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Friday, January 29, 2021

American political culture through the lens of the Kardman Bully Triangle

The Kardman drama triangle, while originating in the “transactional analysis” period of family therapy, with Eric Berne as the prominent theorist,  may have some considerable relevance to the American psycho-drama that is playing out across the United States, and threatens to immolate the political system. Doubtless, the political class more than defers to anything “psycho-babble” sounding, in fact so demonizes the professional practice and its relevance to their political careers as well as to their personal lives. However, it is precisely those “specters” we are determined to ignore, deny, defy and bury, as outside the purview of our personal world view that have the potential to wreak the most havoc. It is not that they are more virulent and toxic that other aspects of our psychological profile, but that in their being locked into a vault of the unconscious, they somehow manage to take on overtones, accretions and pulsations that eventually splurt forth seemingly out of nowhere, when we least expect such eruptions.

The political class, including the reporters, analysts, practitioners and even the historians, tend to focus on the daily events, tweets, photos, and words as the first draft of how the political tides are moving. Occasionally, a theoretical framework might be useful in  at least offering a different light, and contextual and cognitive ethos in which and from which to investigate the potential for the daily news to move in a more detectable direction, if not an actual destination.

Right now, the Karpman drama triangle offers a lens into the three principal leads in what we are calling the American psycho-drama. The three ‘characters,’ if we were examining a specific family structure are: victim, persecutor and rescuer.

The Victim: whether or not this archetype (beyond a single individual person, in this case a group) represents those who feels or acts like a victim. Feeling victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, unable to make decisions, unable to solve problems, unable to take pleasure in life, or to achieve insight. If this victim is not actually being persecuted, will seek out both a persecutor and also a rescuer. Both additional archetypes are necessarily to sustain the victim’s negative emotions, perceptions, and underlying beliefs.

The Rescuer: “I alone can fix it for you!” is the stereotypical rescuer’s line. The rescuer is a classic enabler who feels guilty if they do not ‘go to the rescue’. The negative impact of their efforts, however, keep the victims dependent and prevents the victim from failing and experiencing the consequences of their choices. The rescuer’s primary interest is in avoiding their own problems in their well-developed disguise as concern for the victim’s needs.

The Persecutor (the villain): controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritarian, rigid and superior are all words to describe this ‘character’.

Energy to initiate the drama depending on which perspective we are looking at, comes from the villain or the persecutor. As soon as a victim experiences what s/he calls persecution, s/he feels also a need to recruit others into the conflict. When a rescuer is brought into the drama, all three roles are now engaged and quite possibly, roles can be reversed, if for example, the victim turns on the rescuer who then reverts to persecutor.

It is, however, the meeting of the immediate, often unconscious psychological needs of each, without actually realizing or acknowledging the harm that is inevitable from the dysfunction. Each is acting on selfish needs rather than acting in a responsible way that would include consideration for the other(s). The rescuer’s complex motives might well include a desire to resolve the conflict, but also may have a midden motive to fail to succeed or at least to succeed in a way by which they benefit. Boosting self-esteem, or respective rescue status, or the deep enjoyment of having another depend(ent) on them, there is a clear potential to continue to play on the victim to perpetuate the payoff. The victim is potentially co-dependent, by engaging in a process in which their needs are met through the rescuer’s care.

The process of depriving each participant of the payoff they need or desire or demand or require, as a way out of the cycle, is much more easily stated than achieved.

If we, for our purposes here, extrapolate and assign roles to the three dominant actors in the American psycho-drama, the victim applies coherently to the trump cult.

The persecutor (in the eyes of the victim) is clearly the Democrats, The Gang, the Socialists, all of them operating as a cabal of child molesters.

And the rescuer, in this space, is, and has been, the former president who, while pontificating about how he alone is making America great (again), is profiting (allegedly) both financially and potentially politically, while also potentially falling to the various arms of the American justice system and its official and legal prosecutors.

Triangulation in family therapy is a process in which a two-party relationship that is experiencing conflict and tension will inevitably and naturally involve a third party ‘to reduce tension.’ One researcher’s insight seems especially cogent in analyzing the U.S. dilemma: that drama-based leaders can instill a culture of drama, in an organization, family, and (it says here) a nation. Persecutors are often in leadership, and a culture of persecution fits hand-in-glove with a culture of cut-throat competition, fear, blaming, manipulation and high risk of law suits. Certainly, the language, decorum, behaviour and inflammatory ethos of the American political theatre qualifies as one of cut-throat competition, fear, blaming, manipulation and high risk law suits.

Persecution seems to exemplify the psychic state of the trump cult, fed by the long-standing menu and diet of lies, distortions, manipulations and prevarications of the ex-president. “They are coming to take your guns!” “There is a Muslim invasion in Washington and across the country!” “Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings of young children and teenagers respectively were “flag events” staged to enhance the anti-gun lobby!” “Pizzagate was real and trump is coming to save us from these child molesters!”….are just some of the wanton, exaggerated and flagrantly untrue lies and manipulations being spread virally with the co-dependent compliance of the social media companies.  In a nation in which ‘hate speech’ is protected (Supreme Court in Matal v Tam, 2017, reaffirmed that there is effectively no hate speech exception to the free speech rights protected by the First Amendment and that the U.S. government may not discriminate against speech on the basis of the speaker’s viewpoint.) Additionally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 1996, says an ‘interactive computer service’ can’t be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content. This protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal…Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Chris Cox, (R-CA)crafter section 230 so website owners could moderate sites without worrying about legal liability. (from theverge.com)

·        So….

·        if the wild west has been and continues to be re-enacted throughout the universe of the internet, without worry or even consideration of the potential for liability, on the part of the platform corporations, and

·        if the political psycho-drama is and has been so hot that ‘the show’ has actually shoved the potential for legislation off the table of the elected officials in Congress, and

·        if the arguments for obstruction, evasion, manipulation and narcissism now include and depend on a total disregard for what once qualified as an agreed body of facts, and

·        if the dysfunctional family model, in which and by which immature, self-centered, self-serving individuals regarded in many quarters as role models, heroes, wealthy magnates of influence and social status, and

·        if the political theatre/culture has morphed into little more than another reality television show, in which the stereotypes (archetypes) of victim, persecutor/rescuer play out, with all actors relying on a zero-sum game, in which and by which every win must include a loser, without compromise and

·        if the media buys into the psycho-drama as a reliable vehicle for both ratings and advertising revenue and

·        if the American ‘business model’ places profit and winning at all costs as the one to emulate in all aspects of the national culture and

·        if desperation is the scarcity the defines all three participants (actors, archetypes) in the American psycho-drama, then the cycle of national dysfunction will continue to play out regardless of the placebo vocabulary of the Biden administration and the army of politically and intellectually accomplished minions and

·        if there is no shift in the attitudes, the emotions, the psychic framework of those who perceive themselves (and their 74 million voters) as victims, and

·        if those victims are frozen into their self-designed, and self-applied, self-sabotage, without evincing a willingness to shift their perspective,

Then the multiple tasks on the Democrat agenda for unity, to build-back-better, to resolve racial inequities, to nurture trust among world powers, to combat climate change, to stem the tide of the pandemic….will all fall victim to the Kardman triangle.

