Blog, Crisis Management, Media + Politics, Politics

Meaner and More Divisive Than Ever: The Dangers of Failing to Accept Reality

        In 2015, I published Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide to Combatting Dumb Arguments[i]. Not only was it a compilation of dumb arguments such as they were at the time, but even more, it was a biting critique of both the arguments and their proponents. 

Since then, things have only gotten much worse. Not only are the “arguments”—if they are even deserving of the term—dumber, but they are damning evidence of their proponents’ glaring inability and abject refusals to accept reality. In a word, they are meaner and more divisive than ever. 

While there’re countless examples that one can give, the following are more than sufficient to illustrate what we’re up against.

Recently, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis verbally assaulted students by commanding them in no uncertain terms to stop engaging in what he called “Covid Theatre” by continuing to wear face masks. Despite deaths being down, to trivialize in any way a deadly disease that is still producing lethal variants and thus continues to pose a major threat to our general health and well-being is nothing less than the height of social irresponsibility, if not evil. But then as my most recent book[ii] shows, the numbers and types of arguments/claims that people have concocted for Not getting vaccinated for Covid 19 are just as bad, if not more so. Indeed, they’re not only devastating, but constitute major Threats to our Sensibilities. 

In short, the numbers of serious Threats that Covid 19 has spawned (the Economy, the Strain on Health Care, the Entire School System, etc.) plus those that have and are continuing to occur despite it (Global Warming, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, etc.) are utterly overwhelming and thus too much to bear. Arguments of the worst kind represent the utterly feeble attempts of far too many to try and regain control over their lives.

As the eminent British poet T.S. Eliot put it best, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

If the preceding weren’t bad enough, Governor DeSantis promised to sign a Bill by the Republican State Assembly that would ban classroom discussions about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Primary Schools. Indeed, it would prohibit use of the word “Gay.” Needless to say, it’s not only set off firestorms of protests from the Gay community, but from supporters nation-wide.

Not to be outdone, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has threatened the parents whose children are considering Transgendering with dire consequences. Anyone who knows of parents who are even considering it for their children and fails to report it would face “criminal penalties.” It’s nothing less than encouraging Vigilantism. Just as bad, other States are considering equally horrendous actions.

Given how much the Social-Emotional development of young children has been seriously hampered by means of their being unable to have normal contact with other children, one would think that additions to the curriculum that emphasized and thus reinforced Social-Emotional Learning would be actively welcomed. But no. A Republican Senator in the Mid-West spoke out fiercely against such a proposal contending that it would promote the teaching of Critical Race Theory and therefore not only indoctrinate children, but make White children feel bad about themselves. The argument is not only supremely dumb, but mean. First of all, Critical Race Theory is only taught in college not in K-12. Second, depriving children of Social-Emotional Learning only harms them even more. It’s both incredibly mean and cruel. Everything has become deeply politicized and extremely divisive. 

Recently, former child star Ricky Schroeder called museum guards “Nazis” for refusing to admit him because he refused to wear a mask. In his defense, he shouted, “God’s Laws are Higher than man’s!” The guards were of course only carrying out their assigned duties in the museum’s effort to protect its visitors as well as themselves from a deadly disease.

Undeniably, among the worst is the Big Lie by Donald Trump and his supporters that he won the last election. Even though it was one of the most secure on record and there was virtually no evidence of voter fraud, it’s led to the passage of some of the most draconian and restrictive voter laws. As a result, it’s put American Democracy in serious danger. 

Once again, we’re not only dealing with dumb and fallacious arguments, but with absolutely mean and senseless actions. And, as January 6 showed, we’re dealing with the ever-present threats of violence that they encourage. 

Lest it appear that mean arguments and actions are the sole province of the ignorant and extreme Right, I hasten to point out that they’re also found in abundance on the Left as well. Cries for Defunding the Police are one of the most prominent examples. Reform the Police yes, but Defund them when violent crime is up nation-wide? It makes no sense. To be sure, after the senseless and brutal murders by the Police of Black men, there is no doubt whatsoever of the need for major change. The entire culture of Policing needs to be seriously reexamined and overhauled.

