Monday, November 20, 2017

The Freudian Truth

If, by chance, you are an aspiring Freudian—yes, such creatures still exist—I will happily save you a ton of time and an enormous effort. Your teachers will tell you that, to be a true Freudian, to get in touch with the Freudian truth, you need to spend years pouring over the master’s texts, performing every manner of  mental gymnastics and Biblical exegesis.

Trust me, I did it.

But then I had a revelation. I wrote about in my book, The Last Psychoanalyst. I discovered that you do not need to bother with the texts. They are mostly elaborate subterfuges. Look at the way the great Freudians, like Jacques Lacan, lived their lives. If you want to understand the theory,  look at what happened when the theory became flesh.

Lacan was notoriously decadent, a chronic womanizer, but in a sophisticated French way. After all, he discovered that Freudian theory was designed to make the world safe for adultery. He thrilled at breaking the rules and showing the world what the Freudian truth looked like.

And yet, even Lacan was not in the same league as Freud’s very own grandson, Lucian. You know about Lucian Freud because he was a great artist. Perhaps you did not know that he grasped one of the basic points of Freudian theory—also adumbrated in my book—namely, the dismissal of free will.

The Daily Mail reported on the sordid history of Lucian Freud a few days ago, but before recounting it in detail I include a theoretical coda, recounted by one of his sons:

He recalls: ‘I once apologised to Dad [Lucian] for something I did, and he replied, “That’s nice of you to say, but it doesn’t work like that. There is no such thing as free will. People just have to do what they have to do”.’

As for the sordidity of it all, The Daily Mail begins with his daughter Bella, recently in the news for dumping her 72-year old husband for a thirty something boy toy:

One would expect the daughter of artist Lucian Freud — and great-granddaughter of the father of modern psychology Sigmund — to cut a Bohemian dash, and Bella Freud, 56, certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The gamine fashion designer has dumped her 72-year-old husband for an artist who is 22 years her junior.

As for Lucian himself, The Daily Mail enumerates his exploits and escapades—promiscuous, louche, charming and totally selfish. Yes, indeed, Lucian was a Freudian to his marrow:

But then a lust for life is in the genes. Bella’s father was a promiscuous, louche, charismatic and utterly selfish man who had as many as 500 lovers. His female subjects were often his romantic partners, or became his lovers after sitting for him. Some went on to have children by him.

Lucian married twice, and had two daughters by his first wife, Kitty Garman, none by his second, society beauty Lady Caroline Blackwood, but at least 12 illegitimate children by five mistresses. Some friends estimate he may have fathered as many as 40.

A ruthless seducer with no interest in conventional family life, in one year alone, 1961, Freud had three children by as many different women.

By the time he died in 2011, at the age of 88, he had acknowledged 14 children — the oldest now 69 and the youngest 33. Ten of them inherited his £42 million (after tax) estate.

Some were only vaguely aware of each other’s existence. So who are these children, and what is his dynastic legacy? The answer is that the Freuds are the most unlikely clan, artists galore of all different stripes, with a dizzying number of divorces, scandals and family disasters between them. Indeed, barely a single marriage has stayed the course.

And it all comes down to us with a dash of pedophilia. This raises the important theoretical issue: when a pedophile is doing it for art is it still pedophilia? And of course, there’s the strong stench of incest in Freud’s paintings of his naked children, but, it’s for art… don’t you agree?

Annie, who was born in 1948, was painted nude by her father at the age of 14, for his 1963 portrait Naked Child Laughing. She recalled him moving her hair off her nipples with his paintbrush.

‘There was some hurt done, not intentionally, and it was nothing to do with sex — perhaps it was more an intrusion into innocence. It was all very well for Dad to say it was all right. No one else felt that it was,’ she said recently.

With daughter Rose Boyt, he waited until she was 19:

Her father painted her nude, for 1979’s Portrait Of Rose, when she was 19, a portrait she describes as ‘crew cut, open legs, naked’.  Rose Boyt

As for the non-incestuous pedophilia, we have the Bernadine Coverley:

Bernardine Coverley was 16 when she met Freud in a bar in Soho in 1959. The daughter of Irish Catholic parents who ran a pub in Brixton, she attended boarding school from the age of four. When she was 15 her parents moved back to Ireland but she headed to London where she met Lucian. The artist first painted her aged 17 and pregnant with Bella, in 1961’s Pregnant Girl. He was 37 and had been married twice. They never lived together.

