Monday, July 24, 2017

Shame and Honor in Israel and Palestine

All human beings have a sense of shame. All human cultures are designed to help human beings to avoid shame.  

All human beings also have a sense of honor.  They also have a sense of pride. All human cultures are designed to promote and enhance both honor and pride.

Different cultures have different ways of dealing with shame. Different cultures define honor differently.

Some cultures promote the values of dignity, civility, decorum and politeness. They care about keeping up appearances, of presenting the most dignified face to the public. Cultures like those of Great Britain and Japan are generally considered to be shame cultures, for their ability to promote social customs that keep shame at bay.

Ruth Benedict wrote a masterful treatise on Japanese shame culture in her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Later theorists, Richard Landes reminds us, decided that shame-honor cultures were inherently primitive while guilt cultures were inherently more civilized. Since British culture is especially constructed to promote civility, in the name of national pride and national honor, one suspects that the analysis was skewed. To imagine that the West became great because it discovered guilt is to miss the point. 

True enough, guilt cultures are more individualistic. After all, when you are found guilty of a crime, you and only you are punished. Reputation, however, is shared. When your family name is tarnished or honored the shame or the pride is shared by all those who bear it.

Moreover, shame cultures punish people by shunning and ostracizing them. They avoid using shame as a weapon. The prefer not to humiliate people because they expect that free and moral beings will accept responsibility for their own failures. People who accept responsibility do not get thrown in jail. They offer a public apology and retire from public life for a time.

Guilt cultures inflict physical harm. They incarcerate; they execute; they chop off hands. They care more about the infliction of pain, as in, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and do not care they do not care about how it looks to anyone. They want to feel strong, not to look like honorable and decent people. They do not care if they appear to world to be barbarians or savages. They revel in their barbarism... on their ability to inflict physical pain on other people.

To call Middle Eastern cultures, especially Palestinian culture, honor-shame cultures is to miss the point entirely. Their salient characteristic is their inability to deal with experiences of shame. That is, to deal with them in terms other than those endemic to guilt cultures.

They are happy to mutilate people for petty crimes, to impose capital punishment for what they consider sexual dereliction, and murder their daughters for being seen with a boy. They call the latter honor killings and declare that they have restored family honor. Certain Western thinkers, their minds too addled with multiculturalism, take it all literally. They believe that these actions have restored family honor. In truth, the actions are disgraceful. They are no more honorable than terrorist actions.

These cultures masquerade as honor cultures because they have only a primitive sense of false honor. You recall that one can experience false pride. In my neighborhood they call it high self-esteem. It means that you can feel proud of yourself for participating, even if you lost every match. We should understand that the Palestinian Authority is happy to see people did for a false sense of honor. I realize that this sounds judgmental. So be it.

If someone beats you in a race or on a test, you do not restore your honor by beating his brains in or by refusing to accept the results. Such actions show a failure to accept the shame of defeat and an unwillingness to do what is necessary to improve performance.

Shame motivates. People who realize how they look to other people are most likely to change their behavior. Of course, this process is made more difficult when they are subjected to public ridicule. But in everyday transactions feeling shame about bad behavior most often opens the door to improved behavior.

If people live in a guilt culture, bad behavior is invested with meaning; it becomes part of a narrative. The feeling of guilt for having committed a crime can only be assuaged by punishment—often by self-punishment. Young girls who are murdered in honor killings are being punished for transgressing a law. It is a primitive form of justice, not an assertion of pride.

Guilt is a form of anxiety. It anticipates punishment and is not diminished by good behavior. It is diminished by actual punishment. People who are crippled by guilt tend to spend their time chastising themselves for their bad behavior. But then, they want to become the victim, not the perpetrator, the better to even the score by punishing other people. Retaliation becomes part and parcel of guilt culture. 

