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.

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.

Blog, Philosophy + Systems, Politics, Religion + Spirituality, Serialized Blog

Arguments With Ourselves: Wrestling with the Key Issues of Our Times

Published as a series of blogs on Nation of Change

A Native American boy asked his grandfather, “What do you think about the world today?”

The grandfather replied, “I feel like two wolves are fighting–one with hate and fear, the other with love and acceptance.”

“But grandfather,” asked the boy, “which one will win?”

The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 5, 2013


Arguments big and small envelop us every waking moment of our lives.

From the time we wake in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we are literally bombarded with hundreds of arguments. The vast majority of arguments are of course mundane and thus of little concern or consequence: what to have for breakfast, what to wear around the house, etc. (Give the fact that we are struggling with a nation-wide epidemic of obesity and health related problems, many issues that were once considered ordinary such as what to have for breakfast are no longer mundane.) Nonetheless, increasingly, many are about matters of extreme importance, for instance, whether to go to war, whether gays should be allowed to marry, etc.

It is thus no exaggeration to say—argue—that arguments big and small make the world go around. For this reason alone, this book examines critical arguments with regard to some of the most important issues of our time.

Many fine, intelligently written books already exist that give the important issues of our day the in-depth treatment they so richly deserve. The present book could not in fact have been written without them. But literally none exist that show how the dominant issues of our times not only impact one another, but in a deeper sense are strongly connected. This fact alone accounts for why the definition of our key problems, let alone their solution, is so difficult. In short, our critical problems can neither be defined properly, let alone managed, independently and in isolation of one another.

Hard Hitting

Arguments With Ourselves is an incisive, hard-hitting examination of some of the most important issues and problems we face as a nation; for example: the persistent battles, if not out-and-out wars, between Science and Religion, more specifically between Creationism and Evolution; the frequent and bitter skirmishes between those who defend a traditional conception of marriage and those who are in favor of allowing gays to marry; those who are strongly in favor of greater gun controls and those who strongly oppose them; those who believe in the power of the “free market” and those who believe in strong governmental regulations, more generally, between those who assert the primacy of business versus those who believe fervently in the greater role of government; and of course, the current prolonged and acrimonious discord, if not the deep hostilities, between Democrats and Republicans.

A Life-Long Friend and Colleague

The story of how the author first met Vince Barabba, a life-long friend and colleague, is an integral part of this book.

Some thirty years, Barabba was the Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census and Mitroff was a Professor of Business Administration and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The late Russell Ackoff (systems planner and thinker extraordinaire), who was a member of the American Statistical Association’s Advisory Committee for the Census Bureau, brought them together.

Ackoff had previously issued a challenge to the Bureau to think and behave differently. He asked the Bureau to “design an Ideal (not utopian) Bureau for the year 2000.” In a word, Ackoff asked the Bureau to go through the serious planning exercise of envisioning what an Ideal Census Bureau—that is, a Bureau that was freed from the onerous constraints of the present–would look like and how it would function. Furthermore, since Ackoff pioneered the concept of Idealized Planning, he insisted that one of the essential properties of any idealized design was that it had to be capable of being implemented. Ackoff thus challenged the Bureau to produce a strategy for actually implementing whatever ideal design it produced.

As a member of a major Advisory Committee to the Bureau, Ackoff felt that it was not proper for him to lead the challenge he had issued. He therefore suggested Mitroff instead.

Although all of Mitroff’s formal degrees are in Engineering (B.S, M.S., and PhD), for his minor field for the PhD, Mitroff studied the Philosophy of Social Systems Science with Ackoff’s mentor, life-long friend, and colleague, C. West Churchman at UC Berkeley. (Ackoff was Churchman’s first Ph.D. student in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.). Indeed, his “minor field” quickly became his “undeclared major.” Mitroff was thus well suited to act as a consultant to the Bureau in order to meet Ackoff’s challenge

Many of the tools that Mitroff and Barabba developed for complex problems had their origin in response to the design of an Idealized Census Bureau.[i] However, they were particularly the result of follow-on projects such as the design, management, and policy implications of the1980 and 1990 censuses. They were also refined in additional projects at Kodak, Xerox, and General Motors, where Barabba was in senior management. Mitroff also developed the tools further in his over 30 years of work in Crisis Management.

The Toulmin Argumentation Framework

One tool in particular is the heart of this book: The Toulmin Argumentation Framework or TAF for short.

In the early 1960’s, Mitroff and Barabba made a special trip to the University of Chicago to meet the late, distinguished historian and philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin. At the time, Toulmin was a member of the University of Chicago’s prestigious Committee on Social Thought.

Toulmin had developed an ingenious framework for capturing the intricacies of complex arguments. We travelled to Chicago because we were interested in applying TAF to complex business situations in which the wrong arguments could literally spell the life or death for a new business venture, key product, etc. Needless to say, we were able to apply TAF in a wide variety of complex and important business and governmental cases. Nonetheless, to our continuing disappointment, TAF has still not been adopted as widely as we believe that it should.

One of the most distinguishing marks of this book is the use TAF to analyse important arguments with regard to significant issues. This not only allows one to capture more succinctly the essential points of the various arguments that pertain to key issues, but ultimately, it allows one to see how the arguments are connected.

Breaking the Tyranny of “Either/Or Thinking”

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 9, 2013

While I certainly do not believe that all situations have two equally compelling positions that are worthy of equal consideration, I do believe that there is always more than one position on every important issue that needs to be considered. Indeed, many demand it. In this sense, I am for breaking the tyranny of so much of the “either/or thinking” that exercises a stranglehold on our nation’s mind. If anything, I am outraged at many of the positions of both parties. To take just one example, far too many Republicans and Democrats caved in to the gun lobby in voting to disallow greater background checks before anyone would be permitted to purchase a gun. I am particularly incensed at recent Republican efforts to pass onerous voting requirements that effectively potentially block higher percentages of Blacks and other minorities from voting. Many life-long Republicans are just as outraged.

This does not mean that on every key issue, all positions are of equal value and therefore deserve equal consideration. It also doesn’t mean that on some issues, there isn’t a single, dominant position that trumps all of the others. For instance, I don’t believe for one moment that there are cases of “legitimate rape.” To think otherwise is to pile additional insult onto injury. Indeed, it is nothing less than additional injury. If anything, the phrase “legitimate rape” is obscene, if not out and out evil. Its obscenity should be enough to stop all discussion dead in its tracks.

Concluding Remarks

As much as anytime in our history, we need to move from the tyranny of “either/or” to the thoughtfulness of “both/and.”

Nonetheless, as the reader will quickly see, on most issues , I am generally left of centre. Thus, I am a harsh, unrelenting critic of the gun lobby. I am also extremely critical of those who are opposed to gay marriage. And, I am extremely critical as well of the proponents of Creationism, more generally towards those who take a hard, unrelenting stand against Science. However, when it comes to general role of Science and Religion, I am critical of both with regard to their persistent inability to reach a reasoned accommodation with one another. I am also equally critical of both Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

Although I am generally left of centre, I hope that my rendering of the arguments on key issues will help those that don’t agree with me to sharpen their own arguments. I am thus not asking the reader to necessarily agree with me, but in the best sense to enter into a better argument.

Finally, I need to make absolutely clear that this is not a book on the “logic of argumentation.” It is certainly not about “logical fallacies.” Instead, it about the reasoning that underlies some of the major issues of our times, if not all times.

Arguments big and small do indeed make go around. They always have and they always will.

Chapter One: TAF–The Toulmin Argumentation Framework

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 11, 2013

In 1958, the distinguished historian and philosopher of science, Stephen Toulmin, published a remarkable little book, The Uses of Argument.[ii] In it, he laid out the general structure of all arguments. It quickly became an academic bestseller. It was adopted widely in courses on Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. Strangely enough, it was not widely adopted in Philosophy. Such is the fate of all innovators. They are not necessarily prophets in their own lands.

Although Barabba and I first applied The Toulmin Argumentation Framework (TAF) to the analyses of complex business and governmental problems over 30 years ago, to the best of our knowledge, it has still not been widely adopted in schools of business and government, not to mention practice. Few outside of Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. even seem aware of it.

TAF, which is shown in Figure 1.1, is deceptively simple. It posits that all arguments (including this one!) consist of a Claim (C), a set of Evidence (E), a Warrant (W), Backing (B), and Rebuttal (R). Since none of the parts of an argument are independent of one another, taken together, they constitute a highly interdependent system. Given that arguments are one of the most prominent components of problems, examining the structure of arguments eventually provides us with deeper insight into the nature of problems and ultimately into complex systems.

Figure 1.1

All arguments, logical or otherwise, terminate in a Claim or a set of Claims. The Claim is the end result or conclusion of an argument. For instance, two very important and currently opposing Claims are: “The huge federal deficits are completely out of control and leading us straight to ruin. Therefore, government programs, and thereby spending, must be sharply curtailed. In short, we must practice austerity.” In contrast, an opposing Claim is: “Yes, the deficits are bad, certainly in the long run, but putting people back to work now is more important than saving money. We need to spend our way out of a terrible recession whose effects we are still suffering. In addition, the Evidence is in from those European countries that have practiced austerity as a fiscal policy. It has failed miserably. It has made their economies even worse off.”

At this time, the point is not to take sides with either one of these arguments over the size of the Federal deficits and what to do about them. Instead, I merely want to illustrate the nature of two highly important and opposing Claims, especially their role in the context of the broader TAF.

All arguments make use of some kind of Evidence E to support their Claim(s). Typically, E is whatever facts or data one has at hand. For instance, those who see the deficits leading us to economic ruin cite the sheer size of the current deficits in the trillions of dollars and the fact that they are growing steadily and the very high amount that is being paid in interest. Thus, the “number of dollars” and the “fact” that “it has been growing steadily” are the Evidence for this position. On the other hand, those who view the deficits differently also acknowledge the size of the deficit, but they see it as a “manageable problem in the future,” citing instances where we have recovered from deficits in the past. Thus, both sides start with very different sets of “facts.” One side starts with the “sheer size of the current deficits;” the other with “past instances where we have recovered from deficits.” The other side also wants to attack the deficits but to pay them down when the economy has recovered, i.e., pay them off in “boom, not hard, times.”

