Sunday, February 19, 2017

Depressed Millennial Women

American women have never had it so good. They have more independence, more autonomy, more opportunity, more authority, more relationships, more freedom, more hookups, more orgasms and more free contraceptives … than any generation of women before them. They have overcome femininity,housewifery and homemakerdom.

How’s that working out?

Apparently, not very well. Women in the millennial generation now report higher levels of depression than any previous generation. This is not to say that men are not competing in the dysfunction derby, but young women are doing better at being depressed.

One notes, in passing, and for context, that the mental health profession has, over the past three decades, made great leaps forward in treating depression. And we know about many non-medical treatments for depression and anxiety-- like aerobic conditioning and yoga.

And, as you know, the Affordable Care Act has allowed everyone access to the new medical treatments. So, one is forgiven for being surprised to discover that, apparently, these treatments are not doing so well. Perhaps they serve to attenuate symptoms, but they do not seem to be very effective otherwise.

To be fair to psychiatrists, when people look merely at treatment modalities they often overlook the causes of the outbreak. One understands that all of the wonderful advantages that today’s young women have… listed in my first paragraph… might not be the formula for mental health and emotional well-being.

If one asked the price women paid for these advantages one would note that they are now being pushed to compete against men in men’s occupations, that they have far more unsatisfying and even traumatizing relationships in which they allow themselves to be used for sex and then discarded, and that their lives lack structure.

Even if you believe that the wonderful opportunities young women have today did not come with some trade-offs, you are excessively naïve.

MarketWatch has the story:

Millennials report higher rates of depression than any other generation and are now the biggest sector of the workforce, creating new challenges in work culture and mental health treatment. And they’re not alone: Recent research shows depression is becoming more prevalent in younger women. Between 2005 and 2014 the number of depressed teens jumped by more than half a million, three-fourths of which were teenage girls according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. These mental health struggles are extending themselves into the workplace, with millennial women far more likely than their male counterparts to experience burn out and depression.

Examine the case of Hannah. Surely, you are asking yourself why she does not avail herself of the free healthcare that is now being provided to everyone. And one notes that, according to Dr. Richard Mollica of Harvard Medical School, having a job is generally an excellent anti-depressant. But not for Hannah. It seems strange, but we do not know anything about Hannah’s life outside of the office, so we cannot speculate. In truth, we do not know what is going on inside the office either.

Here is Hannah’s story:

Hannah, a 24-year-old marketing coordinator at a film company, has struggled with depression and anxiety since she was 17, but working at a 9 to 5 job in the last few years since she finished college has significantly worsened her illnesses. Although she has been in her current role for more than two years, she only recently told her human resources representative about what she was going through.

She struggles with motivation on the job and the depression-related exhaustion she tries to combat by chugging coffee throughout the day, and she regularly has to take days off for her mental health. “There is so much stigma around mental illness it feels like it’s not a valid excuse to not be able to work,” said Hannah, who fears she will be judged by her current and future employers so much that she requested MarketWatch withhold her last name. “It’s funny to think about it but I was out for five full days with no problem because I had strep throat, but when I take one day for depression it feels like I’m cheating the system.”

Oh yes, blame it on the stigma. And on the fear of being judged. One would like to know how Hannah is addressing her problem… beyond chugging black coffee… but we do not have enough information to offer further speculation.

The article adds this salient point:

Depression in the workplace manifests itself in a number of ways, including absenteeism — skipping out on work completely — and “presenteeism,” a lesser known problem when an employee does show up to work but is not working at full capacity due to underlying mood issues. Often people with untreated mental illnesses are unable to hold a job longer than six months and may lash out at customers or employers.

What excuse do they have for not seeking treatment? If anything, taking Prozac and other SSRIs has become perfectly normal, if not a badge of honor. I don't know where these young people are living, but very few people in my neighborhood are not taking one or another psychoactive medication.

Still, these millennials feel stigmatized:

… many employees — particularly millennials, are avoiding treatment due to stigma. “The worst part of it is an anxiety around missing work to take care of my mental health, or taking huge gaps out of my day to quell my anxiety,” said Clare, a 25-year-old who works in public relations and who also requested that MarketWatch withhold her last name.

Apparently, millennials are also criticized for being lazy and barely functional. Again, we blame it on the stigma. Because if no one notices that you are lazy you are not lazy. Right? In different terms, millennials tend not to address their problems but tend to blame them on someone else:

Her generation is constantly criticized for being lazy, self-entitled, and unable to handle work-life balance — all stigmas that come along with mental illness as well.

Obviously, this problem did not begin last month. Hannah has been having problems since she went to college seven years ago. Nevertheless, MarketWatch manages to blame it on the Trump administration, because now Hannah fears that she is going to be deprived of free contraceptives and of the psychiatric care that she is not using anyway. If Hannah is self-medicating with black coffee I would guess that she is not taking an SSRI or receiving any other treatment. 

