Category Archives: group think

Shame, Truth, Courage, and Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, shocked the world yesterday by disclosing an effort by AMI (the National Enquirer publisher) to blackmail him with salacious text messages they had uncovered, including sexually intimate photos.  Yes, these photos even included the now quite common “d…k pix.”  Ami was trying to get him to back off an intense investigation he had initiated to determine how they had intercepted his texts and emails. But Bezos did not play ball, declaring he preferred to “roll this log over and see what crawls out.”  He admitted the shame of this experience but determined he would not be blackmailed and was willing to call the bluff of the National Enquirer. The National Enquirer and its CEO, Jeff Pecker (chuckle, chuckle) have been intimately involved with Trump, Pecker now having defected under pressure from Robert Mueller’s investigation of the President.  Trump and Pecker colluded to pay off Trump’s hush money to a prostitute and former Playboy bunny.

My concern with this story is shame and its relationship with honesty.  A sense of shame…a “healthy shame”…helps make us human, giving us the motivation to participate in the very necessary social fiction that makes us human.  We keep things hidden and should do so.  Not everything needs to be disclosed.  But when “healthy shame” has been obliterated by toxic shame, it reveals that there is so much to hide that the individual will go to any extreme to keep the secrets of his heart hidden.  Mr. Bezos, like all mortals, has sexual peccadillos fluttering about in his heart and mind and he “imbibed” of a few like most of us have.  But he found the courage and stubbornness to not be blackmailed and owned up to the accusations, taking the “wind out of the sails” of the National Enquirer.  (And, admittedly this “courage and stubbornness” was facilitated by the fact that he is one of the richest men on the earth.)

Life, i.e. “reality”, often pushes us into a corner where we are forced to admit things that are not pleasant.  But when shame tyrannizes us into a façade that is not simply a persona but a prison, we cannot allow “truthfulness” to break out; sometimes we will go to any extreme to deny what we are accused of.  Related to this machination, Trump introduced to us the term “fake news” as a simple term for, “whatever I don’t like or is unpleasant,” is not true.

This issue, given Trump’s intimacy with the National Enquirer, brings to my mind the question of what he and his compatriots have dug up on members of Congress.  We all have stuff we don’t want to come out and it is now clear that if the intent is there to uncover it, it can be uncovered.  Blackmail would explain some of the blind compliance with Trump’s whims that many noted Republicans have demonstrated; Lindsey Graham and McConnell comes to mind, to name but two.


Does “It Take A Village?” Yes, It Does!

“Families are to be from.”  This was a wry quip from a high school student of mine in the early 80’s when a sociology class discussion about families was wrapping up.  This young lady was grasping the complexity of family relationships even at her young age, recognizing poignantly that one needs to extricate oneself at some point in life from the familial orbit.  This is usually done with the normal developmental process as young people reach maturity, seek a mate, marry, have children, and begin a family of their own.  But sometimes even then the emotional ties with the family of origin will be inordinate and, one or both of the marital partners will not have “cut the cord” and complications will develop.

The family is a primary dimension of social life.  Family structure is the template in which a child finds his place and learns how to “find his place” in the family at large, i.e. the community, and eventually even in the world “family.”  The family is where connection is established, and explored, and the skills…or lack thereof…will be offered in the social body. The anchor of the family is the mother and father and if their relationship is not stable, or insincere, then the children will not have a stable basis upon which to find their roots in the family dynamic.  A college psychology professor of mine, decades ago, noted that for a child it is more important for a child to know that his parents love each other than that the parents love him.  For the connection between “mommy and daddy” provide an anchor for an inchoate identity and from that anchor will arise a knowledge of parental love that is not prosaic or formulaic.  The script always includes “mommy and daddy love me” but the nuances of the family dynamic, based on the connection between “mommy and daddy” often convey otherwise.

But let me close this grim assessment with a positive note.  The human soul is indomitable.  Most families provide what British psychiatrist Donald W. Winnicott described as “good enough ‘parenting’” (his term was “good enough ‘mothering’”).  If parenting were perfect, then children would get a naive impression life is about and would be ill-equipped to face that “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” And a facetious note is here in order.  My children are perfect!  That is because my “children” are only whims and fancies of what might have been, whims and fancies that I pine for, but have never experienced.  That is because I never had the courage to take that important plunge into the “dog-and-pony show” of this human endeavor and father children, trusting that Life is good and that all would be well.  But I firmly believe that “there is a destiny that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them as we may” and that all is well in the end.  Yes, even with this current political maelstrom that is gnawing at the soul of my country.


Fletcher Knebel Rises from the Dead!

