Category Archives: group think

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.

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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.”

Breaking news! GOP Hates President Obama!

“We wage the war we are.’ I use this W. H. Auden quote so often because it so vividly describes my life. But I think the quip is relevant to each of us, individually and collectively. American politics has been demonstrating this “warfare” in a vivid fashion since Barack Obama became president. Senator Mitch McConnell announced upon Obama’s election, that the “primary goal” of his party was to “make Barack Obama a one-term president.” And this Republican game plan has sought egregiously to undermine the President each step of the way, even to the of bring harm to the country and the threat of devastation to the world economy.

sThis single-focus is often good for any group as it provides coherence when otherwise there might be none. But this “single-focus” often goes beyond the pale at times and eventually lead even to internal conflict in the group itself. This is because this “single-focus” is so intense that “reality” is disregarded, the “reality” in this case being the welfare of the country but also the welfare and integrity of the group itself. This “single-focus” can galvanize such intense emotions that actions result that are so short-sighted that the long-term outcome of the actions leads to  catastrophy. The resulting autistic frame of reference is vividly illustrated today on the world stage with Islamic extremist group, Isis. And, sure enough, there are signs that the Isis organization now is experiencing internal conflict.   When your subconscious need is to project your violence on others, eventually “others” will not suffice and the group  begins to have conflict within; it begins to feed upon itself.

The Republicans have graphically demonstrated their antipathy to the President so many times, most recently when 47 Republican senators signed a letter by Senator Tom Cotton which sought to undermine complex negotiations between the White House (and other world leaders) with Iran on nuclear disarmament. A few weeks earlier, the Speaker of the House John Boehner intruded in Obama’s purview on the same issue by inviting Benjamin Netenyaho to speak to the Congress without the customary formality of going first through the White House.

But the seething hatred has even gone to comical at times. In Obama’s second inaugural address, one Congressman interrupted this very formal very event with a cry of, “You lie!” This Congressman had imbibed his party’s hostility toward the President to the to the point he could not control himself, and felt he had the liberty to behave so rudely. He lacked the self-awareness, or meta-cognition, which would have given him impulse control and the realization that such an outburst would be so egregious that both parties would later chide him for the offense.. Another event even more clearly illustrated the childish nature of the hostility when one Republican Senator during intense discussions with the President over the budget, told the President to his face, “I can’t stand to even look at you!” To make this even further comical, when the Senator was “outed” on this rudeness, his response was a fervent denial, followed by a threat, “If anyone was tape recording that meeting, they will be reprimanded for violation of the rules.” The lack of self-awareness kept him from realizing that he was then tacitly admitting guilt.

Obama’s response to the Republican intrusion into negotiations with Iran revealed a truth that is too painful for most members of the Republican party—the extremists who have so much power in their party is ideologically similar to Isis.   Obama noted, “I think it is kind of interesting that the GOP is aligning themselves with the hard right of Isis. I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with Isis. It’s an unusual coalition.”

I have wanted to liken these hardliners to the Isis myself. But it is important to note that this is an over statement as our system of government and our culture will not permit this radical extremism to lead to overt violence.   But the subtle violence in their collective heart just two years ago led them to jeopardize the world economy when they tried to shut down the government rather than compromise with the White House on a budget deal. As that political battle approached denouement, the extremists (i.e. Tea Party) began to realize that their childish intransigence was not going to succeed. At one of the conferences within the GOP, two of were quote as they came out of committee meetings exuberantly avowing, “We are rightI”

Hardliners who venture into extremism cannot be negotiated with. One cannot negotiate with any individual or group who is desperately convinced they are “right.” Furthermore, this being “right” is very much related to the conservative religion of that contingent of the GOP who are convinced that God is leading them. It is hard to negotiate with anyone who so desperately believe God is on their side. This issue is a demonstration of the danger of ideology I have blogged about recently. Anyone who is so invested with any idea…even those that might be “good and noble”…cannot approach any issue on the table with reason. Oh sure, they have reason but their reason is blinded by the hatred which is the underlying unifying force of their group. As Goethe so pithily described it, “They call it reason, using celestial light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”

These people are so deeply embedded in their own thinking that they cannot see beyond “the small bright circle of their consciousness.” This is called narcissism.  Emily Dickinson described it as a “mind too near itself to see itself distinctly.”