Anyway, MarketWatch says:

Mental health services saw a huge spike in demand the day after the 2016 election, and a study on medical interns (median age 27) from the University of Michigan’s stress and depression research center Sen Lab found the election had “an immediate and striking impact” on their mental health. Many cited fears the president would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and restrict women’s access to reproductive health services as major stressors. The ACA requires insurance plans to cover mental health services.

Here’s a radical thought—for which I will apologize in advance. Wouldn’t some of these women feel a bit better about themselves if they stopped worrying about contraception and abortion and stopped hooking up with men who use them for sex and then throw them away. They have been encouraged-- certainly not by me-- to think that they should have sex like men, with no strings attached and no commitments. It doesn't seem to be working out very well. I know this will sound like heresy, but perhaps Susan Patton was right. Perhaps women should be thinking of marrying younger… thus alleviating the anxiety about family? 

But, how many times does one need to point out that the currently accepted life plan is detrimental to women’s mental health. If only these young women respected themselves and their bodies they would not be obsessing about contraception and STDs.

Just a thought.

Why is this happening? Why has the millennial generation succumbed to mental health problems? Marketwatch has an answer:

Clare believes some of the stressors specific to her generation are major reasons for the rise of depression and anxiety. This includes a rising cost of living, more pressure to do well, crippling student debt and even the divisive political climate. “There is a huge pressure for people to find their foothold in their dream careers much earlier — an anxiety to figure it out as fast as possible and find the dream job that meets all the goals,” she said. “Anything less feels like failure.”

If you are in an especially cranky mood you might ask yourself whether this generation was trained—in school—to achieve and to succeed in the world of work. All indications are that it has not. All indications are that it has been brought up on a diet of unearned praise and that it suffers from bloated self-esteem. When compared to their counterparts around the world the American millennial generation is dysfunctional and cannot compete. Link here.

One does not need to say so, but in the interest of fairness one will. Some professionals suggest that today’s millennials are not more depressed. They are more aware of the signs of depression and therefore recognize it more readily. It’s all in the perception, didn’t you know it?

Obviously, this does not explain why American millennials are less competitive than their counterparts around the world. And, it does not consider that all of this talk about depression and other forms of mental illness in schools might be inducing children to start feeling depressed. Everyone knows that first year medical students imagine that they have all the illnesses they are learning about. When you teach high school students the symptoms of depression and anxiety, it makes sense to believe that they will feel encouraged, at least, to mimic the symptoms.

Anyway, MarketWatch writes:

This generation is not necessarily more depressed than workers of past generations, but more equipped to recognize it, Riba said. Mental health is increasingly being taught in high school and most universities now have mental health centers, decreasing the stigma of treatment. “We are seeing a whole new generation who is coming up having been more exposed to these issues than in their parents’ generation and want to figure out how they can stay healthy,” she said.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Has America Gone Insane?

Here’s a hint about rhetorical strategy: if you want to denounce someone as irrational and emotionally overwrought, you should not sound irrational and overwrought. If you do you will be emulating the example you are denouncing. If it is worth denouncing, it cannot be worth emulating.

As we have seen, a small number of mental health professionals have attacked Donald Trump as unfit to serve as president. They say that he is suffering from one or another psychiatric disorders—like malignant narcissistic personality disorder—and therefore should be disqualified.

Being mental health professionals they have allowed their minds to be overcome by their emotions. They have failed to note how many previous American presidents have suffered from one or another psychiatric condition. And they ignore the fact that there is nothing in the constitution that prevents us from electing someone who is severely depressed—like Abraham Lincoln. Let’s not forget the number of politicians and commentators who declared Theodore Roosevelt to be utterly unhinged.

On the other side a number of mental health professionals have rejected their colleagues’ wish to diagnose someone they have never met. Correctly so. But then, they denounce Trump for his totalitarian tendencies. In so doing they indulge the totalitarian tendency of using psychiatry to shut up one’s political opponents.

Anyway, mental health professionals are men and women of science. They have demonstrated some restraint and have offered opposing views of the Trump psyche.

Better yet, someone named Louise wrote in to the New York Times to school psychiatrists in the matter of the Trumpian psyche. She makes more sense than most, so I assume that she belongs to the field:

Trump's personality traits, along with his inherited money and his contacts, have enabled him to become POTUS, acquire a succession of young and socially impressive wives and get even richer. 

This is not how mental illness generally works; the key feature of mental illnesses is that they are to a significant extent disabling to the people who have them. Personality disorders in particular tend to produce inflexible and inappropriate thought patterns and behaviour which make it hard for people to function effectively and form solid relationships. Trump's behaviour is bizarre, vain. inconsiderate, erratic and downright despicable but it's also calculated and very effective with the audience he's aiming at. When he lies it's with a purpose, when he appears confused it's usually misdirection, when he ignores or trivialises the important issues it's because he doesn't want to deal with them.

Louise finds much to dislike in the Trump performance— limited as it is—but at least she understands the difference between mental illness and public political performance.

Now, we have the honor of reading the thoughts of a distinguished American professor, one W. J. T. Mitchell of the University of Chicago. Mitchell’s thoughts appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books and they offer a sense of what is wrong with the American academy—a place where no one even pretends to care about empirical reality.

