Adonis Diaries

Archive for August 11th, 2016

Thomas Friedman Goes to the Wall

High priest of globalization lashes out against the enemies of progress


Republican National Convention made a joke of American democracy

In a pair of recent articles, “Web People Versus Wall People” and “How Clinton Could Knock Trump Out,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times expresses deep concern that Clinton’s primary-season “lean” toward the politics of Bernie Sanders isn’t fake enough.

It’s been a whole week since the convention, and Hillary still hasn’t yet gone back to being the unabashed friend to big banks and staunch advocate for free trade and deregulation she just spent all of last year pretending she was not. This has Friedman freaked out.

Andrew Bossone  commented and shared this link

“Manufacturers just went abroad, to dictatorships and communist oligarchies, to make their products, forcing American workers to compete not just against foreign workers, but against their own history and legal systems.

People forget that when it comes to labor relations, America had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in the direction of the civilized world.

Attempts to ban child labor in this country failed repeatedly, and we didn’t actually pass a federal child labor law that stuck until 1938.

Airlines in America were still firing flight attendants for getting married through the mid-eighties.”
Thomas fears Hillary is leaning in the direction of socialism, “the greatest system ever invented for making people equally poor,” as opposed to staying true to the capitalist ethos of her husband, which would “grow our pie bigger and faster”:

I get that she had to lean toward Sanders and his voters to win the nomination; their concerns with fairness and inequality are honorable. But those concerns can be addressed only with economic growth…

(Ever economic growth is no longer sustainable: Get out of this mid set and start producing what can be sustained)

Friedman is conceding that inequality and unfairness are legitimate concerns. He’s just saying that now that the people most concerned about these issues have been beaten at the polls, we can safely go back to ignoring them and letting the beneficiaries of inequality worry about how and when to fix it.

This “let’s grow our pie bigger and faster” column (does this make more or less sense than George Bush’s famous “we should make the pie higher” idea?) comes on the heels of last week’s “Webs and Walls” column on the same theme.

This remarkable article divided the world into two groups of people. Roughly speaking, Friedman is talking about people who embrace globalization (“Web people”) versus people who reject it (“Wall people”).

This is already a confusing metaphor because the campaigns of the two candidates Friedman identifies as riling up the “Wall” people, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, were heavily reliant on Internet media, i.e. the Web.

Meanwhile, Friedman’s definition of “web people” describes individuals who:

Instinctively understand that Democrats and Republicans both built their platforms largely in response to the Industrial Revolution, the New Deal and the Cold War, but that today, a 21st-century party needs to build its platform in response to the accelerations in technology, globalization and climate change, which are the forces transforming the workplace, geopolitics and the very planet.

That seems like a very specific and weird belief system, probably unique to writers for the New York Times named Thomas Friedman.

Friedman never explains what any of this has to do with “webs” – is it an Internet thing? Do they have webbed hands?

(Friedman adopts new technology lexical to bypass his mind-fix)

But whatever, we get it, sort of. “Web people” embrace the future and “open systems,” i.e. free trade, bringing us closer to the heart of what Friedman is talking about.

Friedman is right that this election, like the Brexit vote, has really been a referendum on globalization. What’s infuriating is the cartoonish way he defines the critics of globalization.

“Wall people” in his mind are either xenophobic Trumpites who don’t want a flood of dirty, rapey immigrants entering their towns, or they’re Sanders socialists who don’t want to compete with foreign workers and insist on government handouts.

(Has Thomas ever worked at a minimum paid job?)

With regard to the latter, what troubles Friedman the most is the way Hillary is cozying up to her critics on the left:

She is opposing things she helped to negotiate, like the Pacific trade deal, and offering more benefits from government but refraining from telling people the hardest truth: that to be in the middle class, just working hard and playing by the rules doesn’t cut it anymore.

To have a lifelong job, you need to be a lifelong learner, constantly raising your game. (At the expense of the developing people?)

Yes, to get by these days, working hard isn’t enough to keep a job. You need to be “constantly raising your game.” Either that, or you need to marry a shopping mall heiress and write books fawning over Fortune 500 companies.

