Saturday, October 22, 2016

Perplexed about Gender

In a culture of narcissism Hell is other people. If you think the world of yourself you do not want and cannot accept that other people see you differently. If you believe that you are the best, the brightest and the most talented, you will eschew any competition that might say otherwise. Or that might pop the bubble of your illusion.

If you are how you feel about yourself and if you feel good about yourself  you do not want to look in a mirror that shows you looking like a clown. If you are what you believe you are, what you think you are or what you are convinced you are you will become sorely offended, shaken to the roots of your narcissism, by someone who sees you differently.

Even the most minor gesture of disapproval will feel like an aggression. Someone looking askance at you will threaten  your carefully crafted illusion.

For the narcissist, the problem is always other minds. If you want to sustain your illusion or even your delusion about who you are, you will need to control other minds. You might threaten them, intimidate them, brainwash them, silence them or simply ignore them. One way or another you will not be able to tolerate anyone who thinks differently.

Recently, Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto—which used to be an eminent academic institution—was ordered—yes, ordered—to use the right pronouns when addressing a transgendered student who believed that he/she was really she/he.

HeatSt. reports:

The letter, signed jointly by arts and science dean David Cameron and faculty and academic life vice-provost Sioban Nelson, claimed the university is committed to free speech but that right has limits.

“Your statements that you will refuse to refer to transgendered persons using gender neutral pronouns if they ask you to do so are contrary to the rights of those persons to equal treatment without discrimination based on their ‘gender identity’ and gender expression.’

“We trust that these impacts on students and others were not your intention in making these remarks,” the letter says. “However, in view of these impacts, as well as the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code, we urge you to stop repeating these statements,” the letter said.

For all the mental drool about gender identity and gender expression we are talking about a belief, even a conviction. Some might even say that it is a delusional belief, but we will leave that to the psychiatrists.

One notes, with Camille Paglia, that the current brouhaha over the transgendered, the latest attempt to control minds, is a sign of cultural collapse. Since reality, in the form of the external genitalia and one’s chromosomal makeup is normally unambiguous, these college administrators have taken it on themselves to say that reality is what a transgendered student says it is. The evidence of your senses counts for nothing when arrayed against the depth of his/her/its conviction.

Since secondary sexual characteristics and appearance normally suffice to signal whether we are dealing with a male or a female, we tend to be economical and not to confuse ourselves and everyone else by asking everyone what their preferred gender is and which pronouns they would like us to use to address them. The inefficiency of such a procedure would cause us to waste an enormous amount of time and mental energy.

Human community and human communication is designed to achieve a basic level of efficiency. If you imagine that human beings will sacrifice that because a student believes that he is something that he is not, you are not living in the real world. In the long run, this assault on common sense and common decency will never stand. Or better, it introduces gross inefficiencies into all human relationships and forces people to spend more time avoiding the thought police than actually living their lives.

When Judith Shulevitz took up the question of transgender rights in the New York Times recently, a number of trolls took out after her. They called her transphobic. God forbid! Given the damage done to their minds by their so-called education, they are reduced to throwing up a slanderous rant filled with name-calling. At least they are warning you off ever dealing with them on any level.

Shulevitz offered us a sensible and judicious discussion of the issues. She even tried to balance the differing interests. And she pointed out, cogently, that allowing a biological male to undress in the presence of females in a locker room violates the rights and especially the modesty of the biological females. The reverse of the situation, rarely discussed, will likely not produce the same reaction.

It is breathtaking to see that normal children are being deprived of their rights in order to accommodate someone who is convinced that he/she is not really who he/she is. As you know, this is not some crackpot issue cooked up in some bastion of radical thinking. The issue has caused deep thinking celebrities to boycott the state of North Carolina and is heading for the Supreme Court.

If you don’t think that this is a sign of general cultural collapse, you are not thinking.

Shulevitz writes:

Two teenagers have to change for gym. Both wear the skinny jeans and Converse sneakers that make up the quasi-uniform of the American middle-schooler. But one was born with a girl’s body, the other with a boy’s. The second has asked the school to consider her a girl, and the school has agreed to do so. But the girl-born-a-girl (the cisgender girl, to use the preferred term) does not want to strip in front of the transgender girl or have that person strip in front of her. Meanwhile, the transgender girl does not want to be banished from the common area like some sort of freak. The standoff will end only when one retreats to a stall to change in private. Which one will it be?

According to the federal agencies charged with enforcing Title IX, the statute banning sex discrimination at publicly funded schools, the cisgender girl must cede the floor. 

Ideologues masquerading as scientists have proclaimed that gender identity is fluid. And yet, the pronouns that designate gender are not fluid. In some languages all nouns are gendered. In some there are two genders. Others add the neuter form of nouns.

Shulevitz recognizes that we all respect the right to privacy and that it must include the right to personal modesty. We keep our private parts out of public view and do not to expose ourselves to strangers of the opposite sex. At least, most of us don’t. It's called having a sense of shame. It is universal to the human species. It makes social beings and moral beings. Get rid of it at your own peril.

She explains:

On the other hand, people have a right to privacy. Courts have largely agreed that no one should have to undress unwillingly in front of a member of the opposite sex, or see that person naked. Call it prudishness, if you like, but such modesty is common. We live in a sex-segregated world. After a certain point in childhood, men and women go their separate ways for almost every activity that involves exposing the body.

As it happened, the Obama Departments of Education and Justice informed schools that students could change their gender merely by informing school administrators. You are what you think you are. You are what you say you are. Anyone who disagrees, anyone whose judgment is based on reality, is a bigot.

