Blog, Politics

The Never-Ending Battle of Life and Death

Originally published August 25, 2017 on The Huffington Post

America is in a deep funk!

We are battered daily by dysfunction and threats on scales once thought unimaginable. From the constant swirl of highly dangerous international events and inflammatory bluster, incessant right wing hate talk, continual disarray in the White House, it feels that all of the semblances of human and natural order have completely broken down. It’s as if the world has gone totally mad.

One of Sigmund Freud’s most important contributions to our understanding of the human psyche was his initial recognition and subsequent formulation of the Life Versus Death Instincts. While the initial distinction was due mainly to Nietzsche, whom Freud greatly admired for his deep insights into human nature, Freud developed the concept much further, and by doing so, went far beyond Nietzsche.

The awareness of both the fragility and the finality of life—the sheer contemplation of death—were so overwhelming that they exerted a constant and powerful effect over humans every moment of their lives. Indeed, humans expended an incredible amount of effort into denying death. But this only furthered its hold over us. At the very least, the contemplation of death, and thereby the Death Instinct, was always in the background. At worst, it was ever-present in our frequent and unbridled acts of aggression, for instance, our constant preoccupation with wars and readiness to use violence. Its most frequent manifestation was the rejection of reality and reason themselves, which as we’ve seen is an all-too-prominent feature of much of today’s world. In sharp contrast, the Life Instincts are readily present in our many peaceful and joyous celebrations of life.

Tragically, at this moment in history, we are not only inundated by the varied manifestations of the Death Instinct, but it feels as if we are caught in their relentless grip. The following are just a sampling of its many forms and types. The frightening feeling is that they can be multiplied endlessly:

1. The constant threat, all too frequent, and deadly acts of terrorism worldwide.

2. The ever-present danger of nuclear war.

3. The dangerous instability of the entire Middle East with the tragic displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing death and destruction, not least of all being bombed and gassed by their own “leaders,” if that’s what they truly are.

4. The constant threats to bomb the U.S. by the dangerously unstable leader of North Korea.

5. The interference in recent U.S. elections by a threatening Russian President and regime.

6. The recent rise of undemocratic governments around the world.

7. The rise of rabid nationalistic, so-called populist movements precisely when the world is more globally interconnected than ever before and is thus in need of greater cooperation.

8. The wanton, open displays, and marches of fanatical hate groups such as White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis.

9. The increased threats and actual acts of violence towards Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and other minorities.

10. The extreme polarization and outright contempt between members of different political parties.

11. The distrust of elected leaders and governments worldwide.

12. A President who at best is highly erratic and unpredictable and who many consider temperamentally unfit and unqualified for the most important job on the planet.

13. A White House and Administration in constant disarray and thus unable to cope with the serious forces and issues that demand the most somber and thoughtful attention.

All of the preceding troublesome forces and manifestations of The Death Instinct are not only experienced as major threats resulting in overwhelming anxieties and fears, but they seriously perturb, if not destroy, one’s feelings of being safe and in control, that the world—reality itself—is predictable, orderly and comprehensible, that one can trust one’s fellows and leaders—government itself—to protect us from the manifold dangers of the world. In short, one’s basic beliefs about the goodness, safety, orderliness of the world, and thus humankind, are shattered, often beyond repair. No wonder why the crash of belief systems is not only experienced as major crises, but as major traumas. Indeed, the two are inseparable.

In sum, major crises severely attack and damage one’s foundational beliefs: one’s basic sense of identity, belonging, fundamental values, feelings of security, one’s true purpose in life, and one of the most basic issues of all, that one is respected for whom and what one is. The result is a severe existential crisis. How indeed does one make sense of it all when the taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs that one uses to make sense of the world are suddenly ripped out from under one and rendered totally invalid? Most of us can survive and function if just one or two of cherished beliefs are invalidated, but not if all of them are destroyed simultaneously. No wonder why major crises more often than not fuel intense feelings of fear and paranoia.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

Fake News Is the Result of Fake Inquiry.

Originally published June 28, 2017 on The Huffington Post

The hallmark of rational inquiry is that nothing is accepted as a valid claim without well-founded evidence both to support and validate the claim. In stark contrast, Fake News is nothing but bald assertions based on little if any evidence.

Those who assert that there are “alternate facts” that support what they want to believe don’t understand the nature of valid inquiry. Yes, different theories are not only compatible with different facts, but are needed to unearth them. The point is that in order to assess the validity of one’s facts, one has to be able to assess the theories that are used to collect one’s facts in the first place.

Ever since the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, philosophers have understood that one can’t collect any facts without having presupposed some theory about the phenomenon that underlies the facts. Otherwise, facts by themselves make no sense. Indeed, the question always is, “Why are these particular facts a true representative of the phenomenon of interest?”

In short, Fake News is the result of Fake Inquiry. Those who blather about Fake News understand little of valid inquiry. Indeed, they are generally contemptuous of it.

Blog, Politics

The Republican Health Care Bill: Mean and Cold-hearted

Originally published June 25, 2017 on The Huffington Post

The principles of Republican healthcare are straight out of 16th century England where being poor was a sure sign of moral inferiority:

1. You’re completely on your own. No one should be required to pay for anyone else, let alone care for him or her.

2. Everyone should have the “freedom” to purchase only the amounts and kinds of healthcare they want, and nothing more, except of course the rich who should benefit in every way.

3. Competition among and between insurance companies is the only way to lower healthcare costs. Consumers are lucky to get what they are offered.

4. Everyone should be required to pay something for visits to doctors lest they take advantage of government-financed healthcare, and thereby overuse it. People cannot be trusted to use healthcare wisely.

5. People are sick because they don’t lead healthy life-styles. It’s their own fault if they are ill.

6. The poor are poor because they lack the proper moral fiber.

7. People who can’t afford healthcare deserve to die.

Every single one of these is cruel and mean-spirited beyond belief. They utterly destroy the concept of a shared society where people help one another in facing life and death issues.

There is no health care for anyone without health care for all. Health is not divisible.

Blog, Politics, Psychology

Stop Asking Trump for Policies He’s Incapable of Formulating

Originally publishes April 16, 2017 on The Huffington Post

Whether it’s Syria, healthcare, taxes, immigration, etc., every time I hear someone ask for a coherent statement of policy from the Trump Administration, I want to scream, “Don’t you realize that mentally disturbed persons are incapable of ‘well-thought-out, clearly formulated policies?’ ” Instead, they are the prisoners of their impulses and the delusional voices in their heads. No wonder why they flit uncontrollably from one stance to another without any sense of coherence or consistency.

So don’t bother me with cries for “rational, well-thought-out policies” when the person supposedly in charge is not in charge of themselves. All we can do is survive somehow the madness that swirls around us daily.

Blog, Politics

Seven Reasons Not To Work With Republicans

Originally published April 5, 2017 on The Huffington Post

1. The relentless, god-awful language and policies of Trump, his family and administration, and the Republican Party are not only a constant daily assault on our sensibilities, but completely unforgivable.

2. The recent failed Republican plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act shows clearly what the Republican Party stands for: sheer contempt and utter disregard for the poor and elderly.

3. They care only for the super wealthy.

4. They’ve been taken over by Right-wing extremists who are a threat to democracy.

5. They are boiling over with cruelty and meanness.

6. One is morally bound not to cooperate with those who values are so debased.

7. They are an abomination to everything that is wholesome and just.

Blog, Politics

Three Worldviews Fighting for Our Hearts, Minds, and Souls

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.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

The Ripping Point

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.