Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sifting Through the Ruins of Broken Attachment

Reader Bryan has asked an excellent question about yesterday's post on the psychopathology of dailykos.

First, he observes that "This is a very interesting idea on what subconsciously motivates our current young leftists, and it makes intuitive sense to me because it reminded me of some encounters that I have had with a leftist friend. Observing how certain political issues would cause her to fly into a rage, I began to suspect that what she was really angry about was her unhappy childhood and that being perpetually angry about politics was a way of not facing her grief and anger toward her parents."

He goes on:

"However, one thing about this idea confuses me. Why is it that leftists complete the gestalt of 'abandoning parent' only with Republican leaders and not with Democratic leaders? Why, for instance, was it impossible to project the imago (if that is the correct term; forgive again my amateurishness) of the abandoning parent onto President Clinton?"

That is a very fair question, with no easy answer. I am actually reluctant to use psychology to simply pathologize those with whom I disagree, but in this case, how can you not? Kos acknowledges up front that he is not dealing in the realm of argument or ideas. Therefore, you cannot engage him on that level. As such, you really have only two choices--either descend to his primitive level of mid-brain noise, or "go meta" on him, as I have done.

I would never do this with someone posing a substantive argument or challenge--it would be insulting and condescending to do so. But some modern psychoanalysts, in particular W. R. Bion, have done extremely important work on what might be called "epistemological pathologies" of the mind. In many people, the thinking mind more or less fails to develop, and instead becomes an organ for the discharge and projection of primitive emotional elements (Bion called them "beta elements"). For those people it is not an act of condescension but an act of empathy to meet them "where they live," so to speak. This is an important lesson I learned early in my training.

If you are remotely sensitive, you can actually feel it when primitive elements are being projected into you. Obviously not all people on the left do this, but there are certain more primitive "psychoclasses" on the left that are quite prone to this type of aggressive projection--really, it's more of an expulsion and invasion of beta elements. It emanates from a psychotic (developmentally early) part of the mind, and when you are being used as a receptacle for someone's beta elements, it is difficult to keep your cool.

For one thing, one of the purposes of the projections is to "attack the links" in your own mind. Again, this is an idea developed by Bion; it may sound abstract or esoteric, but it is actually based on sound observation of what transpires when you are being projected into. You may subjectively experience a dismantling of your own cognitive structure, and be left with a sort of empty confusion, not quite knowing how to respond.

I would place someone like Randi Rhodes of Air America into the same category as the Kos contingent. Yesterday I decided to tune in and listen for the "beta elements," that is, projected bits of undigested anger and rage. I only listened for about ten minutes, because the remainder of her program was pre-empted by a Clippers basketball game. But in just those ten minutes I was overwhelmed with material, and there were more beta elements than I could even transcribe: Conservatives don't believe in freedom, but want to impose a theocracy. Conservatives don't really want to overturn Roe vs. Wade because it will threaten their fundraising. Bush wants to spread religious fundamentalism so that the rapture will come sooner. Jerry Falwell has a policy of never being alone in the same room with a woman other than his wife, and Republicans secretly wish to put this policy into law. Republicans want to make it against the law to be an atheist. Belief in intelligent design is code for imposing a Taliban theocracy.

It went on and on and on. With all due respect, I would say that it would be foolish to engage such an individual in rational debate. This is a cognitive pathology. But where is it coming from? Frankly, I don't know. However, within about two sessions on the couch, I believe I'd have a pretty good idea. Again, forget about the content of her thought, as objectionable as it may be. As a psychologist, I am actually more interested in the form of her thought, especially at this primitive level. In a neurotic one is more concerned with the content, but here we are dealing with damaged psychological structure, a very different thing. (One other fascinating observation by Bion is that these individuals tend to convert epistemological problems into moral problems, thus accounting for the stridently moralistic tone of contemporary liberals; this accords with the truism--again, a generalization--that conservatives think liberals are merely uninformed or foolish, whereas liberals think conservatives are actually evil.)

Are there people and groups on the right that do this? Undoubtedly. I'm just not plugged into those groups, nor are those groups particularly prominent on the right. I would be tempted to say that a Michael Savage falls into that category, but I'm pretty sure that what he's doing is just his "schtick." But these people on the left are true believers, plus they are normative for their group, not exceptions.

Are there generational psychopathologies, general patterns, or styles of group neurosis? I think so. In my generation, for example, the style of pathology was different. Unlike the present 18-35 group, we were probably the most indulged psychoclass in history. For example, my mother--along with so many other mothers--was a fanatical devotee of the child-centered parenting style of Dr. Spock, who was a disciple of the great psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott. Among the generational cohort of baby boomers, that indulgence led to a plethora of narcissism, entitlement, utopian fantasies, and other distinct problems. In fact, you could probably draw a distinction between the contemporary "old" and "new" left by noting the very different styles of narcissism (for you insiders, this might correspond with the Kohut vs. Kernberg models of narcissism--their models might describe different populations of narcissists, Kohut's more mature, Kernberg's more primitive).

Since the early 1970's we have, in fact, been engaging in a completely novel psychohistorical experiment with unknown cultural ramifications. Specifically, what is the effect of abandoning children to daycare very shortly after they are born, thereby disrupting the primordial attachment system bequeathed to us by evolution, the very system that ushers us into humanity? There are many provocative studies, all loudly attacked and suppressed by the feminist beta element crying machine.

But use your intuition, especially if you're enjoying the bonding experience with your infant, as I am. If it's so pleasurable for me, imagine how it feels for him. Actually, it's pretty obvious how it feels for him. It's more or less ecstatic. What are the long term effects of having this primordial joy of being alive short-circuited? What sort of worldview emerges from its ruins? Why do all of the studies show that happy people are more likely to be conservative, and vice versa?

I can't say with certainty, but I'm sure it will be an ongoing subject of future posts.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Kos Kids, Nihilism, and the Ghosts of the Nursery

Yesterday, in a post entitled A Little Reason Free From Passion, Please, Dr. Sanity reviewed the legal arguments for the NSA intercept program, writing that the courts "have unanimously held that the President has the inherent constitutional authority to order warrantless searches for purposes of gathering foreign intelligence information, which includes information about terrorist threats."

However, she adds, "Some people don't like that such a clear case can be made for the President's actions. For them, Bush is simply a liar and a fascist; and the law is completely irrelevant." For example, at dailykos, we are assured that fascism "is coming. The lure of fascism is too powerful for men like the ones currently pissing all over our Constitution." This time the targets for genocide "Probably won’t be the Jews. Maybe Arabs. Maybe gays. Maybe 'libruls.' Who the f*ck knows? It almost certainly won’t be recognizable to most people until it’s far too late."

"When it comes to the high anxiety of the Left today," notes Dr. Sanity, "they do not fear Osama Bin Laden or Abu Musab Al Zarqawi--they fear George Bush." Interestingly, the paranoid left is overwhelmed by the "eery parallels" between Hitler's Germany of the 1930's and George Bush's contemporary America. And it turns out that they are absolutely right, but in an unexpected way. She quotes Stafford Cripps, a left wing member of Parliament who warned that if Churchill became prime minister he would "introduce fascist measures and there would be no more general elections." Like our contemporary leftist paranoiacs, Cripps didn't fear Hitler, the true evil, but Churchill, who was devoted to fighting it.

Dr. Sanity also quotes Simone de Beauvoir, who didn't think that Germany was the threat, "but instead worried that the 'panic that the Right was spreading' would drag France, Britain, and the rest of Europe into war."

This got me to thinking. One of the maddening things about the left is that they never engage your argument, but always question your motives. You know the drill by now: if you are against government mandated racial discrimination, you are a racist; if you have reservations about redefining marriage, you're a homophobe; if you believe the strict scientific evidence implies an intelligent creator, you are a religious fanatic who wishes to impose a theocracy; etc, etc.

