Remember the Sopranos scene with Carmela’s therapist? The therapist cuts through all of Carmela’s rationalizations about staying with a monster (which are also, tweaked slightly, the viewer’s rationalizations for liking Tony). The therapist says Carmela has to leave her husband and that Carmela is enabling evil. Carmela thinks she should leave but says, “You’re going to charge the same anyway,” and he says, “I won’t accept blood money.” It’s this incredible fight for values, and Carmela can’t comprehend the therapist’s values: her whole world requires her not to comprehend him, including his statement, “many patients want to be excused for their current predicament.”
Here’s one of my private theories about why women are fascinated with therapy: Until the post-war era, most women married who their parents told them to marry, or at least someone within their communities, and they lived in communities that effectively directed their lives and major life decisions, at least until the women themselves aged into becoming matriarchs, grandmothers, etc. Camille Paglia likes to talk about how in Italian communities, young wives were bossed around by their husbands’s mothers, and the old women wielded much of the power; today, old women are ignored by anyone not in their families, and young women have all the power, until they become crones, at which point they’re discarded by anyone who’s not their husbands or families. I exaggerate, yes, but by much? Pre-war, women had relatively few choices. The “point” of life was not individual self actualization or pleasure, it was sustaining the community, having enough to eat, putting a roof over the head, raising the children. Low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and therefore (relatively) easy to accomplish. Expectations differ today.
You can, naturally, contrast the pre-war world with pretty much everything today: women are highly autonomous. They earn their own money and keep their own households. They have infinite freedom and choice–with it the ability to fuck up easily. A lot of people, I think, can’t handle and don’t like choice, but almost no one in the media will write an article about how choice sucks, and having less choice can be desirable to some people. So what’s the female response to total freedom? Often: anxiety, uncertainty, therapy. A lot of women get enormous social and sexual power in their teens or early 20s and wield it how one might expect someone to wield a huge amount of power with minimal guidance (that’s also the plot of every young-adult, adventure-save-the-world story).
A life of Instagram selfies and browsing social media and watching THE BACHELOR is supremely unsatisfying. But most women are simultaneously scared of commitment and having children—somewhat justifiably, too. They’re surrounded by and attracted to players. They’ve imbibed the rhetoric and practice of “optionality,” and know men have too. In modern culture, there is no sin worse than failing to maximize optionality, regardless of how poisonous that cultural belief is to long-term relationships. Jobs are uncertain, and we’ve raised the cost of living by preventing the construction of housing. In most places, we have to pay for expensive cars (no more street cars or flophouses, which allowed relatively cheap living, pre-war). Healthcare is outrageously expensive: ask any woman you know who’s given birth about her deductible, and what paying for the birth did to her budget, let alone paying for her kid’s pediatrician. I won’t rant too much about those things here, because plenty of other people have, but high costs lead to extreme uncertainty about the future. How do you make a 20-year commitment to a man and his child in this fucked up environment that we’ve constructed so that boomers can be dream hoarders and coast through life on the value of their real estate purchases from the ’80s and ’90s? Well, you can make that commitment, but you’re scared to do it, particularly because feminists have legitimized divorce, which lets men easily abandon their families in pursuit of younger-hotter-tighter, and I can’t blame women for being scared, given the costly environment + legitimate divorce. Feminists demanded and got no-fault, low-cost divorce, so any time a guy gets tired of your saggy body after you’ve had a couple of kids, he can nail his secretary or whatever mate-poaching slut happens along (the mate-poaching slut you were ages 18 – 26, you don’t have to lie to me about your past). Except for the wealthy ($1m+ in assets, $150k+ per year in most cities, $300k+ per year in places like NYC or DC), everyone feels incredibly uncertain, unsettled, and off balance. Which is wrong, right? We’re supposed to feel good and happy and grounded all the time, while living these precarious lives without real community or family. We have enough for a new iPhone every year, but that iPhone is a quarter of the cost of our healthcare deductible.
