Monday, March 27, 2017

The Price of Solitude

It’s not your oral fixations. It’s not your anal retentiveness. It’s not your infantile narcissism. It’s not even your Oedipus complex.

Scientists—what would we do without scientists?—have discovered that people are getting sick and dying from a lack of social connections. That is, they are dying from loneliness. And from anomie, of course.

The evidence is clear. Karol Markowicz presents it in the New York Post (via Maggie’s Farm):

John T. Cacioppo, author of the book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,” writes that “social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” Numerous studies have concluded that loneliness is actually killing men prematurely.

Writing in The New York Times, Dhruv Khullar, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, noted that “a wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.”

Should we blame it on social media? Or on traditional media? The truth lies elsewhere. 

Let’s blame it on social mobility, and diversity. How many people do you know who grow up and grow old in the same neighborhood, within the same community? The ties that bound people in traditional communities no longer bind them. People get up and go. They move around the country and around the world. Everywhere they go they try to make new friends, often at the cost of old friends.

Adapting is not easy. Adapting means learning new customs and new mores. Sometimes it means learning a new language and new table manners. It means getting up to date on prior events in the community. It means understanding cultural references and social codes. It means working to make contact and to maintain contact. But it also means not being overly clingy and overly needy. It is a challenge, one that many people cannot meet.

If you move to a place where the population is diverse you will have even more problems fitting in. You will often not know the rules or even the game that people are playing. Different people come from different places and bring different customs with them. They are not necessarily going to throw it all away in order to assimilate into the new neighborhood. In some cases they will not throw any of it away. They continue to speak the language they spoke in the old country and function as though they had never left.

In a more diverse the community social life is more chaotic. In such cities people form subgroups that have their own rules and their own codes. But, such groups are often not easy to penetrate.

One hastens to add that falling in love does not address the issue. Finding your soul mate or the “One” will not solve the problem. Consider that many therapists believe that once you find true love your problems will vanish in the cold night air. Being in love is a type of social connection, but it does not and cannot and should not be a substitute for friendships and collegiality.

Obviously, it is easier to integrate if you have a job, if you are gainfully employed. That’s why Dr. Richard Mollica suggested that the best anti-depressant is a job. When you have a job you belong to an enterprise. The rules are clear. The roles are defined. People get along easily because they are not obliged to be too personal or too intimate with each other.

Or else, Markowicz explains, you can participate in activities with other parents in your child’s school. She notes that it does not feel very natural, but that it is a good thing.

Young people join cliques and gangs. Belonging brings them status and a structured social world. And yet, when they get older, when their old friends have moved away, they have more difficulty forming new friendships. Perhaps they should figure out a way to join a clique or a gang or even a club. Or maybe they should start hanging out at Cheers.

The moral of the story is that when we are thinking of how best to deal with mental health problems the answer does not lie in having more and better treatment options. It lies in more social contacts and more social relationships.

Capitalism Comes to Cambodia

The New York Times is reporting that Cambodians have replaced Karl Marx with Peter Drucker. You know all about Marx. As for Drucker, I have mentioned him occasionally on the blog. He was a famed management consultant, someone whose advice was sought out by the titans of American industry.

The Times reports:

For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s.

Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot’s death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker.

“I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker’s ideas and made the countries prosperous,” he said.

The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.

After being impoverished by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, former Communist officials have discovered the virtue of prosperity. They are a bit late to the game. China turned got on the capitalist road in the late 1970s, under the aegis of Deng Xiaoping. Like the Chinese, the Cambodians decided to stop railing about inequality and to seek prosperity. They drew the same lesson that the Chinese did. Capitalism is better than starving to death. Who knew?

Here is one story of one former soldier, with a nod to the horrors that were inflicted on the Cambodian people by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge:

“We joined the communists, and now we have joined the capitalists, which is much better,” said Dim Sok, a local official.

Mr. Dim Sok, 65, was a nearly illiterate farmer when he became a revolutionary in 1970, fighting in the jungles with the Khmer Rouge for five years before they seized power. In an effort to remake the country into an agrarian utopia, the Khmer Rouge government swept the urban population into the countryside to live like peasants and smashed up banks and schools. At least 1.7 million people died under their nearly four-year rule.

The Times returns to Tep Khunnal, and show how he developed his business:

Malai was still a malaria-infested jungle stronghold when Mr. Tep Khunnal moved here in 1998, bringing with him Pol Pot’s widow, whom he married shortly after his boss’s death.