In the contemporary left, it has become gospel that the so-called "war on terror" is really just an excuse for President Bush to take away our civil liberties and impose a "fascist theocracy." Please note, this is not hyperbole--they really and truly believe this (see my post from a couple of days ago, On the Bizarro World of the Left: Krystallnacht Comes to AmeriKKKa). The left actually believes that President Bush was just waiting for a 9-11 so that he could use it as an excuse to commence the fascist takeover on 9-12.

But Dr. Sanity's diagnosis suggests the opposite: that leftists were just waiting for September 11 so that they could use it to advance their agenda on September 12. And just what is the leftist agenda? Many thinkers, such as Steven Hicks (see my review of his Explaining Postmodernism) have argued that they don't actually have one anymore. That is, they have become purely reactionary. Now that Marxism has been thoroughly discredited, the intellectual pillars upon which leftism rests no longer exist. All that remains is the hungry ghost of Marxism, which involves a radical critique of Western civilization, and an unwavering commitment to the idea that it must be defeated and even destroyed. This is why leftism is so incoherent and contradictory, not to say enraged and angry. It is not about argument but about action. To the extent that language is used, it is deployed as a blunt instrument. Since September 12, they have simply taken every opportunity to use this blunt instrument to question or attack any effort to defend us from those who wish to destroy us.

Yesterday, Washington Monthly published a timely interview with Markos Moulitsas, proprietor of dailykos, the most popular and influential Democratic blog. The interviewer--who was actually sympathetic to Moulitsas--notes that "the most salient thing about" his politics "is not where he falls on the left-right spectrum.... It's his relentless competitiveness, founded not on any particular set of political principles, but on an obsession with tactics —and in particular, with the tactics of a besieged minority, struggling for survival: stand up for your principles, stay united, and never back down from a fight." Moulitsas boasts that “I'm not ideological at all.... I'm just all about winning.”

As a typical--indeed, prototypical--leftist, he doesn't believe that conservatives have any arguments that are worth considering for even a moment. Rather, he believes that conservatives simply possess a more effective “noise machine," that is, "a coalition of coordinated advocacy and opinion media outlets that pressure the mainstream media into reporting, and repeating, GOP-friendly spin."

In other words, Moulitsas' philosophy is admittedly entirely content-free, consisting of pure emotion. It is as if he lives in the animal world. One animal brays, and he will simply bray louder and proclaim victory. “The simplest fact about American politics,” says Moulitsas, “is that Republicans have a noise machine and we don't.” Therefore, he decided that dailykos "would become the Democratic noise machine, pressing the case against the Bush administration and the Iraq war in the strongest terms possible." Even the writer of this piece observes that "Moulitsas's posts are not long or involved—and he clearly has no literary pretensions—but they are clear and consistent. Some news of the day has reinforced either the corruption and evil of Republicans, the gullible incomprehension of the media, or the timidity and incoherence of the Democrats. The site is for the true believers, not the aesthetes; its tone is harsh, impassioned, and frequently humorless.... And sometimes infantile and absurd."

Harsh. Impassioned. Humorless. Infantile. Absurd. This is exactly the impression one comes away with after dipping into the truly joyless, endarkened, and unhappy world of dailykos. But one could easily add paranoid, shrill, nihilistic, and frankly, delusional (and I use this word advisedly, in the strict clinical sense). As a psychologist, one is trained not just to listen to the content of a patient's verbal associations, but to listen with a "third ear" to the feelings they engender in you (known as "counter-transference"). If one reads dailykos (including the comments) in this way, it's really rather sad.

The tone of destructive nihilism is especially prominent, and very troubling, because it appears to be generational. "As this generation begins to move into positions of power within the progressive movement and the Democratic Party, they don't pose much of a challenge on issues or substance. So the tactical critique takes center stage. Moulitsas's sensibility suits his generation perfectly.... Moulitsas is just basically uninterested in the intellectual and philosophical debates that lie behind the daily political trench warfare. By his own admission, he just doesn't care about policy."

I won't get into all of them here, but I have a number of ideas and intuitions as to why so many members of this 18-35 generation would be so angry, cynical, nihilistic and paranoid. For example, it is difficult to imagine many of them having had happy childhoods in intact, loving families, where they weren't abandoned to daycare or riven by divorce. Theirs' is indeed a radical critique, but it has the hallmarks of that undying and unquenchable resentment that can only be rooted in the Great Lost Entitlement of Childhood. I can't see anything in it that remotely resembles the leftism that seduced me and my generational cohort, which may have been foolish and naive, but at least spoke of universal love and spiritual transcendence. How different the tone is today.

As a psychologist, I can't help thinking that George Bush is simply a stand-in for the soul-destroying "ghosts of the nursery" that result from having been bitterly disillusioned so long ago. No one is so menacing as the abandoning parent one has internalized. These shape-shifting specters of childhood haunt the landscape of the mind, causing those who harbor them to compulsively search for their symbolic representation in the external world. Better to fight them there than to realize that the omnipotent enemy is really inside one's own head. Thus, the world is full of malevolent traitors who were supposed take care of us! (This is a role bin Laden cannot fill, because he was never supposed to be our caretaker.)

So now there is a Democratic Noise Machine. Now that I have a little Gagdad, I understand better than ever where that shrill noise comes from, and what he's asking for. Except in his case, he's more than entitled to it. I will be pretty surprised if he grows up feeling cheated of the entitlement that is owed to all children, and proceeds to vainly search for it later in life through politics.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Political Entomology and Blue-Bellied Liberals

Some political behavior is just so primitive that human psychology falls short of explaining it. Instead, a keen-eyed psychologist has to rely on other sciences, like, oh, I don't know, entomology.

Ever notice how ants, in their busy peregrinations, are constantly rushing up to each other and bumping heads? It turns out that it's not just to exchange pleasantries with one another, but to feed one another. If one ant is well fed and the other one hungry, the former will produce a drop from its mouth that the other one gratefully gobbles down.

Apparently, ants have what is known as a "social stomach" in addition to a personal stomach. Until food passes into the personal stomach and becomes the private property of said ant, any ant can stake a claim to it. They have even done experiments on this, for example, feeding a few ants honey that has been colored with a blue-tinted dye. Soon enough, all of the ants in the community will show a blue tint in their abdomen.

This is pretty much how the left/liberal world works. It is filled with media ants, Hollywood ants, academic ants, singing ants, judicial ants, educational establishment ants, and lastly, political ants who all run around randomly bumping their heads together, so that they're constantly regurgitating little half-digested bits of information and feeding them to one another. Pretty soon, just like the ants, they're all the same color.

Take, for example, the current bogus controversy about President Bush and the "domestic spying." If we could have somehow placed a dye in the New York Times, we would have seen how the meme left their proboscis and was sucked up by the MSM. From there, the MSM fed it to the politicians, and they bumped heads with all the legions of dopey TV lawyers like Jonathan Turley and Jeffrey Toobin, who assured us that what Bush has been doing is illegal. It then trickles further down into the darker precincts of academia, the left-wing blogosphere, and Air America, and pretty soon every liberal's stomach is the same color as the New York Times was last Friday morning.

I thought about this as I was reading Thomas Lifson's typically excellent piece, The Liberal Bubble. He points out how our liberal elites have managed to construct such "a comfortable, supportive, and self esteem-enhancing environment. The most prestigious and widest-reaching media outlets reinforce their views, rock stars and film makers provide lyrics and stories making their points, college professors tell them they are right, and the biggest foundations like Ford fund studies to prove them correct."

If you're an empty-headed liberal, you never have to go far to get yourself a fill-up. Just turn on the TV. Pick up the newspaper. Listen to Bono. Read Time or Newsweek. Go to college. Go to a Christmas party. Liberalism is always in the air, like political muzak. Unlike conservatives, liberals find themselves in a congenial world that constantly mirrors their half-baked philosophy, so that it need never be thought through and actually digested in the personal stomach-mind.