While mental health professionals have been relatively restrained in their diagnoses, Mitchell, who teaches literature and art criticism, feels no such compunction. As he sees it, the American people are suffering from a mass psychosis. Since psychosis is a well-defined clinical category no mental health professional uses it lightly or promiscuously. Mitchell knows nothing about psychosis, so he invokes the authority of that famed syphilitic philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Where else would you look for a definition of psychosis?

A well-known Chinese aphorism cursed people to live in interesting times. Mitchell declares that we are living in insane times. Being a master of absurd analogies, he declares the election of Donald Trump to have been as cataclysmic as September 11, 2001.

I kid you not:

For the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump, the events of the days since November 8, 2016, have seemed as if the nightmare of history that Stephen Dedalus describes in James Joyce’s Ulysses has come upon us with a vengeance. And there is no possibility of awaking from it; it is a reality that will not go away; it has only just begun. Like the nightmare of September 11, 2001, it marks a historical epoch, underscoring the correctness of Nietzsche’s aphorism, which stipulates that it is not only a matter of collective insanity (“groups, parties, nations”), but also of “epochs,” those turning points and momentous events such as revolution and war that make us feel that we are living in extraordinary, even insane, times.

Let’s see: would you like to offer a description of the mindset of someone who declares that we are living through a nightmare and that it will never go away? One appreciates Mitchell’s prophetic powers, his ability to see the future and his encouraging thought that we will never awake from the nightmare. We awoke from 9/11, didn’t we? Mitchell is trafficking in mental drool.

Mitchell occupies an august positions in the American academy. He must count among the best and the brightest in that world. If that doesn't give you nightmares, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, Mitchell does not refrain from expressing his contempt for the American people. If you want to know why Hillary lost, you could not do better than to weigh Mitchell’s words:

As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete narcissistic moron.

I need not tell you that “complete narcissistic moron” does not appear in the DSM V. It tells us that Mitchell is flailing… but also that he sees the Trump presidency as wish fulfillment, the wish of the plain folks to see the office of the presidency occupied by someone who expresses their inner soul… which is to be a fool and a completely narcissistic moron.

How does Mitchell know that America has gone completely mad? You guessed it: the nation has not done enough to stop climate change. It takes your breath away. You have to read it to believe it. So, here it is:

When the world’s most powerful nation goes crazy, the consequences are global. And this is nowhere to be seen more clearly than in the absolute silence about the greatest challenge facing the world community in the foreseeable future, namely, climate change. The issue never came up in the presidential debates, and received little coverage in the media. Admittedly, climate change is a hard sell to people who do not read newspapers. But when, in a rare moment of collective sanity and wisdom, 195 countries come to an agreement that climate change is real and must be addressed, one would think that the issue is, as we say, a no-brainer. But Trump is a climate change denier who intends to tear up the Paris agreement as a “bad deal,” and who has nominated a fossil fuel lobbyist who, like many Trump appointees, would like to destroy the very agency he has been appointed to direct, namely, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Does anyone really believe that the nation has ignored climate change? In truth, the Obama administration was obsessed with climate change, to the point where it was willing to shut down industries and put people out of work to save the planet. It’s one good reason why Hillary lost.

And, by the way, what does a professor of art and literature know about climate change? The fact that a bunch of nations got together and signed an agreement transferring wealth from America to the poorer countries of the world does not confirm that America is responsible for climate changes. Everyone understands that the climate changes. The question is whether or not human beings—that is, privileged white males-- ought to be punished for it and whether the Industrial Revolution should be repealed to save the smelts.

Since Mitchell correctly notes that the balance of powers in the United States Constitution is a wondrous thing, we must add that the treaty signed by the Obama administration has skirted constitutional scrutiny because the administration called it a deal and not a treaty.

For your and Mitchell’s edification, I provide a link to some remarks that Prof. Richard Lindzen at a seminar conducted at the British House of Commons in 2012. Since Lindzen has been the head of the climate science lab at MIT I trust you will agree that he knows the subject. Something we cannot say about Mitchell.

When it comes to the dogmas of climate change Mitchell and others who know nothing about climate science are absolutely  convinced that they are right and that everyone who disagrees with them is—not wrong, but insane.

Mitchell says:

Or does it have real potential as a way of analyzing a mentality, a style of thinking and feeling that is resistant to persuasion, but might be susceptible of understanding? It is one of the characteristics of an epochal moment like this that it is going to be very difficult to distinguish rational analysis from polemic. It may in fact be the case that there are times in history when reason and outrage have to converge, and the whole liberal style of calm deliberation and the comfort of long views will seem radically inadequate. 

Is Mitchell showing himself to be amenable to rational argument? Is he willing to consider the views of important scientists who disagree with him? Not at all. If a bunch of nations, along with Pope Francis, have bought the idea, then it must be dogmatic truth, never again to be questioned.

