Blog, Politics, Psychology

Post Traumatic Trump Disorder

Originally published November 17, 2017 on The Huffington Post

A strange, highly disturbing affliction is haunting the land: Post Traumatic Trump Disorder or PTTD. It’s characterized by intense feelings of anxiety, frequent and uncontrolled attacks of anger and hostility, fits of shouting at the news, and pronounced fear of strangers.

PTTD is due basically to a highly disturbed and unstable leader who suffers from a cluster of serious mental issues such as acute paranoia, frequent and persistent psychotic breaks from reality, uncontrollable fantasies and delusions, pathological narcissism, the inability to engage with complex ideas, and no impulse control. The issues are so pronounced that they have caused mental health professionals to break with their long-standing tradition of not commenting on the psychological states of mind of those they have not examined personally.

Except from removing the disturbed individual from office, there are no know treatments for PTTD, especially since the person refuses to acknowledge the nature of their illness and thus to seek treatment.

The people in blue states are particularly affected by PTTD. The only option they have is to huddle in small groups and pray that a healthy leader will finally emerge to reverse the onerous effects of PTTD and heal the nation.

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Blog, Politics, Sociology

Engulfed By Madness: Abnormal Times Defy Normal Explanations

Originally published 10/25/2017 on The Huffington Post

We live in deeply disturbing times. They defy normal explanations.

America is beset by the confluence of three powerful forces. Any one of them by itself is overwhelming. But all three acting together and reinforcing one another have made us especially vulnerable. They are: 1. Massive Denial; 2. Splitting; and, 3. Unmistakable Pathology emanating from the highest office in the land.

One of the strongest examples of Massive Denial is the fact that ardent gun proponents are generally not just dismissive, but contemptuous of the fact that owning a gun increases substantially the occurrence of a homicide and/or suicide in one’s household. The preponderance of studies is unequivocal in this regard[i]. Indeed, those states with looser gun laws have substantially higher rates of gun homicides and suicides. Guns, the things that are supposed to make us more secure and safer, have just the opposite intended effect. They pose extreme dangers to their owners, and not by just a small margin. And, this is only one of the many things of which Americans are in denial.

Splitting is evidenced by the fact that the present occupant of the Presidency constantly proclaims to the sentiment “You’re either with or against me.” The world is thereby sharply split into “good versus bad guys,” with nothing in-between. But then so does the NRA by ignoring the fact that “good guy guns” are substantially at fault in home homicides and suicides.

Unmistakable Pathology is evidenced by the clear signs of disturbance that emanate daily from the President: little if any impulse control as indicated by a never-ending series of rambling tweets, if not the overuse of tweets themselves to convey the “thoughts” of the President; dangerous bluster that threatens nuclear annihilation; sheer and utter contempt and disregard for America’s critical institutions, etc.

Defense Mechanisms

If Sigmund Freud had discovered nothing more than the phenomenon of Defense Mechanisms, it would have been more than enough to ensure his lasting fame.

On occasion, everyone uses various devices to protect their psyches from disturbing, unpleasant ideas, thoughts, and realities. These range from out and out denial to compartmentalization, grandiosity, idealization, intellectualization, projection, and projective identification.

If an event or situation is highly disturbing or unpalatable such as directly witnessing the death of a loved one, becoming a victim of incest or a serious crime, experiencing the horrors of war, etc., then one’s mind can literally shut down and refuse to register the event, or at least not to do so consciously. This is an example of outright denial. But since denial is never perfect, unpleasant experiences often resurface in the form of dreams, nightmares, and severe anxiety attacks in response to, say, loud noises that are mistaken for gunshots.

America is in denial of so many things that it would take a legion of articles to cover them all. The most potent example is those who not only voted for Trump, but continue to defend him. They are in Massive Denial when it comes to the dangers he poses daily.

