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, Media + Politics, Politics

Ethics for a Complex, Dangerous World: The Moral Imperative for Thinking and Acting Systemically

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.

Dialectic Reasoning

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.

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Blog, Politics

A Serious Exercise In Damage Control: Protecting Ourselves From The Crisis Prone President

Originally published January 27, 2017 on the Huffington Post

By virtue of his endless stream of hateful tirades, constant campaigning, pettiness, deep character flaws, repeated refusals to share his tax returns, and to separate himself clearly from his countless businesses, President Trump has earned the dubious distinction of being The Crisis Prone President. And, this is only his first week in office! The major question is, “What we can do to protect ourselves from the never-ending crises he’s capable of fomenting?”

Damage Control Mechanisms are generally acknowledged as one of the most important parts of Crisis Management. Nevertheless, a great deal of misunderstanding surrounds them, the prime one being that they exist primarily to contain the damage after a major crisis has occurred. While it’s certainly true that damage containment is one of their main purposes, more importantly, Damage Control Mechanisms basically exist to prevent major crises from occurring in the first place. This is precisely why they must be invented far in advance. It’s also why creating them in the heat of battle is self-defeating.

The classic example is BP’s oil spill in the Gulf. Millions of gallons of crude spewed before the well was finally capped. Sadly, the environment continued to suffer damage long afterwards. The disaster revealed the folly of not having well-tested and maintained Damage Control Mechanisms prior to being allowed to operate in highly sensitive areas of the world.

Given their extreme importance, how do President Trump and his advisors fare with respect to Damage Control? Are they acting in accordance with best principles, or are they instead in violation of them?

Physical Containment is one of the major forms of Damage Control. One creates an actual physical barrier that walls off and thus keeps a crisis such as a massive uncontrolled fire or oil spill from spreading and doing damage to other unaffected parts of an organization, sensitive regions, and even whole societies. In President Trump’s case, his repeated failures to “build a wall” between his far flung business interests and the Presidency is not only in direct violation of the whole idea of Physical Containment, but it actually increases the chances of a major crisis due to direct conflicts of interest. What’s particularly onerous is that the particular type of crisis is already well known. There is thus no excuse for not preparing well in advance.

Another major form of Damage Control is Dilution or Dispersion. In this case, one deliberately takes steps to decrease the concentration of a toxic chemical, or more generally, neutralize a potentially dangerous situation. It also includes Deflecting a crisis onto another part of the environment or party. Trump constantly uses this tactic. He is constantly shifting blame for his own self-created problems (berating the intelligence agencies, treating women and minorities with derision, etc.) onto others such as the “crooked news media.”

One of the more important and positive forms of Damage Control is Openness and Transparency. It preempts a crisis before it takes root. In Trump’s case, he would have to reveal his tax returns, which he adamantly refuses to do, thus adding to the perception that he has serious issues to hide.

Finally, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Blame, and Responsibility are also critical. They are key in establishing and restoring trust. But then Trump rarely if ever apologizes for anything. And of course, his base doesn’t want him to apologize for that would mean that he’s not the all-powerful superman they need him to be.

In short, the best Damage Control is preventative, proactive in the best sense. It is not reactive, or after the fact.

Against this, what does Trump consistently do? First, he’s heavily (“bigly”) into denial. Instead of acknowledging facts, he constantly makes up whatever suits him, never mind that it conflicts what he just said a moment ago. Denial thus leaves no room for Openness and Transparency, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Responsibility, etc. He also constantly attacks, bullies, demonizes, insults, mocks, and threatens his enemies real and imagined. He thereby constantly makes crises for himself and others. To protect his overly fragile ego, he uses the most primitive defense mechanisms such as sharply dividing the world into good and bad guys. And, God help you if you’re a bad guy.

In sum, Trump is a living, breathing veritable “swamp” of crises. Our only protection is to engage in pre-emptive Damage Control.

Of course The Constitution is our ultimate safeguard and form of Damage Control. But as always, it’s people who enforce The Constitution. That’s why the women’s marches across America are only a beginning. There need to be mass protests every day. For instance, ordinary citizens who are in serious danger of losing health care need to make their faces and bodies known. They need to besiege the halls of Congress wearing signs, “Without Health Care, I am certain to die! Is that what you want to do to me?”