In order to confront the implications of the Kardman bully triangle, one based in anxiety and problem-focus, where each role is fearful of owning their own experience, so they focus outward, the first step is for each ‘actor’ to recognize their role. In order to do that, each has to turn attention ‘inwards’ and take an inventory of the needs each is attempting to have met through the dysfunctional role they have adopted. And then, each needs to acknowledge the reality of their needs, take responsibility for addressing those needs, and ‘step into an already available and accessible power resource of your own. Its is not a huge step from victim to ‘vulnerable’ where powerlessness morphs into struggling. Nor is it a monstrous step from  rescuing to caring…instead of taking power away from others, empathize with others and allow them to cope however they deem necessary. From persecuting, instead of threatening punishment to control others, persecutors can move to assertiveness, by which you meet your own legitimate needs. (Reference: Jenn Getts, May 27, 2020 in Calgary Institute of Counselling.ca)

Now, given that there does not appear to be an objective, outside, professional trained, highly experienced and even more highly intuitive national psycho-therapist playing a public and prominent public role, through the media, (although Mary Trump has tried!), it behooves both political parties, the White House, and the various respected thought leaders from both parties, and diverging political ideologies, theologies, ethnicities and social and economic backgrounds to, first, reflect on the current conditions, including the truth of each actor’s co-dependence and reliance on dysfunction to meet needs. And then, to begin informal discussions within each ‘tribe’ about how to shift the internal dialogue, not only within each practitioner but also within the culture of the tribe, and then to start to free the freshness of a new foundational approach that is based not on  scarcity but on plenty, including the energy, creativity and support all who are triangulated to stand up both to reality and the truth and to meet needs without harming others in the process.

A mature, health, self-respecting American nation would be a welcome invite to the international party which we all have to ‘entertain’ if we are going to shift our planet and our access to legitimate opportunities and needs, in a shared, collaborative and committed new world order. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Healthy men are crucial to healthy culture

Amid the confluence of a pandemic, its mutating variants, the uneven production and delivery of vaccines, the economic fallout, potentially as damaging as some kind of military-engagement devastation, this morning Dr. Robert Whitley, as associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University and a research scientist at the Douglas Research Centre (also associated with McGill) contributed a highly provocative piece to the CBC. Entitled, “Alarming numbers around men’s mental health indicate need foo national response,” Dr. Whitley documents some shocking, trend-shaping, and tragic information:

·        Men account for 75% of suicides in Canada, an average of 50 men per week dying of suicide.

·        Canadian men are around three times more likely to experience addiction and substance abuse compared to Canadian women.

·        In B.C. the Coroner’s Service reports that males accounted for 81% of drug overdose deaths in that province in 2020.

·        Statistics Canada noted that one in four boys do not graduate from high school on time, a rate significantly higher than for girls

·        A study found that nearly 9% of men aged 25 to 34 never graduate from high school, almost double the rate for similarly aged women

·        4 in 10 university students are male and a lack of post0-secondary education leaves people ill-equipped for the new economy

·        The unemployment rate for 25029-year-old-men who are actively seeking work is twice that of similarly aged women, the second-largest gender gap in the OECD

·        A massive decline in traditional blue-collar industries leaving fewer jobs for unskilled workers, especially in rural areas, and medium sized towns with few alternatives. Absence from the workforce can leave people bereft of pride and purpose, contributing to despair, alienation and isolation.

·        Angus-Reid survey found that 63% of 18-34-year-old Canadian men experienced considerable loneliness and isolation, compared to 53% of similarly aged women

·        Evidence suggest that men underutilize mental health services, with women being three times more likely to seek such help

·        Studies indicate that men tend to prefer more informal action-based or group-based mental health services to 1-on-1 talk therapy

·        The U.K., House of Commons launched an inquiry into the mental health of men and boys in 2019, a decision supported by all political parties

Dr. Whitley calls for a need to create a parliamentary inquiry in Canada on men’s mental health issues, to include a critical examination of policies and programs in education, employment and health care.

Before we get to the mountain of empirical data about employment and educational trends, let’s pause, just for a few moments and cast our gaze over what can be legitimately termed “male culture” in Canada. We are, and have been for a century, raised in such pathetic aphorisms as “don’t cry, big boys don’t cry!” and “suck it up, you’ll be alright!” “don’t tell me you’re sick, when you really don’t want to go to school,” and even, deplorably, “real boys don’t play house, dolls”….And such epithets come from the mouths of both mothers and fathers, all of them determined to raise a young boy who is battle-tested and therefore battle-ready, in order to ‘take on the world’. And given that ‘battle’ imagery, and the cultural icons, myths, heroes and movies that celebrate all things military/war/battle/espionage/power/winners and the obvious and tragic opposites, losers/prisoners/victims/failure/loss/ and the multiple contributing factors that demean others (stupidity/ignorance/innocence/weakness/unpreparedness/lack of discipline/defiance of authority/) have come to saturate not only the military establishments, but also the organizational hierarchies, power structures, (pyramidal, autocratic, single executive,) and the cultural conventions that sustain those structures, how can we be surprised?

Sycophancy was not invented by the Republican Senators in the U.S. Congress. It abounds in every hierarchical organization on the continent. And every rookie recruit knows implicitly that he must “pay his dues” and “pay homage” to the traditions, the ethos and the personalities of those currently in charge and those on whose shoulders the edifice was built. Power rains, reigns and reins ubiquitously….downward, regally, and constrictingly of innovation, free, open and honest communication in those pyramidal top-heavy organizations whose legacy will infect both men and women for decades, if not centuries. It is also not accidental, either, to note that women ‘fit’ into such structures with much greater ease and compliance, and conformity, knowing that ‘pleasing’ those in power ‘will attract more flies’ than vinegar (just like sugar!)

And, conversely, young boys and emerging adult men, in our valiant and often misguided effort to identify as “different” from our female peers, take great pleasure in the grease and oil of a machine that needs fixing, and also take great umbrage at participating orally in classes that are designed to analyse critically Jane Austen’s or Emily Bronte’s or George Elliot’s novels, of Emily Dickinson’s or Margaret Avison’s poems. We engage eagerly in all social activities that put the latest football games, and especially the most onerous tackles in the spotlight. In short, we are steeped, brewed, casked in a culture of brittle, narrow, strictly enforced masculinity. And that masculinity, while not sustainable, is suffering from an onslaught of erosive forces over which neither individual males, nor even groups of males have much if any control.

Those is power, making decisions, mostly male, are so obsessed with their/our own immediate personal gratification (wages, ambition, power symbols, records, trophies, and legacies) that we care not a ‘fig’ for how we might be influencing generations of young men who will inevitably emulate our “success”. We are trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to strive for success. And that success, we are indoctrinated to believe, and to embody, and to enhance, will assure us of our desired status and station: married, with achieving children, a beautiful home, a nice car, trendy vacations, a pension plan and a coterie of friends. Of course, while there is a grain of truth in the myth, there is also a large “dose of salt” that minimizes life’s complexities, life’s challenges, life’s sicknesses, divorces, deaths, bankruptcies, firings, redundancies, economic depressions, global recessions, pandemics, global warmings, and the rising and receding tides of technologies, machines, medical interventions and evolving cultural models and demands. And, contrary to popular opinion, learning how to become a professional golfer, or scholarship hockey or football athlete may or may not entail those highly impacting experiences of set-back, interruption, defamation, and threat that can and often will overtake even the most “successful”.

Add to this bildungsroman that attaches to and identifies each adolescent male who is emerging into adulthood, a masculine cultural stereotype that silently whispers, “You have to get through this alone,” especially if the problem/pain/discomfort/anxiety/fear/failure does not include a physical, observable and treatable bodily injury. Strength, traditionally, and almost sacredly, is both developed and displayed by an individual, except in team sports, where individual skills embodied by those special athletes, stand out and define excellence for the coaches, other team members and certainly the parents. While Canada’s college applicants’ landscape differs from that of a U.S. college applicant, it is not accidental, nor irrelevant in a general sense, to note that many U.S. parents are so committed to their young son’s or daughter’s admission to a ‘first class school’ that they turn the complete routine and budget of their family into a production house to develop athletic skills at the highest and most costly level, in order to pave their child’s entry into those schools. Imitation, while considered by some to be the greatest form of flattery, is also a potential cultural mimicking that warrants deep and critical examination.

