Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What Is Antifa?

In a better world Donald Trump would have stifled his thoughts about moral equivalence yesterday. They made him look like he was taking back what he had said the day before. Unfortunately, we do not live in this better world and Trump continues to blurt out what comes to mind, regardless. Whatever else you think, he will certainly go down as the president who has most fully mastered the Freudian art of free association.

If psychoanalysts knew anything about psychoanalysis, they would acclaim Donald Trump the model of the cured patient.

Today’s radical and anarchist left, now going by the name of the Antifa, for Antifascists, is not a bunch of nice people. They have happily adopted the methods of prior fascist brigades, from the German Brown Shirts to Mao’s Red Guards.

According to Peter Beinart—not a right wing loon—the Antifa radicals have given themselves the right to determine who speaks and who does not speak, who can and cannot exercise the right to free and peaceable assembly.

But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation. Unlike the politicians they revile, the men and women of antifa cannot be voted out of office. Generally, they don’t even disclose their names.

The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

Like the fascist right the anti-fascist left has no use for democracy:

Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa’s partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force.

In June of last year, demonstrators—at least some of whom were associated with antifa—punched and threw eggs at people exiting a Trump rally in San Jose, California. An article in It’s Going Down celebrated the “righteous beatings.”

Obviously, the antifascists are just as fascistic as the fascists they abhor. Beinart argues effectively that the fascist right and the antifascist left feed each other, provoke each other and produce a cycle of violence.

Some of the violence counts as relatively mild. Beinart reminds us:

On Inauguration Day, a masked activist punched the white-supremacist leader Richard Spencer. In February, protesters violently disrupted UC Berkeley’s plans to host a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former editor. In March, protesters pushed and shoved the controversial conservative political scientist Charles Murray when he spoke at Middlebury College, in Vermont.

On Inauguration Day antifa radicals committed numerous acts of violence, including firebombing cars. They did the same at Berkeley. At Middlebury they sent one woman to the hospital. We are not talking about engaging in free and open debate.

The Antifa radicals happily rationalize their actions:

Antifascists call such actions defensive. Hate speech against vulnerable minorities, they argue, leads to violence against vulnerable minorities. But Trump supporters and white nationalists see antifa’s attacks as an assault on their right to freely assemble, which they in turn seek to reassert. The result is a level of sustained political street warfare not seen in the U.S. since the 1960s. A few weeks after the attacks in San Jose, for instance, a white-supremacist leader announced that he would host a march in Sacramento to protest the attacks at Trump rallies. Anti-Fascist Action Sacramento called for a counterdemonstration; in the end, at least 10 people were stabbed.

Some of the fascist Trump supporters have turned to violence. This, from Portland, Oregon:

When antifascists forced the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, Trump supporters responded with a “March for Free Speech.” Among those who attended was Jeremy Christian, a burly ex-con draped in an American flag, who uttered racial slurs and made Nazi salutes. A few weeks later, on May 25, a man believed to be Christian was filmed calling antifa “a bunch of punk bitches.”

The next day, Christian boarded a light-rail train and began yelling that “colored people” were ruining the city. He fixed his attention on two teenage girls, one African American and the other wearing a hijab, and told them “to go back to Saudi Arabia” or “kill themselves.” As the girls retreated to the back of the train, three men interposed themselves between Christian and his targets. “Please,” one said, “get off this train.” Christian stabbed all three. One bled to death on the train. One was declared dead at a local hospital. One survived.

The cycle continued. Nine days after the attack, on June 4, Trump supporters hosted another Portland rally, this one featuring Chapman, who had gained fame with his assault on the antifascist in Berkeley. Antifa activists threw bricks until the police dispersed them with stun grenades and tear gas.

Since they are anarchists, the Antifa radicals have no use for the state. One should add that fascist radicals are at permanent war against the state, also:

What’s eroding in Portland is the quality Max Weber considered essential to a functioning state: a monopoly on legitimate violence. As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifascists don’t want the government to stop white supremacists from gathering. They want to do so themselves, rendering the government impotent. With help from other left-wing activists, they’re already having some success at disrupting government. Demonstrators have interrupted so many city-council meetings that in February, the council met behind locked doors. In February and March, activists protesting police violence and the city’s investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline hounded Mayor Ted Wheeler so persistently at his home that he took refuge in a hotel. The fateful email to parade organizers warned, “The police cannot stop us from shutting down roads.”

Of course, this has been happening on college campuses for quite some time now. Dissident students are shut down, penalized for not being politically correct. On campuses professors have the power to grade students. Often that suffices as an instrument of mind control. On the streets anarchists try to impose their views with threats of violence. Their agenda, Kevin Williamson wrote, is their anger. But they are trying to show that they are so right and their opponents so wrong that any means of fighting them are justified. 

It is fair to note that Antifa radicals and Democratic politicians have never produced any outrage over acts of Islamist terrorism. Not a smidgen of outrage.... And have never even been willing to criticize them. Which is more of a threat to Western Civilization: the alt-right or radical Islam?

The Great German Urinal Caper

Have those brilliant Germans finally discovered what women really, really want? They want gender neutral urinals in public restrooms. Is this the solution to the problem of long lines for female toilets?

Again, what would we do without the Daily Mail—reporting here:

City officials in Berlin are hoping to solve the problem of lengthy female toilet queues by introducing gender-neutral urinals. 

In a 99-page policy document titled 'The Toilet Concept for Berlin', the left-wing coalition governing the German capital committed itself to pissoirs - public urinals - for both men and women. 

The paper explains: 'In the future urinals which can be used by all genders should be offered.'

