Monday, September 16, 2019

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

The only psychologically healthy way to interact with a narcissist is not to.  But when the president of a powerful country is a narcissist* we don't have that luxury of total disengagement.  We are all strapped into the seats of a roller-coaster built and controlled by one Donald Trump, his narcissistic injuries and the immature rages those create.

We live in a world where a mental two-year old with those famous Terrible Twos temper tantrums rules over us, if we let him.  So we can't let him, but that means we have to play his games because we can't put him on timeout.

This makes me so very tired**.  I imagine him going "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest of them all?" and if the answer displeases him, well, someone, somewhere, is going to get attacked, probably out of all proportion.


This article from early August gives several examples of Trump's narcissistic behavior and puts it into the context of being the president of one of the most powerful countries on this planet.

** And probably others are tired of the need to cope with his narcissism, too.

It's particularly difficult for those of us who would like to do policy analyses, because it takes place within the usual right-wing political plots:  Cut taxes for the rich, kill Social Security and all transfers to the poor, give money to the oil industry and so on. 

Those plots also include that weird Republican yearning to invade certain Middle Eastern countries while kissing the asses of other Middle Eastern countries. 

How is Trump's concern with nothing but his own ego going to play in that context?

You tell me, because I have no idea.  So far the one good thing about Trump has been his reluctance to go to war for no good reason.  I hope nobody learns to manipulate his ego into wanting to invade Iran, the next country on the conservatives' to-invade list.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Obliteration of Alpha Males. Or What Tucker Carlson Fears Might Happen In American Politics?

Tucker Carlson believes that a patriarchal system is required for any society to exist.

I know this, because he invited the anti-feminist Heather Mac Donald, one of the weirdest members of the gals' auxiliary to the white supremacist movement, to his show again, to talk about the terrible oppression of men in the US.  Especially about the dreadful plight of the alpha males:

HEATHER MAC DONALD: We're living in a culture that is trying to obliterate alpha males and create an alpha female.
We have to be very realistic that what we are creating here is a systemic culture of contempt towards male success and that's got to have an effect.
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): How does this help women, in the end?

MAC DONALD: Well it only helps women if you believe the idiocy that strong women can do it all. It certainly doesn't help children because children need mothers and fathers. But it seems like most females are simply involved in this crusade based on anger and resentment that they have to not just be equal but to crush men and that is absurd. There are male virtues of chivalry, entrepreneurial drive, risk taking that have given us civilization and if we continue to disparage those Tucker, we're going to have no civilization left.

CARLSON: That's exactly right. Gender roles are the building blocks of any society and we've let a small group of unhappy people destroy ours and tamper with the formula.

I adore these kinds of rambling and hallucinatory exchanges (1), because they reveal the underlying beliefs of our Tucker.  

The "alpha male" terminology she uses in that quote is common on the various misogyny online sites where it was initially borrowed from wolf packs (2).  But wolf packs actually have both an "alpha male" AND an ""alpha female"!  Or rather, the leaders of the pack tend to be the parents or grandparents of the wolves in the pack.

What's she trying to achieve with that first assertion?  She is trying to frighten the conservative men (and their henchwomen) in Carlson's audience by suggesting that feminists are not interested in the equality of the sexes, but in turning the still-everywhere-common patriarchies upside-down.  This would mean that men might then be treated the way patriarchies, at their worst, have treated women!

Now that is stuff for nightmares!  In those men would be gelded, men would be locked inside their homes, men would be required to dress modestly, to keep their eyes lowered, and all gate-keeping about sex would be their responsibility.  The leadership, in all fields, would belong to women, and men would really have to prove their worth before they would be allowed to tiptoe in the corridors of power.

I had fun with that paragraph.  Rest assured, my sweet and erudite readers that none of the above has any realistic chance of happening.  Indeed, I don't know a single feminist who even desires such an outcome. 

The above exchanges between Carlson and Mac Donald are not really about gender roles (though those can be very problematic in themselves (3)), but about the desirability of patriarchal arrangements.

Both Carlson and Mac Donald equate civilizations with patriarchy, and then imply that we cannot have the former without the latter.   Carlson appears to argue that we can't even have a society without strict gender roles.

Mac Donald also believes that certain virtues belong to men alone. Those would be chivalry, entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking.  She then warns us away from disparaging those virtues, because that, my friends, will take us right back to the stone age.

That warning looks weird to me.  Do feminists routinely go out of their way to criticize entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking?  I have never seen that happen.

Besides, both entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking are human characteristics, not limited to the male sex, though often seen as such because of the gendered lens we see them through (4), and I see no reason why they would somehow disappear without patriarchal gender roles.  Chivalry, on the other hand, might vanish because it would transmute itself to plain common courtesy toward all (5).

Sigh.  I shouldn't have this Pavlov's dog reaction of needing to correct all the shitty stuff Tucker Carlson spews into the world.  My work changes nothing.

He and his guests are not talking about facts or looking for evidence but simply pushing the fear buttons of the right-wingers who watch that show.  Those people don't read here and in any case the very topic appears impervious to intellectual arguments. 

So initially I was planning not to write on any of this (I still have duty-free chocolate left, as an alternative way to pass time).

But then I asked myself if the timing of this topic on Carlson's show has anything at all to do with the rise of Elizabeth Warren's approval ratings among the Democratic presidential contenders for 2020 elections, because she sure qualifies as an "alpha female" to people like Carlson and Mac Donald?  And it would make sense that our Tucker would start injecting lots of subconscious fear of uppity women into our political conversations right about now?

So I decided to write this post, just in case.

(1)  It's not being concerned about the problems American men and boys might face today that I see hallucinatory here.  It's that both Mac Donald and Carlson blame feminism and attempts to increase gender equality for, pretty much, the end of civilization.  Those nightmarish monsters are not real.  And neither is happiness and success necessarily a zero-sum game between the sexes, the way both Carlson and Mac Donald see them. 

Besides, focusing on the feminist monsters  makes us not address the real reasons why working-class men are more hit by the loss of jobs than working-class women are,  or why men and boys, especially those belonging to ethnic and racial minorities, are dropping out of higher education.  Ironically, at least some of the reasons for these real problems probably lie in old patriarchal gender norms.  See my Jordan Peterson book review for more on some of those.

(2)  More on the roots of the conservative concept of the alpha male, here.

(3)  Because distinct, rigid and unequally valued gender roles are, of course, one of the main ways in which the subjugation of women was historically accomplished, and also the main way it can still be maintained.

(4)  To elaborate:

We tend to see risk-taking and competitiveness more easily in certain domains and not in others, and the ones where we see it most clearly are domains where men have traditionally been most active, such as finance and sports.

