197 Comments
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Here! here! for contentment. Life gets good when you can enjoy listening to audio books while painting the outside of the house, watering the plants and doing the dishes.

There isn't a lot of excitement in my life, but there's a lot of contentment. I like it that way. I've read that people become happier as they age. I wonder if learning to value contentment is part of that.

Expand full comment

Superb. I eagerly await your book. This is one of your sweet spots and your work on this has been must-read for me (and, I suspect, more influential in the broader journo culture than you know) for several years.

IMO part of the emerging skepticism toward hyper-therapeuticism is downstream from an emerging skepticism toward the social internet and its swarms of micro-communities. My feeling is that Millennials who are having kids especially are turning against these technologies in a big way and so you're seeing a lot of critical takes about internet culture in a way you just didn't, even 5-6 years ago.

Expand full comment

We really don't want our kids turning out like the cohort in their adolescence and young adulthood.

Expand full comment

As a member of that cohort, it's an obviously biased sample but many people in my social circle are realizing in one way or another that they want to be different from what helicopter parenting, technology, and internet addiction has made them, and don't want future generations to have the problems they/we do.

Expand full comment

Freddie's writings on mental health and on pop culture are why I keep subscribing. I am a psychologist and his writings on mental health culture have really articulated for me so much of what I found distasteful or discomfiting about psychology and therapy but couldn't articulate myself.

Expand full comment

I am not qualified to comment on mental health per se, but I do have a couple of anecdotal observations. First of all, I cried on so many street corners in NYC in my 20s that I think I could do a walking tour of the places that people have handed me kleenex, folded notes of compassion, and even neckties to blow my nose. Pain and self-doubt are part of becoming a person.

Secondly, I am (quite randomly) reading a great book "Prophetic Lament" that describes this cultural shift from a religious point of view. It argues that "The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget...We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.

"...Walter Bruegemann writes about this contrast between a theology of "have nots" versus a theology of the "haves." The "have nots" develop a theology of suffering and survival. The "haves" develop a theology of celebration. Those who live under suffering live "their lives aware of the acute precariousness of their situation...those who live in celebration are "concerned with questions of proper management and joyous celebration." Instead of deliverance, they seek constancy and sustainability. "The well-off do not expect their faith to begin in a cry, but rather, in a song. They do not expect or need intrusion, but they rejoice in stability [and the] durability of a world and social order that have been beneficial to them."

I think this is a cultural groundwater that addresses this one of your many great points: "Given that pain and suffering are literally and permanently unavoidable in human life, teaching others to be resilient rather than teaching them to be victims is an act of mercy, and cultivating resilience in yourself is an act of essential personal growth and adult development."

Expand full comment

That sounds fascinating! I’m always interested in the connections between current secular American culture and it’s Calvinist roots. And in the way American Evangelicals both mirror and affect the greater culture.

Expand full comment

Yes! So, so interesting (and important). Thank you for commenting!

Expand full comment

Good point. In fleeing from the Puritan "life is suffering and you deserve it" nonsense, we've lost balance and strayed too close to expecting life to be pleasant. Or, more accurately, believing in advertising lies, childhood dreams, and general escapism that life should be pleasant, while said pleasantness fails to quite materialize. Add too the fact that's we're much more insulated from death than previous generations, that even that eternal companion is infrequent.

Expand full comment

could not agree more re: insulation from death and the tragic consequences of that separation

Expand full comment

in the "anti-affirmation" list, which I most agree with, there is the statement "Self-diagnosis is inherently unhealthy, without exception" - I wonder if the real problem is "self-diagnoses" and then stopping at that point. Self-diagnosis, followed up by talking to an expert and listening to them with an open mind, seems perfectly fine to me. Also, self-diagnosis, not followed up by anything except a massive amount of self-skepticism, is not necessarily bad, if the problem involved doesn't seem to be serious. I would change this to "don't base your life and outlook on your self-diagnosis"

Expand full comment
author

Who knows themselves well enough to know if their mind is working correctly?

