Feeling Embarrassed? Bring Your Dick

photo-originalGoogle News, 26.3.2014. A businesswoman is sitting at the table with some “dudes.” She feels they devalue her work, her skills, and herself merely because she is a woman. She loses confidence; what to do? Holly Wilson, a sculptor from Mustang, Oklahoma, thinks she has the answer. She has created a miniature penis, one-and a half inches long, and available in either bronze or silver. A woman who purchases it will be able to take it along to meetings. At the appropriate moment she can fumble in her pocket or handbag, put the tiny marvel on the table, and show it to her male business partners; after which, it is hoped, business can really get under way.

Ms. Wilson is hardly the only emancipated woman who hopes for a penis that will somehow empower her. Take Naomi Wolf, a self-declared “power feminist” writer who advised candidate Al Gore during the 2000 U.S presidential campaign. In Fire by Fire (1993) she explains how delighted she was by some ads she saw showing “phallic objects… emerg[ing]… from women’s [emphasis in the original] groins.” In the 1997 movie GI Jane the lead character, acted by Demmi More, demands that a U.S Army male instructor “suck her dick” (which, of course, she doesn’t have). The grand-priestess of modern feminism, Betty Friedan, in her 1981 book The Second Stage expressed her confidence that women would soon be able to join men in the “ballfield” where important political economic and social issues are decided. The list goes on and on.

The words of these and other leading feminist seem to belie the claim, made by Kate Millett and others, that penis envy is a lie invented by Freud specifically in order to keep women in their proper place. Freud himself first mentioned the term in a 1908 essay called “On the Sexual Theories of Children.” Later his followers picked it up and started strewing it over their own works like sequins over a dress. Yet the precise origin and significance of the phenomenon has always been in doubt. Karen Horney (1885-1952), one of Freud’s more important female students, believed that the penis merely acted as the symbol for all the advantages, real or imagined, men enjoy in society. Wrong, said another female disciple of the master, Jeanne Lampl de Groot (1895-1987). “The absence of a penis cannot be regarded as a matter of secondary and trifling significance for the little girl, as Karen Horney [thinks]… The material,” meaning her own clinical experiences and that of others brought to her attention, proved that “penis envy is a central point.” It is “from this point that the development into normal femininity begins”. Woman’s “wish for a penis is the consequence of a biological datum that underlies her psychic reaction of feeling inferior and is ‘rock bottom.’”

Many of these debates took place at Freud’s famous analytical seminars, held every Wednesday evening at his home. Another female analyst who participated in some of them was Helene Deutsch (1884-1982). Deutsch, one of the first women to receive a medical degree from any Austrian university, rightly considered herself, “a leader in female emancipation.” In 1925 she became the first member of Freud’s circle to publish a paper specifically dealing with the psychology of women, shocking Freud who himself had yet to produce anything of the kind. None of this prevented her from embracing the theory of the biological origin of penis envy heart and soul. The clitoris, she explained was but “an inadequate substitute” for the male organ. In 1935 Deutsch fled Germany for the U.S. Beautiful and very hard-working, she became a highly successful therapist, teacher and lecturer. In 1944-45 she published her two-volume work, The Psychology of Women. It turned her into the world’s foremost authority on the subject, a position she continued to hold for about three decades.

While psychoanalytical opinion remains divided, a look at the world around us may help resolve the riddle. Indeed one could argue that the whole of modern feminism itself is nothing but the most gigantic, best-organized, exercise in penis-envy ever. If men wear trousers, women must do the same. If men spend most of their lives slaving away in factories and offices, then unless women share their fate and find jobs they consider themselves only half-human. If men undertake years of intensive training and embark on hazardous journeys to the moon and back, women must join them there. If men hit each other half to death in sports such as boxing, women too must enter the rink. If men join the military, travel to some war in some godforsaken country halfway around the world to fight and die there, then so must women. If men enjoy one-night stands then so, some recent psychologists claim, must women.

Not only is the list of examples endless, but it and continues to expand almost day by day. Judging by them, women’s—especially feminist women seeking “emancipation”—jealousy of men knows no bounds. Were Lampl de Groot and Deutsch right in claiming that it is rooted in biology? Or is the penis simply a symbol for the advantages men enjoy in society, as Horney claimed? Like most attempts to separate nature from nurture, the question does not seem to admit a final answer. But does it really matter? Perhaps the real clue to understanding the relationship between men and women is contained in the following sentence, uttered by God when he drove the first couple out of paradise. “Unto your man shall be your passion,” He told Eve; “and he shall govern you.”