It was justified as an enterprise because it represented a 'continuation of the [toilet] concept and an opportunity for Berlin to show that it is innovative', according to a translation on the BBC

Think about it, a group of bureaucrats churned out a 99 page document designed to solve this pressing problem. The solution, which also strikes a blow against sexism, is to have urinals that can be used by both sexes. They can even be used by both genders.

Here's one design option:

After you, madam: In the future, Berliners of both sexes could find themselves weeing at neighbouring urinals 

And here's a testimony from a woman who used one, of a different design, in a German theatre:

Pictured: Tanja Janezic was amused after using a 'Frauenpissoir' in a theatre in Winterthur, Switzerland 

Given our raised consciousness about gender, men and women can use these urinals at the same time. That would solve the problem of transgendered toilets, don’t you think?

And the new urinals will be more environmentally friendly. I am sure you find great relief in the thought that the new designs will compensate for the fact that women, as a rule, flush the toilet three times, thus wasting precious water resources.

Meanwhile Professor Mete Demiriz of Gelsenkirchen University said that because women often flush the loo three times during a visit, gender-neutral urinals could save water. 

He told the website jetzt that a design team of his is working on a pissoir with a cubicle and a door. 

It is also lower down and allows the woman to have her back against the wall.  

We are relieved that these great German engineers have advanced to the point where they can envision a cubicle with a door. All together—breathe a sign of relief.

It’s yet another instance of life imitating art. Here, from Marcel Duchamp, a sculpture entitled: Fountain.

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James Mattis on Therapy

Secretary of Defense James Mattis addressed the troops at Naval Base Kitsap, in Washington on August 9..

Many have posted this remark for its vulgar reference and its thinly veiled attack on the Pajama Boy. I bring it to you because it offers the Mattis theory of why people undergo psychoanalysis:

So you'll never regret, but you will have some of the best days of your life and some of the worst days of your life in the U.S. Navy, you know what I mean?  That says -- that means you're living.  That means you're living.  That means you're not some pussy sitting on the sidelines, you know what I mean, kind of sitting there saying, “Well, I should have done something with my life.”  Because of what you're doing now, you're not going to be laying on a shrink's couch when you're 45 years old, say “What the hell did I do with my life?” Why? Because you served others; you served something bigger than you.  

Someone  call the thought police....

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Prevaricator in Chief

This morning Bret Stephens has some reflections on language. In part, he comments on Donald Trump’s use of language, but the meat of his column concerns the Obama administration’s systematic lies about Islamic terrorism.

Stephens begins by showing the extent that the Obama administration contorted language in order to lie about Islam and its relation to terrorism:

…. Islamist terrorism, or what former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano used to call “man-caused disasters” in order to “move away from the politics of fear,” as she explained in a 2009 Der Spiegel interview.

Napolitano’s “man-caused disasters” didn’t survive the political laugh test, but the fantastically elastic phrase “violent extremism” did. President Obama’s broad reluctance to use variants of the word “Islam” in proximity to “terrorism” became one of the staples of his presidency. The group that calls itself “Islamic State” was always and adamantly “ISIL” to him.

Remember Omar Mateen, who perpetrated the mass murder of 49 people at a gay nightclub. Might that count as homophobia? Not, to the Obama administration:

After Omar Mateen explicitly declared his fealty to the Islamic State in a 911 call and massacred 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016, Obama acknowledged the blood bath as “an act of terror” but stressed that the “precise motivations of the killer” remained unknown.

As for ideologically motivated students driving crowds into crowds, it happened when Obama was president, too:

Last November, a Somali student at Ohio State University rammed a car into a crowd of students and then began attacking them with a butcher knife before being shot dead. “If we increase our suspicion of people who practice a particular religion, we’re more likely to contribute to acts of violence than we are to prevent them,” said the White House spokesman Josh Earnest. As for Obama, I can find no record of him ever speaking publicly about the attack, which was so reminiscent of what happened Saturday in Charlottesville.

Of course, the administration tried to hand over Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood. They sent Secretary of State Hillary to Cairo to be the first foreign leader to congratulate Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. And yet, the Brotherhood is an international terrorist organization, declared as such by places like the United Arab Emirates.

For the Obama administration, not so much:

The Muslim Brotherhood — whose credo includes the words “jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope” — was, according to the former director of national intelligence James Clapper, “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda.”

The administration walked back the “largely secular” line, but remained equivocal about what is arguably the largest hate group in the world.

As for the administration sell-out to Iran, Obama saw it as reparations for the dastardly way the American government overthrew the Mossadegh government in 1953:

It also tended to equivocate when it came to apportioning historical blame for United States conflicts with militant adversaries. If Iran had taken Americans hostage and killed hundreds of our soldiers, well, as Obama often noted, hadn’t we helped overthrow the Mossadegh government back in 1953?

When Obama Stood Strong Against Racial Hatred

As always, we look for inspiration to our fearless leader, a god among men, Barack Obama, for the right way to deal with violence predicated on racial bias.

Happily, the Obama administration saw numerous act of racial violence, especially directed by blacks against white policemen and even against everyday white people.

Naturally, President Obama expressed severe outrage. He held groups who promoted the violence, accountable. His justice department launched civil rights investigations and called it out as domestic terrorism.

Or not.

Remember Dallas? The Daily Caller does:

In July of 2016, an avowed black nationalist murdered five police officers during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas, Texas. The act of violence was well-planned and was motivated entirely by the hate-filled ideology of the shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson.

With several officers dead by the hand of a committed black nationalist, one might think the Obama administration may have considered the assassinations domestic terror and launched an investigation into groups associated with this ideology.

