Thursday, October 6, 2022

Assessing Future Trends

Surely, Niall Ferguson counts as one of the nation’s leading economic historians. But, he is also a public intellectual. In order to be a public intellectual you need to follow trends. Better yet, you need to prognosticate.

This might make you like the person that Wordsworth once called “mighty prophet, seer blessed,” but when he wrote that line, the poet was referring to a 6 year old child.


I am not sure of the relevance, but the truth is, no one gets punished for bad prophecies. And, following trends, as Ferguson explains, contains a risk factor. Take, for example, the trend that Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has identified: things have been getting better for the human species over the past centuries. One might make this argument, cogently, but a trend does not need to go on forever. It might be a fake-out, and for all I know, things will keep getting better until they get worse.


As Wittgenstein so pithily remarked, there is no such thing as a scientific fact about tomorrow. This fact notwithstanding, climate change hysteria assures us that the trend toward global warming will continue unabated until we are all roasted. And yet, climate change hysteria is an especially Western mania, so we might believe, following trends, that nations who seem more concerned with providing for their populations’ energy needs will prevail in the long run.


And besides, the fact that the stock market has been in an upwards trend for many years now-- it’s called a bull market-- does not mean that it will continue thusly forever. Anyone who has spent the past couple of years buying the dips has been losing money. The notion that the long term trend is going to bail them out feels like one illusion too many.


So, what trends does Ferguson identify. First, climate change. This is a given, because if you do not accept it, and fail to note that even if the climate is getting warmer, this is not necessarily a bad thing, you will be dismissed from the ranks of mighty prophets.


The planet keeps getting warmer and that trend is almost certain to continue, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Try reading its Sixth Assessment Report if you want to see how hard it will be to avoid rising average temperatures in the next 30 years.


Next, Ferguson remarks that population keeps growing, even though the population of some countries is declining, as is life expectancy. Of course, this ignores the possibility that a shorter life span will reduce medical bills for the nation at large:


The world’s population keeps growing, per the United Nations World Population Prospects, thanks mainly to elevated fertility and improving mortality in Africa. The combination of rising population and climate change in Africa is a recipe for hunger, if not famine, conflict and mass migration.


Opioids are killing large numbers of people, though we are not on sufficiently good terms with the governments of Mexico and China to do anything about it. 


In the US, meanwhile, life expectancy is declining, especially because of opioid deaths, as John Burn-Murdoch recently showed in the Financial Times. Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University have been making this point about “deaths of despair” for some years.


And then, Ferguson addresses an issue that is near and dear to this blog. The declining mental health of young people. You would think that all of the available treatments would have addressed the problems, unless you understand that most of these treatments are not very effective. 


As for what has caused the problem, no one seems to understand that the attack on the integrity of the family has produced far too many broken homes. Along with it, the war against men has produced significant damage. Of course, these are feminist policies, so one is not allowed to say who caused what.


Meanwhile, the mental health of young people is a disaster. As Derek Thompson reported in a recent Atlantic essay, the share of American high-school students who say they suffer from “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26% to 44% between 2009 and 2021. More than a quarter of girls reported that they had seriously contemplated attempting suicide during the pandemic.


Aside from the adverse effects of Covid lockdowns, Thompson offered four explanations for the plight of Generation Gloom: social media addiction, declining “sociality” (which I translate as sociability), the perception that the world is a stressful place, and excessively protective modern parenting. The third of these raises the possibility that negative news contributes to a negative trend.


Now, Ferguson does not want to sound like a Cassandra-- many of the most astute Cassandras out there are decidedly pessimistic about market trends-- so he finds some good trends. Beginning with battery life-- it has become cheaper. The life span of Americans is declining. But battery life is increasing. There, this is comforting:


OK, I know, there are some good trends. For example, the unit costs of photovoltaics and batteries for electric vehicles have fallen substantially over the past two decades. In most of the world except South America there has been a significant gain in tree canopy cover since 1982. And whenever I sit down with my friend the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, he always cheers me up. The last time I saw him, in 2019, we were all going switch from real meat to impossible burgers. This year he has high hopes of nuclear fusion. But those are moonshots, not trends.


And yet, unfortunately, in the world of finance, the trends in inflation and debt and productivity are declining:


Meanwhile, how is the trend in inflation around the world in any sense good? Thirty-seven countries now have double-digit inflation rates, according to the International Monetary Fund’s April World Economic Outlook, and the energy-price shock shows no sign of fading in either gas or coal.