Risk-taking by women is common in some domains.  Women take more social risks than men, though we don't see those activities as risk-taking.  Neither do we see willingly accepting the risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth as risk-taking behavior the way we see such behavior in, say, sky-diving.  Cosmetic surgery and other body modifications are risky endeavors more common for women than for men, too.

And certain behaviors, such as engaging in one-night stands with strangers are objectively riskier for women than for men. This means that we cannot directly compare men's and women's willingness to take sexual risks without controlling for the fact that the real risk levels differ. 

Then people, in general, are more likely to take risks and to compete in fields they know well, probably because greater knowledge actually reduces the amount of real risk one is taking.

This is partly why studies in the field of finance often find that women are more risk-averse, on average, than men.  The willingness to take risks rises with one's knowledge of a field, and women are still less knowledgeable about the field of high finance than men, on average. 

Finally, to study gender differences in entrepreneurial traits we should control for the fact that getting outside financing and startup support is harder for female-run firms than it is for male-run firms, on average.  That fewer women are entrepreneurs might be because of such obstacles, not because they have less taste for entrepreneurship.

This long explanation doesn't mean that if we fixed all those problems in comparing men's and women's traits we would find no difference.  But we should first fix all those problems before making the kinds of statements Mac Donald makes in the quote I use in this post.

(5)  The misogyny sites talk about the end of chivalry as a veiled threat, something along the lines that if women refuse their inferior position in the society then the men on those sites see no reason to be nice to any woman.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Opioid Epidemic. Beware Of The American Penchant For Over-Correction.

An initial over-correction of newly apparent social, economic and health problems is a particularly American cultural characteristic. (1)  It has been compared to the movements of a pendulum which swings from one extreme position (where the society completely ignores an important problem) to the opposite extreme position (where the society attacks that problem with all possible weaponry, not caring about the collateral damage this causes).

That first wild swing is ultimately followed by the pendulum moving back and, ideally,  settling somewhere in the middle where the problem,  as well as its cures and their costs,  are viewed through a more realistic lens. But that first wild swing should not happen.

A well-known example (2) of this pattern is the life cycle of the so-called crack baby epidemic of the 1980s:

For those of you who may not recall, the mid-1980s were rife with hysteria surrounding cocaine--in particular crack cocaine--and the huge social toll it was taking on the U.S. New and little-understood, crack was associated with all kinds of social ills, including rising crime rates, poverty, and (far more nebulously) the escalating HIV/AIDS crisis. But for a moment, the "crack baby" alarm sounded the loudest--the country and its social system was about to be completely overwhelmed with a generation of babies who, due to prenatal exposure to crack cocaine, would be born with all kinds of mental deficiencies and health problems.

That generation of "crack babies" never emerged. Crack, which was described by some medical doctors as being as devastating to an unborn fetus as heroin, turned out to be less damaging than alcohol (which is far more widely used and carries greater risks for long-term fetal damage). The symptoms early research associated with "crack babies" turned out to be the same as the symptoms for any prematurely born baby.
The false belief in a terrible epidemic was created by the interaction of early medical research which utterly exaggerated the damage crack caused in babies with an issue which appeared to wreak havoc among the most vulnerable among us: tiny infants.  It was exacerbated by sensationalist writing and by the ease with which the American society resorts to mother-blaming, and even more so when those mothers are black and poor (3).

Monday, September 09, 2019

Some Things Were Better in the Olden Days. Like Airplane Seats And US Presidents.

1.  Take commercial airplane seats.  They weren't always stacked against each other like crates for some cumbersome product in a warehouse.   The seats were wider and offered more legroom.

You have probably guessed that I whine about this because of a recent personal experience and you are correct.  I sat in the seventeen-inch-wide middle seat in a three-seat row a few days ago, for six long hours, while contemplating the strong shoulders and arms and the sturdy hips of the passengers on my immediate right and left.

I could contemplate them because the hips shared some of my seat, and because the arms completely possessed the (theoretically shared) armrests*.  Those armrests, by the way, could not be raised in that particular area of that particular plane.

So mild agony ensued.  I'm slim (snakes are) and have never much thought about airline seat comfort.  But there's something about sitting for hours, as if wrapped in invisible duct tape to create a narrow vertical bundle, that concentrates the mind on personal discomfort.  Trying to scratch my nose required elaborate squirming and apologies, and then I developed a terrible desire to spring up and do jumping jacks in the aisle.

Which I resisted.  But the experience made me read about airline seats once safely back at the Snakepit Inc., and I found this hilarious explanation why the shrunk seat space doesn't matter at all:

Boeing concedes that seat pitch has been reduced (by three inches, on average, for long-haul flights, it says). But it added: “Today’s seat pitch and seat design with composite materials provide similar, if not improved, comfort from the bulky metallic structure and foam-dense designs used in the past. In general, the new seat designs and materials provide two to three inches of ‘equivalent pitch’ over older seat designs.” 
That's about the legroom, not about the seat width.  What it really means is that now the seats are as thinly padded as church pews.  So we haven't really lost as much legroom as it seems, because we have also lost the padding in the seats**!

2.  Presidents were also better in the olden days (even when they were terrible presidents and carried out horrible policies), because their mental age wasn't somewhere around two-and-a-half years, and because if they were malignant narcissists they covered it up much better. 

We are now used to a president who spends most of his time golfing, watching Fox News and fighting personal and nasty Twitter wars with people who have little political power, such as popular entertainers, just because they have insulted his ego and so caused one of his narcissistic rages. 

But even in that context Trump's so-called Sharpie-gate should have shocked us:

Here, in case you missed it, is the original claim Trump made on Sunday and continues to defend: “In addition to Florida—South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” The Alabama part of this was untrue, and the Birmingham National Weather Service immediately corrected the record on Sunday, operating under the understandable assumption that Alabamians receiving accurate information about a looming natural disaster mattered more than the president’s pride. Trump, unaccustomed to correction, disagreed. Since then, it didn’t hit but it could have has become his mantra, as he tweeted about it for days before the Wednesday Sharpie incident that will live in infamy, when he presented an official NOAA map doctored with black ink to make the hurricane appear to be headed toward Alabama.

The sentence I have bolded in that quote is the important one, because for Trump nothing matters more than his pride and ego.  That is dangerous in the president of a country, not only because he is willing to cause harm to his own people should his pride require that, but because it's a characteristic foreign powers can easily exploit.

3.   There's one more thing which was better in the olden days, and that thing nicely connects the previous two segments having to do with overseas flights and US presidents:  It is discussing American politics while in Europe. 

That used to be quite fun.  Now it consists of people demanding to know how we (I) could ever have let Trump happen*** and what we (I) are going to do to get rid of him, because they themselves can't affect that, even though Trump affects their lives, too. 

* I hasten to add that it wasn't their fault.  They had nowhere else to stow their arms.