I will mention in passing that since Nietzsche was not a sufficient authority on the question of madness, Mitchell quotes Freud himself. One of the twentieth century’s greatest pseudo-scientists has no real authority on mass psychosis or even on individual psychosis. Admittedly, Freud did do some work on psychosis—he wrote a commentary on a memoir written by a psychotic. Yet, Freud was a neurologist and aside from the fact that his dangerous method did not work on neurotics, it most certainly did not work on psychosis.

While Mitchell agrees that we ought not to diagnose political leaders and that Trump himself is not psychotic, he still argues that Trumpism is madness and that it should be treated with psychoanalytic methods that have fallen seriously out of favor because they do not work. No one has ever believed that they work with psychosis. Only serious humanists have failed to see this fact:

But what about Trumpism, the mass syndrome that now grips this country and threatens the world? It fulfills the basic criteria of psychosis in its hostility to reality-testing and its potential to be “a danger to itself and others,” the legal standard for involuntary confinement of the insane. Any politics that sets out to cure the disorder of Trumpism will have to find a way to think of it in relation to psychology, not as a set of polemical labels, but as a therapeutic method, a listening cure.

Mitchell knows nothing about psychosis, but his suggestion that everyone who voted for Trump, everyone who is responsible for Trumpism is participating in a mass psychosis and should be involuntarily confined is madness itself. If not that, true stupidity.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Rabbi Is Unafraid

Rob Eshman is proud of his wife, Rabbi Naomi Levi. He is especially proud of her for standing up in front of her congregation and announcing that she is not afraid of Muslims: Bring ‘em on! Eschman is not alone in feeling proud of hit rabbi wife. Her congregation cheered her loudly for her enlightened and anti-Trumpian attitude.

By now, you are wondering what Lulu thinks about all this virtue signaling. Or else, you are wondering who Lulu is. For all I know Lulu might be a pseudonym. Apparently, she prefers not to reveal her last name. The Bookworm blog (via Maggie’s Farm) has posted her remarks, beginning with the results of her research—conducted after 9/11—into Muslim culture around the world.

Lulu went to YouTube and found the Memri site:

I saw television clips of preachers giving lessons on the proper techniques of wife beating. I saw discussions and sermons promoting the murder of apostates and infidels (that is, non-Muslims). I saw the basest of anti-Semitism, including blood libels, promulgated. I watched young Palestinian children on kiddie shows being encouraged to become suicide martyrs and murder Jews. I saw the defense of honor killings, female genital mutilation and support for the denial of rights for women as normative and right.

We all know how the Internet works. One link leads to another. I then saw articles about the pedophilia in Afghanistan, the kidnapped young boys forced to dance for men and perform sexually for them. I saw articles about young female children, under the age of ten sometimes, married to grown men or middle aged men who raped them. I read about young wives locked in their homes, so miserable and desperate to end their suffering that they literally set themselves on fire as their only means to escape. Picture after picture reveals the horror. I read about Christians burned, beaten, and stoned to death, their daughters kidnapped and forced to serve as sex slaves. I read about young couples who dared to fall in love dragged out of prison (jailed for being together) and beaten to death by lynch mobs. I read and saw pictures of gays tossed off buildings and hung in public squares. I read about the horrible mistreatment of animals; beasts of burden, dogs, bear baiting.

Yes, indeed. Now we know what has been missing in America. Nothing to be afraid of there. For reasons that escape me, the debate about the Trump immigration order has completely ignored the results of Muslim migration in Europe. To be fair, to myself, I have often posted the best information about it on this blog.

Lulu summarizes the results of her research:

So I have watched with horror and dismay as Sweden, perhaps the most self-congratulatory nation on the planet, in a noble experiment and to atone for Swedes’ blond hair and fair complexions, took in an enormous number of people, primarily young men, from these precise cultures . . . expecting what to happen, exactly? Beautiful integration? Sexually outré Swedish metrosexuals sipping coffee with people who viewed them with contempt? No, the Swedes embraced their immigrants with wide open arms and assumed they’d be reciprocated with gratitude and worldwide accolades. Instead, Sweden has become known as the rape capital of Europe. Values collide. Just a few weeks ago, a group of Afghan asylum recipients filmed themselves on Facebook-live gang raping a young Swedish woman. Tack sa mycket, Sverige!

As you know, France has a very large Muslim population and thus a very large Muslim problem. Try being Jewish in Paris these days. Lulu has French Jewish friends. Their lives are not something that Rabbi Levi or her congregation would wish for:

And speaking of Jews, we have Jewish friends from France who can no longer walk to synagogue wearing a kippah or a star of David necklace, lest they be beaten up or worse. The couple, highly talented professionals both, have been trying to immigrate to the United States for years but have been unable to do so legally, tied up in red tape and complications. So they are stuck in France where they feel they have no future. There are no-go neighborhoods throughout France, especially in Paris, where sharia law holds sway. The police are even afraid to enter. This is where the French Jew, Ilan Halimi, was taken to when he was kidnapped and tortured to death. His torturers ritually chanted from the Koran on the telephone while his mother heard his screams.