How about the trend in US public finance? According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal debt held by the public will be 98% of gross domestic product this year, just below the level it reached in World War II. By 2052 it could hit 185%, as the federal deficit is projected to rise almost every year from now until mid-century.


As for labor productivity the trend is downward. One might suggest that this is the consequence of the trendy embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion-- which means handing out credentials and jobs for reasons that have little to do with merit:


You think Americans can grow our way out from under this debt mountain? Allow me to show you the downward trends in productivity growth in all the world’s developed economies, courtesy of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Whenever I am told that the 2020s can’t possibly be as inflationary as the 1970s, I point out how much higher the growth rate of GDP per hour worked was back then.


Not only is productivity growth lower today. Judged in terms of the growth rate of the money supply, the Federal Reserve made a bigger mistake last year than at any point between 1968 and 1979. The demographic situation and outlook are worse in every major economy. The fiscal position is much worse today. Then we had worries about pollution; now we have the existential threat of climate change.


Any time anyone calls attention to the existential threat of climate change, one is tempted to remark that the more we believe in the existential threat of climate change the more we are going to be inclined to sabotage ourselves.


Fear not, Ferguson says. The world’s leading autocracies, led by people like Vladimir Putin, are about to implode. This is good because it is far better than having to compete against them.


Fair enough, by all indications, Russia is losing its war in Ukraine. On the other side, Russia and Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations are cutting back on petroleum production. As far as they are concerned, the interests of the United States are yesterday. And who cares about oil prices when we can virtue signal about Jamal Khashoggi.


And besides, the war is not over until it is over. And the other war, the real war, the one that involves the reserve status of the United States dollar is just starting.


Here, Ferguson seems more like cheerleader than prophet:


First, as I argued here two weeks ago, Russia is losing President Vladimir Putin’s annexationist war in Ukraine. If (and it is a big “if”) the US and its allies supply more firepower and more finance at this crucial moment, there is a decent chance that Russia’s colonial army in southern Ukraine unravels and Putin finds himself back where he started in February, controlling just Crimea and part of the Donbas region.


Putin has shrunk in stature on the international stage to the extent that not only do the Chinese and Indian leaders now treat him with disdain, but even the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Serbia have ceased to bow and scrape.


The trend against Russia is clear, for now. At the least, it seems that Putin has overplayed his hand. But, what is going to happen when, despite climate change, winter descends on an energyless Europe.


Where will all of the trends go then?


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Child Abuse, Modern Style

Here we have it, thanks to the BBC, the latest in child sexual abuse. (via Maggie’s Farm) If an adult should ever touch a child in the wrong place, that adult will be considered a child molester. And yet, today’s modern liberated feminist parents in certain parts of Europe have decided to refuse to tell their children which gender they are. 

Apparently, these children have no sense of their bodily functions and thus cannot figure out, absent parental direction, whether they have a penis or a vagina.


Will the madness ever cease?


If you think I am kidding, here is one fanatical parent, who declares herself merely to be putting her feminist ideology into practice.


As Gabriella Martenson prepared for the birth of her first child, she came to a decision. She wouldn’t tell her child if they’d been born a girl or a boy, and would largely avoid discussing their birth sex with people outside her family and friendship group.


“I wanted them to be who they want to be. I don't want to decide that for them,” says Martenson, who was 30 and living in her home city, Stockholm, when she had her first child. “[It’s] just as I don't want to decide what they grow up to do, or who they decide to love or live with.”


As though no child and no other human being would not be able to figure it out without dopey Gabriella telling them. This begins to feel like it came straight to us from the Babylon Bee.


As I noted, the root of Gabriella’s madness lies in her adherence to feminist ideology. She is what we used to call a fanatic. And she is willing to sacrifice her children to the Great Feminist Mother Goddess:


But in her late teens, she says she “discovered feminism” and began questioning gender norms. So, when she became a mother, she chose to buy her own child a wide range of clothes and gifts, ranging from trains to dolls, giving them free choice as to which they wanted to use on any given day. 


Her goal was to desocialize her child, to detach her from social groups, and therefore to produce anomie. One understands that this rage against societal norms produces anomie, a word that means, literally speaking, normlessness. When Emile Durkheim first thought up the concept, he considered it a cause of suicide:


She also believed raising a child without gender would make things easier if they eventually identified as a gender different from their assigned birth sex, and help them accept other people who don’t adhere to the gender binary or other societal norms. “I'm letting them be anything… and teaching them to not be so narrow minded,” she says.