So it has been, so it remains, and so, presumably, it will always be.

 

Pussycats

For several decades now, Western armed forces—which keep preening themselves as the best-trained, best organized, best equipped best led, in history—have been turned into pussycats. Being pussycats, they went from one defeat to the next. True, in 1999 they did succeed in imposing their will on Serbia. But only because the opponent was a small, weak state (at the time, the Serb armed forces, exhausted by a prolonged civil war, were rated 35th in the world); and even then only because that state was practically defenseless in the air. The same applies to Libya in 2011. Over there, indigenous bands on the ground did most of the fighting and took all the casualties. In both cases, when it came to engaging in ground combat, man against man, the West, with the U.S at its head, simply did not have what it takes.

On other occasions things were worse still. Western armies tried to create order in Somalia and were kicked out by the “Skinnies,” as they called their lean but mean opponents. They tried to beat the Taliban in Afghanistan, and were kicked out. They tried to impose democracy (and get their hands on oil) in Iraq, and ended up leaving with their tails between their legs. The cost of these foolish adventures to the U.S alone is said to have been around 1 trillion—1,000,000,000,000—dollars. With one defeat following another, is it any wonder that, when those forces were called upon to put an end to the civil war in Syria, they and the societies they serve preferred to let the atrocities go on?

By far the most important single reason behind the repeated failures is the fact that, one and all, these were luxury wars. With nuclear weapons deterring large-scale attack, for seven decades now no Western country has waged anything like a serious, let alone existential, struggle against a more or less equal opponent. As the troops took on opponents much weaker than themselves—often in places they had never heard about, often for reasons nobody but a few politicians understood—they saw no reason why they should get themselves killed. Given the circumstances, indeed, doing so would have been the height of stupidity on their part. Yet from the time the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C were defeated by the outnumbered Greeks right down to the present, troops whose primary concern is not to get themselves killed have never be able to fight, let alone win.

One would think that, aware of the problem, the politicians and societies that so light-heartedly sent the troops to fight under these circumstances would do everything in their power to compensate them in other ways. For example, by allowing them some license to enjoy life before a bomb went off, blowing them to pieces; making sure that those put in harm’s way would be given a free hand to do what they had to do; allowing them to take pride in their handiwork; celebrating them on their return; and giving them all kinds of privileges. Was it not Plato who suggested that those who excelled in war on behalf of the republic be given first right to kiss and be kissed? After all, in every field of human activity from football to accounting it has always been those who enjoy what they do who do it best. Conversely, in every field those who excel are those who enjoy what they are doing. Is there any reason why, in waging war and fighting, things should be any different?

Instead, far from honoring their troops or even showing them respect, Western societies have done the opposite. During training and in garrison, they are surrounded by a thousand regulations that prevent them from doing things every civilian can do as a matter of course. That includes, if they are American and not yet 21 years old, buying a can of beer and drinking its contents. On campaign they are bound by rules of engagement that often make their enemies laugh at them, prevent them from defending themselves, lead to unnecessary casualties, and result in punishment if they are violated. Anybody who openly says that he took pride in his deadly work—as, for example, the legendary, now retired, four-star U.S Marine Corps General Jim Mattis at one point did—will be counseled to shut up if he is lucky and disciplined if he is not.

American troops returning from a tour undergo obligatory testing for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. PTSD, of course, is a real problem for some. However, as all history shows, it is simply not true that fighting, killing and watching others being killed is necessarily traumatic. Suppose the Roman Army had dealt with PTSD as we do now; would it have conquered the world? Nor, contrary to what one often hears, is it true that historical combat was less terrible than its modern equivalents. Perhaps to the contrary, given that the combatants could literally look into each other’s eyes, hear the screams, see the spurting blood, and touch the scattering brains.