Rabbi Levi and her husband are involved in the narcissistic exercise called virtue-signaling. It makes you feel good about your own virtue while you blissfully ignore reality. You are saying that since you are virtuous, without an Islamophobic bone in your body, you will not be punished by the armies of Allah.

Lulu responds:

It somehow doesn’t occur to the virtue-huggers that, as the number of Muslim immigrants rise, Muslims become more powerful, thus affecting school curriculum, politics, and so on. Things change. Look at anti-Jewish harassment at universities. The virtue signaling of today can become something much more frightening and less pleasant tomorrow.

She adds:

Rob Eshman is super proud of his wife and wants to be proud of the rest of us too. Well, I’m afraid he will be disappointed in me because I think he, his wife, and their congregation, lovely people though they may be, are fools whose naiveté will ultimately cost lives. They are fools who comfortably live far from the poor communities where the Somalis and Syrians will be resettled. It is armchair virtuousness. You know, I’d like to see them promote the immigration of Yazidi or Christian refugees, who are in grave danger and pose no terror risk, but they don’t.

Lulu, however, is afraid:

Unlike Rabbi Levy, I am afraid of what far too many people do, have done and will do in the name of Islam. I am afraid of values totally discordant with my own, of taqquiya and sharia and the broad partial, or whole-hearted, support of killing of gays, Jews and Christians, suppression of women and the fundamentally anti-democratic impulses of a huge percentage of the world’s Muslims. More than half of British Muslims, for example, want homosexuality illegal and a quarter fully support the imposition of sharia law in their new homes. The numbers are much larger elsewhere. 

She concludes:

Rabbi Levy, et al, what say you to the honor killings on our soil, or to the little girl whose genitals have been hacked out (something prevalent now in France), or to the next victims of a terror attack, whether a car ramming, a stabbing spree, a shooting or a bombing, here in the US? That this is a small price to pay for being unlike Trump? Rapists, not racists? With great virtue signaling comes great responsibility. If among the people you insist on coming are those who hate the US, the West, and you, and perpetrate any of these heinous acts, you will not be virtuous. You will have blood on your hands.

Should You Fear Terrorism?

Terrorism, we have been assured, is no big deal. You are more likely to die from falling off a ladder or slipping in the shower. So says Nicholas Kristof. And so once said Barack Obama. 

People who are soft on terrorism are tough on ladders. We can now have large public demonstrations to ban bathtubs. There, that will solve the problem of Islamist terrorism. Dare we note note that it is destroying large parts of the Middle East and that has invaded Europe. To which Kristof tells us to put our collective heads in the sand. 

Don’t fear terrorism. Fear bathtubs. And, God help us, you must be terrified of automobile accidents… surely they kill more Americans every year than do acts of domestic terrorism.

For the sake of their argument, those who misuse statistics in this way ignore the cost of terrorism in other parts of the world. The carnage in Syria, for example, tends to remain hidden.

If you like facts and if you believe in using them promiscuously, the fact about comparing deaths from ladder falls to deaths from domestic terrorism feels dispositive. In truth, it is misusing information, roughly like saying that even if it is a fact that Col. Mustard’s fingerprint is on the murder weapon if he was in Egypt when the crime was committed, he could not have done it.

Any number of learned authors have taken Kristof to task for his intellectual dereliction. One notes that Kristof is a reporter, but he is not a thinker. His column demonstrates the point on a regular basis. Among those who have critiqued his column are Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times, Justin Fox on Bloomberg, David French on National Review and Alex Nowrasteh at Cato (via Maggie’s Farm.)

Ganesh shows why the analogy is a cheap effort at confusing the issue:

… most people can intuit the difference between domestic misfortune and political violence. The latter is an assault on the system: the rules and institutions that distinguish society from the state of nature. Bathroom deaths could multiply by 50 without a threat to civil order. The incidence of terror could not.

Terrorists want you to change the way you live. They want to undermine our culture and force us to replace it with theirs. It does not have the same impact as dying in the bathtub.

In addition, Fox and several others have noted that ladders and bathtubs, even automobiles are useful. They do something good for us. This do-goodism is accompanied with a certain risk, but we assume the risk because it is statistically very low when compared to the utility. Besides, we have some measure of control over it. We are generally aware of the risks and take suitable precautions. At times, we are careless and we might even be punished for our carelessness by having an accident. But, the situation is not comparable to watching the Boston Marathon and having a pressure cooker blow in your face. 

When we are victims of an act of terrorism, the act is designed to take control of our minds… by persuading us that we deserved to be victimized. Terrorists want us to believe that our own evil deeds provoked them and forced them to punish us. Terrorism is designed to invade our minds and to make us feel guilty. 

As you know, the Obama administration and many members of the alt-left insist that the cause of Islamist terrorism is our own Islamophobia. Add to that whatever we have done in the Middle East… especially America’s support for Israel… and you see that terrorism has a psychological and political goal. It wants to influence the culture. It wants to control our minds. It wants to convert us to Islam. It wants to persuade us to change our policy.