There is no end to the examples that one could give of the depths to which we’ve sunk. But one thing is clear. We are suffering from nothing less than Mass Psychosis. Our ability to face and thereby deal with a world that is more complex and messy than anything we’ve ever faced is in serious jeopardy. 

Finally, consider the fact that Words themselves have become more troublesome and divisive than ever. Thus, the use of pronouns by which we refer to people’s identities have become major flashpoints. Compared to the pain and humiliation that LGBTQ’s have suffered for years, the issue pales in significance. One is entitled to use whatever he, she, or they feels is appropriate to refer to oneself and others. 

In addition, the Age of Dis and Misinformation has only made matters worse. Who and what can one Trust to provide True and Accurate Information about the multiple Threats that assault us on a daily basis? No wonder why Paranoia has flourished and made us feel more Vulnerable than ever. It’s not surprising that we yearn for reputable authorities to address our Fears as honestly and as forthrightly as they can. 

But just when we need them more than ever, along with Health Care workers of all stripes, School Principals are planning to resign in numbers never experienced before. The stress of dealing with the Mental Problems of students and the constant angry flareups of parents has gotten to the point where they can’t take it anymore. The same is true of Flight Attendants. The numbers of dangerous incidents with unruly passengers have become so frequent and violent such that it’s no longer safe to fly.

Unfortunately, the problems with Words is widespread. Thus, recently, Russia has announced that anyone calling its “Incursion into Ukraine” an Insurrection or a War could face up to 15 years in jail. 

To recap, the “arguments”—if once again they are even worthy of the term—range from punishing parents and children for alleged crimes; ridiculing and thereby downplaying serious health concerns; verbally assaulting workers who are merely doing their assigned jobs in order to protect the public and themselves; furthering lies that put American Democracy at risk; instead of promoting serious reform, threatening the very existence of the institution of Policing.   

We cannot survive if we continue to deny and trivialize life-threatening events and especially sensible ways of dealing with them. 

The greatest casualty of Covid 19 and of all the other threats we’re facing is the serious damage they’ve done to our ability to make sense of things and to get along with one another. Reason Itself and Civility have suffered serious blows.

While counterarguments may not change the minds of those who need it most, we have no choice but to speak out as forcefully and as often as we can against the most vicious assertions and atrocious lies. More than ever, we have to believe with all our hearts and minds in the dictum that the Truth will finally win out.

[i] Ian I. Mitroff, Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide toCombatting Dumb Arguments, 2015.

[ii] Ian I. Mitroff, The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons From Covid, Springer, New York, 2022, in press.

Blog, Politics, Psychology

Psychopathology on full display

Originally published November 21, 2018 on Nation of Change

While not perfect or overwhelming, the people decided in the midterms to check on the President’s power. Expect more to come. It’s our only hope.

If there were any doubts whatsoever about President Trump’s mental state, they were completely dispelled by his performance on the day after the elections.

Because of the grave danger he poses not only to our country but to the world, in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, all of the contributors felt strongly that it was their moral duty to break with the long-standing, self-imposed rule of not diagnosing someone that they had not examined personally. The feeling was that on a daily basis Trump exhibited more than enough instances of disturbing behavior to reach definitive conclusions as to his mental health. The overwhelming judgment is that he suffers from literally every known form of mental illness: pathological narcissism, delusions, paranoia, frequent breaks with reality, etc.

What they came tantalizing close to saying it but did not is that Donald Trump fits all of the traits associated with psychopaths. Does this thereby make him one? In my judgment, the answer is unequivocally “Yes!” Indeed, not only does he not hide his disturbing behavior for all to see, but he flaunts it daily. Once again, it was on full display on Wednesday.

While all of the traits associated with psychopaths are highly unsettling, the callous lack of compassion and empathy for others stands out. Indeed, it’s one of the primary characteristics. The latest is his total lack of compassion for those who suffered in the California wild fires. No wonder why he constantly hurls insults and mocks others. And, why you’re either with him or not; no grey area is tolerated.