And yes, the Democratic Party must relearn how to reach out to a broader base with a more inclusive message. It must demonstrate sincerely that it not only cares about the harsh lives of those who voted for Trump, but that it can truly help them.

In short, we have to do everything in our power to Neutralize Trump.

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Blog, Politics, Psychology

The Parentized Child Presidency

Originally published 12/09/16 on Nation of Change

Those of us who didn’t vote for Trump–the cast-off, disadvantaged children–will have to monitor Trump very closely.

A central concept from Psychoanalysis, the Parentized Child, is key to understanding why Donald Trump was elected in the first place, and secondly, what must be done to preserve the nation from the damage he will surely wreck.

Parentized Children are children who early in life had to assume the role of a parent because their actual parents were not up to the task of acting as adults. Whether the parents suffered from debilitating mental illness, serious alcohol or drug addiction, or were generally incompetent, the basic roles between parents and children were fundamentally reversed. Because the parents weren’t dependable, the children had no alternative but to step in and keep things running as best they could. Thus, the children prepared meals, dressed younger kids for school, etc. But as a result, the children had no childhood. This not only produced major bouts of depression later in life, but lifelong anger.

Of course, I don’t know what Trump’s childhood was actually like, but it’s clear that we’ve put someone who is not fully developed—a highly disturbed child—into a role that calls for an extremely competent, healthy adult. I suspect that a major factor for this is the fact that Hillary was viewed as extremely flawed parent who couldn’t be trusted. Therefore, a seriously undeveloped child was viewed, at least by those who voted for him, as the only sensible alternative. In effect, were those who voted for Trump acting as Parentized Children in expressing their intense hatred of Hillary? Was “Lock Her Up!” really a barely disguised call to “Lock Up the Bad Parent?”

Here’s precisely where another fundamental role reversal is called for. Those of us who didn’t vote for Trump–the cast-off, disadvantaged children–will have to monitor Trump very closely because a child acting in the role that calls for a healthy, well-developed adult cannot be trusted for one nanosecond to head the biggest “family” in the world. In short, are we cast into the role of Parentized Children?

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Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

The Normalization of Outrageousness

Originally published February 18, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In response to the justifiably negative reactions to Donald Trump’s off-the-wall proposal to do far worse to terrorists than merely waterboarding them, Eric Trump defended his father as follows:

You see these terrorists that are flying planes into buildings, right? You see our cities getting shot up in California. You see Paris getting shot up. And then somebody complains when a terrorist gets waterboarded [sic], which quite frankly is no different than what happens on college campuses and frat houses every day. And, you know, the man would keep this country safe. There is no question about it.

The trivialization of torture by comparing it to what goes on in frat houses is not only contemptible, but completely outrageous. Unfortunately, it’s just one of the many kinds of dumb, outrageous arguments that are awash in today’s highly charged and polarized environment–assuming of course that the contention deserves to be dignified by calling it an “argument.”

While it’s true that dumb arguments are filled with an overabundance of lies, half-truths, disinformation, and misinformation, they are primarily distinguished by their outrageousness. They make claims that by any measure are palpably absurd. Through the sheer numbers that bombard us daily, they have become “normalized.” They are no longer a rare exception.

It’s time to get serious about combatting dumb arguments. If we do not, then dumbness will only not only continue to grow, but spiral out of control. The inevitable result is a society that is increasingly unable to consider intelligent policies to meet the serious issues that engulf us. We creep dangerously close to this ill end every day.

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Blog, Gun Control, Media + Politics, Politics

Black Lives Matter: A Dialectic

Originally published January 22nd, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In today’s highly charged, extremely volatile environment, it’s extremely risky to weigh in on anything having to do with race. And yet, because of the extreme importance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the national conversation on race and policing that it has rightfully inspired, I deliberately choose to do so.

I am struck by the divergence between two of the nation’s most thoughtful and notable black writers about BLM. Their views are not only important in and of themselves, but even more, they constitute opposite sides of a powerful and important dialectic.

John McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University, has written that while he is not against the BLM movement per se, he is just as concerned, if not more so, with black on black crime. Because so many more blacks are killed regularly by blacks, black on black crime hurts the black community even more than the killing of unarmed black kids by white cops. As Professor McWhorter puts it, Do Black Lives Matter Only When Taken by White Cops? Does a black mother mourn the loss of a child any less when it’s taken by someone who is black than by a white cop? Do arcane matters of political philosophy–i.e., the underlying philosophical tenets of the BLM movement–really matter to someone who has just lost a child to street violence? For Professor McWhorter, this last point is so overwhelming that it essentially ends the discussion. This is not meant in any way to say that he either belittles or ignores the racism that is a prominent feature of many police departments and the harsh racist attitudes towards blacks that are held by far too many police, black as well as white.

On the other side of the dialectic is Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent forThe Atlantic Monthly. In his own words: “…’Black-on-black crime’ is jargon, violence to language, which vanishes the men who engineered the [racial] covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the [housing] projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel. And this should not surprise us. The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

For Mr. Coates, shifting the conversation away from the killing of blacks by white cops, especially unarmed black kids, is not only just another instance of whites taking over and controlling the discourse, but once again, of whites basically showing that they are able to do anything they want with the bodies of blacks with no recourse to justice. In short, the brutalization of blacks is written into the basic DNA of whites. For this reason, from its very founding, it’s really no surprise that the brutalization of blacks was also written into the country’s DNA as well. Is it not the case that Blacks have been subjugated longer than they have been free? Is it really any wonder that brutalization and subjugation persist to this day?

In Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, Professor McWhorter sees blacks hampered by three outmoded and self-defeating beliefs: Victimology, Separatism, and Anti-intellectualism. Yes, racism still exists, but it’s time for blacks to give up playing the perpetual victim card. There is no longer the kind of overwhelming and debilitating racism that blacks faced in the past. It’s also time for blacks to stop separating themselves from all things white. And finally, if they really want to get ahead in the modern world, the time is way overdue for blacks to embrace education. It’s the only way that blacks and whites can get ahead in today’s high-tech world.

In sharp contrast, for Mr. Coates, racism shows no signs whatsoever of letting up, especially since it’s hard wired into the DNA of whites. Since blacks cannot stop whites from practicing brutalization and subjugation, whites must ultimately stop themselves, if they ever really can.

I confess that of the two, Professor McWhorter is far easier to read. It’s not just that he excoriates blacks for what he sees them doing that is basically not in their best self-interest, but that it’s unbearably difficult to take the intense anger that boils off of every page of Mr. Coates’ book, Between The World And Me. Even though whites need to be made keenly aware of the unbearable trauma that black people have suffered repeatedly at the hands of whites, Mr. Coates’ anger towards whites is seemingly without bounds. To this reader, the same prime message comes through repeatedly, namely that whites are irredeemably evil.

Time and again, Mr. Coates pounds home the point that for most of our history, whites could do whatever they wanted with black bodies with little, if any payback. Further, the police are society’s most visible and potent symbol of the virtually absolute power of whites over blacks. Even though I don’t like to admit it, his intense anger made it all-too-easy for me, at least at first, to turn away from his very important message. It’s far easier for whites to accept Professor McWhorter, and by doing so, let themselves off the hook. However, in the course of putting together this dialectic, I came to appreciate Mr. Coates’s message all the more.

The best dialectic is one where a person is gripped by two equally powerful and opposing arguments, stories if you will. As a result, it’s never a simple choice of one versus the other. In this case, I believe that both messages contain important “truths” that I feel deeply.

It’s important to emphasize the basic points of the dialectic at which the stories disagree. In one, whites are the wrongful, if not inherently evil, party. In this story, blacks have been perpetually wronged. In the other, blacks have done wrong to themselves. In one, whites have to change, if they ever really can; in the other, blacks need to change. In both stories, philosophical tenets or beliefs system are important, but they are obviously not the same, and thus, their roles are not the same as well. In short, they differ over fundamental matters of good and evil, who the righteous versus the wronged parties are, who needs to change, etc.

