Category Archives: consciousness

“Making Nice,” Trump, and the Social Contract

Donald J. Trump is a little boy who needs to be loved.  Never having learned the rudimentary dimensions of making himself loveable, he discovered that he had wealth and privilege to manipulate and intimidate people into a pseudo love.  One of the earliest lessons about love takes place when we enter school and find ourselves on the playground where negotiation with others involves a subtly that a child has often not had to deal with before.  The rules of “being liked” are not explicit but depend on an emotional maturity to pick up on the nuances of social life.  I like to think of it as learning to “make nice,” to not say or do the first thing that comes to your mind when you feel slighted.  It involves a tacit agreement to put up with another’s irksome attitudes and behaviors…to some degree…in return for the tacit response of others putting up with yours. This is the nuts-and-bolts of what we call the social contract.

If someone comes along to the playground who will not abide by the terms of this social contract, he will soon be known as a bully.  If you are “ugly and your mom dresses you funny” he is the one who will point it out while others will not say a thing, unconsciously knowing that you will not point out their own flaws and short comings. This reminds me of Trump on the “playground” of the debate stage in 2016 when he was rude and obnoxious, breaking all rules of civility and decorum.  On any debate stage, the candidates usually have a great dislike of others on the stage but there is an unwritten rule to not attack each other personally. Trump stomped all over that rule and as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, “The rest of ran and hid in the corner.”  When faced with a bully, one has a natural response to try to escape.

There is a certain insincerity to, “making nice.”  It is not, “telling it like it is” which Trump avowed and which many of his supporters cited as a reason they liked him.  “He’ll tell the truth, unlike those lying, hypocritical politicians we are used to,” they said.  Yes, but Trump’s “truth telling” is closely akin to that of someone with Tourette’s Syndrome who, severely lacking impulse control, will “tell it like it is,” and announce to a woman he has just met, “My you have a nice set of tits.”  This Tourette’s Syndrome man is certainly saying what nearly all other men are thinking but most of us have a social filter and would not say something like that.  (And I apologize for the “locker-room talk.”  Seriously.)

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“Be Best,” Don’t Bully!”

In clinical practice, I often had to deal with bullying, though mainly the more “mature” variety as seen with teen-agers.  Younger children, however, would occasionally present to a counselor in her office, plaintively asking, “Why don’t they like me?”  The counselor would first offer some reassurance and then begin to offer coaching on basic social deportment, how to behave in a less obnoxious manner, not rudely and intrusively.  The young bully who actually sought help of this sort, who could ask the question, “Why don’t they like me?” was demonstrating that he had the maturity to be aware of the problem and therefore was probably amenable to being helped.  The real problem lay with those children who could not imagine the possibility that there was anything wrong with their behavior and then lash out at those who appeared to not like him.

Self-awareness is an essential dimension to the bullying issue.  Most children who get to the playground age in public schools already have social antennae so that they are amenable to feedback from the social context in which they find themselves.  They even will feel a sense of shame if they breach the unwritten rules of the social contract and then amend their ways in an effort to fit in.  Some, however, will not have internalized a sense of healthy shame and will brazenly stomp on social convention and find themselves frequently in trouble with the principal and eventually in a residential treatment facility.  Some will not be amenable to the rules even then and will grow into adulthood and begin to “rock n roll” with their anti-social attitude and behavior until they find some conflict-habituated place in the social structure.  Some, perhaps, will even become successful businessmen and/or politicians and maybe even find themselves as the leader of their country.

This “self-awareness” is the gift of the neuro-cortex which gives us the Shakespearean, “pauser reason,” a filter with which we check our impulses.  For example, if one encounters a belligerent bully as an adult he will usually know that he cannot respond with bullying behavior without risking severe conflict.  This makes me think of an old Jim Croce tune from the 1970’s, “You don’t tug on superman’s cape/ You don’t spit into the wind/You don’t pull the mask of the old lone ranger,/And you don’t mess around with Jim.”  If you remember the famous tune, you recall that a man wandered into town who did not regard the admonishment, “You don’t mess around with Jim.”

Yes, I’m curious what is gonna happen this Tuesday in Singapore.

The “Terrible Two’s” Cry for Help–Somebody Stop Me!!!

The “terrible two’s” are the bane of many parents.  Toddlers at that age are beginning to learn the power of “no” and can frustrate mommy and daddy to no end!  But, parents intuitively know that with patient setting of limits and reinforcement for “good” behavior this internal conflict will be resolved, and the child will go on to learn the value of handling his internal conflicts and rages, dealing with them appropriately while learning to function in a social setting where other people’s wishes and needs receive consideration.

In my clinical practice, I did face circumstances where parents did not know how to set these limits and/or had a child whose neurological wiring was not amenable to learning these boundaries.  But there were occasions where parents made no effort to set limits to their two-year old, and in fact began to reward him for his outrageous behavior in the hope that he could be “bought off.”  By the time one kid in-particular reached mid-teens and was referred to me for counseling, he had learned that outrageous behavior and defiance of rules was the best way to get attention and had become the cornerstone of his identity.  In the case of one young man, he had to be placed in a residential treatment facility and not long thereafter found himself mired in the juvenile justice system.  Twenty years later, it would be amazing if I should learn that he has not been in prison for at least a stint.