If you were wondering why people across America are angry and upset, here’s one place to start.

And it’s not just religious groups who are horrified at the implications at this sign of cultural degeneracy. A feminist group has taken up against it too:

Shulevitz writes:

And the radical feminists behind yet another lawsuit — the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF — are as nonreligious as it gets. WoLF worries that defining sex as a subjective feeling could strip women of their status as a class granted certain privileges and protections under Title IX.

Imagine, says David Bookbinder, an attorney working with WoLF, a school district in which “there have never been girls who have taken upper-level math class. A school could set up a class just for girls” to encourage them to do so. (Title IX allows this.) But under the O.C.R.’s edict, he continues, “men would be allowed into that class.” If “anyone who identifies as a woman qualifies legally as a woman,” Mr. Bookbinder says, then anyone can “take advantage of anything that the law reserves exclusively for women,” be they scholarships or other benefits. “How do we protect transgender people against real and pernicious discrimination,” Mr. Bookbinder asks, without taking away the reparations women fought so hard for?

Rather than get into the legalities in play, I direct your attention to a recent article by Prof. Anthony Esolen. In it he explains cogently that the war on pronouns is really a war against reality.

First, Esolen makes the argument from economy of expression. In a delightful reductio ad absurdum, he shows that the new rules would translate Oliver Sachs’ book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat into:

The Adult Human Being Who Was Biologically Male but of As Yet Undetermined Sexual Preference and Sexual Identity Who Mistook His or Her or Zis or Xer Committed Life Partner Who Was Biologically Female but Also of As Yet Undetermined Sexual Preference and Sexual Identity for a Hat.

He continues, explaining that we are dealing with a special kind of madness. You might consider it the madness of crowds, or a mass hysteria or even a mass delusion, but it is a pernicious form of mind control:

The sane reader will note that the only clear item in that sentence is the hat. The sane reader will also note that, of the two madmen, the man who mistakes his wife for a hat is as clear in the head as a sunny day by comparison with a person who could conceive of that new and “improved” title. At least the man who mistakes his wife for a hat still knows what a man is and what a wife is, though he is unclear about where she or his hat might be. But the person who thinks himself into believing that we cannot tell from ordinary observation who is a man and who is a woman is mad in a special sense. The first madman's reason is struggling in the fog. The second madman's reason is gasping for breath, because the second madman himself is throttling it.

Esolen continues that if we do not use language to refer to objective realities we will soon cease to communicate. Or better, we will cease to use language for any other purpose than to show off how deeply we believe the dogmas that are being peddled by the Church of the Liberal Pieties.

Indeed, only common knowledge of objective reality can make language possible. If I say to you, “I tripped on a rock on my way to the school this morning,” you will know what I am talking about, because you know what a rock is and what it is like to trip on one. The statement is not ambiguous. You will not wonder whether the rock was a promontory like Gibraltar, or a fortress like the Masada. You will not wonder whether my trip involved the inhaling or venous injection of hallucinogenic chemicals. You will not wonder whether I was talking about a school of fish in the Mediterranean Sea. You will also not wonder whether “rock” meant “cat” or “Napoleon” or “n-dimensional pyramid,” depending upon my peculiar and idiosyncratic linguistic preferences, or upon my idiosyncratic view of reality. Language is not language unless it is communal, and it cannot be communal unless it can refer, quickly and clearly, to the things in front of our noses: to husbands and wives and hats.

As for a person's sex, it is the first thing we notice about another human being. Like much of what we call reality, differences between the sexes are obvious to anyone whose perceptive apparatus is still functioning.

Esolen continues:

It cannot possibly be to any living thing’s advantage to be confused about male and female. As it is, sex is far more strongly marked upon the human body than it is upon the bodies of dogs or cats or horses or many of the species of birds. A man’s face is not like a woman’s face. A woman’s voice is not like a man’s voice, even when the woman is Greer Garson and the man is Frankie Valli. A man’s shoulders do not look like a woman’s shoulders, and a woman’s hips do not look like a man’s hips. Men and women differ down to their very hair, as anyone can perceive who looks at a woman’s smooth chin or a man’s bald pate.

One suspects that those who are trying to force everyone to take their leave of reality, lest it offend a miniscule portion of the population, are doing so in order to brainwash people. If you are no longer allowed to use reality to judge the truth or falsity of your beliefs, even your beliefs about yourself, then others will find it much easier to deprive you of your free will, your judgment and your ability to test ideas against reality.

It is, Esolen continues, an act of violence against the human mind:

To pretend, therefore, that we do not know what we immediately and urgently perceive is to do violence at once to human nature, language, the possibility of a shared life, and the intellect’s capacity to apprehend reality. If I cannot say, “There is a man walking down the street,” then it is hard to see how I can make any reliable judgment about anything at all that bears on human existence. If I cannot say, “Joey is going to grow up to be a fine man someday,” then what in life is left to talk about? Everything else is less certain than sex. 

He then asks why anyone would want to do such a thing. Why would anyone want to do something that:

… is like the deliberate injection of carcinogenic RNA into the healthy cells of the mind. It would infect common sense with confusion and madness. It would render people incapable of obvious judgments: so that you cannot say that Laurie is “strong for a girl” because she can do fifteen unmodified pushups, or that little Mike needs a father in his life, or that every culture known to man has celebrated the union of man and woman in marriage. And that prompts the question: why should anybody want to do this to other people? Cui bono?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Peggy Noonan's "Sane Donald Trump"

Allow me to take a slight exception with Peggy Noonan. Calling Donald Trump a “nut,” as she does provides a bit of rhetorical flash, but it does not really tell us anything. Admit that Noonan is being slightly tongue-in-cheek, but since most of her column is about the “sane” Donald Trump, we cannot say that she is being totally ironic.

