Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Saving Dr. Freud

A strange choice, I must say. Over the years Frederick Crews wrote many of his blistering critiques of Freud for the New York Review of Books. Now that Crews has produced a magisterial biography of Freud, the NYRB has chosen, as a reviewer, Lisa Appignanesi, Chair of the Trustees of the Freud Museum. Obviously, they were not looking for an impartial or objective or fair-minded reviewer. They did not find one. Whatever the faults of the Crews biography, he deserved better from the NYRB.

As for qualifications, Appignanesi is a writer, a teacher of literature and the widow of one John Forrester, a Cambridge professor who wrote extensively about psychoanalysis, particularly about Jacques Lacan. One imagines that she knows something about psychoanalysis, but she is hardly an expert in clinical matters. She has undertaken to rescue Freud's reputation and his ideas from well-deserved oblivion. Given her ideological blinders she does not know that Freud is beyond saving.

So, she debunks Crews by saying first that Crews is fighting a straw Freud. She declares that no one really cares much about Freud himself or his practice or his patients. It’s all in the ideas. We can dispense with the rest. If Freud were a scientist—Appignanesi still thinks he is—this might be pertinent. But Freud was a culture warrior, dedicating himself to subverting Western civilization, especially the kind associated with Protestantism.

She seems to understand that Freud was a world class storyteller, one who would appeal to a novelist like Appignanesi, but that his theories are nothing more than that:

The idealization of Freud the man that Crews is so keen to prove a blinding illusion is hardly prevalent. Most scholars, commentators, and even analysts don’t need it to make use of Freud’s insights into the opacity and unpredictability of the human mind, or the ways in which love and hate coexist, or how our childhoods echo through us, sometimes trapping us, or how our identifications with early figures in our lives shape the complicated humans we become.

Having a special fondness for empty arguments from authority she declares that Freud must have been a scientist because he was welcomed by the Royal Society of British scientists. She adds that Pope Pius XII himself declared Freud to be a scientist and that Pope Francis had been in psychoanalysis. Thus, she considers the case closed:

Perhaps Pope Pius XII hadn’t noticed this when in 1953 he formally approved “the use of psychoanalysis as a healing device,” indicating that “science affirms that recent observations have brought to light the hidden layers of the psychic structure of man.”1 Pope Francis himself recently revealed that he had had psychoanalysis at the age of forty-two. He called his analyst a courageous woman.

Since Appignanesi ignores the fact that Freud’s claim to be a scientist was definitively debunked by Karl Popper, who remarked that since Freud would not admit to their being any evidence that could falsify his theory he was not doing science. Add to that Nobel prize winning biologist Peter Medawar’s point-- published in the NYRB, I believe-- that Freud knew nothing about biology and was perpetrating a massive confidence trick, and you shrug your shoulders over the claims of a cult follower like Appignenesi.

And yet, she adds that psychoanalysis is more like religious movement, even a cult. In truth, I have written about this extensively myself, but I only note here that the same simple-minded thinking that declared Freud to be a scientist on the say-so of two popes does not recognize that you cannot be a scientist and a cult leader at the same time.

In her words:

Crews doesn’t explore—as Ernest Gellner did in The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985)—how the growth of psychoanalysis may be understood as akin to the development of a religious movement, or how its claims, while pretending to be scientific, are actually those of a belief system in disguise.

She is correct however to point out that, when Freud began his work, treatment for mental illness was not very good.

Crews has a good grasp of the general culture of neurological and psychiatric medicine at the turn of the last century, but in his zealous attempt to indict Freud, he fails to give it proper historical weight. There were no cures for psychiatric illnesses, including hysteria, with its wide range of often severe symptoms. Treatments were harsh, penitential, and sometimes terminal.

At the time, these were not considered to be psychiatric illnesses. They were not considered to be neuroses. They were considered neurological disorders. Some, especially the outbreak of hysteria, was produced by social contagion.

Much of the rest was considered the work of witches and devils, and was treated by priests. Freud understood this and wrote about it in the case of Christoph Hatzmann.

She continues:

But hypnotism was one of the time’s scientific experimental methods, and in Charcot’s case a diagnostic tool. Crews chooses not to mention that what Freud learned from Charcot was “la chose genitale”—the sexuality that was everywhere in the hospital and in the stories the hysterics told about themselves and to which Freud, unlike Charcot, listened.

Of course, I myself gave weight to these facts in my last book about Freud. The author ignores it.

Appagnanesi gives Freud credit for trying to cure the mental ill, many of whom were people suffering from neurological disorders. Psychoanalysis has often overreached, in its effort to treat people who suffered from brain diseases or neurological or metabolic disorders.

She does not fault Freud for not curing his patients, but she should have mentioned that in his early case studies Freud claimed to have cured them. Thus, a so-called man of science presented fraudulent representations of the effectiveness of his method.