One notes that some tribal Middle Eastern cultures have started to care about how they look to the outside world. This is relatively new. One recalls a few years ago that when a Norwegian nurse reported her gang rape to authorities in Dubai she was thrown into jail for having sex outside of marriage.  Eventually, the story hit the international media the local authorities released her. They began to care about their reputation.

Last week in Saudi Arabia a woman was arrested for the crime of wearing a mini-skirt. In the past, one assumes, she would have been punished. Now that the Saudis have shown clearly that they want to join the modern world, she was released. Similarly, when a Saudi prince was caught beating up two people, King Salman himself made it known that he was outraged by the action. The prince was arrested.

Such concerns for reputations, for maintaining an appearance of civil and proper behavior, for being worthy of international diplomacy are relatively new and represent a movement toward a true shame culture.

The Palestinians, whose reputation consists in the appalling practices of terrorism, have nothing but a sense of false honor. Exactly what have they accomplished that would allow them to feel pride?

The Palestinians lack is a sense of honor, a sense of shame. They have been exposed to the world as grand failures. Instead of building a dynamic modern society they have chosen to put all their energy into undermining and deconstructing enjoyed by people they consider their nemesis.

After all, the Israelis succeeded where the Palestinians and other Arab states failed. We cannot explain it away by appealing to geography. The Israeli success puts the lie to Jared Diamond's effort to explain civilizational differences by accidents of geography. 

In the Israeli/Palestinian standoff, the laboratory for cultural competition is precisely the same piece of land. On that land the Israelis have built a great nation and a great economy. Israelis have accomplished great things. In the Middle East, as I have often noted, Israel is the solution, not the problem. As the world flocks to Israel to do business and to trade, the Palestinian Authority has acted like an international pariah, not as an organization that can feel genuine pride in its achievements. When Palestinians celebrate terrorism they are asserting their false pride. Pride comes from building, not from destroying what others have built. It comes from contributing, not from detracting.

The Palestinians have produced nothing but terrorism. Their sense of false honor prevents them from acting constructively to build their own nation and causes them to want nothing more than to denounce, delegitimize and deconstruct Israel. They are playing a losing hand in a lost cause. The more than lose the more violent they become. They ought not to be encouraged or rewarded for their barbarities. They ought to be humiliated and punished. 

As the Sunni Arab Middle East becomes a real shame culture Palestinians will be left with nothing but their false pride.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

London Caves to Political Correctness

When President Trump traveled to Paris to celebrate Bastille Day last week many of us believed that he was snubbing Great Britain. By all appearances it is true. Why would he want to travel to a city led by a weak-kneed and feckless leader like Sadiq Khan. To my eye, you can read weakness in Khan’s facial expressions.

Thanks to Khan, or to whomever else you wish, London is buckling under the weight of political correctness. One would like to have believed that, what with Brexit, the Brits would have stood tall and proud in defense of their great culture, but apparently the lure of political correctness was too tempting. London’s mayor prefers appeasement. He is happily bending over to defend Islam.

Martin Daubney describes London’s cultural degeneration, beginning with its willingness to eliminate distinctions between the sexes:

Both intellectually and literally, Londoners are dying under the weight of a virulent dose of political correctness.

Last week, Transport for London pointlessly buckled to LGBT activists and banned the quintessentially British (and universally polite) phrase, “ladies and gentlemen” from its station announcements.

Its replacement – “good afternoon, everyone” – is deemed more “inclusive” and “gender neutral,” although even that might offend those with multiple personality disorders.

But this is 2017, and who’d be surprised if TfL went the whole hog and integrated Xe pronouns into its announcements, or renamed ‘sexist’ Tube stations such as Cockfosters and Shepherd’s Bush? (They could re-name Seven Sisters station Seven Persons).

Political correctness made its way to King’s College London. It decided to rid itself of portraits of accomplished white people, because they made the non-white people feel unwelcome:

On Friday, this rot spread, when academics at King’s College London decided to swap portraits of its founders for a “wall of diversity,” after Professor Patrick Leman, the Institute’s dean of education, claimed “busts of white, bearded men” were “intimidating” and “alienating” to BME students.