So, the meme of the sane Donald Trump, the Donald Trump that many imagined would be leading Republicans to victory merely distracts from the matter at hand.

One senses that even Noonan is not entirely thrilled with the trope. Calling Trump a “screwball,” as she did, is slightly kinder and less clinical.

In her words:

I get the Reagan fantasy—big guy with a nonstandard résumé comes in from the outside, cleans out the stables, saves the day. But it’s a fantasy and does not apply to this moment. I get the Jacksonian fantasy—crude, rude populist comes in from the hinterlands and upends a decadent establishment to the huzzahs of normal people with mud on their boots. But it’s a fantasy, and doesn’t apply.

Because he’s not a grizzled general who bears on his face the scars of a British sword, and not a shining citizen-patriot. He’s a screwball. Do you need examples? You do not, because you’re already thinking of them. For a year you’ve been observing the TV funhouse that is his brain.

On numerous occasions I have made the point that people are looking to Trump to be manly. God knows America could use a dose of manliness. Eight years of feckless, pusillanimous spinelessness has demoralized large parts of the nation and diminished America’s status and standing in the world. We did not just lose national face by being defeated. We lost it because Barack Obama gave it away. Or better, apologized it away, surrendered it away, chickened out. Heck, even the Socialist President of France has recently claimed that when he wanted to punish ISIS for its attack on French soil, the American president demurred. If you want to know what the nation is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, look to Barack Obama.

Therapists across the nation are being deluged with patients suffering from extreme states of anxiety over the current election. They are terrified of Donald Trump. They believe that Trump is making them crazy. Of course, their therapists agree. What did you expect from therapists?

The truth of the matter is this: people are anxious and anguished over the conditions that made Donald Trump a serious political candidate. Donald Trump exploited those conditions, but he did not create them. The author of the current malaise must be the man in charge, our stately president, Barack Obama. The president sets the national mood. He sets the national tone. He defines the national attitude. And, Obama the role model has diminished the nation.

Think of national pride. Think of the recent spectacle of a wealthy quarterback provoking disloyalty to the nation. Colin Kaepernick has been taking a knee for the national anthem, the better to show his lack of patriotism for a nation that represents—he believes— oppression. Since he apparently no longer knows how to play football he could not find a better way to draw attention to himself.

One football player does not make the national mood. But when President Obama chimed in that he respected Kaepernick’s disloyalty—he called it dissent-- the floodgates opened and other players, from the professional to the high school ranks, felt that it was OK, it was approved from on high, to disrespect the nation. Thus, to refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag.

The immediate result has been bad ratings for the NFL. More broadly, it redefined what it meant to be an American. Instead of saying that we are all Americans with different opinions, it said that we are not citizens of a great nation, but that we should identify by ideology or party. A house divided against itself… etc.

One understands all that, and yet one also understands Donald Trump offered to restore American manliness by being more macho than anyone else. One senses that Trump is posturing, because macho men always posture. One senses that he is a caricature, but one knows that in female-dominant cultures that’s usually all you get. Where a man’s man competes in the arena, a macho man affirms his manliness by seducing and even abusing women.

Even if you accept that Trump has built great buildings, when he brags about it and brags about abusing women he is acting as though his business success was anything but earned. Real men are humble. Real men give everyone credit for their success and take sole responsibility for their failures. Trump has reversed it. Thus, more macho than manliness.

It has nothing to do with anyone’s mental health. Or even narcissism. For my part I have emphasized Trump’s weak character, his lack of humility, his arrogant presumption, lack of experience, his lack of preparation, his flaunting his outsider status, his wish to show that he has not been corrupted by the ways of government.

And yet, the downside to that persona—and persona it certainly is—lies in the fact that the candidate does not know enough (about politics, about policy, about the law, about history) to make the case against Hillary or for himself. And he does not know that he does not know. Or so it seems. Thus, he seems headed for defeat.

Yesterday, Scott Johnson wrote on the Powerline blog (via Maggie's Farm):

Hillary Clinton is a sinister character but an utterly pathetic candidate. To anyone paying attention, her manifest flaws, weaknesses and wrongdoing made themselves apparent one way or another last night. The evidence continues to mount every day. A modestly capable candidate could make hash of her.

Trump is not the man. He can barely frame a coherent thought or articulate a comprehensible argument against her.

It has nothing to do with sanity. It has to do with not having put in the time and effort required to take command of the material and to prepare for the job. Trump has been going with his gut. He believes that his gut is infallible. It looks like he is about to be proven wrong.

Anyway, Noonan explains that Trump succeeded at first because he exposed the failings of establishment Republican politicians:

Mr. Trump’s great historical role was to reveal to the Republican Party whathalf of its own base really thinks about the big issues. The party’s leaders didn’t know! They were shocked, so much that they indulged in sheer denial and made believe it wasn’t happening.

The party’s leaders accept more or less open borders and like big trade deals. Half the base does not! It is longtime GOP doctrine to cut entitlement spending. Half the base doesn’t want to, not right now! Republican leaders have what might be called assertive foreign-policy impulses. When Mr. Trump insulted George W. Bush and nation-building and said he’d opposed the Iraq invasion, the crowds, taking him at his word, cheered. He was, as they say, declaring that he didn’t want to invade the world and invite the world. Not only did half the base cheer him, at least half the remaining half joined in when the primaries ended.