Freud at least attempted to do so. At the time, mental hospitals and private clinics used whatever drugs they could find, from chloral to potassium bromide, to calm their patients. The anguished behavior of the ill—often verbally, sexually, and physically agitated—is well known. It’s hardly surprising that Josef Breuer used sedatives on Bertha Pappenheim, known as Anna O., the first patient in the Studies on Hysteria, or that Freud at first tried that and whatever other techniques were available to him. Managing such patients was the best that could be done. Failure was the norm.

Freud did contribute the notion that remembering past traumas would release patients from their hold. Crews wrote about the way this notion informed the abuses of the recovered-memory movement in the New York Review of Books. Appignanesi ignores all of it.

She sees Freud as a nice man performing a harmless procedure. If it did not work, nothing else did either:

Yet Freud left drugs and hypnotism behind for his new, far gentler talking and listening therapy. Most hospitals and asylums, even clinics, did not. In the course of the more “scientific” twentieth century came miracle cures, often deadly on application, such as insulin, tooth-pulling, lobotomy, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Modern ECT entails a more powerful application of electricity than the nineteenth-century electrotherapies the young Freud used, and for which Crews mocks him.

And she adds that Freud’s patients did not commit suicide. Psychiatrists have long known that if you do not want your patients to commit suicide the best approach is not to treat suicidal patients. Yet, she ignores the case of Victor Tausk—a sometime patient of Freud’s—and, in France the case of Lucien Sebag. She also has nothing to say about the psychiatric clinics that were run according to psychoanalytic principles. Before the advent of modern medications, those clinics produced some very ugly results—for pretending that they could treat schizophrenia and severe depression with talk:

Whatever Freud’s highhanded and patriarchal misreadings of this troubled adolescent girl, Dora didn’t commit suicide, as her parents were worried she might; nor did Freud’s other patients. That may not be a miraculous result, but neither is it a total failure, as anyone working in today’s challenging mental health environment would surely agree. Freud, unlike many in his time, at least acknowledged that women’s voices were worth listening to—that women were sexual beings with desires.

Trust me, Freud did not discover that women were sexual beings with desire. The notion is risible on its face. And he did not, as he claimed, discover that children were not innocent. The major theologians in Christendom were on the case centuries before him.

Appignanesi draws a stark parallel between the benign psychoanalysts on the one side and the terrible drug companies on the other. She fails to notice that if psychoanalysis had been an effective treatment people would not have been flocking to these medications:

The recent exposure of the extent to which negative evidence in clinical trials of much-hyped psychoactive drugs was massaged away with the help of doctors on pharmaceutical company payrolls, the way clinical results highlighted only what would prove profitable, the masking of side effects, suicide among them—all this has made the purported misdeeds of psychoanalysts look benign.3 The talking therapies may produce no instant miracles; neither do they do comparable harm. Insurers may want to think again about costs over a patient’s lifetime. Then, too, hand in hand with the development of these new, highly touted “scientific” psychoactive drugs, the number of sufferers from mental disorders has grown enormously.

One might say a word about correlation and causation. The use of psychoactive drugs does not necessarily cause mental illness. One suspects that the increased cases of mental illness derive from psychosocial factors, from  an increasingly fragmented society where children are not taught to fit in and to get along with other children, but to seek individual autonomy, independence and self-actualization.

For all we know the therapy culture, brought into the latter half of the twentieth century by one Benjamin Spock is a major culprit in producing social anomie. Or else, we might say that the tyranny of science, the sense that science can answer all questions has produced an ethical morass where people have no reliable principles or precepts to guide their lives.

Of course, one needs to distinguish between SSRIs and the other psychiatric medications. When it comes to psychosis or severe depression or phobias or bipolar illness… these medications have been a godsend for many patients. Those psychoanalysts who advise patients not to take their medications ought to bear some responsibility for the negative outcomes, including suicides, that befall those who refuse treatment. Of course, the anti-psychiatry movement of R. D. Laing did its best to persuade patients not to take their drugs. It certainly caused damage. It was not benign.

And let’s not forget the efforts of French psychoanalysts to ensure that autistic children in France not receive the best available treatment, that being cognitive and behavioral. Let’s not forget the social service agencies that remove autistic children from their homes in France because Freudian analysts have persuaded them that these children became autistic because their mothers were frigid or otherwise toxic. Put that on the account of Freudian theory. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Never-Ending Guilt Trip

Often have I written about shame and guilt. While shame is more difficult to conceptualize, guilt, by comparison is rather easy. Or at least I thought it was until I read Devorah Baum's confusing piece about it in the Guardian.

In the interest of clarity, I will lay down a few predicates. You feel guilt when you have broken a law, transgressed a taboo, violated a prohibition and are awaiting punishment. Guilt is a form of anxiety. It is a feeling of anticipating punishment. It is felt by criminals, especially by those who have a conscience. 

Those who wish to rid themselves of their guilt must submit to punishment. They might do penance; they might be incarcerated; they might even be mutilated. Once you pay off the debt acquired by committing a crime, you will no longer feel guilty. You will then be able to go out and sin again.