Still, the question arises? Is it pedophilia or art or both? As for Freud's incest taboo, it's there to be broken.

The Case of Stephen Cohen

How, if you are working for the thought  police, do you force people to adhere to your views? One way is to silence the opposition, to shut them down, to force them out of their jobs and to ban them from the national conversation.

But, what happens when someone is so famous that you cannot silence him? What happens when he breaks through the barriers to free expression and states heretical views in major media outlets?

Surely, you want to limit the risk that any lesser intellectual light will take him as a role model, will take his views into account, will consider them seriously. So, you attack him. You especially attack his motives, painting him as a traitor to the cause, someone who is in it for his own personal self-aggrandizement, and whose views must be discounted and ignored. Anyone who does not have academic tenure or emeritus status will think long and hard before expressing similar opinions.

Such is apparently the case with Russia scholar Stephen Cohen. As it happens I have occasionally presented Cohen’s analysis of the Trump administration Putin policy. Clearly, he is an outlier. He favors d├ętente and cooperation between the United States and Russia. He does not believe that Vladimir Putin is the Devil incarnate.

You might agree. You might not. But Cohen knows Russia and he knows Russian history. Being an outlier is not necessarily a bad thing. If everyone has agreed to a consensus view, that view is most likely to be incorrect.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has set forth the reaction to Cohen’s views. It has mostly come from the progressive and radical left. No surprise there:

Writing in The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner called Cohen "Putin’s American apologist." Jonathan Chait in New York magazine labeled him a "dupe" and "a septuagenarian, old-school leftist who has carried on the mental habits of decades of anti-anti-communism seamlessly into a new career of anti-anti-Putinism." Cathy Young in Slate said Cohen was "repeating Russian misinformation" and "recycling this propaganda." And there are many others who share those views, even at the magazine his wife [Katrina Vanden Heuvel] runs [The Nation]….

But the attacks in the media have stung. Vanden Heuvel can recite the worst of them. And they have also started to come from inside The Nation, where editors and reporters wonder if Cohen’s influence is responsible for the country’s leading left-wing magazine taking the side of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on U.S.-Russia policy.

One might ask which of these critics—and there are many, many more—has Cohen’s depth of understanding about Russia. One would reply that none of them does. And one would reply that they are not offering a reasoned response. They are engaging in ad hominem attacks, because that is all that they know how to do.

The message has reached those that it was supposed to reach: those with less power and less influence and more at risk:

Cohen thinks that young scholars are afraid to voice views similar to his. He says he gets email to that effect. "They’re going to be careful. And you can’t be a good scholar and be careful."

For those who have missed the debate the Chronicle sets out some of Cohen’s views:

On the show, Cohen unleashes the opinions that have turned him into one of the least popular Russia experts in America. Speaking about the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to Russia’s invasion, he asks: "If you’re sitting in the Kremlin, and you see this as surreptitious NATO expansion, and Ukraine, which is virtually a kinship of Russia, do you do nothing?" Putin "is reacting. … He had few alternatives." He continues: "If we’re going to ask who undermined Ukrainian democracy, it wasn’t Putin." It was Western leaders….

He similarly blames America for panicking about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. "Why did America embrace what is clearly, or seems to be, a fiction for which there is no evidence?" He speculates on the answers: Putin was an obstacle to global American hegemony. Another scenario: "Sinister forces, greedy forces, high in our political system and in our economy, need Russia as an enemy because it’s exceedingly profitable." U.S.-Russian relations "didn’t go wrong in Moscow." They "went wrong in Washington."

Naturally, we want to know about Cohen’s track record as a prognosticator. In truth, the Chronicle explains, it is fairly good. And it has often run counter to the conventional wisdom. If you believe that the conventional wisdom contains grains of truth, you should have a serious rethink.

But even those who think Cohen is wrong now have to acknowledge that he has been right about a lot in the past. In addition to his views in the 1970s on the possibilities of Soviet reforms, he was proved correct in his assessment in the late 1980s that Gorbachev was a genuine democrat, in contrast to those who, like Richard Pipes, believed he was merely a kinder, gentler Soviet apparatchik. In the 1990s, Cohen was among the first to identify Boris Yeltsin as someone doing deep damage to Russia through his corruption. "Much of the academy were pro-Yeltsin," recalls Suny. And Cohen was prescient in observing that post-Cold War NATO expansion would revive Russian nationalism.

