Monday, February 29, 2016

Headline of the Day

Piers Morgan in The Daily Mail:

I don't watch the Oscars to get harangued about racism, rape, sex abuse, greedy bankers, global warming and gay rights. I watch to be entertained. If you want to preach at us, darlings, get into politics

Did Chris Rock Hollywood?

Did Chris Rock Hollywood?

In principle, Oscar night gives Hollywood a chance to celebrate itself. It’s the time when the movie industry honors the significant achievements of its members. It’s a democratic process. Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science vote for the nominees, in a primary election, and then cast another vote for the winners.

What could be wrong with that?

Apparently, some people decided that the members of the Academy had committed a thought crime: they did not vote for a sufficient number of African-American nominees.

So Chris Rock got up to emcee the proceedings and spent a goodly portion of his time chastising and guilt-tripping the assembled artists. Thus, he was diminishing their achievements by making them feel that they had earned their plaudits on the backs of excluded black artists. Effectively, Rock ruined the celebratory atmosphere of the evening. One suspects that he will not be invited back.

You might think that liberal Hollywood had it coming. Its denizens have supported every crackpot left wing cause that there is. Thus, it was hoist on its own petard, as Shakespeare might have put it. If anyone had had a sense of humor he would have been selling hair shirts at the door. It would have been the right fashion statement.

Hollywood moguls and actors and actresses allowed themselves to be trashed on a very large stage by a stand-up comedian last night. And they were obliged, by the laws of decorum, to laugh at his lame jokes.

Rock was wildly out of line. Besides, now, every time a black artist is nominated for an Oscar everyone will be thinking that he did not earn it but that he was given it to shut up people like Chris Rock.

As for the ratings, the broadcast achieved the lowest ratings in eight years. They were down 6% over last year’s bad ratings.

Merkel's Humanitarian Folly

Count it among the worst policy failures in recent history. Count it with Obama’s handling of the civil war in Syria. Or as a corollary to same.

At best, it ought to be cautionary. At worst, it probably will not. Some people never learn.

I am thinking of Angela Merkel’s open arms policy toward Muslim refugees,  now understood to be a catastrophic failure. Of course, Obama laid the groundwork in Syria, but it took Time Magazine Person of the Year Merkel to prove the truth of the old adage: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Formerly known as a pragmatic politician, Merkel saw the image of a suffering humanity and morphed into a humanitarian. Some even said that she was acting like a Christian. She saw what was happening in the Middle East and opened Germany’s borders to those who were fleeing war and famine and desolation. She believed that it was her moral duty. She believed that it was Germany’s moral duty. In effect, she found a way to damage her nation severely. We do not yet know whether the damage is irrevocable.

In an excellent opinion piece for the German magazine Der Spiegel Christiane Hoffmann takes us back to September 5, 2015—which is not that long ago:

"The world views Germany as a country of hope and opportunity," she had said only a few days previously, as part of her annual summer press conference. She also evoked the universal civil liberties that are part of the founding principles of the European Union. It was the day when Angela Merkel decided to follow her convictions, to replace pragmatism with idealism and to emphasize the "Christian" in the name of her party, the Christian Democratic Union. It was the first time in a long while that she didn't think things through all the way to the end.

Merkel, a right-of-center politician, caved to humanitarian idealism. She caved to sentiment. She felt badly for all of the refugees. She took on the mantle of modern liberalism and chose to redistribute German wealth, to open the doors of her country, to provide succor to those most in need. She yielded to her maternal instincts. And she chose as her policy: the audacity of hope. Didn’t the great Obama declare himself a citizen of the world in a stirring speech in Germany?

What could go wrong?

It was a feel-good policy, a policy that would place Merkel and her ilk on the moral high ground. It made them feel good about themselves. After all, they were showing the proper amount of politically correct empathy. As for the practical consequences, both for those it was intended to help, and for those German citizens who would suffer the consequences of a calamitous mistake… that did not enter their calculations. Normally a pragmatic politician Merkel threw caution to the winds. She has reaped the whirlwind.

Merkel fell into the trap that eventually claims all grandiose idealistic policies: she did not, as the article says, think things through. Call it a lack of imagination. Call it a failure of policy analysis. Call it an inability to see that however much humanity everyone had in common, Muslims were, by their culture, different. They did not want to be citizens of the world. They did not know how to be citizens of the world. Worse yet, they did not have the cultural tools to adapt or to integrate into a free enterprise, Western liberal democracy.

Merkel’s was a variant on a failed Bush administration policy: bring democracy and freedom to the oppressed Muslims of Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza. Call it nation-building if you like, but it was really an effort to impose a radically different culture on peoples who did not want it and who could not absorb it. Those who were the objects of our largesse saw the freedom agenda as a new crusade, a rejection and a discrediting of their culture. They doubled down and fought back against it.

Hoffmann does not mention New Year’s Eve in Cologne. She does not mention the attacks on German women or the crimes and the rapes in the refugee centers… to say nothing of the rightist reaction within Merkel’s own political party.

She emphasizes the conditions of refugees, many of whom have not found a land of hope and opportunity. Anything but….

For her miscalculation, Merkel has been isolated by other European leaders. She did not consult with them and they have not followed her lead. They have chosen not to subject their nations to the misery that Merkel is visiting on Germany.