America has been so weakened by the Age of Obama, Trump was saying, that it needs to turn inward, to get its own house in order, to restore its manly courage and its manly virtue. So went the message. The problem was that the proposed solution was really the problem. America has been weakened, even emasculated by a president who disengaged from the world and conceded world leadership.

And yet, while Trump wants to avoid entangling military adventures, he threatens trade wars. And he threatens to slap tariffs on foreign products. One reason is clear. He understands international trade and does not understand military action or foreign policy. So, he has promised to fight on a terrain where he can credibly claim some expertise.

Of course, everyone who knows anything about trade wars insists that they should be avoided at all costs. Famed investor Jim Rogers has said that Trump’s trade wars would bankrupt America. He added that Hillary’s policies would bankrupt America. The difference, he said, was that Trump would do it more rapidly.

I don’t recall whether he mentioned it—I assume he did—but America’s bankruptcy has been engineered by an administration that doubled the national debt in eight years. Who knows when the bill will come due, but an extra $9 trillion in debt has certainly produced a semblance of economic activity. Unfortunately, it does not produce wealth. And it cannot last forever.

Anyway, Noonan introduces her fiction, a sane Donald Trump, and explains how he would have conducted his campaign. This assumes that he wanted to win, not just to make a point:

Sane Donald Trump, just to start, would look normal and happy, not grim and glowering. He would be able to hear and act on good advice. He would explain his positions with clarity and depth, not with the impatient half-grasping of a notion that marks real Donald Trump’s public persona.

Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”

Sane Donald Trump would have given an anxious country more ease, not more anxiety. He would have demonstrated that he can govern himself. He would have suggested through his actions, while still being entertaining, funny and outsize, that yes, he understands the stakes and yes, since America is always claiming to be the leader of the world—We are No. 1!—a certain attendant gravity is required of one who’d be its leader.

Restore America’s place in the world. Make America great again. Overcome the self-deprecation and demoralization that has been afoot during the Age of Obama. It was a nice thought. But it had to be more than a thought. It had to become a plan for consequential action. It had to lead to victory, not to excuses.

Noonan continues:

Sane Donald Trump would not treat the political process of the world’s greatest democracy as if it were, as somebody said, the next-to-last episode of a reality-TV series. That’s the episode that leaves you wondering how the season will end—who will scream, who will leave the drunken party in a huff, who will accuse whom of being a whore. I guess that’s what “I’ll keep you in suspense” as to whether he’ll accept the election result was about. We’re being teed up. The explosive season finale is Nov. 8. Maybe he’ll leave in a huff. Maybe he’ll call everyone whores.

To make America great again you must begin by winning. Not just winning the nomination by bullying opposition, but by winning the general election. One notes, with chagrin, that if you win the nomination by trashing your opponents, the task of uniting the party becomes that much more difficult. Still, you cannot make America great again unless you do everything in your power to win. And unless you work your hardest to ensure victory.

You don’t make America great again and you don’t make the Republican Party great again by appearing to throw the election to the wife of America’s most decadent president, to a woman who excels at corrupt practices, who acts as though she is entitled, and who postures at being strong and resolute. Hillary may have been posturing, but in the debates she looked stronger and resolute, more in command of her brief, than the candidate who was looked like he had been overcome by his own greatness.

You cannot make a case for your ability to restore American manliness when everyone thinks that you got beaten by a woman. And that you barely even put up a fight.

This morning the New York Daily News gives us a front page headline, to the effect that a landslide victory over Donald Trump will restore America’s honor. Strange thought that. Electing a candidate whose primary qualification is her husband and her gender will not restore America’s honor. You cannot restore America’s honor by electing a fundamentally corrupt individual who is not respected anywhere around the world. And you cannot restore America's honor by electing a woman who failed miserably in her first foray on the world stage.

Remember when Hillary, as the newly minted Secretary of State presented a “Reset” button to the Russian foreign minister. The word on the big red button was rendered in the Russian and the gesture was supposed to show that a new sheriff was in town and that the bad old Bush days were over. (In passing, has anyone really figured out why Hillary thought that a big red button would be just the right symbol?)

Remember what her Russian counterpart said to her. He said that she had gotten the word wrong. Did you find that to be strange? If you didn't, you should have. He is a diplomat. He knows how to make face saving gestures. He chose not to. He preferred putting her down, humiliating her… by announcing in public that she was incompetent on the most basic level.

If that's who you lose to, you do not look like the toughest guy on the block.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Quotation of the Day

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

Eric Hoffer

The Suspense Is Almost Over

The only suspense remaining after last night’s presidential debate is the margin of the Hillary victory. As Nate Silver put it: Trump was down ten and just threw a pick-six.

Silver meant that Trump the quarterback just threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Of course, it’s not over until her corpulence sings, but it’s not too late to point out that Trump is losing because of unforced errors and not, dare I say, because the media have conspired to do him in. This is not to say that the media have not been biased beyond anything we have seen, but the American people, in their wisdom, know media bias when they see it. They might be influenced, but they are not persuaded by a biased media.

Amusingly, at a time when no one reads newspapers anymore and when people spend more time oversharing on Facebook than they do studying election issues, we are now being told that the vast media conspiracy has done in Trump.