In general, both sides of an argument start with different Evidence because they are working backwards from different Claims. A Claim can thus either be the beginning and/or end of an argument. Once one has a preferred Claim, one searches for Evidence to support it. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, one is generally working backwards from a preferred Claim or set of Claims.

The upshot is that instead of facts or more generally Evidence always leading unequivocally to or driving conclusions, more often than not, it is the other way around. One starts with a favored, pet conclusion, or typically a set of conclusions, and then works backwards to make it appear that one derived it by first starting with “Impartial Evidence,” etc.

The Warrant is the set of reasons why the Claim follows from the Evidence. A good way to think of it is that Warrant is a “conceptual or intellectual bridge” that allows one to go from a limited set of evidence E, to a general conclusion, C. (See Figure 1.1) To put it another way, the Warrant is the “because” part of an argument. For instance, a typical Warrant is: “Whenever E has resulted in the past, C has occurred because E is not only an indicator of C, but a prime factor in its occurrence or causation; since E has occurred this time as well, we are Warranted in concluding C once again.” In this particular example, the Warrant functions as a “continuity preserver.” Supposedly, whenever a particular set of facts or certain events E, etc. have occurred “n” times, then we are Warranted in concluding that they will occur “n+1” times. Furthermore, according to this line of thinking (argument), the larger n is, the more we are entitled to conclude that n+1 will result. Thus, if E has occurred 1000 times, then we feel confident that it will occur the 1001th time.

More often than not, the Warrant is the Claim of a prior argument, and so on ad infinitum. The same is true of the Evidence and all of the parts of an argument. In addition, arguments are key parts of problems. Arguments are parts of problems—indeed, some of their most important parts—because arguments are used to define what is a problem in the first place and how they ought to be handled in the second place.

Most of the time, Warrants are implied rather than stated explicitly. In fact, a great deal of the time they are unconscious. That is, the person is not fully aware of them. In general, they are reflective of a person’s entire personal history. In the case of society, they reflect its general history and current conditions.

Those who believe that the deficits are leading us straight to decline have some form of the following as a Warrant: “Whenever the deficits of a country are of a certain size, then economic decline/ruin is the inevitable and inescapable outcome.” Alternately, “Unless we curb our deficits, then we will go the way of Greece, Spain, etc.”  In other words, “Unless we rein in our out-of-control spending habits, then what is true of Greece, etc. is a forerunner of what lies in store for us.”

Those on the other side reason: “Proportional to the size of our current national GDP, the deficits are not significantly worse than they have been historically. Therefore, it does not follow automatically that economic decline/ruin is the inevitable and inescapable outcome.”

Every argument also has a Backing B. B is the deeper set of underlying assumptions, basic reasons, or values as to why a particular Warrant holds. If the Warrant is not accepted at its face value—which is often the case–then the Backing is necessary in order to support it. For instance, those who oppose increasing the deficits generally believe, “One cannot trust Democrats in general with the economy.” In sharp contrast, those who are more concerned about the well-being of all citizens believe, “All the Republicans want to do is to reduce the taxes of the wealthy who support them.” Like Warrants, Backings are more often than not implicit and even unconscious.

In general, the Backing is the larger set of general philosophical assumptions a person has about what is right (Ethics), human nature, the world (reality itself). Since Backings are generally taken for granted, they are mostly implicit and unconscious.

Another way to think of it is as follows. If the Warrant W is the “conceptual bridge” that allows us to go from the Evidence E to the Claim C, then the Backing B is the “foundation” on which the bridge rests.

Finally, every argument has a Rebuttal R. In principle, R challenges each and every part of an argument. In terms of the metaphor of arguments as a “bridge” between Evidence and Claims, R attacks E, W, and C as strongly as it can. R thus tries to “tear down the entire bridge and its foundation.”

An Example: Four Views of Change

To get a better understanding of TAF, let’s look an important issue: whether an organization or society needs to change, and if so, how much change does it need?

Table 1.1 below shows four positions regarding change and the accompanying Toulmin arguments that are needed to support each of the positions, i.e., Claims.

Table 1.1: How Much Change Does An Organization Need, If Any?

Degree of Change Claim Evidence Warrant Backing Rebuttal
Status Quo No Change Is Necessary Sales of Our Products Holding SteadyNo Serious Threats on the Horizon If Sales Hold Steady, Then There Is No Need for Change We’ve OperatedThis Way Successfully for 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader Serious CompetitionHas Appeared in the Past Year
Moderate Only Moderate Change in Our OperationsIs Necessary Our Products and Operations Are Strong If Sales Hold Steady, Then There Is No Need for Substantial Change We’ve OperatedThis Way Successfully For 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader Serious CompetitionHas Appeared in the Past Year
Major If We Are to Survive, We Must Make Major Changes Our Sales Have Been Dipping Steadily It Is Not Clear That Our Products Will Survive without Major Changes It Is Irrelevant That For 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader This Is Not the Time to Panic
Radical We Need to Become a New Company with Entirely New Products and Services The Market for Our Products and Services Has Tanked We Will Be Out of Business in 6 Months If We Don’t Change Fast We Are No Longer the Leader in Our Industry Don’t Panic Things Will Return to Normal

The positions above are so general that my colleagues and I have used them in conducting numerous workshops with organizations of all kinds, i.e., not just with for-profit organizations. Instead of already presenting them with the table above, we’ve asked them to construct the strongest arguments they can pro and con in order to help them explore what kinds and degrees of change, if any, that are right for their organization. The table reflects the kinds of arguments we’ve heard.

The workshops proceed as follows: Twenty or so top executives and managers are brought together. They are then assigned at random to defend a particular position with respect to change. People are assigned at random because often those who are opposed to a particular policy can make a stronger case for it than its natural allies. Assigning people at random also does not bias any of the positions.

Each group is asked to make the strongest arguments they can for their assigned position. After each group has made their presentation, a timed debate then takes place to see what the strongest arguments pro and con are for each of the positions.

After the debate has taken place, four new groups are the formed by drawing people at random from each of the initial groups. Each of the new groups is then asked to consider the four initial positions and respond to the question, “Now that you heard a debate between four very different positions, what is the best, possibly new, position that is good for your organization right now?”

Note carefully that the process does not leave to chance the exploration of four different approaches to change. Further, it intentionally does not leave out any of the stances along the continuum so that later there will be charges that an important position was neglected.

The process is of course heavily dependent upon the assumptions that are made about the organization, its products, structure, customers, etc. But then, in the course of examining the arguments that are needed to support  a position, the process helps to bring underlying assumptions up to the surface where they can be examined and debated explicitly, i.e., not left to chance.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 15, 2013

This chapter has introduced the major tool that underlies this book. In effect, the argument is that the situations facing individuals, organizations, and societies are so complex, dynamic, important, and thorny such that whether they know it or not, they need ways of examining the major arguments on which their key decisions depend.

To be clear, I am not saying that TAF needs to be applied to every decision or situation facing an organization or society. That would render it useless and irrelevant. I am also not saying that organizations and societies need to use TAF formally, i.e., lay out the Warrant, Evidence, etc. systematically. But make no mistake about it; I am saying that whether one acknowledges it or not, one is in effect using TAF all the time. Whenever one puts forth a Claim, one is making an argument. Indeed, TAF wouldn’t make any sense at all if it weren’t already in our minds so-to-speak.

Like everything else, the more one uses TAF, the faster and better one becomes at it. Indeed, my colleagues and I have found that it’s easier for people to zero in on the really critical parts of an argument the more one uses TAF.

TAF also gives a new and important meaning to the concept of the Learning Organization and Society. In my view, a Learning Organization/Society is one that systematically keeps track of its critical Toulmin arguments and reviews them periodically to see if the Evidence, Warrants, Backings, and Rebuttals have changed significantly such that the Claims are no longer supported, and hence, are in need of serious revision. In other words, a Learning Organization/Society records and thus has an official memory of its most critical decisions. Obviously, this will not work if the records are used in any way to blame people, which they are unfortunately a great deal of the time. Instead, their prime purpose is to help an organization/society learn from its successes and mistakes. But to do this requires that an organization/society is healthy emotionally. I would be the first to acknowledge that we are far from this ideal. Thus, one of the aims of the book is to help move closer to this ideal.

Of course, historians periodically review and assess the arguments of the past; special interest groups, social scientists, etc., review and assess the arguments of the past and present as well. But they do not necessarily do it formally in terms of TAF.

It should be noted that TAF resides in the entirety of an organization and/or society. For instance, in many organizations, Marketing and/or Finance control or are solely responsible for the Evidence with regard to important business decisions. The top executives control or are responsible for the Claims and Warrants. The Backing resides in the general culture. And, the Rebuttal often belongs to groups low in power. Thus, another requirement of the Learning Organization/Society is that all the parts of TAF be coordinated as an integrated system.

For example, when Barabba worked for Kodak, he conducted a TAF to help explore if and when Kodak needed to get into digital imaging and thus abandon its traditional photographic film business. Even though it had an early opportunity to enter into digital cameras, it proved impossible for Kodak to make the switch. In essence, what Kodak was not willing to do to itself, its competitors did. Its competitors were the Rebuttal.

In effect, Kodak Park, the 2000-acre facility with 50,000 employees that manufactured film and paper, was the real underlying Backing, or better yet, “drag” on the company’s thinking. After all, how could Kodak abandon its financial and emotional investments in Kodak Park? Today, the land has been repurposed as Eastman Business Park.

Arguments are seldom coldly rational and perfectly well organized. More often than not, the clash between Claims, Warrants, Backing, and Rebuttals is better described as a war than a debate. It is anything but a “disinterested inquiry.” But this fact in itself doesn’t obviate the need for better analyses of arguments. It only heightens their necessity. My use of TAF is intended to aid our examination of important arguments, not to imply that all arguments need to be structured strictly in terms of TAF.

