Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"I Love Shahrukh Khan"

The first thing to note is: You do not know Shahrukh Khan. You have seen, on screen, the characters he has played. He is an actor, and a rather mediocre one at that. He has never even been nominated for an international film festival award, for example.

Whenever somebody (usually a woman) says they love Shahrukh Khan, you can assume that they've been had. They are in love with a manufactured good.

Nobody loves screenwriters or music composers. People mistakenly have crushes on actors and actresses because the characters they play are designed to be lovable. It is to mistake a greeting card for a greeting.

It would all be rather funny, were it not that it is leading to depression and impotence and frigidity when it comes to interactions with real flesh-and-blood human beings. How can a real spouse compete with the manufactured image of an ideal spouse?

We expect our friends and lovers to be at least approximate the caricatures manufactured by media. You may say that you do not. But you are not you, you are your influences, which more than ever are meant to morph you into a pliable consumer of entertainment and shiny gadgets. Subconsciously, you are comparing people with what you have seen on the screen.

You say, "Cute", "cool", "chic", "crass", "gross". I say, "brainwashed".

Is the body fake? Check.
Is the voice fake? Check.
Is the emotion fake? Check.
Is the expression fake? Check.
Are the situations carefully designed? Check.
Is the feeling that you get fake? Nope.
Have you been had? Check.

I think it is reasonable to suspend disbelief in a movie theater. But what if movies are the prime vector of your cultural education?

And when reality hits, and you commit suicide, people wonder why you couldn't be well-adjusted.

Shahrukh Khan is in the business of manufacturing dreams. And if you believe otherwise, may god save your soul.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lucas by David Seltzer

A sentimental ode to adolescent romances, a grave study of the sexual marketplace, a treatise on "coming of age", a Hollywood film which transcends genre limitations, this is a lesser-known film starring Corey Haim in a tour de force performance.

There are many memorable scenes in this film. My favorite comes ten minutes into the film when a bunch of jocks carry Lucas to the dais, trying to humiliate him. And he turns the tables on everybody, but not quite. He leaves defeated, but not before showing us all what a gem of a person he is.

I found it distressing that such a gifted actor died of drug-abuse at a young age.

Highly recommended. The stellar review by Roger Ebert is here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Songs from the Second Floor

Here are some of my favorite songs. Almost all of them have come to me via good friends, over many many years.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

An Incisive Comment ...

On a rather academic article. (Thanks to Darshan for the link)

The comment goes:
One of the emerging conclusions of neurology is that the idea of a single "true self" must be discarded. We have no indivisible soul; we have multiple systems acting independently, thinking different things -- ... Those systems may be in tension -- base hormones are telling me I want a cookie, even when my frontal cortex is labeling the desire as unwise. Tension demands resolution, but this demand need not be met. Sustained tension can be either productive -- the relation between parts becoming part of a whole self -- or destructive, in which case growth or healing will seek to resolve the tension one way or the other, by making one system ascendant over the competing systems.

To "I think, therefore I am," I respond "I think many things, and therefore am many things."

The Last Article by Harry Turtledove

Blurb from the Harry Turtledove Wiki
The Last Article is a short story by Harry Turtledove (originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1988; reprinted in Kaleidoscope; The Best Military Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century). It is an alternate history which depicts the occupation of India by the Nazis during World War II. Mohandas Gandhi continues to employ techniques of Satyagraha against the occupation forces led by Field Marshal Walter Model.
I had been looking for this story for a while, and finally found it. Interested people may read/download it here.

On Men and Women, Part III

Let's consider that both men and women have a nature, which makes them act in certain ways. Their nature is an effect of their distinct reproductive functions.

In the civilized world, however, men's nature is increasingly under attack, and women's nature is increasingly under protection.

A man acting according to his instincts is considered a brute.
A woman acting according to her instincts is considered virtuous.

A man wanting a no-strings-attached physical relationship is considered a cad.
A woman wanting a commitment for life is considered the paragon of virtue.

A man wanting to be promiscuous is considered anti-social.
A woman wanting serial monogamy is considered a victim of circumstances.