Expand full comment

Maybe this one line is your entire next book? I'd buy it :)

Expand full comment

Tons of people! They may well be wrong about what the problem is, how serious it is, or what (if anything) to do about it, and they should get expert help to define this stuff. I'm certain a lot of people absolutely deny that anything is wrong with them, but for those of us who are a little self-aware and also willing to admit problems, nothing wrong with speculating about what those problems are - as long as serious concerns are brought to an expert for help.

Expand full comment

I should say that maybe nobody can determine if their own mind is working correctly, but plenty of people can make an reasonably accurate assessment that there is a problem with their mind!

Expand full comment

Sure, but that's no longer self-diagnosis - you're simply recognizing a problem and going to a professional for the diagnosis/treatment.

Expand full comment

Richard Feynman said something like "If you want to learn how not to lie to other people first you have to learn how not to lie to yourself, because you are the easiest person to fool".

Expand full comment

Just read Surely, You Must be Joking Mr. Feynman. Well, listened to it. Loved his observations on education and textbooks.

Expand full comment

He was one of the greatest proponents ot simple common sense of the 20th century.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I'd noticed the same point. It's an oddly categorical, absolute claim, standing out from the general tone. How can anyone draw a sharp line between self-awareness (good) and self-diagnosis (bad)? Maybe Freddie has some particular type of condition in mind for which self-diagnosis can't work, but his general rule doesn't make sense.

Expand full comment
author

I find this stance kind of bizarre: the difference between awareness and diagnosis is that everyone is qualified to do the former and only doctors qualified to do the latter. Can you suspect that you have a mental illness, see a doctor, and receive a diagnosis? Of course. Can you diagnose yourself? No. It is not possible to audit oneself, and I absolutely advance that as a categorical claim.

Expand full comment

OK, so this definitely has to do with the definition of the term diagnosis. I think a diagnosis is certainly not a "snap decision" or a "feeling" but I'm not sure the word indicates that it must be a trained professional. Or maybe it does, but realize that not everybody understands the word the same way.

Expand full comment

It has been my experience that people with mental illness that profoundly effects their lives and the lives of those around them, have very little awareness of the severity of the problem.

Expand full comment
Aug 7, 2023·edited Aug 7, 2023Liked by Freddie deBoer

>Self-diagnosis, followed up by talking to an expert and listening to them with an open mind, seems perfectly fine to me.

That isn't self-diagnosis. That's forming a suspicion that you may have a medical condition and going to a doctor to have your suspicion confirmed/disconfirmed. A woman who finds a lump in her breast and goes to a doctor for a full exam hasn't "diagnosed" herself with breast cancer.

Self-diagnosis is "I'm not a qualified mental health professional, but I read an article about autism and have decided that I have it, and expect to be treated to all the usual accommodations afforded to autists on that basis. If you express any scepticism about my condition, suggest that I'm not qualified to diagnose myself or refuse to accommodate me because my self-diagnosis hasn't been verified by a qualified mental health professional, you're bullying me/invalidating my lived experience/etc."

Before I'm accused of creating a strawman, I have literally interacted with people meeting this description. A few months ago I had an online interaction with a guy who had "diagnosed" himself with autism and explicitly refused to consult a professional to confirm or disconfirm said "self-diagnosis".

Expand full comment

Yes, FionnM, that's what I was trying to get at. Thanks! The difficulty isn't the initial attempt at self-diagnosis, it's the follow-up that can be a big problem!

Expand full comment

Actually in re-reading more carefully, I guess we don't agree. It all comes down to how you define "diagnosis" I guess. If you define diagnosis as "expertly coming to an valid conclusion" then yeah the general public self-diagnosing about mental issues doesn't work. But if you define diagnosis as "examining a difficulty and naming a likely problem" then it's something a lay person can do, if not expertly.

Expand full comment

Per Wiktionary: "The identification of the nature and cause of an illness."

A lay person without any medical training may be able to identify certain simple illnesses in themselves or others (if your child is sneezing, coughing and has a headache, you don't need an MD to identify them as likely suffering from a cold). I don't believe any lay person is qualified to identify complex serious illnesses (like breast cancer in the example above), including mental illnesses (like PTSD) or developmental disorders (like autism). A qualified medical professional may be able to diagnosis themselves with a non-mental illness (a doctor could look at an X-ray of their own chest and identify symptoms of lung cancer), but I'm sceptical as to whether even a qualified medical professional would have the necessary distance or objectivity to accurately diagnose themselves with a mental illness or developmental disorder.