Finally, we need to note that arguments do not exist by solely by themselves suspended in some kind of “disembodied space.” Arguments are parts of living, breathing, life stories. All arguments not only exist but function within the larger life-space of a person, organization, society, etc. While I do not necessarily examine these larger surrounding “spaces,” I am nevertheless acutely conscious that they are always there.[iii]

Examining key arguments is no longer a luxury. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

Chapter Two: Deadly Arguments–The Role of Guns

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 19, 2013

There are few issues in U.S. society that are as contentious as guns. This is in spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are for greater gun controls. For this reason alone, I need to make it as clear as possible that at the outset I am not for the complete abolition of guns. Hunters, sportsmen, and ordinary citizens have a legitimate right to own and to use certain restricted types of guns but only under special restricted conditions. For instance, the average citizen cannot own machine guns. Furthermore, I am strongly in favor of having guns stored safely in gun clubs, as they are in most other Western industrialized societies. Thus for myself, and apparently a majority of fellow citizens, gun owners have a great accompanying responsibility to use and to store guns safely. They also have in my view a serious responsibility to lead the fight for greater gun safety and gun control laws.

The preceding paragraph is the “both/and” part of my argument. The rest of this chapter is unequivocally and unapologetically in the “either/or camp.” There is no getting around the fact that I am in strong if not total opposition to the “gun lobby,” specifically the NRA. There are very few points on which we agree.

I believe in the Second Amendment, but I don’t believe for one moment that it’s absolute or that it was ever intended to be. For instance, I don’t believe that there are valid reasons for the possession of automatic assault weapons—weapons of war– in civilized societies. To the extent that any society allows such types of weapons, it is not in my view “civilized.”

I also need to make it clear that there is no way in a single chapter that one could–assuming that it was even desirable–to cover all of the weighty arguments pertaining to guns. I also acknowledge that readers will not necessarily agree with my choice of arguments, and certainly not my positions with respect to them. In other words, I don’t expect that readers will necessarily agree with my initial choice of arguments and my representation of them via TAF. But then my hope is that my use of TAF will help readers to form their own representation of and positions on the arguments.

Before examining the arguments, I also need to make it clear that I don’t pretend to be a disinterested, neutral observer. I am certainly not proceeding from a pro-gun, pro-Right position. This affects how I state the arguments in terms of TAF. Thus, I first state the Claims in terms of a pro-gun position. I then muster the Rebuttals to the Claims in terms of a left of center position. In fact, this generally true of how I proceed throughout the entire book.

Furthermore, I mainly provide only general references for both the Claims and the Rebuttals. I don’t provide detained references for every point. This is not because the references are not there. They are more in abundance. Rather, in order not to overly burden the reader, I have not provided detailed footnotes for every point in order to make the arguments as tight, short, and to the point as possible.

For this reason, I am the first to admit that in many cases, I commit the same errors of those I am excessively critical. That is, it appears that I merely to assert Claims in the guise of Rebuttals without Evidence. For this reason, I refer the interested reader to the general references for they are crucial in supporting my depictions of the arguments I take to task. They provide ample support for counter-Claims, counter-Evidence, etc.

“Guns Don’t Kill People”: The Granddaddy of All Gun Arguments

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 24, 2013

Figures 2.1 and 2.2 are Toulmin analyses of the most basic of all the arguments for the unrestricted ownership of guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Taken to their illogical conclusion, they justify the unlimited possession of any and all types of guns.



Many have noted[iv] that as far as it goes, the second part of the Claim, “People kill people,” is obviously if not trivially true. Of course people do in fact kill people. Nonetheless, the true function of the second part is to serve as a Warrant to support the first, “Guns don’t kill people.”

One of the sure signs of an invalid or disingenuous argument is that the Claim functions simultaneously as its own Evidence and Warrant. In other words, the argument is essentially pure assertion. We are supposed to accept the Claim because it’s its own proof or self-justification. True, other paltry Claims are offered as supposedly independent bits of Evidence and Warrant, but they are really thinly disguised versions of the primary Claim. Needless to say, over the centuries, philosophers have not been partial to such arguments. They have found the number of arguments that are self-justifying to be zero!

The essence of Figures 2.1 and 2.2 is contained in the Rebuttals. One of the very first things to note is that the number of items in the Rebuttals is far greater than the two main Claims. To be sure, this obviously reflects the fact that the author is not especially partial to guns. As a result, it also reflects the two main sources that I have used as references for the Rebuttals: the Brady Handgun Center, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Nonetheless, like all arguments, the strength of the overall argument pro and con lies with the comparative strength of the Claims, Evidence, and Warrants relative to the Rebuttals. For this reason, let us turn to an examination of the Rebuttals.

The first thing to note is that all of the Rebuttals are a combination of counter Evidence, Warrants, and Backings. That is, as with the main Claims, Evidence, Warrants, and Backings, the Rebuttals are a complex mixture of counter Evidence, Warrants, and Backings. As I stated in the previous chapter, rarely, if ever, do we find so-called pure arguments.

Once again I realize that a strong proponent of guns could muster the same criticisms that I use against them against me. For instance, they could Claim that many of the Rebuttals are pure assertions. In doing so, gun proponents would be offering counter-Rebuttals to my Rebuttals. The difference is that the Rebuttals are not mine alone. They have been assembled from various references that go into the issues in great depth. I thus leave it to the reader to judge the relative merits of the arguments.

The first and most powerful argument against the uncontrolled proliferation and possession of guns is that compared to all other types of weapons, guns are much more lethal. This goes hand-in-hand with the second Rebuttal, “Guns kill people more effectively than any other types of weapons.” Since the NRA is so highly inclined to reduce complex issues to simple-minded bumper stickers-which I am pained to note are highly effective–a counter slogan is, “How many mass drive-by knifings have you ever heard of?”

The third Rebuttal is extremely important. Instead of guns conferring absolute protection and security, having a gun in one’s home ups substantially the chances of suicide. It also greatly ups the chances of intentional and unintentional homicides that are committed in the heat of passion by people who know one another intimately. It also ups the chances of accidental shootings especially by young children.

The fourth Rebuttal says that compared to all other means, suicide attempts through the use of guns are more likely to result in death. For example, taking pills is far much less likely to be “successful.”

Finally, no reasonable person would argue that “Cars don’t kill people; people kill people.” Indeed, the argument is patently absurd. Cars kill people even when one clearly doesn’t intend it. Why then should we accept the argument for guns? Why are they put in a special and protected category?

The fact that cars can be dangerous is one of the chief reasons why we require that before anyone can operate a vehicle on public lands, he or she needs to undergo successfully a course in driver training, pass a driver’s test, and get a license. One also has to be retested periodically.

The fact that cars are dangerous is also one of the prime reasons that the government has consistently pushed for greater safety devices that are built into cars. In many cases, it is far easier to modify cars than it is to modify people. Finally, the registration of cars and their owners has not lead to the confiscation of cars.

Technologies Are Not Morally Neutral

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 1, 2013

The argument in Figure 2.2 is just as insidious as the one in Figure 2.1. Nothing that humans do is ever ethically or morally neutral. All technologies are made with a primary purpose or set of purposes in mind. They are also made with a set of particular stakeholders in mind. For instance, Facebook may well have been used in responsible ways by Harvard undergraduates for whom the technology was first designed. (Even this is debatable.) But it has proved to be an unmitigated social disaster when it is used 24/7/365 for cyber bullying by young people who are not mature enough to use it responsibly.

The overriding fact is that guns are primarily manufactured, marketed, and purchased for use as weapons, not for target shooting or collectors’ items.[v] Cars are not.

Finally, I present Figure 2.3 with little comment since it is mostly self-explanatory.


In fact (E), gun laws are effective. To be sure, by definition criminals don’t obey laws, but that is not an effective argument (Claim) against having laws. We don’t abandon laws against murder because murderers don’t obey them.

Laws reflect the basic will and values of the majority to have and live in a civilized society. As such, they derive their basic existence and day-to-day support from the will of the people. In other words, while not perfect by any stretch, it is the law-abiding members of society that work to make laws work by basically believing in them. Yes, this means that law-abiding citizens have to give up previous “rights” in order to secure a more prosperous and safer society.

The Evidence shows clearly that those states with tough gun laws are more much effective than those states with weak laws in preventing guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people. Those states with weak laws are responsible for guns being imported into states with strong gun laws. This is the strongest argument for having national gun laws.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 10, 2013

Once again, there is no way that a single chapter could cover all of the arguments pertaining to guns. This has obviously not been my intent. Instead, the basic intent has been to show the power and the utility of TAF. At a minimum, it is a compact and convenient way of summarizing and organizing the main arguments for and against a particular issue. At its best, it gets to the root of important arguments.

For instance, the following TAF is a summary of many of the main themes of this chapter.


Lurking not far beneath the surface of all of the arguments for guns—and for most of the other issues we examine—are fear and varying degrees of paranoia. For this very reason, we need to examine in a later chapter if and how fear and paranoia can be addressed. Indeed, fear and paranoia are some of the most powerful bits of “social glue” that ties most, if not all, of the various arguments together.

In this regard, we would do well to reflect on the comments of one of the leaders of the NRA. He nailed the Backing:

“’You would get a far better understanding if you approached us [the NRA] as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.’ This is not a frivolous comparison. There is an unquestionably religious fervour about the beliefs of many pro-gun partisans. It is grounded in various articles of faith that form the catechism of the NRA: that law-abiding citizens are under constant risk from attack by predatory criminals, that the safety of every person and family depends on the ability of individuals to defend themselves with firearms, that the democratic institutions cannot be counted on to protect our liberties…In the NRA’s world, these are eternal truths. They are not themselves proper subjects for empirical testing and debate, but are rather a priori verities according to which the world is interpreted and understood. [Note that this helps to account for why the arguments of pro-gun advocates are largely pure assertions devoid of any independent Evidence, Warrants, and Backing.]

“To the true believer, the gun is an object of religious devotion…The hollowed place of the gun is reflected in the holy text of the gun rights movement: the Second Amendment…the gun is the ultimate means for a free people to secure and protect all other rights…”

In sum, I have no illusions whatsoever that this book with its use of TAF is for those who are “true believers,” whatever it is in which they believe so passionately. It is for those who by definition are not true believers. It is for those who want to better understand what drives the true believers of the world, not so they can argue better with them, but so they can argue better with themselves.

Chapter Three: Ugly Arguments—Savaging President Obama

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 19, 2013

By any standard, some of the worst “arguments” one could ever hope to find—if they even deserve to be dignified by the term “argument”–are those with regard to President Obama. The arguments are not just plain ugly, but in their unmitigated fear, disgust, and loathing of the President, they cross over the line from reasoned dissent to pathology. They are nothing short of venomous.