We don’t feel right or good, so what do we do? We can get involved in local politics to try and lower the cost of housing, but that requires a bit of attention, long-term thinking, knowledge, execution, and working with other people—lol, what???? I’m not going to do that!!!! Lol. Instagram. THE BACHELOR. The latest trends in Instagram Reels. So long-term, dedicated political commitment to change… that’s out. We can get a dog. Dogs are cheap substitutes for children, although they die in 10 years and never talk. We can get drunk and hook up with hot DJs, or body builders on Tinder, or whomever, and that is fun a few times but has its own problems which are either obvious to you already, or you are oblivious, or they will become obvious to you in the fullness of time. We can’t commit to a man and fear he won’t commit to us, but we can hook up with that one hot guy who is hooking up with three other women. We can try psychedelics, which helps short term but doesn’t lower the price of housing, cars, or healthcare, and after that amazing weekend we still have to pay the student loans for that degree in psychology. Something is wrong, but how do we deal with it, when we’re not willing to try to concretely change our material conditions?
Might as well try therapy.
It beats Christianity.
Does therapy help? Can it? Maybe, though therapy is mostly narcissistic and about turning the person’s gaze inward at themselves even further than it already is. Therapy almost never says, “Quit whining, build effective communities, help others, devote yourself to your family and children.” The dark side of that advice is that a dysfunctional family will take and not give back, while a functional family includes give and take. So it’s not like being family and community-oriented is costless. But we live in a narcissistic society in which many, maybe most, people lack direction. So many women feel dissatisfaction, uncertainty, anxiety, and then go to therapy for the solution… the main topic: herself. Therapy is another consumer experience.
Therapy is the band-aid on a fucked up material culture. Maybe I’m becoming a Marxist in my old age. Though, maybe not, cause the housing, healthcare, transit, and education economies, which together represent more than 50% of GDP, can’t be called “capitalist,” given the way government picks winners and losers and restricts market entrance, among other non-capitalistic things. Industries with minimal government intervention (consumer electronics, Internet, crypto (so far), bicycles, fashion) see prices fall and quality improve every year, while industries with extensive government regulation see the opposite. Few people properly reach this conclusion, however, and thus the popularity of Bernie Sanders, who does have a point about how fucked up things are, however wrong his conclusions about what should be done may be (he’s inadequately focused on increasing the supply of housing, healthcare, and education, and stomping on the insiders driving up the costs of these essential goods). I can respect him, though, for saying a lot of the things others won’t. Wrong conclusions, but he has a sense of the problems. Anyone who blames immigrants, as is common in certain precincts, is so wrong as to be worth ignoring.
We live in a very wealthy, but also very precarious, society.
The therapist might tell the woman to stop hooking up with DJs and hot Tinder guys… but they’re so hot, so stopping is a struggle, plus, if you can’t see the long-term way forward, there’s the hot guys for right now, and they sure are fun. Therapy is mostly “talk” without “act.” The therapist doesn’t say, “You feel like you can’t afford to have kids because of high housing prices, so why not become involved in local yes-in-my-backyard (YIMBY) politics?” The therapist is supposed to be non-judgmental, unlike a priest, who will tell you to get right with God and get married. The therapist will not tell you to quit sugar. The therapist will not tell you that your psych / communications / sociology degree is worthless and that you should buckle down, concentrate, and develop real skills. The therapist will not tell you that your attention span is too short to be useful in modern economies. The therapist might tell you to work to have better connections with your family, but she’ll also tell you that it’s your parents’ fault, which is comforting, even if it doesn’t help and isn’t true. The therapist can’t build you a proper community, and you don’t like restrictions anyway, so you’re stuck with this aimless feeling.
What can you do, if you have a short time horizon, no connections, weak family links, unstable work, student debt, guys whose last names you’re not sure of, who say they work in finance, you think, or was it real estate? Guys raw dog their come into you on the first or second date, but you have little direction, and “friends” who won’t help you if you really need it, and who you won’t help if they really need it? What can you do?