However, any such public examination, I fear, will devolve into a combination of individual biographies, (case histories) as well as a compilation of sociological, statistical data, whose curves and predictions will then be interpreted and translated into policies that plow public dollars into the “problem’ as if, to repeat, what we do in all other instances of public angst can and will assuage all vestiges of public guilt, shame, responsibility and lingering attention to a deeply rooted and tenaciously-held mythology. Our culture is so truth-averse, so deeply ingrained in avoidance of personal responsibility, especially when it concerns a publicly documented, and thereby politically radioactive, social and cultural issue. We are very quick to tap the keys (letters) on our phones and tablets to excoriate individuals whose lives insult our sense of public decency, public ethics and morality, and the concomitant “ire” that seems to have seeped (flooded) into our neighbourhoods, courtrooms, and our public transit systems. On the other hand, we are also very quick to minimize any public issue that not only appears to be highly complex, but actually is extremely complicated. And this “avoidance/denial” mechanism helps us to deflect an authentic and shared and national responsibility for our own part in the national tragedy. “It’s too big and complicated for me to do anything about it anyway!” becomes a chorus, if not a national anthem, as we all look askance and disdain public figures who might actually be invested in making things better ridiculing their every proposal as ineffective, inadequate, too costly and motivated primarily by self-interest.

Vacillation between denial and avoidance, on the one hand, and a public posture that, while attempting to integrate the implications of research into the proposed recommendations, fails to engage the whole public consciousness, as well as the shared unconsciousness, will generate a brief flurry of symptom-directed activity, a few doctoral theses, a plethora of public envelopes of cash and the needed administrators, and little shift in the tectonic cultural plates that underpin the continental, if not global, demise of men, and the masculinity-shackles that impales too many.

Our families, our schools, our colleges and universities, and our corporations including the public service and the military all share in helping to generate the problem of masculine mental turbulence, and it will take all of them, individually and collectively to begin to address this sleeping and growing malaise. And, too, all of our churches will have to bring out the individual and the organizational mirrors, and investigate the origins and the histories of all of our deities, (almost exclusively male) and the hierarchies of dogma, belief and ritual that have been designed, imposed, sacralized and dissected for their toxic potency in the lives of millions of men, over centuries.

We have played religious (and pseudo-theological) war games from the beginning. We have pontificated our “truth” as the one and only. We have colonized millions with our self-serving, deity-denying power trips, on all continents, and then rewarded those colonizers with the “blessings of God” as we conceived HIM to be. The churches, all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, have traded in the generation of how men and women are to obey their god, how they are to procreate, with whom they are to procreate, to love and to dwell with. They have also enjoined in making their models and their ideologies, and their beliefs sacred and pure, while remaining silent about the inevitable, undeniable and veritable scepticism, doubt, uncertainty, vagueness, humility and pathos of their wandering pilgrimages. And while that was continuing, the churches built organizational structures, pedagogical systems, evangelizing systems, funding edifices, as well as worship and liturgical traditions that all contributed in their own way to the kind of tensions we are now witnessing among men and women around the world.

Naturally, Canadians will focus on the plight of the men who live here. And that focus will have to include the ravages of both world wars, including the Canadian patriotic heroes who died and those who returned from the front, mentally ravaged by what has only recently been  legitimized as PTSD, and treated, however meagerly. And into any new fabric of Canadian culture, will have to be woven the more recent fibres of the celebration of gay men and trans and bi- men whose contributions will continue to unfold.

And in the midst of the new tapestries of masculinity, celebrating the diversity of examples, there will have to be an extensive effort to disabuse many straight men from their ambivalence, if not outright hostility to gayness, and to gay men specifically. And in that worthy initiative, the Christian churches, at least, will have to play a significant role, given that the biblical injunction against homosexuality continues to plague much theological interpretation and practice even if it remains under the public radar.

The issue of the mental health and wellness of Canadian males, while peeking out from behind the many veils of secrecy and avoidance, will continue to attract researchers, scholars, athletic professionals, and hopefully theologians and social critics, as well as a bevy of educators steeped in the multiple dimensions of healthy masculinity. Mothers and fathers, too, of especially new born boys, would help to begin the process by poring over such books as “the Wonder of Boys” by Michael Gurian….and then searching for the many other insightful and supportive works about boys and men that are appearing in bookstores and on line.

As an integral part of any move toward enhanced mental health of and for men, the term “toxic masculinity” ( a term coined in the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980’s and 90’s) will have to be tempered at least. It is not masculinity that by definition is toxic, but the acts by which men are tragically and persistently sabotaged by other men, themselves deeply burdened by their own experiences, and too often, their participation in denying responsibility and certainly in refusing to seek help soon enough to prevent those tragic acts. And, it says here that the hand of a supportive, courageous, creative and independent female colleague, partner, friend can and often does provide the light and the empathy that can neutralize some of the symptoms of toxic masculinity.

Healthy families, classrooms, organizations, churches and businesses depend on healthy men. And it will take us all to help to move our culture toward a time when the Whitley report will no longer be either so relevant or so urgent. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Ischinger's call for truth, trust and transparency needs trumpeting globally

For a while immediately after the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, there were many public comparisons made between the “Black Lives Matter” protests and the events of that horrible day in January.

It might seem useful and appropriate to take the veil of the kind of glib comparison that some make, for their own political purposes, in much the same way that non-equivalencies have been the stock and trade of the last four years in the United States.

White supremacists, and a goodly number of the seditionists were clearly supportive of white supremacy values and goals, differ significantly from those protesting the murders of clearly innocent black men and women, by most often white police officers. The immediacy of the injustice leaves blood on the hands of those bad actors who committed those murders. However, the injustice of some 400 years of what can only be called apartheid, colonialism, repression, racial bigotry and even radical racial bigotry, makes the violent cry for the false extension of the trump presidency look like a fall from a child’s wagon, resulting in a bruised knee. There cannot be permitted any attempt to justify the actions of January 6th, 2021, and to falsely try to weld that day to those several days of massive street protests just won’t fly.

Conspiracy theorists, including those cultishly enmeshed with something called QAnon, for whom trump was (is?) considered a saviour from the “satanic pedophiles” in the Democratic, also come already disqualified to be even entered into the same sentence as equals, to those protesting on behalf of murdered black men and women. Their total and complete disregard for what can only be called empirical evidence, truth, transparency and basic public facts renders them outside the pale of what must be considered legitimate public discourse. It is not merely hate, racism, bigotry and violence that define  their motives and their actions; it is an all-out onslaught against whatever truths they wish to erase through their inflammatory rhetoric, beliefs and actions. Even those who do not subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy hoax, (and it has to be labelled for the lie it is and for the danger that lie imposes on the body politic), their participation at the Capitol on January 6th represents an open, defiant, dangerous, act of anarchy. And that anarchy is the fruit of the seeds planted by trump, and especially reinforced by his sycophants in the Republican party, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, over the four years of the trump scorched earth policy against science, truth, facts and their flower, democracy.

For Republicans now to reinforce their allegiance to their “leader” in a manner evocative of the servile obeisance of North Koreans to their Kim Jong-un, or of many in Russia to Putin, or of millions in China to Xi Jinping, or of Philippino’s to Duterte, or of Brazilians to Bolsonaro, or of Hungarians to Viktor Orban. And while that list may not capture the length and depth of tyrannies, it serves as a reminder of the growing muscle of right-wing tyrannies, and the danger those tyrannies pose for human rights, for free press, for free and fair elections, for collaboration with those who seek both policy and practices that will impede the destruction of the ecosystem, that will curtail the pandemic, that will foster international co-operation in the design and free delivery of vaccines. Those tyrannies, too, will likely be more conducive to continuing attempts to commit cyber crime, illicit drug deals, intelligence piracy, and a prevalent tendency to secrecy, especially when it comes to investigating the source of pandemics like COVID-19. Or course, the western media, especially in the U.S. will not often, or perhaps ever, stretch as far as to compare their former president with right-wing dictators, except perhaps as symbols of anti-democratic governments with right-wing, white supremacy impulses. They will say things like, ‘he prefers dictators to former U.S. allies’ in an almost anodyne expression of their embarrassment, shame and disgust.

