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Archive for January, 2010

The Tiger Woods scandal is an excellent example of why I don’t watch the news on TV or take a regular newspaper; instead I read bloggers who filter through all the chaff and discuss underreported but vitally important events rather than gossiping about the sort of people my father once described as “trailer trash with money”.

But this link caught my eye.

The story is sadly familiar: a rich, famous and powerful husband cheats on his undeniably gorgeous wife, apologizes and wants a second chance.

In the case of Tiger Woods, the reason for his “transgressions” may stem more from the fact that his own life is missing something than from problems with his wife, experts say.

“People who have affairs typically do so because something is lacking,” says psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser. “You can be the world’s best golfer, role model and endorsement spokesman and still not feel good inside.”

A quick Google found numerous other examples of various people taking it upon themselves to psychoanalyze Mr. Woods.

Helen Fisher is one of the few to point out that this is a moral issue, not a psychological one, and that his motivations have their origins in biology, not in neurosis.

Let’s face it: most men, given the opportunity and free of restraining moral codes, would have a harem like that of Mr. Woods. His urges are completely normal. His behavior shows only that he had the opportunity and lacked Judeo-Christian morals about sex. (I have no idea what Mr. Woods’ own religion is, if any.)

Earlier generations would have laughed heartily at the spectacle of educated people trying in apparent bewilderment to come up with an explanation for a man feeling anything so unaccountable as a desire to sleep with multiple women.

This caught my attention because just a few days before, I read a blog thread which I cannot now find in which people were speculating about the reasons behind the habit many people regrettably have of shedding good friends in favor of shiny new ones. Most of the proposed reasons drew on things like neurology (our brains try to save us time by making snap judgments which are not always good ones), evolutionary psychology (which posits that such unethical behavior often has survival value), natural youthful immaturity (which most people, one hopes, will outgrow in time), or the general decline in moral standards.

In the midst of this, a new commenter butted in to condescendingly inform everyone that this behavior is extremely rare and would only ever be displayed by people with serious psychological problems, and informed the blogger and other commenters who had reported their own anecdotes about this behavior that they “needed to get out more”, a course of action which, he implied, would inevitably lead to their encountering millions of people who never shed old friends because fresh new people come along.

Of course, everyone has observed this behavior. It is particularly common among the young. Who, besides the commenter mentioned above, does not remember the ever-shifting alliances of their grade school classmates? Who, besides this commenter, has not observed college students jettisoning their values and the old friends who shared them because they started hanging with a different crowd with a different code? Who else has not seen attractive young people going through members of the opposite sex like a hot knife through butter, jilting loyal admirers who would make excellent spouses in favor of someone exciting and unreliable?

To most of us, the reason that people do this is fairly obvious: it brings short-term satisfaction. That is why it is such a common behavior. People with an internalized moral sense, who understand that “Nature is what we were put in this world to rise above,” will resist the impulse, but it is still there, in every one of us. Not only those with serious psychological problems.

This commenter was trying to claim that impulses that everyone has and that many people act on are actually rare and require, not self-restraint, but therapy.

This utopian premise, that human relationships naturally function smoothly and any problem is a sign of an exotic mental malady, has become very common. I quoted this a couple of months ago:

Sociobiological theory also has profound implications for the nature of the family. Generations of psychologists have presumed that evolution (or some very powerful force) must have intended the family to function more smoothly than it generally does. A naive model of the nature of the family assumes that it is harmonious under ideal conditions, since that is allegedly how it was designed. But it was not so designed. Like the male-female pair, it is an association among individuals with partly distinct evolutionary purposes. Family members are often at odds with each other’s ultimate (not merely temporary) purposes, and their relations are naturally conflicted rather than naturally harmonious. This conflict is not friction in what should or could be a smoothly functioning system but is intrinsic.

~Melvin Konner, Only The Reckless Survive and Other Secrets of Human Nature

The problem with the utopian delusion that relationships “naturally” go smoothly and that if they do not, it is a sign that something is inherently wrong with one of the parties, is that it makes the behavior of sloughing relationships at whim even more common. Before the pseudo-science of psychology led people to start making this assumption, everyone knew and understood that relationships are difficult. It was simply the nature of reality. I would hazard a guess that the commenter mentioned above has himself ended numerous friendships because trivial problems in their interactions proved to him that his friends had terrible psychological problems and wouldn’t be fit for friendship until they had more therapy. Such premises help our soaring divorce rate, not to mention our soaring rate of romances that never lead to marriage; the slightest problem convinces people that “s/he is not The One” and they drop them to look elsewhere, for that perfect soul mate with whom there will never be any problems whatever.