According to Lifson, "American liberals are able to live their lives untroubled by what they regard as serious contrary opinion. The capture of the media, academic, and institutional high ground enables them to dismiss their conservative opponents as ill-informed, crude, bigoted, and evil. The memes are by now familiar. Rush Limbaugh and the other radio talkers 'preach hate.' Evangelicals are 'religious fanatics' comparable to the Islamo-fascists in their desire to impose 'theocracy'.... Jewish conservatives are members of the 'neocon' cult..."

I am sure you have witnessed how free liberals feel to casually utter the most obnoxious, bigoted, and hateful comments about President Bush or about conservatives in general. Members of my own family do so. As Lifson writes, liberalism has been reduced to an "in-group code, perfectly understandable and comforting among the elect, but increasingly disconnected from everyone else, and off-putting to those not included in the ranks of the in-group. Rather than focusing on facts, logic, and persuasion, liberals find it easier to employ labeling ('That’s racist!') and airy dismissal of contrary views to sway their audience, and because their authority figures in the media and academia accept this behavior, they assume it is persuasive to the rest of us."

Within the liberal in-group, such expressions of group norms "earn prestige." Ted Kennedy tells it like it is! Howard Dan speaks truth to power! "But to the rest of society it becomes stranger and stranger, until it becomes repellant," writes Lifson. Liberals "experience their differences with the rest of society as a sign of their advanced intelligence and consciousness. At best, they are perplexed at how long it is taking everyone else to catch-up with their enlightened state of understanding."

Liberals inhabit a world of such constant intellectual mirroring and self-reinforcement, that it is possible for them to live a life relatively free of any "cognitive friction." Or at least it used to be. You can see how irritating it is--traumatic, really--for them to have to actually contend with competing world views, even something as innocuous as Fox Cable (which is clearly more populist than conservative).

Odd that liberals accuse President Bush of living in a bubble, when the typical liberal is so amazingly provincial. I don't think there is anyone living in a more cognitively closed intellectual world than the typical secular New York liberal, where there is no diversity of thought and all the stomachs are blue. I would be bored to death if I had to live in such an intellectually and especially spiritually endeadened environment. What bothers me about the New York Times is not so much the liberal bias, as its parochial and small-minded pseudo-sophistication.

Unlike liberals, conservatives, in order to get through life, must have "dual citizenship." They must learn to negotiate a world dominated by liberals and by liberalism. I would never dream of publicly uttering the kinds of things liberals feel free to say in public (although Petey is a different story--he has a sort of political Tourette's Syndrome). Since conservatives have been outsiders for so long, they not only know how to "pass" in polite society, but they also know how to argue. In fact, most conservatives (including myself) started out liberal, so we know exactly how liberals think. The reverse is almost never true; conservatives don't become liberal unless they have sustained a closed head injury or are unfortunate victims of some other organic process.

On the one hand it would be much easier to live in an intellectually narcissistic world that mirrored my own thoughts. But once that happens, you may realize that they're not even really your thoughts. They're just half-digested blue memes, passed from one mind to another, in a caricature of thought. Another predictable day in the liberal anthill.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On The Bizarro World of the Left: Krystallnacht Comes to AmeriKKKa

Ironic, isn't it, how just at the same time we are being threatened by god-intoxicated theological fascists from around the globe, we are facing the same threat here at home, in the figure of George Bush?

Yesterday on dailykos (I believe the most popular Democratic website), there was a piece entitled Slouching Toward Kristallnacht, outlining all of the eery parallels between pre-nazi Germany and contemporary America. For the hundreds of frightened posters that commented on the article, it is not a matter of if, but when Bush suspends the charade of democracy and imposes a fascist state on us. As Kos himself wrote, "It won't come in the same form. It never does. But it's coming. The lure of fascism is too powerful for men like the ones currently pissing all over our Constitution."

By the phrase "pissing all over our constitution," I believe Kos is referring to Bush's inordinate interest in listening to telephone conversations of his fellow fascists who wish to impose a different theology than he does. Whatever. They're both motivated by the "lure of fascism."

Since the Jews are in on it this time, Kos concedes that Bush's targets for genocide "Probably won't be the Jews." Instead, "Maybe Arabs. Maybe gays. Maybe 'libruls.' Who the fuck knows?"

Yes, who the fuck knows? Kos doesn't have a krystallnacht ball. What do you want, names and addresses? As another wag put it a couple thousand years ago, "Of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven."

Kos knows only this: "It almost certainly won't be recognisable to most people until it's far too late."

Actually, it's the other way around. Once you start harboring persecutory delusions, it's too late. There's not much that psychology or even psychopharmacology can do for you. First of all, such individuals rarely seek treatment for their paranoia, because they don't know they are paranoid. Nor is there any medication for a fixed Delusional Disorder, especially a collectively held one that is reinforced by all of the members of the paranoid group. Here are just a few of some 450 comments I harvested off the top:

"Yes, we saw a documentary last week on the Holocast and how it began -- its all true and its all happening again."

"Us non-heterosexuals have been the canary in the coal mine... and we have been singing for DECADES about what is coming down the road for us all.... Just as the communists, the socialists, the jews were all picked off one by one, we all get in the cross hairs eventually unless we stand together when the first are in that spot."

"We are not at the beginning. We have walked well down the fascist road. In my case, I woke with this rhetorical question: what is a Holocaust Denier? To my mind, the most dangerous of Holocaust Deniers are those who embrace the uniqueness of Auschwitz, who privilege the particularities of the past and all the shopworn realities of 1930s Germany and who wilfully deny its resonance to what is happening now."

"The capacity for evil must exist before the evil is done. Before there are gulags and death camps, the apparatus that sustains them must exist. We are worried because the apparatus is forming: a government that considers itself beyond the rule of law. This is not about the evils already committed, it is about the evils that may be committed in the future if the apparatus is allowed to grow unchecked. We won't know until it happens that Bush is planning a 'final solution' of his own -- and though I personally suspect he is (im)morally capable of it, I really, really would rather not find out." [Finally, a moderate and slightly skeptical view!]

"The Patriot Act is intentionally destined to fail so that when the Globalists carry out a terror attack they can blame 'civil liberties advocates' for preventing them from keeping the general public safe and then reject out of hand criticism of all future police state legislation that they pass."

"Who else thinks September 11, 2001, was our Burning of the Reichstag? The historical parallels are obvious."

"This is where we're heading, folks. If the legislative or judicial branch does nothing, we are, for all intents and purposes living in a nightmarish version of Nazi America. And given the bullshitstorm that place has become, I think I'll be looking up the location of local gun ranges and trainers in the next two weeks along with going out to shop for a gun. I can't believe America has gotten to this point and my reaction to this new reality can be summed up in one word: Fuck."

"I'm extremely alarmed by the hate coming from FOX News. The whole 'war on Christmas' is coded anti-semitism. There is a history in this country of tying the 'war on Christmas' to the 'international Jew threat.'"

"Many conservatives will indeed start making physical threats when arguing with someone who disagrees with them, and many are happy to act on those urges. They treat their spouses and kids the same way and are too immature to see other adult strangers as any different."

*******

Isn't it odd that these lost souls are deathly frightened of you and me and President Bush, whereas I am afraid of their thoughts. Specifically, it is very unsettling that these people believe things about us that are not only untrue, but cannot possibly be true. They are afraid of a fantasized version of reality, while I am afraid of their seemingly boundless capacity to fantasize and to inhabit their malicious fantasies.

The purpose of language is to communicate about reality. But what if it is not communicating reality, but fantasy? Somehow, these people are "successful" in communicating to one another (they all know exactly what the others are talking about, while you or I would say, "wwwhhhhaaaat?), and are even emotionally "nourished" by the communication. It is a relief to them that others share the same fantasy--it satisfies them, fills some kind of need. But it is not a need for truth. It's like an anxious group of primitives who invent a spurious cure for a disease they don't understand.