**  I know, of course, why airlines do all of the above. Passengers are, on the whole, price sensitive, so cutting quality works better than price increases in the search for maximum airline profits.  Still, all the in-flight information videos about safety depict people happily relaxing in much more spacious seats.  That's false advertizing.

*** Of course only after they have carefully probed the possibility that I might be a Trump-weirdo myself.  When I assure them that I am not, the relief is always visible.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Online Pornography As The New Sex Education?

The possible relationship between misogynistic types of pornography and possible real world sexual violence is difficult to study for many reasons:

There's the-chicken-and-the-egg problem in trying to determine the direction of causality if a correlation between violent porn consumption and committing violent sexual acts is found.  Perhaps violent men consume violent pornography?  Or could it be that violent pornography creates violence in some men who wouldn't have been that way without it. 

There's also the more general problem of how to pin down the impact of one cause (here the consumption of misogynistic porn) on general societal trends when so many other possible causes are changing at the same time.*

That's a preamble to my views about Olga Khazan's June article in the Atlantic Monthly which asks if online pornography is now operating as an extremely warped form of sex education, one which teaches young people terrible ideas about what women like in sex.

Monday, September 02, 2019

On Buttermilk. A Re-Posting.

1.  My grandmother believed that buttermilk was the healthiest drink a child could have.  I hated the taste with the fire of a thousand suns.  Because she was a clever woman, one summer she served me the first strawberries from her garden in buttermilk.  Because I was a sneaky child, I waited until she left the kitchen for a moment and then rinsed the buttermilk off the strawberries.

2.  If you are so inclined, you can buy two different sorts of buttermilk in Finland.  One is the kind you can buy here, the other, called "long buttermilk" consists of strands which are cousins to snot.  If you upend the container, the strands dangle menacingly in front of your eyes.

3.  As you may have figured out, I would never date buttermilk.  But I love the buttermilk cake!  Go figure.

Here's the recipe, in metric units (sorry, American bakers).  If you have a measuring cup with both Imperial and metric units, you can use that one.  If you don't have one of those, my translations are in parentheses.*


2.25 deciliters of buttermilk (0.95 cups)
a drop of cream (tablespoonful)
1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
1.5 deciliters of white sugar (0.63 cups)
1.5 deciliters of molasses (0.63 cups)
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
2 deciliters of raisins (0.85 cups)
1.5 deciliters of melted butter (0.63 cups)
4.5 deciliters of white flour (1.9 cups)

Butter and flour a bundt pan**.  If you have them, use bread crumbs instead of flour.  Heat the oven to 350F (175C).  Mix all ingredients in the order given***.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake about an hour or until a toothpick or a fork comes out clean.

Two important observations:  The first time I made this by grinding the cloves right at the point of adding them I found out that one teaspoon of freshly ground cloves will take the top of your palate off and release smoke from your ears.  If you like that effect, go ahead and follow the recipe with freshly ground cloves.  I tend to use only half a teaspoon of them now, but one teaspoon is probably correct for pre-ground cloves.

Second, I detest raisins even more than I detest drinking buttermilk****.  I have never added them and the cake turns out just fine without them.  It would be turned into the garbage with them at the Snakepit Inc..

The cake is not very sweet, it gets better over a few days, and it's very nice with coffee.


* I'm imagining someone carefully trying to follow those measurements!  My guess is that you can round off without anything horrible happening.

**  You could probably use some other kind of pan, too, such as one of those oblong bread pans.

*** This is what makes the cake so easy!  No beating, no kneading, no nothing, just add everything and mix.

****  They really are rabbit droppings.  People pretend that they are food.

Originally from here.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Heroes And Housewives. The Desired Sex Roles in Right-Wing Authoritarian Movements?

I wrote about the views that all the new right-wing authoritarian movements share about women in a post last December, and also a year ago, in August 2018.  Neither post, sadly, is out of date today.

That last August post, in particular, delves into the question why very different types of authoritarian movements, from ISIS to US Proud Boys, share the same basic view of women's proper roles. One possible theory:*

The very definition of ideal masculinity in the right-wing movements can also cause this:
The ideal man is a virile, violent and fit patriarch, and that ideal can be magnified and made sharper only by denying women any roles which are seen to infringe on male prerogatives.  This is because masculinity in those movements is defined as subtractive: It is what women should not be or what women cannot be.

Thus, to increase the power and space for men, it's necessary to enlarge the sphere of masculinity and to shrink the sphere of femininity.  In the most extreme right-wing movements women are strictly limited to their reproductive roles and kept out of public spaces.

That prescription may sound particularly appealing during times when those men who already have right-wing values feel that their dominance is threatened, that they are slipping down the rungs of societal power ladders. This could explain the appeal of far right movements to some American white men with conservative views, given the changes that outsourcing,  globalization and recent immigration are causing in the society.

* Go to the original link to read the footnotes those paragraphs have attached to them.  I removed the asterisks here to make the quote look cleaner.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Talk Is Cheap. Especially in Politics.

I'm increasingly convinced that we have too many debates about, say, bigoted speech and too few debates about the institutional and economic underpinnings which make bigotry so harmful.  It's not that the former aren't useful, but that the latter are so rare is truly worrying.

I wrote on this topic in 2017 while criticizing David Brooks.  It made sense to pick on him, because Brooks is the foremost representative of the argument that cultural differences Are Everything, that economic differences do not matter at all in our understanding of Republicans vs. Democrats or of blacks vs.whites and so on.

But the problem of over-focusing on linguistic and cultural questions is now wider than just Mr. Brooks, and it has spread to the political online left.

To see why that concerns me, just try to think how we could eradicate institutional racism in this country without reallocating resources*. 

Then ask yourself why we don't talk much about the resources which are needed, where they would come from,  and how they could be allocated to their best uses:  To schools in segregated black areas, to poorer schools in general, to health care clinics which cater for the low-income populations, to antenatal clinics in areas where black maternal mortality rates are extremely high.  And so on.

The material infrastructure for the differences many of us lament does matter.  With few exceptions (Elizabeth Warren comes to mind here), politicians don't address those questions adequately, either.  We really need to change that, especially when the Trump administration is exacerbating the already terrible income inequality in this country.

* The same question can be asked of other types of -isms.  For instance, without paid parental leave and access to good quality daycare women, especially poor women, are handicapped in the labor market, as long as childcare is gendered. Expressing feminist sentiments doesn't alter the need for resource reallocation to such uses. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

On Incels. A Summary.

This post puts together my earlier writings on that frightening online-fueled movement (which, by the way, does not seem to be getting the kind of police and legal attention it should). 

Most of my writings are about the truly weird theories which the online incels (involuntarily celibate young men who believe that they are entitled to sex) hold as truth. 

This one tells us one economists theory about the redistribution of sex to incels (but only to men). 

This one looks at several flaws in the beliefs most incel sites seem to support. 