I am one of those who the commenter would deem in need of getting out more, because I have had “friends”, some of whom I thought were good friends, ditch me for the most superficial reasons. One dumped me for not liking the Lord of the Rings movie. Another ended a brief but intense friendship because I sent her a link to an essay that she didn’t agree with. I had a two-week friendship which I thought looked promising, but I made a mild complaint when she was two hours late meeting me and she kicked me to the curb. (This evokes the old saying: “If you lend a friend ten dollars and never see her again, it was probably worth it.”)

These “friends” all had an image in their minds of what friendship is supposed to be like. To them, it is an ecstasy of perfect harmony in which the other person never causes you a moment of irritation, never misunderstands you, never disagrees with you, and never makes any demands upon you. If not for the notion that relationships are naturally harmonious unless sinister forces, like psychological problems, “society”, or something interfere with their normal smoothness, these women probably would not have considered these sufficient reasons for ending a friendship. I might add that all of them have unsurprisingly tempestuous relationship histories. The last one had been divorced three times.

When people understand that friction in relationships is inevitable, they are far better equipped to deal with it. This is related to my complaint about the contemporary attitude that there is no reason for people not to marry someone from a very different background. I am not decreeing that such marriages are always a mistake or never work. I am denouncing the current notion that it is old-fashioned and unenlightened to believe that they will inevitably be fraught with problems. If two people from different backgrounds fall in love, they might be able to work out their conflicts, if they are prepared for them. But if they have been told that there will be no conflicts, this means they are making a commitment with no clue what they are getting themselves into. I don’t think lying to such a couple helps them in any way.

Another way in which normal human behavior has come to be seen as pathological is in assumptions about children. Go to youtube and watch some old cartoons about Little Lulu or Lil’ Audrey, or read some pre-1970 Family Circus or Dennis the Menace cartoons. Download some Baby Snooks radio plays. The mischievous child used to be a stock character. Everyone understood that children will inevitably misbehave, get into trouble, and make messes. Some of the cartoons dramatize the childish fantasies that inspire some of the mischief, or clearly show that the mischief comes from an incomplete understanding of the world, not from maleficent intentions, let alone deep-seated neuroses. The proper response was to scold them, punish them, and maybe laugh about it with the other adults.

But now Calvin is the only such character still around, and the assumption seems to be that children are by nature perfectly behaved, not even requiring instruction in desired behavior. Mischief which a couple of generations ago would have been answered with a swat and an order never to do it again is now reason to drag the child to a shrink for Ritalin and analysis.

The problem, of course, is that therapy and psychiatric drugs cannot cure perfectly normal behavior. But this era is so confused that we no longer remember what normal behavior is.

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The Decline of the Bar

Note: This was originally posted some months back, but was accidentally deleted. I just finally found a copy on my hard drive. Please forgive the repost!

Shortly after World War II, male bartenders tried to bar women from their profession. They saw bars as the poor man’s version of the gentleman’s club, a male refuge from the wider world. They were places women rarely went. There might be a jukebox crooning softly in the corner, but there was no dancing. Men would sit alone, wrapped in their thoughts as they drowned their troubles, or in small groups, talking (the jukebox wasn’t loud enough to prevent this).

Consider for a moment how much the humble bar has changed. By now, most of them are “singles bars”, an institution that has become so embedded in our culture that it is difficult to remember that within living memory, it did not even exist.

Until the 1960’s, people usually met prospective partners at social gatherings designed by their families for that precise purpose. When we think of it today, we tend to think of parents and other authority figures in bygone eras as the sworn enemies of heterosexuality. Those mean old parents were always chaperoning their youngsters so they couldn’t have sex, forcing them to marry people they didn’t like, etc. But think of the novels of Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Nancy Mitford. These ought to have alerted popular culture to the pre-1960s practice of parents setting up parties, such as debutante balls, whose chief purpose was for their unmarried offspring to dance with and talk to members of the opposite sex so that grandchildren could ensue. Yeah, there were always duennas hanging around to prevent the young people from having sex before they got married, but nonetheless the atmosphere seems to have been a profoundly favorable one.

