Monday, November 30, 2015

"Yeah, Let's Bring Some of That Here."

For decades now Europe has opened its arms and its borders to Muslim refugees. It did so to assert its overweening idealism, its love for humanity and its belief that all human cultures are essentially the same.

Those who wish to do the same should, reasonably, take a look at the evidence. How has the policy worked out in practice?

Andrew McCarthy offers a capsule summary of some of the consequences of the policy:

The jihad waged by radical Islam rips at France from within. The two mass-murder attacks this year that finally induced President Francois Hollande to concede a state of war are only what we see.

Unbound by any First Amendment, the French government exerts pressure on the media to suppress bad news. We do not hear much about the steady thrum of insurrection in the banlieues: the thousands of torched automobiles, the violence against police and other agents of the state, the pressure in Islamic enclaves to ignore the sovereignty of the Republic and conform to the rule of sharia.

What happens in France happens in Belgium. It happens in Sweden where much of Malmo, the third largest city, is controlled by Muslim immigrant gangs — emergency medical personnel attacked routinely enough that they will not respond to calls without police protection, and the police in turn unwilling to enter without back-up. Not long ago in Britain, a soldier was killed and nearly beheaded in broad daylight by jihadists known to the intelligence services; dozens of sharia courts now operate throughout the country, even as Muslim activists demand more accommodations. And it was in Germany, which green-lighted Europe’s ongoing influx of Muslim migrants, that Turkey’s Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed that pressuring Muslims to assimilate in their new Western countries is “a crime against humanity.”

So how many of us look across the ocean at Europe and say, “Yeah, let’s bring some of that here”

Blog Appreciation Week

Black Friday has come and gone. Cyber Monday has arrived.

Thus, the holiday season has officially begun.

I suspect that it’s the time of year when you start thinking about how you can best express your appreciation for all the work I put into writing the posts on this blog. It may not always seem like it, but putting up these posts every day does require work.

If I may be so bold, you can express your appreciation by making a donation. If you glance at the left column of this page you will see an orange oval-shaped button that says: Donate.

Click on it and the folks at Paypal will make it quick and easy to donate. If you don’t use Paypal, donations may be sent to me directly, at:

310 East 46th St. 24H  New York, NY  10017

And always remember: it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Life Rules

I had never heard of Oliver Emberton before this piece popped up on one of my news feeds. It is dated from around a year ago, and is brief. And yet, despite or perhaps because of its brevity, it vastly outshines the everyday round of earnest entreaties by would-be moral philosophers.

Emberton’s common sense, down-to-earth approach is refreshing. Well, more than refreshing. Compared to those who want us all to run off in search of an ideal, to tilt at windmills, to seek a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, Emberton is tell you to get out of the clouds and get down to work.

The internet and the media are filled with whiners whose plaints amount to: why am I not more successful? To which Emberton offers his first moral principle: The problem is not that life is unfair. The problem is that you don’t know the rules. (Evidently, this also means that Emberton is British.)

What are the rules?

First, “life is a competition.”

This might seem clear, but those who rail against Western civilization tell us that since competition involves winners and losers, it is inherently unfair and unjust. If we are all equal, how can some be more equal than others?

In truth, if you refuse to compete, you are more likely to lose. Then you will hate competition even more.

Emberton writes:

That business you work for? Someone’s trying to kill it. That job you like? Someone would love to replace you with a computer program. That girlfriend / boyfriend / high-paying job / Nobel Prize that you want? So does somebody else.

Uh, oh. The lesson is: don’t just coast along. Don’t waste your time protesting about how unjust it is. If you want to achieve something in life you should begin by understanding that other people want the same thing. And that if you are going to beat them at the competition, you are probably going to have to work harder than they do... assuming that you have the talent to do so.

He continues:

We’re all in competition, although we prefer not to realise it. Most achievements are only notable relative to others. You swam more miles, or can dance better, or got more Facebook Likes than the average. Well done.

It’s a painful thing to believe, of course, which is why we’re constantly assuring each other the opposite. “Just do your best”, we hear. “You’re only in competition with yourself”. The funny thing about platitudes like that is they’re designed to make you try harder anyway. If competition really didn’t matter, we’d tell struggling children to just give up.

I will grant that the platitudes are designed to get you to do your best, but in truth, telling children to do their best is also a consolation. Instead we should be telling them to be the best at whatever they are doing. I appreciate that we lie to children to motivate them, but at some point the truth will out.

Rather than complain about life’s unfairness, you should engage fully in the competition:

But never fall for the collective delusion that there’s not a competition going on. People dress up to win partners. They interview to win jobs. If you deny that competition exists, you’re just losing. Everything in demand is on a competitive scale. And the best is only available to those who are willing to truly fight for it.

I would mention that in order to compete you also need to learn how to cooperate with your partners and colleagues. Competition is not mano-a-mano; it is team vs. team.

Emberton’s second rule is:

You are judged by what you do not by what you think.

To which I would add, as he does, that your good intentions and your good feelings are for naught if they are not accompanied by good deeds. It’s all about your actions in the world, not the state of your soul.

Society judges people by what they can do for others. Can you save children from a burning house, or remove a tumour, or make a room of strangers laugh? You’ve got value right there.