This young lad had been taught that the best way to get validation (i.e. “love”) was to act out, to push limits to the point that he could not be ignored.  “Bad attention” was better than “no attention” at all and much better than accepting the mere crumbs of attention that fell from the table as a result of merely taking an ordinary role in the social structure of family and school.  A kid of this stripe makes me think of the Jim Carrey character in the movie, “The Mask” who announced with daring and bravado after still another display of craziness, leering at the camera with menacing face and grin, “Somebody stop meee!”

Donald J. Trump has been crying out from early childhood, “Somebody stop me.”  But sheer will power, augmented by tremendous wealth, taught him that he could roll over anybody that stood in his way, that, yes, even in the Presidential campaign he could announce, “I could stand in the streets of Manhattan and shoot somebody and my poll numbers would not go down.”  He is now a year and half into his term of office and his supporters are galvanized behind him, the Republican led Congress is giving him total allegiance, and evangelical Christians are standing firm behind him, avowing that God has chosen him for this occasion.  The checks-and-balances system that has been the backbone of our government has met its match, and those who could exercise these “checks-and-balances” are demonstrating abject cowardice before this mad man.

Trump is a delusional man and he has found millions of Americans and the Republican Party who are “drinking the kool-aid” and becoming intoxicated with the delusion.  Delusion is much easier than reality as the latter requires dealing with those “naughty people” who dare to look at things differently than we do.  It is much easier to pledge allegiance to a political Jim Jones and, metaphorically speaking, trek down to Jonestown, Guyana where barrels of that sweet nectar, “Certainty” will be waiting.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

Trump as an Instrument of the Good???

The evangelical Christian support of Trump has been a sore point for me, given my background in fundamentalist Christianity and a continued emphasis in personal faith.  The evangelical trope, “The Lord has raised him up” to restore our country to greatness, (i.e. “Make America Great Again,”) has always been a really irksome bit of their rhetoric for me.  But, I now can certainly accept the notion of “the Lord’s” hand in “raising him up” as he has brought to the surface the full extent of our collective and personal shadow.  Here is a bit of wisdom from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) relevant to our collective unconsciousness’s intent in bringing this darkness to the light:

“We are much beholden to Machiavelli and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do . For it is not possible to join serpentine wisdom with the columbine innocency, except men know exactly all the conditions of the serpent; his baseness and going upon his belly, his volubility and lubricity, his envy and sting, and the rest; that is, all forms and natures of evil. For without this, virtue lieth open and unfenced. Nay, an honest man can do no good upon those that are wicked, to reclaim them, without the help of the knowledge of evil.”—Francis Bacon

This “knowledge of evil” is something we prefer to see in others, having a very human aversion to recognize that it lurks beneath the surface of us all.  This is particularly difficult for persons of faith to accept, especially the Christian faith, as being a “person of faith” often convinces one that he has “seen the light” perfectly and has clear judgment.  Trump has clearly shown all of us, even the whole world, just how impaired our judgment is; yes, even in the area of religion. W. H. Auden, in his narrative poem, “New Years Letter,” presents the, “Prince of Lies” as being a god-send as in spite of its evil intent, and often being necessary to, “push us into grace.” Trump is one of these opportunities for us if we could ever manage to pause that linear-thinking monstrosity of our collective Western thought and let it dawn upon us, in the words of Pogo, “Uh oh, we have met the enemy and he is us!” We could then be “pushed into Grace,” kicking and screaming every inch of the way.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Gaining the Whole World and Losing Your Own Soul

Yesterday’s post addressed the subject of alienation, being trapped in an inauthentic existence while the heart pines for the taste of genuine human experience.  This “imprisonment” is the situation in which one’s persona grips an individual so tightly that the heart has been stifled to the point that he has no awareness of any dimension of life other than the “suit of clothes” that he wears.  It is relevant to a poetic quip of W. H. Auden, “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation,” seeing the world only through the skewed prism of our “occupation” or basic, unquestioned assumptions about life.

Auden had another observation about this existential predicament, noting in one poem, “In the desert of my heart, let the healing fountain start.  In the prison of my days, teach this free man how to praise.”  Auden recognized that this existential “entrapment” in the world of appearances often grates against the soul to the point that one wants an escape which, in his estimation, merits a simple prayer of gratitude for the gift of life.  We are “here” and this “here-ness” is the simplest but most profound thing that we have, the simple gift of “be-ing” alive in this brief parenthesis of time.

Social critics, writers, and artists have been crying out since the mid-19th century about this loss of soul which is the by-product of modern industrialized, technologized human life.  One of my favorite examples is Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman” which was a smash-hit in 1949 and is estimated by many to be the greatest American play of the 20th century.  The lead character in the play, Willy Loman, is at the end of his successful career as a salesman and he is gradually feeling that his employer is “putting him out to pasture.”  In fact, this process culminates in the play when, after protestations to his boss about the matter, Willy is fired.