What did Barack do? He blamed guns. For some reason whenever people of a certain race commit crimes, the fault must always lie elsewhere. Apparently, such people are not responsible for their behavior. It's blame-shifting at its finest.

Barack Obama condemned the shootings, but he did not call out or even allude to Johnson’s hateful views. He did, however, blame “powerful weapons” for the violence.

In her statement on the shooting, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch exploited the tragedy to push for gun control and praise the cause of Black Lives Matter. No mention of Johnson’s ideology or “hate” in was made in her statement, but she did manage to directly name multiple cases of police-involved shootings — all after cops were the ones murdered.

Was the Dallas massacre a one-off event? Not on your life:

In the same month, three officers were gunned down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by an adherent to this radical ideology.

In a less violent case that also occurred in July of 2016, several churches in the area of St. Louis, Missouri, were vandalized and graffitied with rhetoric associated with black nationalism.

Other such events have occurred in the Trump Era, but no journalist or politician has stepped up to denounce them or to call for an investigation into the racially divisive ideology of black nationalism.

Surely, Barack Obama bears some responsibility for the current state of race relations in America. And yet, if you say so, you are more likely to be pilloried for being a hater.

The End of Psychoanalysis

The party is over. Psychoanalysis is dead. It has been dead for quite some time now. The only question is the burial and funeral arrangements. In truth, it’s better to bury a dead horse than to try to beat it back to life.

A few years ago I wrote my own funeral oration for psychoanalysis. I entitled my book The Last Psychoanalyst. In it I showed how a pseudo-science became a pseudo-religion. If you understand that psychoanalysis was always nothing more than a cult gussied up to look like a scientific practice you have been duped. The cult leader, the demiurge named Sigmund Freud, promoted and sold a radical, ideologically driven theory that accounted for nothing and that neither treated nor cured. As I said, psychoanalysis is overpriced storytelling.

Some psychoanalysts have seen the light. Among them Jacques Lacan, the most influential Freudian since Freud, who declared clinical practice to be a scam. His acolytes and disciples dismissed his remarks as a misstatement by a doddering old man, but they were both intelligible and correct. As famed Oxford biologist and Nobel prize winner Peter Medawar said, Freudian psychoanalysis is a confidence trick. As we would say on this side of the pond, it’s a con.

Now, reviewing Frederick Crews’ magnum opus debunking Freud—Sigmund Freud: The Making of an Illusion-- Alexander Kafka offered an indication of where it’s all at today.

He wrote:

"It’s obvious," says Stewart Justman, an emeritus humanities professor at the University of Montana who has written about medicine and society, "that there’s a diminished hard core of Freudian defenders, and that when they pass from the scene, that’s it. Game over."

Richard J. McNally, a cognitive-behavior-oriented psychologist who runs a lab at Harvard and oversees clinical training, remembers that on grand rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1990s, there were still a lot of psychoanalysts. "A half-dozen years later," he says, "they seemed to have disappeared."

What does Crews think?

Apart from any intellectual fuss that somebody like me could make, the system has been dying on the vine for decades. So that now, really, psychoanalysis survives in humanities departments not for any reason that one would call scientific or empirical but because the psychoanalytic way of thinking is conducive to discourse production, devoid of constraint.

As I said, the party is over. The few people still defending psychoanalysis are superannuated, like Harold Blum, or true believers bitterly clinging to their faith.

For example:

Crews wants the public to think that psychoanalysis rises and falls on Freud’s reputation and personal history, and that’s "a very reductionist way of thinking," says Adrienne Harris, who teaches psychoanalysis in New York and Northern California and has a clinical practice. 

And if psychoanalysis is so rickety, Harris asks, why do humanists who discover it in academe so often want to pursue training as therapists? And why are psychoanalytic institutes in Eastern Europe, China, and elsewhere so hungry for it?

If you were a humanist in the American academy wouldn’t you be trying to find another line of work? Freud attracts humanists precisely because he is such a good storyteller. He has created a literary fiction that attempts to transform nothing less than human nature itself. If you are an arrogant humanist who thinks that literature can change the world, you cannot do much better than that.

Harold Blum is a Freud apologist, one of the last. He touts Freud’s influence, but such touting does nothing to counter the Medawar argument that it was all a confidence trick:

"I find it very hard to take Frederick Crews seriously," says Harold Blum, a New York psychoanalyst and former executive director of the Freud Archives. Oedipal urges, the incest taboo, the erotic fantasies underlying locker-room talk and dirty jokes, loaded linguistic metaphors, Freudian slips, the vividness of infantile sexuality, the stages of child development, the importance of nurturing the young, the symbolic weight of dream images. On and on. These bountiful psychoanalytic insights are in the very air we breathe. To deny that, Blum says, is "irrational."

Calling these insights “bountiful” tells us that Blum has little command of the English language. Calling these dogmas of the Freudian pseudo-religion insights is yet another sleight-of-hand, a trick to seduce the gullible. Does anyone really still believe that we are driven by our Oedipal urges and that the only thing we really want in life is to copulate with our mothers? You have to be a true believer, someone who has suspended your critical faculties to take it seriously.

Crews does not. All religions need godheads, figures of surpassing genius who can be worshipped for providing us access to higher truths. And yet, Freud was simply a brilliant but arrogant man consumed by his ambitions who wanted to become famous. At the least, Crews shows that Freud had no use for scientific experimentation.