The State Republican party of Oregon yesterday (from The Guardian’s Lois Beckett, on Monday January 25, 2021), “claimed.. by resolution that the January 6th attack by a pro-trump mob was a ‘false flag’ operation, an orchestrated conspiracy ‘designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans, and to create a ‘sham motivation’ to impeach the former president. To back up these false claims, the resolution cited links to rightwing websites, including the Epoch Times, a pro-Trump outlet that has frequently published rightwing misinformation, as well as the Wikipedia entry for ‘Reichstag Fire’…Bill Currier, Republican party chairman, (said), ‘We’re partway in the door of socialism and Marxism right now..and we have to fight…It’s time for choosing. People can decide what they want to believe and when they wan tot do, but there are people standing up and there are people sitting down..”

Language that actually borrows the Third Reich, memorializing the burning of the German parliament (Reichstag) in 1933, coming from the Republican state party in Oregon can and will only enflame both sides: some Republicans, especially those in the Senate already campaigning to shut down the impeachment trial, emboldened, without having to take responsibility for such language, and Democrats who can and will see such expressions as emboldening their efforts to govern without seeking compromise with recalcitrant Republicans.

Appearing on the Global Public Square, with Fareed Zakaria, just this past Sunday, German diplomat and author, Wolfgang Ischinger, told the world that there are three things needed precisely at this moment: TRUST, TRUTH, and TRANSPARENCY! His recent book, World In Danger, A vision of a European future of peace and stability despite the present gloom. The brookings.edu website carries this nugget: “Ischinger examines the root causes of the current conflicts and suggests how Europe can successfully address the most urgent challenges facing the continent.” The author served as deputy foreign minister (1998-2001) in Germany and has served as Germany’s ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom. He has chaired the Munich Security Conference, the world’s leading forum for debating international security policy, since 2008. Henry Kissinger praises in book in these words, also from the brookings.edu website: ‘Ischinger is one of the most perceptive analysts of international affairs. His book should reach a broad audience.’

One can only hope that Biden’s state and national security advisers will put the book on the president’s required reading list. Perhaps after such an assignment, Biden might be prompted to change his call for “unity” to a call for truth. It is, after all, the demise of truth in which the conspiracy theorists, the supremacists, the obstructionists in Congress, and especially the Republican leadership traffics, depends upon and cannot survive without. One of the signature features of the Democratic Party, for too long, has been a proclivity to civility, a compulsion to “play fair” and to moderate their language into diplomatic tepid and luke-warm tea. At the same time the Republicans have been, and will undoubtedly continue to fire their verbal (and vacuous) rhetorical cannons, grabbing the headlines, sustaining and enriching the culture of hate, contempt, racism while linking socialism to Marxism. And for the Democrats to call such language extreme, immoderate or even irrational is to miss the point: it is another seductive, seemingly professional and clearly dispassionate understatement.

Believing that the Republicans will only continue to call anything and everything proposed by the Democrats as socialism and Marxism is neither historically accurate nor politically and ethically tolerable. Call such talk and such misinformation what it is: an unadulterated lie! And only if that message is pounded, and pounded in and through every public interview and statement made by each and every member of the Democratic Party, in every forum, will the public even begin to come to the point of view that libraries, for example, streets, sewers, sanitation workers, and even educators in public schools serve as living, working, effective, necessary and highly professional examples of how the state takes care of human needs in every town, city, state and across the nation. Not only are visible public services provided by state funds, supervised by state officials, the state undertakes to protect every person living within the state’s (and the nation’s) borders. It is the state that issues passports, enabling all citizens to travel around the globe; it is the state that curates information about the pandemic, national security risks, nuclear armament developments, climate changes swirling across all continents and oceans, documents the changes in both flora and fauna, especially those directly related to the food we all eat and its cost, and the state also funds much new research into vaccines, therapeutics, cancer treatments.

This lie that socialism and Marxism are Satanic and thereby must be avoided, as if they were another form of the plague has to be countered just as vociferously, vehemently and urgently as doe the lie of the election fraud, the disappearing pandemic, the Russian influence peddling in favour of trump’s election and re-election. Political speech, editorial opinion, television talking points, and their respective participants, have to be able and willing to tell the truth, and not merely those truths that superficially seem to support the conventional water-cooler talk. And everyone around a water-cooler, too, has an obligation to confront those specious, unsustainable, and especially untruthful statements that overflow the hallways wherever there is a water-cooler.

It is not only those elected Democrats that have to find the political and ethical spine to call a spade a shovel, and to call a lie a lie, without prevarication, without fear of reprisals from their media interrogators, interviewers and their political bag-men and women. Ordinary people, in every classroom, in every office, in every board room, on every factory floor have to wake up to the smell of the stench of the lie. Back in the 90’s, Scott Peck, while doing research for his book, People of the Lie, scoured the Pentagon in search of a single individual who would claim responsibility for the My Lai massacre. He found no one. By Committee, apparently, the decision absolved all individuals of direct responsibility. And yet the chain of command brings with it that specific responsibility, for the desk, or the jeep, or the wheel-house, or the byline where the “buck stops”….And shirking that responsibility only provides added sabotaging fodder for all those who seek refuge under the desk, or without a byline, for whatever it is they decide, publish, spread.

There is a crying and perhaps never more resonant cry for the truth, since only with and through a commitment to the truth, whatever that truth may be (and not only about the mortality rate of the pandemic) can there be any hope of establishing public trust, not only in the science of this galloping virus, and its variants, and the desperate race of the vaccines and therapeutics to catch up. There is a crying and desperate need for  those charged with public responsibility to wear, to walk into, and to utter nothing but the truth.

And that will mean that people in what we regard as high office will have to face the truths of their watch, both the successful and the not-so-much. Having worked in the United States, in a situation in which those in charge refused to take responsibility for the conditions of that workplace, and even to become familiar with those conditions, because they were effectively permitted innocence (and ignorance) by those who knew, but whose truths were never sought or desired, I know how tragic a failure to acknowledge especially organizational truth, in the deepest and darkest truths of its toxicity. Similarly, those who have come to be known as whistle-blowers, too often demeaned and disgraced by those in power who seek the refuge of lying irresponsibility, must come to be regarded as the canaries in the various coal mines whose toxicity (not merely literally but also metaphorically) are threatening our planet’s capacity to endure.

Ischinger’s mantra of “truth, trust, transparency” would be a welcome injection into the veins, the hearts and the minds of each and every public and private organization, and especially in those national and provincial and state governments whose work is needed today more than at any time in the last three-quarters of a century.

Can the author/ambassador’s words be integrated into a political firestorm as part of the extinguisher? 

Friday, January 22, 2021

We are all Alexei Navalny's today!...and for the foreseeable future

President Biden is ensconced in the White House, in the Oval Officer, and deeply embedded in the multiple crises facing the United States and the world. For this, we can all be extremely grateful.