As Will Bunch makes abundantly clear in his book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, there are sizable numbers of Americans—primarily members of The Tea Party and fringe conspiracy groups—who are more than willing to impute the worst attributes and motives to the President, and as a result, thoroughly demonize him.[vi]

Figure 3.1 represents my summary of Bunch’s analysis of anti-Obama sentiments. As we saw in the last chapter, in terms of TAF, the arguments are for the most part pure assertions without any real Evidence to back them up. Indeed, as in the case of rabid gun proponents and their unbridled exaltation of the Second Amendment, Evidence is beside the point.


Most of the items in Figure 3.1 are self-explanatory, and thus require little comment. However, one in particular deserves discussion. This is the plaintive cry “I want my country back!” that Bunch heard time and again as he travelled across America, listening to and talking with various people, mainly those who were dispossessed. It represents the cry of those who are unable to accept that a Black man, however gifted, is not only qualified, but was legally elected to be President. It represents all those who have been left behind by the global economy and a world more complex than anything they have ever known. It is a world with which they have not been prepared to deal. In short, it is the painful cry of those who are unable to accept and adjust to deep, substantial change.[vii]

“I want my country back!” is the wish to have things turn back to what they were, and will be no more. It is the loss of normalcy, as it was known.

However, “I want my country back!” is more than just mournful cry of those unable to accept change. It is a cry of outrage, of pure hatred against a Black man, the Other, that is not like them. As such, it has clear racist overtones. But, it represents something that lies even deeper: pathology. To see this, we turn to the creative, original, path-breaking work of one of the earlier pioneers of psychoanalysis.

Before we do this, I need to make clear that there is a form of “I want my country back!” about which the author feels strongly. I mourn the loss of civility. I am aghast at practices such as “sextexting” that demean young women. I am aghast at the unlawful taking and distribution of pictures of young women who have been raped, leading in some cases to their suicide. In other words, not all forms of “I want my country back!” are signs of the fear of progress or racism. There are legitimate things that everyone would like to preserve.

Extreme Either/Or Thinking: The Work of Melanie Klein

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 27, 2013

The path-breaking work of the child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein on splitting is crucial in achieving a deeper understanding why conspiracy groups in particular are highly prone to dividing the world into “good” versus “bad guys and evil forces.” Indeed, as we saw in the last chapter, according to rabid gun proponents, supposedly there is a clear and sharp distinction between “good guys” and “bad guys.” In this simple-minded view of the world, one is either a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” but never both. Certainly, one cannot have aspects of both at the same time. In this view of the world, “good guys” can have all the guns they want without any dangers to society.

Reference to Klein is all but absent in popular, and even academic, books on contemporary politics.  This is unfortunate indeed because Klein is indispensable in understanding some of the most important aspects of complex issues. But then, this is a consequence of the fact that despite all the talk of interdisciplinary cooperation, different fields of human knowledge still do not talk to and learn from one another as much as they need to do.

Certainly a key factor inhibiting greater cooperation is the lack of understanding and acceptance that while psychoanalysis may have started with the analysis and understanding of discrete individuals, it is no longer confined to their study and treatment alone. One of the most important contributions psychoanalysis has to make is the analysis and understanding of group and societal behavior.

Klein is without a doubt one of the early giants of psychoanalysis. Her work with children is invaluable in shedding light on the human condition. It has been said that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. In other words, she pushed back even further an understanding of the roots of human behavior. She did this by means of play therapy, which she literally invented.

By definition, one cannot ask children directly, or even adults for that matter, what is going on deep within their unconscious. One has to resort to other means to get a window into the psyche. To do this, Klein gave children toys and various objects with which to play and observed what they said and did with respect to them. If they behaved aggressively by banging or shoving one object representing the child into another object representing the mother or father, or between the mother and father, then Klein was able to see and assess the emotional conflicts that were going on within the child and the family. It allowed a conversation to ensue between the child and Klein.

The phenomenon of splitting was one of Klein’s earliest and most important discoveries. Klein discovered that under the age of three or so, children generally split the image of the primary caretaker—typically the mother, or at least it was when Klein worked early in the 20th century—into a “good” and a “bad mother.” The “good mother” is the “good, comforting breast” that is always available on demand to meet the child’s every physical and emotional need. In contrast, the “bad mother” is the “bad, mean breast” that withholds comfort and nurturance and disciplines the child when necessary.

Under the age of three, the child is generally not mature enough to accept psychologically that the “good” and the “bad mother” are merely two aspects of the same person. But then, the child is not yet psychologically mature enough to accept his or her own “good” and “bad sides.” If there has been trauma, then the split is prolonged. In severe cases, it may never be healed.

Even if there has been normal development, splitting generally persists throughout all of one’s life. On occasion, all of us spilt the world into “good” and “bad guys and forces.” Nevertheless, it is especially disturbing when political parties deliberatively use splitting to demonize one another so as to win votes. It is especially disturbing when the government which is We is viewed as an “alien—the Other.”

In systems terms, splitting is an extreme and dysfunctional form of differentiation. Mild forms of splitting such as analysis (breaking a whole into its constituent parts) are often necessary to allow different voices to be heard and different perspectives to emerge. But to split completely is to fracture, as for example, when we completely divorce the complex interrelationships between people and technology. When they are split completely, the components of a system are more than dissociated; the system is broken, often beyond repair. In short, to split is to break apart in such a way that putting things back together requires much more than rational integration, it requires emotional integration, that is, healing.

Splitting is also interesting for many other reasons. It is in fact the basis for most of the world’s great fairytales. The Grimm fairytales are only one example. Thus, the “good, fairy god mother” is the “good mother” and the “evil witch” is the “bad mother.”

Klein is particularly helpful in understanding situations where it appears that splitting has been successfully resolved, but it really hasn’t. Thus, in The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin makes a strong case for the proposition (Claim) that Conservatives want to have it both ways: They are both victim and victor simultaneously. “They are aggrieved and entitled—aggrieved because entitled—and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitably of its triumph. They thus can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity that [only they can] imagine. This makes them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection…” The whole point is that if conservatives had successfully resolved splitting, then they wouldn’t need to be either victim or victor.[viii] I would only add that Liberals have their own distinctive forms of playing victim and victor. The same is obviously true of rabid gun proponents.

Readers who are interested further in how Kleinian ideas shed significant light on the motives and behavior of political figures are strongly urged to read Obama on the Couch by Justin Frank, M.D.[ix]

Concluding Remarks

This chapter has argued in effect that in the vast majority of cases, the Backing is an expression of forces that emanate deeply from within the unconscious. This helps to explain why the analysis and discussion of arguments in purely rational terms fails so much of the time.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bring the best analyses of arguments that we can. It merely means that rational analyses are necessary, but in and of themselves, they are far from sufficient.

Finally, it should be understood clearly that I am not saying that President Obama should never be criticized. When his actions and policies are faulty, then of course he should be roundly criticized. Furthermore, while people of course have the right to portray President Obama with a Hilter-like moustache, we need to understand clearly that this is nothing more than the vilest form of human expression, if not signs of an out-and-out pathology.

Chapter Four: Gay Rights

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 7, 2013

Figures 4.1 through 4.5 represent five key aspects of the debate regarding whether gays should be allowed to marry or not. We consider whether: 1. Allowing gays to marry violates the centuries old traditional definition of marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman; 2. Marriage is primarily for procreation; 3. Being gay is an abnormality or leads to abnormalities; 4. The Bible forbids homosexuality; and finally, 5. Prohibiting gays from marrying denies them of their basic civil and legal rights.






For the most part, the figures are self-explanatory and thus require little comment. As in earlier chapters, one thing in particular stands out. In Figures 4.1, 4.4, and 4.5, the Claims, Warrants, and Backings are relatively independent of the Evidence.

More importantly, as one scans all of the figures, there is a definite pattern. Those who support gay marriage are for substantial, if not radical, change and for a clear expansion of human and legal rights. Those who oppose gay marriage are not only in firm opposition to change, but for preserving the traditional definition of marriage. Indeed, those who oppose gay marriage do not see the issue in terms of civil rights at all. They see it as a grave threat to the very foundations of society. In this sense, “They want their world to carry on as it is!”

As with all of the issues in the previous chapters, there are huge age differences in how one feels about the issue of gay marriage. Those who are under the age of 65—especially those of the Millennial Generation—are much more strongly in favor of gay marriage than those over 65.

A famous quote by the distinguished historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is relevant here: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents eventually die out and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” The same is true of ideas that upset traditional social orders.

The Boy Scouts of America

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 14, 2013

As a closely relatedly postscript, recently, The Boy Scouts of America reversed a long-standing policy by voting to admit gays as members. Previously, gays were not allowed to become scouts. At the same time, the decision not to allow adults to be scout leaders was reaffirmed. Both decisions set off howls of protest.

Conservatives not only expressed their strong disapproval of the decision to allow gays to become scouts, but a number indicated that they would immediately pull their children out of The Boy Scouts. But they went even further. They expressed their desire to found a new organization that would affirm their basic values. In their view, one of the prime attributes of The Boy Scouts was that it inculcated and reaffirmed a sense of “manliness,” a “virtue” that would be lost if gays were admitted as members.

At the same time, gays were offended—“incensed” is a more accurate description–that adults would not be allowed to be leaders of scout troops. There is little if any evidence that gays are more inclined to be pedophiles and thus pose a greater danger to “straight” children under their supervision. But then, Evidence always faces an uphill battle against deeply entrenched views.

The Truths About Gay Marriages

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 21, 2013

For another, recently, The Atlantic Monthly ran an eye-opening article entitled, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples.”[x] The article dispelled one of the central myths about gay marriage.

One of the chief arguments of those who are opposed to gay marriage is that it threatens the sanctity of marriage. That is, supposedly if gays are allowed to marry then the institution of marriage, which is already under siege, will be further threatened. The article certainly affirmed that marriage is certainly threatened, but not by gays. If anything is at fault, it is the changing economic conditions that make it harder for young people to get married.