A German fanatic also credits feminism for her efforts to destroy her children:


Berlin-based queer gender-neutral parenting author, blogger and lecturer Ravna Marin Nathanael Siever says choosing not to label a young child as a boy or girl started to gain traction in the 1980s, mostly in queer communities. This coincided with what they describe as “the second wave of feminism”, with women rebelling against being typecast as caregivers in the home or in certain jobs. 


Heaven forfend that children would grow up to become husbands and wives. The net result of this ideology is that there are fewer and fewer stable marriages. Big surprise that.


Anyway, these abusive parents want their children to escape male-female stereotypes, stereotypes that are, generally speaking, universal. Thus, they are warring with nature, and with social reality. 


They say many of the people attracted to gender-neutral parenting want to avoid subjecting their kids to experiences they had themselves; growing up in a world where male-female stereotypes and power structures were more prevalent than they are today, transgender people faced higher levels of discrimination and LGBTQ+ relationships were less accepted, all of which impacted on people who didn’t conform to these norms. Gender-neutral parenting, therefore, emerged not to “neutralise” children’s genders, “but to allow them to discover their own identity, rather than being told about it by others”, says Siever, who uses they/them pronouns.


Of course, this damages a child’s and various adults’ ability to engage in mental processing and to find a place in society, to say nothing of the gym locker room. Again, note that this madness represents the latest in feminist nonsense:


They also hope that the approach will help spread feminist messages more broadly. “Rigid ideas of gender have been discussed as the main source of patriarchal oppression by decades of feminist work,” says Siever, who reviewed decades of gender studies literature for her book. “The more open our kids can grow up, the less gendered power structures will influence who has power in society and thus who profits most from it.”


Happily enough, the BBC offers the counterarguments, which show that children whose parents refuse to type them by sex are going to be abused, to the point of not fitting in to their peer group. They are going to be considered to be freaks because their parents taught them to be freaks.


But psychotherapist Vahrmeyer says his experiences working with clients suggest that not all kids exposed to this style of parenting will react positively. “For children who feel secure to explore the space their parents offer them, the journey can be one of discovery. However, for some children, the lack of prescribed identity can bring with it uncertainty and increased anxiety,” he says. Rather than rejecting gender norms as their parents had hoped, they may “find the lack of structure and guidance challenging”, and could even “revert to more strongly embedded gender identities to compensate for these feelings of uncertainty, and to grasp hold of some certainty”.


Another mental health professional, mother of a transgender child, points out some of the damage that this new form of parenting is producing:


Mandee Lal, a certified children’s grief and mental health coach based in Wokingham, near London, champions some aspects of gender-neutral parenting, such as choosing a diverse range of clothes and toys. But she agrees that rejecting gendered pronouns may be confusing for some children, especially when most of their peers will still be categorised as girls or boys. 


“Saying that, you know, you're a ‘they’ – I don't think a child can understand what a ‘they’ is and perhaps [the child will] maybe feel like they don't then fit into the world.”


And also,


One of Lal’s children is transgender, and experienced “horrific bullying” at school. She believes children labelled ‘they’ may not escape a similar level of ridicule, even if their parents have taken this approach to avoid future tensions if their children don’t conform to gender norms. Meanwhile she points out that non-gendered kids may still need to manage a public “switch” in identity if they opt for a binary gender label later on. “If the parents choose ‘they’, then the likelihood of the child choosing their own gender as ‘he’ or ‘she’ is still pretty high. So, there's still a lot for that kid to go through. It's not necessarily shielding them.” 


So, this is madness, but there is no method in it. God help us.

Beyond Ukraine

Two days ago I recommended that we see the Ukraine conflict in a larger context. It’s about more than occupying territory in Eastern Ukraine. Winners and losers will not be know until the larger civilizational conflict plays itself out. Winning battles is not the same as winning wars.

Yesterday, Walter Russell Mead offered a similar analysis in his Wall Street Journal column. Again, he emphasized that there is a lot more to it than a battle for the Dombas.