As I wrote decades ago in Fighting Power, the real origin of PTSD is found in a personnel system which, for reasons of administrative efficiency, treats the troops like interchangeable cogs, isolates them, and prevents them from bonding. Adding offense to injury, the abovementioned tests, introduced with the possibility of liability in mind, are humiliating. Wasn’t it Frederick the Great who said that the one thing that can drive men into the muzzles of the cannon trained on them is pride? Nor do things end at this point. Far from celebrating the troops’ courage and sacrifice, society very often treats them as damaged goods. Indeed things have come to the point where it expects them to be damaged.

An important role in all this is played by military women and feminism generally. In every known human society (even, as far as we are able to judge, in some animal societies) since the world began, whatever treatment was considered suitable for males has been seen as too harsh for females. Conversely, to be treated like women was perceived as the most humiliating thing men could undergo. By insisting on gender equality the way they have—even putting in place “equal employment opportunity officers” charged with hounding any man who dares “offend” a woman—Western armed forces have dragged their men’s pride through the mire. The more so because, as the distribution of casualties shows, it is the men who do practically all the fighting. At the same time they have often confronted women with demands that were too much for them. The proof of this particular pudding is in the eating. Proportionally speaking, far more female than male soldiers are said to suffer from PTSD.

Had the system been deliberately designed to sap the fighting power of Western armies, it could hardly have been improved on. This might well make us ask: cui bono? Who profits? There are several answers. First come thousands of “mental health professionals” hired to treat the people in question. Like the female psychologist in Philipp Roth’s book, The Human Stain, who asks a Vietnam veteran whether he has ever killed anybody (firing a machine gun from a helicopter, he has killed hundreds, perhaps thousands), most would not recognize a bullet if they saw one. Next come the corporations that produce all sorts of psychopharma (the standard method for treating PTSD is to drug the patients). Third are the media. Always eager to throw the first stone, very often they have a field day selling those suffering from the symptoms to a slavering public. Between them, these three make billions out of the enterprise.

Last not least are feminist organizations which always insist on “equality” (in reality, privilege) even if it means going over the bodies of many “sisters” and wrecking their countries’ military. Two points remain to be made. First, as their repeated victories prove, the Taliban, their brothers in arms in other countries, and non-Western societies generally know better than to follow the West on is self-destructive path. Second, societies that lose their fighting power by treating their troops in this way are doomed. Sooner or later, somebody will come along, big sword in hand, and cut off their head.

Let those with ears to listen, listen.

Israel at 66

By most accounts the state of Israel, which celebrated its 66th birthday last week is a good place to live in. A hundred years ago there were some sixty thousand Jews in what Israelis, following Old Testament usage, like to call Ha-Aretz, “The Land.” Currently there are some six million. No other country, not even the United States or any developing country, has seen such a tremendous increase in such a short time.

According to various international sources, per capita GDP—probably the best available index of relative wealth—stands at about $ 33,000 per year. That is 64 percent of the U.S figure. Considering that, as far as the best available estimates allow, a century ago the equivalent figure was just 4 percent, that is not a bad performance. Moreover, as tourists will notice, the Israeli shekel, while not quite freely convertible, has become as hard as stone. $ 33,000 put Israel in place 25 out of 194 countries on this earth, just behind New Zealand but ahead of quite some other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Considering its size, in terms of computer science, material science, medical science, the number of patents taken out each year, the number of new books published, the number of museums, and, recently the number of Nobel laureates Israel has nothing to be ashamed of.

The demographic picture is also interesting. Israel attracts immigrants—considering the size of its population, it occupies place number four among 36 “developed” countries. Not only do immigrants provide labor, but they may help create an open-minded country with a vibrant, multifaceted, culture. The percentage of those who live in wedlock is relatively high, that of divorces low; this preference for family life may explain why the suicide rate is also quite low. The number of children per woman is much higher than the average in OECD countries. The life expectancy of both men and women is also higher. Though many orthodox men and many Arab women do not work, overall participation in the labor forces is higher than the OECD average.

But who said Israel should be compared with developed countries of roughly similar size such as Sweden, Switzerland, or the Netherlands? After all, it is located neither in Western Europe, nor in North America, nor in happy Oceania. Instead, its founders have chosen one of the least stable, most turbulent, regions on earth. Considering these facts, and also that it used to be a colonial country that only gained its independence in 1948, perhaps a better comparison would be with the world’s remaining 160 or so “developing” countries. Such a comparison will show that Israel towers head and shoulders over practically all the rest. The more so in view of the fact that it has never known a single day when it was officially at peace with all its neighbors; and the more so in view of the fact that, of all the 100-plus countries that gained their independence since World War II, only India, Malta and Israel have always maintained their democracy.