I’m always given a jolt every time a mother in a classic novel or old movie is actually happy to see a young man looking at her daughter. Nowadays, parents who care about their children at all have to face the fact that given the cultural climate, if their teenagers are allowed out of the house, the odds are excellent that they will have sex. Even apart from the psychological damage of sex without commitment and at a too-young age, damage that liberals insist does not exist, there’s also the uncompromising danger of pregnancy or disease. This means that parents who care have to view every date with the utmost suspicion. Is this boy going to make their daughter a mother at 15? Is this girl going to give their son his first VD before he even goes to college? At an age when young people ought to be exploring the delight of having two sexes in the world and finding the person they will spend their lives with, their parents have instead to do whatever they can to discourage any attraction they see because of where it may lead, or else press condoms and pills on their children so that they will not suffer too much from their folly. But back to parties.

Nowadays most parties, unless they are family reunions, are made up of people of the same age group, mostly unrelated to each other. For most of history, however, parties were gatherings of multiple age groups, multiple extended families. As opposed to today’s habit of warehousing teenagers with other teenagers to prevent them from observing and learning adult behavior, adolescents would be attending the same parties as their parents and grandparents. The concept was that the young people were being introduced and brought into the adult world, which they were to be a part of. The modern notions that the younger generation should be kept quarantined as if its members had some deadly disease, and that every generation ought to wrench control from their elders and jettison the values and customs of previous eras, was mercifully unheard of.

A major objective of these parties was to give young people an opportunity to find a mate. Marriages to unsuitable partners were rare, because unsuitable people were simply not admitted. If some wastrel or drunkard or woman of loose morals could not be kept out because of family connections or some such, his (or her) prospective victims were still unlikely to be taken in, because the room was full of people who knew of the scandal and who relayed the details in whispers throughout the room. If some charming cad made overtures to a naïve young lady, her parents and a passel of other relatives were on the spot to shoo him off and expose his true character to the girl.

Nowadays, of course, we are too “liberated” for such safeguards and so every young person is cast adrift on the world to fend for him- or herself as best he can.

In the parties of yore, the mere presence of a man at a gathering demonstrated that he was of reasonably sound moral character, that his past and connections were known and were unalarming, and that he had mastered the basics of civilized behavior. A singles bar, of course, has no such barriers to admission. In addition, the old parties made it possible for young couples to actually talk, to learn if their personalities were compatible. People learned things about those they met, and any attempt to lie about one’s fortune, character or profession would be swiftly exposed, as the room was filled with people who knew the truth! Dancing – used often as a symbolic demonstration of a man’s fitness as a husband in the novels of Jane Austen – was done according to set patterns that had to be learned, and it required paying attention to one’s partner so as not to break the pattern or tread on her feet.

Compare that to the singles bar. Anyone can stroll in, unvetted, unscreened. The “dancing” consists of gyrating randomly, a “skill” that does not need to be learned and requires little attention to one’s partner; indeed, often today’s “dancing” is partnerless. The “music” is so artistically worthless that the central element of a song, melody, is subordinated to the beat (if not altogether nonexistent), which is played at ear-splitting level, making conversation impossible. A singles bar, virtually the only place where young people in search of partners can go looking for them today, consists of a lot of people standing around sustaining hearing loss, shrieking “Would you like to dance?” an inch from each other’s ears, and knocking back drink after drink to escape the sordid reality around them.

A woman approached by a strange man has to rely entirely on her own intuition to discern if he really is a doctor, if he has what used to be called a “social disease”, if he is a serial killer, or if he is simply a blackguard who will desert her after a single night. No one else at the bar knows him, so if he has a string of abandoned pregnant girlfriends or felony arrests behind him, no one can warn her. Instead of judging a man by his demonstrated ability to keep his word and carry on a profession to determine if he might be a suitable husband, a woman is forced to judge by his body language and the clothes on his back if he is worth taking home tonight. She can only hope that afterwards he might come back for a second night, and possibly for life. Indeed, the practice of sleeping with a strange man because he has appealing body language has become so prevalent that an entire subculture has arisen of men teaching each other the proper way to carry oneself, speak to a woman, and make advances towards her so as to get her into bed.

Back when women were not expected to have sex with men they weren’t married to, the “male gaze”, flirting, and compliments were affirmation women could enjoy. A whistle or a wolfish look was a request for something the man and woman both knew he wasn’t going to get. It was safe. With modern pressure to have extramarital sex, women feel on some level that they are “obliged” to come across, and responding to flirting with anything other than hostility could be considered leading the man on. The Sexual Revolution has made male appreciation a threat instead of a compliment.

This is what “liberation” has led us to: women being put in a position where strange men make a science of how to get into their pants, and men in a position where honesty, kindness, and hard work are deemed worthless by women who go home with the guy who carries himself the right way and has learned to steer the conversation like a car. Like all other elements of feminism, it has left women as well as men worse off, not better.

Let us return the bar to what it used to be, and make parties family affairs once more.

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