Other leaders have been closing their borders and building walls. They are not their brothers’ keepers and do not consider the refugees their brothers anyway. The European Union promise of open borders has been one of the casualties of Merkel’s well-meaning, idealistic, humanitarian folly:

Border controls have been reintroduced across large parts of Europe and fences are being erected. It turns out that Merkel deceived herself about the extent of European solidarity. There will be no harmonious distribution of refugees and it is unlikely that Turkey will reliably protect Europe from a further influx of refugees. That's a sad state of affairs. Indeed, nothing is as unseemly as the gloating comments over Merkel's failure one hears these days in Bavaria and Budapest. In Munich, Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer has alleged that the chancellor's Willkommenskultur for refugees has radicalized the country, and, in Budapest, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán this week accused Merkel of "importing terrorism, crime, anti-Semitism and homophobia" in an interview with the German mass-circulation daily Bild.

The result:

In recent days, thousands of refugees have once again been stranded along the Balkan route, and this time they are being held back by border fences. Desperate men, women and children can be seen camping out in central Athens. And this time there are images that Merkel had hoped to avoid last September: images of a Europe that is placing its bet on partition and deterrence. They are images of defeat for the German chancellor. Merkel's humanitarian approach in the refugee crisis has failed.

Hoffmann reports that Merkel is walking it all back… trying, as it were, to put the toothpaste back in the tube. She is doing it slowly, but she has recognized the error of her ways:

Conditions for refugees are already rapidly deteriorating. Social benefits are being reduced, limits are being placed on family reunification in a way that will lead even more women and children to make the dangerous journey by boat to Europe. The number of countries designated as safe will be increased, allowing for the easier rejection and deportation of asylum applicants. And there will be a forced repatriation of Afghan nationals -- to the very country that Western troops were unable to pacify and is now sinking into civil war.

As of now, the flow of refugees is slowing down, but not because of anything Merkel has done:

Currently, significantly fewer refugees are arriving in Germany. This, however, is not the product of Merkel's policies -- it is the result of her failure. Fewer people are coming because Merkel's opponents have closed the borders along the Balkan Route. Even back in the autumn when Hungary erected a border fence, the protest from Berlin was at best cautious. And when Turkey began erecting a wall along the Syrian border, officials expressed understanding behind the scenes.

Hoffmann concludes:

What we are witnessing today no longer has anything to do with conviction -- it is the return of the ultra-pragmatic Chancellor Merkel, who is paving an escape route from her previous policies.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Donald Trump in the Age of Obama

Many people, myself included, are convinced that the ascent of Donald Trump reflects the damage that Barack Obama has done... to the culture, to our politics, to our standing in the world, to our morale. Many people believe that Trump will restore American greatness, that he will lead us to recover the greatness that Obama has frittered away over the past seven years.

Let’s grant that Obama was clever about it. He was cagey and subtle, not boisterous and bombastic. And yet, the results were the same: declining morale and diminished self-confidence. America is now a nation in decline, nation far less free than it was. Many Americans do not seem to know how it happened and are willing to do what is necessary to restore America’s greatness.

Some pundits thought that Obama would be a Messiah, redeeming America’s sins, first among which was racism. Many people today believe that Donald Trump is a new Messiah, saving America from the horrors visited by the Obama administration.

This morning Ross Douthat offered a cogent analysis of Trump within the current cultural context. He showed how Obama has paved the way for Trump, or better how Trump is the perfect candidate for the age of Obama.

In his words:

President Obama didn’t give us Trump in any kind of Machiavellian or deliberate fashion. But it isn’t an accident that this is the way the Obama era ends — with a reality TV demagogue leading a populist, nationalist revolt.

Douthat began by pointing out that Trump is a Republican problem, a reaction to the repeated failures of Republican leaders to stand up against Obama and to stop his agenda. Beyond that, the Trump candidacy is also the antidote to the failed Bush presidency.

Douthat wrote:

The Trump uprising is first and foremost a Republican and conservative problem: There would be no Trumpism if George W. Bush’s presidency hadn’t cratered, no Trumpism if the party hadn’t alternated between stoking and ignoring working-class grievances, no Trump as front-runner if the party leadership and his rivals had committed fully to stopping him before now.

Obviously, Trump comes to us from reality TV. But, Douthat noted, Obama was the first candidate to base a campaign on tropes from reality TV. After all, Obama had no qualifications to speak of. Thus, his campaign was based on smoke and mirrors, the work of a master illusionist:

First, the reality TV element in Trump’s campaign is a kind of fun-house-mirror version of the celebrity-saturated Obama effort in 2008. Presidential politics has long had an escalating celebrity component, a cultish side that’s grown ever-more-conspicuous with time. But the first Obama campaign raised the bar. The quasi-religious imagery and rhetoric, the Great Man iconography and pillared sets, the Oprah endorsement and music video and the Hollywood stars pledging allegiance — it was presidential politics as one part Aaron Sorkin-scripted liturgy, one part prestige movie’s Oscar campaign.

And also:

If Obama proved that you can run a presidential campaign as an aspirational cult of personality, in which a Sarah Silverman endorsement counts for as much as a governor or congressman’s support, Trump is proving that you don’t need Silverman to shout “the Aristocrats!” and have people eat it up.

And, with his executive orders and his unwillingness to enforce or implement the law, Obama has acted as an imperial and imperious president.

In Douthat’s words:

… voters are increasingly habituated to the idea of an ever more imperial presidency— which is also a trend that Obama’s choices have accelerated. Having once campaigned against his predecessor’s power grabs, the current president has expanded executive authority along almost every dimension: launching wars without congressional approval, claiming the power to assassinate American citizens, and using every available end-around to make domestic policy without any support from Congress.