A man's desire for "just that" is considered animal-like and worthy of condemnation.
A woman's desire for "not just that" is considered family-oriented and worthy of admiration.

If we consider the stability of the family unit as a worthy goal, worthier than the happiness of its constituents, then it is obvious that a long-term commitment (that is, Marriage) which go against male nature is the primary yoke that society is enforcing.

The institution of marriage, and the legal safeguards it offers women, is more commonly a burden and restriction for men than for women. This observation will be rather unacceptable to many modern women, but consider the obvious fact that male mammals want to run away (after impregnating, they lose interest), whereas female mammals want to hold them down to provide for them (their interest continues, and becomes more significant after getting impregnated).

The woman seeking long-term commitments is as much a fact of life as a man seeking to spread his seed far and wide. I don't think this fact is going to change anytime soon as it is in our DNA.

It is easy to see that the female's instincts lead to the secure upbringing of the offspring. On the other hand a question might be asked whether an alpha male contributes to the propagation of the species by his philandering.

Of course he does. He increases the overall fitness of the population by making sure his (better) seed gets wider reception. If the rule of "one man one woman" is strictly enforced, then over time the genetic fitness of the population will wither. It is a rather obvious conclusion of Darwinian selection.

An acceptance of and a mutual respect for each other's distinct sexual nature is getting rarer these days. I wonder sometimes if that is such a good thing.

(to be continued)

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Rage of the Middle Class

The current fasts and ultimatums by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev in India, and the subsequent responses by the government, are a phenomenon worthy of deeper analysis.

What is going on? What about "democracy" and why aren't these people resorting to "democratic" means? Why aren't they standing for elected offices? What is corruption, really?

In my opinion, this phenomenon can be seen as the rage of a disenfranchised middle class towards what it considers illegitimate power.

India is a mostly poor, illiterate, agrarian, religious nation. The political power in India lies with a certain elite who can manage to rally the ignorant and the poor behind them by promising short-term, caste or religion oriented, or populist gains. On the other hand, the corporate power lies with a different set of elites who are managing the economy very "resourcefully".

In short, political power is the fiefdom of the leaders of ignoranti, who are joined in their endeavor by the capitalist elite.

Middle classes, the salaried, tax-paying, fixed-depositing, diabetic, high-blood-pressure, worrying about television and pranayama classes have no representative in these times. Even in big cities, the vote banks lie with the poor, the illegal settlers, the religious fanatics, the ones who vote on strict pragmatic considerations of benefits offered, and so on.

The middle classes are aghast that both the filthy poor and the filthy rich are milking them dry. But they have no real recourse. The legal system is dysfunctional, the middle classes neither have the time nor the ability to enter politics or to fight court battles (except against each other), and they are wondering if democracy is really such a good thing for them. They are taxed, but they have no voice. Their money goes to the poor (think free power) and to the privileged rich (think CWG) alike.

Media seems to be their only friend, even if a hoary and shrill one. They are the target audience for most of what goes on on television. The only good reason for an intellectual to watch television these days (I think) is to gauge what the middle classes are interested in: gadgets, cooking oils, air conditioners, song and dance, infotainment, urban crime stories, etc.

Democracy is not coming to their aid because of a number of reasons:
  • They don't vote, already pessimistic that the other vote banks are far more powerful.
  • They are not organized, and hence have almost no lobbying power.
  • Due to the career progressions and the invasion of the knowledge economy, they are being scattered far and wide, and far too often, across the country.
  • They are living in a media-fed cocoon with no time for anything except their domestic concerns and rising bills.
  • Due to the way they bring up their kids, all moral, non-violent and risk-averse, their kids don't end up being political leaders or corporate plunderers.
But, and especially since the markets have opened up, their discontent is rising, their sense of entitlement is becoming more flagrant and insistent, and there is growing sense of helplessness, unease and rage.