So, yes, a lay person can accurately diagnose the common cold. Can they accurately diagnose autism? Almost certainly not in someone else, and definitely not in themselves.

Expand full comment

That's fine, FionnM. It's all in the word. A lay person is not able to accurately identify many illnesses (and with all the viral stuff running around, I'm not clear that anyone is really certain what's a "cold" anymore). A lay person can easily make a guess that they have a complex disorder, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that - but if it's something serious, step #2 is checking with a professional. And definitely, not making a career out of a self-"diagnosed" illness, we all agree on that.

Expand full comment

>but if it's something serious, step #2 is checking with a professional

Right, and this is precisely the issue under dispute. There is an entire online community of people who believe that a teenager's diagnosis of themselves with extremely serious and statistically rare mental illnesses is EXACTLY as valid as a qualified mental health professional doing the same of someone else. It's this that I (and I presume Freddie) find objectionable and troubling. No one is objecting to someone thinking "I'm worried I might have a mental illness, I'd better consult a professional to find out" - that is behaviour I would actually encourage.

Expand full comment

Suspicions something's going on (even a "I think I might have ___") aren't the same thing as a diagnosis. Diagnoses are used by medical professionals and therapists to match patients to treatments and prognoses and communicate with other professionals about a patient. Self diagnosis is usually used as an identity characteristic, something to put in your bio or tell other people you have, not used at all in the same way medical professionals use diagnoses.

The way I've see self diagnoses used is as a shield from responsibility in interpersonal situations and as a way to enter patient communities (which are themselves usually unhealthy) and speak over patients and caregivers. This is particularly common with Autism, where self diagnosed people with what might've used to be called moderate social awkwardness will speak over the parents and caregivers who are pushing for an autism cure for their severely mentally disabled kids who have no quality of life whatsoever. Freddie touches on this in a few pieces - https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/the-gentrification-of-disability might be a good start.

Expand full comment

I get your point (I think) but I guess my point is that the word "diagnose" is an english word, used by many english-speakers in different ways. In a medical context, you could say that one should use the word only for when a qualified professional is identifying a disease. But outside of a specifically medical context, car owners may diagnose the reason why an engine is overheating, and gardeners may diagnose the reason for a pest infestation. Freddie's list has some medical-related issues and other more social issues in it. I think the item "Self-diagnosis is inherently unhealthy, without exception" could be improved by re-wording it. Perhaps "Claiming you have a serious medical condition without having a medical diagnosis is unhealthy" or something in that vein (I'm not a writer).

Expand full comment

" that we have a duty to build the kind of society where everyone’s basic needs are met"

That is the core of the problem. As soon as you define what "basic needs" means, all of the people who are just on the other side of the line will clamor to have it expanded. So you expand it, and the next set of people will clamor to have it expanded. There is no such thing as basic needs because you can never define it in such a way that there are bright lines around it.

Where this is most obvious is in the medical industry. A new $10MM medical intervention is introduced? That's a basic need, and it's not fair that only the rich can afford it.

Expand full comment

I would really like to see Freddie expand on this. He's written often (and rightly so) about pursuing your political objectives in a way that can result in tangible results; i.e., converting people to your policy preferences. Until vague terms like "basic needs" (or "fair share"-another one that's gotten a lot of mileage over the years) are defined with actual numbers, I'm a lost cause and I suspect most who are not already in Freddie's camp are to, largely for the reasons you list.

I would truly welcome Freddie attempting to explain what these words mean to him in concrete terms and how he would propose holding the line from the inevitable attempts to move it. Admittedly, I would likely be tough to persuade, but it would be interesting reading.

Expand full comment
author

I have neither the time nor the inclination to spell out an absolutely basic accounting of providing people with food, shelter, clothing, education, and healthcare, which are bog-standard left demands and can be found in practice in many places in the world such as the Scandinavian social democracies. And I think this thread is a good example of how my conservative readers pretend ignorance about basic left political theory as a way to leverage unhappiness with the fact that I remain a socialist.