It ought to be obvious to everyone by now, but Trump is not a conservative. His most fervent supporters are not conservatives either. Count Chris Christie and Maine Governor Paul LePage, Northeastern liberal Republicans, among his most prominent supporters.

But, Trump also appeals to disaffected Democrats, and surely that is one of his strongest selling points:

Trump’s strongest supporters aren’t archconservatives; they’re white working-class voters, especially in the Rust Belt and coal country, who traditionally leaned Democratic and still favor a strong welfare state.

These voters had been drifting away from the Democratic Party since the 1970s, but Obama has made moves that effectively slam the door on them: His energy policies, his immigration gambits, his gun control push, his shift to offense on same-sex marriage and abortion. It was possible to be a culturally conservative skeptic of mass immigration in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton. Not so anymore.

Of course, it’s all speculation right now. Conventional wisdom has concluded that Trump is the presumptive nominee and that he cannot lose. It believes that Marco Rubio’s attacks are too little too late… especially if, as now seems plausible, Trump crushes Rubio in Florida on March 15. It believes that Trump is coated with purest Teflon, and thus, that even his refusal to denounce David Duke and the KKK—on the grounds that he knows nothing about them-- will not hurt him.

Of course, if Trump defied all expectations in doing as well as he has done, what will happen now that the expectations are reversed. Is he like a stock that you should buy when no one wants it and sell when everyone wants it?

But, even if the Republican establishment succeeds in stopping Trump-- which seems less likely now that he is presenting himself as an establishment Republican-- it would alienate so many of his voters that it would almost guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton. Of course, if voters were really concerned with sticking it to the Republican establishment they would be flocking to Ted Cruz. When faced with the choice of Trump or Cruz, establishment Republicans largely prefer Trump.

As for the higher truth, the late, great Yogi Berra said it well: It ain’t over till it’s over.

The Soup of Female Sentimentality

Just in case you were wondering how badly therapy has corrupted relationships, here’s a sterling example from a column by Carolyn Hax.

A letter writer asked this question:

Two people in my life recently wanted me to say specific things to them to fulfill their emotional needs. It wasn’t a personal preference, as in, “Please refer to my wedding as my Union” — a simple request — but, “I want you to say sorry even though you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.” Or, “I want you to ask me about this because I want to talk about it.”

I told both of these people I thought these requests were ludicrous.

What aggravates me is that I don’t think they got what they were looking for, which is asking me to feel emotions I don’t feel, then to express these insincere emotions to their satisfaction.

Seriously, where does a person draw the line? Maybe to just smooth the waters and make people feel better, you’re supposed to say anything?

I suspect that the letter writer is a woman and that she is referring to women friends. Given the media mania over gender neuterdom, we are not told this vital information. I will say that if this exchange happened in relationships between men the country is in a lot worse shape than I thought.

At a time when women are increasingly claiming a place in the worlds of business and the professions, therapists ought not to be encouraging them to indulge this kind of whiny, wimpy, sentimental psychodrama.

I note, in passing, that a coda to Hax’s response, written by a man, identifies the letter writer as a female. I suppose it’s possible that he is using the generic “she,” pronominal form that does not exist, but let’s be optimistic.

For the record, I consider Carolyn Hax one of the better advice columnists out there. Not quite at the same level as Emily Yoffe who used to write as Dear Prudence for, but generally good nonetheless. I will mention in passing that the woman who has replaced Yoffe on Slate is so obviously not up to the job that it’s embarrassing to read her.

Anyway, Hax responds to this letter writer by siding with the friends who want to tell her what to feel, how to feel and how to express it even if she does not feel it. She charges the letter writer for being unwilling or unable to fulfill the emotional needs of her friends. As you can see, this quickly descends into a caricature of female friendship… all sentimentality all the time. Perhaps only females get this.

In her response Hax neuters everyone she can. Otherwise she would have to suggest that some women see relationships as an emotional soup and feel offended when their friends do not just jump in:

These people want something from you that you’re obviously not giving, and I’m not talking about the stock, insincere phrasing that you rightly question but too-combatively deride to their faces.

I’m talking about the emotional satisfaction they would derive from knowing they’ve been heard. If I read correctly between the lines here, you’ve knowingly denied them the “I hear you” assurance they seek….

So, where you see ludicrous requests, I see unfortunately phrased versions of “Please understand me.”

Try that next time, I suggest, in lieu of quibbling with their methods. Listen carefully and make it clear you grasp how they feel, even when your experience puts you entirely somewhere else.

As I said, Hax flings it straight into the soup of sentimentality. She seems to believe that the letter writer is deficient in empathy, God forbid, and thus should be feeling the feelings of her friends. She is offended by the letter writer's derision, but, to me that feels like an appropriate response to absurd demands.

I would humbly suggest that the friends are living their relationships as scripted dramas and that they are feeding their friend her lines. The friend balks, as she rightly should, because that’s no way to conduct a relationship between two human beings. Her friends are trying to deny her her freedom to choose how she wishes to relate to them. If the friends want to play out dramas, they should go to acting school.

Note well in the letter writer’s exposition that both of her friends want her to do what they want her to do because they want her to do it. They have no real sense of their friend as another human but they believe that their desires should be the rule.

The one wants her friend to apologize for something she did, but that the friend, i.e. the letter writer, does not think was wrong.

Truth be told, I am not opposed to insincere apologies. But, insincere apologies only have value when you have done something wrong but are balking at apologizing. When you have wronged someone and have to choose between an insincere apology and no apology at all, I would go with the former.