That’s not how we judge ourselves though. We judge ourselves by our thoughts.

“I’m a good person”. “I’m ambitious”. “I’m better than this.” These idle impulses may comfort us at night, but they’re not how the world sees us. They’re not even how we see other people.
Well-meaning intentions don’t matter. An internal sense of honour and love and duty count for squat. What exactly can you and have you done for the world?

The next time your therapist says that you should tell yourself that you are a good person, you should ask yourself what you can do to demonstrate to others that you are a good person or a great artist or a great insurance salesman.

Emberton adds that your fame depends on the number of people you impact. I take his point, but I do differentiate between fame and infamy.  Celebrities impact large numbers of people, but this does not, in my view, make them winners. If the whole world is watching you make a blithering fool of yourself, this might make you rich, but it will do nothing for your good name.

It’s possible to influence large numbers of people for the worst. Infamy is not quite the same thing as fame. It does not bring the same level of respect. Being a rich freak does not bring you to have very many good friends.

In Emberton’s words:

Write an unpublished book, you’re nobody. Write Harry Potter and the world wants to know you. Save a life, you’re a small-town hero, but cure cancer and you’re a legend. Unfortunately, the same rule applies to all talents, even unsavoury ones: get naked for one person and you might just make them smile, get naked for fifty million people and you might just be Kim Kardashian.

You may hate this. It may make you sick. Reality doesn’t care. You’re judged by what you have the ability to do, and the volume of people you can impact. If you don’t accept this, then the judgement of the world will seem very unfair indeed.

Emberton’s third rule: we should not mistake fairness for self-interest.

I am modifying his expression slightly, but he is advising people to stop thinking that if they don’t succeed, then life is unfair. We are too prone to believe that once we puff up our self-esteem the world will give us everything we want. Some day people will look back at this and ask: whatever were we thinking?

In a cartoon illustration, Emberton pictures a whiny schoolboy saying:

I’ve sent her a thousand photos of my junk. Why won’t she love meeee?

The question answers itself.

Emberton explains what’s wrong with high self-esteem:

Take a proper look at that person you fancy but didn’t fancy you back. That’s a complete person. A person with years of experience being someone completely different to you. A real person who interacts with hundreds or thousands of other people every year.

Now what are the odds that among all that, you’re automatically their first pick for love-of-their-life? Because – what – you exist? Because you feel something for them? That might matter to you, but their decision is not about you.

Similarly we love to hate our bosses and parents and politicians. Their judgements are unfair. And stupid. Because they don’t agree with me! And they should! Because I am unquestionably the greatest authority on everything ever in the whole world!

And this means: get over yourself. Emberton does not use the term but he is saying that you should get over your hypersensitivity and stop being so thin-skinned:

But however they make you feel, the actions of others are not some cosmic judgement on your being.

So, life isn’t fair. Emberton explains his final rule:

Can you imagine how insane life would be if it actually was ‘fair’ to everyone? No-one could fancy anyone who wasn’t the love of their life, for fear of breaking a heart. Companies would only fail if everyone who worked for them was evil. Relationships would only end when both partners died simultaneously. Raindrops would only fall on bad people.

Most of us get so hung up on how we think the world should work that we can’t see how it does. But facing that reality might just be the key to unlocking your understanding of the world, and with it, all of your potential.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Anti-Semitism Returns

As I reported on November 25, Jonathan Haidt was shocked to discover that politically correct teachers and administrators in excellent high schools were indoctrinating their students. They were teaching feminist dogma as absolute truth and were demeaning and diminishing boys at the expense of girls.

If you thought that that was bad, take a look at what is being taught at one of New York City’s finest private schools, Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Apparently, a sixth grade teacher decided to teach the students that the swastika was a symbol of peace. Huh?

You have to read it to believe it. The New York Post has the story:

Sixth-graders at an elite Bronx private school have been caught drawing swastikas in art class, so administrators met with the kids — talking mainly about how the symbols represent peace in some cultures.

One parent who wishes not to be named said Jewish students have felt unsafe since the images began popping up three weeks ago at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, where tuition costs $45,100 a year.

In addition to the swastikas, a notebook was found at the middle school campus with the words “Hitler Rocks!” scrawled on the front, the parent said.

Parents, many of whom, one imagines, are Jewish, protested, so the administration held a meeting to clear the air:

Administrators decided to address the apparent anti-Semitism by holding a grade-wide meeting.

Parents say teachers spent nearly 12 of the 15 minutes on a PowerPoint presentation on how the swastika was still considered a sacred symbol — while only briefly mentioning how the Nazis had adopted it in the 1920s.

School officials never once mentioned the Holocaust, a parent said.

When asked what they learned, the kids simply said, “It wasn’t a good idea to draw” the swastikas.

It’s a failure of an institution to educate,” one parent said. “Teachers and administrators were calling for a town hall meeting, but instead, they chose to do just sixth grade.

Obviously, this is appalling. It shows that anti-Semitism has become acceptable in the American academy. In particular, anti-Semitism has become acceptable to progressives and leftists..

To take a random example, last week an Israeli executive tried to rent a car from Avis on the Upper West Side of Manhatten… traditionally a notably Jewish neighborhood. The clerk and the manager rejected his application because he had an Israeli passport. The manager even claimed that it was company policy not to accept Israeli passports. Link here.