And this addresses the fundamental incel idea that 20% of heterosexual men get 80% of all heterosexual sex and the rest of the men are fucked for life.  Or not fucked for life, I guess.

Friday, August 23, 2019

What Women Are. Tucker Carlson And Andrew Sullivan Tell Us Ladiez.

This post on Tucker Carlson, about women's primitive nature, is funny.  Or at least I think it is funny, but then I wrote it.

Carlson's views on women are no different from those of another right-wing anti-feminists, Andrew Sullivan.  I wrote about the latter, too, though the result is not as funny.  It's still important.


I have written so much that I often come across posts in my archives I don't remember writing when I have all the proof that I did write them.  It can be an interesting experience, because then I read them as a stranger would.  Sometimes I am in awe of my prior self, sometimes not so much.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Poetry in Translation. An Ancient Re-Posting

(The post is from 2006!  It's so old that I can't get to it via the Blogger archives.)

Poetry translates very poorly, which is sad, because I have a great urge to share with you my Finnish favorites, especially Eino Leino's Nocturne.

But it's hellish to translate. I haven't given up yet, though I decided to begin with another poem by Leino, his Jumalien Keinu, or the Swing of Gods. Leino wrote it in 1902. He was a great poet, an alcoholic and pretty much a mess otherwise, too, and all this matters in understanding the poem.

Here it is in Finnish:

Jumalien keinu

Kenen korkeat jumalat keinuunsa ottavat kerta,
eivät ne häntä yhdessä kohden pidä,
he heittävät häntä
välillä taivaan ja maan -
siksi kuin järjen valon häneltä ne vievät.

Ja kuka maailmoiden mahdin kuuluttaja on,
hän tänään pilvien ääriä kulkee,
ja huomenna makaa
maassa niin syvällä
kuin koski, mi vuorten
kuilussa kuohuu.

Kuka keinussa jumalien keinuu,
ei hällä elon aika pitkä ole.
Syyn, syyttömyyden
hän huiput nähköön -
sitten tulkohon tumma yö.

And this is my attempt at a translation:

The Swing Of Gods

Whom the High Gods harness to their swing,
he will not be held in one harbor safe.
He will be tossed
between heaven and earth -
until the very light of reason is extinguished.

And whoever wishes to sing of the might of the worlds
may today dance on the edge of the clouds
yet tomorrow sink deep
into the earth, as deep
as the foaming rapids
in mountain caverns.

Who dares to swing in the swing of the gods
will not survive for long in this life.
Let utmost guilt
and utmost innocence dawn -
then let come the darkening night.

I had to choose between "he" and "she" for the purposes of translation and the sound of the poem demanded the first option. The original poem doesn't imply a gender for the person (because Finnish uses one gender-neutral third person singular pronoun), so "she" would be equally valid.

Sigh. It's impossible to get what fascinates me about this poem. Maybe if you read it aloud in Finnish?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Hilma af Klint

( Svanen (The Swan), No. 17, Group 9, Series SUW, October 1914 – March 1915.)*

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a Swedish painter whose place in art history as one of the very earliest modern abstract painters is only now being established:

Hilma af Klint[needs Swedish IPA] (October 26, 1862 – October 21, 1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were among the first Western abstract art.[1] A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky.[2] She belonged to a group called "The Five", a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called "High Masters"—often by way of séances.[3] Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.
Why wasn't her work known in the past?  Why is she only now getting the attention she deserves?

The simple reason is that she didn't show her paintings during her lifetime, and stipulated that they shouldn't be shown until twenty years after her death**.

The Guggenheim Museum in New York showed a large number of her works from the fall of 2018 to April of 2019.  The two reviews of the exhibition I read are full of praise: 

Ben Davis:

I can’t help but agree with all the praise being heaped on the Guggenheim’s big Hilma af Klint show. It’s great, great, beyond great.
Assembled in a chronological progression up the museum’s spiral, the show feels like both a transmission from an unmapped other world and a perfectly logical correction to the history of Modern art—an alternate mode of abstraction from the dawn of the 20th century that looks as fresh as if it were painted yesterday.
It’s hard to quibble with the sheer level of painterly pleasure of af Klint’s sui generis style. So instead I’ll take a moment to focus on why this show feels so right for right now.

Roberta Smith:

If you like to hallucinate but disdain the requisite stimulants, spend some time in the Guggenheim Museum’s staggering exhibition, “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future.” The museum’s High Gallery — the name has added resonance in this context — displays the show’s rapturous overture, a series of 10 paintings by af Klint (1862-1944), a little-known Swedish painter, modernist pioneer and erstwhile spiritualist. Collectively titled “The Ten Largest,” they may induce disorientation, not the least for the way they blow open art history.
These game-changing works envelop you in hues from dusty orange to pale pinks and lavenders, tumbling compositions of circles, spirals and pinwheels, and unfurling ribbonlike lines that sometimes form mysterious letters and words. The scale of the motifs and the paintings’ sheer size (10 feet by nearly 9 feet) invite you to step in and float away to the music of the spheres. That they are rendered in tempera on paper, lighter than oil on canvas but still quite painterly, contributes to their levitating power. In their wit, ebullience, multiple references and palette, “The Ten Largest” seem utterly contemporary, made-yesterday fresh. But prepare for label shock: they were created in 1907.

Do look at some of the photographs in the above links, to get the idea of the scale of those ten large paintings.

What's of interest to me is, of course, the question why art made by women is largely missing in all the art canons, including the Western one.  Smith addresses af Klint's role from that angle:

Her reappearance finally settles the question raised in Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay, “Why have there been no great women artists?” There have been, but their achievements reach us in circuitous ways because of the obstacles that plague artists generally, and women particularly. These reasons — so complex and individual — have to do with the nature of artistic ambition, the psychic and material needs that make fulfillment possible and the extent to which these needs are met by society. Some artists, in response, create their own citadels of rationales, systems and even delusions — especially when exploring abstraction, which society had not yet accepted in art.


*  This is not one of the large ten pictures, but part of her swan series.  You can see more of the series at the Wikipedia af Klint page.

** Although that is a sufficient reason for her obscurity in art history, it's not certain that she would have been less obscure had she exhibited her work at the time she created it:

Had Hilma af Klint presented her abstracted paintings at a museum or gallery during her lifetime, it is almost guaranteed they would have been criticized heavily. That af Klint made them at all is a testament to her successful navigation of the sexist world in which she lived. She chose to retreat from the male-dominated art world, find support in an esoteric religion that embraced female leadership and was founded by a woman (Helena Blatavsky), and present her work as having come to her through spirits (and thus escape criticisms of radical ideas coming from a female mind).
Af Klint is often compared to the artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944), an early progenitor of abstract painting. Like Kandinsky, af Klint wanted her work to communicate a spiritual dimension. Unlike Kandinsky, she believed she operated as a medium for spirits and did not position her work specifically as a way of reimagining art. Like other artists of the time who were interested in similar spiritual movements, af Klint used art to understand existence and make the invisible visible.