At the same time, Alexei Navalny is imprisoned in a Russian prison, awaiting the government’s desired sentence of 13.5 years of hard labour for opposing Putin whom he accuses of using the nerve agent, Novichok, a Soviet-era chemical weapon, to poison him. A CBC report by Chris Brown, January 19, 2021, carries this searing indictment of the poisoning:

An extensive investigation by journalists with the collective Bellingcat uncovered flight manifests, addresses and phone logs that all pointed to the existence of a secret nerve agent program run by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) designed to eliminate the Kremlin’s enemies. Russian authorities have repeatedly denied any such program exists and warned Navalny that he could be arrested for treason just for accusing Putin of the crime…..Moscow-based political scientist, Ekaterina Schulmann, (is quoted),” There is Putin, and there is anti-Putin, which is him… This is a very brave action. He is acquiring a certain type of moral authority as a person who has demonstrated that is a person who is ready to suffer for his convictions.”

Writer at The New Yorker, Russian-American Journalist, Masha Gessen, also an outspoken critic of Putin, tells Morning Joe (MSNBC)  today that even if the United States imposes sanctions on Russia and on Putin, they will have little impact.

In a Foreign Policy piece, entitled, “What does Putin Stand to Gain (and Lose) by Going after Navalny?” by Amy Mackinnon, September 10, 2020, we read this:

As Russia’s best-known and most effective opposition politician, Navalny was one described as the man Putin fears the most. Homing in on one of the most hot-button issues for Russian voters, Navalny and his team have repeatedly exposed the dazzling corruption of some of Russia’s most senior politicians. After a 2017 investigation alleged that then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had used $1 billion in bribes to but lavish properties, it triggered nationwide protests in the Russian heartland traditionally thought to form the core of Putin’s base.

As to what price Russia will pay….

Mackinnon writes:  It is not yet clear. After Novochok was used against Skripal (in the UK), over 20 countries followed Britain’s lead in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in what then-British Prime Minister Theresa May described as the latest collective expulsion of suspected Russian intelligence officers in history. (Angela) Merkel has faced growing calls, including from her own party, to halt construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a project long backed by Germany and that is over 90 percent complete. And on Monday, a version of the Magnitsky Act*, which could impose sanctions on human rights abusers and corrupt officials abroad, was introduced in the German Bundestag: if passed it would provide Germany with another avenue to respond to future Russian misdeeds.

The new Russian constitution, permitting Putin effectively life-long reign, has considerably upped the ante against anyone who attempts to oppose Putin, criticize Putin, expose Putin, and especially one like Navalny who has, in spite of the roadblocks Putin has put in his path, grown and developed a considerable following in Russia.

Confronting dictators, long considered a cancer on both national and international political affairs, has evaded scholars as well as practicing politicians. Back in 2015, in a piece entitled, The Psychology of Dictatorship: Why Gaddafi Clings to Power by John Cloud, (from healthland.time.com), we find three explanations for dictatorial behavior:

a)     Dictators are psychopaths…defined as antisocial personality disorder, (featuring) “repeatedly performing acts that area grounds for arrest,” deceitfulness, impulsivity, and lack of remorse.

b)    Dictators are paranoid narcissists… Most non-dictatorial leaders employ subordinates who are empowered to question them., Dictators arrange their lives so that no one can play this role….In a 2003 piece in the journal Psychological Review, three researchers led by Dacher Keltner of the University of ?California, Berkeley, look at how elo3evated power changes the psychological makeup of those who have it. They found that powerful people become more willing to take credit for accomplishments they didn’t achieve. The also begin to see the world around them in ‘more automatic, simplistic ways’.

c)     Dictators are more or less normal people who develop mental disorders in the extraordinary circumstance of holding absolute power….In a new paper called ‘How Power Corrupts,’ a Columbia University team of psych0logists suggest that power doesn’t change the psychology of powerful people but, rather, their physiology. Lead author Dana Carney and her team hypothesize that because power eases so many daily stressors—dictators never have to worry about driving a car of paying a mortgage—powerful people show persistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone closely associated with stress. Typically, immoral behavior—even routine sins like lying—is stressful. ‘A lie-teller must actively inhibit and suppress many things including: the truth, internal monitoring of (his or her) moral compass, social norms, fear of consequence, and consideration of others’ interests,’ Carney and her colleagues write. ‘This suppression leads to negative emotions, decrements in mental function, and physiological stress.’ …(T)he powerful have an abundance of emotional and cognitive resources available to use when navigating stressors as they arise.’ In this way dictators may become immune to regret…..(D)ictators are too strong militarily and too weak psychologically to bargain. That’s why they invite annihilation.

Our question here is one of those imponderables: what can the world do, if and when dictators/tyrants/psychopaths/sociopaths/narcissists/opportunists without regret or even an authentic sense of responsibility…claim and hold onto power?

Their fear of loss of power and control, of course, is an intense, and perhaps overpowering motivation, (not to excuse or justify their abuse). Once perched on the pinpoint tip of a political, economic, theological, pyramid of power, the spectre of a “fall” is terrifying. And the extrinsic rewards of affluence, influence, the appearance of invincibility, and the pygmied sycophancy of others  congeal together in a fa├žade of delusional impermeability, self-satisfied, and even more self-righteous justification of anything and everything designed to preserve this false personal euphoria, a kind of insulated, isolated nirvana.

Rather than merely describe the dictators motives and circumstances, one is also prompted to ask, Why does any culture/society/organization/institution even contemplate continued deployment of models of leadership that emulate dictators, champion dictators, historically revere dictators, depend on dictators as if they were an unquestioned, and unquestionable fixture of the needs of any group of people? Why does history pay such close attention to the narratives of dictators, even with the accompanying caveat that their’s is not a moral or and ethical or even a sustainable path to follow? Is this more of a masculine ‘thing’ than of a feminine thing?

We have come to a place where science, and the dependence on reason, and the power implicit in both science and in reason, have risen to such prominence, (and wealth, status, political and cultural influence) that we have gone beyond what can reasonably be considered an optimum/fair/equal/sustainable relationship with what most consider “nature.” We have either forgotten or ignored our dependence on nature, along with our turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the truth that nature does not need  humanity, whereas humanity clearly needs nature. We have built dominance into the very fabric of our notion of leadership. Just yesterday, the new coach of the Detroit Lions Football Team of the National Football League, in his exaggerated attempt to represent what he considers to be a ‘battered city’ (Detroit) where unemployment, racism, poisoned water, among other blights from which it is beginning to recover said: (as reported on ESPN)

This place has been kicked. It’s been battered. It’s been bruised. And I could sit up here and give you coachspeak all day long…..Here’s what I do know. This team is going to take on the identity of this city and this city has been down and it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity right? So this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up, and on the way up we’re going to bite a kneecap off. Allright? And we’re going to stand up and it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap and we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re going tyo take another hunk out of you. Before long,we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”

Now, whether or not Putin would smile and get warm fuzzies when reading such a diatribe, I don’t know. However, the impression that hangs over the Russian dictator smells eerily evocative of Campbell’s violent passion. In the NFL, whether or not kneecaps now need special insurance, time will tell. On the world stage, with the U.S. declaring it wants a five-year extension of the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and the pandemic raging on all continents and the natural ecosystem being poisoned hourly by the activities of people everywhere on the planet, it would seem to a ‘no-brainer’ scribe that dictators could spelt trouble, not only for Navalny, but for all those whose grasp of reality (carbon emisssions especially from fossil fuels, pandemic viruses, vaccinations, invasions of wild animal habitats, and the corruption of lives lived nearly exclusively for the pursuit of personal excess) defines their political agenda.