If there is a point of agreement between them, and hence, a possible synthesis, however small it may be, it is this: Blacks and whites have profound changes that only they can make in themselves before they can live together in peace and harmony, let alone separately without each other. While this is undoubtedly true, none of us can change entirely on our own accord. We need others, especially those that don’t have the same take on things, who as a result push us further than we can go on our own. In brief, I believe that the need for others and the desire for change is also wired deeply into our DNA.

If the multiple killings of young black kids and unarmed black men is not a clear wake-up call that police departments everywhere are in need of fundamental reforms with regard to how cops use force, then nothing is. At the same time, having worked with cops over the course of my career, I know that every time they go out on a call, they live in abject fear of their lives, even though they often have trouble admitting it. Cops live in constant fear because in a society with over 300 million guns, one has to approach every situation as if everyone is armed with a deadly, high-powered automatic that can easily penetrate the best life-protecting vests. For this reason, if I had to assign blame, then I would put the lion’s share squarely on the NRA for contributing to and stoking the climate of fear such that far too many of our fellow citizens feel that they cannot trust the government to protect them.

In the end, I wish fervently that a direct action movement to curtail guns could take shape that was as full of as much passion as BLM. Indeed, I wish that BLM would expand its agenda to take on the role of guns in our society. That’s a movement I’d like to join.

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Blog, Politics, Psychology

On The Psychopathology of Arguments

Originally published November 16, 2015 on the Huffington Post

One of the prime lessons of psychoanalytic thinking is that there are extremely strong and persistent parallels between people’s inner and outer worlds or lives. The particular issues with which a person is struggling in the “external world” (e.g., loss of a job or spouse), and especially the distinct ways in which he or she is attempting to deal with them (drinking, taking drugs versus reaching out and getting help), are strongly related to the primary issues with which one is struggling in one’s “internal world” (chronic low self-esteem, difficulties in forming close relationships, controlling anger). In short, the inner and the outer are not just bare reflections of one another. They interact so strongly that they are important determinants of one another.

Although there is little doubt that PTSD is often the direct effect horrific disasters, this does not mean that the inner necessarily causes the outer, or vice versa. Rather, the inner influences strongly how one deals with the outer. In certain cases, one’s inner states of mind directly affect what happens in the outer world such as causing or being involved in serious accidents.

Because so much is riding on the outcome, the arguments of the Presidential candidates are important to analyze from a psychoanalytic perspective. Most people naturally accept that arguments are anything but “purely objective, true or false statements about the state of the world.” Instead, arguments are in fact one of the best windows into the minds of their proponents and followers. If as Freud said that dreams are “the royal road into the unconscious,” then arguments are “the royal road into the anxieties, fears, and threats” of their advocates.

While many of the candidates’ arguments pander directly to the tremendous anxieties, fears, and threats of their respective bases, at the same time, they also reflect the tremendous anxieties, fears, and threats of the candidates themselves. While the candidates are the public persona of the deep-seated anxieties, etc. of their constituencies, the candidates do more than merely articulate such fears. They amplify as much as they give voice to them. For this reason alone, it behooves us to examine some of the major pronouncements of two of the front running Republican candidates.

Consider one of Trump’s major “outbursts”–I cannot dignify it by calling it a “argument”–namely that he wants to build a wall thousands of miles along, which he will of course force Mexico to pay, that will keep “all criminals and undesirables out!” Why it’s in Mexico’s self interest to pay for such a wall is beside the point. Indeed, it’s obviously intended to punish them for allowing so many criminals to “infect us.” Oh I get it: if they don’t go along, then we’ll cut off trade with them, as though that would hurt them more than us!

In short, one needs to build a wall so strong, so long, and so high that it will keep all underlying anxieties, fears, and threats regarding “them” at bay. Without such a fortress for protection, one cannot contain and thus manage one’s deepest fears. Forget about the near financial and physical impossibility of building and maintaining such a monstrosity and focus on the fact that fortresses appeal to the most fragile and primitive recesses of our minds. Forget as well that it’s virtually impossible to keep out those who are literally willing to die in undertaking long and perilous journeys in the hope of better lives. No forget all of this and focus instead that fortresses offer the illusion of complete and perfect protection–they thus revert back to childhood feelings of omnipotence–from a exceedingly dangerous and hostile world. The fact that so many share such fears and will do almost anything to get rid of them is cause for great alarm.