There’s yoga. There’s “self care.” There’s “taking a break from dating.” There’s “aromatherapy.” There’s “going upstate.” There’s “taking a dream vacation, to Italy!” OMG, did you know the Mona Lisa is way smaller than it looks? Do you know how inspiring EAT PRAY LOVE is (never mind that the author ended up a spinster, like Candace Bushnell)? There’s psychedelics, from this one guy who took class from a real shaman in Peru, or was it Paraguay? Maybe Brazil. He has a man bun and will align your crotch shakra, too. He promises he’s “clean” when he finishes inside you. And…there’s therapy. Therapy will help understand what’s happening to you, and how you just need to reconnect with your mom. Yes, that’s it, reconnect with your mom. The therapist won’t judge you, unlike everyone else, but maybe you need a bit more judgment and a bit less “everyone is okay, and every decision you make is okay,” regardless of how short-term and short-sighted it is. Being “non-judgmental” is almost always a lie.
I’m not saying reconnecting with your mom is bad, it isn’t. But it’s one thing, at one level of the life experience, when the problems are occurring at multiple levels of the life and community experience, and many of them related to narcissism (on narcissism, see The Last Psychiatrist on Lori Gottlieb, and part two, and his finest work on the subject in part three).
I’ve been talking about women, but the above is self-criticism, too: I’m reaching the age where I’m thinking about how I should have made other decisions, made a zillion dollars instead of the middle-class, struggling-against-rising-housing-markets money I’m making, in a career that is good, but what if I’d made other choices and worked for Google? Then I wouldn’t be worried about deductibles. We’ve set up a game in which the winners are in tech, finance, medicine, (some parts of) real estate, and that’s it, yet we’re still doling out fake degrees in sociology, communications, psychology, business. Things are okay for me, I’m fine, fine-ish, there’ve been some struggles in life but also some beautiful moments…I’ve made choices…they’ve been good, in the moment, often: being a player has its moments of blinding total god-like ecstasy, but where does it go? At least I’ve had agency.
Could be that the problems are more cultural than economic, like the “Staff Writer” argues in “The Culture of the Single Millennial,”
Environment matters. When the environment around you does not seem conducive to serious courtship and marriage, then there is a high probability you will not seek those things. On the other hand, if you see the majority around you acting more mature and marrying earlier, then you will seek potential life partners from the outset and look for a different set of qualities.
A lot of young men, being naturally competitive, may not necessarily envision a life of casual sex but become seduced into it after observing their peers engaging in the lifestyle. Young men enter a sort of arms race against one another. Many of them will think: “Why should I settle down early when the other guys are hooking up with so many girls now? Are they cooler or better than me? I have to prove that I can do it to!” This will lead him down the rabbit hole of “hook up culture” which could become addictive. It may take years to undo this lifestyle.
Young women compete with each other too. If they think showing off their bodies on social media or having sex with the more popular guys will raise their status or secure a higher status man, then many of them will act accordingly.
The author should emphasize economic factors more, but he or she makes an argument few others do. He or she says things most won’t say or don’t get. Please read it and then come back here.
My point isn’t that women don’t have legitimate gripes with the system, or that there isn’t sexism still around, my point is that most of what you think is ‘feminism’ is really a work, a gimmick, a marketing scheme. It is straight up consumerism, repackaged as a gender issue. Case in point: season 1 and 2 of ‘Girls.’
And most importantly of all: if this is what women’s solidarity is made of, how much support can they really expect from each other? Is this solidarity power, or the trappings of power?
Selves aren’t really discovered, they’re made. You are what you do. And yet we often think that we are our “identity,” or the TV shows we watch. That’s a disaster of an identity. Back to TLP:
In my formative years, romance was John Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything. But when I think about marriage nowadays, my role models are the television characters Will and Grace, who, though Will was gay and his relationship with Grace was platonic, were one of the most romantic couples I can think of.
Nothing characterizes The Dumbest Generation Of Narcissists In The History Of the World better than using throw away cinema as a template for life. What kind of results did she expect?