The nature of the threat from a ladder is radically incommensurate with that of Islamist terrorism.

Fox also notes that the analogy is specious because it misuses statistics—who could have imagined that:

Finally, comparing the incidence of terrorism with that of common accidents is an incompetent and irresponsible use of statistics. Household accidents are lots and lots of small, unrelated events. As a result, while individual accidents can’t be predicted, the overall risk is easy to quantify and is pretty stable from year to year.

Terrorism is different. There are small incidents, but there are also huge ones in which hundreds or thousands of people die. It’s a fat-tailed distribution, in which outliers are really important. It also isn’t stable: Five or 10 or even 50 years of data isn’t necessarily enough to allow one to predict with confidence what’s going to happen next year. It’s a little like housing prices -- the fact that they hadn’t declined on the national level for more than 50 years before 2006 didn’t mean they couldn’t decline. Meanwhile, the widespread belief that they wouldn’t decline made the housing collapse more likely and more costly.

Speaking of fat tails, the attack on the World Trade Center did not just kill more than two thousand people. It destroyed an enormous amount of property and disrupted the lives of many thousands more. The economic cost far surpassed that of lightning strikes. The psychological damage, the sense of having been attacked and of being made to look weak and inconsequential was vast.

Moreover, terrorism produces stress. And stress is unhealthy. Again, it is not a random event that befalls an individual. It is an assault on a nation or a culture. The two should not be confused.

If, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Franklin Roosevelt had addressed Congress and declared that more people did from mosquito bites than died at Pearl Harbor would they country have risen up to cheer him? Would he have received the Kristof Award for indulging in mindless analogies? Or would he have been run out of office?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Conspiracy Theorists

Having shown, in the prior post, that we cannot trust psychiatrists to offer cogent analysis of political and judicial matters, we turn to Brendan Nyhan in the New York Times for a better and more sane view. Nyhan is a professor of political science at Dartmouth College. We will forgive him for not being a physician.

In a Times op-ed Nyhan argues that people who feel that they have lost control are more likely to latch on to conspiracy theories. One might add a point that I have made myself, that people who have undergone trauma, who have had their daily routines disrupted, are more likely to seek solace in narratives.

Nyhan points out that before the election, Trump supporters were more prone to believe just about anything, but that after the election Democrats have glommed on to just about any conspiracy theory— to avoid having to face the dire truth, that they lost.

We note that Nyhan offers a balanced and a rational view. Then again, he is a political scientist, not a psychiatrist moonlighting in an alien field. Any psychiatrist who wants to help their patients would do well to follow his example.

Nyhan compares:

Even as Democrats decry the false claims streaming regularly from the White House, they appear to have become more vulnerable to unsupported claims and conspiracy theories that flatter their own political prejudices. The reason isn’t just that a Republican now occupies the White House. Political psychology research suggests that losing political control can make people more vulnerable to misinformation and conspiracy theories.
And he compares this reaction with the gullibility of Trump supporters before the election:

Before the election, supporters of Donald J. Trump were the main audience for fake news stories. Mr. Trump  shattered previous norms against making easily disprovable falsehoods in his public statements (including that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and that President Obama was not born in this country), and he paid little political price among his supporters….

But since the election, there has been a noticeable increase in the flow of dubious and unsupported claims among liberals. One widely circulated post on Medium portrayed the Trump administration’s fumbling rollout of a travel ban in late January as an elaborate “trial balloon for a coup d’état.” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor at the rumor-tracking site Snopes, recently told The Atlantic that she has been seeing more false reports aimed at liberals or from liberal sources — “a lot of dubious news, a lot of wishful-thinking-type stuff.”

Who would be dumb enough to believe such a conspiracy theory—that is, paranoid thinking? Why, none other than Allen Frances. Note these remarks from his Psychology Today post, quoted in my previous post:

Impending court decisions in this case may constitute a key turning point in United States history. Should the judges accept Trump's "national security" excuse for unconstitutional acts, it will embolden him to push for a much greater power grab. He can create a de facto dictatorship, eroding our precious civil rights, based only on his arbitrary interpretation of "national security."

A Psychiatrist Wades into Constitutional Law

Eminent psychiatrist Allen Frances has attacked his colleagues for diagnosing President Trump. See my previous post. By his lights anyone who says that Trump is mentally ill is insulting people who really are mentally ill.

According to the psychiatrist, Trump is a nightmare, a threat to democracy, a threat to the constitution and a threat to everything that he believes in.

One wonders on what ground Frances speaks so definitively. He is certainly not an expert on constitutional law. Yet, he believes that a handful of judges has offered the last word on the Trump immigration order. He does not mention that at least one other federal judge upheld the Trump order. He is not an expert on politics or anything resembling it. And yet, he speaks with complete confidence and unquestioned authority.

Explain to me why such palaver contributes to the debate. Explain why a man of science presumes to offer definitive judgments about matters in which he has no expertise. Does he expect that people will see that he is a mental health professional and will automatically grant credence to his opinionated views on matters he knows nothing about? One of the great problems with our culture is that men and women of science pretend to offer up the last word on matters they do not understand, in a game they do not know how to play.

