Originally published March 20, 2017 on The Huffington Post
Three wildly different worldviews are fighting for our hearts, minds, and souls: 1. The Populist Revolt, 2. The Elitist Revolt, and 3. We Need to Heal and Come Together.
The Populist Revolt is of course what propelled Trump into the Presidency. It’s marked by extreme anger and distrust of elites and government. It’s also fueled by intense feelings of anger, despair, and hopelessness due to the loss of well-paying jobs and the respect that they once brought. At its core is the intense anger towards elites who have nothing but contempt for working class people. Give Trump a fair chance is the prevailing mantra. He’s their only hope.
The Elitist Revolt is just recently emerged. It’s based on the fact that the Red States receive back far more in federal dollars for support than what they initially paid out in taxes. In short, the Blue States are footing the bill of the Red States, who of course are anything but grateful in return. The Elitist Revolt actually hopes that President Trump and his Republican cronies eliminate federal taxes altogether so that they will then be free to set up their own healthcare plans, social support systems, etc. In effect, the Red States can all go to hell because The Elitist Revolt doesn’t care anymore about “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”. Oppose and resist Trump in every way possible is the rallying cry.
The We Need to Heal and Come Together worldview says that it’s fundamentally wrong to lump all the members of the Red States together and denigrate them as a whole. They all don’t think and act alike anymore than any group does. The different states basically need one another precisely because they are so different. What we gain by being part of a united whole is so great that it greatly outweighs the losses if the states go their separate ways.
Depending on one’s worldview, it’s all-too-easy to dismiss the others. But this is precisely what we must not do, for each contains a substantial element of truth. To appreciate this, it’s necessary to feel, and not just understand abstractly, the emotions that underlie each worldview. Both The Populist and The Elitist Revolt are fueled by anger due to the pains of enormous loss. Each feels hugely disrespected by the other. Overcoming disrespect is the onerous task facing the We Need to Heal and Come Together worldview. Given the tremendous rancor and deep polarization, it feels that it’s virtually impossible.
Those who subscribe to the Elitist Revolt feel that only way in which the proponents of The Populist Revolt will come to their senses is by being deeply burned by President Trump and the Republican Party, for example with respect to health care. In comparison, those who subscribe to the Populist Revolt feel that the only way in which the proponents of The Elitist Revolt will come to their senses is by being forced to face again and again that they are no longer in control.
It’s precisely because we are so bitterly divided that We Need to Heal and Come Together. Senator Bernie Sanders shows that it can be done. By going into West Virginia and listening honestly and respectfully to those who voted for Donald Trump, only then could he counter some of Trump’s ideas and those of the Republican Party. Indeed, nearly everyone he spoke to was deeply afraid of being thrown off the Accordable Care Act.
If we were truly smart, we would send Secretary Clinton and Senators Graham, McCain, and Sanders on a joint nation-wide tour to promote We Need to Heal and Come Together.
Originally published February 24, 2017 on The Huffington Post
Years ago, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept of The Tipping Point. This occurs when a system suddenly moves into a dramatically different state. I believe we are confronting a far worse condition, The Ripping Point. We are in a very real danger of ripping apart as a nation. Worst yet, I don’t see any way out.
Differences are the essence of democracy. But some are injurious to its very existence and foundation. Take the issues of a free press and an independent judiciary.
To my knowledge, Trump is the only President who has called the press “The Enemy of the People.” In defending him, Republicans are at best disingenuous. At worst, along with Trump, they are suffering from a collective thought disorder: the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, indeed to make up whatever reality suits them. When they try to excuse his odious remarks by saying that all Presidents have criticized the press for being overly critical of them, they not only distort the truth, but reality itself. It’s one thing to be critical of the press, which at some point all Presidents have been, but quite another to delegitimize it as an institution, which Trump has done repeatedly.
The same goes for the judiciary. One is always entitled to be critical of a court’s decisions, but not to defame individual judges or the entire judicial system.
The tearing down of the basic institutions of democracy begins with the corruption of thought itself.
Originally published February 20, 2017 on The Huffington Post
Trump is a master of deflection. Indeed, he’s made it into an art form.