She thinks that Will being gay is an unfortunate coincidence, but it is actually the primary thing she wants. She wants a gay man not because she likes them gay, but because gay men aren’t real to her, they’re props. She wants someone who will see her the way she wants to be seen and fulfill various other roles she has planned for him, leaving herself free to ‘grow.’ It’s hard to get that to happen when his Staff Of Unreasoning and Hyperbole is pressed up against her coccyx while she’s trying to go to sleep.
A lot of women have the problem TLP attributes to Lori Gottlieb: they want props, and to “grow,” and think that therapy will help them “grow.” That’s a wrong, or incomplete, way to think about life; it’s like trying to dance the quadratic formula, or understand electricity and magnetism via religion instead of Maxwell’s equations. “Therapy” or “finding yourself” or “yoga pants” may be the “right” answer, but they are answers to the wrong question. They’re trying to solve the “problem” at the wrong level of abstraction.The right level is family, community, and network. These things are hard to build and easily destroyed, particularly because we live in an opt-in, hyper-optimized culture. When we don’t opt-in to family by default, what replaces family? Buying shit from companies? No one knows. “Me me me” has costs. “No restraints” has costs. “The customer is always right” has costs, applied to the wrong situations. Those costs include a vague feeling of directionlessness that the best gastropubs, concerts, vacations, therapy, and dogs can’t heal.
Another problem is our time horizons: some things are fun in the moment but suck long term (like chasing pussy, or behaving hypergamously), and vice versa. Having an infant sucks a lot of the time short term, and can provide lasting life satisfaction in the long term. For me, railing a hot woman is great short term… but I’m personally trying to think longer term. Women face the same conundrum:, hot DJ=short term high, nothing long term. Maybe he gets you into the Skrillex show, on the list!, but who cares? For healthy people, relationships define our lives. What happens when you don’t have genuine long-term relationships? It’s okay in your teens and early 20s, transience then is normal, as is identity formation. But as you hit 25, and round 30… too many short term optimizations add up to emptiness, to the void. You’ve orbited the mountain’s base many times, but never even considered looking to the top. Some people mistake the lookout point for the summit. Among other things, Narcissism results in an excess of short-term thinking.
If you’re always looking for the optimal people, you don’t have real relationships. If you drop your best friend cause she was a bitch to you once, or whatever… it’s not real.. We live with families scattered all over the country, with real estate costs that prevent most families from living in the same neighborhoods, and all the material problems described above, which therapy rarely even acknowledges, let alone solves.
None of the things I made fun of above, (yoga and psychedelics and therapy and “self-care,”) are necessarily intrinsically bad. They aren’t. They’re local optimizations. They won’t get you to serious, real, deep relationships, with family or friends or children. If you try to fit them in the place where family or real friends or children belong, you’re doing the square-peg, round-hole thing. You can kind of make it fit, but it doesn’t work any better than dancing around a sick person while wearing feathers and holding a staff works, or any better than HCQ works on COVID. You need the right treatment, which requires the right diagnosis. Therapy often addresses the superficial problem, not the actual problem. The problem with girls and therapy is that, frequently, they don’t even realize what might be amiss… and their therapists often can’t help them. Why? At this point in world history, your therapist was educated in a culture of narcissism and marinated in a culture of narcissism. Unknown unknowns are by definition unknown. The therapist can’t see what he or she can’t see. Your therapist doesn’t realize the narcissism they’re encouraging, or that many of the problems are systemic, not individual.
There’s the material side, too, a force pushing families and communities apart. You can do therapy for a few years, it might even help a little bit, but it’s not going to lower your rent, or your $4,000 deductible… and it won’t teach you that relationships with living breathing humans often have unpleasant dynamics. It’s not Will & Grace or Sex & the City or anything represented in the media (except maybe Scenes from a Marriage). The stuff that matters most has a long-term orientation and time horizon. Trying to optimize for the gold star that is given by our modern educational system and corporate consulting and their ilk. Women are generally more anxious and uncertain than men, for evolutionary and other reasons, and they now live in a society that has removed all the guardrails that used to inhibit their freedoms (that’s true, I agree with that bit of the feminist critique), but that also were designed to protect them, including protecting them from themselves. Colleges can set up Title IX tribunals that come down hard on men, but colleges can’t replace a father. She can call some guy who’s watched the right “how to do bondage” videos on YouTube “daddy,” but that’s not the same, either. Women spent the ‘50s – ‘70s fighting to get out of their families’ control, and now, subconsciously, many want to get back in. The hero from 50 Shades of Grey is a billionaire who tells a woman what to do and solves all her financial problems. He is daddy and paycheck and demon lover in one.