Some concluded any student who felt “intimidated” by a statue probably didn’t deserve a University place at all.

We know that when people fail to excel the reason must be their hurt feelings. The university has now become an infirmary.

And, of course the mayor has chosen to curtail the police department’s ability to stop and frisk suspected criminals. Why? Because the policy aims at more minority youth than anyone else. The fact that said youth commit a disproportionate share of crime does not seem to matter.

Daubney writes:

This obsession with political correctness is not only turning London into a laughing stock, it’s actively killing Londoners.

The clearest example is the British Police’s Stop And Search scheme. Designed to allow police to frisk suspects for concealed weapons, it has long been hated by critics as “racist,” who correctly point out that 65% of searches are on black men, who are six times more likely to be searched.

Sensing an opportunity to appeal to minority communities, in 2015, while running for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan vowed to “do everything in my power to cut stop and search”.

In the year to the end of March 2016, there were 387,448 stop and search procedures conducted by police in England and Wales, a fall of 28% on the previous 12 months.

Fewer stop and searches meant more crime. It’s the price of virtue signallinig:

In that same period, London’s Metropolitan Police announced that gun crime in London had soared 42% and knife crime 24%. Recorded crime was up across virtually every category, with a total 4.5% increase to nearly 774,737 offences.

Who’d have thought a 28% drop in searches might result in a 24% boom in knife crime? Clearly not London’s Mayor. In one school in his city, 3/4 of ten-year-olds said they knew somebody who carried a knife.

Who is committing these crimes? Daubney has the statistics:

British police don’t like to publish crime by race or ethnicity. But when data has been obtained under Freedom Of Information Acts, it’s shown that in the City Of London, 36% of knife crime is perpetrated by black people, who only make up around 13% of London’s 8.6 million populace.


You could conclude it’s reasonable to stop and search those most likely to be knife criminals. Surely, if black lives truly mattered to London’s Mayor, he would ramp up Stop And Search to help stop black men being disproportionately killed or jailed.

What is Mayor Khan doing about this? Why, he is declaring war against Islamophobia:

Instead, in April – at the end of a week that saw eight fatal stabbings in the Capital, two less than a mile from my home – Khan trumpeted his new £1.7m “online hate crime hub”.

Some wondered: does London’s Mayor seriously prioritise cutting nasty tweets over fatal stabbings?

Similarly, Khan has rejected Prevent, the British government’s only anti-terror strategy, as “toxic” adding “it’s seen by some communities as spying and snooping”.

In the wake of the London Bridge terrorist attack that left eight ordinary Londoners murdered in the streets by ISIS jihadists, Khan took every opportunity to remind us Islamophobic “hate crimes” –that included tweets – had increased fivefold.

Is London burning? Or have the British lost their minds?


Is Sweden a Failed State?

Meanwhile, Sweden is failing. Its open arms policy toward Muslim refugees is destroying it from within.

Sweden allows Muslim refugees to run wild, opens its arms to jihadis, tolerates high crime and rape rates, and prosecutes anyone who dares to speak ill of Islam.

Judith Bergman outlines the situation for the Gatestone Institute (via Maggie’s Farm):

Sweden increasingly resembles a failed state: In the 61 "no-go zones", there are 200 criminal networks with an estimated 5,000 criminals who are members. Twenty-three of those no-go zones are especially critical: children as young as 10 years old are involved in serious crimesthere, including weapons and drugs, and are literally being trained to become hardened criminals.

The trouble, however, extends beyond organized crime. In June, Swedish police in the city of Trollhättan, during a riot in the Kronogården suburb, were attacked by approximately a hundred masked migrant youths, mainly Somalis. The rioting continued for two nights.