Yet, in the case at hand, the letter writer seems not to have done anything wrong. Thus, she need not apologize. The person who should apologize is her friend who is making this imperious demand, and who is treating the letter writer like a character in a play who has forgotten her lines.

As for the second friend, the one who says that she wants the letter writer to ask her about something because she wants to talk about it, let’s be serious.

If she wants to talk about it, she should talk about it. No one is stopping her. If she believes that she cannot talk about it unless her friend asks her to talk about it, then she has a serious problem. Can it really be the case that she can only broach the topic when her friend asks about it? Are we seeing a situation where the friend is going to say something insulting about the letter writer and wants to be able to have plausible deniability, thus to retain the right to shift the blame to the letter writer?

Anyway, this letter and the Hax response are dispiriting. I find it sad that this is the way adult human beings conduct their relationships. I strongly suspect that both of these friends have learned their asocial and dysfunctional skills from therapy. And Hax herself seems to have been infected by the same therapy virus: she wants the letter writer to ignore the offensive nature of her friends' demands and to feel their pain.

The solution is clear: the letter writer should choose her friends better. Anyone who goes into high dudgeon because you have failed to recite your lines correctly is not your friend.

Trump to Christie: "Go Home"

If you thought that the election campaign needed a little comic relief, here’s the Daily Mail report of what happened right after Chris Christie bravely stepped forward and endorsed the Donald:

Chris Christie was left in no doubt who was boss on Saturday, when The Donald shooed him off stage and packed him onto his private jet after a campaign stop, telling him to 'Go home'. Just one day after taking a political risk by dramatically endorsing the billionaire for the Republican nomination, Christie found himself getting a figurative pat on the head and instructions to clock out in front of 12,000 in Millington, Tennessee. While the theme music from Harrison Ford's movie 'Air Force One' blared out over loudspeakers, Trump was heard on a hot mic telling self-styled tough-guy Christie to 'Get in the plane and go home. It's over there. Go home.' Pointing to his luxury private plane, Trump's quick dismissal had the air of a man who had got exactly what he wanted from his new political ally.

Chris Christie just learned what it means to be a chump. It was his special reward for shifting the news cycle away from the Donald's bad debate performance. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lacan's Last Woman

If you haven’t read up on the history of psychoanalysis and, in particular, Jacques Lacan, the most influential Freudian since Freud, you will probably not find this story especially compelling. If you want to get up to speed you should read my book The LastPsychoanalyst.  Right away.

Obviously, the topics in my book and in the history of psychoanalysis are somewhat difficult. And yet, if you do not know something about intellectual history you will never really understand what is going on, for example, in universities. It’s nice to observe the effects of political correctness. If you don’t know the cause, you will be reduced to empty denunciations but no counterarguments.

Anyway, today’s topic concerns a woman named Catherine Millot. It was well enough known at the time, that she was Lacan’s last mistress. From 1972 to 1981 she had an affair with the famed psychoanalyst. All the while she was his patient.

In France, where people knew of the transgression, no one really paid it very much attention. Lacan had understood that Freud was trying to transform the culture, to substitute an ethic of desire for an ethic of duty and work. Since, he believed that desire could only exist when people were breaking the rules, his behavior was consistent with his theories… which, after all, was exactly what it was supposed to be.

One might also refer to a somewhat earlier love affair conducted by New York analyst Horace Frink with a patient named Angelika Bijur. I recounted the story in my book and would make special note of the fact that Frink’s analyst was Freud himself.

Besides, as I explained in some detail, Lacan placed himself beyond morality. He might have begun by breaking the rules, but he aimed at a condition of amorality, where the rules did not apply to him.

Naturally, psychoanalysts, especially the French variety, are horrified at the notion that anyone would try to grasp the impenetrable obscurities of the theory by referring to the man, himself. Good Platonists that they are, they spend their time gazing directly at the pure Ideas. This has rendered no small number of them blind to reality and morality.

In the first place, psychoanalysis is a practice, not a theoretical parlor game. Second, to be perfectly truthful, the number of people who really understand Lacan’s theories in the world today can be counted on two hands... if that. Most people join the cult because they love the man himself. They can toss around arcane formulae that they do not understand, but they do know that the meaning of the theories was the man himself. Ignore him and you have missed the point completely.

Strictly speaking, psychoanalysis is not going to make anyone get better. In France, in particular, it has never claimed to cure anything, to treat anything or to relieve human suffering. Lacan himself said that the clinical practice of psychoanalysis was a scam and that if anyone ever got better in analysis it was a fortuitous accident. Even in the hands of an Adam Phillips, it rejects normality as its goal.

If you were to ask what is its treatment goal, the answer lies in the person of a man like Lacan.

Those who have read my book will understand this. Those who have not, will not.

I recall a conversation I had with a friend in Paris in 1980. I noted to him that Lacan was looking seriously depressed. To that my friend, who was also a personal friend of Lacan, replied, with an air of great empathy: “His mistress just broke up with him. He has had his last woman.” Lacan was 79 at the time.

Anyway, Catherine Millot has just written a slim volume called Life with Lacan about her love affair with her psychoanalyst. In it she explains that she had consciously wanted to be Lacan’s “last woman.”

The book was recently reviewed in Le Monde, the prestigious French newspaper, by Elisabeth Roudinesco, the quasi-official biographer and historian of French psychoanalysis. I would mention that Roudinesco is a notable apologist for Lacan.

I have translated most of the review for your interest, not only to present some of Millot’s ideas, but also to show how the French cult around psychoanalysis functions. I will note, in passing, that the translation feels slightly awkward at times. In part this was because I did it in haste— blame the blogosphere—but in part it is because Roudinesco’s French, to my eye, is clunky. I have tried to smooth it out in places, but still….