To be sure, there are problems. By and large, though, they are the problems of rich developed countries, not of poor developing ones. At one time Israel used to be a socialist society with an exceptionally low Gini coefficient (the graph that measures economic inequality among different parts of the population). This started changing in the mid-1980s, leading up to the present situation where the gaps between rich and poor are said to be larger than anywhere else except the U.S. The environment is not protected too well—it took public opinion and the government quite a while to realize how important this issue is. The level of educational achievement, as distinct from the average number of years spent at school, is not among the highest either. Like so many other developed countries Israel is attracting large numbers of illegal immigrants who enter it in search of work and with whom it does not quite know what to do.

The most important problems of all are defense on one hand and the occupied territories on the other. The continuing need for defense is reflected in the country’s exceptionally powerful armed forces. Those forces consume about 7 percent of GDP compared with about 4.5 percent in the U.S, 4.4 in Russia, and around 1 percent in most European countries. They pack an enormous punch that might well be the envy of much larger forces.

Yet things have changed. From 1948 to 1973 inclusive Israel was a beleaguered fortress that stumbled from one major war to the next. Since then the existential threat has receded to the point where, in spite of much foolish talk about Iran’s nuclear program, it barely any longer exists. To be sure, there is some terrorism, whether in the form of knifings, shootings, suicide bombers, and the like or in that of rockets coming across the border. Another war against Hezbollah, Hamas, or both cannot be ruled out. Such a war, however, would probably not amount to much more than pinpricks.

That leaves the major, major problem of the occupied territories. What brought the territories under Israeli rule back in 1967 was an Arab threat that was perceived as existential and led to a preemptive war. Thanks to the leadership and courage displayed first by Menahem Begin and then by Ariel Sharon, Israel has rid itself of most of them. Most of the time, the border with those areas is reasonably quiet. Had it been completely quiet, then those Israelis, and there are many, who favor a withdrawal from other territories would have had a much, much easier time persuading the rest.

Several Israeli prime ministers have made unsuccessful attempts to achieve peace with Syria which would include the return of the Golan Heights to that country. Just who is to blame for the failure of those attempts need not concern us here; as long as the Syrian civil war continues, there will be nobody to negotiate with. That leaves the West Bank and the Arab-inhabited parts of East Jerusalem. How many people live in those areas is not clear. Almost three million, says the Palestinian Authority. Rather less than 2 million, say some Israeli demographers. Either way, the situation whereby Israel keeps such large numbers of Palestinians under its rule is intolerable—not militarily, but politically, socially, psychologically, legally, and, last not least, morally. As the growth of Jewish terrorism proves, in the long run it may very well lead to civil war. One might compare Israel to a policeman who is chained to a criminal. “I am free,” he keeps shouting; “but he [the criminal] is not.”

How to break the stalemate? Netanyahu, whom many consider both a liar and a coward, will not do so. If only because the Right will prevent such a move, neither will the Left. What is needed is another Rabin, another Begin, another Sharon or even another Olmert (during his term as prime minister, he was planning to give up at least part of the West Bank). It was not that the times called for them; it was they who changed or tried to change the times. At the moment no such figure may be seen on the horizon.

But then hasn’t Ha-Aretz always been the land where miracles sometimes happen?

Book of the Month

My chosen book of the month is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Ma, Harvard University Press, 2014). It is said to have sold 100,000 copies already with another 100,000 on the way. Piketty is a relatively young (he was born in 1971) French economist. Having studied in France and the U.S, he now teaches at élite universities in Paris. His argument can be summed up as follows. The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century vastly increased productivity. This enabled the entrepreneurs who knew how to take advantage of it to grow immensely rich. In France they included the Schneider family of Schneider-Creusot fame. In Germany their most important representative was the Krupp dynasty; whereas the US brings to mind the likes of Eleuthère du Pont and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Not only did many of these people build up vast fortunes but they passed them to their heirs. As far as the available statistics allow us to judge the outcome, in most industrialized countries, was growing economic gaps between rich and poor.