In particular, the article pointed out the areas where gay marriages are clearly superior to traditional ones. Freed from traditional gender roles where the man works primarily outside the home and does little housework and the women does most of the housework in addition to working, gay couple are more able to share chores and responsibilities equally. Gay couples are also more able to share emotions and feelings more easily.

Instead of gays threatening the institution of marriage, gays are helping to redefine it.

Chapter Five: Creationism Versus Evolution—Science And Religion

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 27, 2013

Nowhere is the battle between Science and Religion more bitter and contentious than the contemporary war between Creationism and Science. Figures 5.1 and 5.2 lay out some of the major issues that are involved.



Although there are many varieties of Creationism, the basic overriding idea is that Evolution in particular and Science in general are wrong in supposing that they can account for something so complicated as the existence of human beings. To take but just one example, according to Creationism, the human eye is too complex to ever have evolved from primitive organisms or cells. Thus, at a specific moment in time, God must have created humans intact.

To say that Science does not agree with Creationism is putting it mildly. Evolution is able to account for the features we see in animals and humans.

Nonetheless, there is a more significant issue that Science and Religion generally avoid, if not duck altogether. This is the generally unacknowledged “fact” that there is a deep metaphysical side of Science and that this side is not incompatible with Religion. Indeed, it is deeply compatible with Religion. At the same time, Religion has to acknowledge its compatibility and deep dependence on Science.

The Metaphysics of Science

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 4, 2013

The British physicist Stephen Hawking once posed the following question, which I paraphrase, “Suppose some day we physicists are able to write down the grand equation of Everything. That would still leave unanswered, what breathed life into the equation?” In more prosaic terms, what designed and implemented the equation?

I have no doubt that we live in a universe that is governed by the laws of Evolution and physics, to mention only two of the sciences involved. But what created the kind of a universe that is governed by such laws? To answer “God” is to replace one mystery with another. But that’s precisely what Religion does. Religion does what Science is loath to do because humans cannot live with unfathomable mysteries. But then many scientists cannot live with mysteries as well. They persist in hanging onto the metaphysical belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws.”

The belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws” is not a scientific statement that can be proved or disproved empirically. It is a metaphysical belief. It asserts something about the totality of reality that cannot be proved. We cannot wait until the end of time to check on its validity. The ability to “wait until the end of time” requires an ability far beyond humans.

To be sure, Science has continually expanded our knowledge of the world, but to assert that it will continue to do indefinitely and thus ultimately be able to explain everything is a belief that scientists cannot go out and test as they can other hypotheses.

The trouble is that the vast majority of scientists grow up with a deep distaste for Philosophy in general and Metaphysics in particular. Understandingly, both seem to limit the nature of Science. Even worse, they harken back to a time when Science was racked with unproven speculations of the worst kinds. But this is not how we conceive of Philosophy and Metaphysics. Their role is not to replace Science but to make it aware of its unproven assumptions that all fields of inquiry need to make.

The basic assumptions that the world is intelligible and knowable are religious in origin, not scientific. Science is thereby more dependent on Religion than it wants to acknowledge. But then equally, Creationism cannot pretend to be Science when it violates all the cannons of modern Science.

Chapter Six: Who’s Responsible?

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 10, 2013

Recently over 1000 people died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh. It raised anew questions of the ultimate responsibility of retailers who employ thousands of poor workers to make garments for well-off consumers in Europe and the U.S. The very same issue was raised when a fertilizer plant exploded in the town of West, Texas.

Figures 6.1 and 6.2 present two typical arguments with respect to the issue of responsibility. Once again, the figures are mainly self-explanatory.

However, Figure 6.2 warrants further commentary.



The Processed-Food Industry

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 16, 2013

In the Sunday, February 24, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine, an important article by Michael Moss appeared on how the processed-food industry deliberately employs scientists whose specific job it is to design junk food products that are effectively impossible to resist. If there were any doubts before the article was published regarding how the industry intentionally designs products that appeal directly to our cravings for fast food, the article dispelled them entirely. The products were so successful that they not only “appealed” to our natural, built-in cravings for junk food, but they actually “heightened” those cravings.

In addition to the “distasteful” (pun intended!) disclosures about the practices of the processed-food industry, just as important were the revelations about the arguments that the industry used regularly to justify its behavior. The arguments are particularly important because with very little modification, they apply to other industries. They are used over and over again to promote dangerous, unethical, and unhealthy products, e.g., violent movies, pornography, TV shows, and video games, etc.

The major arguments are variants of: “We only give consumers what they want; if there weren’t a market for what we make—if they didn’t demand it–then we wouldn’t make it because we couldn’t sell it.” Just as frequent, “If we don’t do it, somebody else will. Better us than them.”

Stephen Sanger, head of General Mills, put it as follows. He noted that consumers were “fickle.” “People bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good.” “Don’t talk to me about nutrition. Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

Sanger is also reputed to have said that to “react to the critics would jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products [General Mills] so successful. Thus, “General Mills would not pull back.” He vowed to “push his people onward.” And, he urged his peers “to do the same.”

One of the most disingenuous arguments that is used repeatedly by those who want to deny or evade any responsibility whatsoever for the ill effects of their products, actions, etc. is the “complex systems dodge.” The argument goes as follows: “A complex system of factors are responsible for obesity, etc.—whatever the social ill. Thus, there are no direct cause-effect relationships between the consumption/use of our products/services and some societal problem.”

What’s so disingenuous is that persons and organizations that generally show little, if any interest, in complex systems thinking, suddenly become, when it is in their direct interest, experts in systems thinking! Of course, in today’s complex world, no single factor by itself is rarely, if ever responsible, for the cause of another desirable or undesirable effect. But this does not mean that individual factors do not contribute at all.

Consider the movie/TV/video game industry. There is an over 30-year history of research that shows that there is a significant correlation between the repeated exposure of children to violence and aggressive behavior. Indeed, at-risk children from low-income environments show greater ill effects to prolonged exposure. But since correlations are not causality, the industries argue in effect, “Whenever the correlation between our products, etc. and some societal problems are low, we are warranted in not taking any responsible actions.” Of course, this only raises the prime ethical question, “How high would the correlations have to be before you acted responsibly?”

Notice carefully that in sharp contradistinction, no cardiologist would ever argue, “Because a certain factor or set of factors contribute only modestly to the chances of a heart attack, we should ignore them.” Instead, they argue, “Treat every risk factor as seriously you can to lower the chances of a heart attack.”

Clearly, we are far indeed from anything even approaching a Cardiological Society.

Chapter Seven: The Tyranny of Either/Or—Extreme Moderation

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 24, 2013

Table 7.1 and Figures 7.1 through 7.3 represent the arguments of three positions along the political spectrum with regard to the issues we’ve examined. In terms of the table and figures, I am clearly a moderate but with a tilt somewhat to the left. Hence, the term “extreme moderate” best represents my views.





The point of the table and figures is not to argue that moderate positions are always better. Nor are they always “moderate.”

As we have before in our tumultuous history as a nation, we need to move beyond the tyranny of either/or thinking to both/and. I have no illusions whatsoever that at this time in our history, that this is easy. Indeed, given the current political climate, it’s as difficult as any time we have ever faced as a nation.

In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Thomas Mann, a liberal, and Norman Ornstein, a conservative, both place more blame on the Republican Party than they do on Democrats, although there is more than enough blame to go around for the breakdown in our inability to get along, let alone govern with any degree of respect and civility.[xi] Mann and Ornstein essentially see the House dominated by right-wing insurgents who are scornful of compromise, which of course is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. The current crop of Republicans put fealty to their party ahead of problem solving, which again is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. For this and other reasons, Mann and Ornstein view the current Republican Party more like an apocalyptic cult than a political party.

What suggestions then do Mann and Ornstein offer for ways out of the impasse? In a word, expand moderate thinking by expanding the electorate through the reduction of gerrymandered Congressional districts. It is hoped that this will help to bring out more moderate voters and candidates.

Other ideas include recreating the “public square” where hopefully more moderate ideas can be aired. The idea that has the most power is the restoration of public shame. Public shame has the most power because it penetrates to the deep emotional Backings that are the true drivers of most arguments. Public shame works by having those with more moderate voices speak out loud, clear, and long against the extreme arguments of the NRA, conspiracy groups, etc.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, October 1, 2013

In the end, the author would be naïve beyond belief if he thought that an analysis of arguments alone would be enough to prompt deep changes in how we view the vital issues of our times. An analysis of arguments is necessary, but it’s hardly sufficient.

One’s attitudes towards guns, President Obama, gays, and responsibility are more than a matter of arguments, logical or otherwise. They are a matter of lived, core beliefs.

The Backings that move men and women reside in their souls, not just in their minds alone. But then this is a fitting argument on which to close a book about the power of arguments.

[i] Barabba, Vincent P., and Mitroff, Ian I. Time to Get Real!, Tools for Navigating a Complex, Dynamic, and Messy World, in preparation, 2013.z

[ii] Toulmin, Stephen, The Uses of Argument, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,

England, 1958.

[iii] See Walton, Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach, Cambridge, 2008.

[iv] See Henigan, Dennis, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths Paralyze American Gun Policy, Potomac Books, Washington, DC, 2009; see also, Webster, Daniel W. and Vernick, Jon S., Eds., Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2013.

[v] See Henigan, op. cit.

[vi] Bunch, Will, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, Harper, New York, 2010.

[vii]  Knight, Peter, Ed., Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America, New York University Press, New York, 2002.

[viii] Robin, Corey, The Reactionary Mind, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, p. 99.

[ix] Frank, Justin, opcit.

[x] Munday, Liza, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples: Why Gay Marriages Tend To Be Happier And More Intimate,” The Atlantic Monthly, June 2013, pp. 56-70.

[xi] Mann, Thomas E. and Ornstein, Norman J., It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Basic Books, New York, 2012.

Blog, Media + Politics

Big Bird And Mister Rogers Are Not Just For Kids: We Need Their Wisdom More Than Ever

Originally published on The Huffington Post, October 22, 2012

Even though the news has obviously moved on, it’s still important to correct a common, and dangerous, misperception that lies at the root of Mitt Romney’s expressed desire to terminate funding for Big Bird and PBS — that they are solely for kids and liberals. Therefore, not only are they expendable, but they need to be gotten rid of. In short, they are corrupting influences.

