immigrant-heavy area of Holmlia, recently wrote a Facebook post about her own experience, which was subsequently reprinted in VG, Norway’s biggest tabloid, under the headline “We have a problem in Oslo”:

Yesterday, my 15-year-old daughter went past [the suburb of] Bøler on a bus half an hour before another 15-year-old was robbed and beaten. Now I need to make a risk assessment: Is it too dangerous for her to go alone to the youth club…Young people now grow up in an environment where threats and violence are common, where adults might be afraid to interfere, and where they are told that the police are racist…Our part of the city is becoming more and more divided. We have areas that are mainly “Norwegian-Norwegian,” and others that have large immigrant populations. This isn’t diversity.

As it happens, second generation Muslim migrants are more likely to commit crimes than are their parents. The Norwegian government has been trying to treat the problem by showing tolerance. If this continues, Jebsen concludes, the country will find itself facing a far-right party. As of now, such a party does not exist. But if Norway keeps going the way of Sweden and Germany, it will happen there.