Monday, November 29, 2021

Blog Fundraising Week Begins

It’s been one helluva year. Our first year with a cognitively impaired president and with a vice president who acts like a giggly schoolgirl has seen the nation continue its descent into stupid.

Among that many posts on this blog I recall a recent post about a German resistance fighter during the Hitler era. A Lutheran clergyman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared that:

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil.

For that the good pastor gave his life.

In today’s America we are continuing our descent into stupid. The most important word in the press this year has not been vaccine; it has been “misinformation” or perhaps “disinformation.”

In a republic inhabited by intelligent citizens, all information would be available. People can decide for themselves what they want to believe or disbelieve. Such are the workings of the free market in ideas.

Yet, now we have arrived at the point where our overlords in Silicon Valley decide what we can and cannot hear. If you disagree, you will be censored or shut down. If they cannot shut you down. they will accuse you of being a purveyor of lies and misinformation. And they shut down accounts, shadow ban you and otherwise accuse you of crimes against whomever.

Evidently, those of us who care about ideas and about free debate have stood up to keep the conversation open. I have on this blog tried to highlight the work of those on the right and the left who have refused to be silenced or cowed by the tech titans.

But, that is not all.

This year saw the great American meritocracy take more decisive steps toward becoming an idiotocracy. Corporate chieftains prescribed diversity training by two notable idiots, Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DeAngelo. Their books became best sellers, proving the point that more and more Americans had joined the ranks of the illiterati.

And then, of course, hiring decisions were not longer based on merit. They were based on considerations of diversity and inclusion. No one considered that we had been doing this for decades now—where has it gotten us?

And then of course the year has seen parents, especially suburban mothers, rise up in anger against school boards across America. In part they were protesting the indoctrination in critical race theory that has infested their children’s learning experience. But, in larger part, they were expressing their horror at the fact that the schools were not teaching math and science, literature and history. School systems, run by brain dead bureaucrats and teachers’ unions were trying to dumb down the population and to deprive America of its future.

If some children were underachieving the solution was to make all other children stupid.

Amazingly, and brazenly, the Attorney General of the Biden Administration, one Merrick Garland, decided to sic the FBI on these suburban mothers. Obviously, the most recent elections offered an opportunity for people to strike back.

Of course, this has been going on for decades now. American schools are not serious institutions. Didn’t we recently discover that something like 70% of the workers in Silicon Valley were educated in foreign countries, especially in China. Walk through the halls of Facebook, Kenny Xu explained, and you will hear people speaking Mandarin.

So, you can ask whether America is still a serious country. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman stirred up a hornet’s nest when he declaimed against our inability to build high speed trains. In response people said that we do not need trains any more, and besides that China was using slave labor.

And yet, such conveyances have been working in Europe for decades, and they do not use slave labor.

Friedman notwithstanding, a serious country would have ports that can efficiently unload cargo container ships. Such is not the case in today’s America. The port of Shanghai, to take an obvious example, is five times more efficient than the port of Long Beach, California. Are we still a serious country?

And then there is climate change hysteria. The Biden administration is shutting down gas pipelines and has tamped down on energy exploration, oil drilling on federal lands and fracking. The result has been more inflation, point that has been lost on the Biden administration. It takes a special kind of stupid to base policy on hysterical adolescent rants about the pending climate apocalypse. And yet, we do not debate the issue. Our philosopher kings insult those who refuse to accept the current dogma. 

American youth cannot qualify for jobs in Silicon Valley. But they are convinced of the pending climate catastrophe and are perfectly willing to shut down industry and transportation to achieve their goals.

The best yet has been reports about what is called Gen Z. The under-25 generation is now entering the workforce and their managers are appalled at what they are seeing. The product of America’s education system they are insolent brats who can barely do any job, but who are happy to correct their managers’ pronouns.

So, we have dumbed down America. It has been ongoing for decades now. It is not a happy picture. This blog, among others has been fighting the good fight to turn the tide. Hopefully, with your support.

Of course, all of this by way of a request for donations to this blog. I have been trying to keep readers abreast of the decline and fall of American intellectual life, and of the degradation of our school system, not to mention our political debate. 

And I have even kept you informed about the latest from the psycho world, yet another space where ignorance reigns and where people are more inclined to feel than to think. 

I have been writing daily posts on this blog for some thirteen years now. I trust that you find that praiseworthy. Obviously, it takes time and work to do the job, and I could not have done it without the financial support of you, the readers.

If you believe that this blog has earned your financial support, you can contribute by clicking on the orange Donate button, on the left side of this page. The folks at Paypal will help you to contribute as much as you would like. You can make a one time holiday contribution or a monthly contribution.

And, you can also contribute by doing your Christmas shopping at Amazon. If you enter the Amazon site by clicking the Amazon ad at the left of this page, a percentage of each purchase price will be credited to your humble blogger. Thus, you can support the blog-- at no extra cost to you.