Remember that her earliest abstract works were painted before the abstract works of Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich, the three painters usually viewed as fathers of modern abstract art. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

On Femininity and Masculinity

Masculinity and femininity are tricky concepts to define: They include both the way we interpret biological sex differences and the impact of societal rules and norms* attached to proper behavior for men and women.

Those societal rules and norms and stereotypes about masculinity and femininity serve (whether intended to do so or not) to keep women from reaching equality, and that's why critiquing masculinity and femininity is an important feminist task. 

I tackled that task in this post from last January and  in this post from last summer.

The reason for re-posting them is that I have realized that what I thought were old-fashioned views about the proper behavior for women are not as rare today as I had hoped**.  Not performing femininity or masculinity properly even has a special name in psychological jargon:  It's gender nonconforming. 

Wouldn't it be nice it it was just seen as human?


* Even though anti-feminists often assume that all observed sex differences in behavior are innate, they are clearly affected by social and religious norms. Thus, what is proper feminine behavior in Iceland would not qualify in Saudi Arabia and so on.

** That hope was for obvious reasons.  If femininity, say, is defined as including characters such as humility, while masculinity includes characters such as leadership, it's hard to see how women, if required to perform femininity,  could ever compete in the labor markets and in politics and so on.

I want to stress that I am not discounting the importance of humility, gentleness, empathy and other characteristics associated with femininity.  Rather, I argue that societies code them as exclusively female and often punish women for not demonstrating them. (Men can also be punished for not demonstrating the characteristics assigned to masculinity). 

I believe all those characteristics are mostly human ones, even if different individuals have them in varying combinations.  Societies, however, tend to divide them rigidly into two sets of characteristics, one for men and for women.  The resulting rigid gender roles are not good for anyone but they are particularly bad as obstacles against women's full equality with men.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Anti-Vaxxers: Rational Or Irrational? And The Anti-Gun-Control Folks?

I wrote about the rationality or irrationality of the anti-vaccination movement last March, and concluded that the decision not to have one's children vaccinated may be rational from a purely selfish and narrow point, but that it's deeply irrational from a wider societal point of view:

But the decision not to have one's children vaccinated can also be a rational one, though only on a narrowly selfish basis, at least as long as herd-immunity prevails:

If almost all the other parents in the area have vaccinated their own children and if the custom of vaccination is old enough so that almost all adults in the community have immunity, too, then the benefits from vaccinating your own children become negligible.  Your child won't get infected!

But any kind of vaccination may have harmful, though rare side-effects.  The private (based only on one's immediate family) comparison of benefits from the vaccination to its costs, both financial and possible health risks, would strongly suggest that for one particular family the choice not to vaccinate can be rational*.

Given that you are smart and erudite, my dear readers, you have already spotted the logical flaw in the above calculations:  If not getting the shots is narrowly rational for the one family in the above example, then it is narrowly rational for all the other families, too!** 

But once a sufficient number of families chooses not to vaccinate, whoops!  The herd immunity is gone, the infectious diseases return to the communities, and there will be deaths and very high health care costs and unnecessary pain and suffering***.

Economic theory looks at dilemmas like this as signs (1) that a particular market (here the market for vaccinations) is not producing the socially optimal level of disease prevention and that government intervention in that market may improve the outcomes.  The German government, for instance, is planning to make childhood measles vaccinations mandatory.

The recent mass murders in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, all carried out with assault weapons, made me ask if there are similarities between those who oppose vaccinations and those who oppose gun control, and if those similarities suggest that some kind of regulation of the relevant markets (vaccinations and guns) might be beneficial.

I believe I found one similarity.  The choice to acquire or to keep guns, and to fight gun control attempts for that reason, is made on the basis of a similar narrow private calculus.  That calculus does not assign any weight on the great social harm easy access to guns causes to others (2).  This might (2) be a reason for controlling the gun market and the excessive number of guns in the US.

(1)  This is because the private comparison of benefits and costs excludes the benefits accruing to other individuals in the community, even though those are the benefits which ultimately end up protecting any unvaccinated children via herd immunity.  Thus, the private calculus results in too few children getting the vaccinations.

(2) That's the similarity between anti-vaxxers and anti-gun-control folks.  But then the two cases diverge, because anti-gun-control people fear all those guns already out there and see owning guns themselves as a necessary defense.

In other words, they don't just exclude the harm to others in their private calculus concerning gun ownership and anti-gun-control stances, but include the general easy access to guns as one reason why they, too, need to be armed to the teeth.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Insulin And The Pharmaceutical Industry

There have been recent cases where young people have died from Type I diabetes because of a combination of rapidly rising insulin prices and health insurance policies which have bad coverage.  The latest one is typical of the other cases I have read about*.

Now why exactly a drug that has been available for a very long time would rise in price as much as insulin has done in the recent decades is a tricky question, and the answers to that question intertwine with the US health insurance system which still does not guarantee that all people have insurance to cover life-saving medications adequately.

A proper response to that question would take a book, but this 2016 article lays out many of the reasons for the current steep insulin prices in the US.  I would add the clearly oligopolistic nature of the pharmaceutical industry.  It gives the individual firms a lot of price setting ability and results in the kinds of outcomes where small improvements in quality can be used to defend giant price increases, and where this happens:

The modern age of insulin innovation kicked off with Eli Lilly’s introduction of Humulin, in 1982. Using genetic engineering, biologists figured out a way to modify bacteria into tiny, specialized factories that could create insulin that matches the kind the human body produces. Allergic reactions became rare as more people used the newer version.


Humulin could be created in vats instead of harvested from cows or pigs, and it relieved doctors’ worries that the looming diabetes epidemic would cause a shortage.
“These were an incredibly efficient way of making insulin. We’d never run out; it would keep the prices under control,” Nathan said. “How that has changed.”
The Danish company Novo Nordisk began making its own bioengineered human insulin in 1991. Rather than lower the price, however, competition had an unusual effect: The list prices began to rise.

Bolds are mine.

The industry argues that list prices may have gone up but that the final prices consumers are paying have not.  But this doesn't seem to be the case anymore, at least for those young people who age out of their parents' health insurance policies and who cannot afford an equally generous policy themselves.

The industry also argues that pharmaceutical prices cannot be set without considering the high costs of research and development, most of which doesn't result in any new profit-making drugs but must still be paid for.

And that's true, as far as it goes.  Still, how high those prices should be depends on many other factors.  Clearly, both the  low price elasticity of demand and the level of market concentration are among them.  

What the former means, in plain language, is that people needing insulin to survive are willing to pay almost anything for it rather than go without, should there only be one source selling it.  What the latter means is that if firms co-ordinate their prices (which can happen in an oligopoly), the market in practice is approaching the case of only one source selling insulin.