Deflecting a crisis onto something or someone else is one of the primary forms of damage containment. It’s used primarily when someone who is responsible for a crisis wants to distance him or herself from it, and thereby not own up to it.
Thus, Trump wants to blame the intelligence communities and the media—what else is new?—for leaking information about Michael Flynn.
Seen in this light, Trump’s incessant use of Twitter takes on a very different meaning. He doesn’t use Twitter primarily as a means of communication. He uses it to deflect attention away from his self-inflicted misdeeds.
If there is anything good, deflection eventually comes back to cause an even worse crisis for those who used it to protect themselves from an initial crisis. In short, deflection deflects back!
Originally published February 16, 2017 on The Huffington Post
Since the Tylenol poisonings in 1982, I’ve worked both as a researcher and consultant in the modern field of Crisis Management. Indeed, I am greatly honored that I’m regarded as one of the field’s principal founders.
One of the earliest findings of my colleagues and I was that there were direct organizational counterparts to each of the Freudian Defense Mechanisms. (If Freud had accomplished nothing more than his discovery of Defense Mechanisms, it would have been more than sufficient to assure his lasting fame.) For every one of the classic Defense Mechanisms that Freud discovered that individuals used to protect themselves from realities that were too painful to face, there was a corresponding form that organizations used to protect their collective psyches from unpleasant realities as well.
Most important of all was the finding that there was a powerful correlation between the numbers of Defense Mechanisms an organization used and the attention it devoted to Crisis Management. In brief, the more that an organization denied that something bad could happen to it, the far less money and time it gave to Crisis Management. As a result, it didn’t do nearly as well in responding to major crises, which were inevitable, than those organizations whose denial was significantly lower. Further, because they acknowledged the all-too-real possibility of major crises, those organizations that took Crisis Management seriously picked up problems and fixed them before they became major crises. As a result, they were significantly more profitable. In short, Proactive Crisis Management is not only the right, ethical thing to do to protect an organization, its employees and surrounding communities from harm, but it’s supremely good for business as well.
The point is that while Defense Mechanisms were originally discovered as a phenomenon that applied solely to individuals, they are not confined to individuals alone. They apply as much, if not more, to organizations and whole societies.
Seven basic types of Defense Mechanisms are as follows:
Denial most often occurs when people are subject to severe traumatic events such as the sudden and senseless death of a child, violent sexual attacks, war, etc. The event is typically so painful and threatening that the mind shuts down completely and refuses to acknowledge it at all. Disavowal is when the mind acknowledges a painful and threatening event but reduces its scope and magnitude such that it’s bearable. Thus, a large, threatening wildcat becomes a small, tame kitten. Idealization occurs when the mind convinces itself that good people don’t face serious threats. Therefore, the wildcat can’t really be there. Grandiosity is the feeling that one is superhuman and can meet any threat. Projection is when one blames others for something bad. Therefore, someone deliberately put the wildcat there. Intellectualization is when one believes that there are no valid reasons for the wildcat to be there. Compartmentalization is when one part of the mind sees the wildcat, and other parts smell and even feel it, but all of the various parts are not put together, for if they were then one would have to acknowledge a threat that one is powerless to overcome.
In organizations, Denial takes the form, “We’re invulnerable; nothing bad can happen to us.” Disavowal is, “Whatever happens, its impacts are negligible.” Idealization takes the form, “Good organizations don’t have major problems.” Grandiosity is the feeling, “We’re too big and powerful to be taken down by anything!” Projection is, “Someone else is to blame for our problems.” Intellectualization assumes the form, “The probabilities of something bad happening to us are too small to worry about.” Compartmentalization is the feeling, “Something bad cannot affect our whole system; in other words, it can be contained.”
In the case of Trump, the Defense Mechanisms are shared between him and his followers. Denial is prominent in Trump’s refusal to believe the assessments of the national intelligence agencies that the Russians hacked the Democratic Party and that it played a part, however small, in the election. Denial is also present in his supporters’ refusal to acknowledge that Trump is in every respect unfit to be president. It’s present as well in the persistent inability to accept that old-line manufacturing jobs and industries are not coming back. Disavowal is paramount when his followers minimize the dangers of a Trump presidency. Grandiosity and Idealization are prominent in Trump’s persistent claims that only he and he alone can fix our enormous problems. Projection is a persistent aspect of Trump’s character in that he blames everyone but himself for any problems. And, Intellectualization occurs when Trump and his followers explain away all of his awful comments as things not to be taken seriously.