Violent riots, however, are just part of Sweden's security problems. In 2010, according to the government, there were "only" 200 radical Islamists in Sweden. In June, the head of the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), Anders Thornberg, told the Swedish media that the country is experiencing a "historical" challenge in having to deal with thousands of "radical Islamists in Sweden". The jihadists and jihadist supporters are mainly concentrated in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Örebro, according to Säpo. "This is the 'new normal' ... It is an historic challenge that extremist circles are growing," Thornberg said.

After violent crime, there are returning ISIS fighters:

Meanwhile, Sweden continues to receive returning ISIS fighters from Syria, a courtesy that hardly improves the security situation. Sweden, so far, has received 150 returning ISIS fighters. There are still 112 who remain abroad -- considered the most hardcore of all -- and Sweden expects many of those to return as well. Astonishingly, the Swedish government has given several of the ISIS returnees protected identities to prevent local Swedes from finding out who they are. Two Swedish ISIS fighters who returned to Europe, Osama Krayem and Mohamed Belkaid, went on to help commit the terror attacks at Brussels airport and the Maelbeek metro station in the center of Brussels, on March 22, 2016. Thirty-one people were killed; 300 were wounded.

Swedish news outlets have reported that the Swedish towns that receive the returnees do not even know they are returning ISIS fighters. One coordinator of the work against violent Islamist extremism in Stockholm, Christina Kiernan, says that "...at the moment there is no control over those returning from ISIS-controlled areas in the Middle East".

Kiernan explains that there are rules that prevent the passing of information about returning jihadists from Säpo to the local municipalities, so that the people who are in charge in the municipal authorities, including the police, have no information about who and how many returned ISIS fighters there are in their area. It is therefore impossible to monitor them -- and this at a time when Säpo estimates the number of violent Islamist extremists in Sweden in the thousands.

But, Sweden has found the true enemy: people who speak ill of Islam:

Even after all this, the Swedish state, in true Orwellian style, fights those Swedish citizens who point out the obvious problems that migrants are causing. When police officer Peter Springare said in February that migrants were committing a disproportionate amount of crime in the suburbs, he was investigated for inciting "racial hatred".

Currently, a 70-year-old Swedish pensioner is being prosecuted for "hate speech", for writing on Facebook that migrants "set fire to cars, and urinate and defecate on the streets".

With thousands of jihadists all over Sweden, what could be more important than prosecuting a Swedish pensioner for writing on Facebook?

Is this the future of Europe? One fears that it is.

Time for Tillerson to Go

One thought that the Trump foreign policy would naturally be more pro-Israeli. Compared with the Obama foreign policy it would not have been a very high bar to clear.

And, when Trump sent Jared Kushner to Ramallah to present the administration’s view, Mahmoud Abbas reacted violently to what he perceived as a pro-Israeli leaning.

Now, however, the Rex Tillerson-led State Department has issued a report blaming Israel for Palestinian terrorism. Soon thereafter a Jewish family was massacred on the West Bank.

While the world has covered the massacre, it has paid little attention to the State Department report. Caroline Glick, on Facebook, has the story:

The Solomon family was massacred Friday night as they celebrated Shabbat and the birth of their newest grandson in their home. They were massacred by a 19 year old jihadist who posted an explanation of his imminent act of barbarous murder against his Jewish neighbors on Facebook less that two hours before he stormed their home in Neve Tzuf.

The murderer used the same language as his"moderate" "pro-peace" "legitimate" leader, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas who said that Jews pollute the Temple Mount with our "filthy feet."

Ironically and appallingly, just last week the US State Department published a report blaming Israel for Palestinian terrorism and claiming that the PLO-led, and US-funded Palestinian Authority doesn't incite terrorism and violence and hatred.

The State Department also opposes the Taylor Force bill which if passed -- along the lines passed in the House of Representatives, (the Senate bill is an insult to our intelligence), would end US taxpayer subsidization of Palestinian terrorism to the tune of more than half a billion dollars a year.

The State Department -- Tillerson included, apparently, doesn't see anything wrong with the fact that the PA uses more than $300 million every year to pay people like the murderer who butchered the Solomons and their families.