In this environment, when they understand that the political leaders serve either the very rich or the very poor (the former because of their money, the latter because of their numbers), the middle classes are frustrated due to their lack of power. This frustration stems from the realization that at least for the foreseeable future, there is not going to be any real change. The poor will continue to vote corrupt leaders into power, and the rich will continue to exact their pound of flesh.

What are the middle classes to do?

They, not unsurprisingly, spit at the system, the democratic process, the institutions of the state and want a short-circuit path to glory where they lord over both the filthy rich and the filthy poor. They don't have any leaders, and people such as Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare are not really politically astute. Nor is there hope that they will have a great political leader anytime soon. Any political leader in today's system has to: a) appeal to the illiterate masses, b) have a nexus with the corporates. The middle classes are handicapped when it comes to both of these. They are educated enough not to mouth jingoistic platitudes to win ovations, and they are also not versed enough in the "ways of the world" (or insensitive enough) to hobnob with the rich and lord over umpteen servants regarding them as sub-human creatures.

They are mediocre, and they don't have much of a say.

Hence, they are saying (through Anna Hazare and through Baba Ramdev) that processes and voting be damned, just give us the power and the money back. The media being their daddy, is making it appear as if there is a nation-wide consensus over their demands, when in fact there isn't. The intellectuals are aghast at their shrillness and their painfully naive rhetoric tinged with religious undertones to short-circuit process and institutions, the rich are a little cautious and are watching the scene unfold, the poor are not in the picture at all.

The demands of the middle classes (despite impressions to the contrary) are not the same as those of the much more numerous poor, and are definitely not the same as those of the much more powerful rich. The poor want short-term remedies: reservations, free rice, free power, low-cost diesel, freedom from regulation (environmental, economic, educational, and so on). The rich want the status-quo: privilege, opacity, a crony police force, a subservient executive, a consumerist ethos...

Even amongst the middle class, there is a great majority which evades taxes, encroaches upon public land (just an extended porch or a driveway, usually, but still), and gloats whenever they are able to run through a red light.

Hence, their leader, if at all he comes up, will always lose when fighting against the establishment. They have no chance in hell of making a dent in the current system through democratic processes. And they know it.

The middle classes, being a minority, want their values imposed on the majority. They are certainly becoming a more sizable minority, and may even outstrip major caste-based vote banks. But there is another curious reason why they will never have faith in democracy: they are narcissistic. They have some ego, these days. And an unfulfilled one. They are neither too poor not to have an ego, nor too rich to have it constantly gratified.

And their pattern of thinking is: Just because I want something, it should be done. Telly tells me so, no? To have their vote and protest and online petition go waste because the opposing block of votes was bigger is a big blow to their world-view. They don't want to participate in the system, ever. What a fucked-up system, they say to themselves.

And want Ramdev to go on a fast to bring them quick justice.

100% justice in two years, as he says.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Cultural Factor in Suicides

It is axiomatic that someone kills himself if he is deeply unhappy or depressed about life.

It is not that simple, however, to analyze the wider, economic and cultural causes of such unhappiness and depression.

I find it is a useful device to divide the suicides into two categories: of those who have material complaints, and those who have psychological ones (some of which are due to immediate provocations, an example being this). The rationale for this division will be apparent in a moment.

In the former category are the suicides of debt-ridden farmers, of a person in painfully bad health, of someone who has lost a lot of money or a close relative, etc. One rarely reads about these kinds of suicides as they are not really newsworthy.

In the latter category are the suicides one reads about in the papers: Pre-20 lovers jumping to their death, denial of a TV remote leading to suicide, bad score in the exams triggering an overdose of sleeping pills, etc. These are suicides coming out of situations which seem quite tolerable, and where one reading such news wonders, "But why?".

One wonders if the parents were too harsh, if there was a lot of pressure on the youngsters to conform and perform well, and so on.

I think one needs to ask another question in these situations. That question, being more diffusely directed, is not as interesting, but can lead to insight.