Friedman’s glib definition of globalization goes virtually unchallenged in the pundit-o-sphere, which by and large agrees with him that critics of globalism are either racists or afraid of capitalism.

But this issue is infinitely more complicated than that.

We never really had a referendum on globalization in America. It just sort of happened. (The US being left unchallenged after the fall of the Berlin Wall?)

People had jobs one day, then the next morning they were fired, replaced by 14-year-olds in Indonesia or sweatshop laborers in Bangladesh, working in unsafe hell-holes without overtime or health care, beaten when they don’t make quotas.

What exactly does “raising your game” mean in the context of that sort of competition?

Globalization in the snap of a finger essentially erased nearly two centuries of America’s bloody labor history.

It’s as if the Thibodeaux Massacre, the hangings of the Molly McGuires, the Pullman Strike, the L.A. Times bombing, the Flint sit-in and thousands of other strikes and confrontations never took place.

“Friedman’s glib definition of globalization goes virtually unchallenged in the pundit-o-sphere, which by and large agrees with him that critics of globalism are either racists or afraid of capitalism.”

In the new paradigm, all of those agonizing controversies and wars of political attrition, which collectively produced a vast set of rules and standards for dealing with workers, were simply wiped away.

Manufacturers just went abroad, to dictatorships and communist oligarchies, to make their products, forcing American workers to compete not just against foreign workers, but against their own history and legal systems.

People forget that when it comes to labor relations, America had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in the direction of the civilized world.

Attempts to ban child labor in this country failed repeatedly, and we didn’t actually pass a federal child labor law that stuck until 1938. Airlines in America were still firing flight attendants for getting married through the mid-eighties.

Now all that work spent to get even past those most basic problems is at risk. In the global economy, employers can look at their business models as one giant arbitrage.

You do your banking in the laissez-faire havens of the Caribbean, build factories in slave-labor capitals like China or Indonesia, buy swaps in less-regulated financial atmospheres in London, sell your products in America and Europe, etc.

You also arrange your corporate structures so that you pay the smallest amount of tax possible, often by threatening to move until you receive subsidies and exemptions.

This leads to bizarre situations like Boeing making $26 billion in U.S. profits over a five-year period and receiving a U.S. federal tax refund of $401 million over the same time.

This whole situation has raised profound questions that nobody has ever bothered to try to answer for ordinary voters, as in: What are nation-states for, in a global economy?

What’s the point of all of our labor laws, or voting-rights laws, the first amendment and a host of other American legal traditions if large pluralities of American manufacturers do their business in countries like China, where human rights abuses are rampant, political freedom is nonexistent and speech is tightly controlled?

Friedman’s description of “Wall People” is probably somewhat true when it comes to Trump voters, many of whom do just want to be physically walled off from a confusing, racially diverse world.

But to dismiss the rest of globalization’s critics as communists who hate freedom and just want to curl up in the lap of government and hide from change is absurd and insulting.

Most educated people accept and embrace the idea of an increasingly integrated world. The problem is how to go forward into the future in a way that’s fair and doesn’t increase oppression, pollution, child labor, even slavery and indenture, to say nothing of the disenfranchisement of the ex-middle class in places like America.

These are very difficult questions. They’re ones that probably won’t have positive solutions without the determined leadership of the world’s bigger democratic powers, like the U.S. and the E.U.

The problem is that the major parties in the United States in particular seem almost totally disinterested in addressing the inequities of globalism. That’s because conventional wisdom is still stuck in the Friedman stage of telling people that if they’re troubled by the global economy, they’re just afraid of the future.

Because the Murphy’s Law tendency of American politics demands that we draw every conceivable wrong lesson from an event before accidentally stumbling in the direction of progress, the twin revolts in the 2016 presidential race will surely be misinterpreted for a good long while by the Friedmans of the world.

They won’t see the anti-establishment backlash as a reason to re-examine the impact of globalism on ordinary people.