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Since this is a week-long fundraising campaign, I will be repeating this post several times throughout the week. Be prepared.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Is Empathy Therapeutic?

Something about the current rage for empathy keeps coming up stupid. It becomes even worse when medical professionals try their hand at a bit of psycho theorizing. Such is the case with Dr. Richard Friedman who tries to address the problem of patients who believe that they can only be treated by someone who has felt their pain.

Nowhere in the annals of medicine, as Dr. Friedman knows well, has anyone ever suggested that a physician cannot treat cancer if he has never had cancer. The same applies to setting a broken bone. Do you, sitting in pain in the ER, want a physician who has broken a bone or a physician who knows how to set a broken bone?


Somehow or other psychiatry has been reduced to this kind of mental drool. It is no longer about how best to treat a mental illness. The issue now concerns whether your lived experience correlates with that of your patient.


One understands that this all began as a marketing campaign for female therapists. At a time, several decades ago, as more and more women were entering the mental health field, they started explaining that no male therapist or even psychiatrist could ever understand how it felt to be a woman. Ergo, women should exchange their male therapists for female therapists and bask in the warm glow of empathy. They could have the soul rousing experience of hearing a therapist echo the immortal words of Bill Clinton: “I feel your pain.” 


If this makes anyone feel better, good for them. And yet, nowadays the mental health profession is more likely to veer toward cognitive treatments than touchy-feely psycho-silliness. After all, in Great Britain, the National Health Service will not longer pay for any treatment that is not cognitive or behavioral. They do not much care whether therapists feel their patients’ pain. They are more concerned with what works.


In America that does not seem to be the case. It’s empathy uber alles. Patients are insisting that they can only relate to someone who has the same life experience. Might this not be a flagrant manifestation of a culture of narcissism? While therapists are wringing their crying towels about how much narcissism is out there, they might consider the off chance that they are manufacturing it.


So, Dr. Friedman shares an experience:


I’ve received many phone calls in recent years from patients in the outpatient clinic where I supervise residents in psychiatry, all asking to change therapists. One gay man in his 30s told me that, although his new female therapist seemed okay, he’d be more comfortable being treated by another gay man. An elderly White woman with depression who had recently lost her husband said there was no way her 20-something resident therapist had enough life experience to understand her.


This assumes, dare we mention it, that therapy is about understanding someone’s life experience. How about solving someone’s problems? Isn’t treatment more about solving problems, setting one’s life on track, learning how to function as an adult in the world? So what if your therapist has never menstruated? Do you really think that this makes him (or her) unqualified to help you with that difficult managerial decision?


Apparently, Dr. Friedman has been struggling with this issue. He treats people who are severely depressed, and yet, would you believe it, he has never been seriously depressed himself. Does this mean that he should immediately retire and send all his patients to therapists who have been severely depressed. Will they feel better knowing that their therapist has suffered the same condition?


Beneath her question is a larger one: How well can we understand people whose life experiences — or identities — are vastly different from our own?


As a clinician, I’ve struggled with this dilemma for years. I’m an expert in treating severe treatment-resistant depression. What do I know about depression? On a personal level, nothing. I’ve never been clinically depressed, and I’m a relentlessly cheerful optimist.


And yet, somehow or other the good doctor feels the right feelings. Of course, he just told us that he is relentlessly cheerful, so one wonders how deeply he can feel despair. Besides, if his patients feel that nothing can be done and he feels their feelings, doesn’t that mean that he will feel that there is nothing that can be done. If he thinks that something can be done, does that mean that he is denying their life experience.


As I have occasionally noted, using empathy as a guidepost tends to make people less than intelligent:


But my lack of shared experience has never stopped me from bonding with or helping my patients. That’s because I don’t need to experience suicidal thoughts or feelings myself to recognize how disturbing, and dangerous, they are to my patients. Psychiatric training teaches that empathy — the ability to imagine the mind of others — is critical to being an effective therapist. Empathy is really theory of mind in action: It allows us to understand people whose life experiences are very different from our own, which is probably most of our patients, and most people out in the world.


If empathy is shared hopelessness, then it is surely not a useful arrow in the psychiatrist’s quiver. He would do better to examine his patient’s situation objectively and draw up a plan of action for dealing with it. Isn’t that what cognitive treatment offers. Strange to see that a senior New York psychiatrists acts as though cognitive treatment does not exist.


And, let us not forget that empathy does serve a useful purpose-- in mothers of infants. As Dutch researcher Elseline Hoekzema has discovered through the brain scans of pregnant women, pregnancy causes their empathy circuits to expand. After all, when you are dealing with an infant you do better to be able to read variations in mood. By definition, infants cannot tell their mothers what they need or want.


This tells us that the best way to enhance your capacity for empathy is to get pregnant. If you cannot get pregnant, you are out of luck.


The other slightly surprising conclusion I would draw is quite simple. If a therapist is treating his patient with empathy he is effectively babying and infantilizing him. 