One suspects that Tillerson has no real idea of what his State Department is doing. One suspects that he doesn't understand policy and simply accepts whatever the swamp is issuing. Congress ought to demand that he answer for this report. And it's time for the Trump administration to keep its word and to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Rewarding terrorism has never worked. It's time for a more muscular response by the United States.

As for Tillerson, it’s time for him to go.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why So Few Female CEOs?

This weekend’s big read long form story is a New York Times article about why there aren’t more women CEOs. Written by Susan Chira it complains and complains and complains about the injustice of it all.

Chira has mostly interviewed women who have not quite made it to the top and this opens her to the suggestion that her subjects are simply sore losers. On the other hand, being number two or being an important executive in a corporation is a significant achievement. Why diminish it by complaining about not having risen higher?

In itself, the complaints might be the reason why more women aren’t CEOs. They might be so conscious of the obstacles to their advancement that they are less focused on the task at hand. Thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, for teaching women how to fight against injustice. But, however successful Sandberg is, being a fighter against injustice will not look good on your résumé.

There are a few bottom line points we can make here, in no particular order.

First, nothing about anyone’s corporate charter says that company performance is judged by how many women in has in which positions. We do not know what happens in a company when there are more or fewer women in which positions. If the government imposes gender equity requirements, this might persuade the non-women on the team that the women who succeeded did not earn their way. Thus, gender diversity quotas can breed resentment and make cooperation more difficult.

Second, if having a woman executive improves profitability, then the marketplace will naturally produce more female executives. Chira and her sources suggest over and over again that women leaders are better than men. This might be true. But it might not be true. Since Chira’s sources were women who were passed over for promotion, they might have cherry- picked the facts that make their grievances look more just.

Third, the article largely ignores the cost of motherhood. It barely hints at the fact that when women become mothers they often choose to spend more time with their children and less time on the job. You might think that it’s inconsequential. The chances are that it isn’t. If you take Anne-Marie Slaughter’s experience seriously, it is extremely difficult to be a good mother and to work your way up a status hierarchy. Given the choice, most women will choose as Slaughter did and opt for their children.

Fourth, most women simply do not want to advance up the corporate hierarchy. One recalls the basic Darwinian principle, namely that a more powerful man becomes more attractive to women while a more powerful woman becomes less attractive to men. Most women know this and choose their careers accordingly. It is not sexist. It is rational. Of course, the rule has exceptions, but for the most part it seems clearly to be true. Chira mentions one woman who said that in order to stay on the CEO path she would have had to uproot and take a job abroad. When the opportunity arose she turned it down… perhaps for reasons that had to do with family. This was her choice. We should respect it for as much. It must have contributed to her failure to become CEO.

Fifth, the article scrupulously ignores the possibility that men and women are differently constructed, both in terms of physical strength and in terms of the mental ability to respond effectively to stress. Chira ignores the facts, but this blog has not. Links here and here. Chira suggests that our culture does not teach women to be assertive and to lean in. But theynshe suggests that when women become assertive they provoke negative and even hostile reactions. It might be that men are sexist, but it also might be that when you are physically weaker your assertion of strength will be seen as a bluff. And it will also be seen, not as a gesture of self-assertion, but as a gesture of hostility.  Chira also suggests that women are less competitive, but, for all she or anyone else knows, this too is part of a woman’s DNA. When women are more competitive they are less likely to survive in a world inhabited by men who are constitutionally stronger. This does not mean that some few women might have the competitiveness gene, but it means that such women will be the exception, not the rule.

Sixth, the constant discussion over sexual harassment has made it that men are often wary of taking meetings alone with women or of traveling alone on business with them. When women become a threat to their male mentors, this does not enhance their career opportunities.

