June 24, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
June 24, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
Last November, President Bush delivered a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, spelling out the loftiest of his rationales for the war in Iraq—a determination to remake the political world from North Africa to the Arabian peninsula. It was a radical conservative’s most radical address. The end of the twentieth century, Bush said, had marked “the swiftest advance of freedom in the twenty-five-hundred-year story of democracy,” an advance that began with Portugal, Spain, and Greece more than thirty years ago, spread to South Korea and Taiwan, and then, finally, to South Africa and the entire Soviet imperium. By the President’s accounting, there were forty democracies in the world in the early nineteen-seventies and a hundred and twenty by 2000. Never mind the reassertion of authoritarian regimes in Central Asia and elsewhere. For Bush, one region in particular remained stubbornly unfree. “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?” he asked. The United States, he declared, had “adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East” that would depend on American “persistence and energy and idealism” but also on the Arab countries—not least, the most populous, powerful, and influential country in the region. “The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East,” Bush said, “and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.”
The logic of that rhetorical instruction was not lost on the Egyptians: just as Anwar Sadat, a quarter-century earlier, had flown to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel, Hosni Mubarak, an unchallenged four-term President, a modern pharaoh, should take the equally bold step of creating a constitutional democracy, even at the risk of surrendering power. Egypt is historically central, a civilization of more than seven thousand years’ standing, and, unlike the sectarian societies of Syria and Iraq or the arriviste dynastic oil depots of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it is a true nation-state, the center of nearly all currents, intellectual and ideological, in the Arab world. In Bush’s own mind, at least, he was encouraging a revolution from above, an Arabian perestroika. And the revolution, he made plain, ought to begin in Cairo.
There has, of course, been no such revolution in Cairo, and no sign of one. Part of the collateral damage of the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq is the erosion of American prestige and influence all over the world. Rather than take the democratizing cue from Bush, Mubarak’s regime has offered itself as an example to the United States: Spare us the pretense of an open society, its leaders imply. Your greatest fear, like ours, is terrorism, and the only way to defeat such an enemy is by crushing it. Not long after September 11th, Atef Ebeid, the Egyptian Prime Minister, seemed to give sympathetic counsel to an ally still stunned by its encounter with the capacities of jihad. “The U.S. and U.K., including human-rights groups, have, in the past, been calling on us to give these terrorists their ‘human rights,’ ” he said. “You can give them all the human rights they deserve until they kill you. After these horrible crimes committed in New York and Virginia, maybe Western countries should begin to think of Egypt’s own fight against terror as their new model.”
Ebeid was referring to a long history. Modern Islamic radicalism was born in the twenties in the villages of the upper Nile and the streets and mosques of Cairo. In communiqués over the years, Osama bin Laden has often referred to that period as one of calamity and humiliation—an allusion, clear to anyone in the Islamic world, to the collapse of Islam’s imperial seat, the Ottoman caliphate, based in Constantinople. In the nineteen-twenties, Kemal Atatürk, a secular revolutionary, banned the caliphate and established the Republic of Turkey. Islamic Constantinople became cosmopolitan Istanbul. At the same time, much of the Arab world was being parcelled out by the strongest powers in Europe, and nationalism came to displace the idea of a greater unified Islam.
In reaction, in 1928 Hassan al-Banna, a religiously educated teacher living near the Suez Canal, established the Muslim Brotherhood. Banna believed in Islam as a complete system, which provides divine instruction on everything from daily rituals, law, and politics to matters of the spirit, and to which all other forms of thought and social organization—secularism, nationalism, socialism, liberalism—are alien. In his essay “Between Yesterday and Today,” Banna wrote that the colonialist Europeans had expropriated the resources of the Islamic lands and corrupted them with “their murderous germs”:
They imported their half-naked women into these regions, together with their liquors, their theaters, their dance halls, their amusements, their stories, their newspapers, their novels, their whims, their silly games, and their vices. . . . The day must come when the castles of this materialistic civilization will be laid low upon the heads of their inhabitants.