And we have it on the authority of he of the ever-cloudier crystal ball. That would be “mighty prophet” and “seer blest” Scott Adams, cartoonist recycled into a soothsayer. See also this.

A few days ago Adams wrote:

Here I pause to remind new readers of this blog that I’m a trained hypnotist and a student of persuasion in all its forms. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to learn the tricks for discerning illusion from reality. And I’m here to tell you that if you are afraid that Donald Trump is a racist/sexist clown with a dangerous temperament, you have been brainwashed by the best group of brainwashers in the business right now: Team Clinton.

Happily, Adams is always ready to remind us of his credentials as a soothsayer. Unfortunately, he is wrong. Not because the Clinton team has not been trying its darndest to define the Donald as some kind of bigot. But because that is not the salient point. It’s not about what they have been saying about Trump, but about Trump’s failure to make the case for his candidacy. And about his covering up the failure by chomping on whatever chum the Clintons have thrown in the water.

The American people are not morons. If Trump loses the election, the reason will not be because he is a sexist pig. The reason will lie in the fact that he demonstrated in the first presidential debate that he is unprepared to assume the office of the presidency. Hillary’s remark about preparation was the coup de grace for the Trump campaign.

Trump did not know enough to make the case for himself or against Hillary. So in the days after the debate he pivoted to the question of his dispute about a former Miss Universe. The less he talked about issues the more the nation concluded that he was not prepared.

Even when he showed in the second debate that he had boned up on some of his material, he used the aftermath to harp on the charges that different women were bringing against him. The truth is, even if those charges were all false, Trump’s statement to Billy Bush was on video tape. When he asserted last night, for the umpteenth time, that he respects women more than anyone else his protestation rang hollow.

Rather than listen the dubious messages coming from his gut, he would have done better to have read some Shakespeare. He would have understood the meaning of the phrase: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

In truth, Trump could not let it go. He was sinking his own campaign, and refusing to listen even to Roger Ailes. Thus, Ailes let Trump go. The only real chance he had at rehabilitating his campaign went off to his country place. And Trump was done.

He was done for being incapable of taking advice, even from the best people. Why hire the best people when you are unable to listen to them? Did Trump, by failing to follow advice that had been given by the best people, announce to the world that if he were the president he would ignore the best people and let his gut do the talking.

The charge of bigotry stuck because Trump would not talk about anything else. The problem was not that he was being tarred by the Clintons. The problem was that by taking the bait, he was showing that he had paper-thin skin and was unprepared to make the case against the Clintons, to make the case against Obama, and to present himself as someone who was ready to take on the job.

It was not so much that Trump got slandered. It was that his constantly harping on those issues made him look like a reality show impresario and not a presidential candidate.

Scott Adams should stop trying to hypnotize the nation and to show the American people a little respect.

For the most part Trump did not do a terrible job last night. For the most part Hillary sounded shrill and mean-spirited. But, as he is wont to do, Trump saved her when he fell into conspiracy-theory mode and announced that he would not commit to accepting the results of the election.  He said he wanted to keep everyone in suspense.

One notes that every other senior Republican, from Mike Pence on down, has said the opposite. One notes that the last time a Republican really was robbed of an election—Richard Nixon’s loss in Illinois in 1960—the sainted Nixon chose not to fight the results because he did not want to destroy the people’s faith in the democratic process.

Anyway, this morning everyone is saying that Trump threw it away with his remark about keeping people in suspense. In so doing he repudiated his political party and was effectively standing alone—perhaps as a martyr to his own cause, perhaps as a leader who no longer had any followers. At the least, it was an unforced error, one that gave weight to the slanders that had been directed against him.

This morning The Wall Street Journal editorialized about the debate. No friend of Trump, the Journal editorial page has certainly not been a Hillary supporter:

Mr. Trump’s biggest mistake was his refusal to say he would accept the election results if he loses. “I will look at it at the time,” Mr. Trump said in reply to Mr. Wallace. Asked again by Fox News’ Mr. Wallace—by far the best moderator of this election year with his focus on substance—Mr. Trump made it worse by saying “I will keep you in suspense, okay?”

That again is Mr. Trump’s ego talking, a man who doesn’t like to lose refusing to take responsibility for his campaign. Voters on the right and left want to have faith in the electoral system. Mr. Trump’s statement makes us wonder if Mr. Trump and adviser Steve Bannon are planning to blame everyone else if he does lose. It’s true that Al Gore tried to steal the 2000 election from George W. Bush until the Supreme Court finally intervened, but that is not an example any Republican should want to follow.

The hard reality of this campaign is that it was set up for a Republican victory. A divided and unhappy country wants to move in a new direction. Even Mr. Trump, after all his mistakes, had essentially tied the race before the first debate. Win or lose in three weeks, the result will be one that he has earned.

Humility, in a leader, involves being able to take responsibility for defeat. Trump is more of an entertainer than a leader.

For those who would like more detail, Holman Jenkins provides it in a column on the same page:

Mr. Trump lacks message discipline. Instead of scattershot claims that the race is being manipulated, wild conspiracy theories about ballot box-stuffing, which both parties and Americans of decency and goodwill strongly refute, he might be focusing laser-like on the “rigged” argument that nobody can confidently refute.

That’s the argument that Hillary Clinton is her party’s nominee and on her way to the White House only because the Obama administration decided to waive the law on handling classified material—and the FBI went along—in order to assure that its designated heiress would succeed to the presidency.