Kafka summarizes his viewpoint:

Early in his career, as an anatomist, he wields his microscope expertly but cannot take the next step of devising experiments that might test one hypothesis against another. He suggests, later, in his quest for fame and wealth, that he was more involved than he really was in discoveries made by others — for example, Carl Koller’s breakthrough use of cocaine as a local anesthetic in eye surgeries. The young Freud did make a name for himself, it’s true — but as a foolhardy shill for cocaine’s much wider and more indiscriminate medical application. That stance came to embarrass him and drive him even harder to seek some magnificent accomplishment that would eclipse it.

He continues, describing Freud through Crews:

He is a reckless, greedy, bullying, inept, and monomaniacal clinician. He fosters some patients’ addictions to morphine, cocaine, or both. He treats symptoms with possible physiological causes — arthritis, say, or ovarian cysts — as obvious consequences of hysteria. He bilks rich but hopeless clients for whom he has no sympathy or coherent treatment plan. He sleeps through his afternoon sessions, confident nonetheless that he’s absorbing some psychic gist of his analysands’ complaints. He browbeats nominal hysterics into relating questionable traumas, and some of his early patients scoff at his interpretations on their way out of his empty waiting room.

Freud’s genius was as a writer, a novelist, if  you will who knew how to tell stories:

None of this stops Freud from writing up cases with a cocky flair, in conscious imitation of Sherlock Holmes tales, depicting treatments as indisputable triumphs of psychological detection and portraying questionable casual encounters as triggering virtuoso insights. He reinterprets cases with ever-shifting ideas of whether symptoms were set off by actual or imagined sexual traumas.

Kafka summarizes the argument neatly:

For Crews, however, most of Freud’s career was a blind alley, but filled with dazzling and disorienting smoke and mirrors to disguise the futility of his method.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Obama's Outrage over the Fort Hood Massacre

The world would be a better place if there were fewer white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other assorted alt-right hate groups. As it happens, precious few of these characters dot the landscape, so we ought to feel somewhat fortunate that the pestilence is contained.

Not entirely, of course. Last Saturday a neo-Nazi drove a care into a crowd of demonstrators, injuring many and murdering one. Denunciations came swiftly from politicians and commentators on the right or the left.

Trump's detractors and haters went into the highest dudgeon over what Donald Trump did not say about the murder in Charlottesville. They noted that he has been too slow to denounce people who have, after all, tended to support him. These are fair points.

Yet, it is also fair to say that not one of those who are most outraged at Trump's lack of outrage has ever denounced any alt-left hate group that targets white people or Israelis.

Trump missed a chance to step up to his role as leader by denouncing the organizers of Saturday’s Charlottesville protest. As it happened, most Republican leaders did denounce the act as domestic terrorism. For some it was not enough. When Sen. Ted Cruz forthrightly declared that the man who drove his car into a crowd was a domestic terrorist, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton denounced him anyway… for posturing.

Some people are never satisfied.

Anyway, Trump was roundly disparaged for being insufficiently outraged by the attack. He did not live up to the fine example that Barack Obama set when Major Nidal Malik Hasan yelled Allahu Akhbar and opened fire in a cafeteria in Fort Hood.

CBS News reported on Obama’s full throated expression of outrage:

President Barack Obama said Friday the entire nation is grieving for those slain at Fort Hood, and he urged people not to jump to conclusions while law enforcement officers investigate the shootings.

Mr. Obama met Friday morning with FBI Director Robert Mueller and other federal leaders to get an update on what they've learned. Thirteen people were killed and 30 others injured in the shooting rampage at the Texas Army post on Thursday. The suspected shooter is an Army psychiatrist; his motive remains unclear.

"We don't know all the answers yet. And I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts," Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden statement otherwise devoted to the economy.

"What we do know is that there are families, friends and an entire nation grieving right now for the valiant men and women who came under attack yesterday," the president said.

As it happened, the Obama Defense Department knew all about Maj. Hasan's interest in radical Islamist terrorism. They did not do anything about it because they did not want to be Islamophobic. As for not jumping to conclusions, President Obama was happy to do so when the victims were black and the perpetrators were white. To think that this constitutes a fair and just assessment of the facts is absurd. 

Once the relevant information was known, the Obama administration still refused to say that Hasan’s action was terrorism. It persisted in calling it workplace violence. How many journalists and media commentators were outraged over Obama’s manifest dereliction? I suspect that the answer was very close to: none.

Then, of course, Obama set out to fight his true enemy: Islamophobia. And white police officers.

It is perfectly fair to criticize President Trump for bumbling his Saturday statement. But is perfectly unfair to pretend that the Obama example was anything but derelict. When faced with an Islamist terrorist who murdered American soldiers, Obama was nonplussed. He acted as though he did not care. 

Media elites who want Donald Trump to be drawn and quartered did not dare denounce Obama. Some people on the right were appalled by Obama’s reaction, but the mainstream media downplayed their reaction in order to idolize their Messiah.

The Good That Can Come from Lies

We tell the truth. So much do we love the truth that we are not prey to any illusions. We believe that good mental health involves unflinching truth-telling. Nothing is worse than lying. Remember the mantra, “Bush lied; people died.” Truth tellers repeated it so many times that everyone ended up believing it. Even though it was a lie. It was a big lie… aka propaganda.

But, do you really always tell the truth? Aren’t we all willing to tell a few little white lies if it helps us to avoid conflict or even to hurt someone’s feelings? If a man tells his wife that she looks great, even though he thinks that her latest frock looks like sewn-together rags, is he rendering her a service or a disservice? If he were a fashion stylist he would be within his rights to tell her the dress makes her look like (insert suitably offensive term)…., but as a husband, his role is to show his love and affection for her. If he doesn’t tell her that he likes the way she looks, she will take it as a reflection of his feelings about her.  Besides, her dress might be eminently fashionable. Do you think that he really knows the difference?