Frances is merely showing us that people who do not know how to play the game end up being played by those who do. Frances is correct to denounce the “amateur diagnosticians” who pretend to understand Trump’s psyche. But, he is insufficiently self-aware to see that he himself is offering amateur political and judicial analysis. Who does he think he is?

I myself have offered several posts about the Trump immigration order. When offering an analysis of legal opinions, like those of the 9th circuit, I had enough humility to present the views of experts in constitutional law.  Like Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. I also added the views of Jeffrey Toobin, a journalist who has a law degree and who was, by the by, an editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Readers of this blog deserve better than the opinionated rants of someone who does not know the law.

By now you are curious to know what Frances actually said. Your long wait is over:

Within a week of taking office, Trump declared war on our Constitution and also on the courts charged with defending it. He claimed that, based on his evaluation of risks to national security, he could arbitrarily exclude travelers from selected Muslim countries, without any judicial review of the legality of his executive order.

His claim is unprecedented and has been twice rejected by the court: "There is no precedent to support this unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our democracy". 

Trump ridiculed the four judges who ruled against him and claimed that they were acting politically- despite the fact that two had been appointed by Republican presidents and two by Democratic presidents. No president in our long history has ever shown such disrespect for the judiciary or willingness to defy the necessary checks and balances restraining presidential power. 

Obviously, these are left-wing talking points. Perhaps Frances is vying for a job in the Hillary Clinton administration, but his legal analysis falls far short of what a Dershowitz or Toobin presented. It is good to judge Trump by his actions, but the man has been president for four weeks now. Perhaps it is best not to rush to judgment and to indulge the worst hysterical impulses of large swaths of the American public. After all, Frances is a psychiatrist. Ought he not to be showing a path to rational thought, not sliding into a swamp of uninformed emotion?

If he had managed to look at the analysis offered by legal scholars he would have known that the court decision did not even address the issue of the president’s power, enshrined in law, to control immigration. Frances mentions that the countries are Muslim, as though to suggest that Trump has targeted Muslims, in particular. The fact that the countries were selected by the Obama administration because then do not have real governments and cannot screen travelers themselves gives the lie to his assertion.

As for whether any president has shown such disrespect for the judiciary, clearly Frances got carried away with his own hyperbole. Being uninformed and ignorant Frances can only traffic in talking points. Has he forgotten Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to pack the Supreme Court? Or did he never know about it. And then there was the view of President Andrew Jackson when confronted with a Supreme Court decision. You all recall that Jackson said: “Mr. Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”

Again, how can Frances claim to have complete and utter certainty about constitutional law? Because he is a psychiatrist? What gives him the authority to say the following:

Impending court decisions in this case may constitute a key turning point in United States history. Should the judges accept Trump's "national security" excuse for unconstitutional acts, it will embolden him to push for a much greater power grab. He can create a de facto dictatorship, eroding our precious civil rights, based only on his arbitrary interpretation of "national security."

The courts must establish that Trump's "national security" excuse is not a blank check, allowing for serial violations of the Constitution. Court decisions have always been heavily influenced by politics. The question now is whether judges will have the courage to support our Constitution in the face of Trump's determined bullying.

And if the judges’ final decision contradicts Frances’s uninformed views of what the law does or does not say, what would he conclude?

Anyway, Frances is having nightmares about Trump’s efforts to destroy the Constitution and to destroy a fragile American democracy. He speaks like a Democratic Party hack. If Alan Dershowitz considered the court decisions to be questionable and eminent psychiatrist Frances believed them to be totally correct, who would you believe? Frances would have done better to keep his ignorance to himself. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Politics in the Workplace

It’s always difficult to measure mental health and emotional well-being. Sending out teams of grad students to ask pre-formulated questions to random victims distorts the picture.

You don’t really want to rely on self-reports of someone’s happiness quotient. Do you? In a culture that tells you that you must flourish, you would not dare tell an anonymous interviewer that you are not flourishing. You might not understand what it means to flourish but you know the right answer to the question.

More salient and more to the point, for those of us who wish to measure mental health, is how well people can function on the job. After all, the nation is awash in therapy. Anyone who is not in therapy is almost surely taking one or another psychoactive drug. American millennials are being outcompeted by just about all their peers around the world, but they and their older cohorts should be leading the world in flourishing.

To everyone’s shock and awe, such is not the case. Apparently, American workers are so emotionally overwrought by the recent election that they cannot focus on their jobs. They cannot concentrate. They cannot focus. They cannot function in the workplace. As soon as someone brings up politics their emotions begin to boil and they gird their loins, ready for arguments, fights and drama.

This tells us that therapy, such as it is, produces less mental health than ideological conformity. It’s not about your well-being. It’s about indoctrinating you in politically correct opinions.

It offers you membership in a cult of like-minded and like-feeling individuals. Any encounter with someone who thinks differently threatens your identity as a member of the cult. You joined the cult because you believed that all right-thinking people thought as you did. Discovering that you are not even in the majority makes you crazy. Rather than change your mind or balance your opinions, you go berserk. There, that will show them!