Cohen has reached a point where he is one of the few prominent intellectuals who can get away with such heresy. He said:

"I’m emeritus at two universities. That means I’m old and I got a lot of health care. What are they going to do to me?"

They cannot do anything to Cohen... but they can make of him a cautionary tale for anyone who would be tempted to respect his views.

The Hollowed-Out City

Call it the lay of the land. The New York Times editorializes this morning about the incredibly shrinking number of retail stores in New York City. Fewer and fewer people window shop. Fewer and fewer people go out to browse the stores or even to shop in them. Thus, the city’s streetscape is being hollowed out.

Is it a sign of the times? Is it the Amazon effect? Is it about greedy landlords, as the Times suggests, or government tax policy? One suspects that all of the above are in play.

The result is grim:

…  a scourge of store closings … afflicts one section of the city after another, notably in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. This plague has been underway for several years, but its familiarity does not diminish the damage inflicted on the economic and the psychic well-being of neighborhoods. One by one, cherished local shops are disappearing, replaced by national chains or, worse, nothing at all.

How bad is it?

“For lease” signs all but define every block in some neighborhoods, rich as well as poor. Take the Upper West Side. Its City Council member, Helen Rosenthal, reports that her staff recently surveyed shops along Broadway and Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, and on some side streets. Of 1,332 storefronts, 161, or 12 percent, were unoccupied. The situation, Ms. Rosenthal correctly says, is a threat to the area’s character, its “sense of community” and even its residents’ sense of safety. 

Of course, it’s difficult for almost any store to compete against Amazon. The overhead of a local store so far surpasses that of online merchants that they have been falling along the wayside. No store on Madison Avenue or even on Third Avenue will be able to compete with a warehouse in Kentucky. And that is before we add the cost of labor. 

If the problem is landlord greed—raising rents to levels that no one can afford—the free market will deal with the problem.

Add to that the fact, also reported by the Times today, that New York’s subway system has the worst on-time record of any subway system in the world… and you might think that it’s time to curb your optimism about the Big Apple.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

When Is a Muslim Not a Muslim?

Today’s comic relief comes to us from the Moonbattery blog (via Maggie’s Farm):

Question: When is a Muslim not a Muslim?

Answer: When he rapes Swedish women; then he’s just a man.

This quip expresses well the policies of Sweden’s Justice and Migration Minister, Morgan Johansson. As reported by Breitbart:

Sweden’s justice minister has rejected a proposal by the Moderate party to record the ethnic backgrounds of sex attackers saying the only thing that matters is that they are men.

Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said that the Moderates wanted to simply blame the rise in sex crimes on migrants and argued that all criminals should be treated equally. Johansson also pointed to the #metoo movement saying that sex attacks occur among all ethnicities and backgrounds in Sweden, broadcaster SVT reports.

“The common denominator of those who commit these crimes is that they are men,” Johansson said and added: “It seems that the Moderates are pulling out of talking about the men’s role in this and instead just want to blame the immigrants.”

Government policy designed to cover up a problem. Because if you don't call it Islamist terrorism or even a Muslim rape epidemic, then we can say that Muslims do not commit more terrorism or rapes.

Of course, it’s the Swedish way of condoning human sacrifice… but we suppose it’s alright because the victims are only women. How did Johansson respond to the proposal by the Moderate Party:

Johansson rejected the request saying: “Sweden’s earlier figures and numerous international studies all show much the same thing. Minority groups are often overrepresented in crime statistics, but when controlling for socioeconomic factors this [the overrepresentation of minority groups] disappears almost entirely.”

Which economic factors would those be? Perhaps it refers to the fact that the migrants are less likely to know how to do any jobs and thus are more likely to be on welfare. What if the same bad habits and character flaws that cause them to commit crimes also make them unacceptable employees?

And, do rape victims feel any consolation over the fact that the solution does not lie in tougher laws or in tougher immigration policies, but in more weak-kneed ministers selling social welfare programs. Keep in mind, people who don't have to work have more time to commit crimes, like rape.

As for the chance of cracking down on the high crime rates in Swedish no-go zones, the Minister is against it:

The proposal by the Moderates follows a call by 10 members of the party to deploy the military to help police in the growing number of heavily migrant-populated no-go zones in the country last month.  The proposal was ultimately rejected by Justice Minister Johansson who said: “There are no military solutions to the problems.”