Along with a barely educated but savvy ex-soldier, Soom Yin, he took out a bank loan to test some of his ideas. Their company bought the area’s first corn-drying machine, imported a new breed of sun-resistant corn from Thailand and set up a quality-control system for the corn and cassava that moved through their warehouse.

Today, Mr. Soom Yin owns the largest export firm in the area and can talk for hours about the minutiae of the cassava trade, from moisture levels to price fluctuations. In his spare time, he said, he reads books on management.

The Khmer Rouge ways are “very old now,” he said. “Even me, I don’t even dream about that anymore. We just do business.”

Today Khunnal has retired and is teaching management theory in universities:

He said he began reading about economics while serving as a Khmer Rouge envoy to the United Nations in the 1980s. Although he liked Milton Friedman, the free-market economist, and Frederick Taylor, who pioneered scientific management, he was most drawn to Drucker’s insistence that employees were central to an enterprise’s success.

“What I find interesting for me is that he talks about individuals, he gives power to individuals, not to collectivism,” he said of Drucker. “Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century, he talked about efficiency, but Drucker talked about effectiveness.”

During a recent lecture, Mr. Tep Khunnal exhorted his students to remember that good management was just as important as good ideas.

“In-no-vation,” he said, using the English word, “means a new idea, but to be successful you need strategy.”

It’s not just an idea. In order to succeed you need to have a plan and an organization. And one thing is clear. Rail all you want about inequality, collectivizing agriculture is, as the Chinese discovered in the early 1960s, a formula for mass starvation.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Warrior in a Garden

From American Digest:


aadonatewarrior-in-a-garden.jpg

Tyranny in the Academy

Some time ago I suggested that New York is a city of free thinkers all of whom think exactly the same thing. The most recent presidential election proved my point. There is less diversity of opinion on Manhattan Island than there is in Manhattan, Kansas. Better yet, the margin of electoral victory in Clinton-loving New York far exceeded the margin of electoral victory in Trump-loving West Virginia.  And New Yorkers think that they are much, much smarter than the rubes in West Virginia. 

New Yorkers are twisting their minds into knots because they do not understand what happened to “their” country. They ought to have noticed that their favorite sources of information, led by The New York Times have been feeding them predigested propaganda, little of which is designed to inform and most of which is designed to tell them what to think. It provides them with just enough skewed facts to make the accepted beliefs plausible. I will not rehash the issue, but in the aftermath of the election Times media critic Jim Rutenberg apologized to his readers for the appallingly bad job the newspaper had been doing. Of course, when it comes to the media, there is a marketplace, and media organs like the Times are barely surviving.

Anyway, New York’s intellectual guardian class cannot enforce its will by the exercise of raw power. It can punish people by marginalizing them, by ensuring that they not be invited to the right cocktail parties, and even, at times by stifling their careers. One suspects that the work of brainwashing and indoctrination began earlier in a place where a guardian class did its work by exercising power over children’s lives and livelihoods.

American institutions of higher and lower education seem, to the eye of John Boyers, to be functioning through social coercion, but in truth they exercise power with the grading pencil. They determine where you can go to college and graduate school. A student who has not escaped to the STEM world will be judged negatively (and ruthlessly) for any deviation from politically correct thinking. A child who defies the brainwashed legions who are controlling academia will end up with bad grades. At the same time, those students who buy into the prevailing ideological dogmas will have been deprived of an education, will have been taught how not to think. In some sense it’s more serious, because such a cohort cannot be expected to lead a great nation to a great future.

Aside from this minor point, Boyers’ article about how the American academy produces groupthink is excellent. He notes that in places like Middlebury College the politics of hysteria have taken hold. Anyone who would dare hold a dissenting opinion has been put on notice. Your job, your career, your future, even your life will be attacked if you hold the wrong opinion. We are obviously dealing with an inquisitional atmosphere where witch hunts are the order of the day. If these grand and petty inquisitors feel threatened by certain political figures, this does not feel like a very bad thing.

Boyers points out that liberal academics insist that they embrace diversity of opinion. This means that they are either deluded or are self-righteous hypocrites… or both:

… the Middlebury incident doesn’t begin to reveal the depth or virulence of the opposition to robust discussion within the American professoriate, where many self-described liberals continue to believe that they remain committed to "difference" and debate, even as they countenance a full-scale assault on diversity of outlook and opinion.