Dare we say that the current psycho wisdom about empathy has very little to do with empathy. Friedman says that you can enhance your capacity for empathy by considering both sides of an argument. That is, if you put together reasons why someone might believe something that you do not believe. Obviously, this has nothing to do with empathy. It has to do be with being liberal minded and even rational, as the old saying goes:


Here’s an exercise that might boost your empathy: Listen carefully to someone you want to communicate with better, and choose something they said or did that you don’t like or agree with. Now imagine at least two reasons why they might have said or done that thing. Then ask the person to tell you about their experience — and don’t react emotionally to what they say. This is about opening your mind to someone else’s and learning all that you can. Get the data and withhold what you think and feel for later. Now, can you imagine why this person thinks or behaves as they do?


Not only that, but the exercise resembles a practice that was coined by cognitive therapists decades ago. When facing a negative self-deprecating thought, Aaron Beck recommended that patients do home work exercises where they write down any evidence that would affirm the self-deprecating thought and any evidence that would refute it. This is certainly a useful mental exercise. It has nothing whatever to do with empathy.


Apparently, different people from different backgrounds have different experiences. Our multicultural world tells us that this must be true. And yet, should we seek to emphasize differences or should we try to find common ground. In our multicultural mania we assume that people have different experiences and that these experiences, and most especially the pain that attends to belonging to a victim group, are the most valid part of their psyches.


Just as psychiatrists don’t need to share personal experiences to be able to help their patients, many of us could better understand others, including those from other backgrounds, if we put some effort into it.


And then, do we really want to validate violent traumas. We recall that Helen Epstein wrote a book called Children of the Holocaust.  Therein she described the recovery process of two different groups of holocaust survivors in Montreal. She discovered that the group that tried to forget about what had happened had done much better in life than the group that clung to the experience and let it define who they were. 


Encouraging patients to share their pain, to allow their pain to define them and to pretend to belong to the same victim cult does not seem to be therapeutic.


Some life experiences, such as violent traumas, can make it understandably hard to open our minds to others who are different — and of course we would not want to retraumatize a victim by insisting that they do. But there are many situations in which people would do well to consider the potential benefits of connecting with someone outside their particular group.


So, Friedman does not seem to understand that empathy is an emotional reaction. The word itself derives from a Greek root that means-- feeling with. To say that pathos does not involve emotion shows a poor grasp of the concept:


Empathy offers a pass out of our seemingly intractable conflicts; consider, say, your friend who refuses to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Unlike sympathy, which is feeling pity or sorrow for another’s misfortune, empathy doesn’t require an emotional response. Nor does it mean that you have to agree with or even like the person you were trying to communicate with. You just have to be open and curious enough to get a sense of another’s mind. Note that empathy can even be abused: Some people can use empathy to exploit grievances or weaponize anger in others.


Then again, what does he mean when he says that most people want to be understood. Do they want their pain to be validated? Do they want their pain to define them? Do they feel better when they discover a therapist who shares their pain?


Or does understanding require that they deal with clinicians who do not believe that trauma defines them and who are more concerned with helping them to get over whatever they need to get over and less concerned with affirming their status as victims.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Covid Restrictions Hurt Children

Surely, it remains one of the most important stories coming out of the pandemic. We have occasionally addressed it on this blog, and we note that more and more researchers are also addressing it. The story involves the damage done to schoolchildren by school closings and mask mandates. One recalls the images of school board meetings where suburban mothers expressed their hostility to such impositions,

Now, in a story reported by the Daily Mail, based on serious academic research, we learn that school closings and mask mandates have had a markedly deleterious impact on childhood development. (via Maggie's Farm)


Anyway, here is the story, based first on research done at Brown University:


Social distancing measures including face masks are suspected of causing young children's development to have drop by up to 23 per cent during the COVID pandemic, according to a new study. 


Brown University scientists Sean CL Deoni, Jennifer Beauchemin, Alexandra Volpe, and Viren D’Sa, penned the review, in conjunction with the global consulting firm Resonance, collecting data from 1,600 children - and their caregivers - who have been enrolled in the study between the ages of 0 and 5 on a rolling basis. 


The probe analyzed the cognitive development of the youngsters through infancy, childhood and adolescence, and looked at how average development scores in three key areas had been affected during the COVID era - with shocking results. 


This is very bad news indeed:


Results showed the early learning composite mean result dropped by a whopping 23 per cent, from a high of just under 100 in 2019, to around 80 in 2020, and finally 77 in 2021.


Meanwhile, the verbal development quotient also dropped dramatically, from an average of 100 in 2018 to just below 90 in 2020, and around 70 in 2021.


The non-verbal development quotient also experienced a similar dip, from a mean score of around 105 in 2019, to 100 in 2020 and around 80 in 2021.


What other damage have mask mandates caused:


'In addition,' the report adds, 'masks worn in public settings and in school or daycare settings may impact a range of early developing skills, such as attachment, facial processing, and socioemotional processing.'    