As rackets go, the guilt/punishment dyad counts among psychology’s greatest. It allows you the maximum of bad behavior while exacting a relatively small price. Obviously, if your guilt involves having committed a major crime, you will be paying a serious price. But career criminals know the price and still commit the crimes—they are willing to do the time. It’s part of the cost of doing business. Or better, it’s part of the risk/reward equation.

In recent Western intellectual history, serious thinkers want us to feel guilty. Freud counts among those who understood guilt best. We are all guilty, he posited, because we all want to murder our fathers and copulate with our mothers. Regardless of whether he have done it, we are guilty for having wanted to do it. Freud was like the detective who is investigating a crime and who discovers that his favorite suspect has an alibi. Said suspect could not have done it. And yet, the Freudian detective says that it does not matter. He is guilty for having wanted to do it.

Those who are more politically involved, and who want to indoctrinate us expand the narrative. They want us to feel guilt because, if we have it so good, if we have such good lives, we did not earn it by the sweat of our brows. By the laws of the Marxist dialectic, we stole it from others, from the less fortunate, from the oppressed, from the exploited. We have no right to enjoy the fruits of our labor because we are guilty of have done so at someone else’s expense. The only way we can assuage our guilt is to offer reparations to those who we have exploited. 

It might be the sort that Ta-Nehisi Coates believes all white people owe to all black people, or the kinds of income redistribution that the Democratic Party seems increasingly to favor, or the wealth transfer written into the Paris Climate Accord. By this reasoning the state of Israel is not a great testimony to hard work and resilience. It is an organized criminal conspiracy designed to oppress Palestinian peoples. Israeli guilt can only be reduced by giving Israel back to the Palestinians.

Baum quotes Frankfurt School guru Theodor Adorno to the effect that we should all feel guilt for the Holocaust. Of course, this is nonsense. It shows that the Marxist thinkers of the Frankfurt School wanted the Western world, the world that destroyed Nazi Germany, to self-destruct.

Baum explains Adorno’s thinking:

In other words, guilt is our unassailable historical condition. It’s our contract as modern people. As such, says Adorno, we all have a shared responsibility after Auschwitz to be vigilant, lest we collapse once more into the ways of thinking, believing and behaving that brought down this guilty verdict upon us. To make sense after Auschwitz is to risk complicity with its barbarism.

By this logic, the greatest danger lies in the return of a fascist dictator. These great thinkers, who did not see the monstrosities that Communism would afflict on the planet are running around, like the boy who cried wolf, yelling: The Fascists are coming! The Fascists are coming!

You see the reasoning. You see the logic. You see that those who are militating against white supremacy want to receive rewards that they did not earn and want to punish others for their success.

If you buy the leftist narrative, guilt mongering, the recourse of the modern political left, makes good sense. Baum explains that you should feel guilty even if you have not done anything criminal:

For a psychoanalyst, however, feelings of guilt don’t necessarily have any connection to being guilty in the eyes of the law. Our feelings of guilt may be a confession, but they usually precede the accusation of any crime – the details of which not even the guilty person can be sure.

Of course, she wants to make life one long guilt trip. One would expect nothing less from the daughter-in-law of famed Freud apologist, Lisa Appignanesi. If you take the concept of guilt and attempt to apply it everywhere, to send yourself off on your own private guilt trip—which is called psychoanalysis—you will confuse the issue. In a delightful piece of prose Baum shows us how to do it:

I feel guilty about everything. Already today I’ve felt guilty about having said the wrong thing to a friend. Then I felt guilty about avoiding that friend because of the wrong thing I’d said. Plus, I haven’t called my mother yet today: guilty. And I really should have organised something special for my husband’s birthday: guilty. I gave the wrong kind of food to my child: guilty. I’ve been cutting corners at work lately: guilty. I skipped breakfast: guilty. I snacked instead: double guilty. I’m taking up all this space in a world with not enough space in it: guilty, guilty, guilty.

If you are feeling that guilty, you will be spending most of your life whipping yourself like a penitent. Obviously, this will render you incapable of doing anything consequential. If you believe that your positive actions, your hard work and achievements are really ways of exploiting the oppressed, why would you do anything?

Guilt is a feeling that you want your competitors to wallow in. A guilt ridden competitor is weak and futile. All this guilt mongering puts us in the world of psy ops. Considering that it is coming down to us from the radical left, it merely shows that capitalism is, by its nature, so much more effective and efficient than socialism that the only hope socialists have is to render capitalists so guilt-ridden that they destroy their economy on the altar of multicultural political correctness.

Whereas Freud wanted us to understand that we all felt guilt for holding wishes to commit horrific crimes, leftists tell us that we are all participating in a vast conspiracy to oppress the downtrodden and the underprivileged. Being members of a successful society we are all complicit.

Since Baum calls guilt the most unbearable emotion, you can safely conclude that shame is the most unbearable emotion. Guilt sets you to finding the right punishment. Shame sets you to changing your ways. Many of the misdeeds that Baum believes to be a function of guilt are really about shame and embarrassment.

Baum notes that liberal guilt does not really produce very much change. Perhaps she believes that only the Revolution can do that. After all, old illusions die hard in some quarters. But, liberal guilt cannot produce any change because it tells those who are less successful that they should not emulate habits that produced success but that they should militate to receive reparations, the fruits of wealth redistribution.