In an ironic and surprising piece in The Guardian, by Brooke Harrington, October 19, 2018, entitled, “The Bad ?Behavior of the richest: what I learned from wealth managers,”  we find this:

It was quite unexpected, in the courser of discussing tax avoidance, to hear professional service providers say things like: ‘I’ve told my colleagues: It Is ever become like some of our clients, shoot me.’ Because they are really immoral people—too much time on their hands, and all that money means they have no limits. I was actually told by one client not to bring my wife on a trip to Monaco unless I wanted to see her get hit on by 10 guys. The local sport, he said, was picking up other men’s wives.’ The clients of this Geneva =based wealth manager also ‘believe that they are descended from the pharaohs, and that they were destined to inherit the earth. If a poor person voiced such beliefs, he or she might well be institutionalized: for those who work with the wealthy, however, such ‘eccentricities’ are all in a day’s work. Indeed, an underappreciated irony of accelerating economic inequality has been the way it has exposed behaviors among the ultra-rich that mirror the supposed ‘pathologies’ of the ultra-poor. In fact, one of the London-based wealth managers I interviewed said that a willingness to accept with equanimity behavior that would be considered outrageous in others was an informal job requirement. Clients, he said, specifically chose wealth managers not just on technical competence, but on their ability to remain unscandalized by the private lives of the ultra-rich: ‘They (the clients) have to pick someone they want to know everything about them: about Mother’s lesbian affairs, Brother’s addiction, the spurned lovers bursting into the room.’ Many of these clients are not employed and live off family largesse, but no one calls them lazy. As Lane and Harburg put it in the libretto of the musical Finian’s Rainbow:

When a rich man doesn’t want to work

He’s a bon vivant, yes, he’s a bon vivant

But when a poor man doesn’t want to work

He’s a loafer, he’s lounger

He’s a lazy good for nothing, he’s a jerk

When the wealthy are revealed to be drug addicts, philanderers,, or work-shy, the response, is-at most- a frisson  of tabloid curiosity, followed by a collective shrug. Behaviors indulged in the rich are not just condemned in the poor, but used as a justification to punish them, denying them access to resources that keep them alive, such as healthcare and food assistance….These disparate perceptions aren’t just evidence of hypocrisy; they are literally a matter life and death.”

Perhaps, Mr. Putin, and his affluent oligarchs, plutocrats, are not an insult and an affront to Mr. Navalny; they are, in truth, an affront and an insult to all of the people in the world. And their insouciance, indifference, and callous imperiousness threaten any attempt to bring the pandemic to heel, to clean the planet’s ecosystem, and to level the playing field so that all people, rich and poor, educated and non-, western and eastern, Russian and American, can find food, learning, work and dignity in whatever new world order that awaits the last three quarters of the twenty-first 

Friday, January 15, 2021

The whole really is greater than the sum of the parts...



In a January 8, 2021 piece in National Geographic, Jillian Kramer makes reference to a number of researchers in social and political psychology, and their studies in conspiracy theories. The piece is entitled, “Why people latch on to conspiracy theories, according to science.”

From the article, we learn several academic terms, that, while they do not attempt to warrant inclusion in the DSM-V as mental health ‘conditions’ requiring treatment, nevertheless, shed light on various aspects of how humans encounter, absorb, digest, assimilate and believe conspiracy theories. A definition of a conspiracy theory, from the piece, is “an explanation for events that relies on the assertion that powerful people are dishonestly manipulating society.”

According to Peter Ditto, social psychologist at UC Irvine, “Trump has ‘weaponized motivated reasoning’ by ‘incit(ing) a mob and weaponized natural human tendencies’.” Kramer continues: Those human tendencies—to believe whatever satisfies our preconceptions whether true or not—were part of our lives long before rioters defiled the Capitol. He is also reported by Kramer as saying: People mal also defend the viewpoints of groups they belong to on an even more instinctual level. Humans evolved in groups that competed with one another, sculpting our minds to be wary of outsiders and loyal to our factions. His 2019 study found that this kind of bias, ‘is a natural and nearly ineradicable feature of human cognition. (Ditto continues): ‘I think the temptation is always to look at this as a clinical phenomenon—there’s something about those people,…but your social surroundings can have a huge effect is you happen to be in a group with people who believe in something, or are mad about something.’

Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, is quoted as writing, “it (when misinformation offers simple, casual explanations for otherwise random events), helps restore a sense of agency and control for many people.

Marta Marchlewska, a social and political psychologist who studied conspiracy theories at the Polish Academy of Sciences, is referenced on the issue of people using cognitive short-cuts, “largely unconscious rules-of-thumb t6o make faster decisions to determine what they believe. And people experiencing anxiety or a sense of disorder, those who crave cognitive closure, may be even more reliant on those cognitive short-cuts to make sense of the world. Marchlewska’s research also suggests that collective narcissists (those with an inflated belief in a group’s significance) ‘are apt to look for imaginary enemies and adopt conspiracy explanations that blame them. Kramer quotes Marchlewska: “For some people, conspiracy beliefs are the best way to deal with the psychological threat posed by their failure”. Kramer also quotes Martchlewska: People ‘who believe in conspiracy theories usually seek a savior—someone who will help them protect their in-group from conspiring enemies.’ “She points to QAnon, a conspiracy theory that proliferated online and falsely alleges a powerful group of Satanic pedophiles is plotting against President Trump (A QAnon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, recently won a House seat in Georgia). …(Conspiracy theories) serve as an extremely dangerous political weapon, helping manipulate the public to gain power. First you search for enemies, then you prepare yourself for a fight. The final stage is usually tragic: You hurt innocent people.”

Karen Douglas, a social psychologist at the University of Kent, UK, is quoted by Kramer, “it’s not surprising that we are seeing a spike in conspiracy theories today” given that 50% of Americans reported increased stress during the pandemic. Kramer: (Douglas’) research has found that people who feel insecure in their relationships and who tend to catastrophize life’s problems are more prone to believing in conspiracy theories.

Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, is quoted as writing, “it (when misinformation offers simple, casual explanations for otherwise random events), helps restore a sense of agency and control for many people. van der Linden, and colleagues published a study in October, (2020), by presenting residents from the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Spain and Mexico with statements that contained common misinformation and facts about COVID-19. Kramer writes: While a majority accurately identified misinformation, some people readily accepted the falsehoods. That includes between 22 and 37% of respondents…who believed the claim that the coronavirus was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Some also decried accurate information as fake, such as the fact that diabetes increases your risk of severe illness for COVID-19. Van der Linder is also quoted “the brain mistakes familiarity for truth” referencing the notion that people are more likely to believe misinformation that they are exposed to over and over again. van der Linden also looked at whether pre-emptively warning people about the techniques that are used to spread falsehoods can help them gain immunity against fake news. He found that once people were warned about common misinformation techniques –including appealing to people’s emotions or expressing urgency in a message—participants were more likely to identify unreliable information.

Jan Willem van Prooijen, a social psychologist as Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has done research that shows people’s willingness to believe fake news can have real behavioral effects. Kramer: the same participants who believed misinformation were also less likely to report that they complied with COVID-19 healthguidance, such as wearing masks, and were more likely to express vaccine hesitancy.

Daniel Sullivan, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who studies how people cope with adverse life events, is included for his observation that ‘by singling out an adversary who has ‘qualities that represent your own culturally influenced view of evil’ people can gain a sense of control over what’s happening to them. And the example here is the media hated by trump, and acted out by rioters in “smashed media crews’ equipment, a camera cord tied into a noose, and a scrawled ‘murder the media’ on a Capital door.

Emily Thorson, a political scientist at Syracuse University uses the phrase “belief echoes,” an obsessive response to information that can linger even after we know it’s false, in reference to the notion that once people believe something, it can be almost impossible to dissuade them.

Valerie Earnshaw, a social psychologist at the University of Delaware, in a study published in September, 2020, found that those who believed in pandemic conspiracy theories were less likely to say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine--but 90% said they trusted their doctors. Kramer notes: The finding adds to existing research showing doctors can help stymie the spread of health falsehoods directly.

Joseph A. Vitriol, social and political psychologist at Stony Brook University, is quoted by Kramer: ‘the most likely path to change will be for Republican leaders and other elites trusted by (trump’s) supporters to come out and make clear that they do not stand in line with him.