Johansson has been the subject of controversy in the past for his various statements, including totally refusing to ever consider stripping the citizenship of Islamic State fighters returning to Sweden from the Middle East. Johansson said the Swedish government refuses to make anyone “stateless”.

You already knew that Sweden was promoting rape culture, didn’t you? The amazing part is that this weak and cowardly minister is saying out loud what other progressives will only hint it.

Inevitably, public displays of weakness and a manifest failure to enforce laws and to hold people accountable for their actions produces a reaction. And yet, anyone who complains or even protests these policies will quickly be denounced as a reactionary and a fascist. Some of them are obviously insalubrious. And yet, are they the real problem? Or is the real problem ministers like Johansson who will happily sacrifice Swedish women to bands of marauding migrants?

The Transgender Agenda: The War on Truth

Peter Hitchens is the brother of the late lamented Christopher Hitchens. While Christopher happily promoted leftist theories, especially those of the atheist variety, Peter represents the more conservative side of the sibling spectrum.

Today, writing in the Daily Mail,  Peter Hitchens takes aim at the latest appalling piece of leftist dogma. That being the transgender agenda. He points out that a vanguard of revolutionary fanatics are using the transgender agenda to take control of your thought. They are making themselves the final and ultimate arbiters of truth... thus relieving reality and objective facts of the burden. And they are of course using their superior wisdom to mutilate innocent children. If you cannot throw in a little human sacrifice, what good are you?

Hitchens writes:

I once thought the same about the transgender issue. But the idea that people are whatever sex they think they are is a terrifying weapon in the hands of modern Thought Police. Whatever you say, you cannot possibly be right about this. 

Express any opinion (apart from total submission), and within minutes you will be besieged by condemnation. It will be cleverly based on the idea that you are somehow being cruel to some troubled person, even though you aren't doing this at all.

Indeed, you are going to be attacked as a bigot, no matter what you think and no matter what you say. Whatever you say anything you are going to be wrong. It's not about right or wrong. It's about belonging or not belonging to the Party.

Even if you say that right thing the thought police will denounce you for not being sufficiently sincere. Hitchens explains that the transgender agenda is attacking biological realities, the realities of chromosomal sex difference. If your ideas supersede reality, they can no longer be tested. They must be accepted as transcendent truth:

But that is just a pretext. In reality, a whole moral and social system is being destroyed, and traditional ideas of male and female are the next target, now that husbands and marriage have been done away with. For once you begin down the road of sexual revolution, there's no end. There will always be someone more militant than you.

Hitchens suggests that it goes back to the French Revolution and to its corollary notion that human nature could be changed into whatever we wanted it to be. All great Revolutionary dictators, from Lenin to Stalin to Hitler to Mao, believe this. As did Marx, Freud and Heidegger. I discussed the point at length in my book, The Last Psychoanalyst:

Since the French Revolutionaries set up the guillotine, the same thing has been true. Revolutions are all based on the false idea that humans and their nature can be changed.

And once changed, they will fit neatly into the Utopia that is planned for them. Utopia, as we find every so often in Russia, China and Cambodia, can only be approached across a sea of blood, and you never actually arrive.

Today the thought police have taken out after a schoolteacher. The poor man slipped up and called a transgender girl a boy. He is going to be disciplined for his bigotry:

And that is why The Mail on Sunday's exclusive story, that a teacher has been disciplined for failing to respect the transgender gospel, is so important. His slip was small, and momentary. One of his pupils, who would once have been called a girl, has decided to be male. He called this person a girl. So he must suffer.

In the vanished world of absolute truth, the student's sex would not be a matter of opinion. People might (and I would favour this) treat the person's view of their sex with sympathy and try to go along with it. Who would want to hurt somebody on a matter of such delicacy?

But in the new revolutionary world, truth is what the revolution says it is. This works in many ways.

In a world where people respect facts and understand the difference between true and false this would not be an issue. In today’s politically correct world, it is a thought crime. And no thought crime can go unpunished.

Have you noticed that the people who constitute the Thought Police are up in arms when Donald Trump stretches and bends the truth? They refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag but they proclaim, for all to heat it, their eternal allegiance to fact. If, as has been definitively shown, transgender children and adults have no biological basis—aka fact-- for their belief—called delusional by some—they you are obliged to accept it unthinkingly, facts be damned.