Since Roudinesco is an excellent writer, I cannot imagine why she would have written a review that feels slapped together and difficult to read. I can only assume that she was trying to ensure that people do not read the book. If she had denounced it vigorously, in powerful prose, she would have drawn people to read it. By dismissing it as old news she was telling people that they should not waste their time.

One notes that within the cult of French psychoanalysis, people read what they are told to read and do not read what they are told not to read. If you think that American college students are having their minds turned into Jello, as Camille Paglia says, you should take some time to look into the intellectually stifling world of psychoanalysis. They make the indoctrination mills called American universities look amateurish.

Anyway, Roudinesco:

Writer and psychoanalyst, Catherine Millot offers a raw account of her love affair with Jacques Lacan—the man who, incidentally was her analyst throughout her affair-- from 1972 to 1981.

That is to say, she accompanied Lacan through the last years of his life, from the moment he gave his dizzying seminar on female mystics (entitled Encore) through the time when he became mute and started fabricating Borromean knots, therein to seek the logical key to madness.

Roudinesco notes that Millot’s portrait corresponds well to what we already know about Lacan. It is consistent with the portrait I presented in my book and the one that Roudinsco herself presented in several volumes.

She is doing so in order to tell people that they need not read Millot’s book:

Writing about this man who she knew so well Millot paints a portrait that does not contradict what we already know about him. Extravagant and libertine, fascinated by the Catholic Church, trying to meet with the pope, in love with Baroque Rome, armed with an American pistol to fight off attackers, Lacan enjoyed the company of bishops and cardinals.

Importantly, as I remarked in my book, Lacan believed in breaking rules. Having an affair with a patient certainly counts.

But Roudinesco recounts a conversation Lacan had with a transsexual man in a patient presentation. She taxes Lacan with rudeness— effectively, rudeness was Lacan’s signature—and explains how the presentation affected Millot.

As a psychoanalyst Lacan was certainly breaking the treatment rules, and during his famous patient presentations at the Hospital of Sainte-Anne in Paris, he did not hesitate to be rude to the patients.

[Millot wrote:]

Thus, speaking to a transsexual who insisted that he was a woman, Lacan kept telling him, during the interview, that he was a man… whether he liked it or not, and that no operation would make him a woman. In the end, Lacan called him: a poor sod.

Astonished by this scene, Catherine Millot became interested herself in transsexualism and concluded that Lacan was speaking as he was in order to signify that the human condition could adopt a miserable face.

Two notes here. Those who would like to read a transcript of one of the case presentations can refer to the only one that has ever been published. Lacan allowed me to put it in my book, Returning to Freud.

While it is true that Lacan practiced what Janet Malcolm called “therapeutic rudeness,” he was sympathetic to the schizophrenic whose interview I translated for my book. For the record, Malcolm introduced the notion of Lacan's rudeness in a New York Times review of my book Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero.

As for Lacan as a lover, the picture Millot presents is anything but flattering. Those who would like another unflattering portrait of the psychoanalyst as a pathetic lover should read Philippe Sollers’ book Femmes or Women. Lacan is presented as a character called Fals. Curiously, Sollers presents the notorious ladies’ man as weak and pathetic, not like a dashing lothario.

This also suggests that Lacan had fully overcome shame. Being a good pupil herself, Millot has shown that she has overcome her own sense of shame. She wrote an account of her love affair.

Roudinesco writes:

Unable to separate from any woman, Lacan demanded of each of his mistresses complete submission to unusual rituals: travel as a threesome, sharing the same places, frequenting insufferable people (like Armand Petitjean, a collaborationist writer.)

In short, this strikingly and boundlessly baroque Lacan wanted to live his life as he pleased. He considered that: “women  always contained a scourge.”

For the record, collaborationist refers to those who collaborated with the Nazis when France was occupied during World War II.

Roudinesco continues:

Nevertheless, Catherine Millot always refused to participate in his manias. She loved Lacan and he returned her love. She wanted to be “his last woman” fact that elicited in her predecessor (madame T) a frightening jealousy. This latter treated her like a rival and declared that she was “ descended from an ape.” About which Millot wrote that “she easily recognized herself in the description because she had long arms and a marked prognathism.

Catherine Millot knew that her attachment resembled a mystical love:

I had the feeling that I had grasped Lacan’s being from the inside. [I was} convinced that he knew me completely and absolutely. A part of my being had been given over to him; he had become its guardian.

She understood that her lover, who was forty-three years older than her, was declining before her eyes. Thus, when Lacan wanted to have a child with her, she decided to end her treatment and her liaison:

For me I felt that something had been torn away from me. For him it was an earthquake.

Here we have a life story cleverly written, in a Harlequin style, by a woman who now is the same age Lacan was when she met him in Italy, in the heart of the “five lands” (Cinque Terre) of the Ligurienne Coast.  Today the place has been declared by Unesco as a world historical site. A tawny Lacan.

Psychoanalysts like to agonize over the question of the end of analysis. Surely, the termination of Millot’s analysis, at a moment when a 79-year-old man told her he wanted to have a child with her… deserves to be counted as an especially poignant example. It will surely elicit a great deal of mindless theoretical lucubration from the Lacanians.

The last sentence is peculiar: Un Lacan couleur fauve. Make of it what you will.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Obama's Do-Nothing Foreign Policy

One does not quite see what Roger Cohen was getting at in his column yesterday.  After all, as I have posted, Cohen recently offered one of the most brutal critiques of the Obama Syria policy… an unmitigated and world-changing failure. And he has been anything but positive about Obama’s approach to Islamic terrorism.