Seventh, Chira notes clearly that the higher executive ranks are mostly a male domain, even a male locker room. The presence of women upsets the dynamic and the male bonding. You may think that this is trivial, but if you have never engaged in it, how do you know? It means that men who behave and speak in a certain way when women are not present will be obliged to change the way they function when women are present. One suspects that when women are in the company of other women they do not talk about men as they would if there were males present. Moreover, now that the night riders of the thought police have descended on the culture what man would risk his livelihood on the chance that he might, in the presence of a woman, say something that is sexist, or, God forbid, inappropriate? Feminists cheer when a powerful man is brought low by charges of sexual harassment or sexism, but, even assuming that it is a just result, the people who will pay for this might very well be other women—who will no longer be included in meetings or trips.

Eighth, Chira and her interviewees completely ignore the emulation factor. Leaders do not just lead by drawing up plans and by motivating their teams. They set an example; they lead by example. Every study of executive leadership makes this point, over and over again.  If a manager sets an example of good conduct, company loyalty and office decorum, his staff will, almost unconsciously, follow his lead. He will not have to tell them. Showing will suffice. This works because all people want to improve themselves; they want to better themselves. They do so by emulating their betters, because they want ultimately to be like their betters.

How many young men do you know who want to grow up to become like Hillary Clinton? By the way, how many women do you know who would like to be just like Hillary?

Case closed.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hating Free Speech

The alt-left has long been at war against free speech. It wants to shut down Fox News and any other media outlets, even bloggers whose opinions it deems offensive. People who were proclaiming themselves to be champions of facts have long since been trying to monopolize the marketplace of ideas. They insist that differing opinions, disagreements, even offensive remarks must be banned, their speakers consigned to oblivion.

Before examining the debate incited by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett through a New York Times article, it is worth underscoring that the only speech that Barrett and the alt-left legions want to suppress comes from the right. In particular, they seem to be horrified at the negative effects produced by professional provocateur and best-selling author Milo Yiannopoulos.

If you hold to the politically correct dogmas of the alt-left, if you are a leftist extremist fawning over Hugo Chavez, bowing down to the image of Chairman Mao, honoring convicted murderers like Joanne Chesimard and Rasmea Odeh you can say anything you damn well please. The armies of the alt-left will defend you to the death. 

But if you are a gay Jewish British conservative like Milo your speech must be suppressed, lest it stress out thin-skinned students and hurt their delicate feelings. Barrett argues, with a special lack of cogency, that any speech that hurts your feelings and that detracts from your mental health is an act of violence. And what does she feel about the “evil eye?” Should we outlaw envious looks too.

Before proceeding into the tall grass of Barrett’s defective reasoning, we should note the salient philosophical issue. The alt left does not believe in reality. It believes in uniform opinion, in one mindedness, closed to all ideas that might undermine the faith of those who believe what they have been told to believe, without regard for fact or evidence.

The error is almost too easy to understand. If we see a cat lying on a mat we will all agree that the cat is on the mat. Faced with an objective reality we agree to its truth. And we all say that the cat is on the mat.

And yet, is the fact a fact because we all believe it? Does belief make the fact a fact? (See the current mania over transgenderism, here.) I don’t think so. Thus, the error in alt left thinking consists in imagining that if we can all agree and say that a rat is on the mat, this becomes the truth, even if the rat is nowhere to be seen-- because the cat just ate the rat. 

You might consider the statement that the rat is on the mat to be a higher truth, a truth referring to a world produced  by your wishes—where dreams come true. But, to imagine that if we can convince everyone to accept as a fact that the rat is on the mat then the rat will be on the mat… is a fundamental error.

It’s like saying that everyone agrees and says that Shakespeare was a great writer. But then, you add that what makes Shakespeare great is that everyone agrees he was great. If the world did not think that Hamlet was great play it would not be a great play. Thus, those who would want to control your mind explain that if we can somehow convince everyone, from the media to the academy, that your neighbor down the street, a hack poetaster if ever there was one, is a great writer, then, presto, your neighbor becomes a great writer.