Instead, as Friedman puts it, they’ll see an opportunity to build a single ruling coalition of “center-left Web People” (what a creepy image!) who will dominate the next generation of American politics:

My hope is that, for the good of the country, Republican Web People will, over time, join the Democratic Party and tilt it into a compassionate, center-left Web party for the 21st Century.

That would be a party that is sensitive to the needs of working people … but committed to capitalism, free markets and open trade as the vital engines of growth for a modern society.

Yes, let’s be sensitive to the needs of working people, unless they have complaints about globalism, in which case we’ll put our webbed hands over our ears and ignore them.

Are you loving this political season yet?

The Culture and Costs of Anxiety

“Few people today would dispute that chronic stress is a hallmark of our times or that anxiety has become a kind of cultural condition of modernity.”


“Anxiety … makes others feel when a drowning man holds on to you,” Anaïs Nin wrote.

“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy,” Kierkegaard observed.

“There is no question that the problem of anxiety is a nodal point at which the most various and important questions converge, a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light on our whole mental existence,” Freud proclaimed in his classic introductory lectures on psychoanalysis.

And yet the riddle of anxiety is far from solved — rather, it has swelled into a social malady pulling countless numbers of us underwater daily.

Among those most mercilessly fettered by anxiety’s grip is Scott Stossel, familiar to most as the editor of The Atlantic.

In his superb mental health memoir, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (public library | IndieBound), Stossel follows in the tradition of Montaigne to use the lens of his own experience as a prism for illuminating insight on the quintessence of our shared struggles with anxiety.

From his personal memoir he weaves a cultural one, painting a portrait of anxiety though history, philosophy, religion, popular culture, literature, and a wealth of groundbreaking research in psychology and neuroscience.

Karim A. Badra shared a link.|By Maria Popova

Why? Because anxiety and its related psychoemotional disorders turn out to be the most common, prevalent, and undertreated form of clinically classified mental illness today, even more common than depression. Stossel contextualizes the issue with some striking statistics that reveal the cost — both financial and social — of anxiety:

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 40 million Americans, nearly one in seven of us, are suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder at any given time, accounting for 31% of the expenditures on mental health care in the United States.

According to recent epidemiological data, the “lifetime incidence” of anxiety disorder is more than 25 percent — which, if true, means that one in four of us can expect to be stricken by debilitating anxiety at some point in our lifetimes.

And it is debilitating: Recent academic papers have argued that the psychic and physical impairment tied to living with an anxiety disorder is equivalent to living with diabetes — usually manageable, sometimes fatal, and always a pain to deal with.

A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006 found that Americans lose a collective 321 million days of work because of anxiety and depression each year, costing the economy $50 billion annually;

a 2001 paper published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics once estimated that the median number of days missed each year by American workers who suffer from anxiety or stress disorders is twenty-five.

In 2005 — three years before the recent economic crisis hit — Americans filled 53 million prescriptions for just two antianxiety drugs: Ativan and Xanax.

(In the weeks after 9/11, Xanax prescriptions jumped 9 percent nationally — and by 22 percent in New York City.)

In September 2008, the economic crash caused prescriptions in New York City to spike: as banks went belly up and the stock market went into free fall, prescriptions for anti-depressant and antianxiety medications increased 9 percent over the year before, while prescriptions for sleeping pills increased 11 percent.

To be sure, this isn’t a purely American phenomenon.

Stossel points to similar findings in Britain and Canada, for instance — which begs the facetious observation that perhaps speaking English is what is giving us anxiety. In all seriousness, however, the scale of the epidemic is nothing short of gobsmacking. Stossel writes:

Primary care physicians report that anxiety is one of the most frequent complaints driving patients to their offices — more frequent, by some accounts, than the common cold.

Few people today would dispute that chronic stress is a hallmark of our times or that anxiety has become a kind of cultural condition of modernity. We live, as has been said many times since the dawn of the atomic era, in an age of anxiety — and that, cliché though it may be, seems only to have become more true in recent years as America has been assaulted in short order by terrorism, economic calamity and disruption, and widespread social transformation.

Fittingly, Alan Watts’s The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, written in the very atomic era that sparked the dawn of our present predicament, remains one of the best meditations on the subject.