Without historical perspective, anthropological knowledge, and psychological insight and maturity, one's present being will simply rush in to fill in all of the gaps in one's psyche. This is how primitives remain primitive--they are trapped in the now, with no accurate knowledge or history. Now, with the rise of the internet, perhaps more than ever before, we have micro-cultures, or "psychoclasses" that can become echo chambers for its anxious, frightened, paranoid, and even borderline psychotic members.

We must always remember, that culture is man's adaptation to his humanity, to having a mind. The reason why cultures can appear so strange and dysfunctional is that, more often than not, they are an adaptation to the inner world, not to objective reality. The sort of tribalism of dailykos consists of omnipotent and deified knowledge that spuriously succeeds in blotting out ignorance. But only by "unknowing" their delusional knowledge can they begin to know reality. This is notoriously difficult to achieve in groups immersed in a paranoid world view. For they are not the victims of mere ignorance, but a motivated stupidity. In this way they are comparable to Islamists and nazis, in the sense that they are drowning in an invincibly dysfunctional worldview. We can only hope they don't act on it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Moral Retardation of the Venerable Holy Men

It's hard writing an interdisciplinary book like One Cosmos Under God. Actually, probably not as hard to write it as to sell it. For one thing, books like mine don't easily fit into any general category, so they inevitably wind up in the "new age" section of the bookstore, where it definitely doesn't belong. There I must compete for shelf space with Alien Channelers, PhDs in Shamanology, Spiral Dynamics Facilitators, Indigenous Wisdom Peddlers, Dreamtime Tool Repairmen, Exotic Botanical Merchants, Futurist Lawgivers of Life, Gazing Transmission Masters, Quantum Wakefulness Swamis, Matter Magic Salesmen, and Prosperity Consciousness Yogis.

Not to mention the king of all metaphysical hucksters, Deepak Chopra. One thing I haven't yet figured out--but probably could if I gave it a little thought--is why these new-age folks automatically tilt way left and are so deeply morally confused. In Chopra's latest missive on huffingtonpost, he discusses "how far into brutal punishment" the United States has "descended." He says that "America leads the world in executing criminals and is among the few Western countries that still retain the death penalty." I think the operational word here is criminals, although to be accurate he should have said murderers. In the countries we are fighting, the criminals murder the innocent, so he has hardly drawn a fair comparison. Plus, knee-jerk opponents of capital punishment don't understand that proponents such as myself regard the notion of keeping all murderers alive as nothing less than a decadent and sophisticated barbarism.

Chopra has said that "the U.S. has a higher proportion of its citizens behind bars than Stalin put into the Gulag," and that the "US prison boom creates an Orwellian world." The only thing Orwellian about our world is that Chopra has become a very wealthy man expressing such loony sentiments in it. He says that "our maximum security facilities, such as Pelican Bay in California, are incredibly inhumane by any standard except a concentration camp." Yes, I'm sure he'd prefer to live in a Saudi or Chinese prison.

"Finally," says Chopra, "there is the shameful detainment of suspected terrorists in isolation for months or years at a time,"the "arbitrary and high-handed treatment of captured military prisoners in Guantanamo," and "the horrors at Abu Ghraib and the alleged secret prisons operated in Eastern Europe... "

It's as if this guy is working for the other side. In a way, he is. When your moral compass is that broken, you inevitably marshall all of your energy against what is good, and in concert with what is evil. It pains me to hear such talk, because, as a lover of Yoga and Vedanta philosophy, it just makes them appear foolish. He reminds me of no one so much as Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most overrated human beings in history. Gandhi also thought that it was evil to fight the great evil of his day, Hitler--in other words, Gandhi wasn't just morally confused, but morally deranged.

In an article in Commentary entitled The Gandhi Nobody Knows, by Richard Grenier, he notes that Gandhi "wrote an open letter to the British people, passionately urging them to surrender and accept whatever fate Hitler had prepared for them." Gandhi told the British, "Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds."

Later he wrote two letters directly to Hitler, addressing him as "My Friend," and fawning over him like Chopra might fawn over Kofi Annan or Jimmy Carter: "That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed." To Gandhi, British imperialism was closely akin to Nazi imperialism: "If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny."

Gandhi felt that "If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war."

As such, regarding the Holocaust, Gandhi wrote that if he were a Jew in Germany, he would challenge the nazis "to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength."

According to Grenier, Gandhi was convinced that such a "moral triumph would be remembered for "ages to come." "If they would only pray for Hitler (as their throats were cut, presumably), they
would leave a "rich heritage to mankind." "Even after the war, when the full extent of the Holocaust was revealed, Gandhi told one of his biographers, that the Jews died anyway, didn't they? They might as well have died significantly."

Er, you go first, Mahatma.

Compare the morally confused Gandhi and Chopra to another Hindu who has had a profound influence on my own life, the morally lucid Sri Aurobindo. Aside from Winston Churchill, as far as I know, he was the most vociferous public opponent of Hitler in the 1930's, when few others recognized the nature and extent of his evil. Many in India were actually supportive of Hitler's aims, since they so hated the British. But Aurobindo wrote that such individuals "have no idea about the world and talk like little children. Hitler is the greatest menace the world has ever met." Later he wrote that the struggle against Hitler was not just war, but "a defense of civilization and its highest attained social, cultural and spiritual values and of the whole future of humanity."

What Sri Aurobindo wrote in the early 1940's could be equally applied today, with not one word altered: "You should not think of it as a fight for certain nations against others... It is a struggle for an ideal that has to establish itself on earth in the life of humanity, for a Truth that has yet to realize itself fully and against a darkness and falsehood that are trying to overwhelm the earth and mankind.... It is the forces behind the battle that have to be seen and not this or that superficial circumstance... It is a struggle for the liberty of mankind to develop, for conditions in which men have freedom and room to think and act according to the light in them, and to grow in the Truth, grow in the Spirit. There cannot be the slightest doubt that if one side wins, there will be an end of all such freedom and hope of light and truth, and the [spiritual] work that has to be done will be subjected to conditions which would make it humanly impossible; there will be a reign of falsehood and darkness, a cruel oppression and degradation for most of the human race such as people in this country do not dream of and cannot yet realize."

It may sound polemical to call someone like Chopra a moral idiot, but there are surely moral idiots, just as there are intellectual idiots. It simply means that the person in question is unable to reason coherently within the realm of good and evil, and to make sound moral distinctions. In this regard, they might as well be working for the other side.

Monday, December 19, 2005

On the Contempt of the Left: You Are Not Worthy!

Last Friday we posted on envy, a ubiquitous but underappreciated factor in human affairs. In fact, that post elicited a comment that touches on today's topic, contempt. That is, someone pretending to be a psychoanalyst (either that or he's not the brightest of Freud's children) left a comment asking that I "not abuse psychoanalytic terms in the simplistic ways that you have done," adding that "It is obvious from what you have written that your understanding of Psychoanalysis has been gleaned from books and you have not experienced a personal analysis yourself. I would sincerely advise you to undergo an analysis before you write further on Analysis." He concludes on an authoritarian note, asking me to "Kindly desist till you have a fuller understanding of Psychoanalysis." Without adding anything to the debate, this immature and anonymous poster triumphed over me through the use of contempt, control and triumph, the "manic triad."

As with envy, contempt is a term of art that has some overlap with the dictionary definition. It is considered one of the manic defenses, in that it functions to keep feelings of depression and loss at at bay, and to protect the ego from despair. Even more importantly, manic defenses such as contempt are primarily directed against psychic reality, and therefore against truth itself. Through the use of contempt, one may reverse a situation by devaluing the object in question, so as to avoid feelings of guilt, loss or depression. As Hanna Segal writes, "an object of contempt is not an object worthy of guilt, and the contempt that is experienced in relation to such an object becomes justification for further attacks on it."

Obviously, some things are worthy of contempt. But when contempt becomes a habitual state of mind, I find that it is always a defensive structure that is concealing something deeper. I remember a recent interview with Christopher Hitchens, who said words to the effect that his writing revolved around waking up every morning and feeling overwhelmed with anger, contempt and disgust, and just taking it from there. But in Hitchens' case, he has a deep respect for the truth, not to mention great talent as a writer. While I'm not sure I would want to be him, at least his contempt seems to be a righteous contempt, in that it is in the service of truth and creativity.