As happens, the impact was diverse. Children, especially boys from poor families were hurt the most:


The authors said that boys from poor backgrounds were most at risk of a drop in cognitive testing scores, with richer parents better able to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.


They explained: 'Comparing yearly mean scores since 2011, controlling for age, gender, demographic, and socioeconomic indicators, we find striking evidence of declining overall cognitive functioning in children beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2021. 


'We find that males appear significantly more impacted than females, and that higher socioeconomic status (SES, as measured by maternal education) helps buffer against this negative impact. 


'On a more individual level, we examined longitudinal pre and during-pandemic trends in the same children from 2018 to 2021, again finding declines in ability in 2020 and 2021.'


Obviously, parents have known about this. After all, who knows their children better:


The study's findings come as parents across the globe grapple with the idea that wearing masks may interfere with the natural learning experiences and communication skills of their young children.


A researcher at the University of Wisconsin has drawn similar conclusions:


'There are sensitive periods in early childhood development in which language development and emotional development are really rapidly developing for the first few years of life,' Ashley Ruba, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Child Emotion Lab, told CNN in August.


The doctor added that developing children need to see others' subtle verbal or facial cues to accurately discern how someone is feeling - a skill that proves paramount as the youngster age.  


It shows the importance of face, of seeing faces, of reading faces, of gaining a sense of other people’s emotions by looking at them face-to-face. 


What's more, not being able to see someone's face also inhibits kids from picking up whether something or a situation is safe or dangerous, Ruba further asserted.


Of course, replacing schools with Zoom learning has also had a negative impact on children:


With that said, masks may not be [the only] thing spurring the drastic reduction in kids' cognitive abilities, the study states, adding that there are likely a range of pandemic-related factors that can be blamed for the dip - specifically the lack of social interactions between the still-developing youths. 


That came after schools were closed for in-person learning, with many experts blaming the lack of social contact for a boom in mental health issues among children, and some areas seeing a spike in youth suicides.


As for risk of infection among children, the story remains the same:

 

COVID infections tend to be harmless for younger children, with just 731 confirmed COVID deaths recorded for youngsters aged between 0 and 18 from March 2020 to November 24 2021, according to CDC figures.


That has seen many parents call for most restrictions to be lifted for children, particularly as children aged five and up can now get vaccinated.


The information is out there. The conclusions seem increasingly unambiguous. Shutting down schools and forcing children to mask up has caused many American children to suffer cognitively, emotionally and socially. 


The only remaining question is whether and to what extent they will recover.

Joe Biden's Cognitive Abilities Unquestioned

Our mainstream media is continuing its serious work covering up for President Biden. It’s not just the long history of family corruption via influence peddling. The media is doing everything in its power to cover up the story of Joe Biden’s manifest cognitive decline. 

Of course, by now most citizens have seen enough of the Biden performance to have understood that crazy old Joe has lost more than a few steps. And yet, the media persists in covering up the truth. Or better, in refusing to address the issue.


But, it is not just the media. The medical staff at Walter Reed has failed to report accurately about Biden. 


As you know, Biden recently underwent a physical. He had a non-cancerous polyp removed from his intestine. And yet, as Congressman Ronny Jackson, former rear admiral in the Navy, physician to Barack Obama and Donald Trump, points out, the report is filled with “superficial fluff.”


One understands that Jackson is not merely a retired physician. He must have contacts at Walter Reed, with people who did not want to be part of the cover up. 


In a recent appearance on Newsmax, Jackson explained:


“Honestly, there were six pages of stuff that most people just don’t care about,” Jackson said, adding “I mean, you know, Dr. O’Connor spent six pages addressing like an occasional cough and some stiffness and things like that when the elephant in the room was the president’s cognitive ability.”


Jackson continued, “Over 50% of this country does not believe he’s cognitively fit to be our Commander in Chief and our head of state, yet that wasn’t addressed anywhere in there.”


One recalls the old days when the media was blasting out stories about Donald Trump’s cognitive abilities. They insisted that Trump was unfit for office and had to be removed, via the 25th amendment. When Trump did a physical, one that included a cognitive assessment test, his physician Ronny Jackson, stood before the press and answered questions. When Biden did his physical, no one answered press questions. And no one in the press thought the matter concerning:


“We set the precedent when we did President Trump’s physical. I did,” Jackson explained, further noting “The far-Left and the mainstream media were relentless in their pursuit of me to do something to address not only his physical capabilities, but his mental capabilities, which we did — we did a cognitive test. As far as I’m concerned, we set the precedent. And he should have had one done as well.”


Jackson added that “if anyone needs a cognitive test, it’s this president that we have right now. And I was really surprised to see there wasn’t any mention of anything like that in there.”


Why did they not do a cognitive test? Quite simply, Jackson said, Biden’t team knew that he would fail it. 


The Texas Congressman emphasised that Biden’s team “know that if they gave him a cognitive test, that he would have failed miserably, and then they would have had to explain that away somehow.”