On those we all agree.

Yesterday, however, Cohen wrote a strange column in which he pretended to be writing a speech wherein Obama would defend his foreign policy. Cohen, or Obama-Cohen called it a policy of restraint. We do better to call it Do-nothingism. It's principle is simple: if you do nothing, they presumably you cannot be held accountable for doing something.

We have in this blog examined many different explanations for Obama’s foreign policy failures. Among them: incompetence, sympathy for America’s enemies, believing that America is the problem, not the solution.

Put them together and you have a good picture of what went wrong with Obama’s foreign policy.

In writing a speech for Obama, Cohen is suggesting that there is method in the madness. I suspect that there never was a real rationale, but that, in looking back, you can find a rationale for just about anything. The truth is, if you cannot articulate a policy before you act then you do not have a policy.

Cohen opens with Obama contemplating the sting of public criticism. People accuse him of refusing to defend America’s interests. People believe that he does not accept America’s leadership role in the world. Since there is no evidence to suggest otherwise,  the criticism does have some bite.

Obama-Cohen begins on the defensive:

To say this is to be accused of defeatism, of managing American decline and of giving up on American exceptionalism. That is why I have pursued an implicit foreign policy rather than an explicit one. That is why I waited so long to give this speech on my doctrine of restraint. No president wants to make a speech called “The Consequences of the End of the American Century.” It’s political suicide.

So, Obama did not really have a policy. You need to know something to formulate and implement a policy. Obama did not know much of anything about world history or foreign policy, so he had to make it up as he went along. By default, he allowed himself to be led around by his ideology and his emotions.

Obama-Cohen does not seem to understand that, if the American century is over, he himself has been its undertaker. Just like Obama himself, Obama-Cohen never takes responsibility for anything.

Having weakened America, having shown himself to be weak, Obama-Cohen suggests that American power is no longer as consequential as it once was. Had he suggested that he was responsible for this decline, we would have been more likely to agree:

The consequence is that American power still counts but no longer clinches the deal. Multilateral solutions to international problems must be pursued. The Iran nuclear agreement — reached with help from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — is one example. Another is the Paris Climate Agreement. Military power can only be used as a last resort, for clear and achievable political ends, and when there is a workable plan for post-military development. That was not the case in Iraq. Look at the price.

If the best Obama-Cohen can do is to tout his disastrous deal with Iran and an empty climate change agreement, he has accomplished precisely nothing. The mass migration of peoples from the Middle East and Africa risks changing Western civilization for the worse… for decades, if not centuries to come.

Being an amateur Obama-Cohen tries to rationalize his weakness and failures by setting up an alternative that is worse. It would be like someone who is gun-shy defending his cowardice by saying that being trigger-happy would be worse.

Obama-Cohen continues:

I know that many people think my policies have failed in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, and that President Putin has filled the vacuum. My priority was to avoid overreach in the use of American power, adjust our ambitions to the realities of the world and devote resources to neglected domestic priorities including infrastructure, inequality and health care.

He continues to set up a false choice:

I’ll take that moniker, if the alternative is to embrace feel-good posturing and drift into another intractable war in which young Americans die for murky causes in the indifferent sands of the Middle East.

Here, Obama-Cohen shows what is wrong. He believes that there are only two alternatives: all-out war or nothing. Simple-mindedly he sees the world in all or nothing terms. As long as he is not doing what he is afraid to do—go to war—he thinks that he is doing the right thing. He has failed to understand the diplomacy always seeks a middle ground between two extremes. And he has failed to see that there are many ways to exercise leadership. He was a tennis player trying to play in a chess tournament against grandmasters.

Then Obama-Cohen starts listing some of his failures.

Should I have backed the pro-democracy uprising of young Iranians in 2009 against the regime, and might American support have tipped the balance? Should I have done more to ensure the fragile Egyptian experiment in democracy did not fail by pressing former President Mohamed Morsi to restrain his divisive Muslim Brotherhood agenda? Should I have called the coup that ousted him a “coup”?

These are situations where Obama was frozen like a deer in the headlights. He looked at the situation and did nothing. Nothing is not a policy. It is not a policy of restraint. It is cowardice.

But, of course, his team agonized over the issues. They might be a band of incompetents, but at least they have the right feelings. Don’t you feel better already?

I know members of my foreign policy team have agonized over Syria and its quarter-million dead. One or two may have been close to resigning. The refugee flow into Europe destabilizes allies. But I do not lose sleep. This job is about tough choices. Restraint was the wiser option for a chastened America unready to pass the mantle but condemned now to share it.

As I said, other options were available. Obama was restrained because he did not know what he was doing. His restraint was an orderly retreat. If Obama-Cohen did not understand it, the rest of the world did.

Obama Attacks New York City

Were you wondering why America is divided against itself? Were you wondering why the national mood is so foul, why Americans are increasingly at each others’ throats?

The answer is easy and difficult. It is easy to identify the source: it is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is more difficult to understand how the awful behavior of the president trickles down through the population at large.

It’s not new that the Obama White House is petty, vindictive and mean-spirited. Didn’t its treatment of Israeli Prime Minister show off Obama’s ugly side… which at the same time giving a green light to anti-Semitism?.

Now, Obama has focused his wrath on New York City. He wants to withhold funds that would be used to fight terrorism. The reason: Senator Chuck Schumer had the audacity to oppose Obama’s Iran deal. Besides, Schumer is Jewish and Jeremiah Wright’s protégé never had good relations with Jewish supporters of Israel.