When the executive contacted Avis customer service, he was told that Avis did accept Israeli passports. The Avis customer service representative explained it to the manager. At that point the manager and the clerk declined to rent the car because they said that they did not like the way the man had behaved.

You might think that these Avis employees would have been sanctioned for their behavior. They were not. As of the most recent report, Avis was defending them.

The progressive left, even in Jewish neighborhoods, has become anti-Israeli, and, by extension, anti-Semitic. Let’s go back to Fieldston, which held an Israel-Palestine Day a couple of years ago. Here is the way one source described it:

At Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a prep school in New York, administrators held an Israel-Palestine Day and, under the pretense of "evenhandedness," invited Rashid Khalidi and Tony Judt as featured speakers to represent "both sides" of the conflict. Both Khalidi and Judt believe the state of Israel should not exist. Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of the panelists, withdrew from the conference upon learning about the contents and opted instead to organize a counter-demonstration. The school refused to allow a single pro-Israel speaker at this event. Among the invited speakers were noted anti- Israel advocates Sara Roy from Harvard University, Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch and Fawaz Gerges from Georgetown University. Meanwhile, teachers instructed students not to speak to the protesters or the media, and the school's Principal announced at the end of the conference that they just heard a "comprehensive" analysis of the Middle East conflict from distinguished speakers and to remember that "the protesters are outnumbered." This event drew strong criticism from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and several politicians.

Of course, those liberals who find this offensive have only themselves to blame. As long as high schools that purvey anti-Semitism are supported by the parents who send their children there, the problem will persist. From my limited interviews I have gotten the impression that the schools do what they please because parents are afraid to do more than complain. They are afraid that they will damage their children’s prospects for getting into a good university.

What is the source of the problem? As I have occasionally remarked, we live in the Age of Obama. The president’s contempt for all things Israeli has created a cultural climate in which anti-Semitism is again acceptable.

And the president wants to bring more anti-Semites into the country. Interestingly, the Daily Mail reported this morning on the chaos being visited on Germany by the flood of Syrian refugees. Among the cultural qualities they are bringing with them: misogyny and anti-Semitism.

Now, with the support of the misguided Jews who compare these refugees to the Jews fleeing Nazism in the 1930s, President Obama wants to bring more Syrians into the country… just in case we are running low on anti-Semites. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Treating Social Anxiety

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam famously declared that our excessive individualism had produced a society where people go bowling alone. David Brooks wrote this morning that “we live in an individualistic age.”

In a multicultural world where people do not have the same customs, the same manners and the same mores, it is inevitable that they feel alone and isolated. In a world where therapy has long touted the advantage of getting touch with your own feelings, it is not surprising that people suffer from anomie.

For some people it manifests itself as social anxiety. While trying to glory in their transcendent individuality they feel anxious about going out in public, about having to deal with other people. They fear these encounters, perhaps because they expect to be greeted with hostility or even to be ignored.

One suspects that psychiatrists have a pill for this, though it is not obvious that the pill does anything more than allay the anxiety. It does not get you up and out and into the social whirl.

Some therapists will tell you to activate your emotional intelligence by getting in touch with your feelings and by trying to tune in to the feelings of other people.

Of course, the more you introspect the more you will be detaching yourself from other people. If the best you can do is to feel their feelings and to want them to feel yours, you will be avoiding the commerce that constitutes human interactions. Thus, you will be aggravating your condition, not treating it.

Now, Melissa Dahl reports on new research that suggests a not-too-surprising treatment for social anxiety: be nice to people.

But she does not really mean: being nice in the being nice sense of the term. She means, as the researchers suggest, doing something nice for someone else, doing what used to be called good works or good deeds.

We should not emphasize whether you are or are not nice but whether you perform certain actions that count as nice. Being and doing are not the same thing. If the best you can do is to be nice, in the sense of having warm fuzzy nice feelings for people, then the treatment will not work. But if you perform good deeds toward other people and do it whether you feel it or not, you will benefit from the activity. You will benefit more when you make it a habit.

You will see that I am faithfully presenting Dahl’s thought:

…social psychologists at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University recently found that when socially anxious people were encouraged to perform little acts of kindness — doing a roommate's dishes, mowing a neighbor's lawn — they reported less daily social anxiety one month after starting the little experiment in niceness, when compared to others who did not undertake the doing-good-deeds assignment.

Jennifer L. Trew and Lynn E. Alden split 115 undergraduates into three groups: one that would seek out ways to be kind to others; another that would confront their social anxiety by doing the very things that made them nervous (like striking up a conversation with their neighbor, or asking someone to join them for lunch), in a kind of exposure therapy; and a final group that served as the control condition, who were told to keep a record of their daily lives for one month…. 

In the end, the people who had focused on kindness for the month experienced the biggest drops in social anxiety, when compared to the exposure group and the control group; the kindness group also reported bigger drops in avoidance after the duration of the experiment.

One would have expected that the exposure group would also experience a drop in social anxiety, but it makes sense that they did not improve as much as did those who made a habit of doing acts of kindness. It’s not so much about overcoming fear as learning how to interact with other people on the most simple level.

