Category Archives: conservatism

The Perilous Safety of “Hunkerin’ Down”

There is a pale.  And there are those who spend their life beyond the pale, some so far beyond the pale that they merit the term “deviant.”  And then there are those who live very close to the pale, hovering just short of this boundary or just beyond it and do the work that offers art in its full gamut to the human race.  This pale is what defines reality and “reality” must have some definition if there is to be any civilization at all.  But there are times when the “energy” that has constellated at and just beyond the pale appears threatening to those who hover near the center of “reality” and then there is a tendency to “hunker down” and fiercely resist the precious offering of those “pale dwellers”—opportunities for change.  But the “hunker downers”, if they find a chieftain around whom they can rally, often will become adamant about maintaining the status quo and the social body will suffer, especially those who do not have the comfort of the “in crowd.”  Often those in the “out crowd” are easily manipulated and intimidated and can be convinced by their chieftain that it is in their own best interest to oppose the changes that would be good for the entirety of the social body, including themselves.

Change is scary.  As Shakespeare put it, “We cling to these ills we have rather than fly to others we know not of.”  The Bard knew that often we will prefer to maintain our misery rather than dare to take the risk that would be entailed in taking actions that might alleviate our suffering.  A psychiatrist I worked with in a psych hospital one time quipped in a staffing about a patient that we both worked with, “She clings to her mental illness with the same tenacity that most of us cling to our mental health.”  “Hunkering down” gives one, or the whole of a group, the illusion of safety.  As W. H. Auden noted, “We have made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”

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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/

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Autocracy Can Resolve Political Conflict!!!

The political divide in my country is greater than I’ve ever seen, the result of long-standing tensions that found expression in the election of Trump to the presidency.  There are many dimensions of this division but in my estimation the key issue is perspective on life itself.  Some conservatives are rigidly sure that there is only one way to view the world, the “right way,” and it “just happens” to be their way.  On the other hand, progressives are more open-minded, seeing the world as fluid and less rigidly defined.  This viewpoint also is often held very rigidly in spite of announced beliefs of open-mindedness, failing to appreciate the value of a conservative approach to life.  The conservative resistance to change and the progressive insistence on change are contrasting approaches to life, both of which are necessary for any group, i.e. “tribe”, to function.  When the tension between these two social impulses becomes to great violence can erupt if wise and astute leadership is not available in the tribe.

Perspective is merely a view of the world, best illustrated with the old image of, “Do you see the glass half empty or half full?”  This question is a simple illustration that what is going on in the depths of one’s heart can influence how he interprets even a simple thing like the fullness or a glass of water not to mention more weightier issues such as immigration or abortion.  The problem arises only when those who are “half fullers” become adamant in their position while “half-emptiers” are equally adamantine. In gridlock such as this, perspective has become a tyrant and it is tyranny of this sort that led to the Civil War in 1861.

A philosopher once noted, “You cannot have a perspective on your perspective without somehow escaping it.”  Implicit in this wisdom is the understanding that regardless of how certain one might be about his view of the world, it is possible to stand back a bit and mull over the possibility that someone might see things differently.  This involves respect for other people, for “the Other,” and if this respect is lacking conflict will emerge.  Sometimes the solution that arises to alleviate this conflict is tyranny as one side of the issue is able to manage political and social power to the point that the alternative viewpoint is squashed.  For this reason an autocratic regime systematically attempts to repress dissent.

A caveat is here in order.  I have here presented a perspective on a complicated matter, a perspective on perspective itself.  I bring the same “skewed” view of the world to everything I post here and to everything I think and say in my day-to-day life.  There are many good and wise people who do not have this view of the world.  The problem arises only when one “skewed” view of the world usurps power and attempts to squash other “skewed” views of the world.  If this power grab is successful, the result will be the aforementioned autocratic state.

Michel Foucault and “Difference” in Contemporary America

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucoult, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucoult explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

Poet Stanley Kunitz offered wisdom re this inner-core, this essence of who we are:

The Layers
BY STANLEY KUNITZ
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

 

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

Obama’s, “Clinging to Guns and Religion.”

In 2008 Barack Obama was overheard dismissively speaking of people who, “cling to their guns and religion” which immediately provided fodder for the base of the Republican Party who didn’t really understand what he was saying.  Sure, it was impolitic for him to say that where it might be misunderstood but it was a valid and important observation about the ideologically-oriented base of the Republican Party who “cling” to ideas rather than have a complicated and subtle interior life so that ideas are not taken to be the “thing in itself.”