This is not to say that Trump’s opponents didn’t engage in their own forms of Defense Mechanisms when all along they denied that he would ever get the nomination, let alone be elected. And, living as I do in California, we are in denial by believing that we somehow live in a protected bubble, even though we are greatly dependent on federal funds, which Trump could play a major role in cutting off.
But most of all, one is in deep denial if one believes that facts alone will cause someone to face reality. This is a prime case of Intellectualization.
No, impersonal facts alone cannot do the job. Instead, calm, trusted voices are needed to make unpleasant facts and realities palatable. Whether formally trained or not, trusted voices are in effect society’s therapists. We’ve never needed them more than we do now.
If not, then reality intrudes as it always does eventually. But the greater the denial, the more and the greater the unpleasant reality that’s needed to finally break through.
Originally published February 15, 2017 on The Huffington Post
One of the charges that conservatives constantly hurl at liberals is that they are basically hypocrites. Although they say that hearing all points of view is the cornerstone of free democratic societies, they really only want to hear that with which they already agree.
Take the case of the highly inflammatory provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Recently, Yiannopoulos’s right to speak at UC Berkeley was hotly contested by Berkeley students. It even sparked outside agitators to engage in violence. Does this mean that Berkeley students were thereby violating one of the core principles of liberal thought? Yes, if they wanted to prevent Yiannopoulos from speaking altogether. No, if they were merely expressing their right to protest hate speech.
Conservatives confuse the basic principle that all points of view, however odious, have a fundamental right to be heard with the dubious principle that every point of view is entitled to be heard without any protest whatsoever. As if conservatives don’t protest loudly when they hear speakers with whom they disagree strongly.
Just because I condemn hate talk before or after the fact is not equivalent to preventing it in the first place, unless of course it can be shown that there is a very strong possibility it will lead to bodily harm. Tolerance of intolerance does not mean that I don’t have a fundamental right, yea obligation, to speak out forcefully against intolerant points of view.
Because liberals endorse the right of all viewpoints to be heard does not mean that it categorically endorses all viewpoints. An open mind is not the same as a head full of holes.
The heart of liberalism is healthy debate, not the uncritical acceptance of any point of view.
Originally published February 15, 2017 on the Huffington Post
The Odious Concept of Ethical Thresholds
Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the fundamental nature of ethics. Yes, the ultimate purpose is to arrive at actions that are clearly ethical. However, the method or process by which one arrives at and justifies an ethical proposition is as important as the proposition itself. Thus, ethics is basically about the different methods that different schools of ethics use both to arrive at and to justify ethical propositions. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is by putting a proposed proposition in the form of a generalized assertion to help determine if it applies universally.
One of the most important cases is President Trump’s justification for his policy of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. Putting it in the form of a generalized ethical proposition not only shows how poor his grasp of ethics is, but more importantly, how odious it is: “Whenever the numbers of people who are detained from entering a country are small in comparison to those who are let in, then one is warranted ethically in enacting such a policy.” In other words, “Whenever the numbers of people who are harmed by a policy are small, the policy is justified.” To which a good Kantian would reply, “To harm just one person is to harm all the members of society for the principle cannot be generalized such that it leads to a just world.”
Worst of all, the proposition both promotes and dignifies the dangerous concept an ethical threshold. As long as the numbers of people who are hurt are below some magic number, then our actions are ethical. It thus raises the treacherous question, “How many would have to be hurt before one’s actions are deemed unethical?” All of this is not only morally odious to a Kantian, but extremely dangerous.
Yes, weighing benefits versus disbenefits is the hallmark of Utilitarian Ethics, and as such, always tugs at us for who can be oblivious to benefits versus costs, especially if the costs are cataclysmic? While it must always be taken seriously, Utilitarianism can never be the sole basis for acting ethically, for it invariably leads to the odious concept of ethical thresholds. Therefore, there must be other bases.