Also importantly, people who focus on themselves, who ponder their emotions, who get in touch with their feelings, who work on themselves, become more anxious. You might even believe that certain forms of therapy are designed to produce social anxiety.

Dahl concludes:

Previous research has indicated that there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between self-focused attention and social anxiety, in that anxiety makes people more likely to draw their focus inward — likewise, focusing on yourself seems to increase anxiety. This new finding may point to a way out of that vicious, anxious circle. Doing small good deeds for other people naturally turns your focus outward, which may leave less room for obsessive self-reflection. 

The funny thing is: there is nothing new about this idea. Western religions have been recommending this for millennia. One suspects that social anxiety is one of the prices of an increasingly secularized world.

As for the religious basis, note Proverbs 21:3:

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

And Jesus said in Matthew 5.16:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

And from the Epistle to James 2:24:

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Of course, these precepts have been subject to controversy. Debates have raged about whether good deeds or faith put you on the path to Heaven. Perhaps we can agree that doing good deeds toward other people produces a sense of community and works because it fulfills another Biblical injunction: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

After all, your kind gesture toward another person makes it far more likely that the other person will reciprocate with a kind gesture. One understands that not everyone returns favors, but if you make enough kind gestures you will likely to find other people to be more welcoming. They will look forward to seeing you, not dread your presence.

This suggests that those who withdraw from the world to contemplate their feelings are sending out a “don’t tread on me” signal to others. Their social anxiety might reflect unfriendly looks and gestures they receive when they refuse to interact with other people. For all we know they might have more control than they think over how they are received in society.

Arthur Brooks makes some similar points in a column he penned for Thanksgiving. He too recommends that you make kind gestures and do good deeds regardless of whether or not you are feeling kind, nice or grateful. And he suggests making it a habit.

He writes:

Make gratitude a routine, independent of how you feel — and not just once each November, but all year long.

What deeds would count as kind. Brooks lists some:

Next, move to “exterior gratitude,” which focuses on public expression. The psychologist Martin Seligman, father of the field known as “positive psychology,” gives some practical suggestions on how to do this. In his best seller “Authentic Happiness,” he recommends that readers systematically express gratitude in letters to loved ones and colleagues. A disciplined way to put this into practice is to make it as routine as morning coffee. Write two short emails each morning to friends, family or colleagues, thanking them for what they do.

We should understand that different relationships with different people require different gestures of gratitude. It helps that the recipients of said emails have actually done something to deserve the gratitude. Yet, Seligman and Brooks are saying that the good deeds need not be extravagant. They need merely be nice… like bringing your wife flowers for no reason. One understands that giving flowers to female colleague does not mean the same thing.

Brooks continues, advising us not to follow our feelings:

This Thanksgiving, don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional “authenticity” that holds you back from your bliss. 

Mismatched: When Students Attend the Wrong Colleges

Stuart Taylor suggests that there has been insufficient discussion of the proximate cause of the current wave of campus protest. Had he been reading this blog he would know that I have on several occasions made the point that minority students at major college campuses have encountered problems because they have been admitted under affirmative action programs and thus find themselves incapable of competing with Asian and white students. They are, as Taylor and Richard Sander argued in a recent book, mismatched.

One remarks that college administrators have missed this point completely.

Now Taylor explains it all in great detail and his analysis is well worth our continued attention. I can add very little, and so will quote him at considerable length:

After saying that there has not been enough discussion of the use of racial preferences, Taylor describes the minority students who are leading the protests:

Most are, rather, victims of the very large admissions preferences that set up racial-minority students for academic struggle at the selective universities that have cynically misled them into thinking they are well qualified to compete with classmates who are, in fact, far stronger academically.

The reality is that most good black and Hispanic students, who would be academically competitive at many selective schools, are not competitive at the more selective schools that they attend.

That’s why it takes very large racial preferences to get them admitted. An inevitable result is that many black and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic students cannot keep up with better-prepared classmates and rank low in their classes no matter how hard they work.

What are the consequences of this mismatch?

Studies show that this academic “mismatch effect” forces them to drop science and other challenging courses; to move into soft, easily graded, courses disproportionately populated by other preferentially admitted students; and to abandon career hopes such as engineering and pre-med. Many lose intellectual self-confidence and become unhappy even if they avoid flunking out.

This depresses black performance at virtually all selective schools because of what experts call the cascade effect. Here’s how it works, as Richard Sander and I demonstrated in a 2012 book, :

Only 1 to 2 percent of black college applicants emerge from high school well-qualified academically for (say) the top Ivy League colleges. Therefore, those schools can meet their racial admissions targets only by using large preferences. They bring in black students who are well qualified for moderately elite schools like (say) the University of North Carolina, but not for the Ivies that recruit them. This leaves schools like UNC able to meet their own racial targets only by giving large preferences to black students who are well qualified for less selective schools like (say) the University of Missouri but not for UNC. And so on down the selectivity scale.

As a result, experts agree, most black students at even moderately selective schools — with high school preparation and test scores far below those of their classmates — rank well below the middle of their college and grad school classes, with between 25% and 50% ranking in the bottom tenth. That’s a very bad place to be at any school.

