Friday, June 10, 2016

Philosophically unsound and completely unworkable

Yevgeni Bauer's Posle Smerti (After Death), 1915, based on a story by Ivan Turgenev. Via The Metropolis Times.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Unity Illusion", New York Times, June 10 2016:
While Speaker Ryan's arguments for Republican unity around the figure of Trump are decent, philosophically speaking, they are not sound, also philosophically speaking, and cannot succeed in the natural universe, because:
(1) They are not conservative—conservatives believe that our smaller-scale social institutions such as families, churches, and bowling leagues, are more important than national ones such as the federal government, and yet Speaker Ryan's argument assumes that the Republican Party is more important than how I feel about Trump. This is an incoherent position which No True Conservative would ever adopt, and therefore its existence is inconceivable.
(2) Trump suffers from a brain disorder known as alexithymia which prevents him from identifying and describing his emotions, and is the cause of his narcissism. Thus it is impossible for Republicans to be in a state of unity with Trump, because he is personally unable to participate in it.
In this way Republican-Trump unity cannot be, and if you think you see some of it you are hallucinating. Q.E.D.
Well, that's a philosophical relief. Thanks, Master.

Though I may have a couple of reservations on this, starting with the idea that Ryan's arguments as Brooks conveys them "are decent arguments":

Sure, Trump says racist things sometimes and disagrees with most of our proposals, but Republicans have to go into this campaign as a team.... If Republicans are divided from now until Election Day they will lose everything.... [And] as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it this week: “There’s no guarantee Mr. Trump would agree to Mr. Ryan’s agenda, but there’s no chance if Mr. Ryan publicly refuses to vote for him.”
These are decent arguments. Unfortunately, they are philosophically unsound and completely unworkable.
Technically, these are indecent arguments, and practically they are perfectly workable, as the German politician Franz von Papen, who had a problem resembling Ryan's in 1933, could have told you.

Indeed Hitler, like Trump, may not have been exactly conservative in a strict sense, but he was perfectly happy to implement some of the most important conservative aims: the total destruction of the German labor movement, the revival of the German manufacturing industry (to the great benefit of the factory owners, except of course the Jewish ones) out of the ravages of the Depression, the restoration of Germany's military greatness. Not that Trump is Hitler! (Just occurred to me that Hitler, with his impoverished and despised background, his war experience, and his hopeless dreams of artistic success, is really a much more sympathetic figure than the spoiled rich-kid bully, though also no doubt the wreaker of much greater evil than Trump will ever manage to wreak, insha'Allah.)

But the structural analogy of the situation—conservatives wondering whether they should attempt to win with the inescapable help of a demagogue they totally despise, or just resign themselves to losing—is pretty real.

The argument that the Ryan unity plan isn't conservative is a classic No True Scotsman mistake, but it's also incoherent at a more fundamental level:

Conservatives believe that politics is a limited activity. Culture, psychology and morality come first. What happens in the family, neighborhood, house of worship and the heart is more fundamental and important than what happens in a legislature.
Ryan’s argument inverts all this. It puts political positions first and character and morality second. Sure Trump’s a scoundrel, but he might agree with our tax proposal. Sure, he is a racist, but he might like our position on the defense budget. Policy agreement can paper over a moral chasm. Nobody calling themselves a conservative can agree to this hierarchy of values.
That's (1) What happens in the legislature matters less than what happens in your heart; and therefore (2) You must apply a higher moral standard to elected officials than you do to your personal circle—if you don't you are "inverting" the True Conservative "hierarchy of values". Lol.

Then there's the Essence-of-Trump argument:

The Republican Party can’t unify around Donald Trump for the same reason it can’t unify around a tornado. Trump, by his very essence, undermines cooperation, reciprocity, solidarity, stability or any other component of unity.
Actually people always unify around a tornado. If Trump were of the essence of the tornado blowing through the vulnerable village of the Republican Party, all the Republicans would have been holed up in their storm cellars for his 15 minutes until he blew away, and then they'd be out in solidarity, cooperating to beat the band, rebuilding their homes and the structures of the commons.

The problem isn't the essence of Trumps, but the essence of conservative movements. For the True Conservative hierarchy of values is indeed that what happens in my house and my heart is more important than what happens in the House of Representatives, and my parochial interests are more important than the interests of the nation, and since my parochial interests might be different from those of my fellow conservative (I hate abortion, you hate regulation), we are eventually going to come into conflict. Trump isn't the problem, as so many of us have been saying for months. It's not that the party can't unify because Trump exists; Trump exists because the party can't unify.

Metaphorically, the problem is the huge but moribund body of the Republican party, stifling our political life but itself unable to act in any way other than to scream for the orderly to turn it over in its bed. Trump is just an opportunistic infection.

[Radio Yerevan joke below the fold].

Also, Trump is not suffering from alexithymia:

Psychologists are not supposed to diagnose candidates from afar, but there is a well-developed literature on narcissism that tracks with what we have seen of Trump. By one theory narcissism flows from a developmental disorder called alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. Sufferers have no inner voice to understand their own feelings and reflect honestly on their own actions.
Maybe psychologists shouldn't do it, but asking a moral philosopher to do it is probably still worse, especially when the moral philosopher is as poorly informed as David Brooks.