Mead wrote:


The Biden administration must remember that for Mr. Putin the battle in Ukraine is only one part of a global war against the American-led world order. And if Ukraine is going poorly for Mr. Putin, the global scene is more encouraging. While NATO has been strengthened and—thanks to Finnish and Swedish accession—is about to be expanded, the global order, already shaken by the Covid pandemic, has taken a beating this year. At least in part owing to Mr. Putin’s war, financial markets are in turmoil. Europe faces a daunting mix of double-digit inflation and fuel costs high enough to make important energy-intensive industries economically unviable. Rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices across the Middle East, Latin America and Africa threaten significant social suffering and political unrest. Mr. Putin can reasonably hope that over time these problems will strain the West’s cohesion.


Now you have another broader perspective on the war. At the least, we should all understand the stakes.


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Is Trump the Democrats' Stooge

When you’ve lost Rupert Murdoch….

It seems that President Trump has, with his non-stop antics, lost the support of Murdoch’s New York Post. Whether this will be reflected in other Murdoch media, like Fox News, we do not yet know. At the least, the Trump attack on McConnell was denounced in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.


And yet, when the Post calls Trump a stooge for the Democrats, we ought to pay some attention. Some of you, dear readers, are Trumps supporters and some are Trump detractors. If you are supporters you have long since rejected Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment-- Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans. If you are detractors….


Anyway, according to the Post, the one thing that Democrats have going for them in the upcoming election is Donald Trump. Single handedly Trump has distracted the national attention from the abysmal Biden record. In truth, Trump did contribute to the January, 2021 loss of two senate seats in Georgia. If Republicans had won one of the two, it would have stopped the Biden agenda in its tracks. 


Think about that one.


The paper editorializes:


With President Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress presiding over a steady stream of disasters from still-soaring inflation, crime, Biden’s questionable faculties and a metastasizing illegal-migrant crisis, they’re beyond eager to have the nation talking about . . . Donald Trump.


The ex-prez is happy to serve as the Dems’ stooge, as long as it gets him the headlines he craves. 


Most recently, Trump attacked Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and bothered to include an unacceptable insult against his wife:


The latest was his rant at Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Friday for letting the Dems pass a stopgap federal-funding bill to avoid shutting down the government.


Letting Democrats continue to spend “trillions” means Mitch has a “DEATH WISH,” the Donald posted menacingly to his supporters, following up with cruel and infantile insults to McConnell’s wife.


Would it have been better for the Senate Republicans to shut down the government? Perhaps, says the Post, but that entailed its own risks:


Yes, the republic’s finances are a horrific mess, one worsened by the $4 trillion in new spending passed under Biden. And in some conditions shuttering the government might be the GOP’s best move, though history shows that it usually backfires big-time and McConnell’s unquestionably a better judge of tactics than the Colonel Kurtz of Mar-a-Lago.


More important, most of that spending wouldn’t have passed if Trump’s late-2020 “stolen election” lunacy hadn’t given Democrats control of the US Senate by depressing GOP turnout in the Georgia runoffs.


But then, the Post considers that Trump’s candidates in the upcoming elections have largely been lackluster, and barely qualified. Again, whose purpose does this serve?


The best chance to change course now is this year’s midterms, which could give Republicans control of the House and Senate — though Trump’s made that far harder by pushing dubious candidates in the GOP primaries (and then failing to open his $100 million-plus campaign war chest to help them in the general).


The Post has gone over this before, to little avail. Its editorial concludes:


Democrats’ best hope in the runup to Nov. 8 is that Trump will keep stepping in to make himself the center of attention, on subjects that are inevitably all about him — not the nation’s many needs.


Does he not know the Dems see him as effectively their stooge, or does he just not care?


The larger issue is simple. Republicans understand that they will have a much better chance of winning in 2024 if Donald Trump is not on the ticket. And yet, the constant abuse and harassment of Trump, by Democrats and the media, has generated both sympathy and anger in his supporters.


This means, if Republicans are to run a stronger candidate, a Ron DeSantis, the only path will require Donald Trump removing himself from contention.


Depressed Vegetarians

We now have a new addition to the list of effective treatments for depression. The treatment is-- meat.

Apparently, those who refuse to eat meat, on high moral grounds, are more likely to become more depressed. The possible reason, the lack of specific nutrients found in meat.


So, vegetarians and vegans show more depression more often than do carnivores. You probably suspected as much.


The New York Post reports:


A new study published by the Journal of Affective Disorders found that beef was the only food linked to a lower risk of depression….


Researchers found that meatless diets actually led to people experiencing depressive episodes twice as often as those who eat beef.


The authors of the study wrote that “nutrient deficiencies do not explain this association,” but other experts have a different take.