Knebel was a writer of popular political fiction during the Cold War of the 1950’s and 1960’s, novels such as “Fail Safe” and “Seven Days in May,” being made into popular movies.  Another novel which did not make it into the movies was entitled, “Is the President Stark Raving Mad.” However, nearly sixty years later someone…for reasons unknown (wink, wink), the novel is being re-released, certainly in part because of references made by Bob Woodward and Rachel Maddow.

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you were “stark raving mad”?  Would you know it and be able to tell someone, “I’m nuts.  Help me!” or would you refuse to acknowledge it.  It depends upon the degree of madness.  The closer one is to total madness, the less likely is he to ask for help as the ability to acknowledge any such infirmity is beyond the capacity of his feeble, fear-ridden ego.  Most of us deal with internal duress at some point in our lives…and times throughout our lives…and one might think of this as “madness” but not anywhere near deserving the label madness.  Life is difficult and at times the difficulties test our resources and our ability to make appropriate adaptation is challenged.  But we do it and never merit the label “mad” though often…perhaps, ”neurotic as hell.”  But those who are “stark raving mad” are so far beyond the pale that they are immune to any external feedback and will listen only to the feedback from their own internal haunts as well as those who have subscribed to the influence of these same haunts. Those who are under this influence have permitted this to happen because the haunts of the mad man, the “identified patient”, have resonated with some muted haunt in their own depths that they have surrendered to the siren call of this embodiment of madness that was before them.

Shakespeare offered pertinent wisdom on this matter, asking the question, “What is madness but to be nothing else but mad?”  Shakespeare here recognized the point made above, that we are all mad to some degree, and the problem would lie only with those who are “nothing else but mad.”  He realized that “madness” was only a problem when it consumed the individual to the point that his judgment was gravely impaired so that his choices put himself and/or others in danger.  Such an individual is out of touch with reality, relative to another observation by the Bard, “Madness in great one’s must not unwatched go.”

I hesitate to describe Trump as “a great one” but he does occupy a “great” office with immense power and influence in the entire world.  The evidence of his instability goes back decades, has become more prominent in recent decades as he became a more prominent public figure, and now is glaringly obvious as he occupies the office of the President. No, he is not “mad” for there is, at this point, “something else than mad” present.  But there is madness, “stark raving madness” roiling in the depths of his being, and it cannot but escalate as the Mueller investigation continues to close in on him.  “Acting out” always leads to conclusion, either humility and recognition of one’s excesses or an explosion of violence upon oneself, or others, or both.  The ugliness within must find expression.  We can run from it but it will always follow us until we address it or find a steady diet of “others” upon whom to project it.

I find it interesting that my country, the United States of America…the sole surviving superpower…has the ability to destroy the world but so far does not have within its heart the will or power to even “limit” this personification of its own avarice.  Like any individual, my country is powerless before its hidden, feared, subterranean depths which are now glaringly obvious to us all in this embodiment of our heart’s darkness.  Even his minions are aware of this but they are so “dug in” with his delusional system that they cannot admit it. This is the ‘will to self-destruction” which will relentlessly pursue its ends unless the gods, i.e. “God”, offers us a “deux ex machina” to resolve this mess.

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

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.


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

e e cummings and individuation

The poet, e e cummings declared, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
The world has a primary task, socio-culturally speaking, of homogenizing the “raw-material” of the human “matter” that comes its way as we daily “rattle the world for our babies.”  And yes, our babies are the precious coins that our piggy-banks always have stored up for us though we so often don’t treat them with the respect they are due.  But as our babies begin the task of becoming humanized they find the homogeneity pressure is overwhelming and so often they meekly succumb to the pressure and become mere automatons, following the dictates of the tribe into which they are born.

e e cummings demonstrated in his poetry…and I’m sure in the whole of his life…his determination to “rebel against the machine” and thus we witness the absence of punctuation, capitalization, and often the absence of simple linear thinking.  And I’m made to think of “Bartleby the Scrivener”, the fictional creation of Herman Melville in the 19th century, whose compulsive, “I would prefer not to,” was his standard response to the structured workplace of the burgeoning industrial revolution of his day.

Human life is the daily conflict between the twin poles of a demand to comply with “fitting in” and the equally important need to “individuate.”  A healthy society will call for both but so often an imbalance is seen in which the “fitting in” is so heavily emphasized that little or no room is left for individuation and the tribe is left with a nation of sheep. When that happens, the wisdom of Proverbs 29 is relevant, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” for vision is not possible when group-think (or group “vision”) tyrannizes.