One does understand that the concept of guilt comes to us from the Garden of Eden, from the Fall. And yet, lest we be as confused as certain people, we will note, again, that Adam and Eve were punished, first, for doing something that they were told not to do, thus for transgressing a taboo, but also, for failing to remain humble and not to pretend to be like God. Thus, theirs was a dual sanction: they were condemned to hard labor and death, but they also knew that they were naked. They learned both shame and guilt. They paid for their crime, but, in the meantime, they were free to be responsible for their actions as social being.

Anyway, Baum offers a fairly standard and wrong distinction between guilt and shame. After all, promoting a guilt culture will not allow her to sustain a shame culture, one where people work hard to achieve and where they recognize their errors and try to improve them:

The victim who feels guilt evidently has an inner life, with intentions and desires – while the victim who feels shame seems to have had it bestowed from outside. The victims of trauma consequently appear to be the objects rather than the subjects of history.

Shame, then, tells us something about what one is, not what one does – or would like to do. And so the effect of this well-intentioned shift in emphasis may have been to rob the survivor of agency.

Baum is correct to see that those who are guilt-ridden are lost in their inner life. As long as they conduct their lives by the terms of a guilt culture they will remain so. People who feel shame are not victims. They made mistakes. The cult to victimization belongs to the guilt narrative. Baum should not confuse the issue.

One might argue that shame involves what one is, but a shame culture promotes honor, dignity and pride… and you only acquire those through your actions, not your feelings. True enough, shame seems to be bestowed from the outside, in the sense that it involves how you look to others, your reputation. Yet, people who observe us from the outside do not know about our inner emotional states. They know us by our deeds.

Dare I say that these accepted modern definitions of shame and guilt are a muddle. At the least, shame gets us to go out and correct a bad impression by creating a good impression. The only way to do so is to do the right thing.

Yet, Baum, apparently a member of the Ask Polly school of therapy tells her readers to feel their feelings… thus to retire from the world and to wallow in emotion… like a good Freudian:

But if guilt is the feeling that typically blocks all other (buried, repressed, unconscious) feelings, that is not in itself a reason to block feelings of guilt. Feelings, after all, are what you must be prepared to feel if they are to move you, or if you are to feel something else.

More Exercise; Better Brain Functioning

I’m sure you already knew this, but aerobic exercise and physical condition does wonders for your brain. It forestalls the onset of dementia and makes you smarter. You don't have a problem with that, do you?

True enough, Gretchen Reynolds explains (via Maggie’s Farm), the tests proving this point were performed on mice running on treadmills. And yet, the quantity of exercise, compared to that of a more sedentary control group, made significant changes in brain structures… changes for the better, that is.

Here is a teaser from her article:

Because we can never have enough reasons to keep exercising, a new study with mice finds that physical activity not only increases the number of new neurons in the brain, it also subtly changes the shape and workings of these cells in ways that might have implications for memory and even delaying the onset of dementia.

As most of us have heard, our brains are not composed of static, unchanging tissue. Instead, in most animals, including people, the brain is a dynamic, active organ in which new neurons and neural connections are created throughout life, especially in areas of the brain related to memory and thinking.

This process of creating new neurons, called neurogenesis, can be altered by lifestyle, including physical activity. Many past studies have shown that in laboratory rodents, exercise doubles or even triples the number of new cells produced in adult animals’ brains compared to the brains of animals that are sedentary.

It’s well worth a read.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Feminism and Rape Culture

I have pointed this out on numerous occasions, but Paulina Neuding tells the story in greater detail. The story is a seeming paradox. It is even more seeming at a time when American feminists are saying that more feminism will give us fewer Harvey Weinsteins. It’s a hypothesis like another. Beyond the fact that HW strongly supported feminism and feminist leaders, the hypothesis is worthy of consideration… sort of.

Neuding opens her essay by noting that Sweden is one of the most feministically correct countries in the world. What American feminists dream of, Swedish feminists have achieved:

Sweden prides itself on being a beacon of feminism. It has the most generous parental leave in the developed world, providing for 18 months off work, 15 of which can be used by fathers as paternity leave. A quarter of the paid parental leave is indeed used by men, and this is too little according to the Swedish government, which has made it a political priority to get fathers to stay at home longer with their children.
  
Sweden has never ranked lower than four in The Global Gender Gap Report, which has measured equality in economics, politics, education, and health for the World Economic Forum since 2006. Of all members of Parliament, 44 percent are women, compared to 19 percent of the United States Congress. Nearly two-thirds of all university degrees are awarded to women. Its government boasts that it is the “first feminist government” in the world, averring that gender equality is central to its priorities in decision-making and resource allocation.

But while Swedish women rank among the most equal in the world, they increasingly fear for their physical safety on the streets. Reported sex crimes increased by 61 percent between 2007 and 2016. Meanwhile a rise in gang violence among men–the number of victims injured by gunshots increased by 50 percent between 2004 and 2016–indirectly affects the safety of women. Police admit that rape cases are piling up without being investigated because resources are being drained by gang violence and shootings.