I will tell you one other reason why he said it. He must have thought that it had entertainment value. He must have thought that it would keep his name in the papers. After all, the Donald thinks that he is the king of all media and that his judgment are infallible. And he thinks that all publicity is good publicity.

For lack of message discipline and for lack of the ability to set out the details, Trump has missed an opportunity to attack the true Clinton scandal. With a new Wikileaks revelation every day Trump could have spent his time on the campaign trail or in television interviews exposing the perfidy of the Obama administration and the Clinton team. He preferred to talk about women’s bodies. Roger Ailes was so exasperated that he quit. And Roger Ailes, as you know, was not a saint.

Jenkins continued:

The appeal of “rigged” is obvious. It’s an argument that can continue to be prosecuted on-air after Election Day. Mr. Trump need not, as losing candidates do, concede defeat and disappear. His son-in-law, we’re told by the Financial Times this week, has already reached out to an investment banker about starting a Trump TV network after the election.

America, you’ve been played.

If today’s Democratic campaign were being fought against a generic Republican without Mr. Trump’s distinct qualities and history, here’s what would dominate the news:

Mrs. Clinton was verbally convicted by the FBI chief for mishandling classified information yet somehow not formally charged.

Her aides were allowed to cut curious deals with FBI investigators that effectively swept under the rug any possible charges against them for obstruction or evidence tampering.

Those same aides have been revealed, through email leaks, to have freely mixed public and private interests, including their own and Clinton private interests, in the performance of jobs that, in some cases, saw them receiving salaries from the Clinton Foundation or the Clinton family even as they also worked for the taxpayer at the State Department.

The State Department itself, during Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary, operated as an extension of the Clinton Foundation when it came to handling the requests and advancing the interests of important Clinton Foundation donors, some of which were foreign governments.

The latest email leak, likely at the hands of Russian hackers, shows the State Department negotiating with the FBI over the classification status of Mrs. Clinton’s private emails in search of reducing her legal jeopardy.

The flaw in the Trump campaign was simply that the candidate went with his gut. He did not take advice. He did not prepare. He did not look presidential. He did not control his temper. He let fly. Look where it has gotten him. Look where it has gotten the Republican Party.

When he wrote his book about the art of the deal, Trump advised people to make deals based on their gut instincts. It was bad advice then. It is destroying his candidacy now.

Many a time have I, for one, advised people that going with your gut is pure folly. It is one of those dumb ideas—like leaning in—that comes to be accepted as a higher truth, as an infallible pathway to success. It isn’t. Time to get over it and to get over oneself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Just Like Us

Arguments in favor of admitting more Muslim refugees to Europe and to America often boil down to the notion that they are all: “just like us.” After all, we all have the same DNA.

It’s a variant on citizen-of-the-worldism. But it also shows that today’s European and American multiculturalists do not believe that Western civilization is worth defending. They do not mind seeing it overrun by people who despise it.

Over at the Legal Insurrection blog, Vijeta Unival reports the results of a survey of Muslim youth in Austria. It turns out that they are not just like us. They want to practice jihad and they hate Jews and gays. Hmmm.

He writes:

“Anti-Semitic, homophobic and sympathising with Jihad.” This is how a leading Austrian newspaper summed up the latest study looking into the attitudes of young Muslims living in the city of Vienna. The study commissioned by the city reveals that nearly one-third of the Muslim youth living in the Austrian capital hold radical Islamic views and support armed Jihad against the West.

The leftist coalition running the city attacked the findings of the study that yet again reveal the clutching hold of Islamism over Europe’s migrant Muslim population. The study also exposes the failure of Multiculturalism, a policy pursued for decades by Social Democrats and ecological Green Party, who run the Austrian capital.

The study also highlights Europe’s lingering Anti-Semitism. 33 percent of all young Viennese respondents held negative opinion of Jews — among Muslim respondents that number was 47 percent.

Sustaining Desire in Marriage

Until relatively recently human beings have not much worried about sustaining sexual desire in marriage. Until the sixteen century in Protestant Europe, the problem did not really exist. Until then marriages were arranged, and true love rarely entered the arrangement.

But then, Martin Luther and his band of defrocked and excommunicated religious started to get married. Since they had no social standing they had to fall back on the default position: they married for love.

Love marriage arrived in Great Britain and America in the seventeenth century. To be fair and to be accurate, the new marital custom did not really recommend that people choose their intended by the urges in their loins. The most radical reform of the marital institution was: allowing women a free choice of spouse. Perhaps love then entered the equation, but it is surely not true that women choose husbands only on the basis of emotion.

Love marriage did not become customary on the European continent until the nineteenth century, if then.

Thus, the social custom of marrying for love, something we take for granted, is more like a human novelty than a human norm. Even today, looking around the world, I would guess that more marriages are arrangements than are love matches. Even when couples marry for love intelligent young people do not fall in love with just anyone.

I have discussed this topic at length in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. Thus, I will not belabor it in this post.

When marriages were more-or-less arranged, the question of sustaining sexual desire within them did not really arise. Couples were not marrying because they loved each other or lusted after each other. Romantic love, such as it was, became the province of adulterous liaisons. A man who lost interest in his wife could solve the problem easily by finding a mistress. In many cases, the same rule applied to his wife. And each partner could have serial mistresses or lovers.

Vows of chastity, to quote Shakespeare, were more honored in the breach than in the observance.

Once marriage was based on love and once women had a more important voice in it, the Anglosphere started stigmatizing adultery—think the scarlet letter. Men who had heretofore not worried about whether or not they desired their wives found this new custom a threat to sexual expression.