Urging that Biden’s handlers “were doing it just to check a box,” Jackson added “Dr. O’Connor should have done what I had to do whenever I briefed President Trump’s physical, is stand up in front of the press in the press briefing room, and brief the physical. I was up there for an hour and 15 minutes answering every single question that the press had picking his physical apart. And instead what did we get? We just got a six page report and that’s the end of it. We’re supposed to just move on and play like everything’s fine now.”


Friday, November 26, 2021

There's No Arguing with Stupid

Have you ever heard the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He was a German pastor and theologian who lived and died under the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer fought Nazism when there really were Nazis. His was real resistance.

Among his thoughts we find the following to be especially salient in our current historical moment. I take it from a Peter Burns article in Medium:


“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian. 


Think about it. Burns did:


It was a dark time in his homeland. Total war had engulfed the world, and a totalitarian regime was controlling the country. Bonhoeffer pondered how this came to be. He thought about the nature of evil, but came to the conclusion it was not evil itself that was the most dangerous enemy of the good. Rather, it was stupidity.


For you can fight against evil. You can expose it. Evil makes people uneasy. As Bonhoeffer continued, “evil carries with itself the seeds of its own destruction.” To prevent willful malice, you can always erect barriers to stop its spread. Against stupidity you are defenseless.


You can defend yourself against evil. You can expose it by appealing to reason. Against stupidity, Bonhoeffer said, there is no defense. You cannot argue against it, because stupid people refuse to engage in argument. 


He wrote:


Against stupidity we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.


How do people arrive at peak stupid? Simply put, Bonhoeffer posited that the problem was more sociological than psychological. People glom on to stupid beliefs because they want to be part of the crowd, or because they are afraid to defy the will of the crowd and the prevailing dogma.


We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem.


When sociability depends on adherence to an ideology, stupidity takes over. It’s like being part of the herd. Burns explains:


Numerous heuristics evolved in order to help individuals navigate the world. Among these, following the herd is arguably the most prominent. It makes sense. When information is scarce, doing what others are doing is probably the best course of action. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work all the time. In some cases it can bring about bad results, due to cognitive biases.


Herd behavior is among the pre-eminent causes of stupidity. Numerous scientific studies have shown how individual humans can be swayed by the crowd to adopt positions which go against all logic. In a classic examination of human folly, psychologist Solomon Asch looked at how individual people respond to the majority group around them.


Do they conform to the group’s view? Or do they strike out on their own contrarian (but ultimately correct) path? The results were mind-boggling, but incredibly telling for showing how stupidity arises. In the course of the 12 experiments on conformity, around 75% of the participants conformed to the majority view at least once.


People overcome with stupidity act as if possessed. Their logical part of the brain is shut down. Such a person starts acting as a political zombie, with whom any type of logic or discussion of facts fails. Instead, they function on the level of slogans, catchwords, and low-level rallying cries.


Since rational argument threatens the individual’s sense of belonging to a crowd or even a mob, there is no use arguing rationally. One should also note that the mob persuades people by threatening them with social extinction, with being canceled.


Bonhoeffer writes about trying to deal with a stupid individual:


In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.


When the force of the crowd becomes strong enough, it causes minds to lock. Bonhoeffer declares that it is useless to convince the stupid person.


Yet, argue with the individual actors using logic and facts, and you get nowhere. Their brains are locked, captive to pre-conceived notions and biases. As Bonhoeffer noted, it is wiser to abandon all attempts at convincing the stupid person. It’s of no use.


In Bonhoeffer’s words:


We must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person.


Of considerable interest here is the simple fact that the German citizens who succumbed to the Nazi message were not, strictly speaking, uneducated. In principle, they were highly educated. Worse yet, their minds had been marinating in idealistic philosophy for centuries.


If you think that education is a panacea, you should think again. And if you think that philosophical idealism, the kind purveyed by Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger is the solution, you should understand that it is the problem.


After all, the greatest philosopher of the Nazi era, Martin Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and used his academic position at the University of Freiberg to militate for Hitler. Even though he distanced himself from Naziism in time, he never recanted his adherence.


As you know, Heidegger was the progenitor of a philosophical method called deconstruction. It has been taught in American graduate programs for decades now, despite everyone’s full knowledge of its origin. Naturally, those who have hopped on to this Nazi philosophy do not accept that it’s founder’s political beliefs are relevant. Dare we say that they have reached peak stupid.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Billionaires in Therapy

Just in case you are short of things to be thankful for today, a New York therapist has a suggestion: be thankful that you are not a billionaire.

If you were a billionaire you might be consulting with therapist Clay Cockrell. And then, according to Cockrell, you would be a miserable excuse for a human being.


One needs to mention that Cockrell, apparently short of common sense, would do better not to be bragging in the pages of the Guardian about how rich his patients are. And surely, he would do better not to tout the fact that they are all miserable. Isn’t discretion supposed to be the hallmark of therapy?


And besides, at the risk of offering a cheap shot, isn’t he, as a therapist, somewhat responsible for his billionaire patients’ misery? 