It helps as well to explain his pronounced inability to accept any responsibility for his words and actions and the need to constantly blame others. It also accounts for his lack of remorse or any sense of guilt. And, it explains his propensity for violence.

The constant need for stimulation in the form of adoring rallies, highly impulsive behavior, and a highly inflated sense of self-worth are also major characteristics. Promiscuity is a major trait as well. And last but not least is lying pathologically.

What is most disturbing is how those who voted for Trump and continue to support him no matter what not only rationalize his behavior, but revel in it. While they may not be psychopaths themselves, they are enablers of it nonetheless.

One cannot reason with psychopaths because reason is not part of their makeup. Nor is it part of those to whom they appeal. The only remedy left is political.  While not perfect or overwhelming, the people decided in the midterms to check on the President’s power. Expect more to come. It’s our only hope.

Blog, Politics, Psychology

Post Traumatic Trump Disorder

Originally published November 17, 2017 on The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

Blog, Politics, Psychology

News Alert: Psychologists Discover Pathological Pettiness (PP)

Originally published February 10, 2017 on the Huffington Post

Psychologists have discovered a new mental disorder for which there is no known treatment: Pathological Pettiness or PP for short. The condition is manifested by the constant need to respond bitterly to the slightest threats to one’s person. Thus, the numbers of people for and against one are magnified all out of proportion. In short, the person cannot tolerate anything that diminishes his or her sense of self-worth.

The condition is difficult to diagnose and treat because it similar to other well-known disturbances such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The primary difference is that controlled lab experiments reveal that those suffering from PP are able to detect the most minute slights to their person that those suffering from other disorders are able to ignore.

Quarantines have been proposed until one can get a better handle on treating the disease. If unchecked, the fear is that PP will spread uncontrollably and thus infect sizable numbers of the population. If this were to happen, an accompanying disorder would take hold, Alternative Fact Syndrome, the need to make up whatever suits one’s sense of realty. There is also no known treatment for this highly disturbing and infectious disease as well.

Blog, Politics, Psychology

Where are all the adults?

Originally Published 12/14/16 on Nation of Change

The election of someone so unfit as Trump to be President not only opens up, but relives old traumas. No wonder why Trump arouses such intense feelings.

An important concept from General Psychology, the Parentified Child, is key to understanding why so many are suffering from feelings that everything is completely falling apart. In a word, many are not only overwhelmed by, but alternate between intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, and despair.

Parentified Children are children who early in life had to assume the role of a parent because their actual parents were unable to function as adults. Whether the parents suffered from debilitating mental illness, serious alcohol or drug addiction, were generally incompetent, or were unavailable emotionally, the basic roles between parents and children were fundamentally reversed.

Because the parents weren’t dependable, or fully present, the children had no alternative but to step in and keep things running as best they could. Thus, the children often prepared meals, dressed younger kids for school, etc. But as a result, the children had no childhoods themselves. This not only produced major bouts of depression later in life (normal disappointments and setbacks were magnified), but lifelong feelings of intense anger towards the parents, and adults in general.

I know all of this for a fact for I was a Parentified Child. My mother suffered from a chronic, debilitating form of depression and my father drove a cab at nights to get away from a sick wife and two young kids. My brother and I were thereby essentially left on our own to care for our mother and ourselves as best we could, which was difficult since there was barely enough money for food and rent for the run-down flats in which we lived.

However, I was blessed with brains. Since I didn’t want to live like my parents, and I did extremely well in school, I embraced education with a fierce passion. It was my ticket out of poverty. I not only ended up getting a PhD, but became a professor and a student for life. In short, those who have the character to survive bad, if not lost, childhoods have also developed the fortitude and will that are necessary for success later in life.

As a result of both my background and education, I understand perfectly what many are feeling, namely where are all the adults who are supposed to help take care of us? Just when the office of the Presidency calls for the most mature, healthy-minded, and highly functioning adult, we’ve elected someone who at best is nothing more than a highly disturbed child, and clearly, an out-and-out demagogue. This not only angers me greatly, but absolutely scares me to hell. My worst nightmare has come to life. Once again the children are put in the position of acting as grownups.