And yet, paradoxically these liberated strong empowered women are increasingly subjected to sexual violence. Women are liberated but they are afraid to go outside by themselves. Dare we mention that in cultures where women are not allowed out on their own, a woman out on her own is presumed to be of loose morals.

Neuding continues:

In June, a 12-year-old girl in the small town of Stenungsund reported that she had been dragged into a public restroom and raped by an older boy. Six weeks later the girl had still not been questioned by the police. Even though she believed she had identified the perpetrator, the police had yet to pay him a visit.

“We have so many similar cases,” a spokeswoman of the local police told the Swedish public television channel SVT on September 12, “and there are so few of us, that we simply don’t have the time.” She continued: “We have rape victims three years old,” and even their cases await investigation. Torgny Söderberg, head of the investigation section at the Stockholm police, confirmed the problem on SVT, acknowledging that homicides and attempted homicides draw resources away from rape investigations. “It’s hard to explain why rape cases are piling up awaiting investigation, but the other crimes are even more serious. We are forced to choose between two evils.”

Good statistics are hard to come by, and the Swedish government has done yeoman work keeping the story under wraps, but still it’s happening:

In August of 2016, a woman reported that she had been victim of a gang rape involving ten men in Fittja outside Stockholm. Several suspects were identified early on through forensic evidence and yet it took almost a year until any arrests were made. “I work with rape cases daily, and this is one of the worst rape cases I’ve ever seen,” the victim’s lawyer, Elisabeth Massi-Fritz, told me. “My client has been subject to immense, psychological trauma that will remain with her for the rest of her life. It was nothing short of torture.” And yet, the suspects walked the streets for months before the police found the time to make arrests.

“Unfortunately, the police were too busy and lacked the resources to work the case thoroughly until this spring. Then a number of people were arrested in June,” explained the prosecutor, Markus Hankkio. Ten suspects have now been identified, and the trial will likely begin in October. Over a year after the suspected gang rape, police are now admitting that the same men may have committed more rapes while the police were too busy to investigate this crime, and they are urging other victims to come forward.

There are, however, reasons to think that there may indeed be a real increase in sex crime. While precise numbers are hard to come by, surveys of victims indicate that the share of women in Sweden stating that they have been victims of sex crime has grown rapidly. Self-reported sex crimes doubled between 2012 and 2015, from 1.4 to 3 percent of the female population. The number of women reporting that they feel unsafe in their own neighborhood has increased to almost one in three—an “alarming” development according to The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), a government agency.

Of course, you know who is responsible for these sex crimes. Immigrants from largely Muslim countries, the immigrants who were welcomed into Sweden with open arms. Naturally, Neuding says that these cultures are patriarchal—in my view they are pretending to be patriarchal. When it comes to competing in the worlds of business, industry and military conflict, they are weak and ineffectual. Which is one reason why they take out their aggression on women.

Neuding writes:

Previous studies (by now more than a decade old) have shown a large overrepresentation of immigrants, particularly from patriarchal societies in the Middle East and North Africa, among the suspects of sex crimes in Sweden. Overrepresentation of immigrants has been even higher when it comes to group rapes, especially with three or more assailants. According to an official study from 1996, immigrant males were 4.5 times as likely as Swedes to commit rape. Immigrants from Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia were particularly overrepresented, being more than 20 times as likely to commit the same crime. In total, 53 percent of rape suspects were either first or second generation immigrants.

similar study, conducted in 2005, showed an even higher overrepresentation of immigrants among sex crime suspects, by then up to 5.1 times as likely as Swedes to commit rape (see pages 70-77 for a summary in English). In the 2005 study, Brå explained the growing over-representation with reference to demographics and immigration: “[T]he number of people in Sweden belonging to the group of refugees, which have in earlier studies been shown to have an especially high propensity to commit crime, has increased.” It is a plausible hypothesis that the same mechanism is at work now.

Let’s see. Swedish women are liberated and empowered. They are independent and autonomous. They do not need men for much of anything because they can defend themselves. Swedish men have gotten the message and have learned to function like modern-day castrati. They sing the songs of political correctness in an abnormally high pitch and allow Swedish women to go unprotected against the sexual predators that they have all—men and women alike-- welcomed into their country.

At least, you  are not going to condemn them for Islamophobia.

Was Telecommuting Oversold?

When Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting at Yahoo! the outcry was swift and harsh. How could she have failed to see that people who work at home, on their own schedules, are more productive than those who work in an office? And how could she have missed the fact that women with small children can find a better work/life balance when they are working at home?

Other, more contrary souls, remarked that what mattered was the bottom line, not worker convenience.

Anyway, Mayer persisted with her new policy. It did not save Yahoo! but it brought the issue to the forefront. Now, IBM has just followed her lead and has called its workers back to their offices. In his Atlantic article Jerry Useem also notes that Google and Facebook, to choose two companies at random, never bought the telecommuting hype anyway.