The Brotherhood’s slogan was, and remains, “God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution; the prophet is our leader; struggle is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” The Brotherhood, like many groups that bear its imprint decades later—Hamas, Hezbollah—established charitable organizations, clinics, schools, and underground paramilitary groups to further the cause of an Islamic polity. Initially, the spectacularly corrupt Egyptian king, Farouk, used the Brotherhood as a stabilizing force against a stronger opposition, the Communists and the secular nationalists. And, as the Brotherhood grew in membership, it was able to act with a degree of freedom. But when terrorist challenges to the monarchy began, the government came to see the Brotherhood as a real threat. At the end of 1948, a member of the Brotherhood assassinated Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nuqrashi; in 1949, the secret police retaliated, shooting Hassan al-Banna dead as he was getting into a taxi in Cairo…
June 24, 2012
Freudianism sits alongside Marxism and Darwinism in the pantheon of modern theories held to be so revelatory that they not only gained the adherence of Western intelligentsia but shaped the broader culture. During the first half of the twentieth century, an air of intrigue and mystery hovered around Freud’s newly anointed practitioners. Psychotherapists occupied a strange universe, speaking in a language so incomprehensible but seemingly authoritative that it alternately awed and scared the average man on the street.
Psychotherapy is no longer an intellectual movement today as it once was. But in the form of modern professional “caring,” it has assumed a new role, which is to provide a peculiar sort of substitute friendship — what we might call “artificial friendship” — for lonely people in a lonely age.
To understand why this occurred and what it means for American culture, we must study the fractious history of the mental health field over the last six decades. It is a complicated story, with a staggering variety of terms, schools, leaders, and techniques, so any overview must necessarily leave out many important details. But from even just a synopsis of the conflicts that gave rise to today’s culture of psychotherapy — battles over who would hold the truest title to physician of the mind, tensions between scientists and clinicians, academics and professionals, elites and the public — we can see more clearly how psychotherapy has profoundly shaped the American conception of what happiness is and how we can achieve it.
Disciplines in Conflict
A mental health crisis erupted in the United States after the Second World War, touching not just returning soldiers but people from all walks of life. Alcoholism and juvenile delinquency became rampant. The number of patients admitted to hospitals and outpatient psychiatric clinics for mental health problems began to climb rapidly. There were not enough trained mental health personnel — the nation then had only a few thousand clinical psychologists — to deal with the problem. So the federal government responded by passing the National Mental Health Act (NMHA) in 1946, leading to the establishment a few years later of the National Institute of Mental Health and the provision of funding to train more psychotherapists. The new policy represented a genuine attempt to handle the crisis, yet it also brought to the surface important subcurrents and divisions within the mental health community, including skepticism among both academic psychologists and medically trained psychiatrists toward an elevated role for less-trained psychotherapists.
Before proceeding, let us clarify some terminology. It is easy today to conflate psychologists and psychiatrists, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and the many other related words used by those who study the mind or seek to treat mental health problems. The vast multiplicity of terms can be daunting and, as we shall see, some definitions and distinctions have grown blurry with time. But if we use the words with care, the contours of our story will be clearer.
Psychotherapy — the therapeutic treatment of individual mental and emotional problems — had fascinated the American people ever since Freud had visited the United States in 1909. Although as late as 1940 no more than four percent of the American population had actually undergone some form of psychotherapy, the public held a generally fixed set of ideas about it, including the belief thatpsychoanalysis — the term used for Freudian psychotherapy, which most people did not distinguish from psychotherapy in general — was a true science.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors; they are trained in biology and anatomy, and like other medical doctors can prescribe drugs. At the start of the twentieth century, most American psychiatrists had worked as superintendents in state mental hospitals and held a biological view of mental illness. Only a third of all psychiatrists offered psychoanalysis in private practice by the 1940s. Nevertheless, the great majority of psychoanalysts at the time were psychiatrists. The medical establishment had made a concerted effort to cleanse America of non-M.D. psychoanalysts, with the result that by 1953, 82 percent of the country’s psychoanalysts were psychiatrists. The government’s plan to boost rapidly the number of psychotherapists threatened both biology-minded psychiatrists and psychiatrists practicing psychoanalysis. It was unlikely that the number of medically trained psychiatrists could be raised sufficiently to meet the demand for psychotherapists — in the 1950s there were only 10,000 psychiatrists in the United States, with just 450 new graduates each year — so government support for psychotherapy necessarily meant more non-M.D. therapists.