Miller uses Willy Loman and his family to poignantly illustrate the mid-20th century expression of what happens when a man comes to the end of his career and finds that he has nothing but emptiness remaining, his persona having become obsolete, or “used up” and cast aside by the corporate world.  Anger, resentment, and frustration overcome Loman as he realizes that his life is, “over,” over in that he no longer had an identity without the successes he delighted in with his job.  Without his persona, there was nothing left.

A social structure functions because of the human ability to take on a role, a “persona,” and fulfill the obligations of that role.  The problem arises only when that social structure becomes such a behemoth that individuals are devoured by it, their very lives having become only that of a “thing” which has as its primary purpose only in keeping the behemoth afloat.  The illusions of the culture become so powerful and stifling that there is no room left in an individual’s heart for authenticity.  In our modern consumer society this is often described as human identity having devolved to the point in which it’s only a “consumer,” a “consuming unit” designed to buy more “stuff,” and thus keep the “stuff-producing” apparatus going.  In this, “Brave New World,” of Aldous Huxley, human value can be summed up in the quip, “Whoever has the most toys at the end of the game is the winner!”

Vaclav Havel and Epistemic Closure

Epistemic closure and close-mindedness has been one of my “obsessions” in the six years I’ve been blogging.  There is no doubt that this is because I have spent my life in that prison and this “blathering” is my feeble effort to talk/think/write my way out of it.  But this effort is teaching me that there is no escape…or as Sartre put it in his short story, “No Exit,”…for we are confined to live in the world of appearance where we can only at best, “see through a glass darkly,” trusting that there is some, “Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  And I do have faith in that Divinity but the “faith” and the “Divinity” itself is of a different stripe than the one I was presented with by the happenstance of birth.  Accepting this world of limitations is slow and tedious and one is always dragged there kicking and screaming, for the ego wants to cling to the illusion that it is completely in control.  Accepting life in this world of incomplete knowledge…”seeing darkly”…is what I think the Biblical “fall” was about, the “fall” from the Uroborous of innocence into the world of cognition.

In the following quotation from Vaclav Havel’s 1986 book of essays, “Living in Truth,” we see his description of the, “post-totalitarian state” that he lived through in Czechoslovakia in the late 1980’s, leading to the Velvet Revolution which he led in 1992.  By the term, “post-totalitarian state” Havel was referring to a subtle form of totalitarianism which purports to no longer be totalitarian but only because the system of bondage has become systematized so finely that it is not readily recognized.  It brings to mind an observation made by psychologist B.F. Skinner who, in his book, “Beyond Freedom and Dignity,” declared that the most pernicious form of slavery is one which is so subtle that it does not breed revolt.  In Havel’s description we find a description of epistemic closure on the group level which closely parallels the epistemic closure of the individuals who have been consumed by “group think,” a dark cloud with whom they have a symbiotic relationship.  (I will address the individual dimension of this problem in my next post.)

The post-industrial system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on.  This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies, government by bureaucracy is called popular government, the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class, the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his or her ultimate liberation, depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical election become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views, military occupation becomes fraternal assistance.  Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything.  It falsifies the past.  It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future.  It falsifies statistics.  It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus.  It pretends to respect human rights.  It pretends to persecute no one.  It pretends to fear nothing.  It pretends to pretend nothing. (pg. 44-45, Vaclav Havel, “Living in Truth.”)

New Years Thoughts About the Perils of Thinking.

“Dear Creator, Help me let go of everything I think I am, to make room for everything I really am.” This is a Facebook post this morning from a local poet (Taos, NM), Lyla June Johnson, who is a very gifted soul and is a passionate spokeswoman for Native American issues, spirituality, and social activism.  This woman “gets it” and does so much more quickly than I started the process of “getting it.”  Here she puts on the table a core issue that I’m wrestling with in my life, “we are not what we think.”  This is part of what leads me to use the bumper sticker wisdom so often, “Don’t believe everything you think,” realizing that beliefs are merely thoughts and are readily seductive with self-serving whims of the ego.  Sure, welcome the thoughts that flow into and through our mind but occasionally take pause, mull them over, and we might learn that these “beliefs” could be a bit less certain than our ego wanted them to be.

Without realizing the limitations of believing in our rational formulations, Truth which is an elusive process and not an accumulation of factual knowledge can lead us into folly.  Novelist Hermann Hesse noted this when he wrote, “My story isn’t pleasant, it’s not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.” We will inevitably be guilty of this “dishonesty” if we can’t practice the self-reflection, i.e “meta-cognition” noted here for the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, “Reflection requires that the plain opposition of positive and negative be left behind. Thinking is not content with the abstraction of mutual exclusivities, but struggles to conceive of a structured wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories.”  We must learn to occasionally find the capacity to, “think about our thinking.”