But what if you just have a boundless reserve of contempt but no talent, not to mention little regard for truth, such as in the case of a Maureen Dowd, or the Air America hosts? Then I think we're talking about contempt as a very dysfunctional state of mind signaling deeper problems.

This weekend on realclearpolitics there was an interesting piece by Thomas Lifson, entitled The Mask Slips. In it, he notes that:

"The past year has seen a spate of shocking statements revealing hatred and contempt for President Bush and his supporters on the part of important media figures who claim objectivity and sneer at conservatives unafraid to characterize themselves as such. Regrettably, we cannot credit a sudden outbreak of honesty for this phenomenon, and thereby anticipate improved news coverage from these folks. A pathology is at work."

Indeed, a pathology is at work. It is out-of-control contempt as a cover for something more important that is going on under the surface--some kind of emotional loss. What could it be? Lifson, who is not a psychoanalyst, plunges right ahead anyway:

"A sudden loss of status and influence is a profound shock to most people who have spent their lives aimed at the acquisition and enjoyment of sociopolitical standing. Relieved of the ability to shape the consciousness and behavior of others, a certain number unburden themselves of the inner restraints which kept them from openly voicing the condescension and scorn they have for those whom they regard as their social, intellectual, and moral inferiors."

Lifson ceases to desist in his analysis:

"The rise of alternate media... has not simply allowed competing voices to be heard in the public square, it has robbed many media grandees of the ultimate reward of their striving after careers as shapers of mass opinion. Some have become unbalanced mentally, and emotionally overwhelmed by the loss. They strike out with blind fury at their 'enemies' (the subjects whom they have covered as 'unbiased' journalists), and thereby let the mask of objectivity slip from their faces, revealing spiteful, arrogant and bigoted visages. By dismissing those who disagree with them as unworthy of consideration, they expose to light the long-hidden dark vision of the rest of humanity that enables them to regard themselves as worthy."

Lifson cites a number of examples, but focuses on the disgraced former editor-in-chief of the New York Times, Howell Raines, who is so consumed with contempt that it is palpable. Raines gave a recent speech which "allowed light to shine on the lunatic obsessions which colored his performance as one of the most influential figures in American media for many years," revealing his obsession "with the Bush family as the embodiment of evil, a multigenerational conspiracy in league with the Dark Force."

In this talk, Raines embraces "the 'false consciousness' explanation of the foolish behavior of the masses, an excuse beloved of Marxist intellectuals to explain the failure of the proletariat to embrace their rightful vanguard.... In this excuse for the stubborn popularity of conservative ideas, the foolish yahoos are being manipulated by Wall Street puppeteers (not Jon Corzine or Robert Rubin or George Soros, of course)." Feel the contempt that Raines has for you:

"The Bushes believe in letting the hoi polloi control the social and religious restrictions flowing from Washington, so long as Wall Street gets to say what happens to the nation’s money. The Republican party as a national institution has endorsed this tradeoff.... He [George W. Bush] adopted the full agenda of redneck America."

Think about this use of the term "redneck" to contemptuously dismiss those with whom he disagrees. As Lifson writes, "After all the years of pretending he was a racially unbiased friend of all humanity, Raines lets the mask slip and demonstrates his raw hatred for white people who haven’t overcome their misfortune in being born in the South..... The unwashed subhumans from whom he escaped the accident of birth are so stupid that even as transparently dull and evil a man as George W. Bush can fool them.... Raines, unconstrained by his former professional role, and writing for a presumably friendly audience overseas, demonstrates race- and class-based scorn for people whose values differ from his. Precisely because Raines is a Southerner who had to prove his bona fides to northern liberals by outdoing them, he demonstrates his contempt for Southern Whites."

Think of it this way. When you read the New York Times (or most any other MSM source), you might believe that you are doing so in order to be informed. But that's only if you agree with their world view. In other words, the unhinged contempt that we are witnessing in much of the MSM is a preview of how they will feel about you should you dare to question them. (This is similar to the dynamic between narcissistic celebrities and their audience--the celebrity is a "somebody" who is ambivalent about requiring the narcissistic mirroring of a bunch of contemptible "nobodies" in order to feel like a somebody.) Therefore, what these media are doing is indistinguishable from indoctrination and control, for if you resist the indoctrination and think for yourself, you immediately become an object of their contempt.

So remember, when you read the New York Times, you're mainly doing it to avoid being contemptuously dismissed by them as a redneck racist, religious fanatic who is too stupid to even recognize what is in your own self-interest. And you probably need more personal analysis as well, until you have uncovered the secret source of your pathological resistance to leftist ideas handed down from your moral and intellectual superiors.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Paranoia Runs Deeper Than I Thought

I don't spend a great deal of time trolling around the liberal side of the liberal media, since I find that the MSM provides more than enough material that defies rational analysis and is suitable for putting on the couch. But today I went searching for some material for tomorrow's post, so I lifted a couple of left-wing cyber-rocks to see what I could see, and the magnitude of the psychopathology was quite shocking.

And I don't hesitate one second to call it psychopathology, any more than I would hesitate to call racism or any other kind of hate-filled paranoia a form of psychopathology. Among other things, such beliefs are fixed and unalterable. They are not prehensions of reality, but projections upon reality. They are not about trying to understand the world, but about managing the disturbing content of one's own psyche. And they are always accompanied by a cluster of defenses centering around smugness, contempt, triumph and control--again, not toward the external world, but toward one's projections onto the external world. These projections reveal nothing about the world, but much about the minds of those who do the projecting.

This one is by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jane Smiley, who, in classic paranoid fashion, suddenly had an all-explaining "revelation" that makes sense of her frightening world. That's right: it turns out that President Bush is not a dry drunk, not a drunk-drunk, not a narcissist, not a madman, and not even an idiot! No! His countless mistakes--which are contemptuously and peremptorily dismissed as mistakes--are all intentional! They're all part of a big design, a master plan to destroy the country!

As she warms to her conspiracy theory, she feverishly contemplates all the quote-unquote mistakes that the Bush administration has supposedly made such as,

"1. Hobbling the government with debt by combining an expensive, prolonged war with perennial rounds of tax cuts.

2. Destroying the bureaucracy by making it impossible for neutral, expert, or objective bureaucrats to keep their jobs, replacing them with incompetents.

3. Destroying the integrity of the election system, state by state, beginning with Florida and Ohio.

4. Defanging the media by paying fake reporters, co-opting members of the MSM (why did the New York Times refrain from publishing stories unfavorable to the Bush administration before the 2004 election?)

5. Destroying the middle class by changing the bankruptcy laws and the tax laws.

6. Destroying the National Guard and the Army by deploying them over and over in a futile war, while at the same time failing to provide them with armor and equipment.

7. Precipitating Iraq into a civil war by invading it.

8. Accelerating the effects of global warming by putting roadblocks in the way of mitigating its effects.

9. Denying healthcare and prescription medication to an increasing number of Americans, most specifically by ramming the prescription drug legislation through Congress, but also by manipulating Medicare and Medicaid so that fewer and fewer citizens are covered.

10. Encouraging the people in the rest of the world to associate the US with torture, military incursion, and fear, by a preemptive attack on a sovereign nation, by vociferously maintaining the right of the US to do whatever it wants whenever it wants, and by refusing to accept international laws."

Ah ha! It all makes sense! Bush wants to destroy the government, dismantle the bureaucracy, ruin the electoral system, bring the media to its knees, lay waste to the middle class, wreck the military, create a civil war in Iraq, devastate the environment, make people get sick and die, and cause the world to hate us!

Don't you see?! It all a big conspiracy! Even the New York Times is in on it!

Smiley knowingly asks, "How else are we going to interpret the satisfaction the President continually expresses in the results of his policies so far?" How else, I ask you? Hmm?