Expand full comment

Fair enough. You are certainly free to write on whatever you wish and I would never suggest otherwise. It is just a topic that I would be interested in you expanding on so I left a comment. And it wasn't pretend ignorance on my part of what is available elsewhere on the web. It was my appreciation of your opinions (even when I disagree with them) and desire to hear your perspective, as I find your perspective much more interesting than most.

But, again, no big deal. I greatly enjoy your writing here. Truly no offense meant.

Expand full comment

Freddie, I'm just scanning comments here, but as a probable "conservative reader" and recovering Democrat, I do not pretend anything. Nothing. Life is too fast and too difficult to pretend your way into self-validation. I admire your writing and sometimes I love it, but I do not care that you are a socialist.

Expand full comment

Well, I'm not a conservative, and I have nothing against socialism, so I think you are being unfair to both JCA1 and me. My comment was not about where the line for basic needs should be (mine may well be higher than yours), it was about mission creep; which was also the topic of your original post?

Expand full comment

"Hollywood appears to be losing patience with the lumpen social justice politics that it cynically embraced in the past decade..."

"It frequently seems like canceling has run out of steam, as a disciplinary tactic; you watch people on social media trying to get somebody canceled, these days, and it sometimes feels like watching them trying and failing to get a pull-cord lawnmower started."

Stop, Freddie. I can only get so erect.

Expand full comment

If it's been more than 4 hours, then try reading comments on this web site. That should soften things down.

https://www.democraticunderground.com/index.php

Expand full comment

Honestly, you could have just made this whole thing the last paragraph, and it would have worked almost as well. Very well stated.

Expand full comment

Lack of sympathy and callousness are my stock in trade. I just think it is a proportionate response to the vicious level of enforcement exerted by liberals against those who question or deviate from their dogmas.

They are absolutely vicious; I am simply mocking. They cancel and destroy lives, and yet I’m a nasty guy for saying that people in the thrall of the therapeutic mindset are weenies. That’s all: losers, losing.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. What happened to that?

I reject the state religion of the west: therapy. It’s all pretend anyways. It’s a theatre, it’s performance. When you get out in the real world, the hurly-burly, nobody gives a shit about you. Or should I say they care to trounce you so in a way they do give a shit.

Great piece Freddie!

Expand full comment

"Nasty, brutish, and short" really is an apt summary.

Expand full comment

I’m going to push back on this a bit. I think in the real world, people actually do give a shit about you. I think life is at least as cooperative as it is competitive. But the real world is offline friends, family, coworkers. Or at least it should be. The online world is performance art. Performative virtue. Performative outrage. Therapy absolutely has a place in the real world, a point with which you may not even disagree. But real world therapy and online “therapyville” I think are different things.

I have also found and seen that conservatives can also be very vicious towards those that question or deviate from their dogmas regarding mental and public health.

Expand full comment

Thanks for this comment. I'm so exhausted by such vicious binary thinking. The world isn't going validate you all day every day, but there's also love, support, and joy on hand. You don't get that promotion, but you get to see your favorite band in a few nights. Maybe you do win that promotion, but it's a pain in the ass, but you've got some extra money in your pocket for a trip later this year. At this point I feel like both ends of the political spectrum are selling their own versions of hell.

Expand full comment

I agree with everything you say, and only deviate from you when you bring in the conservatives can be vicious as well. Of course they just as bad. Your culture war framework - conservative, progressive - is not appropriate. Both left and right liberals are fully complicit in the state religion of the west: the therapeutic.

What I was really writing about is Freddie’s obsession with politeness and compassion. It seems childish to me. It makes him look like what he is, a commendably learned intellectual, worthy of our respect, but cloistered. Mike Tyson asked how he would counter the other boxers great plan answered: “ everyone has a plan until your punch him in the face”. That’s the spirit of the thing.

Elite dogma is enforced with violence, vociferous pushback is altogether appropriate. Twinkle toes DeBoer is wrong: wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Fuck that.