The election of someone so unfit as Trump to be President not only opens up, but relives old traumas. No wonder why Trump arouses such intense feelings.

If in addition, we add what’s going on in the world around us, then truly a dark cloud of bitter hopelessness has descended upon us: Civility has all but vanished. We’re assaulted daily by rudeness everywhere we turn. Dangerous driving has reached epidemic proportions. Madmen are in control of crazy so-called nation states. We live under a perpetual cloud of terrorism. Before and after Trump’s election, there’s been a dangerous surge in hate crimes. The one-percent continue to enrich themselves at the literal expense of everyone else. Callous unfeeling madmen do indeed run the world. They have to be carefully monitored and checked assiduously every day.

If there is a saving grace, and I believe there is, Parentified Children also live with an abiding sense of hope that things will ultimately get better, that somewhere, somehow, adults will eventually come to the rescue. I have never given up the hope that things will get better. After all, they did for me.

But for real hope to exist, we first have to recognize and accept that we are going through what Parentified Children suffered early in life.

Blog, Politics, Psychology

On The Psychopathology of Arguments

Originally published November 16, 2015 on the Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog, Gun Control, Psychology

Living in a State of Constant Paranoia: The Time is Way Overdue to Ban Toy Guns That Look Like the Real Thing!

Originally posted on Nation of Change – December 6, 2013

On October 22, 2013, a 13-year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus in Santa Rosa, California after he was warned repeatedly to put down what looked like a real automatic rifle. When Lopez turned around with the fake gun pointing directly at Gelhaus and his partner, fearing for their lives, Deputy Gelhaus fired eight times killing Lopez instantly.

Because of the tragic loss of a young life and the understandable outrage that naturally followed, I am afraid that the full lessons have not been drawn from the episode.

Unless we understand and learn from them, we will only see future such tragedies.

While there are few if any excuses for the taking of any life, because I have worked with the police over my career, I want to put forward a different understanding of the tragedy. To do so, let me take a step back and indulge in a bit of theory.

Melanie Klein is one of the most influential child psychoanalysts who ever lived. It is contended that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. Working with children as young as newborns up to pre-teens, Klein pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior.

One of Klein’s earliest discoveries was what she termed the “paranoid-schizoid position.” The child’s earliest state was “paranoid” because of its incessant fears that it would be abandoned or hurt by its first caregivers, typically the mother when Klein worked early in the 20th century. It was also “schizoid” because the young child’s mind was not sufficiently developed to understand and accept that the “good mother,” that one that fed, cared for, and met the child’s every demand, was also the “bad mother” who couldn’t be there all the time and had to discipline the child. Fortunately, with love and understanding, and without overreacting to it, the mother helped the child to heal the “split” between these two diametrically opposite images. In time, the child was able to see and accept that the “good and the bad mother” were one and the same person. She also helped the child to see that there was a “good” and “bad side” to everyone including the child itself.

But if there were prolonged trauma, then the splits would never heal properly and even continue to grow. Indeed, even with healthy development, all of us on occasion split the world into “good and bad guys.” The constant demonization by Democrats and Republicans of one another in Washington is sadly only one manifestation of this phenomenon, albeit one of the worst!

Unfortunately, paranoia and splitting are also furthered by society and certain occupations. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that police live and work in a constant state of “paranoid-schizoid.” They are constantly in fear for their safety and lives.

This is not meant in the slightest to excuse or wish away the tragedy that happened. It is also not to say that there aren’t bad or racist cops. There are. But this often obscures more difficult lessons. At the very least, we are not only aware of bad cops, but we try to do things about it. But, we are generally unaware and try not to correct for the earliest states of mind that Klein identified.

If there is any blame to go around for the tragedy, I place it squarely on the makers and the sellers of toy guns that look so much like the “real thing” that they make such tragedies almost inevitable. What kind of society would even allow such things?

There is no excuse for such “toys,” let alone real assault weapons that are too easily available.