Boyers offers up a passage from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” noting that all academics agree with its every word:

Of course we understand that "the tyranny of the majority" must be guarded against — even when it is our majority. Of course we understand that "the peculiar evil of silencing"— or attempting to silence — "the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing … posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose … the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

What can be more obvious than that? Of course we understand that there is danger in abiding uncritically with the views of one’s own "party" or "sect" or "class." Who among us doesn’t know that even ostensibly enlightened views cannot entitle us to think of those views, or of those who hold them, as "infallible"?

And of course, these principles are discarded when liberal academics are facing ideas that they define as “heretical,” that is, inherently dangerous. One notes, because one does not want to miss the point, that these card-carrying atheists have managed to dig up some of the long buried horrors of Western civilization:

Thus a great many contemporary liberals subscribe to the belief — however loath they may be to acknowledge it — that certain ideas are "heretical" or "divisive" and that those who dare to articulate them must be, in one way or another, cast out. The burning desire to paint a scarlet letter on the breast of those who fail to observe the officially sanctioned view of things has taken possession of many ostensibly liberal people in academe, which has tended more and more in recent years to resemble what the Yale English professor David Bromwich calls "a church held together by the hunt for heresies."

How is it all enforced?

While dissentient views are today not always "absolutely" interdicted, and we do not hear of persons who are imprisoned for espousing incorrect views, we do routinely observe that "active and inquiring intellects" are cast out of the community of the righteous by their colleagues and formally "investigated" by witch-hunting faculty committees and threatened with the loss of their jobs. 

What does it look like when a university ceases to be an institution of higher learning and gives itself over to a totalizing process where all courses— especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences— must produce minds that are connected by thinking the same thoughts and believing the same beliefs:

In the university it looks like a place in which all constituencies have been mobilized for the same end, in which every activity is to be monitored to ensure that everyone is "on board." Do courses in all departments reflect the commitment of the institution to raise "awareness" about all of the approved hot-button topics? If not, something must be done. Are all incoming freshmen assigned a suitably pointed, heavily ideological summer-reading text that tells them what they should be primarily concerned about as they enter? Check. Does the college calendar feature carefully orchestrated consciousness-raising sessions led by "human resources" specialists trained to facilitate "dialogues" leading where everyone must agree they ought to lead? Check. Is every member of the community primed to invoke the customary terms — "privilege," "power," "hostile," "unsafe" — no matter how incidental or spurious they seem in a given context? Essential.

It’s controlling and coercive. In such a world all academic material is judged by its ability to advance the ideological agenda. There is no right or wrong except as it affirms the value of the dogmatic beliefs. Your task, whether you like it or not, is to persuade your guardian masters that you are a true believer and that nothing can shake your belief.

It’s not just students minds that must be occupied and controlled. Thought leaders on campus have made it their mission to police the minds of their colleagues. You might have thought that tenure would protect professors from such harassment. You were wrong. What is happening on campus looks, feels and appears to use the tactics that were afoot with witch hunts and inquisitions.

Boyers writes:

The desire to cleanse the campus of dissident voices has become something of a mission. Shaming, scapegoating, and periodic ritual exorcisms are a prime feature of campus life. A distinguished scholar at my own college writes in an open email letter to the faculty that when colleagues who are "different" (in his case, nonwhite, nonstraight, nonmale) speak to us we are compelled not merely to listen but to "validate their experiences." When we meet at a faculty reception a week or so later and he asks what I think of his letter, I tell him I admire his willingness to share his thoughts but have been puzzling over the word "compelled" and the expression "validate their experiences." Does he mean thereby to suggest that if we have doubts or misgivings about what a colleague has said to us, we should keep our mouths firmly shut? Exactly, replies my earnest, right-minded colleague.

As for the theological roots of these efforts, Boyers explains:

In the early 1950s, Isaiah Berlin identified what he called "a common assumption" informing the work of Enlightenment thinkers: "that the answers to all of the great questions must of necessity agree with one another." This "doctrine," Berlin argued, "stems from older theological roots," and refuses to accept any suggestion that we must learn to live with irresolvable conflicts. The consequence? John Gray calls it "a monistic philosophy that opened the way to new forms of tyranny."

Do you see that it’s a form of tyranny?