The consequences are not merely academic. They are also social:

This, in turn, increases these students’ isolation and self-segregation from the higher-achieving Asians and whites who flourish in more challenging courses. At least one careful study shows that students are more likely to become friends with peers who are similar in academic accomplishment.

Taylor notes that extra effort on the part of the mismatched students cannot close the gap:
[Minority students] who may work heroically during the first semester only to be lost in many classroom discussions and dismayed by their grades.

As they start to see the gulf between their own performance and that of most of their fellow students, dismay can become despair. They soon realize that no matter how hard they work, they will struggle academically.

But due to racial preferences, they find themselves for the first time in their lives competing against classmates who have a huge head start in terms of previous education, academic ability, or both.

Researchers have shown that racial preference recipients developnegative perceptions of their own academic competence, which in turn harms their performance and even their mental health, through “stereotype threat” and other problems. They may come to see themselves as failures in the eyes of their families, their friends, and themselves.

Next, he offers a case study:

Consider the case of a student whom I will call Joe, as told in Mismatch. He breezed through high school in Syracuse, New York, in the top 20 percent of his class. He had been class president, a successful athlete, and sang in gospel choir. He was easily admitted to Colgate, a moderately elite liberal arts college in rural New York; no one pointed out to Joe that his SAT scores were far below the class median.

Joe immediately found himself over his head academically, facing far more rigorous coursework than ever before. “Nobody told me what would be expected of me beforehand,” Joe later recalled. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into. And it all made me feel as if I wasn’t smart enough.”

But just as surprising and upsetting was the social environment in which Joe found himself. “I was immediately stereotyped and put into a box because I was African American,” he recalled. “And that made it harder to perform. People often made little derogatory comments.…There was a general feeling that all blacks on campus were there either because they were athletes or they came through a minority recruitment program.… That was just assumed right away.”

Of course, the nation is so thoroughly wedded to the notion that affirmative action programs will level the playing field that they are incapable of seeing the truth:

Not many mismatched students complain — even if they figure out — that the root of their problems is that they are not well-qualified to compete with their classmates. The universities, the media, and others do their best to conceal and deny this connection. And it is human nature to seek less humiliating, more sinister explanations.

It is, unfortunately, also human nature to refuse to accept that one’s policies are a failure. It’s not just that the administrators do not want to humiliate the mismatched minority students—though that is certainly the case—but that they do not want to admit that they themselves and the policies they have wholeheartedly supported have produced the problem:

The grievance-prone college culture offers ready targets for these frustrated students to blame for their plight: wildly exaggerated and sometimes fabricated instances of racism, trivial perceived “microaggressions,” and the very real racial isolation that is largely due to racially preferential admissions — all leading to a supposedly hostile learning environment.

Another common reaction is to withdraw into racial enclaves within the campus. Many universities encourage this by creating black dormitories and even by assigning entering students to them.

As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, one easy solution would be for minority students to refuse to apply or attend colleges where they will be mismatched, but to aim for schools in which they can excel. That choice, after all, is wholly theirs. Just because you can be you are accepted by Harvard does not mean that you have to go to Harvard.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dreading a Politicized Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the most American of American holidays. A communal feast, celebrated in roughly the same way throughout the country, it should be a time for affirming our gratitude. We are not only grateful for the bountiful harvest but for being one people living in a great nation.

As I wrote those words I could not help but thinking that they will instantly identify me as a relic. Today, more and more people are dreading Thanksgiving. It seems no longer to be a ritual meal that brings us all together, that unites us and makes us one. Many of our fellow citizens are girding their loins, preparing to see the convivial and congenial dinner table descend into a raucous and dyspeptic exercise in political argument.

One suspects that it’s a new kind of diet. Turning Thanksgiving dinner into a cacophonous din is guaranteed to diminish your appetite.

Things have become so bad and so generalized that various organizations, from to the Democratic National Committee to the Hillary Clinton campaign are putting out talking points that young people can use to debate their ignorant and superannuated elders. One caveat here: if you are a millennial and you rattle off DNC talking points at Thanksgiving dinner you will immediately affirm everyone’ caricature of millennials as opinionated boors.

Heather Wilhelm is correct to note that we no longer have social skills. We no longer know how to get along, even for the short time it takes to consume a communal feast. In the heat of a passionate argument over climate change, Islamophobia and Syrian immigrants, table manners will degenerate. How can you master the art of chewing with your mouth closed when you feel compelled to blurt out the definitive talking point about campus insurgencies? Then again, why did you we study all of that critical theory if not to replace table manners with a passionate commitment to big ideas?

Putting politics aside, just for an instant, one is painfully aware of the fact that many people believe that arguing is healthy. Many people believe that couples should engage in an occasional fight, as long as they fight fair. Many philosophically minded therapists even believe in the dialectic, in the clash of contrary opinions. They imagine that a synthesis will arise from the conflict between thesis and antithesis. They believe that it is unhealthy to restrain yourself, to bottle up emotions, to keep it under control. Thus, they want you to let it rip. They tell themselves that the full-throated expression of their opinions will naturally produce a new synthesis that will make everyone happy.

They ought to recall the Biblical injunction, from Luke, 11, 17:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.