We need to enforce anti-trust laws better in this industry as in so many others industries.

*  In some cases individuals try to make their expensive insulin go further by lengthening the interval between the doses.  In other cases, individuals shift to a different older type of insulin which is cheaper, but harder to administer correctly.

Monday, August 12, 2019

How To Write About Politics In The Trump Era

I struggle with it.  I wrote about my concerns last January, and also in 2018, in a post about how the selection of information we receive may be biased but doesn't look like it.

And what I have recently learned about the games Trump makes us all play hasn't exactly helped.  Perhaps the only effective way to influence political thought in this chaotic era is through emotions?

So have a cat picture!

 Just kidding...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mass Killers And Misogyny

A recent NYT article notes a correlation between a man becoming a mass killer and earlier expressions of hatred of women:

The man who shot nine people to death last weekend in Dayton, Ohio, seethed at female classmates and threatened them with violence.
The man who massacred 49 people in an Orlando nightclub in 2016 beat his wife while she was pregnant, she told authorities.
The man who killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in 2017 had been convicted of domestic violence. His ex-wife said he once told her that he could bury her body where no one would ever find it.
The motivations of men who commit mass shootings are often muddled, complex or unknown. But one common thread that connects many of them — other than access to powerful firearms — is a history of hating women, assaulting wives, girlfriends and female family members, or sharing misogynistic views online, researchers say.

And ABC News addressed the same question:

Many questions remain in the motivations of the man who allegedly committed a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, last weekend, leaving nine dead before responding officers shot him to death.

But officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News the suspected shooter demonstrated a misogyny that was far more extreme than any of his political leanings.
In that, he follows a bleak pattern among mass shooters.

What is this "bleak pattern" among mass shooters?  I think there are two possible patterns, though in practice they may be intertwined and entangled. 

The first applies to those men whose killing appears to have been directly motivated by their feelings that they have not received the kind of female attention they felt they were entitled to.  This anger is then turned into generalized hate at every single biologically female human being.

Mass killers such as Elliot Rodger*, Alec Minassian, Scott Beierle and George Sodini fall within that pattern, because their motivation was directly based on the hatred of women as a class.  This is the class of butchers which gets succor and support on the misogynistic websites**.

The second possible pattern applies to those mass killers whose killing appears motivated by misanthropy or racism or extreme religious hatred or homophobia, but who also have a history of violence against women.  They probably did (or do, if alive) hate women, but they also hate many other demographic groups, perhaps people of other races, religions or ethnic backgrounds, and don't necessarily decide to massacre people specifically on misogynistic grounds.  When they are radicalized online the hate sites may not focus solely on the hatred of women but on the hatred of other races or religions.

A history of domestic or intimate partner violence against women and girls may belong to both patterns.  It should always be taken seriously.  More seriously than still is the case in most of this world's cultures***.


*  My long post on Rodger is a good general example of a misogynistic mass butcherer.

**  From the NYT article:

David Futrelle, a journalist who for years has tracked incel websites and other misogynistic online subcultures on a blog called “We Hunted the Mammoth,” described incel websites as a kind of echo chamber of despair, where anyone who says anything remotely hopeful quickly gets ostracized.
“You get a bunch of these guys who are just very angry and bitter, and feel helpless and in some cases suicidal, and that’s just absolutely a combination that’s going to produce more shooters in the future,” Mr. Futrelle said.
 So it's succor and support in their suffering and the warped views they hold, not succor and support in recovering from all that suffering.  As I have written many times before, those sites remind me of the anorexia sites where commenters used to cheer on each other's weight loss and share tips about how to lose even more weight.  The difference is that anorexia sites only hurt the sufferers themselves, while hate sites of all kinds can seriously hurt many innocent outsiders.

*** And we should also take seriously those types of cultural constructs of masculinity which rely on the contempt for women as part of the teenage bonding rituals, because they allow misogyny some credible cover.

My Batty Night

That was Friday night.  First I closed a heavy door over my left thumb.  I now have a brilliantly purple and green thumb.  Then I sat down in my study to work at the computer, around midnight*, expecting some calm time for creative writing.  Suddenly something quite large**, black and winged flew around the room.  It wasn't a swallow, my first guess, but a bat.

Now how it got into the house is still a mystery, though one window was open by about one inch.  Anyway, it wanted to leave the house, and I fervently agreed.

In my first shock I had left the room but then crawled back, below its circular and frenzied flying,  to open all the windows.  But when I crawled out of the room, the bat followed me.

Fun and games for several hours followed. The bat flew from room to room, I followed it, opening all windows and doors, while the bat decided to fly only in circles and not go out at all.  Except that it wanted to go out, only didn't know how.

When it grew tired (poor thing, I could see it panting), it would hang off the top of my bookshelves or a Finnish rya rug I have on the wall.  After a little bit of rest the flying resumed.  It was around 4am when an open front door finally did the trick.

So I didn't get a lot of sleep that night.  What was most interesting was the way my emotions changed from initial shock to watchful waiting to real empathy toward the poor little bat, to thinking that it looked rather charming, and finally to relief when it left the house.

I Googled "bat in the house" and found that I had done most things right, and that this was probably a teenage bat who wasn't very good at hunting yet.  It may now have learned its lesson concerning nice shiny lights in windows.

* I may have some bat genes, because my creative period is quite late in the day.
** Lots bigger than the bats I have seen in Finland.  Swallow-sized.  Maybe a baby vampire... 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein's Apparent Suicide. Echidne Investigates.

And why shouldn't she investigate?  After all, most political social media is creating conspiracy theories about Epstein's death, without any more access to facts than I have, and they have much louder voices.

Here are the facts which can be verified.  Notice that it's the prison authorities who said that he killed himself:

Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was long dogged by accusations of sexual abuse of girls and who was able to cultivate a stream of high-profile friends despite his lurid lifestyle, killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell, officials said on Saturday.
Mr. Epstein hanged himself, the officials said. He was found at roughly 6:30 a.m. Saturday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.

His death provides immediate space for various conspiracy theories because of its timing: 

It was only yesterday that the documents from a lawsuit against Ghislane Maxwell, Epstein's one-time girlfriend (of the adult type) were ordered unsealed.
And so it was only yesterday we learned which famous and powerful men Virginia Giuffre, the plaintiff in that case, named as the alleged "customers" of Epstein's and Maxwell's sexual abuse shop. 