Shakespeare and Our Collective Madness

Shakespeare viewed the entire world as “out of its ever-loving gourd” mad.  Thus he would describe life itself as a “tale told by an idiot” as he was a keen observer of the human predicament and was bewildered by what he saw.  Therefore in Hamlet, he lamented, in so many words, “Why bother” in the first place, why “toil and sweat under a weary life” when one could take exit with a “bare bodkin” and escape to golden mansions and streets of gold.

But I think that Shakespeare recognized that he too was mad but took comfort in that he had in his heart “something else” than madness.  His plays and sonnets revealed the presence of “the pauser reason” which allowed him self-awareness enough to own his “madness” but to realize he was not totally mad as was so many people around him who lacked that self-awareness.

I’m curious what he would say today about Donald Trump.  I think he would have a field day as Trump is about as close to “nothing else but mad” as one can be and merit the label “functional.”  But the only thing that gives him this label are his handlers who often appear to be going mad in their desperate effort to make his daily insane behaviors and statements palatable to the press and public.

To illustrate our collective madness, I have read that our world has the resources to eliminate hunger.  If so, why don’t we?  It seems to me that failure to do so is totally irrational yet you can bet your sweet bippy it will not happen in mine and your lifetime.  This is because “reality” grinds relentlessly onward, mindlessly, heartlessly, mechanically like the “tale told by an idiot” toward some unknown end and “chooses” to be oblivious to egregious ills.  But I, like the Bard, do affirm that “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”

The Delusional World of Trump Continues

I just finished my morning foray into the mad world of Donald Trump and was not even taken aback to see that he is now focusing on the mental instability of Hillary Clinton.  This is just further illustration of how completely out of touch with reality he is; for, if he paid any attention to the feedback that he is getting from friend and foe he would realize that he should not touch the subject of anyone’s else’s “mental instability.”

But this is the problem with narcissism, especially when that mental illness has reached the stage of malignancy it has with him.  For in that state of madness, one is impervious to feedback from the outside.  One then finds himself comfortably ensconced in a delusional system and inevitably will have constructed himself a social world consisting of people who will help him maintain his lunacy as they too live in a version of the same delusional system.  Theologian Paul Tillich described this as “an empty world of self-relatedness”, a pristine world comprised of people who march lock-stepped to the beat of the same demonic drummer.

I speak from experience.  As noted before in this venue, I grew up in a context of delusional narcissism in which I learned that I was one of God’s “special” and “chosen people who had the truth; and, yes, others perhaps had the truth also but no one had it like we did!  And I’m not free of this poison yet and will never be completely as it always tempts me to bask in the safety of my present day mind-set and dismiss any and all those see the world differently.  But when the Grace of God has intervened and one has “named the demon” the demon can no longer work its tyranny in your heart with the same degree of abandonment.  Yes, I still catch myself taking myself too seriously…in this venue and in the whole of my life…but then “reality” chides me and I am reminded again that I’m only a finite perspective in a world of other perspectives.  I don’t have “the” Truth though I now feel that I am in the loving hands of the Truth and therefore don’t have to be so damn “right” any more.

And this is often quite uncomfortable.  For in my heart’s core I still have that childhood desperation for “certainty” but am learning to live without it, learning that this is what faith is about.  And, yes, this is faith in God…though that is a long story…but it also is a newly found faith in myself as I’m discovering that the certainty which used to offer comfort was specious at best and was predicated upon a denial of my human vulnerability.

Trump has a god-like power over many people in my country.  His message preys on reptilian-brain fears which are readily assuaged by his promise that he is gonna “Make America Great Again.”  He knows that he can say and do anything he wants to and his followers will stay with him for they are hapless before his demonic falderal.  Last fall he even declared publicly that he could shoot someone dead in the streets of New York City “and my poll numbers will still go up.”  The very next day his poll numbers spiked.  He offers a delusional hope and when desperate people have imbibed of this nectar it is usually impossible to take it from them.

And many evangelical Christians are drinking the kool-aid with relish, disregarding the advice of one of their own spokesmen, Chuck Swindoll, who posed the question of Trump, “Where is the basic thread of human decency?”  It is not there but many evangelicals, terrified by the reality of the modern world, are willing to sell their soul for the specious hope of a “strong-man” who will turn back the clock and restore our country to the “good old days.”  They fail to realize that these “good old days,” that I remember well, were the days when blacks knew their place, women knew their place, gender diversity did not even exist, and those Communists occupied the place that “Muslims” occupy in our present day mindset.  The “good old days” required rigid demarcation between “us” and “them” which is best illustrated by Trump’s promise today to “build that wall.”  “Walls” and boundaries are necessary for life.  But when they are emphasized to the neglect of openness and inclusiveness they are destructive, destructive of the world outside but also of those that are inside the “safe” confines of those boundaries.  As W. H. Auden noted, “We have made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”