Consider the following propositions:
  • Stress can be socially induced. In the absence of comparison with other humans, the comparisons are media-driven.
  • The nuclear family in a metropolis is an isolated unit, its best friend being the television.
  • The lesser the number of human beings one relates to in a significant manner, the more amplified are the emotional reactions in the thereby reduced number of relationships.
  • The media ideal now-a-days (for the middle classes), be it about beauty, wealth, charisma, comfort, trendiness, and so on, is pretty much unachievable in most ways unless one becomes a part of a "mill of slaves" which in itself is highly distressing because it curtails autonomy.
  • One is unhappy to the extent that one's expectations are not being met. Who creates those expectations?
  • The lesser the expectation from oneself, usually the more expectations one has from "life".

It must be clear what I am trying to say: There are environmental and cultural factors which lead one to have an unrealistic expectation from life, and from other human beings. When these expectations are not met, or when one is apprehensive of oneself not meeting the devouring expectations of one's "loved" ones, suicide can loom as a possibility.

When a low-scoring kid from a nuclear family commits suicide, people generally think, "Oh, but the parents must have had high expectations from the poor child. They should have taken it easy and not put so much pressure on the child." This is somewhat valid, but ignores that parents are also part of an ecosystem. Given their alienation and isolation, their entire emotional energy is focused on the child. And given the increasing ruthlessness of a market-driven economy, their concern about the future well-being of their kid is not unfounded. And pressure from parents is just part of the picture. With a cool-winner-takes-all, losers-should-just-die, message being incessantly blared from the television and films and music videos, failure of any kind is more and more an intolerable blow to the ego.

It is the ego-wound which precipitates such suicides. For this, I hold the culture responsible. The prevailing culture of individualism and narcissism has made the ego very fragile. One is so much more invested in one's persona than in the past.

And that kind of investment can't bear any losses.

More and more "right" parenting is becoming a chimera about which hundreds of books are being written. Like dandruff, the more superficial remedies there are, the more one should suspect the problem to have deeper causes.

The parents can't really do much in this environment. They are competing (with the force of their expectations) with the economic forces and the forces of the media. If they let up, the child will either be gobbled up by the media, or lose out and become a BPO worker. There is also a crop of messengers(ref the educational films by Aamir Khan, and the various books by writers like Paulo Coelho) which give the rather beautifully feel-good fatalistic message that every child can grow into someone beautiful only if the parents and the teachers don't try to direct his growth and just provide a soil for the "seed" to find its own light.

That's very bad advice, for a number of reasons. For one, the expectation of growing into something beautiful is going to be even more insistent. The parents will say, "Ok, you don't want to study. But at least be a world-class painter." Secondly, not every child has a gift. Most are going to be regular people. Thirdly, if the parents and teachers stop directing, what else is going to fill up that void of a lack of influence and direction? You guessed it: the media. Good luck with that.

Suppose the child is unable to find "true love", or "fulfillment", or is unable to realize his "dream". Because these are fictions, the possibility is almost 100%. If he is able to withstand this disappointment, "great!", otherwise, ... , and don't just blame the parents.

Send the television to jail for ten years under section 306 (*) of the Indian Penal Code.

(* IPC 306: If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.)

Democracy and Dissent

(I do not claim to be an expert on political affairs, these are some thoughts that I wanted to share.)

Democracy is essentially the will of the majority. Hence, in a democracy, the quality of leaders is the measure of a region's quality of voters. The subversion of democratic principles can only be with the concurrence of the majority (otherwise they would rise and revolt), hence the criticism that India pays only lip-service to democracy is also a damning criticism of Indian population.

It is no use decrying a political party for using cash or bonanzas or reservations or communal slogans to buy votes. They are doing what the people want.

Given that a leader has to appeal to a vast audience, it will be only by sheer chance that there will come a great leader who will not just be an amplified version of the followers. Unless he shares the same prejudices and beliefs (but with a more astute political sense), he will not be able to win many votes.

Dissent in a democracy, if it is undemocratic, is a short-lived remedy. Very soon the establishment will find a way around it and everything will be back to business as usual.