Next, in 1913-70, the gaps closed somewhat. The main causes behind this were, first, the destruction by war of vast amounts of assets and the loss of practically all capital held abroad. This reduced the importance of the latter and turned almost all the citizens of some counties into beggars. Second came the adoption, in many countries, of socialist or quasi-socialist measures, such as progressive taxes on income and on inheritances, deliberately designed to reduce inequality. This even applied to the U.S in the form of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Finally there was the rise of the welfare state which provided services such as health and education. It also transferred wealth from some groups to others; albeit, as Piketty shows, on a much more modest scale than the common image of “the welfare mother” would suggest.

Many of these factors were linked. For example, the need for cannon-fodder was a major reason why, starting as early as the 1880s, governments, which previously had been content to perform regalian functions such as providing external and internal security and enforcing contracts, suddenly took a greater interest in the welfare of the masses. In Britain and other countries, indeed, wartime mobilization, which greatly increased both GDP and the share of taxes in it, was explicitly used as model and basis for the welfare state to come. But nothing lasts forever. Sometime between 1975 and 1980 the picture changed. Partly because of the “energy crisis” that raised the price of oil fourfold, partly for other reasons, economic growth, which during the “golden decades” from 1945 to 1973 or so had been higher than at any other time in history, slowed dramatically. Once again, return on capital began to exceed that growth; indeed, as the author himself says, the idea that it can do so on a sustained basis is the most important single aspect of his work. Consequently the share of the rich few in terms of both income and ownership rose, whereas that of the many poor declined.

As Piketty rightly points out, there was nothing inevitable in this development. Instead it was deliberately brought about, at least in part, by the likes of Ronald Reagan in the U.S and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. Behind them loomed the theories of Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago University. The objective was to end the combination of stagnation and inflation—known, at the time, as stagflation—that afflicted many countries during the 1970s and cause growth to resume. The most important measures adopted included an end to subsidies, cuts in taxation, less regulation, and privatization. Asked for their opinion, back in 2007 most people would have said that the attempt had been successful, even spectacularly so. Indeed volumes were written to show that the business cycle had finally been brought under control and that the future would bring nothing but further wealth.

It was the 2008 recession which turned the tables once more. The policies adopted in the 1980s came to be seen as a monster—my term, not Piketty’s—that threatens to turn democracy into a sham and lead to oligarchy instead. In some countries they may even bring about revolution and civil war Fortunately, Piketty says, the trend, having been deliberately created, can also be reversed. As by increasing income taxes on the rich; or designing better pension plans for the elderly so as to lift the burden currently resting on the shoulders of the working young; or putting in place a universal (it would have to be universal, to prevent people moving their assets from one country to another) on capital. The latter is clearly the author’s favorite and he devotes quite some space to explaining it.

Needless to say, Piketty’s work is not the only one on the subject. As many reviewers have noted, its greatest advantage consists of the formidable body of statistics, collected by the author and others over many years, by which it is supported. Most pertain either to income taxes paid by individuals or to national income. Yet the numbers are not what made it a best-seller. As Piketty himself says, John Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population is hardly backed by any statistics at all. Yet it has now made its influence felt for over two centuries. The same applies to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and many other works. The real reason behind the success of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is the fact that it has captured the Zeitgeist. In any age where growth is flagging, the income of many is steady or falling, and the future does not appear too bright, it both documents the way the world economy has been going and proposes ways to change its direction. That these proposals are likely to run, have already begun to run, into a storm of opposition on the part of conservatives hardly requires saying.

Though too complex to appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry, on the whole the book is simply written. The author has no patience for the kind of equations econometrists love but which, in many cases, turn out to be stilts in search for nonsense to support. There is even an occasional flash of humor. Another attractive feature is the author’s modesty. The volume contains neither earth-shaking discoveries nor bombastic statements. Much less intellectual arrogance of any kind. All one finds is thorough research combined with repeated admissions that reality is far too complex for us to fully understand the present, let alone predict the future with any confidence.

If a personal word is permitted—here, of course, I can do what I please—I have met, and very much admire, Paul Kennedy. His 1987 best-seller, The Rise and Decline of the Great Powers, in some ways resembles Capital in the Twenty-First Century. While I do not agree with everything Professor Piketty wrote, I would very much like to meet him and exchange views with him. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I will.