So, Cockrell ends his opening paragraph with this sentence:


I work as a psychotherapist and my specialism is ultra-high net worth individuals.


To be fair, the word “specialism” is sometimes used in Great Britain. And yet, if Cockrell did not want to sound like some mix of pretentious and illiterate, he should have said something like: I specialize in….


You might have guessed, but young Cockrell offers his billionaire clients gobs and gobs of empathy. He tells us this, just in case you were wondering why they are all so miserable. If that is the best your therapist can do, you would be miserable too.


Anyway, we can give thanks that Cockrell is not a television critic. For some inexplicable reason he thinks that his patients’ lives are just like the television drama called Succession.


Apparently, everyone has seen it. And everyone, your blogger excepted, thinks that it’s great television:


Over the years, I have developed a great deal of empathy for those who have far too much. The television programme Succession, now in its third season, does such a good job of exploring the kinds of toxic excess my clients struggle with that when my wife is watching it I have to leave the room; it just feels like work.


Actually, Succession presents caricatures of a certain family. It is not very well written and not very well acted. It is more like propaganda, designed to demean and defame people who Frank Rich-- who counts as an executive producer-- does not like. If you want to see a far better television show about the Fox News Empire, check out Showtime’s The Loudest Voice.


Of course, if these billionaires are consulting with Cockrell to receive a heaping platter of empathy, they do not have very much judgment. If treatment has merely allowed them to share their misery with an empath, they are being rolled.


In any case, feeling empathy for people’s problems is not the same thing as helping them to solve the problems.


Now, for the problems that some of these people have, beginning with this one:


What could possibly be challenging about being a billionaire, you might ask. Well, what would it be like if you couldn’t trust those close to you? Or if you looked at any new person in your life with deep suspicion? I hear this from my clients all the time: “What do they want from me?”; or “How are they going to manipulate me?”; or “They are probably only friends with me because of my money.”


Out there in the real world, we make judgments about other people. We trust those who have earned our trust and we do not trust those who have shown themselves unworthy of our trust. It is not that complicated. And besides, the super rich often hang around with other people who are similarly well endowed. It’s important to learn who you can and cannot trust, but you are not going to learn by listening to a therapist whine about how miserable it must be not to be able to trust everyone. No one can trust everyone.


And then billionaires apparently have this problem:


Then there are the struggles with purpose – the depression that sets in when you feel like you have no reason to get out of bed. Why bother going to work when the business you have built or inherited runs itself without you now? If all your necessities and much more were covered for the rest of your life – you might struggle with a lack of meaning and ambition too. My clients are often bored with life and too many times this leads to them chasing the next high – chemically or otherwise – to fill that void.


Is he talking about people who have earned fortunes or people who have inherited fortunes. It’s not the same. If you have a business to run you do better not to think that it can run itself without you. If you no longer want to run the business, you can undertake any one of a number of other activities that will engage your mind and your intentions. What you do not want is to have a therapist who feels you pain and showers you with empathy about your miserable condition.


Dare I mention that for the most part people who are in the sub-billionaire category do not want to hear billionaires complain about how hard they have it.


And then, as though their problems never cease, billionaires do not like to talk about money.


Cockrell explains:


Most of the people I see are much more willing to talk about their sex lives or substance-misuse problems than their bank accounts. Money is seen as dirty and secret. Money is awkward to talk about. Money is wrapped up in guilt, shame, and fear. There is a perception that money can immunise you against mental-health problems when actually, I believe that wealth can make you – and the people closest to you – much more susceptible to them.


And yet, think for a second or two. How many people do you know who like to talk about money. It is rude and crude. It feels like lording it over someone, for instance, a mental health professional, who does not have as much money.


Fair enough, some people are so arrogant that they like to talk about money. It’s a bad habit. They should get over it.


And then, Cockrell returns to the television show, Succession, in order to buy into the propaganda about the Murdoch empire:


People like the series’ lead character, Logan Roy, who came from humble beginnings to create an incredibly successful media empire. His entire life has been focused on his business. However, it is evident that he has failed miserably at raising fully functioning children.


Obviously, these are fictional characters, designed to malign the reputation of Fox News. The purpose is simple. In order to ensure that everyone thinks alike in America, Fox News needs to be shut down. And yet, Cockrell does not question the bias of the producers of this television show.


And besides, people who have made billions sometimes do have fully functioning children. Sometimes people who do not have billions raise dysfunctional children. The difference lies in whether or not said children are pushed and prodded to make something of their lives, and are not allowed simply to live off their parents’ fortunes. Some billionaires understand this. Some do not.


Cockrell continues, to toss around a few pieces of contemporary psychobabble:


Too many of my clients want to indulge their children so “they never have to suffer what I had to suffer” while growing up. But the result is that they prevent their children from experiencing the very things that made them successful: sacrifice, hard work, overcoming failure and developing resilience. An over-indulged child develops into an entitled adult who has low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and a complete lack of grit.