Democratic dissent, to be useful, presupposes a high level of exposure and evolution in the voters. They can dissent only if they know what they are going through. And their demands can be visionary only if they are visionary and are not merely focused on the most immediate pain. Otherwise they will demand immediate reliefs, and perhaps get them.

Real progress, not short-term measures, comes from education, economic policy and legislative changes. Thankfully, much of that is in the hands of experts rather than political leaders who are merely signatories to bills presented in the parliament. Though of course, the experts can only do so much in the face of a cattle-like populace.

A threat of violence, or of suicide, will be very unlikely to bring about a major beneficial change because people will fall back to their median ways soon after. If anything, it will undermine democracy and encourage people to follow similar ways.

A cancer having environmental or constitutional causes cannot be cured by violent excision. It will relapse, or the organism will be killed in the process.

The only remedy is to study the causes, the environmental and constitutional factors which are leading to the cancer, and to address them, incrementally, slowly, with determination.

In India there are indeed identifiable factors of both kinds, and they nourish each other:
  • A history of fatalism and spirituality.
  • An archaic and dysfunctional system of laws and jurisprudence.
  • Lack of proper food-grain management, which is one factor in exacerbating a malnourished and low-intelligence populace. Also significant is the lack of protein in the diet, and a few people have remarkably ingenious ideas to address this.
  • Lack of accountability in the PSUs and lack of regulation of the private sector and the financial markets. This is not just a problem in India.
  • The unnatural maintenance of military tensions with our neighbors, which results in massive expenditure on defense.
  • The lack of a simplified and well-enforced tax-regime. There is slow progress on this.
  • Lack of a reliable identification of citizens. There have been many attempts at this, and I am hopeful some recent measures will work.
  • Dependence on non-renewable energy, and poor energy management.
  • ...
A few of these can be addressed by policy measures, while many others are very volatile issues which cannot be addressed without building consensus.

Friday, June 03, 2011

It's Not About You

What an article from the NY Times!

I reproduce it here verbatim:
It's Not About You
David Brooks

Over the past few weeks, America’s colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew.

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.

Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself. As Atul Gawande mentioned during his countercultural address last week at Harvard Medical School, being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.

Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

On Men and Women, Part II

Some excerpts from Chapter VIII (Sociopsychology of the Sex War) from The Culture of Narcissism (Christopher Lasch):

It has been clear for some time that "chivalry is dead". The tradition of gallantry formerly masked and to some degree mitigated the organized oppression of women. While males monopolized political and economic power, they made their domination of women more palatable by surrounding it with an elaborate ritual of deference and politesse. They set themselves up as protectors of the weaker sex, and this cloying but useful fiction set limits to their capacity to exploit women through sheer physical force. The counterconvention of droit de seigneur, which justified the predatory exploits of the privileged classes against women socially inferior to themselves, nevertheless showed that the male sex at no time ceased to regard most women as fair game. The long history of rape and seduction, moreover, served as a reminder that animal strength remained the basis of masculine ascendancy, manifested here in its most direct and brutal form. Yet polite conventions, even when they were no more than a facade, provided women with ideological leverage in their struggle to domesticate the wildness and savagery of men. They surrounded essentially exploitative relationships with a network of reciprocal obligations, which if nothing else made exploitation easier to bear.


Democracy and feminism have now stripped the veil of courtly convention from the subordination of women, revealing the sexual antagonisms formerly concealed by the "feminine mystique". Denied illusions of comity, men and women find it more difficult than before to confront each other as friends and lovers, let alone as equals. As male supremacy becomes ideologically untenable, incapable of justifying itself as protection, men assert their domination more directly, in fantasies and occasionally in acts of raw violence. Thus the treatment of women in movies, according to one study, as shifted "from reverence to rape".

Women who abandon the security of well-defined though restrictive social roles have always exposed themselves to sexual exploitation, having surrendered the usual claims of respectability. Mary Wollstonecraft, attempting to live as a free woman, found herself brutally deserted by Gilbert Imlay. Later feminists forfeited the privileges of sex and middle-class origin when they campaigned for women's rights. Men reviled them publicly as sexless "she-men" and approached them privately as loose women. ...