This one is another Radio Yerevan joke*:
Q: Is it correct that there is a theory according to which narcissism derives from a developmental disorder called alexithymia, in which sufferers are unable to identify and express their emotions? 
A: In principle, yes. But first of all, alexithymia is not a developmental disorder, it's a personality trait, though frequently associated with the developmental disorders of the autism spectrum; second, all recognized theories of narcissistic personality disorder regard it as originating in a complex combination of environmental, genetic, social, and neurobiological factors, not just one; third, while little is known about the neurobiological correlates of either condition, alexithymia has been associated with deficits in interhemispheric connections in the corpus callosum or anterior cingulate cortex, whereas narcissism is associated with the prefrontal cortex or left anterior insula, so the two seem to have no relationship with each other; and fourth, people with narcissistic personality disorder have no difficulty at all identifying and expressing their emotions, though they often identify them incorrectly and lie about them.
Alexithymic patients are "emotion-blind", literally unable to recognize clearly that they have emotions; when their heart beats with fear or rage or love, they take it as a symptom of somatic illness. If you ask them about the specifics of their feelings beyond a simple "happy" or "sad", they are confused and tongue-tied. They tend to dysphoria, their ambitions are limited, they "report very logical and realistic dreams, such as going to the store or eating a meal."
According to Henry Krystal, individuals suffering from alexithymia think in an operative way and may appear to be superadjusted to reality. In psychotherapy, however, a cognitive disturbance becomes apparent as patients tend to recount trivial, chronologically ordered actions, reactions, and events of daily life with monotonous detail. In general, these individuals lack imagination, intuition, empathy, and drive-fulfillment fantasy, especially in relation to objects. Instead, they seem oriented toward things and even treat themselves as robots. These problems seriously limit their responsiveness to psychoanalytic psychotherapy...
Whereas the narcissist is blind to the emotions of others as well, but from a different source: not that he lacks a sense of having feelings himself but because he's so deeply engaged in his own, and discusses them freely though not honestly ("I have very strong, very thick skin"). He has little interest in operative thinking ("I'll build a wall, the Mexicans will pay for it, we will have so much winning that you may get bored with winning") and dreams vividly, living in delusions of greatness and drama:
  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  • Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  • Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  • Needing constant admiration from others
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  • Unwilling to empathize with others' feelings, wishes, or needs
  • Intensely jealous of others and the belief that others are equally jealous of them
  • Pompous and arrogant demeanor

You know who shows symptoms of a moderate, high-functioning alexithymia? Not Donald Trump.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Like, I’m not the most emotionally attuned guy in the world. My wife says that me writing about emotion is like Gandhi writing about gluttony.
It's always projection.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

* The Radio Yerevan joke takes the typical form
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev won a luxury car at the All-Union Championship in Moscow?
Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all it was not Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev, but Vassili Vassilievich Vassiliev; second, it was not at the All-Union Championship in Moscow, but at a Collective Farm Sports Festival in Smolensk; third, it was not a car, but a bicycle; and fourth he didn't win it, but rather it was stolen from him.
The concept was first applied to David Brooks's writing on social science topics by Professor Mark Liberman in maybe 2008.


Feud Turgidson said...


The whole New Age Internet-distant psychoanalysis thing gives me hives from heebie-jeebies. It's one thing to grok onto the fact that a candidate auditiioing for the lead in a Superman movie is in fact a unidexter (i.e. Trump's narcissism walks right off our screens and pages and smacks us all in our faces with its combo cane-driver of self-absorption.). But it's quite another to perform the MMPI- a took that depends on the subject cooperating in self-assessment of his or her own emotional responses to human conflict scenarios that fairly bubble with emotional potential. I should have thought the subject's active input was critical.


I'm increasingly leery of going remotely near any piece penned or line limned by David Brooks. It's his depression and slow-motion breakdown that's going on, not mine, not yours, not ours, not Trump's, not that of the supporter of Trump, not really even the GOP's. It's to the point where I can no longer watch the PBS Newshour's weekly Brooks & (usually) Shields) segment. It renders me irreconcilably peevish over doing it without compensation, and I end up feeling something like I felt after that time I was robbed at gunpoiknt and then the robber smacked me in my head.

Unknown said...

Hey Bill Kristol there is your #nevertrump candidate with no Moral Hazards to offend you, David Brooks. THAT is something I would pay to see. David Brooks debate Trump. Biggest problem Conservatives have is that the USA of 2016 is not England or Yale in 1750. The American people know Conservatism as an Economic and/or Governing principle is a total failure. They have known this for years and Abortion is the main ingredient that has kept Republicans winning elections. Without Abortion no GOP Candidate for President would have won a first term. Reagan-Bush-Bush all lose when anti abortion voters are subtracted from totals from first term electoral wins. Trump had made abortion a minor issue, He is all about Racism, Xenophobia and more than anything Revenge. You can pick out what THEY want revenge for. Any one you pick will sound great to THEM.

Jim Snyder said...

Matt Bai's column yesterday on Trump's neediness was good:

Concur in re "projection".

aimai said...

Great Post, Yas. Truly great!

aimai said...

You know, Yas, I didn't get a chance earlier to comment on this but this is the epitome of a Brooks column. Such Brooks, None More. The extended grasp, teetering on the edge of hysteria, towards finding some way to medicalize Trump, to excuse Trump, is just so very Brooksian. In all my years of reading and retching over Brooks I've never seen anything so perfect. Its very Megan Mccardle, really. Anything, no matter how absurd, to excuse someone powerful from being responsible for their actions.

Unknown said...

Alexithymia sounds much like being a traditional American male.