Mort Zuckerman  makes the case against the Obama administration. Since Zuckerman has long been a severe critic of Obama, he is not late to this game.

Writing in U. S. News and World Report, Zuckerman says:

How dare the senior senator from New York, Charles Schumer, have a mind of his own? How dare the presumed next Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate have the nerve to speak up for the city against a stupid decision by Washington when he has already offended the White House by voting against last year's Iran nuclear deal? They are questioning his "credibility in talking about national security issues," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, which really means it is payback time for Schumer for being the highest profile Democrat to join Republicans in opposing the president's international agreement with Iran. Credibility? His credibility undercut the president's.

The extraordinary broadside of petty politics came just hours after Schumer joined New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in a triple protest at Washington's folly of reducing the protection against terrorism's No. 1 target. The Homeland Security budget for New York City is threatened to be cut in half, from $180 million to $90 million. That money will surely – must! – be restored. This petty and mean-spirited behavior by the Obama administration plays personal politics with the lives of New Yorkers and, oh just incidentally, could be a blow to the national economy.

This absurd news came with no warning, no consideration, no explanation to anyone with the grave responsibility of protecting a major city. It seems unthinkable that the city is being punished because the senator eloquently and bravely made the case against Obama's treasured deal with Iran, but the unthinkable is about the only explanation anyone can come up with for something so irrational as exposing New York at a time when, at every level of terror intelligence, officials are so concerned that homegrown radicals will stage a Paris-like attack on our soil. 

How dare anyone in Obama’s American think for himself?

As you know, American universities are awash in political correctness. It’s almost as though the thought police are running the asylums. Now, where might the students have gotten the message that such behavior is acceptable? Why do they think that insolence and petulance are acceptable? Where did they learn that they had a right to mount vendettas against professors who dispute the dogmas of the Church of the Liberal Pieties?

Surely, they learned some of it from their radical professors. But, do you think it's a coincidence that this has occurred during the administration of Jeremiah Wright's protégé?

It is very difficult to show exactly how a president’s bad behavior filters down the public at large. When you elect a president you elevate him to the position of national role model. You are telling everyone that they should emulate his behavior. People cue off of his manners. If they are bad manners, his being the president makes them good.

Obviously, Obama sets a very poor example. But he is an especially slick operator. His behavior is all the more influential for appearing to be the model of decorum and good manners. Chuck Schumer—as loyal a Democrat as one could wish—has just seen its true face.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Psychiatry and Its Discontents

A recent column by George Makari has caused a bit of a stir in what remains of the psychoanalytic ecosphere. Makari is both a practicing psychiatrist and a student of the history of psychiatry and he attempts to explain how he conducts two kinds of practice.

That seems more like the hook than the substance of his article, so I will leave it to the side.

His first point, a point I have often made, is well worth emphasizing. The history of psychiatry is littered by pseudo-scientific theories that have served no useful clinical purpose. These have failed because they were driven more by ideology than of scientific fact.

Among them is Freudian psychoanalysis:

Historians have shown that psychiatry has long suffered from the adoption of scientific-sounding theories and cures that turned out to be dogma. Perhaps the clearest example of such “scientism” was psychiatry’s embrace, in the early 19th century, of Franz Joseph Gall’s phrenology, in which all mental attributes and deficiencies were assigned to specific brain locales, evidence be damned. During much of the 20th century, psychoanalysis proposed far more conclusive answers than it could support, and today, the same could be said for some incautious neurobiological researchers.

Ideology is driven by ideas. It cherry picks the facts that support its positions and ignores or tries to explain away the rest. Frank Cioffi once offered an anecdote supposedly about J. Edgar Hoover. When Hoover ordered surveillance on someone who was suspected of being subversive, he would admit of two results. Either the facts demonstrated that the man was a subversive or, if they did not, the man was labelled a “cunning subversive.”

Makari sees the same process at work when people write biographies, or hagiographies of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. He does not mention the notion of saintliness or that these biographies fall well within the tradition of the lives of the saints. We owe the introduction of saintliness to Jacques Lacan.

Makari writes:

Much less extreme, everyday infiltrations of ideology can be discerned in the portraits that psychiatrists have drawn of their field. Most of these accounts have been self-serving affairs, in which the past was ravaged so as to justify present clinical certitudes. Nearly every generation has featured a proud practitioner who dismissed his predecessors and lifted the flag of victory, only to have it snatched away some years later. Since 1800, the end of history in psychiatry has come with the triumph of the asylum, followed by Romanic medicine, brain anatomy, genetics, psychoanalysis and, most recently, drugs like Prozac.

As I said, the notion that psychoanalysis is idea-driven, not fact-driven ought to have been well established by now. Makari does not mention that Lacan, for example, never considered psychoanalysis to be a science and declared that anyone who promoted it as a therapy was scamming his patients.

Naturally, Lacan’s followers were happy to repress Lacan’s truth. But their master understood perfectly that Freud was proposing an ideology and that its true destiny was to become a pseudo-religion. See my book, The Last Psychoanalyst.

One can, just for fun, recall a statement by Nobel prize-winning biologist Peter Medawar, from 1975:

… psychoanalysts will continue to perpetrate the most ghastly blunders just so long as they persevere in their impudent and intellectually disabling belief that they enjoy “a privileged access to the truth.” The opinion is gaining ground that doctrinaire psychoanalytic theory is the most stupendous confidence trick of the twentieth century; and, to borrow an image I have used elsewhere, a terminal practice as well—something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of ideas: a vast structure with radically unsound design and with no posterity.