Take another of Trump’s repeated assertions, namely that he will “be so good at anything he does that you won’t believe it.” For all his outward blustering, bullying, and blatant narcissism, one can only imagine the terror a person suffers from if deep down he or she feels that that one is really not “up to the job,” especially the most important one in the world which of course is particularly appealing to a supreme narcissist. No wonder one continually has to shore up one’s low self-esteem by means of the most pathetic outbursts. It’s not that narcissists are too much in love with themselves, but rather, it’s exactly the opposite. They don’t love themselves enough.

What’s truly frightening is that in times of great danger people are most at risk of buying into the ramblings of those who promise that they and they alone can protect us.

There is no question that outwardly Dr. Ben Carson is immensely likeable. Unlike Trump, he is neither brash nor harsh. But this is precisely why I find him the scarier of the two. Once one considers some of his assertions, another much more problematic side emerges. It’s akin to Fascism with a friendly face.

Dr. Carson takes great pride in the fact that he is not schooled in the basics, let alone nuances, of domestic or international politics. If we wouldn’t for one moment dare to let someone operate on our brains who didn’t have years of advanced medical training, why would we then let someone apply for arguably the most important job in the world who prides himself in not knowing much, let alone in caring, about the intricacies of government? What indeed are his qualifications for “operating on the body politic?”

No less troubling is Dr. Carson’s repeated assertion that gun control prevented the Jews from standing up to the Nazis. Really, what good are all the guns in the world against planes and tanks? Further, he lied outright when he said that he was not deeply involved in the promotion of a harmful dietary product. For another, even after bitter pushback by both black and white women, he still refuses steadfastly to withdraw his comparison of abortion to slavery. And, his latest assertion that the Chinese are in Syria is just bizarre.

What’s especially disturbing is that outright distortions and lies have no bearing whatsoever on those who are drawn to Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson. The more distortions and lies, the more their followers like them. For instance, the fact that Trump’s campaign is not completely self-financed has not caused him in the slightest to retract his repeated assertion that it is. Nor do his supporters seem to care.

Virtually all of the Republican candidates and their followers have chosen, unconsciously of course, to live in a world of utter fantasy. Another of the prime characteristics of living in times of great stress is that underlying fears and anxieties that have not been dealt with adequately before rise to the surface and take over people’s reasoning and good sense. Thus, enormous anxieties and fears having to do with: (a) unresolved racial and ethnic differences, (b) the fact that older white men in particular are no longer in complete control of the U.S. and the world, (c) a world that is so complex that no one can fully explain, let alone control it, (d) the ever-present danger of terrorism, and (f) the seemingly loss of power and influence of the U.S. in world affairs–all of these and more are sufficient to drive sizeable numbers of people into the most bizarre fantasies. Gaining control by whatever means of an uncertain, dangerous, and precarious world becomes paramount. And understandably, the anger is immense towards those that they feel have betrayed them through the abuse of power.

For these reasons, I cannot emphasize enough that when people are strained to their limit, they revert to the most primitive, earliest stages of human development. That is to be expected. Nonetheless, the extent to which the Republican candidates and voters have regressed to primitive thinking is absolutely scary. It’s nothing less than mind-boggling.

One does not overcome basic anxieties and fears by facts and logic alone. If anything, cold facts and logic only drive people deeper into fantasies. One requires calm, soothing voices that can address deep underlying anxieties, fears, and fantasies not by naming them directly, but by telling stories that provide reassurance. But this requires candidates that are strong enough to face reality in the first place, and then to fashion stories that make unpleasant truths palatable. True leadership is telling people what they can’t bear to hear. Sadly, I see no evidence of this whatsoever in the current crop of Republican candidates.

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Blog, Politics

Confronting Loss: FDR Versus Dr. Eziekiel J. Emanuel

Originally posted October 22, 2014 on the Huffington Post

About the time my wife and I finished watching Ken Burns’ incredible 14-hour seriesThe Roosevelts: An Intimate History, the October 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine arrived. It contained a feature article by Dr. Eziekiel J. Emanuel, a prominent oncologist, and of course, brother of Rahm Emanuel, the current Mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff during President Obama’s first term.