The word "tyranny" is perhaps just a bit extravagant as a description of tendencies at work in the contemporary academy, and yet, when we speak of the attempt to create a total culture, dedicated to promoting a perfect consensus, we may well feel that we are confronting a real and present danger. The danger that context and complexity will count for nothing when texts or speech acts become triggers for witch hunts, and that wit and irony will be regarded as deplorable deviations from standard protocol. "Tyrants always want language and literature that is easily understood," Theodor Haecker observes.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

When Jack Becomes Jill

If there’s any consolation, the story comes to us from Great Britain, from the BBC. A television documentary entitled: “Young, Trans and Looking for Love” has discovered the brutal reality: when a young boy who thinks he is a girl goes out to try to pick up boys, he quickly discovers that when a boy learns that the boy who thinks he is a girl has boy parts he ceases to manifest any romantic interest.

Apparently, it never crosses anyone’s mind that these boys who think they are girls might try to pick up gay guys. I am confident that a gay male will not be put off by their boy parts.

There you have it. Problem solved. Sort of….

The producers of the documentary are puzzled. How does it happen in our enlightened age that these lotharios refuse to accept these boys who think they are girls for whoever they think they are? How dare they care about anatomy or even chromosomes?

The Mirror reports:

Claire has also begun making social media diaries of her transition, sharing her experiences with transgender teens across the world.

Hoping on finding a boyfriend, she reveals that she doesn't like telling people the truth and is desperate for an operation.

She says: "In a lot of ways, I don't like telling a guy. Once I tell him all respect goes out of the window.

"Straight guys just can't get over you having the male parts.

"Once I've had or get the surgery, I think it will change a lot for me because right now if I meet a straight guy and he doesn't know - we can't get physical if I don't tell him.

"And then if he finds out, things just get so complicated, I can't even begin to explain."

Are these young people born that way or are they being induced to choose to believe they are transgendered. The medical profession in the US, for example, approves fully of this mass delusion. Of course, there are still a few recalcitrant outliers who think it’s all a delusion, but they are being drowned out… in the name of scientific fact. Link here.

But, the medical profession has failed to explain to Claire that no surgery can turn male genitalia into female genitalia. Surgeons can produce a reasonable facsimile, but they cannot produce the real thing. I will spare you the details. Of course, other aspects of female anatomy will obviously be lacking. All the hormones in the world are not going to cause him to grow a uterus and ovaries.

Of course, the BBC presents this all as something akin to growing pains. And yet, despite what the cowed medical professionals think, we are still dealing with … a belief. People who could not bring themselves to believe in God, are happy to believe that a child is whatever gender he or she chooses to be. People who proclaim their allegiance to science imagine that some people have been given the wrong bodies and are really members of the opposite sex.

No one seems to care that these young people have XY chromosomes and that this is unalterable. As Camille Paglia famously said, this is a sign of cultural collapse.

Worse yet, when the media presents this as just another lifestyle choice it risks manipulating children into believing that they are transgendered. If it’s all about belief, it is possible to manipulate belief. A boy who finds that he is attracted to boys might very well think that he may choose between being gay or being transgendered. The media and the medical profession has given him an option: to mutilate himself and to allow his body to be invaded by hormones... without anyone really knowing the long term effects of said treatments. One does well to consult Ethan Watters’ book: Crazy Like Us… which tells us about media induced psycho epidemics.

If a boy lives in Iran, apparently the nation leading the world in gender reassignment surgery, he has a very good reason to choose to be transgendered. If he announces that he is gay he will be hanged.

How much of this condition is being produced by the media frenzy that presents it as just another way to correct God’s mistake? The great proponents of political correctness and equal rights ought to ask themselves how much responsibility they bear for producing new cases of transgenderism.

Rationing Health Care in England

Will there be socialized medicine in our future? Who knows? As of now it seems more likely than not.

Faced with the difficult choice between opining on the debacle of Ryancare or was it Trumpcare, I prefer to offer yet another example from the wondrous British National Health System. You know, the one that looks to be coming closer by the day.

As we all know, and in despite of what Paul Krugman thinks, the NHS rations health care. If we want universal, high quality, affordable health care, the trouble, as a wise man once said, is that you can only have two. So, choose which two you prefer and you can have them: if it’s universal and high quality it will be unaffordable. If it’s affordable it will be low quality universal or high quality non-universal. Pick your poison. Just don't think that you can have it all. 