To produce this new reality and to effect this magical transformation you will need to ban all speech that speaks ill of your neighbor's literary talents, because otherwise your neighbor and anyone who accepts the belief as truth will be seriously traumatized. After all, if you have bought into a series of lies, if you have based your life on them, you certainly do not want to hear anyone tell you that you are wrong. Between changing your mind and shutting down the discordant speech, you will choose the latter. If you are hearing echoes of the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” you have gotten the point.

Meanwhile, back with Professor Barrett’s efforts to undermine the First amendment, Jesse Singal  summarizes her position in New York Magazine:

Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, explains that “scientifically speaking,” the idea that physical violence is more harmful than emotional violence is an oversimplification. “Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sickalter your brain — even kill neurons— and shorten your life.” Chronic stress can also shrink your telomeres, she writes — “little packets of genetic material that sit on the ends of your chromosomes” — bringing you closer to death.
Singal offers up a few words from Barrett’s op-ed:

The scientific findings I described above provide empirical guidance for which kinds of controversial speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable on campus and in civil society. In short, the answer depends on whether the speech is abusive or merely offensive.

Offensiveness is not bad for your body and brain. Your nervous system evolved to withstand periodic bouts of stress, such as fleeing from a tiger, taking a punch or encountering an odious idea in a university lecture.

Barrett bemoans the fact the being subjected to so much stress is bad for your nervous system. One might say that the nightly news causes an equal or greater degree of stress, but the alt left will then decide that it needs to start policing the nightly news… the better to shut down all conservative ideas.

Barrett continues:

What’s bad for your nervous system, in contrast, are long stretches of simmering stress. If you spend a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety, that’s the kind of stress that brings on illness and remodels your brain. That’s also true of a political climate in which groups of people endlessly hurl hateful words at one another, and of rampant bullying in school or on social media. A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it.

That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.

Since no one seems to notice this, but these arguments always assume that people who do not toe the academic party line are hatemongers. One way that the alt left has tried to suppress inconvenient speech is to call it hate speech. But this has been going on for quite some time now.

Happily, Singal refutes Barrett’s ideas clearly and cogently. To his mind she has confused the chronic stress suffered by people who grow up poor with the stress experienced by a college student who has been subjected to microaggressions, that is, to remarks that might be interpreted negatively. As you know, the alt left wants to explain the academic underperformance of certain groups by the fact that other students look at them cross-eyed. Its blame shifting and a rationalization for failure.

Singal writes:

Setting aside the fact that no one will ever be able to agree on what’s “abusive” versus what’s “merely offensive,” the articles Barrett links to are mostly about chronic stress — the stress elicited by, for example, spending one’s childhood in an impoverished environment of serious neglect and violence. Growing up in a dangerous neighborhood with a poor single mother who has to work so much she doesn’t have time to nurture you is not the same as being a college student at a campus where Yiannopoulos is coming to speak, and where you are free to ignore him or to protest his presence there. One situation involves a level of chronic stress that is inflicted on you against your will and which really could harm you in the long run; the other doesn’t. 

Perhaps, more importantly, research shows that you can sensitize people to react badly to certain kinds of speech. If you tell students that their college careers are being sabotaged by Milo, no matter what he says, they will feel that his words are traumatizing them.

Singal continues:

It’s also worth pointing out that this sort of scaremongering — Milo is coming and he is shrinking your telomeres! — could become a self-fulfilling prophecy for some students. There’s an intriguing area of behavioral science known as mind-set research, and one of its tenets is that the relationship between stress and humans’ response to it is partially mediated by how people expect stress to affect them.

And also,

Now, it would be just as much of a stretch to say that a single column like Barrett’s could cause students to self-traumatize as it would be to say that an upcoming Yiannopoulos appearance could traumatize them. But in the aggregate, if you tell students over and over and over that certain variants of free speech — variants which are ugly, but which are aired every moment of every day on talk radio — are traumatizing them, it really could do harm. And there’s no reason to go down this road, because there’s no evidence that the mere presence of a conservative speaker on campus is harming students in some deep psychological or physiological way (with the exception of outlying cases involving preexisting mental-health problems). This is a silly idea that should be retired from the conversation about free speech on campus.