Nutrients found in beef — including iron, vitamin B, zinc and protein — help brain functions and may be valuable in preventing depressive episodes. 


Being as this is science, the researchers offer different interpretations of the data. Some believe that it’s all about nutrients, but others demur. After all, it might be that the people who undertake vegetarian diets are more likely to be more depressed to begin with. Or else, it might be the case that vegans remove themselves from various social situations where meat is present.


Still, the nutrient deficiency theory does makes a lot of sense:


“Whenever an individual excludes an entire food group, in this case, protein and fat sources, and does not replace it with equally nutritionally adequate options, it will affect a variety of systemic and physiological functions such as cognitive health,” Monique Richard, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, told Healthline


In any case, the next time some virtue-signaling vegan berates you for destroying the planet by eating meat, you can refer him or her for psychiatric evaluation. 

Monday, October 3, 2022

Who Is Winning in Ukraine?

Everyone is cheering the recent string of Ukrainian successes against the Russian military. It was, to say the least, unexpected. 

And yet, to counterbalance the optimism, I draw your attention to an Irish economist, by name of Philip Pilkington, writing in The Spectator.


One understands that European nations are more than happy to tank their economies in order to save Ukraine. So, the events Pilkington describes seem to be acceptable to voters in those countries.


And yet, if you are looking for a picture of victory, take a gander at this assessment of European economies:


We know that the British economy is collapsing, and that the new Truss government is already in trouble. One needs to mention that between Boris and Liz, the conservative Tory party has lost its commanding electoral lead. If a vote were held today, the Labour Party would win resoundingly.


The rapid economic collapse that Britain is facing is simply an accelerated version of what the whole of Europe is about to go through; unsustainable borrowing to fund the gap between high energy prices and what households can actually afford. With the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline, there is now no feasible way back. Europe can no longer physically import Russian gas – prices will remain high until Europe builds more energy capacity, which could take years.


Basically, this means that governments cannot allow energy prices to rise to a level where no one can afford them. The solution, subsidizing pricing by printing money and incurring massive levels of debt.


Evidently, the sabotage of the Nordstream pipeline has rendered the situation even more dire. For now, no one knows who did it, and we will await information before drawing our own conclusion. 


Pilkington thinks that the costs of manufacturing will still rise, and that this will produce inflated prices. It will also make European manufactured goods uncompetitive in world markets:


What is likely to come of this? High energy prices will render European manufacturing uncompetitive. European manufacturers will be forced to pass through the higher energy costs in the form of higher prices and consumers will find it cheaper to buy products from countries with normal energy prices. The only logical European response to the threat of widespread deindustrialisation is to raise tariffs. This is the only way to equalise prices between more expensive European goods and cheaper foreign goods, therefore artificially supporting European manufacturing. This strategy will lower living standards, depriving Europeans of cheaper goods, but it will at least preserve some manufacturing jobs.


Aside from the fact that exports will cease being competitive, Europe will need to impose tariffs on cheaper foreign goods, lest they push domestic goods out of the markets.


As for the question of tariffs, I draw your attention to a Jeb Hensarling op-ed this morning in the Wall Street Journal. In it the former Republican Congressman argues that the Trump tariffs against China were largely a failure. The people who paid the increased prices were Americans; the tariffs had little impact on Chinese manufacturing.


As for the situation unfolding in Europe, Pilkington believes that it resembles the start of an economic collapse. The problem is accumulated debt, which is fast reaching unsustainable levels:


This process looks remarkably like the start of the Great Depression. In the 1920s, due to lopsided financial arrangements initiated in the Treaty of Versailles, western economies accumulated enormous amounts of debt. In 1929, the collapse of the American stock market removed one of the key remaining props and the western economies collapsed. Europe went first and, as trade dried up, America followed it down the hole.


Modern western economies have been accumulating debt for decades. But since the lockdowns in early 2020, this debt accumulation has gone into overdrive. In 2019, Eurozone government debt-to-GDP was 83.8 per cent. In 2020, after the lockdown bailouts were unveiled it shot up to 97.2 per cent. In the same period, Britain’s debt-to-GDP ratio went from 83.8 per cent to 93.9 per cent. These are the largest single increases in history. The run-up in debt during the lockdown was probably unavoidable. But it certainly triggered the beginning of the inflationary pressures we now see everywhere, especially because the lockdowns themselves completely demolished supply chains. So, more money chasing fewer goods. But what has happened since the start of this year is something else entirely.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine set off an energy supply calamity:


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered an energy price war in Europe that is forcing even higher levels of government borrowing to cover energy costs. Unlike the lockdowns, these energy price increases are putting direct pressure on both prices and the trade balance between countries. Higher energy prices mean that Europe must send more euros and pounds abroad to get energy and so the value of imports rises and these higher import costs are fed through to consumers as businesses try to offset rising energy costs by raising prices. The situation is no longer remotely sustainable. This is almost certainly our 1929 moment.