Guns are fine.  The problem arises when the “clinging” function of the ego gets involved as an innocent device is given an inordinate investment of energy so that “guns plus the emotional energy” becomes another matter all together.  The “guns + emotional valence” takes on a life of its own, becoming a core identity issue to the point where it is no longer about “guns” but is about the individual’s grasp of who he is, of his definition of, “who I am.”  The more tenuous is the grasp of one’s, “who I am” the more desperate will he cling to some idea or group of ideas that he has invested in to keep him from being devoured by an existential anxiety that lies at the root of all cultures.  This abyss of meaningless will destroy one if his spirituality has not equipped him with the ego-integrity to address this spirit of negativity which is an intrinsic dimension of human experience and needs to be acknowledged, not denied.  This “ego integrity” is a spiritual capacity which allows confronting the hidden depths of one’s heart and integrating them into conscious experience and finding empowerment as a result.  Without this acknowledgement and integration, the energy that could be available for deliberate, focused, conscious attention outside of oneself will be turned inward to keep those “demons at bay.”  This is a “divided heart” or the “divided house” which Abraham Lincoln famously noted cannot stand.

But this hopelessness does not have to destroy one if he finds the courage to slowly, gradually, patiently, and humbly confront it and in so doing discover that he can find increasingly an indomitable core beneath this hopelessness…if he is willing to give up the contrivance that his ego has tricked him into relying upon, whatever that contrivance/s might be. The spiritual impoverishment of our culture is now egregiously before us.  Beneath the various contrivances it offers us, guns being but one of them, lurks the abyss of hopelessness which can be addressed if we are willing to acknowledge our “willful ignorance”, an ego driven self-deception who has convinced us that a life of illusion is preferable to a life in which we live as a fully functioning, integrated human being.

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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/

Self-Deception, Dishonesty, and Epistemic Closure

In my last post I explored epistemic closure on the group level, using the observations from the former Czechoslovakian  writer, artist, actor, and politician,  Vaclav Havel.  Today I’d like to focus on the personal dimension of this closed-mindedness. Havel used the term “post-totalitarian state” to describe a state which operates under a subtle totalitarian state-of-mind which purports to be completely open and honest, i.e. “free.”  In this “Brave New World” prison, there is the surface belief of freedom but only because the bars which constitute the prison are so subtly imposed that they are not obvious to most.  In this “benign” police state, the gears, wheels, and pulleys that orchestrate the bondage are so well-hidden beneath the surface they are not noticed, consisting in ideological subtleties that can only be seen by those who have the capacity for self-reflection.

The individual dimension of this epistemic closure operates in accordance with the collective version described last time. Individuals imprisoned in this, “empty world of self-relatedness,” are encapsulated in their own premises which are not subject to review because there is no “self” consciousness available to conduct such a review.  The onset of such “self” consciousness would constitute a “splinter in the brain” which would be so catastrophic that internal, unacknowledged (i.e. “unconscious”) defenses would immediately intervene and rely on bromides such as the currently popular, “Fake News.”

But this “imprisonment” I’m describing is not necessarily as sinister as I’m making it appear.  Any identity seeks to maintain itself, to cohere, which means it has a certain core that borders on the sacrosanct.  In fact, “sacred” can describe this core as it is the very essence of our being and if this “essence” is not poisoned it will help us maintain a sense of integrity even in the face of conflict.  But if real “integrity” is present then conflict is welcome as exposure to different view points facilitates the flourishing, or “unfolding,” of an identity, allowing it to contribute meaningfully to the context in which it lives.  When this core is “poisoned,” however, any different viewpoint invokes that fear of “splintering” and leads to the creation of a false world in which any threats are minimized or prohibited.  In the extreme, the result is psychosis in which one’s private prison has become so confining that reference to any feedback from the external world has been cut off and one is left with the aforementioned, “empty world of self-relatedness.”

“Logical Lunacy” Besets All of US (illustrated by cartoon)

 

Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, text

 

W. H. Auden bemoaned having to put up with the folly of, “a logical lunatic.”  In this cartoon is illustrated a dimension of a rational mind that is meticulously “rational” as long as you are confined to the premise, “I support Trump.”  If you do not support Trump, you will “see through this” and understand the implicit “logical lunacy” of the reasoning process demonstrated.  HOWEVER, this same “splinter in the brain” besets us all and leads to the “lunacy” we witnessed last night when the U.S. Senate could not pass a bill which led to our government shutting down.  There is a tendency with us all to believe only what we want and refuse to consider there is another way of looking at the world.  It is only when both sides of a disagreement can trot out some degree of “meta-cognition” and recognize this that compromise can be found.  When this cannot happen, the opposing sides “hunker down” and draw swords, emphatically declaring, “I’m right!  You’re wrong.—it is always easier to see the “logical lunacy” of the “other guys.”

AN IMPORTANT AFTER THOUGHT–It is so much easier to see the “logical lunacy” of the other guys!