What distinguishes the present time from the past is that defiance of sexual conventions less and less presents itself as a matter of individual choice, as it was for the pioneers of feminism. Since most of those conventions have already collapsed, even a woman who lays no claim to her rights nevertheless finds it diffiult to claim the traditional privileges of her sex.


All women share in the burdens as well as the benefits of "liberation", both of which can be summarized by saying that men no longer treat women as ladies.


Today women have dropped much of their sexual reserve. In the eyes of men, this makes them more accessible as sexual partners but also more threatening. Formerly men complained about women's lack of sexual response; now they find this response intimidating and agonize about their capacity to satisfy it. ... The famous Masters-Johnson report on female sexuality added to these anxieties by depicting women as sexually insatiable, inexhaustible in their capacity to experience orgasm after orgasm. ... Sexual "performance" thus becomes another weapon in the war between men and women; social inhibitions no longer prevent women from exploiting the tactical advantage which the current obsession with sexual measurement has given them.


Both men and women have come to approach personal relations with a heightened appreciation of their emotional risks. Determined to manipulate the emotions of others while protecting themselves against emotional injury, both sexes cultivate a protective shallowness, a cynical detachment they do not altogether feel but which soon becomes habitual and in any case embitters personal relations merely through its repeated profession. At the same time, people demand from personal relations the richness and intensity of a religious experience. ... The degradation of work and the impoverishment of communal life force people to turn to sexual excitement to satisfy all their emotional needs. ...

An easygoing, everyday contempt for the weaknesses of the other sex, institutionalized as folk wisdom concerning the emotional incompetence of men or the brainlessness of women, kept sexual enmity within bounds and prevented it from becoming an obsession.

Feminism and the ideology of intimacy have discredited the sexual stereotypes which kept women in their place but which also made it possible to acknowledge sexual antagonisms without raising it to the level of all-out warfare. Today the folklore of sexual differences and the acceptance of sexual friction survive only in the working class. Middle-class feminists envy the ability of working-class women to acknowledge that men get in their way without becoming man-haters. "These women are less angry at their men because they don't spend that much time with them," according to one observer. "Middle-class women (on the other hand) are the ones who were told men had to be their companions."


Not merely the cult of sexual companionship and "togetherness" but feminism itself has caused women to make new demands on men and to hate men when they fail to meet these demands. ...

The woman who rejects the stereotype of feminine weakness and dependence can no longer find much comfort in the cliche that all men are beasts. She has no choice except to believe, on the contrary, that men are human beings, and she finds it hard to forgive them when they act like animals. Although her own actions, which violate the conventions of female passivity and thus appear to men as a form of aggression, help to call up animal-like actions in males, even her understanding of this dynamic does not make it any easier to make allowances for her adversary.


"You want too much," an older woman says to a younger one. "You aren't willing to compromise. Men will never be as sensitive or aware as women are. It's just not in their nature. So you have to get used to that and be satisfied with . . . either sexual satisfaction or theoretical intelligence or being loved and not understood or else being left alone to do the things you want to do."

A woman who takes feminism seriously, as a program that aims to put the relations between men and women on a new footing, can no longer accept such a definition of available alternatives without recognizing it as a form of surrender. The younger woman rightly replies that no one should settle for less than a combination of sex, compassion, and intelligent understanding. The attempt to implement these demands, however, exposes her to repeated disappointments, especially since men appear to find the demand for tenderness as threatening to their emotional security as the demand for sexual satisfaction. Thwarted passion in turn gives rise in women to the powerful rage ...


Women's rage against men originates not only in erotic disappointments or the consciousness of oppression but in a perception of marriage as the ultimate trap, the ultimate routine in a routinized society, the ultimate expression of the banality that pervades and suffocates modern life. ... "It would mean getting up at seven and cooking him eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and dawdling about in my nightgown and curlers after he'd left for work to wash up the dirty plates and make the bed, and then when he came home after a lively, fascinating day he'd expect a big dinner, and I'd spend the evening washing up, even more dirty plates till I fell into bed, utterly exhausted." If the man protests that he is exhausted too, and that his "fascinating day" consists of drudgery and humiliation, his wife suspects that he wishes merely to give her domestic prison the appearance of a rose-covered cottage.