You see, "When the government has been shrunk to nothing and drowned in the bathtub, the citizenry will be entirely powerless--that is the real goal, not an unintended consequence."

(Now panting and perspiring): Yes, yes! "The outcome of such policies will be a dictatorship or a tyranny.... Bush is about enhancing the power of himself and his cronies and dismantling any countervailing entity. The Bushies are not shy about acting on their craving for power or about talking about it.... [T]he ruthless drive for power of Bush and his cronies is really not about ideas, and in fact views ideas as a kind of trash, even, according to witnesses, the ideas expressed in the Constitution."

Smiley is not being polemical or metaphorical, much less hysterical. No people, this is REAL: "Do they actually plan to disenfranchise everyone but their reliable base? Well, yes they do.... If they have control of the electronic voting machines, they can. Do they actually plan for their associates and cronies to skim off vast quantities of the taxpayers’ money? Well, yes they do.... Do they actually plan to let New Orleans, that blue spot in a red state, slip away? Looks like it. Do they actually plan to destroy the middle class? They are making good progress--poverty was up twelve percent last year, and the “booming economy” is strangely low on job growth... "

There is simply no way this kind of thinking can be taken at face value. I am actually somewhat hesitant to psychoanalyze those with whom I disagree, as it's too easy to simply use that as a way to avoid debate. But what's to debate here? You can't argue with such a person. It would be idiotic. This kind of thinking demands psychoanalytic interpretation. It cannot be explained in any other way.

It is also amazing to me that the left routinely dismisses conservative thought as "simplistic." What could be more simplistic than an all-encompassing, overarching paranoid theory that explains everything?

What is perhaps even more disturbing is all of the enthusiastic agreement in the posts that follow Smiley's piece. Paranoia on the left runs much deeper than even I had thought. They fervently, and apparently routinely, believe things that would have to possess much more reality and logic to even be considered implausible.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Envy of the Left (or No Good News Goes Unpunished)

One of the most important but little known concepts in psychoanalysis is that of envy. It is a term of art, not to be confused with the dictionary definition. While potentially present in all people, it becomes much more problematic when aggravated by primitive defense mechanisms such as splitting and projective identification. It is one of the most important "mind parasites" discussed in my book, One Cosmos Under God.

According to Webster's, envy is defined as "malice," and a "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, joined with a desire to possess the same advantage." The psychoanalytic understanding of envy is that it is an unconscious fantasy aimed at attacking, damaging, or destroying what is good, because of the intolerable feeling that one does not possess and control the object of goodness. As such, it is an aspect of what Freud called the death instinct, since it ultimately involves a destructive attack on the sources of life and goodness. Particularly envious individuals cannot tolerate the pain of not possessing and controlling the "good object," so they preemptively spoil it so that they don't have to bear the pain.

What is critical--and so perverse--about envy, is that it is not an attack on "the bad" or frustrating, but a hateful attack on what is good. As a result, the psyche of such individuals confuses what is bad and what is good, and cannot experience a sense of gratitude toward the good, the sine qua non of happiness and mental health. The envious person does not want to have a relationship with the good object, but wants to be that object. If it cannot be the object, then it attacks it to eliminate the tension.

Yesterday was an instructive but disturbing case study in the many ways of envy. Here we had such wonderful news coming out of Iraq, but the left found a multitude of ways to devalue, attack, and "spoil" the news through their excessive envy--by ignoring it, by downplaying it, by qualifying it, and by completely assaulting it with near-psychotic delusions.

I went trolling around the darker precincts of the blogosphere yesterday in search of envious attacks on the good news, and they weren't difficult to find. These samples are mostly taken from dailykos and the Huffington website. Note the specific quality of infantile spoiling:

--"Both sides are participating in these elections to screw the other side and not for any real reason beyond that (although promises to end the occupation, even if lies, represent a tasty carrot)."

--"This is our last chance to leave on terms where we can still claim some marginal success. Because it's all downhill from here. It's the Joke of the Week. An inside joke that few seem to get."

--"Democracy isn't elections. Many a dictator has won an 'election' by overwhelming landslide."

--"This is precisely what BushCo want us to believe. Distract us from the violence and the deaths, of both U.S. and coalition forces and the Iraqi people, by staging these phony elections and giving us these photo ops."

--"Earlier this week, on Air America, I heard about a truck of ballots being intercepted on it's way from Iran.  With Iran & the U.S. both wanting a desired outcome, I don't think it matters what the Iraqis want.  Either Iran or the U.S. is going to win this election, votes be damned."

--"As far as the election goes, the whole thing stinks to me... purple fingers be damned... I've become a bit of a cynic in the last five years..."

--"Bush’s false claims of 'bringing democracy to Iraq' cannot be the prerequisite for ending the occupation and bringing home all the U.S. troops. The invasion and occupation were and remain illegal, and it is our obligation to fight to end it now."

--"This Election is to Make People Forget about the Occupation

--"If the election was successful, troops will come home immediately. Otherwise 'success' is just a Bush lie. Another lie. Bring the troops home now."

--"If Kerry were president, this day would have come much sooner. And far less money and human life would have been wasted."

--"You warmongers cannot have it both ways. If the election was a success, the U.S. is done. If there is a democracy there, the U.S. has no business staying there. It's either a democracy, or a country occupied by the U.S."

--"The IRAQ Elections are rigged... rigged elections is THE ONLY THING repugs are good at!"

--"This time the sunnis participated"... wonder why? No purple finger = no food... You didn't know that? That's right, goebbel's nazi US MSM never tells you that... or anything of value for that matter."

--"This election, as the others, is a farce. The 'victory' Bushpigs are crowing about hasn't happened, and can't happen unless we leave Iraq and they're able to carry out peaceful elections on their own. Does anyone think that they're anywhere near being able to do that? I certainly don't, but then unlike the Bushpigs, I don't have my head up my ass.

--"If the supreme traitors had not stolen your and my vote on 12-12-2000, of course none of this would have happened.... especially 9-11 which was perpetrated by bush. I know, it's a tabou subject in nazi US, but NOBODY in the rest of the world believes the 9-11 fairytale (Why did wtc 7 come down?)."

*************

Envy is such an important but generally ignored concept, probably because people don't want to consider the sinister ways it operates in their own lives. But it is a key that unlocks many mysteries, particularly in politics. So strong and ubiquitous is envy, that you cannot have a political system that doesn't accommodate or find some way to manage envy. You might say that one party will generally represent the envied, the other the envious. Guess which ones.

UPDATE--

Victor Davis Hanson has a typically outstanding piece today that highlights the power of envy in shaping people's perception of reality--of their need to spoil the good. He writes:

"For some time, a large number of Americans have lived in an alternate universe where everything is supposedly going to hell. If you get up in the morning to read the New York Times or Washington Post, watch John Murtha or Howard Dean on the morning talk shows, listen to National Public Radio at noon, and go to bed reading Newsweek it surely seems that the administration is incommunicado (cf. “the bubble”), the war is lost (“unwinnable”), the Great Depression is back (“jobless recovery”), and America about as popular as Nazi Germany abroad (“alone and isolated”).

But in the real adult world, the economy is red-hot, not mired in joblessness or relegating millions to poverty. Unemployment is low, so are interest rates. Growth is high, as is consumer spending and confidence.... The military isn’t broken. Unlike after Vietnam when the Russians, Iranians, Cambodians, and Nicaraguans all soon tried to press their luck at our expense, most of our adversaries don’t believe the U.S. military is losing in Iraq, much less that it is wise now to take it on....

Nor are we creating new hordes of terrorists in Iraq — as if a young male Middle Eastern fundamentalist first hates the United States only on news that it is in Iraq crafting a new Marshall Plan of $87 billion and offering a long-oppressed people democracy after taking out Saddam Hussein. Even al Jazeera cannot turn truth into untruth forever....

The world does not hate the United States. Of course, it envies us. Precisely because it is privately impressed by our unparalleled success, it judges America by a utopian measure in which anything less than perfection is written off as failure."