That’s said what you’re saying is 100% correct: in life, collaboration, and cooperation is, this is prominent as competition and vitriol.

Expand full comment
Aug 7, 2023·edited Aug 7, 2023

Please translate final paragraph. Thanks.

Expand full comment

Life isn’t just vicious competition. There’s much collaboration.

Expand full comment

What a beautiful and powerful essay. I agree completely that the affirmation model is pernicious. It hurts not just the sufferer, but other people as well.

I think back to my struggle with postpartum depression after my son was born. I was saved by cognitive behavioral therapy, which taught me to take responsibility for my own responses and destructive patterns of thinking. What if everyone around me had adopted the affirmation model and reinforced my feelings of inadequacy? What if every conversation had revolved around people feeling so, so, so sorry for me? What if no one expected me to take care of my son properly because it was too hard for me? I guarantee that my son and I would have been much worse off.

The affirmation model hurts other people too, because it conscripts everyone else into affirming and supporting the sufferer. People have their own issues! They have better things to do than be at the sufferer’s beck and call to support them and praise them no matter what.

I hope you are right, Freddie! Yes, we should expect support from our friends and families, but we also ought to give support in return, and maybe take some responsibility for ourselves too.

Expand full comment
Aug 7, 2023Liked by Freddie deBoer

When I was getting sober my therapist told me that I had objectively been a bad person who was doing bad things. It was very unpleasant, but exactly what I needed. It's scary for me to think about what would have happened with an affirmation model. I'd probably be dead in a ditch somewhere.

Therapy ought to provide a path towards living a good life, not trick you into thinking you are already doing so.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Nice! Yeah, I think of this when I think of the book The Body Keeps the Score. So I can’t figure out why DeBoer went after that book in this article.

Expand full comment
Aug 8, 2023·edited Aug 8, 2023

Apparently Dr. van der Kolk is being blamed by various journalists who are not mental health professionals for the recent society-wide increases in narcissistic preoccupation that Mr. deBoer described so well in his article. I am angered that this is happening, because Bessel van der Kolk is remarkable for his strong emphasis on grounding mental health practice in science and research. He has spent most of his career working with victims of severe trauma in childhood, and headed up a clinic for high risk kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dr. van der Kolk has stated that, when he was unable to get funding to research a new approach developed at his clinic, he and his staff did the necessary research themselves, at their own expense in time and money. He is very highly respected among legitimate mental health professionals for his theoretical integration of body and mind in his work with PTSD. He is in no way a "pop" therapist, but is on the contrary an extremely creative, biologically oriented psychiatrist who has made enormous contributions to his profession and to all of us who work with traumatized people.

Expand full comment
Aug 7, 2023·edited Aug 7, 2023

Affirmation can be downright dangerous with addiction, I feel. One can have real compassion and understanding for all the complicated factors that lead to life-ruining substance abuse, be dedicated to seeing the person and not the problem, etc., and that's vital to do. But in the wrong hands, without a clear-eyed guide, that can fall so quickly into justifying, or appearing to justify, the reliance on the substance.

Expand full comment

Not to mention, so much of the internal justification for substance abuse/addiction is that "I am special, I am entitled to this addiction, because I had unique pain that no one understands." I have worked in the mental health field for years, and I have yet to come across an addict that didn't think they were Special, and didn't need to be disabused of that notion in order to get sober. The affirmation model would simply pat their hand and say, "Yes, you are special. People expecting you to get sober are invalidating your pain," and then wonder why they never changed.

Expand full comment
Aug 7, 2023·edited Aug 7, 2023

The four compass points of the (active) addict personality are: Superior, Unique, Exempt, and Entitled

Expand full comment

Wow, this was really impactful for me to read this morning as I grapple with finding clarity regarding a family member's struggles. It is REALLY hard to know when you are contributing to the problem with ongoing support, and scary to wonder what happens when you withdraw it and establish boundaries. I keep checking and re-checking my ego, "savior stuff," etc, but it always feels like a dilemma I can't work through. It's one of those relationships that is asking me to evolve my own thinking, but I always feel like there's this important blind spot that prevents me from actualizing my intuition. Your post really helped as I was contemplating this a lot this am (though I always do, which drives me nuts as well b/c — as you say — there is a LOT going on over here in our busy lives/household, and I wonder why I let this relationship drain so much of my time and energy!)?