Abraham Lincoln said it a bit differently, but the thought is the same. There is no virtue in arguing and fighting over Thanksgiving. At times, argument is inevitable. At times, fighting is required. And yet, there is no superior virtue in turning even the most agreeable communal meals into a brawl.  

The unfortunate point, Wilhelm argues, is that life has become so politicized that we no longer think it is even worth trying to get along with each other.

Wilhelm analyzes the problem:

Politics, for many, has morphed into personal identity. Just look at colleges today, where opposing political sentiments or offensive statements can make students collapse like panicked, half-hearted origami. And hey, it makes sense: If politics is the be-all and end-all of life, and you honestly believe we can build a utopia buttressed by bureaucratic control, your personal worth, by logical extension, is ultimately based upon your political beliefs. No offense is too petty to let stand; no Thanksgiving dinner can be left in peace.

One is reminded of another Biblical verse: “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

There is something monumentally vain and exhibitionistic about displaying one’s ill-informed opinions at the dinner table. And yet, if the nation’s political and cultural debates are being led by Leonardo di Caprio and Amy Schumer, why shouldn’t everyone believe that he has a constitutional right to ruin Thanksgiving dinner by expressing his feelings, tactlessly and inconsiderately.

How does it happen that everything has become politics? How does it happen that we have become so politicized that we identify, not as Americans, but as Republicans and Democrats? Why are we more loyal to our political party than we are to the nation? Doesn’t politicized identity look like a symptom of an absence of patriotism? People no longer believe in America; they belong to factions. They do not believe in e pluribus unum, out of many, one; but believe in multiculturalism, out of one, many.

Worse yet, we no longer have a set of rules that define good behavior and set standards toward which we should aspire. Unfortunately, we tossed out all the rules of good behavior when we tossed out religion, when we replaced it with science.

However much you love science, there is no such thing, David Hume wrote around 250 years ago, as a science of moral principles. Science tells us what is; ethics tells us what we should or should not do. The two do not meet. Without religion, without a moral foundation in texts that are taken to be sacred we have made a fetish of dissension.

In the absence of patriotism and in the absence of Judeo-Christian values we have become cult followers. The cults might have involve political parties or they might make us belong to movements like psychoanalysis and Marxism and scientology.

Without religion, people do not take seriously the injunction to love their neighbor, to bless those who curse them, to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. If they did there were be fewer arguments and fewer fights over Thanksgiving dinner.

For many of those who dread a politicized holiday, today’s Thanksgiving dinner is merely a prelude to what really matters: football.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

America's Indoctrination Mills

If you think college is bad, wait until to find out what is going on in America’s elite high schools. The mania over political correctness and victim culture does not begin in college. It begins, as Prof. Jonathan Haidt discovered, in the indoctrination mills that prepare children for college. It’s a bit much to say that they are schools at all.

Parents are clearly worried about the abuse that is systematically visited on boys. They are surely also worried about the way that their daughters are being turned into a revolutionary vanguard. Whatever you think about helicopter parenting, you might consider that parents might very well want to protect their children from the leftist culture that prevails in high school.

Haidt describes a high school assembly that he had addressed in an upscale suburban high school. After his talk, he was denounced and attacked by female students while all the male students, save one male feminist, kept quiet.

Later, he spoke to an adult audience, comprised of parents of many of the children he had spoken to earlier:

So if these teenagers are coming into political consciousness inside of a “moral matrix” that is uniformly leftist, there will always be anger directed at those who disrupt that consensus.

That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and… there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls, with the blessing of the teachers.

No more teaching. Incipient feminists bully the boys and the boys have no right to say anything about it, lest they be denounced to the thought police.

Haidt found the same atmosphere at a top New England prep school:

Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools, in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended  beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.

It’s as though it isn’t enough to give poor grades to any student who offers  a dissenting opinion. He must also be punished by having to undergo thought reform.

One must note that the feminist victory is pyrrhic. These empowered girls will go off to college and will hook up with boys who will mistreat them. When these girls decide go looking for relationships with boys, the boys they have been beating down throughout their school years might not be interested in anything more than using them for sex. When these liberated girls sext pictures of their private parts to wanna-be boyfriends, the boys will probably not feel a gentlemanly concern with keeping the images private. They will more likely pass them around the locker room.

Perhaps it is payback for the high school classes and assemblies in which the boys were forced into silence. 

Haidt continues:

And then… they go off to college and learn new ways to gain status by expressing collective anger at those who disagree. They curse professors and spit on visiting speakers at Yale. They shut down newspapers at Wesleyan. They torment a dean who was trying to help them at Claremont McKenna. They threaten and torment fellow students at Dartmouth. And in all cases, they demand that adults in power DO SOMETHING to punish those whose words and views offend them. Their high schools have thoroughly socialized them into what sociologists call victimhood culture, which weakens students by turning them into “moral dependents” who cannot deal with problems on their own. They must get adult authorities to validate their victim status.

So they issue ultimatums to college presidents, and, as we saw at Yale, the college presidents meet their deadlines, give them much of what they demanded, commit their schools to an ever tighter embrace of victimhood culture, and say nothing to criticize the bullying, threats, and intimidation tactics that have created a culture of intense fear for anyone who might even consider questioning the prevailing moral matrix. 