********

To put it in psychoanalytic terms, I would simply change that last paragraph to read, "The world hates the United States because it envies us. Precisely because they cannot tolerate our unparalleled goodness and success, they attack it and turn America into a uniquely bad object. In doing so they have destroyed the good and conflated good and bad, but at least they don't have to feel the pain of envy."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Moral Inversion

Yesterday Michael Medved made a somewhat passing comment as to how one of the biggest hurdles for the left is that so many people are repelled by their habitual "moral equivalency." For example, I well remember back in the '70's and '80's, when leftists argued that the United States and Soviet Union were morally equivalent--that they were just two giant empires that ran things slightly differently (which is why they were outraged--morally outraged, I might emphasize--when President Reagan had the audacity to refer to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire").

And the left had a ready response to any objection. What about exploitation of the population? "We do the same thing, except that we hide our exploitation in third world countries--El Salvador, Nicaragua, The Philippines, etc." What about economic freedom? "Meaningless. In Cuba and the USSR they have free health care and no illiteracy." What about political prisoners? "Don't be naive-fifty percent of our prison population is black. Most of these are political prisoners, like Tookie and Mumia." What about their aggressive, expansionist military policies? "Hey, we're the only country that's ever used the nuclear bomb. We're the biggest terrorist on earth."

In my opinion, this kind of thinking goes beyond moral equivalence--it is moral inversion, or literally turning the moral order of the world upside down. "Moral equivalence" sounds too bland and passive, whereas these moral inverts may well be more passionate about their morality than you or I, just as a child molester may be more passionate about his sex life than you or I. All emotionally mature people understand that sexuality can be a dangerous and destructive force when unhinged from any moral framework. But few people seem to understand that a much worse type of destruction can occur when the moral impulse becomes unhinged.

People typically think that the right represents the party of sanctimonious and judgmental morality, but this is hardly the case. In fact, this is an exact reversal of the situation. Morality in and of itself is neither moral nor immoral. Sometimes--perhaps more often than not--a moral system can actually be a source of great evil. One of the things that sets human beings apart from animals is that we cannot avoid making moral distinctions. There seems to be a built in need to distinguish between right and wrong. This impulse is just as strong and ubiquitous as the sex drive, and, just like the sex drive, can become distorted and perverted. With the left, we are generally not dealing with immoral people, but with quite serious moral perversion. And I say this in all seriousness and with all due respect.

For example, yesterday on LGF, Charles linked to a photo gallery of the anti-death penalty demonstrators outside San Quentin Prison Monday night. Here are examples of some of the signs that were carried by protesters: "Tookie Has Done More For Kids Than Arnold." "Arnold is a Nazi. Terminate Him Now." "America is Still Murdering Blacks. Slavery: 1492-Present." "Tookie = Greater Integrity. Worth 100 Times as Much to Our World as All of the Neocons, Hypochristians & Fascist Pigs of Profit."

So clearly, there is an extraordinary amount of moral passion behind these sentiments. And yet, it is an insane and deranged moral passion. The philosopher Michael Polanyi pointed out that what distinguishes leftism in all its forms is the dangerous combination of a ruthless contempt for traditional moral values with an unbounded moral passion for utopian perfection. The first step in this process is a complete skepticism that rejects traditional ideals of moral authority and transcendent moral obligation--a complete materialistic skepticism combined with a boundless, utopian moral fervor to transform mankind. However, being that the moral impulse remains in place, there is no longer any boundary or channel for it.

We can see the deadly combination of these two--“skepticism and moral passion,” or “burning moral fervor with hatred of existing society”--in every radical secular revolution since the French Revolution--from the Bolsheviks to nazi Germany to campus unrest in the 1960s. If society has no divine sanction but is made by man, men can and must perfect society now, while all opposition must be joyfully crushed--with moral sanction, of course. We saw this Monday night, with the peaceful anti-death penalty protestors joyfully intimidating and attacking those few proponents of capital punishment in the crowd, and with cadres of Nation of Islam goons intimidating anyone in the crowd who looked or behaved normally.

I was trying to think of all the ways the contemporary left are morally inverted. I'm sure you will be able to think of many I have missed. I'm a little pressed for time at the moment, but I'll add some during the day, as they come to me.

For example, John Murtha insists that there is a sharp distinction between terrorists and the "insurgents" we are fighting in Iraq--even (or especially) when these "insurgents" have no other purpose but to murder innocent civilians. But this has long been a policy of the left--for example, insisting that Palestinian terrorists somehow belong to a different category than other terrorists.

Of course, seeing any similarity between President Bush and Hitler, or Ariel Sharon and Hitler, is quite morally insane. One hardly knows how to respond to such individuals. And yet, there are millions of leftists in America and Europe who believe it.

In promoting his new movie Munich, Steven Spielberg has made a number of comments indicating his belief that there is no real distinction between terror and Israel's response to it. In general, leftists are genuinely unable to see the vast moral gulf that exists between Israel and her Arab enemies.

Or how about our elite universities, who are fighting to prevent military recruitment on campus, but welcome anti-Semites and terrorist sympathizers of all stripes, many of whom are on their faculties?

A "lie" has now been redefined to mean a statement one believes to be true at the time, but is later unsubstantiated. I believe any morally intact child would be able to understand the immorality of this kind of perverse morality, but the left are again genuinely unable to draw the distinction.

Or Ted Kennedy says that nothing has changed in Abu Ghraib prison--that it is simply "under new management." Dick Durbin says our military is no different than Pol Pot or Stalin.

Of course, leftists routinely compare Islamofascists to Christians whom they believe wish to impose a theocracy on the United States.

We are in danger of failing as a society if we cannot equip half of our citizens to reason coherently in the most rudimentary moral categories.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Paranoia Runs Deep, Into the Left it Will Creep

One of the hallmarks of paranoia is that the paranoid individual becomes inordinately frightened of the object into which they have projected their paranoia. That is, paranoia is fundamentally an infantile defense mechanism through which the "bad" or unwanted content of one's own mind can be displaced and located elsewhere, so that one may gain a spurious sense of comfort and safety.

However, we can't really "project" what we don't want out of our own minds. In other words, paranoid projection is an unconscious fantasy in which one part of the mind is actually projected into another part of one's own mind. For example, if I project all evil into Shrinkwrapped, that doesn't mean my projections have actually left my head and lodged themselves in him. Rather, I simply imagine that my own "badness" is outside of me, while in actuality it is now located in another part of me.

Because we cannot actually project our badness out of ourselves, it always returns in a hypertrophied, monstrous form (I won't go into all of the technical details as to why this happens). Paranoids always think that they hate the object of their paranoia because the object is evil. But it's the other way around: they believe the object of their paranoia is evil because they hate them, and simply fear the "boomerang" of their own hatred coming back to them. This process is very transparent in children, but if you are perceptive, you have undoubtedly observed it occasionally operating in yourself. Think of someone you've been very angry with, and the discomfort you might have felt in being around them, as if they are going to lash back "in kind." (For example, once I was very mad at Petey, and began thinking he was going to put in an anonymous complaint about me to the Board of Psychology.)

This process is pretty much at the core of Bush Derangement Syndrome. In fact, the further leftward you travel, the more it becomes the central organizing principle of their political life: projection of hatred and a near delusional fear of backlash. For the more intensely you project into the other, the more intensely overblown will be the resultant paranoid fear: the object of paranoia will be capable of anything: lies, deceit, civil rights violations, wiretapping, tax audits, imposition of theocracy, murder, you name it. (You will note that the identical process occurred with certain loony elements of the right during the Clinton presidency. Most on the right simply regarded him as a poll-driven narcissist with an extremely elastic set of values, whereas people on the extreme far right actually believed that Clinton had left a pile of murder victims in his ruthless wake. To them he wasn't just a rudderless opportunist, but a serial murderer who eliminated anyone who got in his way!)