Compartmentalization occurs when one part of the mind registers one aspect of a horrific event—say, the sounds—and others register the sights and smells associated with it. But since it would be too overwhelming, and hence traumatic, if the sights, sounds, and smells were brought to together as parts of a single unified experience, the mind unconsciously keeps them apart. One of the clearest examples is the oft-expressed rationalization by those who voted for Trump. Namely, “We wish we would say things better, but at least he’s saying what needs to be said.”

Grandiosity occurs when one believes that one is all powerful such that he or she can defeat any force however strong it is. To say that Trump suffers from delusions of grandiosity is a gross understatement.

Idealization occurs when one takes on the attributes of perfection such that one is without any imperfections whatsoever. For example, one exaggerates one’s abilities to meet and surmount any challenge however onerous it is. Count Trump here again! ! It also occurs when one is unwilling to acknowledge and thereby apologize for any discretion whatsoever.

Intellectualization occurs when one overly uses and hence becomes lost in abstractions that have little to do with the realities of everyday lives. A prime example is Secretary Clinton’s oft-repeated assertion during the 2016 Presidential campaign that she had a “policy for attacking unemployment”—if not for every problem we face—that people could look up on her website. This may have worked well with elites, but it failed miserably to connect with ordinary workingmen and women. It only reinforced the impression that not only did liberals not care about ordinary working people, but held them in contempt.

Projection occurs when we disown parts of ourselves that we don’t like and project them onto others. Thus, the media “lie” but not those who are making the accusation. Projective identification occurs when we accept or identify with—“own”— the projections of others.

Splitting

The highly influential child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein is generally credited with discovering the phenomenon of Splitting. It’s said that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. She thus pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior.

Klein discovered that under the age of two or so, children believed that there were two distinct and separate mothers: the “good mother” that catered to the child’s every need when he or she wanted it, and the “bad mother” that couldn’t always be there when the child demanded it, and even more, had to discipline the child. In short, the child’s mind was not yet mature enough to accept that “both mothers were one and the same. “

In a word, Splitting is one of the earliest and most primitive Defense Mechanisms available to humans. It protects very young children from the frightening experience and thought that the caretaker on which one is totally dependent is a threat to one’s very existence.

Most children typically develop out of Splitting as part of the normal process of development, but some form of Splitting stays with us our entire lives. It’s especially prominent in times of great stress and danger. Thus, Splitting is responsible for the sharp division of the world into “good versus bad guys and forces.” In other words, in times of great stress and danger, we revert to one of the earliest, most primitive Defense Mechanism. With his continual sharp division of the world into “good versus bad guys” –those who are completely with him versus those who are opposed and thus the enemy—President Trump is under the grips of Splitting.

Psychopathology

Psychoanalysis is one of the few fields that offer deep insights into the human condition. For instance, all of the various factors that have been identified by psychoanalysis are capable of acting both as the causes and the effects of major crises. Causes become effects, and effects become causes. At the very least, they are deeply intertwined. Thus, a preexisting tendency towards paranoia not only makes one more susceptible to anxiety as the result of experiencing various threatening events, and thus paranoia fuels, if not causes, tremendous anxiety, but paranoia is often one of the major effects/outcomes of intense anxiety and trauma as well. Such is also the case with other factors such as being predisposed to as well as experiencing the effects of illusions, delusions, psychotic breaks, etc. These in turn are capable of leading to one’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, being a member of White Supremacist and Neo Nazi groups, etc.

If the goal of psychoanalysis is always the same, this doesn’t diminish its importance one iota: the weak Ego of the individual and society need to be strengthened so that both individuals and groups can withstand the growing threats of an increasingly hostile and unstable world. In brief, the Self needs to be strengthened so that it’s able to face, thus withstand, increasingly complex and dangerous realities.

This is the difficult task facing us. I pray fervently that we can rise to it.

[i] Melinda Wenner Moyer, “Journey to Gunland, “ Scientific American, October 2017, pp. 54-63.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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