Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#Narcissism works!

So the DJIA has pushed beyond 18,000. It may not quite get to 30,000 soon, but still – what a momentous achievement! Which reminds me of a remarkable #Colbert interview from March 2009. The guest was #EmilyYoffe who had just published an article on Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Slate. The previous week the Dow Jones had hit rock bottom at 6,547, and Ms. Yoffe explained somewhat sternly that the whole financial meltdown had resulted from Americans “binging on ‘I deserve it.’” After asking a few probing questions, the Colbert character retorted: “But the economy and the market is really all based on confidence. Why don’t we just recapture that narcissism that we had a year ago and pretend that everything is just OK, and won’t the market come right back? Won’t we just rebuild the bubble?” At the time this was meant as a joke, but now the joke is on the non-believers, or should I say – the non-narcissists?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The quiet #Mutti

The way #AngelaMerkel comes through in her lengthy New Yorker profile (“The Quiet German”) can provoke some mischievous thoughts. “She has always been,  ‘in her body language, a bit awkward’” (according to her long-time photographer); found public speaking “visibly painful…, her hands a particular source of trouble” – until “she learned to bring her fingertips together in a diamond shape over her stomach”; but still tends to speak in “toneless” voice, as if “reading out regulatory guidelines for the national rail system”; carries “an orange-red leather handbag that clashes with her jacket”; once worked on quantum chemistry, and still displays a “scientific habit of mind” (approaching “problems methodically” and with “scientific detachment” and empiricism – which makes her a sort of human “computer”); “was physically clumsy” as a child, and “could barely walk downhill without falling” (according to an earlier profile, she was five when she finally learned to come down stairs); looked “colorless,” as she wasn’t interested in clothes or in how her hair looked; her teacher had to “exhort [her] to look up and smile while offering another student a glass of water in Russian”; “is not a woman of strong emotions” (according to a prominent German journalist), and is hard to read due to her “emotional opacity”; doesn’t do well small talk; has “a reputation for accepting little criticism”; the way she stabbed her patron Helmut Kohl in the back “mixed Protestant righteousness with ruthlessness”; “is not from this world” (in the words of along-time political associate); has failed to develop “a fingertip feel for public opinion”; “plainness remains her political signature”; eventually came to appreciate the extent to which she and President Obama “were alike – analytical, cautious, dry-humored, remote.” These characteristics have been mentioned before, and previous articles can add some curious details – for example, about the way Frau Merkel left her first husband quite abruptly, taking away only the fridge from their Spartan apartment. And her eyes can look disturbingly empty in photos. But here the personality profile seems most complete.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Me, myself, and I

Among all the “10 best” lists rolled out before the holidays, the NYT offers a real gem: “The 10 Best Modern Love Columns Ever.” At no. 10 there stands “Somewhere Inside, a Path to #Empathy.” It was written back in 2009 by David Finch, an engineer who tells a most heart-warming story – how his wife, a therapist treating autistic children, diagnosed him with Asperger’s. And then applied unfailing tact and perseverance to bring him out of his mental shell so they could reinvent their faltering marriage. The essay is written with so much self-insight, sensitivity, and sense of humor that the diagnosis seems a bit off the mark.  So #Mr.Finch – unlike his fictional namesake from “Person of Interest” – must have come a long way. As he acknowledges, however, developing a degree of empathy was a hard act – “given that my Aspergerish point of reference is myself in every circumstance. How about, then, all those economists who – like James Buchanan – believe the notion of a “public interest” or “common good” can’t possibly be real; and even politicians like Clement Attlee or Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir must be pursuing their own, self-referential utility? As John Cassidy once showed in the New Yorker (“After the Blowup”), such cases are mostly untreatable. Or perhaps the French graduate students who at the turn of the century called for a "post-autistic economics" have merely lacked what Mr. Finch's wife had in such plentiful supply.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rationalization and its discontents?

Yet another random attack in Sydney. It is tempting to explain all these incidents as part of some sort of rational strategy – which can be countered the way Soviet designs were ostensibly defused during the cold war. On the other hand, there is some research indicating that culture shock (as in the case of immigration) can push some vulnerable individuals over the edge and into a clinical expression of schizophrenia. I am wondering if a similar form of psychosis could be a better story explaining the recent spate of ISIS-inspired attacks. To say nothing of the whole idea of a global caliphate under the black flag – which is clearly delusional.