In those societies that strive to be just, they struggle to arrive at and practice a set of principles each of which is just in and of itself. Thus, a person applying for entry is to be judged primarily on his or her individual merits, not on their country of origin, race, religion, etc. Whether a person can support one’s self or requires which kinds of help, affirms primary allegiance to the country to which he or she is applying, and especially to its democratic principles, etc. are potentially legitimate criteria, depending of course on how they are actually implemented. In other words, the criteria for admittance must not be rigged against particular countries or groups unless it can be demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the members of a particular group such as ISIS are irredeemably dangerous. The burden of proof is thus intentionally set high for he or she who would impose barriers.
Making Connections: The Moral Imperative of Our Times
Thinking and acting systemically is key. Indeed, it is the moral imperative of our times. At a minimum, it requires us to acknowledge that the major schools of ethics in Western societies were formulated when ethics was primarily a matter of rightful conduct between a foreseeable number of individual actors or agents with clearly foreseeable benefits versus disbenefits.
In contrast, thinking and acting systemically means asking among many things, “As best as one can determine, who are all the parties who will benefit as well as be hurt the most by any proposed action?” This in turn requires the ability to see and to acknowledge the intended and unintended consequences of one’s actions. In short, it requires the ability to make important connections before they are crystal clear, let alone certain.
In a world that is interconnected along every conceivable dimension, the ability to foresee and to make important connections is more vital than ever. Indeed, only those who have the ability to make important connections will survive, let alone prosper.
For instance, because we’d all be forced to pay higher prices, a 20 % tariff on Mexican goods is a direct tax on American consumers. The country imposing tariffs thus has as much, if not more, to lose than the country being targeted.
Slowing down and preventing Muslims from entering the country hurts the U.S. in that it alienates Muslims worldwide. Just when the cooperation of Muslims is needed more than ever, there is less incentive to help a government that is viewed as inherently hostile to them. It only furthers the fear that banning Muslims plays directly into the hands of ISIS, which it has. It also encourages long-time allies to rethink their commitments to the U.S.
As Republicans are discovering, as odious as they find the Affordable Care Act, getting rid of it poses severe problems. For one, it threatens to blow up insurance markets, for what will be the size of the remaining pool of people able to afford coverage, and who will they be, both of which are crucial in determining premiums? For another, millions who have had coverage, often for the first time, are threatened with losing it. And of course, there are no viable alternatives on the horizon. The potential political damage to Republicans is thus enormous.
Despite the fact that over 97% of reputable climate scientists worldwide believe on the basis of sound science that humans are primarily responsible for Global Warming, far too many still vehemently deny the connection, and thereby the entire phenomenon. Unfortunately, by the time they finally admit it, it’ll be too late to do anything serious about it.
With the exception of Global Warming, none of the foregoing is automatically or conclusively true. Every one of them is highly contentious, which is generally true of all issues that are important. Indeed, the matter is easily turned on its head: something is important if and only if it raises intense differences.
The Age of Uncertain, World-Changing Connections
Obviously, one’s level of education, political affiliation, ideology, raw intelligence, etc. all play critical roles in determining whether one sees potential interactions. Although it’s tempting to portray conservatives and Republicans as least likely to acknowledge interactions, especially the more complex they are, far too many academics and those with narrow world views are unable to admit them as well. For this reason, it’s false to single out any particular group.
In short, the ability to think expansively is more critical than ever. We are deeply in The Age of Uncertain, World-Changing Connections.
This does not mean that we should take seriously, let alone accept, every proposed connection, least of all those that are the result of conspiracy theorists, the purveyors of Fake News or “alternative facts.” It means that traditional forms of handling and portraying complex issues are no longer adequate. We need both new and old media outlets that can display side by side the opposing arguments and evidence for and against important connections. It’s no longer sufficient to turn to separate sources to get the arguments pro and con for important issues.
It’s not that both sides of important issues necessarily need to be equally credible, but that one of the most important ways of determining what’s credible is by viewing the strongest case that can be made for and against any important proposition. The issues we face are too important not to be examined in such a manner.
In short, dialectic reasoning needs to be front and center. It’s the foundation for ethical thinking in a complex, dangerous world.