To put it mildly, both the title of the article (“Why I Hope To Die At 75” ) and the article itself were eye-catching. They were certainly highly controversial and thought provoking.

In no uncertain terms, Dr. Emanuel made the case why both he and society would be better off if he died at age 75. In brief, by the age of 75, he will have lived a full and rewarding life; he will have made all the professional contributions he is likely to make; and, most significant of all, his mental and physical functions will have begun to deteriorate noticeably, if they have not diminished seriously already. Supposedly, the clincher argument, for which there was the only supporting graph in the article, was that as most people age, their productivity declines rapidly.

In arguing his case, Dr. Emanuel was quick to make the point that he has always firmly opposed euthanasia, and further, that in contemplating his demise, he was neither depressed nor maudlin. If anything, he was too matter of fact and “logical.”

The Roosevelts made a dramatically different case. Early on, virtually all of the Roosevelts experienced great disappointments — in many cases, out-and out betrayal. Throughout their lives, they suffered from extremely serious and debilitating emotional and physical illnesses. And yet, time and time again, they were not only able to overcome their various afflictions and disabilities, but were better because of them.

Yes, they eventually succumbed to old age and died. But the key point is that unlike Dr. Emanuel, early on they were able to confront and overcome their losses, not be dragged down by them. In other words, they didn’t shrink from the all-too-real actuality of loss, whether it be emotional and/or physical. Indeed, it helped them to better understand and emphasize with the losses of those who were far less fortunate than them.

Although he acknowledges the role of spirit in his article, Dr. Emanuel doesn’t have an accompanying graph showing that spirit often, but not always, grows with age.

In sum, I cast my spirit with the Roosevelts.

And, oh yes, I am a highly engaged 76 year-old man, and extremely proud of it! But then according to Dr. Emanuel, I’m just an “outlier.” I’m among the small numbers of “senior citizens” who are still creative well into old age.

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Blog, Media + Politics, Politics, Religion + Spirituality

Dumb Arguments Are Alive and Well in America

Originally posted on The Huffington Post – March 5, 2014

From the dumb and silly to the outright paranoid and pathological, America is awash in Dumb Arguments (DAs). The constant swirl of dumb, deranged, and dangerous arguments are not only a measure of the low level to which public discourse has sunk, but they displace serious communication and analysis, thereby keeping us from addressing our most important problems.

Case in point. Rep. Michele Bachmann said recently that she is “sorry” that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a controversial bill in Arizona that, because of their religious beliefs, would have legally allowed businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. As Rep. Bachmann put it in her own indubitable words, “I believe that tolerance is a two-way street, and we need to respect everyone’s rights, including the rights of people who have sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Rep. Bachmann’s muddled thoughts are a perfect example of a DA. Apparently, Ms. Bachmann is totally unable to grasp the fundamental idea that religious tolerance does not entail a blanket endorsement of every wacky and evil idea that tumbles out of the mouths of religious adherents no matter how “sincerely” those ideas are held. Religiosity does not confer the right to endorse bigotry in any way, shape, or form. Everyone needs to be held accountable for actions and statements that restrict the basic dignity and humanity of others. Isn’t this the true basis of respect and tolerance?

Consider another: Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee produced immediate, strong howls of protest when he said recently:

“And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them t”o be [sic]. And women across America have to stand up and say, ‘Enough of that nonsense.’ [sic] “

Huckabee remarks were not only dumb, but they were one of the classic forms of a DA.

First of all, Democrats never said that women couldn’t control their libidos and that they therefore needed the government to step in and help them. So this part of the “argument” — if it can be called that — was plainly false. Democrats merely wanted to help women have access to birth control so that it was available if they wanted it. Democrats were acting in support of women, not as their dire enemies or opponents. Republicans on the other hand have repeatedly opposed any form of birth control assistance. Even worse, their proposals to inspect and control women’s bodies have been downright draconian.

Second, the argument was dumb because it insulted women under the guise of helping them. As Huckabee put it: “The fact is, the Republicans don’t have a war on women. They have a war for women…” In other words, women needed men to wage war for them. This was the second way in which women were offended.