Useem explains:

Then, in March of this year, came a startling announcement: IBM wanted thousands of its workers back in actual, physical offices again.

The reaction was generally unsparing. The announcement was depicted, variously, as the desperate move of a company whose revenues had fallen 20 quarters in a row; a veiled method of shedding workers; or an attempt to imitate companies, like Apple and Google, that never embraced remote work in the first place. “If what they’re looking to do is reduce productivity, lose talent, and increase cost, maybe they’re on to something,” says Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, which measures (and champions) working from home.

IBM might have seen this coming. A similarly censorious reaction greeted Yahoo when it reversed its work-from-home policy in 2013. Aetna and Best Buy have taken heat for like-minded moves since. That IBM called back its employees anyway is telling, especially given its history as “a business whose business was how other businesses do business.” Perhaps Big Blue’s decision will prove to be a mere stumble in the long, inevitable march toward remote work for all. But there’s reason to regard the move as a signal, however faint, that telecommuting has reached its high-water mark—and that more is lost in working apart than was first apparent.

A significant number of American workers now work at home.  Is American business sabotaging its own productivity by pursuing a fad? Useem continued:

How could this be? According to Gallup, 43 percent of U.S. employees work remotely all or some of the time. As I look to my left, and then to my right, I see two other business-casual-clad men hammering away on their laptops beside me at a Starbucks just outside Chicago. They look productive. Studies back this impression up. Letting Chinese call-center employees work from home boosted their productivity by 13 percent, a Stanford study reported. And, again according to Gallup, remote workers log significantly longer hours than their office-bound counterparts.

Here we arrive at a cautionary tale, one that allows us to question the value of all the studies that purport to prove whatever they wanted to prove. In this case, it is not at all obvious that telecommuting enhances worker productivity. This raises the question of what you do when different studies, presumably of the same issue, produce different results:

Another batch of studies, however, shows the exact opposite: that proximity boosts productivity. (Don’t send call-center workers home, one such study argues—encourage them to spend more time together in the break room, where they can swap tricks of the trade.) Trying to determine which set of studies to trust is—trust me—a futile exercise. The data tend to talk past each other. But the research starts to make a little more sense if you ask what type of productivity we are talking about.

Apparently, there are two ways to measure productivity. The first is more personal and refers to jobs where personal interaction is more important:

If it’s personal productivity—how many sales you close or customer complaints you handle—then the research, on balance, suggests that it’s probably better to let people work where and when they want. For jobs that mainly require interactions with clients (consultant, insurance salesman) or don’t require much interaction at all (columnist), the office has little to offer besides interruption.

When it comes to teamwork, to groups of people collaborating, being in the office seems clearly to be preferable:

But other types of work hinge on what might be called “collaborative efficiency”—the speed at which a group successfully solves a problem. And distance seems to drag collaborative efficiency down. Why? The short answer is that collaboration requires communication. And the communications technology offering the fastest, cheapest, and highest-bandwidth connection is—for the moment, anyway—still the office.

We like to think that email and text messaging are efficient ways to communicate. It turns out that they are far less efficient than the language of gestures that takes place when people are in close proximity. Useem examines what happens when two pilots are sharing a cockpit:

Match the audio with a video of the cockpit exchange and it’s clear that the pilots don’t need to say much to reach a shared understanding of the problem. That it’s a critical situation is underscored by body language: The flight engineer turns his body to face the others. That the fuel is very low is conveyed by jabbing his index finger at the fuel gauge. And a narrative of the steps he has already taken—no, the needle on the gauge isn’t stuck, and yes, he has already diverted fuel from engine one, to no avail—is enacted through a quick series of gestures at the instrument panel and punctuated by a few short utterances.

It is a model of collaborative efficiency, taking just 24 seconds. In the email world, the same exchange could easily involve several dozen messages—which, given the rapidly emptying fuel tank, is not ideal.

Useem says that it all comes down to the power of presence. One will happily ignore the serious philosophers who have been trying to downplay the power of presence, or the importance of communicating directly using voice and gestural cues. It is more efficient, more effective than writing. Surely, when it comes to dealing with children, the research has shown that  physical presence, the presence of a mother’s voice, is monumentally important.

Useem concludes:

The power of presence has no simple explanation. It might be a manifestation of the “mere-exposure effect”: We tend to gravitate toward what’s familiar; we like people whose faces we see, even just in passing. Or maybe it’s the specific geometry of such encounters. The cost of getting someone’s attention at the coffee machine is low—you know they’re available, because they’re getting coffee—and if, mid-conversation, you see that the other person has no idea what you’re talking about, you automatically adjust.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Case of the Shitty Boyfriend

As always, I am grateful to New York Magazine for showing us what therapists really think. The magazine saves me from having to describe how they think. Coming from me, it will sound like I am creating a straw man, or should it be straw person, an absurd caricature thrown up to discredit hard working credentialed licensed therapists.

The good news is that even supposedly good therapists like Lori Gottlieb happily caricature themselves. In my wildest anti-therapy dreams I could not make this stuff up.