Contrary to gun proponents, we are not safer as nation by having 315,000,000 guns, approximately one for every person. Toy guns are now part of the same lethal mix.

If there is any good that can come out of such a tragedy, the California legislature is considering a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of toy guns that “look like the real thing.” I fervently hope that such a bill passes.

One death is one too many!

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, 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, Psychology

Psychotic Nation: Media, Macbeth, Cinderella

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 17, 2012

Make no mistake about it. America is in an extreme state of mind. It is gripped by forces that can only be described as psychotic.

The great poets and playwrights understood implicitly that to understand politics—indeed, to truly understand anything human—one not only had to understand the intricacies of the human mind, but extreme states such as psychosis.

Much of what motivates humans is buried deep in the unconscious. As a result, most people are not unaware of some of the most powerful determinants of human behavior. This is why drama is so important. It is the art form par excellence that digs far below the surface of everyday life to bring up to the light and thus examine the “dark forces” that govern so much of human conduct.

This was brought home recently when my wife and I had the opportunity to attend the play Medea, Macbeth, and Cinderella in Ashland. Despite its critical shortcomings—too often it seemed that three of the most disparate characters imaginable were merely thrown together as in a disjointed nightmare—it nevertheless managed to illuminate the dark side of politics even though this was not the prime intention of the play.

Medea, Macbeth, Cinderella brings together three of the major forms of drama: Greek, Elizabethan, and the modern American Musical Comedy in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway production of Cinderella. But most of all, it serves as a prime vehicle to compare and examine the role of women at three critical stages of life: middle, Medea; late, Lady Macbeth; and early, Cinderella.

One of the key interpretations of Medea is that she is driven to murder her children because of the uncontrollable rage she feels towards her husband who has deserted her for a younger woman. Lady Macbeth is complicit in her husband’s murder of the king as well as subsequent murders because of their ruthless ambition. And, Cinderella represents the stage of youthful, dreamy idealism, if not pure fantasy.

From a psychological standpoint, Medea is gripped by an extreme state of psychotic rage. In killing her children, she has lost complete contact with rationality, if not reality altogether. In a word, she is not only consumed, but blinded by overwhelming hatred. Lady Macbeth is equally blinded. She too is in a deep psychotic state, in this case one of murderous and completely out of control ambition. And, Cinderella is living in a state of pure fantasy, if not an out-and-out delusion. While she is not necessarily in a psychotic state, she is clearly on the borderline between reality and unreality. Were she to acknowledge the unresolved hatred she feels towards her stepsisters and stepmother, then she might indeed experience psychotic rage as well.

To be fair, while women are central characters in all three plays, the male characters have more than their share of psychosis as well. Thus, Media, Macbeth, Cinderella should be viewed more broadly. It is not just about women alone. It is about the human condition.The parallels with contemporary politics are astounding. The Republicans and the extreme Right are literally—not figuratively– willing to kill the children, and of course the parents, of the uninsured—if not their own in the bargain– because of their uncontrolled hatred of a government that in their eyes has betrayed them by electing a Black President. Worse, a Black man has taken away their basic and God-given freedom to govern their most personal possession, their own bodies and health. The rage they feel outshines Medea a thousand times over.

The overwhelming ambition of the Republican candidates leads to them utter the worst, contemptible, and in this sense, “murderous” lies and falsehoods.

Finally, Cinderella’s dream-like fantasies represent the Republican and Far Right fictions of an idealized America that is no more, if it ever was.

To see Medea, Macbeth, Cinderella is not only to witness, but endure the endless psychotic bouts of behavior that govern so much of our contemporary politics. This is not to label flippantly those whose political views I disagree with as necessarily “psychotic.” Far from it. My use of the term psychotic is reserved only for the use of the most violet language that characterizes President Obama in the foulest of ways. If it isn’t out and out psychotic, then it certainly borders on it.

Unfortunately, unlike the play, the curtain does not come down in “real life.” Indeed, it seems as if the “play” will never end.

As Nietzsche once said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Our poets and philosophers know this all too well. If only the general public and our politicians did.

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 17, 2012