Kudos to Jesse Singal for a cogent and lucid take down of a pseudoscientific argument designed to take away your free speech.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shunned and Confused

The letter writer who calls herself “Confused” is so confused that she has written to Ask Polly. It will be like the blind leading the blind. Or better, like the blind leading the blinder.

Confused has a problem. She has, of late, become somewhat estranged from a group of women she counts as her closest friends. She explains it in terms of social media slights, but apparently, for the millennial generation those count as real life social interactions. You will understand that people who communicate through Facebook and Snapchat and Whatever are not in very close contact with each other. Such is life. The compensation is that slights are more easily quantified. If all the girls are responding to each other and not to you, you have an objective factual record. So, no one can say that Confused is just making this up.

With regret that, as often happens in these letters, Confused does not provide us with nearly enough information to make a judgment, we can still suss out the problem.

Confused writes:

I feel like while everyone is kind to each other in the group and celebrates their successes and lives, I am overlooked and even ignored, often. It sounds petty, but if I post anything on Facebook, a couple of the girls often don’t “like” it, even though they meticulously like each other’s things. They haven’t even added my boyfriend, who I’ve been with for two years and who they have met several times. He’s a very kind and likable person, by the way, so there’s no reason for them not to have added him.

I  don’t know if it’s as simple as jealousy (I am pretty successful in my career as a scientist) or whether I’m just not a very likable person. I try to be nice, and never disagree with or criticize them….

I always feel like they’re being saccharine sweet to each other and then when I write anything no one replies. And when we meet up in person, one of the girls in particular really gives off a strange vibe toward me and stares at me sometimes in an unsettling way.

I don’t think you have to go too far out on a limb to see that the problem is the kind and gentle boyfriend. These women are trying to tell Confused something. They are screaming about it, in a muted way. From the information available I do not think that they are jealous because she is a scientist. I think they are trying to tell her that her boyfriend is unacceptable.

If they all hang out together all the time and if they have only met said boyfriend a few times in two years… it’s a sign. I have no idea whether he is kind and likable or even whether Confused herself is sufficiently likable, but, truth be told, people are included or excluded from social groups for reasons that go far beyond being kind and likable.

I find it interesting and even encouraging that the group of friends has not intervened directly, has not told her to her face. If the boyfriend is the problem they do better not to tell her directly. But, they are telling her, in a subtle way, that they want to remain friends with her but do not want him to be part of their crowd.

They may be right. They may be wrong. But, Confused is facing a stark choice.

One also notes that Confused was spurred on to write because one of the group is getting married. We wish her the best. But, Confused does not say whether she is a bridesmaid. One assumes that she is bringing her boyfriend as her date, and perhaps her friends fear that she will marry him, and that this will cause them to lose her forever.

Naturally, Polly misses the point. Completely. But then again, if she were capable of getting the point she would not be going on at excruciating length about feeling her own feelings.

In truth, Polly wants this woman to feel better. Don’t we all? But, she tells her to be blind and deaf to the message that her friends are sending her. Polly says that even though Confused is being shunned by her sometime friends, it isn’t about her. Call this the consolation prize. Call it the booby prize, if you prefer. It might make Confused feel better, but it is a lie.

Polly writes:

The point is, it’s not personal. These are your old friends, yes, but maybe it would soothe you to recognize that they don’t match you the same way they match each other. They’re not rejecting you, they’re just being who they are. When they act the way they act, it’s not a verdict on who you are.

It might be that Confused needs to make some new friends. And yet, she ought not to be encouraged to blind herself to the message her friends are sending her. It might be that the friends are wrong and that her boyfriend is a prince among men. It might also be that the friends are right and that the boyfriend is a toad. From the information available we cannot reasonably answer the question. But, Confused should not be told to think that this is not about her.