Of course, there are limits. If she goes out to a party or a function and is seriously overdressed or underdressed, she will not take too much consolation from the fact that her husband signed off on the outfit. So, there are limits to lying. If your lie sets your wife up for public ridicule she will not likely be consoled by the fact that you were saying it to show that you love her.

OK, that was an easy example. Ian Leslie offers up many more in his Daily Mail article. In it he summarizes a new book wherein he argues that being good at telling lies is a good thing. 

Lies lubricate social commerce. Of course, if you lie on the witness stand or tell the police that you know nothing of the crime that you just witnessed, you will get yourself into some very serious trouble. 

Leslie limits himself to everyday social interactions. He does not address himself to the criminal justice system, because, when all is said and done, life is not a trial. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. If yours feels like a trial, then perhaps you do not lie enough. You are too open and honest.

Leslie writes:

We lie by saying: ‘I’m fine, thanks’ when we’re feeling miserable. We lie when we say: ‘What a beautiful baby’ while inwardly noting its resemblance to an alien. And most of us have simulated anger, sadness, affection, or said: ‘I love you’ when we don’t mean it.

We tell our children to smile and look grateful for the soap-on-a-rope grandma has given them for their birthday — and perhaps we add that if they don’t, Father Christmas won’t come this year.

Not only do we make exceptions to the prohibition against lying, sometimes we approve of it. If a doctor tells a bereaved husband his wife died instantly in the crash, rather than the truth — that she spent her last hours in horrific pain — we applaud the doctor’s compassion.

We call the lies we like ‘white lies’, but asked to define what makes a lie white we soon get lost in qualifications and contradictions. And while traditionally we frown upon liars, I’d argue that lying is a basic human necessity.

Why do we lie? We do so in order to protect the feelings of other people. Perhaps this is a foreign notion, but in an age where we are all told that being truthful, about our feelings or our beliefs, puts us on the road to mental health… regardless of who we offend or of which dramas we provoke, it is worth saying:

Most of us have, at some point, perhaps in a cab or around the canteen table, found ourselves faced with a choice between pretending to agree with a political statement in which we don’t believe, or being honest and risking an unpleasant argument.

We have to deal with conflicts between our desire to be truthful and our standing in the community — and often we choose to do so by lying.

‘Yes, that dress looks lovely on you.’ ‘I’m so sorry I’m busy that night.’ ‘Of course I don’t mind!’ White lies are sticking plasters we put over everyday social problems, they’re the way we avoid hurting people’s feelings.

Leslie explains that the much studied placebo effect is real and is based on a lie. Also, when you compliment and flatter your spouse you might be telling a lie, but you are also encouraging her or him to feel better about him or herself. And you are affirming your commitment to your relationships. Not a small matter that.

Visionaries, Leslie says, tend to be inveterate liars. They concoct plans for unrealistic projects and pursue them until they fail or succeed. More often than not they fail, but if we did not have visionaries, people whose imagination had detached from reality, we would not know change. We would not have made all of the wondrous technological advances that power our civilization.

It feels like a stretch to call such people liars. They are idealists, imagining the world as it might be rather than settling for the world as it is.

Leslie continues:

We need over-optimistic entrepreneurs who are prepared to take irresponsible risks. Without people who are willing to ignore the prevailing wisdom and follow their instincts, many of our biggest innovations and creative leaps forward wouldn’t have happened.

Every year, thousands of people with vaulting ambitions start new companies in full awareness that the odds are against them achieving the kind of world-changing success of which they dream.

Most fail or settle for something less, but a few of those companies eventually become Apple or Starbucks or Dyson.

At every turn, it seems, life undermines any strict adherence to truth.

Like most good things, you can take lying too far. If you continue to believe in an illusion even when reality has told you that it cannot work, you are engaging in a higher form of self-deception. If you think that the spouse who beats you will change you are harboring a dangerous self-delusion. Like the business visionary who tries to do something that no one said could be done, you should know how to test your self-deceptions against reality. And you should always yield to the verdict of reality.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Her Boyfriend Is Going to Die

I will continue my current policy of not telling you what Polly has to say about this situation. For the record, she supports the letter writer’s decision and buttresses her view with a pile of irrelevant cant. Given the terms of the letter, one tends to agree with the letter writer’s decision. It has every appearance of being the right thing to do.

The letter writer calls herself ALS I Need Is Support,Not Judgment. She describes the event that upended her life:

Eight months ago my boyfriend/favorite human in the world was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 32. ALS affects all the voluntary muscles in the body — he will eventually lose the ability to use his hands and arms, the ability to walk, talk, swallow, and breathe. The disease manifests differently in everyone, so we don’t entirely know when or how things will progress. His eyes will still work, as will his big brain and ginormous heart, the best parts.

Clearly, this is very bad news. Life expectancy for someone with ALS is likely to be a matter of a few years. But those are not happy years. Caring for someone whose nervous system is shutting down is grueling... for anyone. As always, there are ongoing clinical trials, but they only attenuate symptoms. They do not cure the illness. One likes to hope for a better outcome, for a miracle cure, but such is not currently realistic.

The young couple has started making plans for dealing with the inexorable progression of this illness:

In the time since his diagnosis, we’ve started making huge life decisions: commitment ceremony (turns out in America you really shouldn’t get married when you’re facing chronic/terminal illness), starting a family, and moving across the country to be closer to family. And I’ve started to share those decisions beyond our inner circle.