Expand full comment

Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. It can be so difficult to know what to do when a loved one is struggling. When I was so wretched with PPD, the love and support from my mom and husband really helped, but I also needed strategies to pull myself out. Good luck to you! You are thinking about all the complexities of the problem, and that is an excellent way of going about it.

Expand full comment

you are wonderful. Thank you so so much. I know that so many people will derive so much comfort and inspiration from your (brief but powerful) story: that there is help, and that we must participate in our own healing. And that new territory awaits when those things happen. :)

Expand full comment

Also, since you've clearly given this a lot of thought: I'm wondering if you have any wisdom around withdrawing support when it has been given, for a long time, from a less-enlightened place. What I mean is: if the support and praise were coming from a place of fear, in a way, rather than love, isn't it unfair to suddenly pull that long-standing, comfy rug out from under someone? Isn't a degree of disingenuousness/overindulgence (on the specifics, even if there's always love underneath) a burden that, once set in motion, it is unfair to correct for? Not sure if that makes sense, but I feel like it's one of the main things that has stopped me from shifting course in the relationship, b/c if there is no external catalyst (or even if there is, it's certainly not something I want the person to feel blameworthy about), only my ever-evolving sense of growth/maturity/boundaries/clarity, then it feels mean to suddenly change and be like, yeah, that's not going to work anymore even though I have been a wellspring of support for 25 years. I understand that you may not be in the business of giving advice but thought I'd put it out there as your post clearly represented so much compassion both for the sufferer and those that support the sufferer! :)

Expand full comment

Interesting. I guess I would start with an honest confession that things feel one-sided right now, and you aren’t sure you’re comfortable with how things are going. Plus, it always helps to ask questions. Like, “How do you feel about how things are working between us?”

I have often thought, too, that in situations where one person is always leaning on another person for help and support, it could be liberating to turn the tables and ask for help and advice from the person who normally demands validation--just to remind them that they are smart and capable too. (I have tried this with my aunt recently, and it worked pretty well.)

Expand full comment

Yes! Thank you so much - I so appreciate your thoughtful responses! So grateful that you took the time to think this through with me, and for your wonderful original post which clearly struck a chord!

Expand full comment

"Given that pain and suffering are literally and permanently unavoidable in human life, teaching others to be resilient rather than teaching them to be victims is an act of mercy, and cultivating resilience in yourself is an act of essential personal growth and adult development."

I agree with pretty much the whole post, but this to me is the key. I think of it in terms of friction and callouses. Some people seem to think we can and should try to eliminate rough surfaces from the world or shield people from ever having to contact rough surfaces. We can't, however, but in trying to do so we can greatly lessen our ability to develop callouses. Of course that leaves a million hard questions about how great our capacity to eliminate rough surfaces is, which rough surfaces we should try to sand down, and what do for uniquely sensitive people (everything comes back to the Serenity Prayer), but we need to start from the recognition that resilience is a necessity for living in an imperfect and imperfectible world.

Expand full comment

My nephew (through marriage) is a young man who has been struggling for the past few years. The amount of money that my husband's family (not just his brother but mother and uncle) have spent on all sorts of novel pharmaceutical treatments for him, in patient stays etc is obscene. No one want to just admit that he is not being allowed to struggle, fail, learn and grow. No one wants to admit that being unhappy in your teens and twenties is a pretty universal experience and he isn't a special disturbed young man.

Expand full comment

Anthony, highly literate post, a pleasure.

Expand full comment

So you’re telling me that...everybody hurts?

Expand full comment
author

sometimes

Expand full comment

so hold on?

Expand full comment

Thanks for putting that ear worm in my head.

Expand full comment

For one more day.