We’ve impoverished Millenials and Gen Z to pay for the retirement of the Boomers, and yet Millenials and Gen Z aren’t smart or coherent enough to vote for better housing policies in local elections. Many have bought into the lie that rising real estate prices are a good thing. The problems feels so large, we don’t bother chipping away at them. Or, we don’t have the attention to pay attention, because we’re too busy watching TV.
What else are we seeing, besides therapy, as reactions to a lack of family and meaningful relationships? Tribal affiliations via politics as sport. On one team, woke/SJW/PC and, on the other, Trump and QAnon. Pointing out how similar they are at this point is boring, but I’ll do it anyway, and note that both are diametrically opposed to making any meaningful changes. Woke/SJW/PC is a massive cope for not having a vision, a concrete set of life plans, goals, missions, or authentic connection. Anything that attempts to substitute for authentic, true relationships (yoga, therapy, psychedelics, aromas, multi-level marketing schemes, Instagram, travel—they’re all fake substitutes), doesn’t work. “Cope” is everywhere all the time and goes unacknowledged. We don’t want to look at ourselves, so we look at the other side of the political aisle and attribute all the bad things in our lives to them.
Maybe there’s a little movement towards more communitarianism. Sally Rooney is for chicks, and, despite her approving of the Chinese genocide of Uighurs and her hating Jews, I read her first two novels (What? I’m allowed), and some reviews of her third, including this one,
My peers, like Rooney’s characters, are increasingly attracted to community, to dependency. We’re finding that relationships aren’t just the backdrop to one’s internal life — they’re the whole point. In “Beautiful World,” Alice and Eileen search for something to believe in and begin to discover that certain “old-fashioned” proclivities — whether for Jesus or classical art — may not be so bad after all.
In Rooney’s hands, this doesn’t come off as the inevitable lurch toward conservatism, as a consequence of growing up. The ironic impulse is still very much present: Alice and Eileen are Christianity-curious but not quite ready to convert; they’re sure to note that nostalgia could be “intrinsically fascistic.”
Let’s assume the writer is more or less correct: Rooney’s reacting to a highly individualistic therapy culture. It turns out, most of us want to do a good job, but our job isn’t everything (her characters also naturally succeed in the literary world, which is only slightly less fantastic a situation than a midget getting a super powered ring and needing to chuck it into a volcano, per The Lord of the Rings). The individual isn’t everything. We’re not individuals, we’re networks of human beings, and trying to treat ourselves, and be treated, solely as pleasure maximizers has tremendous, but largely hidden, costs we’re only starting to discover and understand. We’re facing a Chesterton’s Fence issue. The boomers destroyed society and then camped in the real estate.t’s up to us to build something better (something I’ve not done much of, mind you, but I’m thinking about it).
The Sopranos is a great show for many reasons, one being that all the characters are utterly focused on the wrong things. Carmela is obsessed with where her kids go to college, not who they are. She can’t perceive her own narcissism, and neither can the viewers watching, yours truly included. Tony buys her, almost literally, by giving her stuff (coats, a Porsche), which she accepts and oohs and ahhhs over, forgetting her soul, and her complicity. This essay is great, and captures some of our collective failure to plan, which is to say, collective planning to fail:
One of the show’s most prescient aspects is its treatment of the Soprano kids, Meadow and Anthony Jr. In Meadow, we see from the beginning the tendrils of the future economy reaching back and forcing her to obsess over getting into the right college, even to snort meth to help herself study, constantly striving in preparation for a grueling career. These tendrils don’t come for A.J. Instead, we see in him glimmers of the coming era of male dysfunction: aimlessness, video games, economic uselessness, nu-metal and of course, that inheritance from Anthony Sr., depression. But A.J., too, recognizes that the adults around him have failed him, though he struggles greatly to articulate it, and tends to revert to his worst impulses. A widely loathed character the first time around, A.J. is perhaps most worthy of re-evaluation.