We do not know how long this couple had been together. We do not know about their pre-diagnosis level of commitment. We do not know what either of them does in this world, where they come from, what their family means are. We do not know anything about said boyfriend, except that he has a ginormous heart. No comments on that.

But, we do not know what the boyfriend thinks. Has he begged her to stay with him because he does not want to die alone? Or has he offered to free her from any obligation to him, so that her future children will have a father? Not knowing his view or her family’s view turns this decision into something of a moral fog. For all we know she might have a Jane Eyre complex.

And yet, this woman has made a very brave and almost self-sacrificing decision. The fact that she is willing to uproot herself in order to nurse her boyfriend during his degenerative disease is admirable. One understands that such an illness will normally require professional medical and nursing care. One assumes that she cannot provide it. Of course, she might believe that the power of her love will cure him. We don't know.

If she were married we and everyone else would happily embrace her decision. It is the right and honorable thing to do. I do not understand why they cannot marry, but her immediate future looks somewhat bleak. As for medical care, it is well and good to blame the American health care system, but, at the limit, her beau will probably be eligible for Medicaid. This will require him and his family to spend everything they have, but still....

As for discouraging words, she says that she has been served up a "pile of flaming hot shit" and she wants to use it to plant a garden. We understand her willingness to see it as so much fertilizer, but still... if you were served up such a dish... wouldn't you walk out of the restaurant?

The problem lies elsewhere. It lies in the way her friends have been reacting to her decision. One notes that she has known the diagnosis for eight months and is now getting around to sharing the news with other people. You might find that to be somewhat suspicious. I do, but again, we do not know enough to understand it.

Anyway, her friends have unanimously told her that they think she is making a mistake. These fully fledged members of the millennial generation have been highly judgmental. We do not really know why.

Anyway, AISISNJ explains her conversations:

Here’s the rub — I’ve found myself, on multiple occasions, sitting through the most ridiculous, ignorant, judgmental conversations of people telling me what I should do with my life, weighing in, unsolicited, on our decision to stay together and commit to our relationship, our decision to have a child (that’s still a secret, but oh buddy do I anticipate judgment), and my decision to possibly leave my job and move across the country. I think about every aspect of these decisions every day. None of this is lost on me, I have thought about every possible outcome and judgment, but I landed on these decisions because it is the best and right thing for me to do at this moment.

There’s more:

I have sat in a closed room with someone and smiled and nodded when they told me to leave my favorite human being. I was kind and polite and respectful. They know so little of my life and relationship, and yet I sat there valuing their feelings over mine. I listened patiently when a friend delivered a 20-minute lecture about waiting a year to have a child and suggested that we had to “plan” for this and that she wouldn’t feel sorry for us if we were destitute because we didn’t plan right. HA-HA-HA, how do you plan for a disease that may cost us $300,000+ a year? HOW? That baby isn’t the problem — the problem is the U.S. health-care system and that lack of research, funding, and support for orphan diseases. But during that conversation I was so small and quiet and scared.

At the least, her friends seem like moral slime. AISISNJ sits there listening to them and has no real response. The point is interesting in and of itself. After all, she could just tell them that she does not want to hear what they think and that they should try to respect her decision. Note that she is considering what is best for her. What about her family, her friends and her future children?

So, the question transforms itself. After all, these friends know the woman. We do not. They presumably know the boyfriend. We do not. For my part I will tell you that her not telling them, their not noticing the illness for months on end strikes me as suspicious. Are these people friends or family? I find it peculiar that the letter writer does not identify her family members and designate their views as such. After all, her decisions will affect them directly… especially if she and her boyfriend run out of money and need to borrow from family.

Again, we know nothing of any of this, but I find it curious that she does not share it. Moral dilemmas do not exist in a vacuum. Human beings do not exist as isolated autonomous social beings. They are connected, to friends and family. Apparently, this woman is trying to sever her attachments. It’s not a good sign.

Were the situation presented in less stark terms and less fatal terms, I would tell you that when everyone around you thinks that you are making a mistake and your heart tells you otherwise, the chances are very high that your friends and family are right.

If the group in question is disinclined to be judgmental their open opposition to her decision might signal that she is making a bad decision. Perhaps their fear for her added to their care about her has caused them to oppose her decision overtly. If so, that would suggest that she is making a mistake.

Presumably, her friends and family know her boyfriend. We do not. Thus, they might possess information that we do not have. For all we know, her favorite person in the world—an especially empty description—is not a nice guy or even a good person. Perhaps he has character flaws that out besotted letter writer has overlooked or ignored. We do not know. But her friends do. Could it be that the letter writer sits dumbfounded while her entourage tells her that she is making a mistake because somewhere she knows that she is making a mistake.

As I said, we all sympathize. And we all assume that she is doing the right and proper and moral thing. But, we simply do not know enough about it. Polly agrees with the letter writer, but Polly does not know how to think about such issues.

Were the issue slightly different, were there something other than a fatal disease involved, I would tell you that when a woman feels one way, especially in relation to a romantic attachment, and all her friends are flashing red lights at her, the chances are very good—no, they are better than good—that her friends are correct.

We have all heard tell of women who have stayed in abusive relationships beyond the point where they should have picked up and left. We have heard tell of women who have allowed themselves to be seduced by scoundrels and low life degenerates when everyone around them was telling them to run away. You might ask whether a masochistic tendency draws them into these webs, to the point where they suffer actual harm. I think we would do better to say that they are suffering and are making bad decisions because they have been told to trust their heart and not their friends. They have been taught that they are independent and autonomous, to the point where they should make decisions based on how they feel, not on how other people, the people who care most for them, see the situation.