Expand full comment

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Expand full comment

Your focus on resilience is something that I wish was talked about more often in the sphere of mental health. The only one who can truly help you get through your day-to-day trials and tribulations is yourself. Your therapist will not be with you when you are on the freeway feeling manic. Your therapist will not be with you when your overbearing boss belittles you in a meeting. No one is coming to save you from the tedious, the terrifying, the terrible things that are part and parcel with living minute by minute, hour by hour, with yourself. That’s your job, and it can be the hardest job in the world some days. But the more you resist giving in to excuses, the easier it can become.

Expand full comment

A truly good therapist can impart on you the skills to do that if you don't have them already. A bad therapist just lets you complain and validates you as a constant victim.

Expand full comment

It's absolutely wild how resilience has come to be coded as reactionary in some circles. I mean, I guess it is to some extent, but so what? It's also incredibly useful to marginalized communities.

There's this really pernicious process by which academics and activists insist that there are no individual failings and that every bad thing is just a point eminating from a larger political and social nexus of evil. Even if that's true (which some of it is), why would we want individuals feeling powerless? Yes, we want strong communities and better politidal solutions, but how is any of that possible without healthy, empowered individuals. Maybe I haven't gotten around enough, but I've never seen a strong community composed of broken individuals.

To some extent what's happening is that the professional managerial class is systematically depriving people of their individual agency and then selling it back to them in the form of consumer goods and corrupt ideologies. This won't end well.

Expand full comment

Excellent piece, again. Thank you for laying out a powerful case against the the aggregation of assumptions that being sublimely happy all the time is a right and should be the responsibility of others.

Expand full comment

"Good people spend a great deal of their time categorically and uncritically affirming others - telling friends and strangers alike that their desires are all legitimate, their instincts always correct, their perceptions of their own needs never mistaken or misguided, their self-conception compelling."

But only if the subject is part of the Kool Kids Klub. If they're one of the outcasts, then any mistreatment is not only fair, but the mistreater is seen as doing the world a favor.

The whole affirmation mentality is that of humans who refuse to grow up.

Expand full comment

I heard "the world doesn't revolve around you, now take out the trash, etc." quite a bit when I was growing up. Seems we've had a couple generations who didn't get that message and now we're seeing the fruits of it.

Expand full comment

Well said , this is what I was alluding to in my “stock in trade” post. For some reason Freddie wants us to fight politely, whilst the people in power lie cheat and kill at will.

Expand full comment

I think here is the unspoken answer to the "zero-sum" problem Freddie brought up. When those zero-sum questions come up, the answer is always "the Other should accept the loss and suck it up". It's wrapped up in language of privilege and so forth, but somehow the one speaking is always the one who expects the Other to step aside. (Aside from the odd White Ally humblebragging.)

Expand full comment

Th is is a great piece. Thank you.

“ As a leftist, my core political assumption is that we are all responsible for each other’s material well-being, that we have a duty to build the kind of society where everyone’s basic needs are met, where everyone enjoys a certain degree of material comfort, and where our rights are respected equally regardless of race, religious, sexual and gender identity, ethnicity, or creed. That is the kind of mutual caring that I signed up for when I became politically conscious as a teenager.

I would never respond to someone telling me that they’re in pain by saying that I don’t care. In fact I’ve spent hours talking complete strangers through mental health crises. But if you care for people you try to walk them towards self-reliance, dignity, and toughness.”

I think that the problem with the former is that it leads to the latter, because of the word “every”.

This is the old “teach a man to fish vs feed a man a fish” principle is it not? I am not a leftist, am 100% in the anti-affirmation camp, and I agree with the goals of the first paragraph and agree completely with the second paragraph. But at some point doesn’t thinking we can save everyone from failing to achieve their basic needs just feed this expectation of all needs being fulfilled? People don’t generally get that needs are pursued in a stair-step hierarchy. Most people always want more. Once they accomplish a level, they crave the next.

“The natural place to look for love, acceptance, and affirmation when you need them is your close friends and family, the people with whom you have mutual emotional attachment, as they are the best equipped to help and the people whose opinion you care about the most; expecting strangers or society writ large to care about you the way your loved ones care about you is deluded and disordered.”