No one seems to have noticed it, but the new customs certainly mattered to Freud. He was trying to help people to adapt to the new circumstances. He created psychoanalysis in order to show how to keep desire alive within marriage. The notion that he was offering a road to mental health was a ruse to trick the gullible.

Freud never quite puts it in those terms, but if your truest desire, according to the Oedipus complex is to copulate with your mother, then, when desire wanes you should head over to your local psychoanalyst and discover that you married your wife because she reminded you of her mother. For a Freudian it’s supposed to be better than Viagra. 

Obviously, it worked far better in theory than in practice.

A later Freudian like Jacques Lacan did not really accept the Freudian solution and made it his life mission to make the world safe for adultery. He understood that doing so would require an all-out culture war on the sexually repressive Anglosphere. Lacan’s war on shame involved removing the stigma that had been attached to adultery. His last mistress, by name of Catherine Millot, has just written a book about how she was both Lacan's mistress and his patient... at the same time.

Since we presumably live in the Anglosphere, the adultery solution does not feel like much of a solution. Besides, we Anglos tend to marry for love and even to marry someone we lust after. And yet, what is commonly called the honeymoon phase of a relationship does not last forever. Ergo, the question of sustaining desire becomes more urgent.

In her most recent Wall Street Journal column Elizabeth Bernstein described what happens:

In the beginning of a relationship, neurotransmitters such as dopamine push the partners to have sex as much as possible. Scan the brain of someone in this early, passionate stage of love and it will look very much like the brain of someone on drugs.

The addiction doesn’t last. Research suggests the chemical phase of passionate love typically continues between one and three years. Desire fades for different reasons: the chemical addiction to a partner subsides; people age and hormones decrease; emotional distance can cause passion to drop.

Happily for all of us, science has discovered that the cause of fading desire is not: repressing your desire to copulate with your mother. Whew.

Anyway, scientists are not like psychoanalysts. They are not in the business of manufacturing desire by whipping up a witches’ brew of taboos and fetishes. They accept that some people really want each other, while others do not.

They want to know how we can sustain desire. And they have found some answers. Primary among them is this. When couples are kind to each other they are more likely to continue to desire each other. It’s not about throwing rose petals around the room or reading up on the latest in sexual techniques in Cosmo. It’s about getting along and cooperating. It’s also about the security that obtains when a couple establishes good couples routines.

About this one cannot but assent.

One can also add an intriguing point, made by Julienne Davis and Maggie Arana in their book: Stop Calling Him Honey. I have discussed it on this blog in several posts.

Their argument, brilliant for its simplicity, is that if you want to sustain desire in a marriage, you should stop using terms of endearment and start calling each other by your proper names. Instead of Honey and Snookums, try Jack and Jane. Unless, of course, your names are not Jack or Jane.

This works for the reasons the Bernstein suggests. It is a kind gesture; it implies recognition of the person as something other than a concatenation of organs and orifices.

I am sure that you are old enough to know what happens to desire when you call your beloved by someone else’s name.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Meaning of Sex

Most people have enough trouble figuring out the meaning of love, so let’s see if we can figure out the meaning of sex.

You would think that everyone knows the answer. What with the constant public conversation about all things sexual, everyone must know what sex is all about.

Given the ongoing war on shame our airwaves are filled with discussions about sex. Not just everyday sex, not just loving sex, but the most vulgar and profane sexual behaviors we can find. This year’s presidential election has been a treasure trove of depraved sexual experiences… on both sides of the widening political divide.

If you are theoretically sophisticated you will probably first think that sex is all about pleasure. We have a constitutional right to pleasure, to as much pleasure as we can fit into our busy schedules. Sex is just an especially intense pleasure… designed to reduce stress and to enhance our well-being.

Many people will find that definition to be on the money. And yet, it is not really a definition of sex. It is a definition of decadent sex…the kind where two organisms are seeking the maximum pleasure, even if it takes a maximum of effort. The pleasure-seeking or lotus-eating version of sexual experience does not involve human beings and does not really engage anything like a human relationship.

Let’s see if we can do better.

Why not say that sex is an expression of love? We will ignore the fact that there are several different kinds of love and that not all of them lend themselves to erotic expression. Be that as it may, serious people believe that having sex is making love. It may sound quaint, but they see it as the most serious adult expression for the act.

In truth, if memory serves, during the Victorian Era the phrase “making love” was more likely to mean: declaring one’s love for another person. Today, we have surpassed that quaint custom. We make love before we declare anything like love. If we are young and trendy we make love before we find out each other’s names.

To be fair, hooking up is closer to pleasure seeking. Or at least, it would be if both parties were obtaining a quota of pleasure. In most cases they are not. They are really doing it to show off how uninhibited and shameless they are.

We have gotten this far without recognizing that sex for a man and sex for a woman are not really the same thing. When a men and a woman make what Shakespeare called “the beast with two backs” they are not doing precisely the same thing. I trust that you have noticed. That is why there is and has always been a double standard. Two people doing two different things are going to be judged by different standards. As long as this situation persists, we will have double standards. Stop whining about it.

I think it fair to say that, for women, there’s always more to sex than the pleasure, or even the bestiality. One has been told, on excellent authority, that this something more is a spiritual dimension, a dimension that is redolent of meaning, a dimension that places the coital act within a social context.

In less portentous terms, this means that women do not, as a rule, engage in sex with men they do not know for no other reason than getting off. I trust that this is not news to anyone who has attained the age of adult reason.