On the one hand, feminism aspires to change the relations between men and women so that women will no longer be forced into the role of "victim" or "shrew", in the words of Simone de Beauvoir. On the other hand, it often makes women more shrewish than ever in their daily encounters with men. This contradiction remains unavoidable as long as feminism insists that men oppress women and that this oppression is intolerable, at the same time urging women to approach men not simply as oppressors but as friends and lovers.


For many reasons, personal relations have become increasingly risky - most obviously, because they no longer carry any assurance of permanence. Men and women make extravagant demands on each other and experience irrational rage and hatred when their demands are not met. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that more and more people long for emotional detachment or "enjoy sex", as Hendin writes, "only in situations where they can define and limit the intensity of the relationship." A lesbian confesses, "The only men I've ever been able to enjoy sex with were men I didn't give a shit about. Then I could let go, because I didn't feel vulnerable."


The most prevalent form of escape from emotional complexity is promiscuity: the attempt to achieve a strict separation between sex and feeling. Here again, escape masquerades as liberation, regression as progress.


Enlightened authorities ... insist on the need to humanize sex by making it into a "total experience" instead of a mechanized performance; yet in the same breath they condemn the human emotions of jealousy and possessiveness and decry "romantic illusions". "Radical" therapeutic wisdom urges men and women to express their needs and wishes without reserve - since all needs and wishes have equal legitimacy - but warns them not to expect a single mate to satisfy them.

The humanistic critique of sexual "depersonalization" ... exhorts men and women to "get in touch with their feelings" but encourages them to make "resolutions about freedom and 'non-possessiveness,'" as Ingrid Bengis writes, which "tear the very heart out of intimacy."


Today men and women seek escape from emotion not only because they have suffered too many wounds from emotion but because they experience their own inner impulses as intolerably urgent and menacing. ... it is the very character of those needs (and of the defenses erected against them) which gives rise to the belief that they cannot be satisfied in heterosexual relations - perhaps should not be satisfied in any form - and which therefore prompts people to withdraw from intense emotional encounters.

Instinctual desires always threaten psychic equilibrium and for this reason can never be given direct expression. In our society, however, they present themselves as intolerably menacing, in part because the collapse of authority has removed so many of the external prohibitions against the expression of dangerous impulses. The superego can no longer ally itself, in its battle against impulse, with outside authorities. It has to rely almost entirely on its own resources, and these too have diminished in their effectiveness.


The narcissist feels consumed by his own appetites. ... He longs to free himself from his own hunger and rage, to achieve a calm detachment beyond emotion, and to outgrow his dependence on others. He longs for the indifference to human relationships and to life itself that would enable him to acknowledge its passing in Kurt Vonnegut's laconic phrase, "So it goes," which so aptly expresses the ultimate aspiration of the psychiatric seeker.

But although the psychological man of our times frightens himself with the intensity of his inner needs, the needs of others appall him no less than his own. One reason the demands he inadvertently imposes on others make him uneasy is that they may justify others in making demands on himself Men especially fear the demands of women, not only because women no longer hesitate to press them but because men find it so difficult to imagine an emotional need that does not wish to consume whatever it seizes on.

Women today ask for two things in their relations with men: sexual satisfaction and tenderness. Whether separately or in combination, both demands seem to convey to many males the same message - that women are voracious, insatiable.


Whereas the resentment of women against men for the most part has solid roots in the discrimination and sexual danger to which women are constantly exposed, the resentment of men against women, when men still control most of the power and wealth in society yet feel themselves threatened on every hand - intimidated, emasculated - appears deeply irrational, and for that reason not likely to be appeased by changes in feminist tactics designed to reassure men that liberated women threaten no one.


The abolition of sexual tensions is an unworthy goal in any case; the point is to live with them more gracefully than we have lived with them in the past.

(to be continued)