One needs to ask whether these children are being prepared for the real world, whether they are being taught what they need to know to succeed.

Haidt has more than a few doubts:

As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open students’ minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.

 They used to be called high schools. Now they seem to be nothing more than indoctrination mills.

Quotation of the Day

Charles Krauthammer on Special Report with Bret Baier last night was commenting on President Obama’s statement connecting the terrorist attack in Paris with the upcoming climate change conference in Paris:

I think what Obama was saying is that if we don’t destroy our economies in order to save the ocean from rising an inch or two a hundred years from now, the terrorists have won.

When Rudeness Begets Rudeness

Rudeness begets rudeness. Watching someone who is rude tends to make you act rudely. Being treated rudely makes you more likely to treat someone else rudely. It happens automatically, without your even being aware of it.

If this happens in personal interactions, does the same thing happen when the media is constantly exposing us to people who are acting rudely? And what happens when politicians behave boorishly? Do these examples tend to make us behave more rudely toward others? Do they promote bullying and other forms of assaultive disrespect?

And, what happens to the culture when politicians are rude and disrespectful to members of the opposition party? What happens when they show more contempt than courtesy, when they demonize each other? Ought we to conclude that these political leaders undermine social harmony?

Also, some forms of psychotherapy, in particular Freudian psychoanalysis involve systematic rudeness. When you refuse to look your patient in the eye, when you refuse to take what he says at face value, when you give him the silent treatment, you are being monumentally rude. Does this promote good behavior or bad behavior? One must note that Freud would have considered the latter to be more in touch with the fundamental truth of human nature. See Janet Malcolm’s seminal essay: “Therapeutic Rudeness.”

Scientific American reports on the research without drawing too many conclusions and without applying the results to different cultural situations. Which is well and good. We need to evaluate the data before drawing a conclusion.

Researchers from the University of Florida were not surprised to discover that we tend to emulate our betters. If someone who has fame and fortune and power acts like a boorish lout, he is inducing others to do the same. If you associate certain behaviors with success, you will happily adopt them. And yet, we also imitate and mirror behaviors when we are relating to our peers, to our colleagues or friends. And it does not matter that much whether you have simply witnessed the rude behavior or have been its target.

Let’s examine the Scientific American report on the research:

New research by Trevor Foulk, Andrew Woolum, and Amir Erez at the University of Florida takes that same first step in identifying a different kind of contagious menace: rudeness. In a series of studies, Foulk and colleagues demonstrate that being the target of rude behavior, or even simply witnessing rude behavior, induces rudeness. People exposed to rude behavior tend to have concepts associated with rudeness activated in their minds, and consequently may interpret ambiguous but benign behaviors as rude. More significantly, they themselves are more likely to behave rudely toward others, and to evoke hostility, negative affect, and even revenge from others.

Prior studies had addressed the effect of emulation. We tend to emulate our betters because we associate their behaviors with success. But, the new research has shown that the imitation effect applies even with our peers:

In addition, in most previous studies the destructive behavior was modeled by someone with a higher status than the observer. These extreme negative behaviors may thus get repeated because (a) they are quite salient and (b) the observer is consciously and intentionally trying to emulate the behavior of someone with an elevated social status.


Foulk and colleagues wondered about low-intensity negative behaviors, the kind you are likely to encounter in your everyday interactions with coworkers, clients, customers, and peers. We spend far more of our time with coworkers and clients than we do with supervisors, and so their actions, if contagious, are likely to have a much broader effect on us. Evidence for negative contagion among peers and customers might also suggest that there is more than one mode of infection. We are far less likely to intentionally base our behavior on our customers than we are on our bosses, and thus any behavioral contagion observed in these settings is likely driven by unconscious, unintentional processes rather than by purposeful imitation. Perhaps we can “catch” behaviors without even trying.

Being polite to your customers, your clients, your friends and neighbors contributes to social harmony through the contagion effect. Being rude induces rudeness in others, and it happens without one's being conscious of the process:

These findings suggest that exposure to rudeness seems to sensitize us to rude concepts in a way that is not intentional or purposeful, but instead happens automatically.

The researchers showed different videos to test subjects. The subjects were then shown a rude email. Their reaction to the email was colored significantly by the video they had seen:

However, the type of video participants observed early in the study did affect their interpretation of and response to the rude email. Those who had seen the polite video adopted a benign interpretation of the moderately rude email and delivered a neutral response, while those who had seen the rude video adopted a malevolent interpretation and delivered a hostile response. Thus, observing rude behaviors, even those committed by coworkers or peers, resulted in greater sensitivity and heightened response to rudeness.

Therefore, it is not just about being treated rudely. You will behave more rudely merely by witnessing bad behavior:

Collectively, the data from Foulk and colleagues highlight the dangers of low-intensity negative behaviors, even those that are merely witnessed rather than personally experienced. With negative behaviors, the witness becomes the perpetrator, just as the person who touches a doorknob recently handled by a flu sufferer can themselves get sick and infect others. No conscious intent in necessary, and the contagion may last for days. Unfortunately, unlike the flu, there currently is no known inoculation for this contagion. 