The Atlantic reports that the American psyche is disintegrating. It sees the evidence in the workplace. During the campaign things were not looking very promising, from a mental health perspective:

Months before the election, there were reports of greater political tension in offices than in previous election cycles. In one survey from the American Psychological Association, 10 percent of respondents said that political discussions at work led to stress, feeling cynical, difficulty finishing work, lower work quality, and diminished productivity.

Now that the election is over, things are getting worse:

Now, a new survey commissioned by BetterWorks—a software company that helps workers with setting and tracking goals—finds that post-election, politics is continuing to take a toll on workplace productivity. The online survey included 500 nationally representative, full-time American workers, and found that 87 percent of them read political social-media posts during the day, and nearly 50 percent reported seeing a political conversation turning into an argument in the workplace. Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they’ve been less productive since the election.

29% is not a trivial number. It is not a rounding error.

As it happened, things were not very good even before the political season dawned. McKinsey had already discovered that workplace incivility and general rudeness were on the rise. The reason, in our technologically advanced world people do not interact with other people… on a personal level. People telecommute. People text and email. It’s all abstract and dehumanizing. No one has a face.

You recall the reaction to Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo! People rose up to denounce her for being a sexist misogynist and many other awful things. One cannot say that Mayer’s tenure has been a great success… for Yahoo! at least… but one must credit her for a good decision.

When she took over the company, the offices were a wasteland, empty and unused. Even if she could not turn the company around, she did make a good decision when she banned telecommuting. Now, if only companies could ban texting between people who are sitting next to each other.

The Atlantic explains the McKinsey study:

According to a study from McKinsey, workplace incivility was already on the rise. Researchers suspect the increasing rudeness at the office could result from a variety of factors: from the rise of remote work, to tension over changing workplace hierarchies, or the lack of face-to-face interaction in the age of email and Slack. For businesses, there are costs associated with less collegial workplaces including increased stress, employee turnover, and eroding the trust required for collaborative work. Duggan says that managers should help their employees focus on work, and that while support groups or other interventions sound good, it might be a further distraction. “The problem with that is you do a debrief about the election, then you have to do a debrief at the inauguration, then you have to do a debrief about the first week, the second week, and it doesn't stop.”

Funnily enough, offices have already discovered that they gain no advantage by having debriefing sessions—which resemble group therapy—about political matters. Why should that be so? Simply put, people see debriefing sessions as occasions to vent, to express their feelings, to let fly, not to hold back. Where do you think they got the idea that meetings were the place to do some group therapy, not to address a problem or to brainstorm a solution?

Today’s modern management consultants have contributed to this problem. They have produced a doctrine that is called “bringing your ‘whole self’ to work.” Think about it:  companies pay consultants large sums to offer up recycled and repackaged psychobabble. I defy anyone to tell me what a “whole self” is? You can make like philosopher David Hume and rummage around in your mind searching for your whole self. If you do you will like Hume discover that there is no such thing. And besides, what does it mean to bring half a self to the office.

The idea of not bringing politics to work is not just old school, it also clashes with another increasingly popular doctrine of modern work—the idea of bringing your “whole self” to the workplace. Even HR professionals admit that making the office a politics-free zone would be pretty hard at this point.

Didn’t the management gurus figure out that you come to work in order to… work. There, that wasn’t very hard. And that many aspects of your whole self that you do well to leave out of the workplace. Your political opinions are high on the list. Your emotional problems with your spouse or your significant other are also on the list. Your feelings about your dog or about the neighborhood beggars should also be kept out of the workplace. And you do well to keep your lubricious longings to yourself when you are on the job.

The business of business is business. Your job is not an extension of your experience with therapy. You are not looking to flourish and you are not looking for deep meanings. You are there to do a job. Not because it's your heart's desire but because  you have contracted to do so-- and you want to be good to your word.

True enough, you cannot completely banish politics from the office. After all, politics impacts business. And yet, which genius imagined that the options ranged between making the office a “politics-free zone” and discussing politics with everyone all the time.

Perhaps the problem is not so much the politics, which is, after all a function of the real world, but the emotion that people attach to it. And perhaps the problem is that there is not enough accurate information, not enough facts… but too much  feeling, too much distortion and a news media that believes its job to be to cherry-pick the facts that are most likely to fire up everyone’s passions… regardless of the consequences.

It’s not so much the politics. It’s that people do not know what to do with the information. Their minds have been deformed by the school system and the media… so all they know how to do is to emote. They do not process information; they look for hidden meanings and conspiracies. They do not want to see how the game is being played. They do not care to examine all sides of the question.

They do what they were taught to do. They look for the narrative thread and the conspiracy that is afoot. Worse yet, they do not want to know what is going on. They want to know how they feel.

If it’s all politics and if you should devote all your time and energy to the war against Trump, one thing is certain, your workplace performance will suffer.

Now, tell me why is the stock market so optimistic about the future of American business?