But, as Stossel points out, the notion of anxiety as a clinical category only appeared as recently as thirty years ago. He traces anxiety’s rise to cultural fame through the annals of academic history, pointing out that there were only three academic papers published on the subject in 1927, only fourteen in 1941, and thirty-seven in 1950.

It wasn’t until psychologist Rollo May published his influential treatise on anxiety in 1950 that academia paid heed. Today, a simple Google Scholar search returns nearly 3 million results, and entire academic journals are dedicated to anxiety.

But despite anxiety’s catapulting into cultural concern, our understanding of it — especially as far as mental health stereotypes are concerned — remains developmentally stunted, having evolved very little since the time of seventeenth-century Jewish-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who asserted that anxiety was a mere problem of logic and could thus be resolved with tools of reason.

This is hardly different from present cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches or the all too common just-get-over-it cultural attitude towards this particular problem of mental health, which of course misses the debilitating dimensionality of what makes anxiety as crippling as it is. Looking back on his own messy lineage of Jewishness and Antisemitism and describing himself as “Woody Allen trapped in John Calvin,” Stossel counters such oversimplification with a case for layered, complex causality of the disorder:

The truth is that anxiety is at once a function of biology and philosophy, body and mind, instinct and reason, personality and culture.

Even as anxiety is experienced at a spiritual and psychological level, it is scientifically measurable at the molecular level and the physiological level. It is produced by nature and it is produced by nurture.

It’s a psychological phenomenon and a sociological phenomenon. In computer terms, it’s both a hardware problem (I’m wired badly) and a software problem (I run faulty logic programs that make me think anxious thoughts).

The origins of a temperament are many faceted; emotional dispositions that may seem to have a simple, single source — a bad gene, say, or a childhood trauma — may not.

True to this complexity, different epochs have attributed anxiety to various causes. Stossel probes what these historical patterns reveal:

The differences in how various cultures and eras have perceived and understood anxiety can tell us a lot about those cultures and eras.

Why did the ancient Greeks of the Hippocratic school see anxiety mainly as a medical condition, while the Enlightenment philosophers saw it as an intellectual problem?

Why did the early existentialists see anxiety as a spiritual condition, while Gilded Age doctors saw it as a specifically Anglo-Saxon stress response — a response that they believed spared Catholic societies — to the Industrial Revolution?

Why did the early Freudians see anxiety as a psychological condition emanating from sexual inhibition, whereas our own age tends to see it, once again, as a medical and neurochemical condition, a problem of malfunctioning biomechanics?

Do these shifting interpretations represent the forward march of progress and science? Or simply the changing, and often cyclical, ways in which cultures work?

Today, the definition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in the DSM-IV — the fourth edition of The Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychotherapy — is at once rather strict yet strangely horoscope-like in its ability to speak to things that feel uncomfortably familiar, at least on some level, to most of us:

Excessive anxiety about a number of events or activities, occurring more days than not, for at least 6 months. The person finds it difficult to control the worry. The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms present for more days than not, for the past 6 months):

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance

Of course, our relationship with anxiety and its potential cures is colored by our culture’s characteristic ambivalence. In fact, even Kierkegaard believed that anxiety was a necessary component of creativity and without it, genius would be incomplete. One of the experts Stossel interviews- David Barlow, the founder and director emeritus of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders — echoes this sentiment:

Without anxiety, little would be accomplished. The performance of athletes, entertainers, executives, artisans, and students would suffer; creativity would diminish; crops might not be planted. And we would all achieve that idyllic state long sought after in our fast-paced society of whiling away our lives under a shade tree. This would be as deadly for the species as nuclear war.

The rest of the altogether excellent My Age of Anxiety goes on to explore such facets of our modern epidemic as what anxiety actually is, how early childhood experience might precipitate separation anxiety in adulthood, the promise and perils of antianxiety drugs, and what it takes to cultivate resilience, the trait modern psychology has identified as the most powerful immunization against anxiety and depression.

Complement it with Anaïs Nin’s illustrated meditation on anxiety and Alan Watts on how to heal the essential anxiety of existence.




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