Telling women that they should aspire to the anomic state of independence and autonomy has harmed many women immeasurably. It leaves them alone and isolated, detached from a social network, making decisions that reflect more on their anomie than on their good judgment.

Today’s case might be the exception that proves the rule, but, knowing nothing other than the fact that the letter writer feels one way and all of her friends and family feel another… I would say that the friends and family are more likely to be right about it. If not in this case, in nearly every other case. Telling young women to follow their hearts or their bliss is very bad advice indeed.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Woman in Tech

You might have noticed that those who routinely denounce our president for playing fast and loose with facts reject any fact that would disprove their deepest ideologically-driven convictions.

You can regale them with information about the biological differences between the sexes, you can provide a mountain of proof showing that a boy who thinks he is a girl is really still a boy, and they will dismiss you as a bigot.

After all, they attend the Church of the Liberal Pieties. In the CLP version of the Bible, Ecclesiastes opens thusly:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.  Bigotry of bigotries, saith the Preacher, bigotry of bigotries; all is bigotry.

Meanwhile, back in Mountain View, CA they have a problem. Google tried to solve the problem by firing James Damore, but his memo about the difference between the sexes continues to resonate. Naturally, those who wish to reduce the human species to gender neuterdom reject all scientific demonstrations that might explain the gender disparities in the tech world for reasons that have nothing to do with bigotry.

But, what do they say about women’s freedom to choose? You remember that great feminist mantra. Apparently, its scope is only limited to abortion. If a woman freely chooses to major in art history or psychology, thus making her ill-suited for tech jobs at Google, it just means that Google should hire more software engineers who are unsuitable for the job.

To balance the scientific facts that members of the CLP ignore, we turn to an excellent essay by Megan McArdle. Published yesterday on the Bloomberg, the essay explains why McArdle decided, of her own free will, exercising her own right to choose freely, to drop out of the tech world.

She recounts her own personal epiphany, which occurred while she was working in tech:

This will make me sound a bit dim, but at the time, it never occurred to me that being a female in this bro ecosystem might impinge my ultimate career prospects. Nor did I miss having women in the room. I liked working with the bros just fine. And the sexual harassment, while annoying, was just that: annoying. I cannot recall that it ever affected my work, nor that I lost any sleep over it.

No, the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.

McArdle generalizes her epiphany:

Thinking back to those women I knew in IT, I can't imagine any of them would have spent a weekend building a fiber-channel network in her basement.

I’m not saying such women don’t exist; I know they do. I’m just saying that if they exist in equal numbers to the men, it’s odd that I met so very many men like that, and not even one woman like that, in a job where all the women around me were obviously pretty comfortable with computers. We can’t blame it on residual sexism that prevented women from ever getting into the field; the number of women working with computers has actually gone down over time. And I find it hard to blame it on current sexism. No one told that guy to go home and build a fiber-channel network in his basement; no one told me I couldn’t. It’s just that I would never in a million years have chosen to waste a weekend that way.

The higher you rise yo the corporate hierarchy, the more important personal preferences and innate talent:

The higher you get up the ladder, the more important those preferences become. Anyone of reasonable intelligence can be coached to sit at a help desk and talk users through basic problems. Most smart people can be taught to build a basic workstation and hook it up to a server. But the more complicated the problems get, the more knowledge and skill they require, and the people who acquire that sort of expertise are the ones who are most passionately interested in those sorts of problems. A company like Google, which turns down many more applicants than it hires, is going to select heavily for that sort of passion. If more men have it than women, the workforce will be mostly men.

Astutely, McArdle notes that the upshot of the brouhaha over James Damore’s memo shows that women have power… only it’s a power to deconstruct what others have built. Since engineers only respect those who build, the power to deconstruct does nothing more than to make people angry.

She wrote:

The mob reaction did prove that women indeed have some power in tech. But the power to fire people is not why most people get into engineering. Good engineers want to make things. The conversation around Damore's memo hasn't made the world a better place, as they say in Silicon Valley. It has just made a lot of people angry.

Israel Hearts Trump

While many American Jews are rushing to the barricades to fight against Donald Trump, a man they consider to be the reincarnation of Hitler, Israelis see things differently.

Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax is hardly an objective observer. Yet, we have no reason to reject his take on the Israeli attitude toward Donald Trump. After all, it is consistent with the polls. And the polls don’t lie… do they? Besides, we know that Israelis despised Barack Obama, as did the Saudis, the Egyptians and other Sunni Arab nations.

Ruddy writes:

I just left Israel after meeting with top officials, media personalities, tech entrepreneurs, and many citizens from all walks of life.

The overwhelming view was that America was lucky to have a strong and resolute president like Donald Trump.

Israelis are well informed and especially clued in on U.S. media – many can catch CNN and Fox News on TV – and they expressed bafflement to me that the American media has been so hostile to President Trump.

For the Jewish state, Trump is a breath of fresh air. After eight years of Obama, who tilted U.S. policy toward Iran and gave Israel a cold shoulder, many are breathing a sigh of relief.
A recent Jerusalem Post poll found that 61 percent of Israel's Jews believe Trump is "pro-Israel" and a Pew survey of all nations found Israel to be the second strongest supporter of Trump, with 56 percent saying they had full confidence in him. 

Israelis even thought that Trump was more pro-Israeli than George W. Bush, another president that left thinking American Jews despise:

Senior Israeli officials I spoke with say President Trump has been the most supportive of any U.S. president in recent memory, including George W. Bush, who also was quite popular.