Third, Huckabee’s remarks were dumb because they completely reversed the roles between good and bad guys. According to Huckabee, Republicans are really the “good guys” while Democrats are clearly the “bad guys.” This followed because Republicans basically trust women to manage their own bodies and sexual urges whereas Democrats do not. Huckabee’s remarks would be utterly laughable if they weren’t so transparently dumb.

None of this is meant to establish that DAs are exclusively in the hands of the right. Nothing could be further from the truth.

On Sunday, December 29, 2013, Melissa Perry-Harris, host of her show on MSNBC, stepped into a DA of her making. At one point, a panel of comedians were putting humorous captions to notable pictures of 2013. One picture in particular showed the Romney clan with an adopted grandson who was black. Off camera, in a singsong fashion, comedian Pia Glenn began mouthing, “One of these things is not like the others!” The intent was not just to call attention to the obvious fact that except for the adopted grandson, the entire Romney clan was white. The real intent was to mock the Republican Party for its underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics.

The very next day Melissa Perry-Harris apologized profusely and tearfully on camera for the inappropriateness of the segment. Nonetheless, the damage was clearly done. The segment couldn’t be taken back anymore than Mike Huckabee’s words could be retracted.

An unstated premise of the bit, and therefore part of the underlying but unspoken DA, was that comedians have a “license” to do and say things that the rest of us can’t. After all, “It’s all in good fun; what’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?” This too is one of the classic forms of a DA: making fun of someone or something that isn’t funny.

This is not to say that ridicule is never warranted, but that one should proceed with caution, especially if one is mocking young children, the disabled, the elderly, pets, etc. The moral is that no political party, group, ideology, etc. has a monopoly on DAs and dumb actions. DAs are perfectly democratic. They are freely available to all.

I have no illusions whatsoever that we will ever be free of DAs. We must not only be forever vigilant, but do everything in our power to point them out — yea, ridicule them — as forcefully as we can. In the constant battle against DAs, that’s our only defense.

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Blog, Politics

If “Stop and Frisk” Is Indefensible and Repugnant, Is Behavior Profiling as Well?

Originally published on The Huffington Post, August 20, 2013

Over the weekend, a disagreement of sorts took place between (1) New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and (2) Ben Jealous, Head of the NAACP, and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother. It continued Monday morning on MSNBC where Mr. Jealous accused the policy of Stop and Frisk of essentially allowing the racial profiling whole communities and further encouraging self-appointed vigilantes such as George Zimmerman.

Since I generally side with the NAACP, I was uncomfortable with the argument. In this particular case, I disagreed with Mr. Jealous and Ms. Fulton. I basically don’t see the killing of Trayvon Martin, the law Stand Your Ground, and the policy Stop and Frisk as equivalent. Since distinctions, and especially the arguments on which they are based, matter, it is important to challenge them when they are wrong.

From the very beginning, I have not only strongly condemned, but I continue to condemn Stand Your Ground and especially the State of Florida for allowing such a law to be enacted in the first place, and most of all, for allowing the killer of Trayvon Martin to go free. I made these points at a national convention I attended in Florida about a week ago. If I had been in charge, I would have cancelled the convention, or since that wasn’t possible, I would have had the leadership of the society whose convention I attended speak out loudly against the laws and policies of the State of Florida. I no longer want to set foot in states that permit citizens to carry concealed weapons and that have laws like Stand Your Ground.

But I feel differently about Stop and Frisk. If one believes Commissioner Kelly’s account that Stop and Frisk is not essentially about racial profiling, but a mechanism to allow police to stop people who, for example, are committing suspicious acts such as repeatedly trying to open the doors of parked cars, then I don’t see anything wrong with it as a policy for fighting crime in neighborhoods with high crime rates. If Stop and Frisk is used indiscriminately, as it has been in the past, to stop people for “being black,” then of course I condemn it in no uncertain terms.
Because Stand Your Ground is totally reprehensible, we cannot jump to the unwarranted conclusion that all measures designed to combat crime are equally bad.

If racial profiling is absolutely repugnant, which it is, is behavior profiling as well? I don’t think so.

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