Psychologists are not medical doctors; they pursue graduate training in psychology, generally obtaining an advanced non-medical degree. In the 1950s, the majority of psychologists were academics working in college labs. Indeed, the public idea of a psychologist was a man in a white coat testing rats in a maze. Treating unhappy people with psychotherapy was as foreign and threatening to these scientists as it was to the biologically oriented psychiatrists.
Academic psychologists had spent decades cultivating the aura of the research scientist while deprecating the role of clinical psychologists — that is, those psychologists who actually worked with patients. A minority within psychology, consisting mostly of women and handicapped by a “nursing image,” clinical psychologists had spent forty years working under psychiatrists, performing tests on patients, but deferring to psychiatrists on diagnosis and treatment. Many of them were idealists who dreamed of a new social order with psychotherapy at its core, dreams inspired by Freud and his followers. Although academic psychologists didn’t begrudge the masses their therapists, they looked down on clinical psychologists, believing that the title of “psychologist” should be reserved for people who had been taught the scientific method in the finest schools. The notion that psychotherapists might be granted parity in the public mind with real professors of psychology was worrisome to these academics.
Indeed, no group of mental health workers stood to benefit more from the federal government’s new mental-health policy than the clinical psychologists. Hoping to practice psychotherapy on their own, without restrictions or physician supervision, clinical psychologists saw opportunity in the new push by the government to increase the numbers of psychotherapists.
Inevitably, the NMHA brought psychiatrists and clinical psychologists into conflict. No state laws forbade psychologists from practicing psychotherapy on their own, but the courts tended to interpret medical licensing statutes broadly, so a clinical psychologist practiced psychotherapy at some risk. Yet the increasing demand for mental health clinicians changed the dynamic. Clinical psychologists decided to test the limits of the law, and by the early 1950s, nine percent of clinical psychologists were practicing on their own…
June 24, 2012
A proposed regulation could cost the U.S. banking system hundreds of billions of dollars, in turn costing our economy billions of dollars, and achieving no discernible benefits for banks, depositors, taxpayers, or the U.S. economy.
One of the costliest regulations to come down the pike of late has nearly managed to escape detection. Earlier this year, the Treasury Department published its “Guidance on Reporting Interest Paid to Nonresident Aliens,” which would require banks to report to the Internal Revenue Service the amount of interest they pay to non-resident aliens with a U.S. bank account. While the Treasury and the regulatory apparatus insist that the cost and inconvenience of adhering to this law are next to nothing, the reality is that this rule could cost the U.S. banking system hundreds of billions of dollars in lost deposits. In turn, this will cost our overall economy billions of dollars, while achieving no discernible benefits for banks, depositors, taxpayers, or the U.S. economy.
The Encroaching Regulatory State
Foreigners have never paid taxes to the U.S. Treasury on their interest earned in U.S. banks and would continue being exempt under the new regulation. The sole requirement would be that the banks report the interest paid to these account holders to the IRS, primarily to conform to international regulations that call for more transparency by financial institutions.
The Treasury Department estimates that the costs of the regulation would be minimal, with banks needing no more than 15 minutes to comply with the reporting requirements, summing to a total (when multiplied by the roughly 8,000 banks and other depository institutions affected) of 2,000 hours of employee time, or somewhere just south of $100,000 annually. The de minimus cost it projects means that the regulation is not subject to Executive Order 12,866, which requires a detailed cost-benefit analysis for all regulations that have an impact of greater than $100 million.
If a few hours of filling out paperwork were the only costs incurred, then the lack of attention would be altogether appropriate. However, a much bigger problem than the compliance costs —for banks and the economy—is the threat of capital flight.
The United States is a very popular place for foreigners to park their savings, for a variety of reasons: It offers a stable government that can be trusted to keep its hands off deposits—something that appeals greatly to residents of Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, and many other countries. Additionally, the United States offers a modern financial market; banks offer federally insured deposits, inflation rates have been low and stable for decades, and the odds are low (but certainly far from guaranteed) of another financial crisis on these shores (and well below the odds in most other countries)…