The Trump national security is considered to be strongly pro-Israeli:

One high-ranking Israeli official told me that the equation for Israel has changed because of three key Trump officials: Jared Kushner, the president's special adviser, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Kushner, to whom the president has given the task of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, understands that Israel is the cornerstone of regional stability.

Previous administrations typically began their peace process by blaming Israel. Kushner took a different approach by affirming Israel as a U.S. ally.

Both Mattis and McMaster, the official said, grasp the strategic role Israel has played for U.S. security in the region and they have been stalwart in their support.

What do the Israelis see that others do not see? Ruddy explains:

Today, under Trump, ISIS is being crushed.

Qatar, a Gulf state that has "played both sides" but consistently helps fund the bad guys, including the Muslim Brotherhood, is being contained.

Trump is also taking Iran's role in sponsoring terrorism as a great threat to the region. Trump has been praised for being willing to tackle the Iranian problem as he is tackling North Korea.

Trump's outreach to Putin could be crucial in dealing with Iran and North Korea, one official said.

Should She Rat Herself Out?

Therapist Lori Gottlieb has returned from vacation. Yesterday, she offered the following letter, a cry for help from a patient who apparently cheated on her boyfriend three years ago and who has been wracked with guilt ever since.

She calls herself, “Holding a Secret:”

I’ve been engaged for six months now. My fiancé and I have been together for six years. We’ve built an amazing life together, but I have a really dark secret I’ve kept from him.

Three years ago, I had too much to drink and made out with a former professor in a bar. Ever since, I feel taken advantage of. I was drunk to the point that I wasn’t thinking clearly but looking back, I wish I had told him no. I never told anyone about this incident but am currently working through this with a therapist.

I’m confident that revealing this to others would cause a lot of chaos in my life. This guy is a big-deal professor at a big-deal university. He is married and has kids. I feel strong in my ability to deal with this by not burdening others with this information. This is the first “adult” problem in my life, but it’s hard for me to move through life knowing how scary and complicated the future will be and how there are so many shades of gray in a world that is dictated by black-and-whiteness. My guilt is all-consuming, and I feel like I need to shout from the mountaintops that I’m a bad person and need to be punished.

I guess I’d just like some reassurance that good people can do bad things and can come back from them. But is believing that a cop-out for bad people?

Gottlieb rightly says that we do not have enough information to draw conclusions, but we do have enough to make a few observations.

First, and most obvious, what does she mean when she says that she made out with a former professor? Is this a euphemism for fellating him in the restroom? Gottlieb seems to think that they kissed at the bar, but I doubt whether she has tortured herself for three years over a stolen or even consensual kiss.

Second, as for the secret… a mildly astute observer would have noted that if she was making out with the man in a bar she was doing so in public, not in private. At that point, the discussion of secrecy is misdirection. The real issue is not what is in her mind but what someone else might have seen. And what that someone else might or might not mention to her fiancé. If, however, she blew the man in the restroom, then only one other person knows what happened. How much can she trust the professor in question? What if she runs into him and his family while she is with her fiancé? What about her friends? One finds it difficult to believe that she never confided in any of her close friends. At that point, the information is in circulation and she does not control who exposes what to whom. HS mentions that revealing the secret to others-- NB, not one other-- would cause chaos in her life? But, if it happened in a bar and if the man in question has already mentioned it to others... then it is a lot less secret than she thinks.

Third, the issue less concerns guilt than the threat of exposure by third parties. HS mentions that she might or might not tell someone else, the man’s wife, about what happened. But this also suggests that someone else might tell her fiancé what happened. We do not know whether or not the man has told his wife and whether said wife might want to avenge herself on the college student who tried to seduce her husband. Somehow or other Gottlieb misses these points.

Fourth, HS talks about the experience in terms that hint at something like an assault.  Whatever else does it mean when she says that she should have said No? Said No to what exactly: did he grab her and kiss her? Did he drag her off into the restroom? Did he stick his hand under her skirt? Anyway HS felt that she had been taken advantage of. To my jaded ears it does not sound like making out in a bar. Then again, was the make out session in the bar something she wants to repeat?  Has she chosen to marry the wrong man? Should she have tried to break up the professor's marriage? As for her need to be punished and her allusion to  third rate BDSM novels, perhaps the issue involves her kinkiness. Does her fiance know that she lusts for bondage? 

Fifth, in this as other similar circumstances, “the better part of valor is discretion.” I am on the record. I do not believe that anything can be gained by her telling her fiancé. Again, this depends on what happened. If she was assaulted her fiancé might decide to take revenge on the man. If she kissed a man at a bar while in a drunken stupor her fiance might still feel that she has betrayed him. The rule I apply in such cases is that if she does not tell him it did not happen and is not relevant to their relationship. If she tells him then it becomes a central fact in their relationship. HS says that telling him would be damage her relationship… so, she should shut up.

Sixth, HS says that she is working through the issue with a therapist. Big  mistake. Doubtless the therapist is not telling her what to do or what not to do but therapy is built on the model of the confessional. It takes it as an article of faith that being open and honest and shameless points you toward mental health. These are built into the therapy model. Therapy will produce a mental conflict between  knowing what she should not do and therapy’s push in the opposite direction.

She has written to another therapist seeking help. She knows that therapy is hurting her and threatening her impending marriage. She wants to hear from another therapist that she should say nothing. And yet, her problem is that if this fact becomes exposed by someone else, against her will, then what should she say to her fiancé.

If you miss the fact that this might all be revealed despite her… you have missed the point of the dilemma.