I was thinking about the Scandinavian countries that leftists in the USA so often laud as the model we should strive for. Those countries tax the crap out of all income earners, but do a better job taking care of their citizen’s basic needs. But there is a massive difference in that immigration is controlled and the people of those countries are much more culturally homogenous have much greater family and friend attachment. From my perspective, it is not our lowest level needs that drives this opinion that the US is so crappy. We do a pretty good job providing the masses with food, shelter, etc. it is the next levels of phycological needs, loving and being loved, that is wrecked. And it is made more profound a problem because the USA is a country of 330 million strangers without enough to bind them as family. And instead of coming together, we are being more driven apart.

Expand full comment

I've always been perplexed that the people most in favor of a welfare state (for lack of a better term) are also the most opposed to assimilation. How exactly are you going to garner universal support for these enormous social programs if you've reduced the country to dozens of different tribes all eyeing each other suspiciously?

Expand full comment

I see that many of those on the left are both tormented by and attracted to indications of unfairness that they want to remedy. It becomes the Shirky Principle: "institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."

Expand full comment

This is true only in the contemporary Western context. Marxist-Leninist states like the USSR and the PRC were at various times obsessed with assimilation to a nearly genocidal degree. Ideological and cultural assimilation of all ethnic minorities and "class enemies" were prime driving goals of Stalin and Mao. It was extremely harmful and has been used to discredit the greater overall goals of guaranteeing a decent standard of living for everyone in a time of unfathomable bounty and technology. What you see now is a reaction to that, and I think a correct one.

The idea that one must be loyal and conform to the dominant culture in order to support the idea that nobody needs to starve or be homeless in the wealthiest society in human history is deeply chauvinistic. Ideas of charity and compassion for the downtrodden exist in every human society, and indeed American culture is remarkable more for its relative lack of these ethics than its exclusive claim to them. There will always be people who won't or can't assimilate and so the only political answer if you're committed to that chauvinism is assimilation by violent force. It was chauvinistic when the left did it too. We may be a very diverse country but those cultural gaps are far from insurmountable and everybody needs food and shelter no matter where you come from. A democratic society must at its core also be a pluralistic one.

Like most relatively comfortable right-wingers, you treat the idea of social equality is somehow inherently authoritarian because you cannot imagine that you would not stand to lose out in such a paradigm. But "assimilation" is a massively authoritarian ideal, and one that undermined and damaged communist states far more than their commitments to uplifting the poor.

Expand full comment

"But there is a massive difference in that immigration is controlled and the people of those countries are much more culturally homogenous have much greater family and friend attachment."

You are very uninformed if you think that's the case. In Sweden, politics today revolves around the issue of whether or not there's a serious immigration crisis. Stockholm has immigrant ghettos and crime like in the other major Western capitols. It's not avoidable in rural areas; in Jämtland some areas that were completely homogenous and low population had large numbers of immigrants transferred there by the government to where some towns in the län are now only around half Swedish in demographics.

Denmark and Norway have similar issues. A friend of mine over in Norway lives in a town with around 30k people, she can't hope to ever buy a home with the rising costs of real estate and living, and meanwhile the government is building apartments for refugees nearby and she like an increasing number of Norwegians believes a large part of this decline is due to foreigners, rich ones buying real estate and poor ones being given it. Cost of living rises, quality goes down, and where she lives many drive across the border just to buy less expensive groceries.

In Scandinavia now it's the view of many that the social democracies are failing because of immigration and neoliberalism, and the path of each government forward now appears to be austerity—except on war spending—without tackling any issues. The left unfortunately refuses to touch anything to do with immigration policies and globalisation, instead they pretend it's many decades ago when they created social democracy that the elderly still vote for them for doing (since they can actually remember it), but their refusal means a sharp rise in racism and more and more turn to the right. It is sad to see as a leftist.

English speakers just don't know any of the present issues, they can't read anything in Scandinavian languages and don't know the current politics and climate. If "immigration is controlled" and it's "culturally homogenous" you would not be able to find so many Swedes on right-wing forums who go so far as talk openly about ethnic cleansing, something unheard of among even the far right in most places.

Expand full comment

Your next book: "The End of Affirmation?"

Expand full comment