Anyway, today’s letter comes from a man who calls himself A Shitty Boyfriend. He describes himself as a compulsive cheater:

I’m a 27-year-old guy who has been in a mostly happy and loving relationship for the last three years. I say mostly because there is one problem that always threatens to ruin everything. I have had multiple incidents where I deceived my girlfriend by flirting and secretly communicating with other women, and have had two incidents where I actually kissed other women. I’m ashamed of it, but it’s been a pattern in all of my relationships.

Both times my girlfriend found out, and it created incredible upheaval for us. She’s always devastated and immediately wants to break up and wants nothing to do with me, which I understand. I have been lucky in that I have convinced her to stay, telling her how badly I want to change (I do) and what I will do to make this work. I think it’s also helped that the physical stuff has not gone very far, but she says it’s the lying and deceit that hurt her more.

I decided to start therapy after the last incident. I’ve been at it for a couple months and though there’s been some progress, I don’t feel like I really have the tools to be 100 percent confident it will never happen again. I don’t think it will. But I thought that after the first time. I’m not even sure I know why it happens. My therapist thinks it’s tied to my childhood, and she’s probably right.

I have a pretty difficult relationship with both my parents, but especially my father, who for my entire life has had a romantic relationship with another woman besides my mom. Though my parents remain married, my dad spends much of his time with this woman, even going on vacations with her. We rarely talk about it in the family, though everyone knows. The only time it comes up is when my mom is trying to get me to break into my dad’s phone so she can read his texts or is telling me it’s all because he “needs sex” or is crying about how deeply unhappy she is and that I need to move away from my girlfriend to be by her because she’s lonely….

I know all of this probably makes me sound like a huge jerk, but I promise you I love my girlfriend more than anything. I can’t imagine finding someone better for me. I want to marry her someday. But I know if I do this again, it will be the last straw. Our relationship is already suffering so much because she doesn’t trust me.

Please, how can I prevent this? I’m still in therapy. I’ve given up drinking (which is usually a component in my cheating). I’ve been working on telling my girlfriend absolutely everything and being completely honest with her. What else can I do? What is wrong with me? Will I be this way forever?
  
A Shitty Boyfriend

Allow me a couple of less-than-glib observations. In the world of cheating boyfriends this man is very minor league indeed. A stolen drunken kiss in a bar does not quite register on the Harveymeter. But then, just like Harvey ASB wants to solve his problem with therapy. Remember that HW announced to the world that he was a sick boy and needed therapy and rehab. If you think that Harvey’s problem is going to be solved by therapy, you are living in a dream world.

The second problem is this man’s lust for drama. Whatever possessed him to tell his girlfriend that he had kissed another girl? Does he not understand the value of discretion? Being open and honest about all things is extremely bad advice. I referenced a fine article by George Friedman a few days ago, where he makes exactly this point. No good relationship can survive complete openness and honesty. Anyway, the cheating is one thing; abusing his girlfriend by telling her is quite another.

No therapist will make the distinction, so I feel obliged to emphasize the point.

As for Lori Gottlieb’s response, it revolves around what therapists call the transference, a theory that says that people relive and reenact past traumas in their relationships with their therapists. This allows therapists to pretend to be blank screens, and to have precious little going on between their ears.

Anyway, Gottlieb seems to be especially proud of herself for offering the vapid observation that this man is cheating on his therapist by writing to her. Perhaps that’s her wish? Who knows? Who cares? Is he cheating on his mother by having a girlfriend? Is he cheating on his girlfriend by consulting with a therapist in the first place? Why did he choose a female therapist, if not because he seems to have difficulty dealing with men? This all means that his therapist is not doing a very good job and that he would have done better to consult with a male therapist. 

Anyway, here’s Gottlieb, pretending to be brilliant:

If you and your therapist were already exploring all of the questions you asked in your letter, what, I wondered, were you asking of me? Whether you’re doomed by your past? Whether you’ll ever change? How to ensure that you won’t cheat again?...

I could, of course, point out that you aren’t destined to be like your father, because your father didn’t go to therapy like you’re now doing to try to understand your behavior and its impact on your girlfriend. I could help you to see that unlike your father, you’re open to talking about the infidelity and are making concrete changes, like drinking less. I could help you to unpack the terrible dilemma you face in being torn between protecting your mother from heartache and protecting your girlfriend from heartache — and allow you to see how the rage and resentment you likely feel at being obliged to make your mom feel safe might get played out in making your girlfriend feel unsafe by not being faithful to her. I could help you to recognize that in doing so, you protect only yourself, because it’s safer for you to betray your girlfriend than it is to betray your mother. I could tell you that you don’t sound at all “like a huge jerk” and that I believe you when you say you love your girlfriend deeply. And I could point out that chasing guarantees will get you nowhere: nobody, even someone who has never cheated, can be “100 percent confident” that he or she won’t one day stray….