In the show’s finale, as the extended Soprano family gathers to mourn the death of Bobby Baccalieri, we find Paulie Walnuts stuck at the kids’ table, where A.J., newly politically awakened, charges into a rant. You people are screwed, he says. “You’re living in a dream.” Bush let Al Qaeda escape, he tells them, and then made us invade some other country? Someone at the table tells him that if he really cares, he should join up. A.J. responds: “It’s more noble than watching these jackoff fantasies on TV of how we’re kicking their ass. It’s like: America.” Again, he’s interrupted: What in the world does he mean? He explains: “This is still where people come to make it. It’s a beautiful idea. And then what do they get? Bling? And come-ons for [expletive] they don’t need and can’t afford?”
However inartfully, A.J. was gesturing at something that would have been hard for someone his age to see at the time, which is that the ’00s were a sort of fever dream, a tragic farce built on cheap money and propaganda. That the people in power truly had insulated themselves in a fantasy environment — not just in the realm of foreign policy, but also, more concretely, in the endless faux-bucolic subdivisions that would crater the economy. We were living in a sort of irreality, one whose totality would humiliate and delegitimize nearly every important institution in American life when it ended, leaving — of all people — the Meadows and A.J.s of the world to make sense of things.
In the ‘00s, instead of focusing on increasing access to the housing market and dealing with CO2 emissions (we could have accelerated batteries, solar, public transit, realizing that Saudi Arabia (the real menace behind 9/11 and proximate cause) is enabled by our love of oil and gas imports), we were planning a terrorism and country-invasion scheme based largely ont he fantasy lives of a handful of top Bush administration officials. Instead of investing $1 trillion in infrastructure and manufacturing—real things, with important real-world consequences—we were invading random countries in the basket-case Middle East. While China got up early and went to work, we slumbered. If we have an electric car industry ten years from now, it’ll be because of Elon Musk and J. B. Straubel’s work, rather than any planning or foresight. We reward politicians who live on a two-year cycle, when the important cycles happen over decades. We were focused on the energy source of the past (oil) instead of the future (electrons, batteries). We were in the middle of a tragic farce, free money, and propaganda, and we used that time to party. We used that time to enact our political fantasies, while the Chinese were stealing Western technologies and building a dictatorship the likes of which the world has never seen. Partying is great, I like parties, but eventually you have to go home.
What happens when no one’s been building homes, literally or figuratively? What happens when your parents are old or dying or dead, the family home is gone or mortgaged, you’re not building relationships or having a family of your own? We don’t know, and we don’t know what we don’t know, so we’ll go to therapy to figure it out, but therapy can’t help us, because it’s at the wrong level of abstraction relative to the problems we face. Women go to therapy but it can’t solve their anxiety, listlessness or lack of focus. If they’re over the age of 30, therapy can’t turn back their biological clocks. Yes I know, feminism tells you that the biological clock is a misogynistic conspiracy. Normal women know better, if they choose to admit what they know. “Feminism” is another cope, that one for college-educated media-industrial-complex women. Normal women want families.
We’d be better off with less therapy and more history, better off with reading Amusing Ourselves to Death and The Culture of Narcissism. Neither offers instant gratification, though, back to Instagram we go. Wow, Britney looks so hot in that bikini! And Chad, when he’s holding that fish, wow, maybe I should DM him, see what’s up. It’s only a DM, right?
Women are fascinated with therapy, men with video games and pro sports. Which is better?
Yes, I know that there were many exceptions pre-war and post-war, and that WWII is not a perfect dividing line, but it’s good enough for these purposes: don’t deliberately miss the point.
Funny how that one disappeared, isn’t it? On the Internet, no one remembers what anyone was saying three days ago. It’s about mood and feeling, not about attempting to get to something resembling correctness.