Many billionaires understand these points. If their therapist has not explained these facts of life they should find another therapist.


Cockrell then confuses the characters in the television show with his patients-- suggesting that he does not see his patients as human beings.


There are few people in the world to whom they can actually relate, which of course leads to a lack of empathy. The next time you watch Succession, see how the Roys interact with their staff and others outside their circle. Notice the awkwardness and lack of human connection and how dreadfully they treat each other. It’s fascinating and frightening. When one leads a life without consequences (for being rude to a waiter or cruel to a sibling, for example) there really is no reason to not do these things. After a while, it becomes normalised and accepted. Living a life without rules isn’t good for anyone.


Succession is built on the idea of a group of wealthy children vying for who will take the mantle from their father – none of them are able to convince him that they can do it. And that is because they have reached adulthood completely unprepared to take on any responsibility. The wealthy parents I see, often because of their own guilt and shame, are not preparing their children for the challenges of managing their wealth. There is truth in the old adage “shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations”. On numerous occasions the child of a wealthy family has said to me: “We never talked about money. I don’t know how much there is or what I’m supposed to do with it. I don’t know how to take care of it. It’s all so secret and dirty.”


One does not know where to begin unpacking this psychobabble. If billionaire parents do not care about raising their children, and if they imagine that giving them a large inheritance fulfills all parental responsibilities, someone should wise them up. Parents are responsible for teaching their children about money, about budgets and about investing. Otherwise, they can hire tutors.


If their children are arrogant snots, they can send their children off to join the military or some such organization, like a little league team, where they cannot get by writing checks. Or they can give them a religious education that teaches them the virtue of humility.


One understands that many billionaires are self-important assholes. Perhaps their dysfunctional children are God’s way of telling them that they are not very good parents and that there is more to life than money. Then again, when a certain billionaire president decided to hire his daughter and son-in-law, both children of great privilege, the media rose up in horror at the notion of seeing such children go to work. And when said son-in-law was instrumental in crafting the Abraham Accords, the same media chose largely to ignore the accomplishment.


Clearly, when it comes to choosing a therapist, billionaires can do better than the Guardian columnist. Then again, it does not speak well of them that they are willing to go to a therapist in order to be put on an empathy drip.


Dare we mention that these patients seem to complain a lot. Perhaps their therapist should wise them up. They did not make billions by complaining.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Afghan Debacle Broke State Department Officials

This story deserves more attention than it has generally received. We all know of the Biden administration’s debacle in Afghanistan.

In its rush to surrender to the Taliban, Biden, Blinken and company made themselves look like incompetent fools. They damaged American credibility and sold out national honor. One might argue about whether they could have predicted the collapse of the Afghan forces, but, when it comes to leadership, the people in charge are the people in charge. And the people in charge are responsible for the outcome, regardless of what someone else might have done,

Yet, the mainstream media does not much care about any of it. The fact that we left billions in military equipment behind does not faze them. The fact that we abandoned thousands of allies who had worked with us in country does not seem worthy of being reported. 


Now, as Afghan parents are selling their female children to Taliban fighters, we are happy to ignore the story. Our concern, as Politico reports it, is that the State Department officials who were working on the withdrawal problems are now suffering from severe mental health issues. (via Maggie’s Farm) Many of them have been broken emotionally from the strain of implementing a stupid and cowardly policy, of being part of a monumental failure.


The mainstream press might not know it, but the Biden withdrawal, led by the singularly inept Antony Blinken, was a horrific failure.


The mental health issues of State Department officials count as more evidence of what happens to an organization when its leaders are incompetent fools. We recall that Sen. John McCain stood before the senate one day and denounced Antony Blinken as a dangerous coward during an earlier confirmation debate. As it happened, McCain was right.


So, Politico is reporting on the mental health of State Department employees. I will point out that it is impossible, in reading this report, to discern the gender of the staffer in question. Isn’t that the most telling indication that we have entered a gender-free world?


Or does it mean that the officials were empathetic females whose feelings got the best of them? Surely, the notion that empathy is a marvelous quality to have when dealing with difficult executive situations should be shelved upon reading the stories about the State Department trying to manage the Biden Afghanistan surrender. Empathy could only render these officials dysfunctional.


Politico writes:


In the days after the Taliban took Kabul in August, a desperate Afghan father pleaded over the phone with a State Department official to help get his family out of harm’s way.


On the call, the Washington, D.C.-based State official, manning the phone half a world away from the turmoil, could hear pounding on the man’s door.


“The Taliban, you could hear them in the background. You could hear the women in the house screaming. It was awful,” the official said in an interview. “It’s so scary. You don't know if you're going to be on the phone with someone when they get shot. You don't know if the email you're getting from that person is going to be the last email from them.”