And yet, some nations around the world are not at similar risk. As of now, Russia and China and their allies are working to set up an alternative trading bloc, the better to undermine Western dominance:


One key difference this time around is that there is a rival economic bloc that could be insulated from these dynamics, the emerging Brics+: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Argentina – with Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia also joining the queue. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Brics countries have been solidifying trade and financial ties and adding new members. It appears that the goal is for these economies to decouple as much as possible from the West. If they are successful in doing that – and it looks like they may be – they may avoid the depression. The Nord Stream sabotage could be the point at which future historians mark the end of western dominance.


For all I know, this might have been the plan all along. Perhaps it was never really about Ukraine, but about a civilizational clash between Western democracies and Eastern autocracies.


While we are cheering for the brave Ukrainians, we might have ignored the fact that no one much cares about Ukraine. One might imagine that the powers that be in Beijing are more than happy to see the West sabotaging itself on behalf of a grandiose ideal.




Sunday, October 2, 2022

Bad Therapy

It’s very difficult to assess what goes on in a therapist’s office. Yet, Eleanor Cummins gives it a good go in Wired. And she concludes that therapy is broken.


For the most part, one concurs. The simple fact--  that Cummins inexplicably ignores-- that our nation is awash in psychiatric medication tells us that talk therapy is not doing a very good job of helping people.

And yet, the buzz is unavoidable. As Cummins remarks, we are all being told, day in and day out, to go to therapy, to find a licensed credentialed professional who can help us sort out our emotional issues. Advice columnists and members of the pseudo-intelligentsia keep saying that therapy will solve all of your problems. 

Hamlet told Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery.” We are being told, “Get thee to a therapist’s office.” As for which is more salutary, I leave that to your imagination.

This raises another issue, one that Cummins does not quite grasp. How much of the benefit that people report from doing therapy has been produced by cultural expectations. The culture tells you that if you see a therapist you will feel better. If you do not feel better you believe that there must be something really wrong with you, so you happily decide that you must feel better. The relentless push toward therapy does not make you any more effective in conducting your life-- goal that therapy does not acknowledge-- but it manipulates your mind and makes you feel that you must be getting better. If you're not, you still must say that you are, and you must believe it.

This being the case, Cummins is certainly right to point out that our nation is awash in bad therapy. She is certainly wrong to believe that the situation can be improved by government regulation, but she has at least identified a problem.

She opens with a constatation, namely that the ambient marketing campaign is pushing people toward therapy. Funnily enough-- I mention it because today is Sunday-- some research has shown that an hour a week attending religious services will do more for your mental health than will an hour exploring your feelings and fantasies:

An hour a week in a shrink’s office is increasingly treated as a prerequisite for a healthy, happy life. There, we imagine, friends learn new coping skills and enemies realize the errors of their ways. Everyone is “healed.” Therapy has been marketed as a panacea for all kinds of issues, from fixing a bad personality to ending racism. Refusing to seek treatment becomes a red flag, while fluency in “therapy-speak” is all but mandatory.

And yet, therapy, Cummins adds, often sucks:

Unfortunately, as anyone who’s actually tried it can tell you, therapy often sucks.

Anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of people who go to therapy report some benefit—but at least 5 percent of clients get worse as a result of treatment. (For people from marginalized groups, harmful outcomes may be even more common.) The remainder report no clear benefit at all. Plenty of would-be clients go once and, feeling alienated, never return. Others keep trying, even as it becomes clear they aren’t really getting what they need, whatever that is.

Of course, this is self-reported, and might well reflect the ambient discourse, for the reasons I noted above.

Again, Cummins is right to say that bad therapy exists and might even be pervasive.

But the American mental health care system has hardly acknowledged the existence of bad therapy, let alone taken steps to fix the problem. 