One is painfully aware of the fact that today’s educators and media lights have pounded a slightly different message into today’s young women. They have told young women that sexual pleasure is their birthright and that they ought to acquire as much as possible as often as possible. And they have added that the greatest risk to life and love and career success, the curse that threatens all women’s creative self-actualization is, you guessed it: pregnancy. The second greatest threat is true love, because it might lead a woman to want to get married and to get pregnant, thereby ruining her life by limiting her career prospects.

When it comes to sex, women are told, anything goes. Anything, that is, but pregnancy. There are several ways to limit this danger.

First, engage only in sexual acts that constitute foolproof contraception. If you engage in these actions it does not matter what time of the month it is, you will not get pregnant. I guarantee it. God only knows why women do not limit themselves to such activities, but one supposes that the fault lies with men and the patriarchy.

The second solution is—you guessed it—free contraception. For reasons beyond everyone’s ken, today’s self-sufficient, financially solvent young woman cannot—you heard it directly from Sandra Fluke (rhymes with luck)—afford a $9.00 monthly expense for birth control pills. Fluke insisted that the government pay, because payment shows these women that the nation supports their lifestyle choice. Otherwise you would hurt their feelings.

The third solution is, of course, abortion on demand. A woman who is dumb enough—scratch that—who has been coerced by her boyfriend into having unprotected sex and who suffers the indignity of pregnancy must have a way to end the pregnancy as quickly and expeditiously and cheaply as possible.

Without getting into the thick underbrush of the abortion debate, we recognize that modern feminists have glorified abortion as the ultimate liberation from femaledom. The right to have a taxpayer funded abortion has become confused with women’s rights. One notes that purely individuated liberated female beings must, according to the pro-abortion crowd, have the right to make the decision without any feedback from the male who was involved in the act of conception.

So, one thing is sure. For modern women, the meaning of sex can never be procreation. Unless, of course, they choose for it to be so. And they are not allowed to choose for it to be so until their careers are firmly established and they are approaching the age of 40.

In order to induce women to live their lives as feminists want them to live their lives, women’s magazines have been peddling the notion that women can get pregnant whenever they wish… even when they are over 40.

For that reason, Jane Brody in the New York Times has taken the pain to explain to young women that the notion of late pregnancy—recently touted as the road to being a better mother—is something of a lie. Or, as she puts it, is “misleading.” True enough, some women do get pregnant when they are nearing or over 40, but the risk of infertility grows with age. Only a fool would ignore the facts. And the facts have been out there for decades now. Yet, many women ignore them.

Brody, no less than I, is not telling women what to do. She is alarmed, as is Miriam Zoll, a woman who waited too long, and as is Dr. Mark Sauer, former director of the I.V.F. clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. They are all alarmed because women are being lied to about how easy it is to conceive using I.V.F.

Medical science can do wonders, but it cannot consistently allow you to produce a baby, regardless of your age. One feels constrained to notice that the rage for I.V.F. suggests a rejection of the old fashioned way of procreating. Postponing the process places it all in the hands of physicians, and, dare we notice, it is not the most romantic way to conceive.

Brody wants women to be well-informed about the probabilities of late conception. Pregnancy and childbirth can be engineered, but the failure rates are high:

Her [Miriam Zoll’s] story prompted me to check the latest federally mandated statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease and Prevention from the nation’s nearly 500 fertility clinics on I.V.F. procedures done in 2013. Using fresh (that is, not frozen) eggs or embryos from women trying to conceive, at age 40 fewer than 30 percent undergoing I.V.F. became pregnant and fewer than 20 percent gave birth to live babies as a result.

The success rate was somewhat better when I.V.F. was done with frozen embryos from a woman’s own eggs: about 42 percent became pregnant and 30 percent delivered live babies.

Dr. Mark Sauer believes that these statistics are being distorted in order to promote what has become a money-making industry. And they completely distort other risks that come with late pregnancy.

Brody reports:

Dr. Mark V. Sauer, former director of the I.V.F. clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center who has been using the technique for three decades, corroborated Ms. Zoll’s frustration with the industry’s self-promotion.

“Programs will brag that they are the best, with extraordinarily high rates of pregnancy even in women over 40,” Dr. Sauer said in an interview. “There’s hardly any age that the clinics now turn away.” He cited reports in both the lay and medical literature of even postmenopausal women giving birth through I.V.F.

On clinic websites, he said, “There’s a lot of massaging of the data, often combining data from several years to make the results look better. And clinical pregnancy rates do not necessarily reflect live birthrates. Live births are what really matter.”

Furthermore, he said, “The younger women are when they undergo I.V.F., the better the pregnancy rates,” adding that younger women are also more likely to have healthy pregnancies that end with the birth of healthy babies.

In a report he published last year in Fertility and Sterility, Dr. Sauer wrote that “advanced age” is a risk factor not only for female infertility, but also for “pregnancy loss, fetal anomalies, stillbirth, and obstetric complications.”

Although these risks have been known for centuries, “women are delaying childbearing to pursue educational and career goals in greater numbers than ever before,” he wrote. “Data from the United States demonstrate a dramatic rise in births to mothers once considered ‘elderly.’ This is particularly evident in women older than 40,” an age at which there is a significant rise in infertility, as well as higher rates of miscarriage among women who succeed in getting pregnant.

There’s more to sex than pleasure. Thinking that the meaning of sex is not procreation can often turn pleasure into pain.