What conclusion can we draw? Perhaps the studies show that we are prone to harmonize with others, even when their conversation amounts to a cacophonous din. Surely, it is taxing to indulge in that level of rudeness, but we seem to be programmed to get along with other people and to speak to them in a language they understand. One suspects that people who adopt rude behaviors are not trying to avenge themselves or to return the abuse as much as to try to connect with someone who is behaving badly. Or else, they might be trying to adopt the posture that seems to be socially acceptable.

What is the solution? Perhaps it lies in the Biblical injunction: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Which is not the same as: do unto others as others do unto you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Overcoming the Ivy League Mystique

As I have been at pains to point out, the demonstrations roiling American campuses today have multiple causes.

The larger cause is President Obama’s failed presidency. Just as the Red Guards were mobilized to cover up the failure of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, so too are young campus radicals shifting the blame from blacks who are failing to the whites who have supposedly induced them to fail.

David Goldman believes that the black students are accusing white students of practicing witchcraft on them.

The more immediate cause involves racial preferences and the mania over diversity. Colleges have decided that they must have a certain number of minority students, regardless of whether they are qualified or can do the work. Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor have called this a mismatch.

This puts minority students in situations where they cannot compete and are considered to be inferior. In many cases they do not receive degrees. It other cases they are passed through the system. Since everyone knows that these students have been admitted to fulfill racial preferences, they are not respected on campus and never really feel that they belong.

Yesterday, David Goldman, aka Spengler provided further evidence of the costs of affirmative action. He points out that:

… black American college students, especially men, are failing at a catastrophic rate.

This chart says it all.

Unfortunately, no one has really suggested that students who fail might be responsible for their failure. If these students know that they are going to be admitted to college under a racial preference, they should apply to colleges where they can compete effectively. Just because you can get in to Harvard does not mean that you have to apply to Harvard or to go to Harvard.

One recalls the black student who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools but who chose to go to the Honors College at the University of Alabama. Beyond the fact that he will graduate debt free, he will surely get an excellent education, one that is not marred by administrative meddling. He will be respected as one of the brightest students and will be able to root for a considerably better football team.

If a minority student goes to an Ivy League school, one where his SAT scores (on a 1600 scale) are roughly 400 points below those of Asian students, he should recognize that he will have to work harder and longer in order to compete.

The national conversation, of course, blames everyone but the colleges and the students. But, when you tell students that they have no personal responsibility for their failures, they are going to be less inclined to work hard and to achieve. If they were behind to begin with, the demonstrations double down on their handicap.

Many people have tried to explain the black failure rate. And naturally, they have tended to find ways to rationalize it and to blame white people. Spengler quotes the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education:

Clearly, the racial climate at some colleges and universities is more favorable toward African Americans than at other campuses. A nurturing environment for black students is almost certain to have a positive impact on black student retention and graduation rates. Brown University, for example, although often troubled by racial incidents, is famous for its efforts to make its campus a happy place for African Americans. In contrast, the University of California at Berkeley has had its share of racial turmoil in recent years. The small number of black students on campus as a result of the abolishment of race-sensitive admissions has made many African Americans on campus feel unwelcome. This probably contributes to the low black student graduation rate at Berkeley.

Now the college campus must be a “happy place” for students of color. Doesn’t this sound somewhat infantilizing? Strictly speaking the word “abolishment” exists, but one does better to use the normal word: abolition. As for the situation of black students at Berkeley, one suspects that the stigma imposed on them by affirmative action is alive and well… regrettably so. And one should note that Berkeley has one of the nation’s largest contingents of overachieving Asian students.

In any case the Journal blames it on the black family:

High dropout rates appear to be primarily caused by inferior K-12 preparation and an absence of a family college tradition, conditions that apply to a very large percentage of today’s college-bound African Americans.

Surely, there is truth to this analysis. Spengler adds that we need to take into account the high incidence of broken homes and out-of-wedlock births in the African-American community.

Moreover, there is the problem of multiculturalism. Today, young people are encouraged to affirm their own culture, to be proud of it, even if that culture does not prevail at Harvard or Yale.

One suspects that it is part of the problem. Young people are notoriously prone to join cliques. Ivy League students who went to the same prep school or who come from the same neighborhood are more likely to hang out together. Surely, Chinese students hang out with Chinese students and Indian students spend more time with Indian students.

Students from different cliques might socialize in class and in study groups—but that assumes they are taking the same classes. They have an equal opportunity to participate in class, to impress their peers or not, as the case may be. And students from different cliques live together in dorms, take their meals together and so on.

If the ambient culture encourages conformity—that is, uniformity of dress and grooming, uniformity of table manners and proper classroom decorum—it will be easier to feel that one belongs.

If a student chooses not to conform, perhaps because he insists on affirming the value of his own culture, people from different cultures will avoid him and make him feel like he is not one of the crowd.

The current discussion, if we should even call it that, presupposes that black students cannot take responsibility for their own achievements or lack of same. Of course, this is disempowering, a counsel of despair.

How can the problem be solved? The students and their guidance counselors should consider which schools are best for them, not which schools they can get into. And it should encourage them to work harder, spend more time in the library, spend more time learning to conform to the ambient culture and spend less time fulminating about injustices.