Obviously, Medawar was looking at psychoanalysis as a clinical practice. And yet, if it is not a clinical practice but a stealth way to indoctrinate people in a radical leftist ideology, we are dealing with an altogether different beast.

One understands that some people continue to insist that psychoanalysis is perfectly consonant with the values practiced by liberal democracy. As Lacan might have said, such people understand nothing of Freud.

Makari sees the influence of the radical left in antipsychiatry, movement that apparently has infected the minds of historians of psychiatry. For reasons that escape me Makari credits it to Michel Foucault.

True enough, in  a book called Madness and Civilization Foucault declared that the cultural production of madness was driven by the ideological needs of Western civilization, of capitalism and liberal democracy.

And yet, if one is going to talk about antipsychiatry one ought to mention that the man who named it a was a British psychiatrist named David Cooper, in conjunction with R. D. Laing and a number of other figures in the psychiatric world.

I will mention in passing that I knew Foucault and occasionally discussed these matters with him. I never heard him claiming any great interest in antipsychiatry, except to the extent that his good friend Gilles Deleuze was associated with Felix Guattari, director of a psychiatric clinic called Clinique de la Borde. 

The clinic offered every known psychiatric treatment within a context that was called institutional psychotherapy. Deleuze and Guattari collaborated on a book called the Anti-Oedipus that made a bit of a stir in the 1970s. The one thing that the clinic and its two sister clinics did not offer was: psychoanalysis. (I will mention in passing that all of the directors of all the clinics were in analysis and in supervision with Lacan.)

During the 1970s, the founding father of antipsychiatry, David Cooper was at times in residence at La Borde. True enough, Guattari made a lot of noise about the antipsychiatry, but he was shocked one day to hear a pharmaceutical representative tell him that his clinic ordered as much psychiatric medication as the psychiatric hospitals. One might add that when the clinic was founded in 1953, they had precious few medications to offer. The result was very ugly, indeed. No serious psychiatrist associated with the place doubted the value of the new medications when they became available.

As it happened the antipsychiatry did exercise some influence over the patients at La Borde, generally in persuading them not to take their medication. One day the medical director and owner of the clinic, Jean Oury announced, when one of his patients had committed suicide, that the antipsychiatry had killed one of his patients. The true story is more complex than you would glean by reading a book by Foucault.

Those facts, to give you a context for Makari’s reflections on the influence of Foucault and the antipsychiatry on the practice of psychiatry in France.

Yet, Makari is quite correct to see that the field of psychiatry continues to suffer from ideological blinders. He might have mentioned that this is not an accident. Ideologues and culture warriors have very often used psychiatry and especially psychoanalysis to advance a culture and political agenda.

In Makari’s words:

For the past three decades, the reigning model among historians of my field has been dubbed “antipsychiatric.” Following the work of Michel Foucault, the fashion has been to argue that psychiatry emerged as a police arm of the modern state. Mental doctors were self-deluded or malevolent, their treatments cunning, at times barbaric, methods of control. Mental illness itself, they argued, was a false construct used to control dissidents, rebels and outcasts.

As I said, only Lacan had the intelligence to dispense with the notion that Freudian theory was a science. One might say, as I have suggested, that he had to do it to save the theory from drowning in its lies.

Makari continues:

However, this vein of research has been tarred by its own crude ideology. If scientism can falsely turn ethical and political issues into matters of disease, and grossly exaggerate what we know about the nature of mental illness, Foucault and his acolytes are prone to an antithetical failing: radical social constructionism. Madness, they would have us believe, whether it is schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or anorexia, is not grounded in any biological reality. Greedy commercial interests and a repressive society, they claim, have falsely transformed human differences and personal choices into psychiatric disorders.

In any event I cannot imagine where Makari got the idea that Foucault’s followers were running antipsychiatry programs in psychiatric clinics, but at least we can allow him his say:

To me, Foucault and his followers seemed impossibly naïve, even complacent. Had they ever encountered severe obsessive-compulsive disorder or suicidal depression? Had they ever seen a manic patient take lithium and be restored? Psychiatrists might be blinded by their commitments as insiders, but this academic view seemed sustainable only by remaining on the outside looking in.

Perhaps Laing and Thomas Szasz were doing such things, but at La Borde, which was as radical a place as there was, whose leaders believed that the future of psychiatry lay in practices that were being developed in China during the Cultural Revolution, no clinician voluntarily deprived a patient of medication or any other form of psychiatric treatment. If anything, the patients were overmedicated and overtreated.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Why Not Shoot Them?"

Happily for us all, Kevin Williamson has proposed a good solution to the Gitmo problem:

But the usual framing of the question — keep them in Gitmo or send them to some federal Supermax — presents a false choice that ignores a seldom discussed option for dealing with these prisoners.

I refer, of course, to the relatively straightforward expedient of shooting them.

The prisoners held at Gitmo are, for the most part, what is known under international law as “francs-tireurs,” non-uniformed militiamen who conduct sabotage and terrorism operations against occupation forces. Under Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions, fighters eligible for the protections extended to prisoners of war are obliged to meet several criteria, including the wearing of uniforms or fixed insignia and — here’s the rub for the Islamic State et al. — conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. Non-uniformed militiamen and insurgents sawing the heads off of Wall Street Journal reporters do not qualify for Geneva Convention protections. They are, under the applicable international law, subject to summary execution, as are captured spies, terrorists, and the like.

So: Why not shoot them?