As for defining what therapy is and what it is supposed to do, when we try to do so we end up in a muddle:

All psychic healers strive to “clarify symptoms and problems, inspire hope, facilitate experiences of success or mastery, and stir the patient’s emotions,” as Jerome Frank wrote in his 1961 classic Persuasion and Healing. But the fault lines between professional and public conceptions of therapy are numerous.

For example, research suggests that about half of therapy-goers will experience improvement in 15 to 20 sessions. But one study found that the majority of people incorrectly assume they need just six sessions to resolve their issue. Similar gaps in understanding emerge in views on self-disclosure by therapists, the value of negative feedback to therapists, and the purpose of therapy itself.

Of course, this is self-reported. This does not account for the suggestion effect and does not tell us whether or not these patients were on medication.

Worse yet, Cummins notes, correctly, there is no one thing called therapy. She says that there are hundreds of models. If therapy worked well, there would not be hundreds of ways to do it:

And while therapy is commonly discussed as if it were a single entity, there are hundreds of distinct theoretical models currently used, from EMDR to Gestalt to CBT. Depending on whom you ask, at least 20 orientations fly under the banner of psychoanalysis alone. Each provides its own model of the brain or mind, the nature of distress, and the path to healing—in other words, its own value system.

Of course, this leads to the simple fact that assessments of the effectiveness of therapy are often muddled. There is very little credible evidence, Cummins says, demonstrating that therapy really works. That means, works consistently with enough people:

 In fact, very little about contemporary psychotherapy is actually backed by credible evidence. In a meta-review of 70 purported empirically supported treatments, Williams and his colleagues found only 20 percent of the interventions are based on reliable studies. An additional 30 percent were in the “murky middle,” and fully half of the treatments under review didn’t have the evidence their boosters thought they did. 

It seems to come down to the individual therapist. If patient and therapist can get along, if they can relate to each other, if they can form an alliance in order to work on their problems, therapy has a much better chance of success. Naturally, psycho analysts tout the virtue of such an alliance, but the classical orthodox analytic pose precludes connection. If we assume that many patients are suffering from a form of depression, and if we understand that depression involves social isolation, obviously enough, a therapist who can make patients feel less isolated will produce more positive benefits:

To save themselves from analysis paralysis, many therapists fall back on the “common factors,” which suggest that good therapy can be distilled down to empathy, a clear shared goal, positive regard and affirmation, and the like. To date, the so-called “therapeutic alliance” between patient and provider appears to be one of the most important components of successful therapy. Therapy is indeed a “relational art,” and the success (or failure) happens in the unreplicable dynamic between two people. Unfortunately, that insight hasn’t made these alliances any easier to foster.

But building an alliance with a therapist—or failing to do so—is often slow going. Some individuals seem supremely skilled at this work: In a 2003 study, psychologist John Okiishi found that, in a sample of 91 therapists, the top performers enabled their clients to improve 10 times faster than everyone else. But even a supershrink would, inevitably, struggle to help certain people.

Of course, this obscures one of the principal difficulties with therapy. It obsesses about feelings and about feeling feelings. It focuses on dreams and fantasies and tends to ignore real events in everyday life. It emphasizes empathy and compassion and other forms of pathos and ignores the possibility that the patient might undertake to try to solve problems in the real world, rather than to whine about them to a therapist.

Heck, many patients reject suggestions for solving problems, with scorn and derision. Patients demand that their therapists feel their pain and shower them with empathetic understanding. If that is the expectation, produced by the culture, then therapy is not going to work.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

America's Masculinity Crisis

You have to wonder what planet David Brooks is living on. At the least, you know that wherever it is,  you don’t want to live there.

Brooks is a dopey pseudo-conservative who opines mindlessly at the New York Times. Yesterday, he breathlessly advised us that American girls are doing much better than American boys, in school and in life. 


Now, Brooks tells us that Richard Reeves has just written a book about the crisis. And that therefore, since Reeves does not seem to understand what is going on, it is fair to quote him.


In truth, we have known about this crisis for some two decades. And we owe our understanding to Christina Hoff Sommers, whose book The War Against Boys explained it in excruciating detail. In fact, long time readers of this blog-- bless you!-- know that I have been covering the issue for many years now. Link here.


When Brooks says that he learned a lot by reading the book, we can only conclude that he is especially ignorant of what has been going on in America.