First of all, Big Bird is not just for kids. No matter what one’s age, the values for which Big Bird and PBS stand for speak to our better nature.

Adults don’t watch Big Bird just because they have kids. They watch him because they enjoy his humor, and yes, his wisdom as well. That’s why adults who don’t have kids are also loyal fans of Big Bird and Sesame Street. The same was true of Mister Rogers.

Second, like Mister Rogers, Big Bird is a cultural icon. Indeed, Mister Rogers and Big Bird are integral parts of this nation’s cultural repository. That’s why in getting rid of Big Bird, we’d also be getting rid of the legacy of Mister Rogers.

Third, some of the primary values of Mister Rogers are precisely those that are needed to succeed in the global economy. Thus, in getting rid of PBS, we’d also be getting rid of one of the primary sources of education for the new skills that are required to compete in the global economy.

Fourth, is anyone naïve enough to believe that any network other than PBS would run Big Bird and Mister Rogers for as long as it has? No, it’s not the paltry sum of money why conservatives want to get rid of Big Bird, Mister Rogers, and PBS. It’s the values for which they stand.

For this reason alone, it’s important to take a deeper look at the values of Mister Rogers, the particular character we’ve studied the most and therefore know best.

Seven Key Principles: The Seven C’s

We’ve captured the gist of Fred’s values is in terms of the following “Seven Key Principles.” Each is illustrated through a direct quote from Fred himself:

  1. Connect: “A person can grow to his or her fullest capacity only in mutually caring relationships with others.”
  2. Concern: “Setting rules is one of the primary ways in which we show our love.”
  3. Creativity: “Play is the expression of our creativity, and creativity, I believe, is at the very root of our ability to learn, to cope, and to become whatever we may be.”
  4. Communication: “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
  5. Consciousness: “Take good care of that part of you where your best dreams come from, that invisible part of you that allows you to look upon yourself and your neighbor with delight.”
  6. Courage: “One of the greatest paradoxes about omnipotence is that we need to feel it early in life, and lose it early in life, in order to achieve a healthy, realistic, yet exciting sense of potency later on.”
  7. Community: “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors — in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”

Although we’ve summarized Fred’s values and wisdom in the form of principles, Fred didn’t expound abstract principles. Instead, he told countless stories and created original fables to forge deep and personal connections with each of his viewers. This is another reason why PBS is invaluable. It’s not that other networks don’t tell stories. Of course they do. Rather, it’s the particular kind of stories that Fred told that made him and us special.

Stories and fables are how one engages and holds the attention of young children. They are also one of the main ways in which one gains the attention of adults. But, they are even more basic. Humans are the only creatures that invent and listen to fables and stories. They are the essence of what make us human.

Through the use of fanciful characters, animals, and magic, fables take us out of everyday reality, transport us to places and situations that are sharper and larger than life, and thereby teach us profound moral lessons. Fables impact us as few forms of communication do because they hit us squarely in our guts and souls. Because they apply to every aspect of life, they are as relevant to business as they are to our lives in general.

Consider for example “The Bass Violin Festival,” which is one of the many stories from the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” (NMB), the magical place that Fred took viewers to visit during every show. The purpose of the fable is to help readers understand better the nature and the process of creativity (Principle 3).

In the story, King Friday (the stand-in for today’s CEOs) tells all his subjects (employees) that they must be prepared to play the bass violin (a skill at which he is an expert) at an upcoming festival (corporate meeting). To help them, he gives each of them the latest violin (technology). But as is so often the case, the latest technology only frightens them even more because it reveals their inadequacies. Only when the subjects take the time to play creatively — that is, figuratively and not literally play the violin — do they come up with solutions that enable them to conquer their fears of not having the technical expertise (job skills) to complete the assignment (task). For example, one of the characters dresses up in a violin costume. She thus “plays at being a violin.”

Only in this way, can they then contribute to the festival (meeting) by using their individual, unique talents. The principles and lessons embedded in the story thereby show how everyone can step back from a difficult assignment, reframe it, overcome their fears, and produce creative solutions.

This is precisely what we need to do if we are to overcome the countless anxieties associated with the difficult and rocky transformation to the new global economy. The new economy requires people who can think creatively, and hence, exercise critical thinking. While many aspects of blue-collar and even white-collar jobs are already completely automated, creativity and critical thinking will never be. As a result, these can never be outsourced. They are the only true and lasting competitive edge.

Consider another one of Fred’s priceless stories about consciousness (Principle 5). Garbage has piled up so high that the kingdom is literally drowning in it. King Friday denies and ignores the crisis in the hope that it will just go away, which of course it doesn’t. Instead, it only gets worse. Once again, King Friday tries to solve the problem by ordering his subjects, in this case, to put on nose muffs that will supposedly block the smell. As before, he seeks a purely technical solution to the problem. Only when the subjects confront the King with the fact that his so-called “solutions” only make the problem worse and come up with their own that are environmental sound is the problem truly solved.

Fred told stories because he wanted to speak directly to the child’s inner drama. Indeed, in early childhood, the inner drama is perceived and experienced as real and literal. For instance, young children actually worry that when taking a bath they could be literally sucked down the drain along with the water. When we reach adulthood, the inner drama is figurative or metaphorical. Nevertheless, the root of the fear, or inner drama, is lodged in deep, unremembered fears from childhood. This is precisely why Fred continues to speak to us from childhood through adulthood. His messages are so finely honed to the inner dramas of our lives that we can continue to respond them at different levels of development and the stages of our lives.

We cannot stress enough that throughout the forty years of creating programs for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred and his team told hundreds of stories. Many of the stories dealt with the issues of everyday life — how things work, how people make the things we use, where things come from and so on.

The stories are so beautifully crafted that they speak to the basic inner dramas of human existence in ways that transcend the age of the listener. This is why Fred’s wisdom resonates from childhood to adulthood. The stories in the NMB can be read and reread by children and grownups alike. Whatever a person’s age, they speak to our hearts, our souls, and our spirits. They have lessons to teach us over the course of our lives.

In sum, Big Bird and Mister Rogers are more than for kids alone. Indeed, as put with regard to Fred: “He helped you when you were a kid; he can help you now that you’re an adult!”

Co-authored with Donna Mitroff

This article is from a forthcoming book, Donna and Ian Mitroff, in association with the Fred Rogers Company, “Fables and the Art of Leadership; Bringing the Wisdom of Mr. Rogers to the Workplace.”

Originally published on The Huffington Post, October 22, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics

Corrupt to the Core

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 26, 2012

This is a rant. I make no apologies for it because sometimes that’s the only thing that can help cleanse one’s soul.

Norman Mailer was once asked why no good literature ever came out of the Third Reich in WWII. He responded–I paraphrase–“The whole philosophy was so garbled such that if you tried to write it down, all you got was complete nonsense.”

Mailer’s perceptive remark captures perfectly the essence of the whole Todd Akin fiasco. Even more, it captures the complete idiocy, if not deeply psychotic nature, of the current Republican belief system. Yes, I said “psychotic.”

To view, as Akin would like us to do, his crazy remarks merely as a “poor choice of words,” is only to compound the original crime. Words don’t come out of thin air. They are always reflective of an underlying philosophy or world-view, in this case, a deeply distorted and sick one. This is also why we must not take Akin’s outburst as an “isolated aberration” as the Republican leadership would like us to do.

Getting rid of Akin will not cause the basic illness to go away. Indeed, it only prolongs and makes it worse. To believe otherwise is merely to commit the latest form of what I call The Hazelwood Defense, the label I associate with Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the ill-fated Exxon Valdez that went aground and spilled thousands of gallons of oil in the Bay of Valdez many years ago. Exxon wanted us to believe that it was just the fault of “one bad apple,” i.e., Hazelwood, when it was a whole “bad system run amuck.”

In a way, Akin has done us a public service—I wouldn’t dare call it “great” by any means–but not in the usual ways that Liberals and Progressives are calling it, i.e., his staying in the race almost ensures that Republicans will not take back the Senate.

Not that we really need any more evidence, but Akin reveals once and for all the complete bankruptcy, if not sickness, of contemporary Conservative thought. It is so garbled that one can’t express it in any form.

The great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once famously said, “Of what we cannot speak, we must be silent.” A reverse dictum now applies to Conservatives. They must be silent because they cannot speak coherently.

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 26, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics, Psychology

Psychoanalytic Politics: The Roots of Current Dysfunctional Political Behavior

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 30, 2012

What does the behavior of British children in WWII possibly have to do with today’s fractious politics? More than one would ever imagine! Indeed, it explains the unconscious roots of much of the current dysfunctional behavior on both the Left and the Right. In WWII, by being placed or lodged either in hospitals or massive care facilities, an overwhelming number of children were separated from their parents for weeks, months, and even years on end. Worst of all were those who were permanently housed in orphanages.

When they first arrived, the children cried for hours and days on end. When they eventually stopped, they became zombie-like in that they showed virtually no emotion whatsoever from that time on.

To help understand the horrific damage done to children that he witnessed daily, the British psychiatrist John Bowlby created Attachment Theory. Bowlby and his colleagues found that two key dimensions were key to explaining the emotional state of a child: Avoidance and Anxiety. Both were directly traceable to and the direct result of the emotional state of a child’s primary caretakers. During Bowlby’s time, the primary caretaker was of course the mother, if not throughout most of history. Whether the primary caretaker was either high or low on Avoidance and Anxiety had a tremendous effect on the child’s emotional development.

By means of the mother’s intense and frequent interactions—how she held, looked at, and attended to her child’s cries and general discomfort–the mother subtly and not so subtly communicated her emotional state to her child. In short, she communicated how comfortable versus how anxious she was in fulfilling her role as a caretaker.

Since the interactions took place from the moment of birth, they were largely preverbal and hence unconscious. In this way, the mother not only passed on, but influenced significantly the child’s subsequent emotional development and state, most notably one’s basic sense of trust and comfort with other people. In fact, a host of longitudinal studies have shown that the effects last a lifetime unless of course a person has undergone significant therapy.