Of course, life and death situations are likely to provoke some emotional response. And yet, the larger issue was the rank incompetence of the Blinken State Department:


Interviews with more than half a dozen State Department employees in addition to government officials and advocates, as well as a review of internal administration emails POLITICO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal the desperation and disorganization that consumed frontline State Department employees. As they feverishly attempted to assist Afghans and Americans stranded in the war-torn country and fielded a crush of calls and emails — the inbox where the State Department directed Afghans to send Special Immigrant Visa applications crashed at least once — officials say they were unclear of their own authorities and what policies they were allowed to employ to help evacuate people. It all triggered mental health issues for some staffers, from which some are still attempting to recover, months later.


Their stories are a testament to the U.S. government’s lack of preparedness for the cratering security situation, even as President Joe Biden pushed through his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.


These officials were not used to failing at that level. One official said that it broke him (or her).


“This experience broke a lot of people, including me,” a second State Department official said. “We were all getting inundated by personal requests to help specific people from everyone we’ve ever known or worked with. And we were powerless to do anything, really. Feeling like you’re supposed to be the government’s 911, but knowing the call for help didn’t go very far beyond you was extremely demoralizing.”


It was, as yet another State official put it, “like we were throwing grains of sand into the ocean.”


So, the State Department was not facilitating the evacuation of Afghans. It had found a larger issue: the mental health and nervous breakdowns of its staff:


In interviews with POLITICO, State Department staffers describe having been “manic” or suffering “a complete mental breakdown” at the time of the evacuation. They spoke of the need for mental health support in its aftermath. One official reported that colleagues continue to meet on occasion for breakfast “just to cry.” Another disclosed seeking out therapy. More than one State Department official described the Afghanistan withdrawal as having damaged them emotionally. The people interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous so they could speak candidly.


“We’re not used to failure at State, and in every single possible circumstance, it was failure,” one of the officials said. “You’re failing with the email, you're failing with getting guidance on what we could do and what we could not do. We weren't empowered enough. No one really understood what our policy was.”


It is interesting to see that Blinken made staff mental health his “top priority:”


In response to this article and questions about caring for the mental health of its employees, the State Department released a lengthy statement to POLITICO that said Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s top priority was the health, safety and well being of department personnel and their families. Department officials said they made mental health professionals available to staffers in the United States and abroad, even using therapy dogs, among other types of support. They acknowledged, however, that given the flood of information staffers had to deal with, many may have missed the notices on mental health.


Again, the mental health issues were produced by an incompetent administration:


Their stories are a testament to the U.S. government’s lack of preparedness for the cratering security situation, even as President Joe Biden pushed through his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.


“This experience broke a lot of people, including me,” a second State Department official said. “We were all getting inundated by personal requests to help specific people from everyone we’ve ever known or worked with. And we were powerless to do anything, really. Feeling like you’re supposed to be the government’s 911, but knowing the call for help didn’t go very far beyond you was extremely demoralizing.”


The emotional wear on U.S. officials was made worse by the fact that so many had a direct connection to Afghanistan and its people during the U.S.’s 20-year presence there. A huge number of U.S. diplomats have served in the country at one point or another.


“It was really hard to watch everything we’d worked on crumble,” a U.S. diplomat involved in the situation said. “We have a lot of contacts and friends who are still there.”


The inundation of SOS requests went on for weeks beyond the Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline.


Photo after photo of passports popped up in employee inboxes. Haunting images of stranded babies, young girls or the bloodied victims of the Taliban populated their texts and emails.


The department did not have a clue about what to do to clean up the mess it had made. But, it brought in therapy dogs to help staff deal with their nervous breakdowns:


The department also brought in therapy dogs to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., a service appreciated by the employees, including several interviewed for this article. The medical bureau also produced videos, held multiple support group meetings and offered webinars focused on mental health, the spokesperson said. And, as of Oct. 19, the Office of Employee Consultation Service (ECS) held over 600 one-on-one counseling sessions with employees involved in Afghanistan-related activities, with about half of the sessions with those overseas, according to the State Department.


Many officials were clear that the fault lay with the leaders. And yet, their voices have barely been heard. If they had spoken out against President Trump they would have been great heroes, especially if they had accused him of doing something that Joe Biden had done-- engaging a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Now they have to make do with therapy dogs and free counseling sessions, while the media buries the story:


But several of the officials said their trauma was only exacerbated by the disappointment they felt in their own leaders and what they described as a lack of a clear plan.


“The department really struggled to provide direction … It was almost like after every meeting, there’d be a meeting, and then there’d be new guidance,” said one official.


While Biden and others have blamed the chaos on a failure of intelligence, several State officials weren’t ready to let their leadership off the hook, saying the problems went beyond faulty intelligence.


“I think there was a general consensus that Kabul would fall and it would fall across the backs of the people who were closest to the United States the hardest. And it was inevitably going to lead to panic,” one of the officials said. “I think anyone who works with human rights or women’s rights or democracy or had spent time in Kabul, our embassy or in our mission staff would have been able to say that. So I don’t think it was an intelligence failure. I think it was a management failure.”


When does a management failure become a dereliction of duty? Perhaps a new Congress, in 2023 will investigate the department management and call its leaders to account.