Many experts, considerable detailed research by Jillian Kramer and one is left wondering if the people charged with attending to the very diseased patient, the body politic of the United States, are reading these insights, and if they are amenable to opening their minds and their habits to look at the situation from a wholistic perspective. Naturally, law enforcement, especially those responsible for this weekend and the ensuing days up to and including Inauguration Day, Wednesday January 20, have to put up barricades, mobilize the National Guard, investigate those who participated in the sedition of January 6 and deploy whatever surveillance personnel that may be needed in order to ward off, and warn of any intended violence.

Nevertheless, noticeably missing from the above list is a single criminologist. (That is not intended as a criticism of the piece.) The role and field of study of the criminologist, while overlapping that of the social psychologists and political scientists, nevertheless, needs to be both integrated with and informed by the insights of social psychology. And one wonders if that kind of jumping the academic barriers, fiefdoms, traditions and research findings would not contribute significantly to the ‘state’s’ perception of, diagnosis of, policy planning for and legislative action about the current “infodemic,” a word authored by the World Health Organization, about the cloud of disinformation that has been given light and life around the world.

While the flood gates have opened on the readily available, and widely broadcast torrent of information, through social media, and the public, the media and certainly the worlds’ legislators and political class are swinging our arms and legs frenetically to keep from drowning while also gasping for air, the access to the most relevant and cogent, the most diverse and creative (from an exploring perspective) as a cornerstone of how we “see” things remains almost out of mind.

Those who have specific roles have entered those roles based on a history of formal training and experiential apprenticeships. They have been steeped in the discipline of their expertise. And while that is honourable and highly to be valued; it may no longer hold the keys to our shared and our collective survival, in the short and medium and long term. Just as the medical and legal fraternities have their own vocabulary, their own protocols, their own hierarchies and unique expertise(s), so too do the military, the accounting, the economists, the environmentalists, and the theologians. However, the whole patient, including a life history (biography) and an assessment of current living conditions, including patterns of trauma, patterns of success and failure, is rarely the subject of medical rounds. Similarly, the courts, while performing life history of those charged with crimes, do so from a perspective of what might feasible and legitimately be termed unconscious bias. Criminals, after all, are only being assessed after they have already been investigated, and found guilty of some offence. Similarly, those invested in conspiracy theories, fake news, and the cult of personality around a defective and dangerous person, have come to this place for a large number of experiences, many of them perceived as painful, if not outright destructive. This is not a defence of the rioters, nor an apology for their reprehensible acts against the state, their own country, and the future of the republic.

However, David Renwick, editor of The New Yorker, in his latest ‘Currents,’ points out that while many talking heads are pronouncing that ‘this (the attempted sedition) is not who we are, it is, at least in part, who America is, just as Charlottesville is part of who America is, as is the knee-imposed murder of George Floyd and the no-knock entry and killing of Brianna Taylor and the many other insidious racially-motivated hate crimes that have plague the nation for more than a century.

Parsing the identities of individuals, as well as parsing the intellectual and the professional definitions and frameworks that govern specific processes and procedures, seems to have brought us to the point where only literalisms are tolerated, and most of those literalisms are parsed and segregated from their full context. And while there is an obvious crime in detecting and charging an individual for a specific act or word, there is also the possibility that other conditions need to be taken into account in the manner by which the state pursues its legitimate goals and values. Definitions, for example, of criminality, in the case of whether or not trump is criminally responsible for the separation of children from their parents on the border, or for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans through what the street would and could call criminal negligence, is impeded by the legal definition of “causation” (See previous blog). And the glaring cultural sacralizing of free speech, transforming that ideal into an almost sacred rite, is another of the decontextualized waves that plague individuals, right now those on the wrong side of the trump vote fraud propaganda, and those who vehemently denounce QAnon, (as we do with all our might).

Is it not time for America, and probably other regions and nations, to consider how the culture of precise expertise can become itself a hindrance to the optimal, ethical, balanced, and mature function of the state? There is a deep and lasting time and permissive lag between the warp speed of digital developments and the required legislation by which they need to be regulated. There is also a similar gap between the various academic and intellectual fields, as well as between the academia and the street, with respect to keeping up with the latest and best reviewed and curated research, in a manner by which insight of an applicable and thereby specifically appropriate nature to many of our ‘issues’ is both gleaned and accepted and then applied to those many files.

Perhaps the files themselves need to be opened by a cluster of best thinkers and scholars, in order to facilitate the most optimum and effective and ethical and balanced approach to their address.

Joe Biden’s administration faces not merely a cluster of conundra, but an intellectual, administrative, economic and legal framework that is no longer suited and therefore fit for the situation. Not only does the state too often engage in ‘fighting the last war’ in terms of military design, equipment and strategy and planning. The nation itself is caught in a time and thought, and belief and tradition warp facing a future that is rushing to the shore at a velocity and a physical force that would render most hurricanes impotent.

The whole world needs America to seize the moment through the appropriate lens of the telescope, gazing into the universe of each file with an eye on the whole range of galaxies of competence, creativity and courage required by this urgent metaphoric Mars shot! As foreshadowing of the eventual actual Mars shot!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The American church and capitalism....requiring real separation

 Anyone who thinks or believes that removing trump from office is going to solve the deeply embedded cancer that plagues the body politic in the United States is, in a word, delusional. That is a word aptly and justifiably glued to the current occupant of the Oval Office by observers as close a Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Less easily quantified, qualified and measured is the notion of the delusion that pervades the U.S. It is not only the Republican Senators, and well over a hundred Republican members of the House, whose blind, defiant, arrogant, stubborn and dangerous sycophancy to the chief executive, and nor is it only those who marauded insider the Capitol last Wednesday who are delusional. The American culture has been so manifestly and completely consumed by the exclusive, narrow and narcissistic definition of capitalism that it seems impossible to envision any transformation that divorces profits, personal wealth acquisition, religion and dominance from the culture. 


As a Canadian kid living in small-town Ontario, back in the fifties, I participated in penny-scrambles on the town dock, ‘blessed’ and patronized by affluent American tourists who came into our town on Great Lakes tour boats, licensed in Duluth Minnesota. While it was a few moments of childish play, innocent enough for both kids and ‘the rich,’ the experience also planted seeds of scepticism, doubt, wariness and detachment in this then pre-adolescent. The church I attended also lavished praise on the wealthy, especially the donor of a set of Carillon bells, (then at least costing $10K), whose presence in church services only began with the writing of the cheque. Of course, the then presiding clergy was eminently able, and presumably justified, to boast of his impact on the little congregation, by pointing to such symbolic gestures of both generosity and religiosity.’;’ The Billy Graham model of evangelism had arrived in our town, complete with revival meetings, conversions, guest revival preachers, summer-town-dock revival services, and the accompanying self-righteous preaching against the evils of the secular society such as movies, dances, make-up, wine, Sunday meal preparation and the ‘big one’ Roman Catholicism. Exclusive possession, worship, repetition, and the process of cultural embedding of a high degree of superiority based on an extremely narrow interpretation of scripture, necessarily includes, in fact depends upon, the complete and total rejection of ‘the enemy,’ the Devil, Satan, the all things unholy, depending on the specific conception of those words.

It is the marriage of capitalism and a form of Christianity that merits a much closer examination, especially on the heels of the insurrection on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol and the foreshadowing of violent insurgencies in all 50 state capitals and Washington D.C. starting on Sunday January 17 according to FBI reports and warnings. From the website, blog.p2pfoundation.net, there is a piece entitled Capitalism is religion. Two juxtaposed epithets attempt to frame the piece:

First, “The invisible hand of the free market governs everything and the hardworking get prosperous while the lazy suffer poverty”.