The proximity in time between these two events and the order in which they happened  suggests that Epstein's death should be very carefully investigated, and so should the fact that Epstein was put on suicide watch after an earlier alleged suicide attempt but was supposedly taken off it in late July:

Mr. Epstein had been on suicide watch after he was found injured on July 23 and received a daily psychiatric evaluation, according to a person familiar with his detention. He was removed from suicide watch on July 29 and returned to the special housing unit, a segregated area of the prison with extra security, this person said.
The authorities did not immediately explain why he was taken off suicide watch. The F.B.I. said it was investigating, and Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement that a special inquiry would be opened into what had happened.
After that pompous title of this post, I have to admit that my investigation is not of the intrepid Nancy Drew type.  Rather, it consists of reading various conspiracy theories in the political social media.  My favorite is probably the suggestion that Hillary Clinton offed Epstein...

Other conspiracy theorists speculate that Epstein was offed to frighten Maxwell so that she will keep her mouth shut.  Or even that he was offed to frighten any women who might come forward from doing so.  Many milder conspiracy theories abound, including the chance that Epstein is not dead at all but was spirited away for a new face and a new life.

Whatever one thinks of those stories or of Epstein's manner of death it's pretty clear that a thorough investigation of what exactly happened is absolutely necessary.  That should cover the reasons why someone in Epstein's situation was taken off suicide watch, who made that decision, whom Epstein's speedy death would benefit and how.*


* Other than himself.  One conspiracy theory proposes that Epstein bribed someone in the prison system so that he could kill himself. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Short Posts 8/7/19. Toni Morrison, RIP, On Paul Krugman's Column And What Online Chatter Matters

1.  Toni Morrison, a Nobel laureate in literature, died on Monday at the age of 88.  Her books are an indispensable part of the American literary canon and should be read by everyone.

But Morrison's most intended audience wasn't "everyone" or "white American majority."  She wrote about the experiences of black people and, in particular, about the experiences of black women, and she wrote to them.  To her people.

By doing that she made the American literary canon greater and more truthful.

2.  Paul Krugman has published a very strongly worded opinion piece on the Republican Party and its relationship to right-wing domestic white terrorism.

I might not frame my own opinions quite so strongly, but I do agree with Krugman on the essential dilemma of the Republican Party.  Quoting my earlier self:*

The way I understand the inner workings of the Republican Party is that it is the party of the owners (the capitalists, if you like), and ultimately what its policies will do is transfer more power to those who already own a lot of financial power. 
Because a very unequal country in terms of income and wealth distributions cannot provide enough votes for the "party-of-the-owners," the Republicans in those inside circles had to invent a different carrot (or whip) to get votes from those whose actual interests are not served by the Republican economic policies. 

That carrot was the search for hind-brain motives:  

The fear of The Other, the anger at those who are perceived as now getting a larger share of the crumbs falling off the dining tables of the rich:  The minorities, the uppity women, the immigrants and migrants. 

To that was added the promise of the opium of the people:  Right-wing, patriarchal religious beliefs would be supported so that the crumbs would fall to the right people, and so that the rest of the status pyramids would stay the same as they have always been.
 By going that route the Republican politicians are now riding a tiger (those hind-brain emotions they encouraged, and it's hard to get off its back without being eaten.   So the riders must hang on even when the tiger goes berserk.

3.   It's possible that I have overdosed on Twitter, or that I'm a prim and curmudgeony goddess** who also believes herself to be holier than thou, but I still think that the Neil deGrasse Tyson tweet debacle should not have been written up in places like the New York Times

So the guy said something stupid and callous at the wrong time.  There are millions of other stupid and callous tweets taking place right now, and in most cases they are best ignored, the way people used to ignore the street corner ranters and ravers.***

Our energy, attention and resources are limited, and we should focus them on what matters most in politics.


*  More on how the immigration crisis is used for that purpose in this post.

** Or one who suffers from serious burnout.  Vacation, here I come!

*** I don't mean to imply that Tyson is one of those people, just that we don't actually have to have a national debate about everything that someone says online.  

And yeah, I suffer from the "someone was wrong online" syndrome myself, and have to restrain myself from correcting false statistics and biased data.  But still.

Note that the earlier publicity deGrasse Tyson got when he was accused of sexual misconduct was proper.  This time, not so much. 

Monday, August 05, 2019

On Online Radicalization

The recent massacre in El Paso, Texas, carried out by a white supremacist,  turned the limelight on a hate site called 8chan.  That site is not alone among the hate sites, but it certainly is the nastiest.  Indeed, it has become the site where several recent terror attacks have been pre-announced:

In recent months, 8chan has become a go-to resource for violent extremists. At least three mass shootings this year — including the mosque killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the synagogue shooting in Poway, Calif. — have been announced in advance on the site, often accompanied by racist writings that seem engineered to go viral on the internet.
Public pressure forced the service provider for 8chan, Cloudfare, to take the site down.  It won't stay down, of course. 

But at least we are finally talking about the many ways that radicalization happens online.  Large social media sites were able to get together and do something about the online presence of radical Islamist terror groups.  Now they should similarly address the online presence of white supremacist terror groups* which are also breeding grounds for radicalization.

Today's New York Times editorial notes that there has been less interest in doing that:

Technology companies, too, appear unwilling to treat white nationalist terror online the way they have dealt with the online spread of radical Islamic terror groups, such as the Islamic State. Companies like Facebook and Twitter took bold action to remove tens of millions of pieces of ISIS and Al Qaeda propaganda and accounts between 2014 and 2018. Similar standards have not been applied to white nationalists, perhaps because, as a 2018 report from researcher J.M. Berger, who specializes in online extremism, notes, “The task of crafting a response to the alt-right is considerably more complex and fraught with land mines, largely as a result of the movement’s inherently political nature and its proximity to political power.”
Proximity to political power...

But it's not just the fact that some in Trump's base are white (male) supremacists that makes the regulation of online hate sites so difficult.  Practical difficulties abound:

Law enforcement currently offers few answers as to how to contain these communities. The anonymous nature of the forum makes it difficult to track down the validity of threats, and trolls frequently muddy the waters by attempting to dupe authorities with false threats and disinformation. 
And laws about online activities lag far behind our current Wild West reality.   Do sites such as 8chan bear any legal responsibility for providing a venue where terrorists can plan their crimes and new terrorists are built?  Can they be sued by the families of the El Paso massacre victims, say?

I have no idea.  But clearly the current legal and law enforcement approaches to such hate sites and the damage they do are inadequate.  It's time to change that.

Finally, Fredrick Brennan, the founder of 8chan stated recently that his initial goal with the site was to create a free speech utopia:

Mr. Brennan, who has claimed that he got the idea for 8chan while on psychedelic mushrooms, set out to create what he called a free speech alternative to 4chan, a better-known online message board. He was upset that 4chan had become too restrictive, and he envisioned a site where any legal speech would be welcome, no matter how toxic.

Mr. Brennan, who is no longer affiliated with the site now wants it shut down.

I wonder what he thought a free speech "utopia" site with pretty much no moderation would produce if not the fruits that we are now harvesting**.   