If you think that Trump plays a bit loose with the facts, the transgender agenda seeks to obliterate reality on the bonfire of an ideology. Once reality has been erased those who hold the purest and clearest view of the dogmatic truth will be able to impose it on everyone. Power to the intellectual elites, even if they can’t think straight:

This leads down a very dark staircase. Reality must increasingly be forced to fit the beliefs of the new elite. Teachers must be punished for speaking the truth, so schools are no longer places where truth is respected or dissent allowed – which means they are dead to all intents and purposes.

As has often been noted on this blog, the transgender agenda tries to convert people during childhood, before the onset of puberty. It attempts to brainwash children into believing that they are transgender, then to subject them to puberty blocking treatments… leading up to gender reassignment surgery. One is constrained to note that the United States military, to its eternal disgrace, has chosen to pay for such surgeries-- in defiance of a presidential order-- and thus to legitimate the transgender agenda.

Hitchens writes:

And perhaps most grievous of all, teenagers are placed on a medical conveyor belt which leads to powerful body-changing drugs and possibly to surgical alteration.

It is not just crabbed reactionaries such as me who fret about this. In an eloquent article in The Times, the far-from-conservative commentator Janice Turner recently warned: 'But in a decade, when our adult children turn to ask, 'Why did you let me do this? Why didn't you stop me?' we may wonder if this was progress or child abuse.'

We are failing to stop this because we are afraid of the intolerant revolutionary mob, which would lock up dissenters if it could, but for the moment contents itself with Twitter storms and witch-hunts.

I can't laugh this off. It is not just a wind-up. It is a threat to free thought and, after many months of staying silent about it, I feel I have to say so.

That faint rumble you can hear is the mob assembling for another heresy hunt.

The war on truth, the war on facts is alive and well. It is even becoming more mainstream.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Developing Resilience

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Elizabeth Smart’s resilience. In the current public discussions about trauma victims, many victims present themselves as damaged for life, as ruined forever. And those who cue up the outrage on these events often present the issue in the same terms. 

I took exception to that characterization. I remarked that the more you believe that sexual abuse, for example, destroys your life forever, the more difficult recovery will be. Anyone who gets over it easily seems to be suggesting that it wasn't really that bad. If we want the abusers to receive the maximum punishment, we do not want to give them impression. No one wants to diminish the trauma. But, no one should want to suggest that these women have no real chance of a meaningful recovery. No responsible professional will tell a trauma victim that her life is over and that she will never recover.

We should also examine the way cultural attitudes impact mental illness and how they influence the ability to recover. I have occasionally mentioned Ethan Watters’ book, Crazy Like Us, which discusses the issue at length. It addresses the way that society’s attitudes can produce epidemics of anorexia or can aggravate the symptoms of PTSD. 

Of course, PTSD is a complex issue, because in some cases it is a neurological condition with a psychological aspect. Some aspects of PTSD do respond to psychological therapies, but many do not. We ought not confuse neurological disorders with psychological disorders.

As for the larger issue of resilience, University of Virginia psychologist Meg Jay has written a new book about it. She offered some of her ideas in an extensive article for the Wall Street Journal.

Psychologists have performed many studies about resilience. Some involve being brought up in a bad home environment. Some involve repeated traumas. The studies deal with numerous complex variables and thus are not all relevant to the issue we are examining today. 

Take the example of children who are brought up in unstable family environments. For the most part children brought in this way have significant problems. No one should be surprised by these findings. What is surprising is the fact that the damage is not experienced equally by every child. Two thirds of the children who are brought up in such families have significant problems when they grow up, but one third rise above them:

Consider the Kauai Longitudinal Study, an ongoing project begun in 1955 by psychologists Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, and summarized most recently in their 2001 book “Journeys From Childhood to Midlife.” The Kauai Study’s subjects are the 698 babies born on the island that year, with assessments so far at ages 1, 2, 10, 18, 32 and 40.

Of the children in the study, Drs. Werner and Smith identified 129 as being at high risk for future problems, because they faced four or more adversities at birth, ranging from poverty and family discord to alcoholism or mental illness in the home.

Two-thirds of these high-risk children went on to have difficulties of their own, such as delinquency, unplanned pregnancies and underemployment. One-third, however, fared well. At school and at work, they did as well as, or better than, their low-risk peers from more affluent, stable homes. In adulthood, they found supportive partners and built loving families that, often, differed greatly from the ones they grew up with. They became, as Drs. Werner and Smith described, “competent, confident, caring adults.” How did they do it?