But I was sure that your therapist had already told you some version of all this, and that’s when I realized that I couldn’t edit down your letter because the entire letter is, in effect, another betrayal — only this time, you’re cheating on your therapist. You see, Boyfriend, by writing to me, another therapist, you’re doing what you do with your girlfriends when you start to get close to them — you run away to someone else.

Gottlieb does not recognize that life is not a romantic psychodrama. So she goes on and tries to send him back to his first therapist. Apparently, she believes that all therapists are the same and that they all say the same thing:

Don’t cheat on your therapist, Boyfriend. Talk to her about your discomfort, about how you’re struggling to trust her, about how intellectually what she says makes sense but emotionally you’re conflicted and all stirred up inside. Tell her about your lifelong anger and pain and disappointment and the deep, deep sadness underlying it all. Tell her that the only way you know how to deal with this stew of excruciating feelings is to run away and make any reliable person who comes close to you furious with you, as furious as you are every minute of every day with your parents and yourself and your therapist who can’t provide a guarantee and the girlfriends who love you when you don’t believe you’re worthy of it. Tell her that when you’re not enraging the people who care about you, you turn that rage inward, because though it feels bad, it also feels good, like relief, like a way to atone for your so-called sins, the only real sin being that you’re so unfairly cruel to yourself.

Like your other mistresses, I may seem all shiny and new, all full of promise and insight and a brilliance that your therapist doesn’t possess, but I ain’t all that. The women you stray with aren’t all that either. Don’t waste your time on us. We — the people you run to — can’t give you what you want. It’s the people you’re running from who can.

So, she fails to distinguish between herself and his other mistresses. One notes that when you kiss a girl in a drunken stupor in a bar, she does not automatically become your mistress. Could it be that Gottlieb is trying out for the role? Is it her very own wish fulfillment?

Or better, look at it from a different angle. Perhaps he is unhappy with his therapy. Perhaps his therapist is not really helping him. If you consult with your physician and he offers a diagnosis or a treatment that you question, you might reasonably decide to get a second opinion? Are you therefore cheating on your doctor? Of course, not. No one thinks that way… except in the theatre of the romantic absurd constructed by therapy.

$30,000 and an Apple Computer

Writing in the New York Times Candace Bushnell goes where no one else has dared to go. The author of Sex and the City asks questions no one else has dared to ask about Harvey Weinstein. The rest of us are blinded by outrage, so we have missed points that a clearer, less emotional head now asks.

First question: when is enough enough?

As a highly successful man, Harvey Weinstein was able to marry twice, each time to a beautiful woman. As a highly successful man, Harvey Weinstein was no doubt capable of having a couple of gorgeous and grateful mistresses who didn’t mind putting up with his sexual peccadillos and the fact that he was married. As a highly successful man, Harvey Weinstein probably had a few Russian hookers on the side — we’re not all puritans here, we know it happens.

Nevertheless, as a woman, I have to ask: Wasn’t a beautiful wife, three mistresses and maybe six Russian hookers enough?

Second question: what is the relevance of Weinstein’s aesthetically repulsive appearance? Call it the up close and personal question:

Indeed, Harvey’s visage, unlike the symmetrical Hollywood beauties with whom he would later surround himself, wasn’t easy on the eyes. One smaller black shark eye sat noticeably lower than the other, larger one. His flesh was so pockmarked, it appeared as if chewed by a wild beast.

Third question: I know you will find it impossible to believe but one of Bushnell’s liberated friends had no problem pretending to find Weinstein irresistibly attractive… as a career move:

However, a lack of pulchritude never stops rich, powerful men from getting consensual sex, which is what happened when he met one of my girlfriends.

She was thrilled when Harvey arrived banging on her door at two in the morning. She thought it meant Harvey was crazy about her. All through dinner he’d only paid attention to her and told her how smart she was. She was very beautiful and it was very important to her that people thought she was smart as well. She fell under Harvey’s sway. She allowed that while he was “ugly” she found Harvey bizarrely “sexy.” I wrote all about her battles in Four Blondes and Trading Up, and the one thing that drew her toward him was that she honestly believed he wanted her to succeed. He was going to help her. He bought her her first Apple computer (she was broke, of course) and she was thrilled when he gave her $30,000 to write a screenplay.

And yes, I know that the word “pulchritude” normally refers only to female beauty, but, hey, don’t be so judgmental. It merely shows that you be extra cautious when using a Thesaurus. But now we know the price for a roll on the memory foam… which is always worth knowing. For a woman who did not want to be a movie star, the going price was $30,000 and an Apple computer.

Fourth and most salient question: why harass women who don’t want you when you can have all the women you want:

Which gets back to the point of why Harvey’s behavior towards masses of women is so astoundingly egregious: Why harass all those women who don’t want to have sex with you when there are women who do, for whatever bizarre and personal and perhaps desperate reason.

Who are consenting?

Whom, one assumes, are occasionally saying, yes?

What the fuck more do you want, Harvey?

As it happens, the last question answers itself. It appears that Harvey could not accept that any woman would not want him. If you subject this idea to interpretation, it can only mean that he could not understand why any woman would really want him. And you thought that he was delusional....

I hope that this clarifies the issue.