Riding the Waves

Woodlief photoMy sons argue over Avengers characters. The littlest insists he’s Captain America. Another claims Hawkeye. There’s an argument over Ironman. They resolve it by awarding that honor to me, given that I’m a smartass and look a little like Robert Downey, Jr.

I argue that I’m the Hulk. I flex my muscles. They roll their eyes, but their mother would understand. She told me once, not long before our divorce, that I am the angriest man she’s ever known. A therapist once told me I’ve been angry since childhood. Another said I’ve been depressed my entire life, like my mother before me. I told him about the first diagnosis. He shrugged his shoulders. Flight or fight, does it really matter when your enemy is yourself? That’ll be 100 dollars.

I don’t remember if October was when the weight always came closest to leveling me, or if that cycle commenced after my daughter died. I suppose no matter which therapist was correct: I’ll always have something to blame my mother for, because she died in October as well.

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Renouncing the Gridiron

onionI gave up sports for the same reason I gave up politics and pornography.

I was once in a political party, not because I felt any great affection for it, but because the aims of its chief opponent constitute a recipe for civilizational suicide. I still suspect as much, but I long ago became an Independent, because I concluded that associating myself with a political party was a moral act, or rather an immoral one, given the criminality, corruption, and prevarication engendered by its leaders.

This is also a reason I stopped watching porn—because viewing it not only corrodes one’s soul, it sustains the market for predation and debasement. The same, I’ve reluctantly concluded, can be said about viewing big-money sports.

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The Machinery of Cowardice Fails the Children of Rotherham

policeMy children once heard someone address me as “Doctor,” and so they asked me if I am the kind of doctor who helps people. I told them no, I have a PhD. I told them I’d studied why smart people do dumb things in groups. It interested me at the time, but when I see the headlines coming out of Rotherham, England—hundreds of children systematically raped and otherwise brutalized while authorities did nothing—I think the problem isn’t smart people collectively behaving like fools, but decent people becoming cowards.

The details of this tragedy are varied enough to whet any axe: the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators; their targeting of impoverished children; fear by authorities that cracking down would lead to accusations of racism; the notion among police officers witnessing gang rapes that the victims—some of them as young as eleven—were willing participants; the concurrent persecution by child welfare authorities, even as they ignored these crimes, of foster care families whose political activities were deemed unsavory. The entire story sparks rage and it invites despair.

I am always curious about the decision processes of authorities in the midst of such atrocities. How can an infrastructure of ostensible protection become so dysfunctional that it overlooks mass rapes of children for a dozen years? [Read more...]

We Who Are Left Behind

thumbnail“Why’d you let go?” Conrad Jarrett shouts at the ceiling, in a climactic scene in Ordinary People. Conrad’s family has unraveled after a boating accident took his older brother, and after his own attempted suicide. In flashbacks we see the Jarrett boys gripping a rope slung across their storm-tossed, capsized sailboat. Conrad’s brother loses hold, is swallowed by the water.

Conrad’s psychiatrist elicits from him the truth beneath his survivor’s guilt, which is that he is angry. Angry his brother didn’t head for shelter sooner. Angry he couldn’t hang on. “Did it ever occur to you,” asks his psychiatrist, “that you might have been stronger?”

Seventeen years after Ordinary People garnered four Oscars, Robin Williams received an Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting, as a psychiatrist much like the one played by Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People. In a similarly dramatic counseling scene, Williams helps the film’s protagonist find the beginning of peace.

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The New Truth Quashes Dissent

"Stützen der Gesellschaft"It’s comforting, in these confusing times, to know at least some truths are beyond dispute. We know they are beyond dispute because only repugnant people dispute them. These heretics question our sacred beliefs—each a product of recent revelation—about sexuality, gender, environment, and humanity’s origin. Their very dissent proves the heretics wrong—so wrong, in fact, that we needn’t acknowledge them.

Truth is established by the facts, after all, not by debate. Truth is science and science is facts and when enough scientists agree about what the facts mean, that ought to settle things.

The problem is that these dissenters, well, they keep dissenting. This frays the fabric of social consensus, which is dangerous.

Consider an example: When a member of our holy order exposed the sexism of late Nobel-prize physicist Richard Feynman, a blogger at Scientific American had the temerity to “place things in context.” Context is a classic dodge, intended to blunt the superior moral gaze with which we pierce time. The blogger noted that Feynman’s behavior was commonplace in the 1950s, making it unjust to single him out. [Read more...]


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