Since one can be either high or low on Avoidance and Anxiety, there are four primary combinations or states: 1. High Avoidance and High Anxiety; 2. High Avoidance and Low Anxiety; 3. Low Avoidance and High Anxiety; and, 4. Low Avoidance and Low Anxiety. State 1 is labeled Anxious-Avoiders; state 2, Avoiders; state 3. Anxious; and, state 4. Secure.

Those who are high on Avoidance exhibit, at least on the surface, little need or regard for other people. In the beginning of life, they were saddled by a caretaker who showed little regard for them as a person. In short, their basic needs were met superficially at best. As a result, at a very early age, they gave up expecting anything from other people.

Those who are high on Anxiety were saddled by a caretaker who, while he or she wanted to meet the basic needs of their child, experienced noticeable anxiety with regard to their capability of being able to do so. As a result, they are anxious around others because they are afraid they will either be abandoned or ignored. In short, they are needy.

Again, on the surface, Avoidants have little if any need of others and experience little if any anxiety in ignoring others. On the other hand, Anxious types want desperately to be around and to be liked by others but are terribly afraid that they won’t. In a sense, Anxious types are perpetually striving to recapture the love of a caretaker that showed, or was afraid to show, little emotion toward them. Where Avoidants have basically given up, Anxious types are perpetually seeking to regain what they never had.

Where Anxious-Avoidants share the worst of both worlds, Secure types have the best. Secures not only want to be around others but are comfortable in doing so.

Studies have shown that a significant number of top corporate and government executives are Avoidants. Avoidants radiate strength and fearlessness, the very qualities our culture admires in leaders.

It should come as no great surprise that Conservatives exhibit many of the qualities of Avoidants and Liberal Progressives those of Anxious types. Indeed, Avoidants correspond most closely to George Lakoff’s Stern Father; Liberal Progressives to Lakoff’s Nurturing, if not Anxious, Mother.

Attachment Theory sheds special light on the extreme views of the Right in general and the Tea Party in particular. Even though Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman and others have argued cogently that the federal deficits are not the worst problem facing the U.S. and other European countries in the short run, and thus it would be better to incur more debt in order to get people back to work, debt horrifies the extreme Right. The very thoughts of, one, “being owned by others,” who of course they can never trust, and two, “others getting something for which they have not worked,” goes against every grain of their psychic makeup. This is precisely why no set of logical facts or arguments will ever be enough to convince them otherwise.

But, by the same token, because deep down Liberal Progressives have a need to be loved, and believe that their values are universal and thus shared by everyone, they cannot get it through their heads that logical facts or arguments are never sufficient to sway anyone, including themselves.

If ever we needed Secure types to come forward and to present good stories that can overcome the deep-seated fears of Conservatives and Liberal Progressives alike, that time is surely now.

We ignore the deep, unconscious basis of politics at our peril.

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 30, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics

Why I Am Not and Will Never Be a Libertarian! To Ensure Our Health and Safety, We Need to Get Tough on Crisis Prone Companies

Originally posted on The Huffington Post, May 8, 2012

Let me state my main thesis at the outset: There is a dangerous class of companies and organizations that are Severely Crisis Prone. (For brevity, I shall simply refer to them as companies.) These companies pose a severe threat to our health, safety, and the environment. Since they are largely unable and unwilling to learn from those companies that are prepared for crises — Crisis Prepared — and thus do everything in their power to mitigate major threats to health, etc., government must play a far more active role in regulating and overseeing Crisis Prone companies. If only for this reason alone, I am not and will never be a Libertarian!

For over 30 years, my colleagues and I having been studying crises and disasters of all kinds. We have not only found why crises happen, and ideally what can be done to prevent them, but why we need strong government oversight and intervention to protect the public from unscrupulous companies. In short, if companies won’t do everything in their power to lower substantially the odds of major crises — BP is a prime case in point — then the government needs to step in and force companies to have adequate crisis plans and procedures.

Let me make the case by contrasting two very different types of companies. One type is Severely Crisis Prone while the other is Crisis Prepared. Of course, these two are merely the end points of a broad continuum. Thus, many different types of companies exist in between. Nonetheless, while the two are definitively extremes, they do exist. If anything, they help us see clearly the nature of the full spectrum.

More to the point, at best only 10 to 20 percent of companies are Crisis Prepared. Roughly 10 to 20 percent are Severely Crisis Prone. This means that some 60 percent of companies are Crisis Prone to varying degrees. Since crises are increasingly a major fact of life, this puts all of in jeopardy.

Severely Crisis Prone

Severely Prone Companies don’t believe in Crisis Management, period! They feel that proactive Crisis Management is a complete waste of time and money. Their general thinking is captured by the following: “Haven’t we always reacted well no matter what the problem or crisis is? Isn’t reacting sufficient? We’re big and powerful enough to withstand anything that the world can throw at us.” Unfortunately, as BP shows all too well, such beliefs are dangerously wrong.
Severely Crisis Prone Companies also tend to believe that outstanding companies didn’t have major crises, period! In the highly unlikely event that they did have a crisis, they are supremely confident that they can handle it. Haven’t they in fact handled everything well so far? In short, why waste time and money even thinking about, let alone preparing, for that which no one could foresee or predict with certainty? They have far more immediate and pressing things to consider.

The only thing that matters for Severely Crisis Prone companies is the bottom line. Everything is measured strictly and solely in terms of it. All executives and managers are held strictly accountable in terms of what they’ve added to the bottom line. God help those who detract from it! Executives or managers don’t stay around long if they are a drag on profits.
Needless to say, Severely Crisis Prone companies don’t believe in programs such as Environmentalism or Sustainability that divert precious time and attention away from the precious bottom line.

Unfortunately, as it must, when the “big one hits,” they are totally unprepared for it.

Crisis Prepared

Crisis Prepared companies are at the other end of the spectrum. They believe deeply in broad-ranging programs of Crisis Management. They understand that Crisis Management is not only the right, ethical thing to do for their employees and communities, but that it actually makes them more profitable.

Studies show that Crisis Prepared companies experience significantly fewer crises. As a result, they are significantly more profitable than Crisis Prone companies, which ironically believe only in profits.

Crisis Prepared companies are prepared for a broad range of crises such as ethical breaches by senior executives, acts of sabotage by disgruntled employees, explosions, economic downturns, fires, natural disasters, terrorism, etc… They realize that in today’s world, merely reacting is not sufficient to get out and stay in front of major crises. But even more, they understood implicitly that no major crisis is ever a single well-defined, contained crisis. If one is not prepared for the simultaneous occurrence of multiple crises by integrating one’s crisis plans and procedures, then any single crisis can quickly zoom out of control and trigger an uncontrolled chain reaction of other, and potentially even worse, crises. In short, it is never enough to prepare for individual crises in isolation.

Crisis Prepared companies understand that in today’s world, it is not a question of “if” a company will have a major crisis, but only a matter of “how, when, and why” it will occur, and how well prepared they are to handle it.

The bottom line is extremely important for Crisis Prepared companies as well. The big difference is that everything is not measured strictly and solely in terms of it. Unless one has a good culture that treats employees and their families, customers, the media, and even one’s competition with dignity and respect, how can one truly prosper in the long run, let alone survive in today’s complex world?

Crisis Prepared companies also have robust programs in Environmentalism, Safety, Sustainability. They not only support such programs, but they realize that they have to be integrated with Crisis Management. For instance, Crisis Management and Environmentalism share many of the same components such as picking up and acting on early warning signals of impending, potential crises and problems. Thus, it makes perfect sense to integrate these two and others. Indeed, integrating them not only makes each of them more effective and stronger, but also more efficient and cost-effective. In this way, the programs are an integral part of the profitability of Crisis Prepared companies.

Thus, as it must eventually, when the “big one hits,” Crisis Prepared companies recover far faster with far fewer injuries, economic, and environmental consequences than Crisis Prone companies.

If the benefits of being Crisis Prepared are so clear and strong, then why then don’t more companies do what’s clearly in their and our best interest? The great English poet T.S. Eliot put his finger on it best of all, “Humankind cannot bear much reality.” In short, very few companies have the emotional fortitude and will to face a world that is painfully complex. For many companies, just thinking about the worst causes far more anxiety that they can bare.

If Crisis Prone companies can’t and won’t learn from the best Crisis Prepared companies, then government has no choice but to step in. It is the only thing standing between us and disaster.

Originally posted on The Huffington Post, May 8, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics, Philosophy + Systems, Psychology

How Groups Become Extreme

Originally published on The Huffington Post, March 12, 2012

In two recent op-eds in the Huffington Post (“Is Truth in Politics Possible? Is Truth Possible in Anything Human?” and “Absence of Truth: Why the Republican Candidates Can’t Get Anywhere Near the Truth”), I argued that historically there are at least four different kinds and meanings of “truth.” There are of course more than four. But four is enough for my purposes.

Very briefly, first, there is traditional, primarily fact-based, impersonal, seemingly emotion-free, and unbiased scientific truth. (Science isn’t emotion free at all and it’s certainly not completely unbiased. It just hides its emotions and biases better than most fields. It also kids itself that they aren’t there. As someone with a Ph.D. in engineering, this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe strongly in science. I not only believe strongly in it, but I condemn those who don’t. Since it is done by humans, I just don’t believe that science is perfect.)

Second, there is speculative, philosophical, and theory-based science.

Third, there is community-based, social truth. This kind resides in the social customs, morals, religion, and wisdom of a community.

Fourth, there is also the kind that resides in the social customs, morals, religion, and wisdom of a small unit, typically a particular family, or close set of friends.

I also argued that all four of these ways fundamentally presuppose and depend deeply on one another. They couldn’t exist let alone work without the others.

I also argued that the current crop of Republican candidates has lost complete touch with truth (reality) because it is the captive of primarily one and only one way of knowing. In brief, the Republican candidates are the captives of the most primitive and debased forms of the third and fourth ways of knowing. For instance, in rejecting evolution and global warming, they are rejecting not only science, but rational thought itself. No wonder why liberals such as myself are so outraged and turned off by their ignorant rants.

But the question I want to raise here is: “How did the Republican Party become so skewed in its thinking? How did it become the captive of a perverse way of knowing and concept of ‘truth’?” There are of course sound historical answers to these questions starting with Goldwater’s humiliating defeat in ’64. As potent as these explanations are, I want to offer a different one.