I have not read the Reeves book, so I do not know whether or not he addresses the Sommers arguments. But, Brooks does not, and his analysis ignores completely Sommers’ basic point, namely, that girls' defeat of boys amounts to one of the great successes of the feminism. The feminist war against boys has succeeded in rendering a large number of American boys dysfunctional, disinclined to work, inclined to do stupid things, hostile toward girls and so on.


One understands that Brooks, from the depths of his intellectual cowardice, does not dare say that the results he and Reeves reports were precisely those that feminism sought to produce-- to raise up girls at boys’ expense. 


If one is so inclined one might take a gander at Doris Lessing’s observations from a British classroom, some twenty years ago. What did Lessing see in this sixth grade group-- boys beaten into ignominious submission and girls being bright and attentive. It is  frightening picture, and Lessing, a feminist icon, by the way, does it full justice.


As I said, it takes a special form of blindness to fail to recognize the problem and not to place the blame where it belongs--on the ideological fanaticism of movement feminism.


So, we are living in a gynocracy, in a culture run for and by women. Since few thinkers, beyond Christina Hoff Sommers, have been willing to address the problem, it looks like news to Richard Reeves and David Brooks.


Now Brooks, who left his masculine fortitude in a lock box somewhere, feels for the boys in question. He feels great empathy for their condition, and does not quite understand what can be done to solve the problem.


One proposal, straight from Reeves, is to hold boys back in school. Because boys are biologically inferior to girls and thus need the extra work. How come these elite pseudo-intellectuals did not ask why this has never really been a problem, or at least why it was not a problem until feminists took over schooling and beat boys down:


Reeves has a series of policy proposals to address the crisis, the most controversial of which is redshirting boys — have them begin their schooling a year later than girls, because on average the prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum, which are involved in self-regulation, mature much earlier in girls than in boys.


Obviously, boys are going to resent this treatment. They are going to be demoralized. Having identified male demoralization as a great national problem, Reeves and Brooks have found a way to demoralize boys even more. Did it ever cross your mind that intellectual life in America is dead or dying?


Dare we even mention, as Doris Lessing noted, that the boys who were beaten down by their female school teachers are going to grow up, to become stronger than girls, and are going to feel some basic hostility toward the distaff gender.


Brooks, who likes to coin dopey phrases, calls the difference between men and women an “aspiration gap.”


Reeves talked to men in Kalamazoo about why women were leaping ahead. The men said that women are just more motivated, work harder, plan ahead better. Yet this is not a matter of individual responsibility. There is something in modern culture that is producing an aspiration gap.


Somehow or other, the people who were denounced as male chauvinist pigs and who are now condemned for their toxic masculinity are less motivated to work harder. And let us not forget these men are no longer allowed to be men, are no longer allowed to be breadwinners. Since modern women are completely self-sufficient, modern men have no role that suits them. The result is indolence and inanition, added to hostility.


So, the war against fatherhood-- maligning male roles-- has persuaded more than a few men that they do not want to be active fathers:


One in five fathers doesn’t live with his children. In 2014, more young men were living with their parents than with a wife or partner. Apparently even many who are married are not ideal mates. Wives are twice as likely to initiate divorces as husbands.


Brooks concludes that boys should be more like girls. Note the girl talk in his drooling over emotionality and nurturance:


The culture is still searching for a modern masculine ideal. It is not instilling in many boys the nurturing and emotional skills that are so desperately important today. A system that labels more than a fifth of all boys as developmentally disabled is not instilling in them a sense of confidence and competence.


In truth, the culture does not need to search for a modern masculine ideal, especially one that reeks femininity. The culture needs to recognize that the great feminist attack on boys has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, and now the country has to live in the broken culture that it has produced.


Of course, Brooks cannot resist taking a cheap shot at Donald Trump and Josh Hawley:


Masculinity has gone haywire. Reverting to pseudo-macho cartoons like Donald Trump and Josh Hawley doesn’t help.


Precisely what makes Josh Hawley a cartoon figure? Huh. Sorry to hear that Brooks does not like the Trump persona, but Brooks' dopey theories, along with the feminist revolution, produces precisely what he does not like. 


If Brooks knew half of what he thinks he knows, he would have known that machismo-- pseudo-macho is illiterate-- is especially likely to metastasize in cultures that are female dominant. When men are deprived of their roles as protectors and providers, or when they fail at the one or the other, they resort to caricatures of masculinity, blustery, blunt, rude, crude and lewd. 


So, one has to assume that Brooks is spending so much time doing dishes and mopping floors that he has lost the ability to think-- if he ever had it.