Second: “God of the creation governs everything and the faithful get in heaven while the heathen suffer hell.”

The piece continues: As you can easily notice, ‘invisible hand’ is a replacement for God, ‘free market’ is a replacement for ‘the creation,’ the ‘hardworking’ is a replacement for ‘the faithful’ and ‘the lazy’ is a replacement for ‘the heathen’. That’s because Capitalism is a Christianity replacement. So much that it even replicates the Church organization of Medieval Christianity. The economists (clergy) continually advocate (preach) free market economics (the faith) and interpret the economy (holy book) on behalf of the society (the believers). The critical economists, (heretic priests) are outcast by the establishment, not given airtime, ridiculed or censured. Whatever happens in the economy is interpreted and ‘somehow’ explained by the economists (clergy), and in those explanations, anything good that happens is due to the free market economics (the faith) and anything bad that happens is due to straying away from free market economics (having any other faith). According to the sermon , all that the hardworking (faithful) need to so is to work hard (have faith) and keep staying the course. Because ‘the invisible hand’ will fix all problems, crises, issues without them needing to do anything in particular. All they have to do is to have faith, and putting their trust in their religion by trusting the clergy of the church. Whose only solution to every single problem is more free market (more faith), and if a solution does not work at all, its because the society was not faithful to the free market enough. (blog.p2pfoubndation.net)

Obviously a stark and unyielding depiction of the enmeshment of the North American culture. In another work, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R,H, Tawney written in 1926, from scholarlybooks.blogspot.com, we read a summary of the Tawney treatise: Medieval Europe was a serfdom and the church reinforced this by saying that everybody is part of the ‘body….(I)n the 16th century, with an explosion of European mining and more importantly, the importation of riches from the Americas and the Far East…all these expeditions required much more capital than individual feudal land owners or even states had, so people began to invest together, creating several financial markets throughout Europe, and creating great wealth for the financiers…Martin Luther ..criticises the church…especially its use of interest…and urges people to go back to a pre-medieval feudal system because true faith in God canot be shown through an institution, only through hard labor on the land…he is the first sign of the movement separating church from state…John Calvin, a Swiss merchant/capitalist, thinks interest and trade should be used though strictly regulated. In England, they outlaw interest and forbid capitalists from buying up land. But as the mercantile class gets larger, (it) gains clout in politics and the state starts paying less attention to its church’s criticisms of interest. They start citing the idea of ‘natural law,’ that man is born with certain rights to do whatever he wants…and by the end of the 1500’s the church is stripped of its judicial power and laws are enacted giving the mercantile class free reign.

In its review of Tawney’s The Radical Tradition edited by Rita Hinden, The New York Review (nybooks.com/articles/1, we find these words:

In The Acquisitive Society, (Tawney) criticized capitalism because it encouraged economic power without social responsibility. The right to property had become separated from any obligation to discharge a useful social function. In Equality, (Tawney) attacked the view that the natural inequality of man in respect of ability justified inequalities of wealth and status: rather, so he argued, it would be in an egalitarian society that diversity of abilities would flourish most for the common good. In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, (Tawney) studied the origins of acquisitive individualism. Quoting Tawney’s words, “It is this demon-the idolatry of money and success-with whom, not in one sphere alone but in all, including our own hearts and minds, Socialists have to grapple.” Tawney equated capitalism with private capitalism and private capitalism with the effective sovereignty of the functionless shareholder.

The New Republic, through writer Elizabeth Bruenig, April 20, 2015, also details the work of Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate American Invented Christian America. Bruenig writes: Christianity was brought into the service of laissez-faire economic in Puritan devotion to work and thrift….(And) The Preoccupation with Christian doctrine that animated ardent pro-capitalists of yesteryear has subsided to a vaguely spiritual moralism We now live in the age of “moral therapeutic deism,” where the shapes and colors of religion are imported into mass-market self-help schemes. And while ethe Christian right persists in the same old political battles (sexuality, marriage, education, et cetera) its strength appears to eb waning: The once coherent evangelical voting bloc is splintering, and titans of industry intent on fostering a pro-capitalist politics no longer seem reliant upon it to bolster their project….Concerned that populist politics might endanger their wealth, America’s monied interests did what they do best: They bought a solution…A Congregationalist pastor who made his fortune in southern California by preaching to the fabulously wealthy and accepting their patronage. (James W. Fittfield) Kruse notes, was especially gifted at assuring wealthy Christians that their riches were evidence of virtue rather than vice…. (Mid twentieth century) Fitfield married Christian thought with a new era of economic development, and spread the gospel through his organization, Spiritual Mobilization. Its mission was simple: to stamp out Christian support for a generous welfare state, which paired naturally with New Deal concern for the poor, elderly and vulnerable—and to advance a new theory of Christian libertarianism. Spiritual Mobilization sought to influence ministers across the country, and with its bottomless monetary resources, it was doomed to success. (Kruses’s account shows it vulgarity) “Christianity was rented out, quite consciously, to buttress a shambling narrative about the continued dominance of the monied class in a performance that even Marx would have found blunt….Kruse names Billy Graham as a spiritual inheritor to the early efforts of Christian libertarians like Fitfield. Graham’s preaching was sensational, and won the support of tycoons like Texas oilman Sid Richardson, who helped launch Graham’s career in Washington D.C. Graham’s ascent opened the way for other pastors with political aspirations, like Jerry Falwell, and his Moral Majority cohort, to wax passionate about eh gospel while raking in cash from committed capitalists delighted by the arranged marriage of God and mammon.

Breunig also make reference to Kate Bowler’s 2013 book, Blessed: A history of the American Prosperity Gospel, linking people like Joel Osteen and Osteen and his overtly Christian ilk minister to their flocks, Oprah’s message is broad enough to be enjoyed by all: a better business decision at any rate. In other words, (Breunig writes) the prophets of capitalism have a way of using the workable parts of older pro-capitalist narratives to meet the needs of changing audiences, while shedding vestigial bits.

As one whose youth was tarnished by a kind of early prosperity gospel, including social status “halo’s” implicit around the heads of those new converts to the Bellymena bigot’s version of the faith, those carillon bells, those dock-side revival meetings, only to find myself “lead” by establishment church bishops whose “fill the coffers and the pews” horations helped to drive one clergy to his suicide, and then discovered another whose version of church leadership was captured in the marketing cry: “increase by 10% in people and 15% in revenue” to a diocesan convention in 1998, I remain committed to criticizing the capitalist tainting of the gospel, the prosperity gospel, the triumphalism of that version of holy writ and the impact it has on individual parishioners, as well as the wider community.

The very presence of the “cross” of the Cruficixion at the insurrection last Wednesday, and the over-weening passion of some of those insurgents in their abject fealty to an already disgraced president, evoking a passion and “rabies-like” frenzy akin to those evident in the Crusades, not to mention the over-riding power and influence of conspiracy theories that paint Democrats as child molesters, and disciplined voting officials as traitors combine to provoke serious questions about the viability of any proposal of “unity” returning to the American body politic any time soon.

It is not that stamping out capitalism is an immediate solution. It is also not that the Christian church, glaringly and disappointingly silent through the last four years of the triumph not only of the ‘will’ of a single man, but the triumph of lies over truth, sycophancy over responsibility, conspiracies over authentic debate, and chaos over law and order.

The U.S. is morphing demographically, and than transformation integrates, by necessity, a plurality of religious affiliations, including agnostics, atheists and, hopefully, some moderates in all faith communities. If a Black Senator and a Jewish Senator can now be elected (officially and legally and uncontestedly) in Georgia, then, while it is a mere spark of hope, nevertheless, such sparks can and will, if fanned, eventually break out into a chorus of truth, tolerance, justice and equality….all of them at the heart of not only the Christian faith, but also any other faith worthy of the name.