In the late 60’s, a lifelong friend and colleague, Ralph Kilmann, and I hit upon the idea of putting all those with the same psychological outlook into the same group. Using a psychological test, we put all those who believed in the first way of knowing into one group; all those who believed in the second way into another one, etc. We then gave all the groups the same open-ended exercise: “What is your group’s definition and/or idea of ‘society’s most important problem?'” We also asked each group to: (1) build a collage of their problem definition so everyone could see their thinking, (2) give their collage and problem a short identifying name or label, and (3) list as many characteristics of their problem and collage as possible.

In this way, we were able to “see” personality, which by definition is an “internal state of mind,” and thus very difficult to observe by the untrained eye.

The exercise worked so well that my colleagues and I have been using it for over 40 years to help groups and organizations of all kinds to understand why different people don’t see the world in the same ways. The purpose is not only to help them understand one another better, but to use their differences constructively.

Putting people who all think alike into a common group does at least two things almost instantly. One, the particular group in which people are put very easily and quickly reaches strong, if not nearly complete, agreement. Two, the differences between the groups become magnified and even more intense. This makes it even easier to see differences in personality.
Notice carefully that we gave an open-ended exercise for if we had defined the exercise precisely, then in effect we would be operating primarily out of the first way of knowing. We deliberately wanted to give something nebulous on to which all the groups could project their different personalities.

After the groups have presented their collages, it quickly becomes apparent that each of them is speaking a totally different language. If one’s native language is German and another’s is Chinese, one usually doesn’t hesitate to involve a translator, particularly if one’s negotiations are crucial. But, one rarely involves a translator if people seem to be speaking the same language when in fact they are not.

If in addition, one introduces people into each group who are especially aggressive and extreme proponents of their particular way of looking at reality, then the groups quickly become even more extreme and one-sided. It then becomes virtually impossible for them to see that there is anything worthwhile in other ways of conceiving of reality.

In short, it is rather easy to create extreme groups. Indeed, over time, more moderate members are expelled for not adhering to the “group line.” And, the more that are expelled, the more extreme a group becomes.

I wish we could do for society at large what we are able to do in our workshops. There we are able to step back and explain how we created the groups, how and why they speak different languages, and help all the participants to come to see that the problems we are facing are so complex that they can’t even be properly defined, let alone solved, by one and only one way of looking at the world.

To build up their capacity to understand and appreciate different ways of apprehending reality, one of the other things we do is to create mixed groups. We then give them complex problems such as global warming that cannot even be defined, let alone solved, unless they integrate different ways of thinking.

To put it mildly, it takes a great deal of practice and encouragement to appreciate all four ways of knowing. To say that we desperately need more people who can do this is one of the great understatements of our time.

For this reason, I am utterly appalled when Sen. Santorum says that “going to college is an elite idea.” Really! College is one of the best, but not only, places where we can learn about ourselves by having our ideas challenged.

Originally published on The Huffington Post, March 12, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics, Psychology

Reality Wars: Measuring the Collective Mental Health of a Nation

Originally published on The Huffington Post, February 22, 2012

As a nation, we are fighting several “reality wars” at once. These wars are not only political, but deeply psychological. As a result, our collective mental health as a nation is being severely challenged and tested.

Like that of individuals, the mental health of a nation is measured primarily by how well it is in touch with reality. (Social scientists have long recognized that everything that applies to individuals has a direct analogue with larger social entities. Thus, the “mental health of a nation” is not an absurdity or a contradiction in terms.) Even more basic, mental health is measured in part by what an individual or nation calls reality in the first place, and how it treats it subsequently. Since language is the primary means we use to describe and invent reality, the language a nation uses to frame and treat important issues is a measure, however imperfect, of its mental health.

For example, consider what Republicans call “class warfare.” To call legitimate demands that the richest pay their fair share in taxes “class warfare” is not only a gross insult towards the downtrodden and poor, but it obfuscates the basic fact that the gap in wealth between the rich and the poor/middle-class is as large as it has ever been in our history. It tries to dismiss this painful fact through the use of a clever phrase.

We live in a society where inequality is as great as it has ever been. To ignore this painful fact is to ignore basic reality itself. In a word, one of the prominent measures of the ethical, if not mental, health of a society is its attitudes towards and treatment of its poorest citizens. Denial of what it is to be poor in contemporary America is harsh and unusual punishment.

The upshot is that the very term “class warfare” is self-reaffirming! The very denial of class warfare by those who coined and use the term is an especially pernicious form of class warfare!

The very term “class warfare” is injurious in itself. It would have us believe that there are no such things as class differences whatsoever in American society. True, Americans like to believe (delude themselves) that they live in a society governed solely by individual merit, i.e., we are a classless society. And yet, study after study shows that social–i.e., “class” factors–matter tremendously. For instance, the family into one is born is one of the most powerful predictors of one’s success later in life.

As another example, consider Congressman Darrell Issa’s disavowal of the fact (reality) that millions of women depend daily on the use of contraceptives for their health and general well being. His refusal to call any women to testify in behalf of their own health issues boggles the mind. It is nothing less but a complete dismissal of reality. For another, to call the Obama Administration’s attempt–whether it was politically right or wrong–to have hospitals of whatever denomination help pay for contraception purely a “religious issue” is another distortion.

Consider another prominent assault on reality. Even though a substantial number of women approve of abortion if only in the sense that they don’t want the government interfering with their bodies, the issue of abortion is only one part of a larger cultural war over the rights of gays to marry, etc. The point is that we are at war on multiple fronts simultaneously.

We are certainly bogged down in a prolonged and bitter war over the nature of political reality. Indeed, we are tearing ourselves apart daily over it. The issues include among many the basic legitimacy of our government, whether it has overstepped its bounds in mandating health insurance, whether President Obama is a socialist and wants us to become a “European type ‘nanny-state’,” etc.

No one is more aware than I of the dangerousness of labeling the divisiveness that grips us on nearly every front of our existence as not just a battle over the nature of political and social reality, but even more, as a measure of our collective mental health. To label those with whom one disagrees as somehow lacking in mental health is at best highly contentious. Worst, it borders on the dangerously irresponsible, if not demagogic. Indeed, I am among the first to deplore the fact that we are surrounded by candidates that so freely use demagoguery. For me, this is one of the surest signs of how low our health as a society has sunk.

Thus, I do not use such terms easily or lightly. In short, I am deeply worried about the health of a society that has let its grip on language and reality deteriorate so badly. It’s not just our physical but our underlying mental infrastructure that is in need of repair.

The history of the world is a long battle between narrow mindedness and an ever-expanding view of the universe and humankind’s place in it. For long periods, there is no denying that the forces of darkness and narrowness have assumed the upper hand. But, despite all the wars, destruction, etc., there has been an inexorable march towards greater understanding. I call this “greater understanding” a march towards greater “collective mental health.”

Originally published on The Huffington Post, February 22, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics

Can This Political Marriage Be Saved? Should It?

Originally published on The Huffington Post, January 31, 2012

The view that “politics is akin to a marriage” is a casual, if not an often-expressed, sentiment. Unfortunately, almost no one takes the metaphor seriously and thus uses it to do a serious evaluation of the state of health of American politics. If we did, we would soon conclude that the “marriage” between the two major political parties is headed towards divorce, if it is not already there but for the working out of the final terms of the divorce settlement and the formal signing of the papers.

Those who have studied long-term marriages have consistently arrived at the same relatively small set of factors that make marriages successful. They are:

  1. Firm Commitment
  2. Acceptance
  3. Honest Communication
  4. Never Stop Dating
  5. G. I. V. E.
  6. C. M. A. T. (Can’t Miss A Thing)
  7. Respect

What’s important is that all of the above form a tightly interlocking system. If any of them is missing or weak, then the entire marriage is in danger. Unfortunately, this is the case with the “marriage” between the Republican and Democratic parties. Let’s look briefly each of these factors in turn.

Commitment means that in spite of the inevitable relational strife that is part of every marriage, there is a strong commitment to stay and work together. In politics where strife is not only inevitable but a vital necessity in order to arrive at sensible and effective policies and actions, the two parties have to be absolutely committed to work through their differences for their sake and the nation as a whole.

The only deal breakers in a marriage are the three A’s: adultery, abuse, and alcoholism, i.e., serious drug dependency. While adultery and alcoholism might not apply, abuse certainly does. The repeated, over-the-top, highly inflammatory talk of the Republican candidates certainly qualifies as “abuse” in my report card. In this sense, “alcoholism” can be interpreted as an “addiction” to language that is certain to drive any two people apart.

Acceptance means tolerance of the other partner’s peccadillos. In the case of politics, it means accepting that the other party’s philosophy and values are not inherently evil, just different.

Both parties are seriously at fault here even though as a partisan, liberal Democrat, I find more fault with Republicans. But then to be perfectly honest, I am one of the parties filing for divorce. I have no pretensions to “objectivity.” I don’t believe humans are capable of such a thing anyway.

Honest communication means establishing the conditions in order for it to occur. It is often said that one of the reasons for the enduring success of the British parliament is that after a heated day of argument, members would retire to club to drink and repair their feelings. We used to do so as well, but we’ve lost the ability to go on “weekend marriage retreats” that are necessary to repair any marriage. In fairness, the Brits have not been faring well here recently as well.

“Never stop dating” is exactly what it means. It means more than an occasional weekend retreat. It means making the constant time to appreciate and charm the other.

In the best marriages, both partners give 60%, not 50-50. Where the other is seen as the “enemy to be destroyed,” this has all but died.

Can’t Miss A Thing means that life is indeed too short not to enjoy it. We have only a short time on Earth to learn how to work with our opposites.

And, finally, without respect, nothing is possible.

Given all this, sadly, an amicable divorce is not only completely out of the question, but it’s already bitter.

If the divorce proceedings are already well under way such that the current marriage cannot be saved, have the two parties learned anything so that they will fare any better the second time around? Are there any prospects of better second marriages?

In its current form, I believe the answer for the Republican party is a firm “No!” Unless the party undergoes a complete makeover so that it is no longer a mob of right-wing extremists, then I see no viable prospects for future marriages that are healthy and long-lasting.

Originally published on The Huffington Post, January 31, 2012