Anyway, over in England, where they even ration bariatric surgery for the morbidly obese, the word now is that if you want to jump to the front of the line for such surgery you need to become even more obese. Yes, indeed, the NHS rationing system promotes ill health… because that’s the way to get treatment when treatment is rationed.

The Daily Mail has the compelling story. One notes with some chagrin that the DM uses the utterly and totally incorrect term: "fat people." Of course, we deplore the use of such language, though we are comforted that it is gender neutered.

Anyway, the Daily Mail reports:

Rationing of surgery to treat clinically obese people means that some need to become 'super-obese' before they are allowed a weight loss operation, a new report suggests.

Some regions in England are demanding that patients must have a body mass index score of over 50 before they qualify for bariatric surgery.

Health experts are concerned that the message sent to obese patients is to get fatter so they can access surgery.

Those who have a BMI [Body Mass Index] score of over 30 are classed as obese, while those who surpass a 50 reading are clinically classed as super-obese.

The new report from the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society and the Royal College of Surgeons is based on Freedom of Information requests to all clinical commissioning groups  across England.

These groups have now taken to lobbying for an end to the rationing. Which is surely a good idea. And yet, unless the government of Great Britain has limitless funds, when it stops rationing in one place it will soon be rationing somewhere else.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stop Complaining! Do Your Work!

Vindication is sweet. Often have I counseled a no-drama approach to the workplace. And to everyday life too. I have often suggested that it is better to see life as a game than as a drama. It's better to see yourself as a player than as a thespian.

Now, a  study from the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology has demonstrated that I was correct. It tells us that it is best not to complain and not to dramatize issues that arise in the workplace. Instead of complaining you should show what the authors call sportsmanship. Yes, indeed.

Their abstract tells the story; with apologies for quoting academese:

We explicitly focused on good sportsmanship or abstaining from unnecessary complaints and criticism as a possible moderator of the effects of daily negative work events on daily work engagement and positive affect. 

We tested this possibility with a 3-day diary study among 112 employees. As expected, we found that daily negative events lowered daily engagement and momentary positive affect for two consecutive days. However, this effect only held on days that people exhibited low sportsmanship. For days that people exhibited high sportsmanship, there were no significant effects. Creating a resource rich work environment that enhances individuals’ sportsmanship behaviour can help to minimize the unfavourable impact of daily negative events.

Negative work events are inevitable. How you handle them is not. If you follow the lame advice offered by the denizens of the therapy culture you will feel compelled to confront the person who offended you or even the person who did not do his job very. You might want to vent your deepest feelings, because you have been told that bottling them up will give you cancer. And you might even choose to lean in, the better to show them how tough and strong and assertive you are. The research suggests that such is a bad approach. It is posturing, not gamesmanship.

You should not see yourself as a human monad trying to regulate the pressure of your emotional gasses but as a team member whose goal should be to advance the best interests of the team.

Alex Fradera explains the research in the Research Digest of the British Psychological Society:

But when sportsmanship was high – meaning that participants hadn’t complained, escalated minor issues, or stewed over things too much – bad events, even if rated as severe, didn’t impact mood or work engagement, that day or the next. Demeroutia and Cropanzano think there may be two reasons for this. Firstly, revisiting the event gives it a second wind, further reinforcing the association between it and the normally transient negative emotions that were initially provoked, turning a bad experience into That Bad Experience. Secondly, if complaints are poorly expressed or directed at the wrong person, they can exacerbate the situation, and that’s all too possible when you are still caught up in a drama.

As for a better alternative when problems need to be solved, Fradera offers this advice, from the research:

When a problem keeps manifesting in an organisation or relationship you need to resolve it, and that begins by putting it into words. But purposeless complaining can just as easily be a way to avoid moving on, the out-loud version of mental rumination keeping us in its undertow. Demeroutia and Cropanzano point to more constructive methods like expressive writing, which have an evidence base showing success in making sense of negative experience. This form of reflection, or attentive conversation focused on straightening out a knotty problem, are vastly preferred to unconstructive venting.

Negotiate your differences. Don't dramatize them. The first can solve a problem. The second cannot. One is amused to note that the out-loud version of mental rumination corresponds well to what used to be called Freudian free association.

The moral of the story comes from director Lee Daniels. In his words: “Stop complaining.” “Do your work.”