We might also want to know how many of these children inherited genetic predispositions from their alcoholic or mentally ill parents. And we see that the children who escaped their conditions often found support systems outside of the home, in school, in youth groups, and eventually in the military. We should not underestimate the importance of group support or even of teachers and coaches who act as replacement parents. 

Jay continues:

They sought out friends, teachers, neighbors or relatives who cared. They made plans to better themselves and set ambitious but realistic goals for the future. In early adulthood, they seized opportunities to move forward in life, by way of higher education, the military, a new job, a supportive partner or parenthood.

But resilient people are everywhere, not just in the ranks of celebrities. They are ordinary women and men, in every walk of life, who meet the definition of resilience set forth by American Psychological Association: “adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”

As for the mental attitudes that promoted resilience, one study found that prisoners who had overcome the traumatic effects of torture had told themselves, as Elizabeth Smart told herself, that the torture was not about them.

Jay writes:

In a 2010 paper in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Anke Ehlers of the University of Oxford reported on 81 adults who had formerly been held as political prisoners in East Germany. They had been subjected to mental and physical abuse, including beatings, threats and being kept in the dark. Decades after their release, about two-thirds of the former prisoners had, at some point, met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while about one-third of the prisoners had not.

What made some more likely to suffer from PTSD? Dr. Ehlers found that the extent to which prisoners had fought back in their own minds made a bigger difference than the severity of the abuse they had suffered. Those who felt mentally defeated—who felt like they were “nothing” or who quit caring what became of them—were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD later. By contrast, prisoners who had resisted from within—even if they appeared to have given up on the outside, by complying with guards or signing false confessions—fared better down the line….

This sort of inner defiance is, in part, how one man—an officer in the military who came to me for a consultation—told me he survived years of bullying as a child and teen: “I refused to accept what they said about me was true.”

That is, in my slightly more sophisticated version, he refused to accept that it was happening to him.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Elizabeth Smart's Resilience

When someone has been traumatized a competent psycho professional will want the person to get over the experience, to put it behind him. Incompetent psycho professionals will want him to integrate the experience into his life narrative.

If they are Freudians they believe that when people have difficulty getting over a trauma, the reason must be that they had unconsciously wanted it to happen. Their problems derive from their inability accept that they wanted to be molested, harassed, abused or raped.

Most Freudians will never accept that their grand master believed such things. If so they have failed the most elementary lesson in close reading of the Freudian text.

On various occasions, as our media are filled with stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault, I have remarked that many of the victims have said that they have never gotten over what happened to them. To which I have offered the example of Elizabeth Smart. When Smart was a teenager in Utah she was kidnapped and raped repeatedly for months on end. And she has, as well as we can tell, gotten over the experience and lived her life.

Thus, she shows how someone can overcome trauma and move on with her life. It is a constructive message, one that needs more attention.

Yesterday, Bethany Mandel gave the Smart story more of the attention it deserves. She argued that Smart overcame her experience by showing uncommon resilience. More than that, Mandel explains that Smart chose “joy” over anguish.

We note that Smart did not have the option of keeping her trauma secret. The couple that kidnapped her was put on trial for their crimes. They are currently serving long prison sentences. Once an experience becomes common knowledge, it is that much harder to put behind one, to act as though it never happened. Smart's ability to overcome a trauma that everyone knows about counts as exceptional.

When everyone knows what happens to you they look at you differently. In time this will come to define who you are… as a victim, as someone deserving of pity and sympathy.

I am all for choosing joy and admire Smart’s resilience, but, if we dig a little deeper we note that she was not in it alone. She was surrounded by a strong and moral community, a community that insisted on treating her as though nothing  had happened. It takes a significant effort for a community to rally behind a victim and to act as though nothing happened. Smart also had a strong intact family that acted as though it had not happened.

Surely, strength of character counts, but, family and community attitudes are often decisive in producing such strength of character. Especially when the victim is a child. In another community with a different family Elizabeth Smart might not have believed that she could choose joy.

As for the question of what defines your character, Smart herself stated it well and clearly in a motivational speech:

Every single one of us has had something happen to us in our life… I mean, hopefully it’s not all kidnapping (laughs). It’s not what happens to us that defines who we are. It’s what we decide to do. It’s our choices who define who we are. Whatever it is you’re going through, don’t give up.

Who you are is not everything that happened to you. Who you are is what you chose to do. I will accept that this is not entirely accurate, but, Smart is correct to see that if you did not choose to be traumatized, the trauma did not happen to you.