* Those sites are even more hateful than that, if possible:

The result is an evolving brand of social media-fueled bloodshed. Online communities like 4chan and 8chan have become hotbeds of white nationalist activity. Anonymous users flood the site’s “politics” board with racist, sexist and homophobic content designed to spread across the web. Users share old fascist fiction, Nazi propaganda and pseudoscientific texts about race and I.Q. and replacement theory, geared to radicalize their peers.

**  My impression is that any online political commenting site without moderation ends up not as a free marketplace of ideas but as something a little like the market for lemons, though not for quite the same reasons: 

Bad speech drives out better speech, trolls take over because they are allowed to and have more time and stamina, and extreme opinions, often toxic ones, end up dominating the debates.  Finally, only the bottom feeders remain, patrolling the area for new victims.


Monday, July 29, 2019

How To Continue Playing The Game Trump Began With The Cummings Tweets

To truly get this post, you have to read my previous one.  This post builds on that.

The debate Trump began with his vicious tweets about Elijah Cummings has now been moved (by him) from the attacks on Baltimore (which elicited defense responses from others) to new attacks against Bernie Sanders and Al Sharpton!  We now discuss those topics, almost unrelated to the earlier arguments in the chain Trump has built, because that is what he wants us to do!*

And what does he  NOT want us to discuss, to the same extent?

That Russia may have interfered in the 2016 presidential elections, that Russia may have tried to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, and that Russia will probably interfere in the 2020 elections. 

Trump doesn't want us to focus on how Mitch McConnell (now called Moscow Mitch by some) made sure that the Russians have some wiggle-room left to get at important parts of the US election system.  Neither does Trump want us to think too much about why he is replacing the Director of the National Intelligence, Dan Coats, with a Trump yes-man, John Ratcliffe, who lacks other qualifications for the job and who seems utterly uninterested in taking Russian intervention seriously:

In contrast to Coats, Ratcliffe is a Trump loyalist who has backed Trump's claims that Mueller 's investigation into Russian election interference was a partisan plot to unseat Trump.
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, he said the special counsel's report and its conclusions "weren't from Robert Mueller" but rather "were written by what a lot of people believe was Hillary Clinton's de facto legal team."

All this makes narcissistic sense.  The narcissistic injury is about Trump's victory as not being legitimate, and to heal that injury there must not have been any outside powers who influenced the 2016 election outcome, just as his re-election in 2020 must never be questioned.  I doubt Trump cares about foreign powers interfering with US elections at all, as long as it's he who gets to win.

So how do we continue playing this game?  As I wrote in the previous post, the only way to beat a narcissist in his or her game is not to play at all.  We can't really do that, but what we can do is keep talking about the issues Trump does not want us to talk about.  Foremost among those is election integrity.

*  It's a relief for me to start seeing more clearly what Trump is doing, because of his narcissistic injury.  But it's also unpleasant to realize that the same injury might well mean that Vladimir Putin will be allowed to influence the 2020 US elections.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

How To Play The Political Game Trump Started With The Cummings Tweets

I've been reading on narcissism for a possible future article about the pro-narcissist online culture in places like Twitter.  That culture, aiming to increase participation by eliciting anger,  also favors narcissists by supporting the kinds of games they like to play with other people's emotions as the game pieces.

That's the background for seeing why I reacted to Trump's recent hate tweets against Rep. Elijah Cummings (D - MD 7th district) the way I did:

As responses by a narcissist to a narcissistic injury.  

These are the relevant Trump  tweets:

The first question to ask is what caused Trump to go on this rampage?  What did Cummings say to trigger that narcissistic injury (because I believe this IS an example of a narcissistic injury in Trump)?

Most people just take Trump at face value, and assume that he was criticizing Cummings on the latter's strong criticisms about what's happening at the southern border. And perhaps it's those strong words which wounded Trump.

But they were said ten days ago, and that's a long time for Trump's rage to boil over.  More recently Cummings spoke about the Mueller testimony and its implications for the future of democracy in this country.  I believe that it is this later speech which stabbed Trump in his gut, because it triggered his terrible fear that he wasn't, after all, fairly elected.

Whatever the precipitating event was,  it opened the floodgates of Trump's narcissistic rage, and so he retaliated against Cummings.  But he did not do it the way most of us would have: By addressing the issues Cummings raised and by trying to disprove Cummings' arguments.  

Instead, Trump barely touched upon the underlying issue and then shifted the debate to a completely different topic.

That, I believe, can be a narcissistic move.  See how Trump is not addressing the criticisms Cummings has made about the border or about possible Russian influence in future American elections?  Instead, he moves his focus, and the focus of all of us, to debates about Baltimore as a possible hell-hole and to Trump as a racist.

This is what he wants.  We now debate the topics Trump has chosen, not the topics Cummings chose for his criticism. We are now playing a game Trump set up, and narcissists cannot lose the games they set up and direct.

They are the only ones who know the secret rules and once they control the debate they simply will never stop if they don't wish to stop.  You will see how Trump fans the flames of the debate, how that debate moves further and further away from the initial concerns Cummings had, and how it is now Trump alone who decides where that debate will go.

How does he manage to do that?  Partly, it's because he is the president and cannot be ignored, but mostly it's because he chooses to be extremely insulting.  

He always attacks the individuals who have criticized him, not the criticism they made of him.  He attacks their intelligence, their ethics, their morals, their families and their neighborhoods, and he makes these attacks so nasty that journalists and politicians feel they cannot stay silent about them.

But in a narcissistic game Trump wants all that negative attention!  He is winning!  We forget about Mueller's warnings concerning the future of American democracy, we debate the conditions in Baltimore, not on the southern US border!  And Trump's base is utterly unconcerned with Trump's racist utterances.

You may have gathered by now that if Trump truly is a narcissist, then we are all playing the games he sets up, and we cannot win those games, by definition.

So how should we play these games?  What makes the general psychological advice I have gathered less effective is that we probably have a narcissist in a position where his games cannot be ignored, and not playing the games a narcissist sets up is the only truly effective move.

Still, certain general principles may apply.  The most important of those is not to play the narcissistic games thinking that they can be won.  They cannot be won. 

It's better to stay on the initial topics, the ones Cummings addressed in his criticisms, because those are the topics Trump doesn't want us to focus on.  

His first set of hate tweets against Cummings should have been met with a short, firm and calm condemnation of how Trump, again, has attacked a Congressperson of color in an insulting manner, and then the focus should have immediately turned back to the initial topics.  

In other words, we should maintain our own boundaries, and that means we shouldn't let Trump lead us by our noses to whatever topic he picks for the next one.  And then for the one after that, and so on.

And yes, I know those moves in Trump's games are almost impossible, because for them to be truly successful they'd need to be adopted by most journalists and politicians out there, not just by a few.  But even being aware of what the game is Trump is currently playing has been helpful to me.