One of the hallmarks of the paranoid style is a distorted conception of the power of the fantasized enemy. At times, the enemy is seen as an omnipotent, tireless, demonically competent adversary (The Republican Attack Machine! The Rovian Puppet Master Orchestrating World Events!), while at other times the same enemy is felt to be weak, decadent, and on the verge of collapse (Bush is stupid, his second term is over, he has lost the support of his own party, etc.). Likewise, the image of one's own self (or country) may vary between a godlike supremacy and a terrible, childlike vulnerability, with no ability to integrate (or even notice) these contradictory images.

This same paranoid style absolutely dominates the mindscape of the Muslim Middle East in a completely unchecked way. Obviously, the psychic economy of radical Islam has a special place for Jews and for Israel. Indeed, Arab discourse on the subject of Israel is so psychotically violent, so grotesquely distorted, that their perennial desire to "liquidate the Zionist entity" can only be understood in developmental terms as the lost entitlement of a wrathful infant. In his book The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy, Daniel Pipes provides example after example of the type of preoperational, magical, paranoid thinking style that pervades the Muslim world. Even sophisticated Middle Easterners "interpret great public issues through the prism of conspiracy theories" which are "virtually immune to rational argument."

Just like the typical paranoid one might encounter in a mental health clinic, these Muslim conspiracy theorists don't employ what we would call the usual methods of logic, critical thinking or analytical rigor. Contradictory beliefs are freely entertained, with no seeming discomfort or even awareness of the cognitive dissonance. There is a tendency to divide the world into absolute categories of good and evil, followers and infidels. There is a decided lack of a sense of humor, a dour sensibility--almost as bad as Air America, but not quite. Conspiracy seekers also believe that appearances are always deceptive and complex, and that there is no such thing as a coincidence. And yet behind it all there is a simple explanation: a demonic, omnipotent, clever and far-sighted, and yet somehow vague enemy, motivated by a malevolent desire to destroy Islam.

Thus, many in the Muslim world believe that Zionism is a bloodthirsty, expansionist conspiracy bent on world domination. For example, the cartoon-like charter of the PLO reads that Zionism is a "constant source of threat" to the entire world, "racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods," "strategically placed" to combat Arab liberation and progress. During a recent weekly televised sermon, a Palestinian cleric taught that among the evil deeds of the Jews was the Holocaust itself, which was "planned by the Jews' leaders, and was part of their policy."

Similarly, the charter of Hamas, the Islamist terror gang, informs us that wealthy Zionists have taken over "control of the world media . . . they stood behind World War I. . . . They also stood behind World War II . . . They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council . . . in order to rule the world by their intermediary" and "liquidate Islam." But at the same time, Jews are seen as corrupt, feeble and morally weak. For example, an Egyptian high school textbook noted that Israel "shall wither and decline. Even If all the human race, and the devil in Hell, conspire to aid her, she shall not exist."

Can you see how the delusional fear of Israel--which craves nothing more than peaceful coexistence with her neighbors--results from the projected hatred, not vice versa?

Let's take a random example from our own country. I plucked this from realclearpolitics.com on Sunday. It's by Joan Vennochi, a columnist for the Boston Globe, entitled It's Macho Time in America.

She starts of with the familiar paranoid refrain that "When Democrats challenge the Bush administration regarding its policy in Iraq, Republicans challenge their patriotism and toughness." This statement by Vennochi represents unvarnished paranoia--I have yet to see a single example of President Bush or anyone in his administration questioning anyone's patriotism, no matter how deserving. However, the left has engaged in nonstop questioning of Bush's patriotism, for if it isn't unpatriotic to intentionally deceive the country in order to lead it into a needless war and kill American servicemen, what is? That's beyond unpatriotic, it's a high crime, a misdemeanor, and frankly treasonous. So naturally, if one projects murder and treason into President Bush, it shouldn't be surprising that the projector will experience a fantasied backlash.

Next, Vennochi complains about the new Republican video, featuring a white flag of surrender accompanied by the statement: ''Our country is at war. Our soldiers are watching, and our enemies are too. Message to Democrats: Retreat and Defeat is not an option." The video highlights recent critical comments about the Iraq war made by Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer. No tricks or distortions at all, just their actual words, and yet, this somehow represents a sinister ploy designed to castrate Democrats and depict them as cowards. In fact, many prominent Democrats are calling for surrender. Vennochi's claim that the ad is calling Democrats "cowards" is a classic case of "methinks thou dost protest too much," Shakespeare's clumsy way of saying "I'm rubber and you're glue."

There are further paranoid hallucinations in this editorial. For example, Vennochi states that the Bush administration has similarly attacked "opponents of torture" (a double hallucination, for there is no evidence whatsoever of the widespread so-called torture she is fantasizing about). She suggests that "opponents of torture" are "labeled as weaklings and cowards if they suggest that stooping to the enemies' tactics is poor policy that so far achieved poor results." Again, I don't believe she could identify a single example of anyone in the Bush administration labeling opponents of torture "weaklings and cowards." But if you're attacking Bush for something he didn't do, it's likely that you will fantasize that he is attacking you in a similarly delusional manner.

Vennochi then veers into embarrassingly transparent psychosexual material, complaining that "Democrats who question administration policy regularly find their manhood under attack. It happened to Kerry during the last presidential contest, even though he was the Vietnam War veteran running against an opponent who served stateside in the National Guard.... Just last month, Vice President Dick Cheney thought nothing of questioning the backbone of Representative John P. Murtha.... " Of course, no one questioned Kerry's or Murtha's "manhood," but that is entirely beside the point. It is simply the boomerang effect of having spent five years questioning Bush's manhood: childish mind, immature world view, petulant, stubborn, living in the shadow of his Daddy, all-around simpleton.

I long ago stopped reading the paper--that is, liberal papers--in a conventional way. Rather, as James Joyce might have done, I look at the paper as a sort of crazy dream that the liberal world had the previous night. As with any patient, it's my job to interpret the dream, to make sense of the distortions, symbolic displacements, fundamental conflicts, repetitive themes, etc. A few years back, a clever fellow wrote a book called A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, chronicling all of the statistically illogical ways that people interpret the news. A psychologist ought to do the same thing with the liberal media. I can't do it, because I'm afraid they'll come after me, inspect my library records, and question my manhood.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eternal Life in Three Easy Steps!

Virtually all spiritual practices, from whatever tradition, may be broken down into the three-part process of purification, illumination, and union. The first part, purification, is referred to in Christianity as "metanoia," or repentance. Repentance has taken on some unfortunate connotations, but the literal meaning of metanoia is to "change one's mind," specifically, to turn away from the surface world of illusion to the world of the Real. It means to turn toward another world that now is, about a micron or two away from the surface world. This other world "shimmers through" the familiar world, but we must purify ourselves in order to reliably see it. When the Bible talks about the "light shining in the darkness," this is the light it's talking about--it is similar to the noetic light that shines through a great poem or painting, and which cannot be detected by our Darwinian eyes.

Before purification or metanoia take place, we live in a kind of horizontal freedom that is in reality a form of imprisonment. We are actually locked inside our own mind. To be perfectly accurate, a psychologically healthy person is not an entirely closed system, but is an open system with other minds. But still, the mind as such forms a closed system unless it is open to vertical energies that transcend its limitations. Purification is necessary because our purely mental conceptions interfere with the ability to see what transcends them. This is why it is said that the wisdom of God is folly to the Greeks--to the rational mind.

Richard Smoley, author of Inner Christianity, describes it thus: "In ordinary life, attention is directed outward, toward the world of sensations, thoughts and feelings. With a certain shift in attention, the mind is directed within, toward the center of being, beyond all thoughts and representations, where God meets the individual self. Such 'repentence' may indeed involve a change in one's way of life, but from an esoteric point of view, such changes are likely to develop organically out of an increase in consciousness. As you see and understand more of the inner worlds, love, kindness, and compassion become more spontaneous and natural." So technically, we can "repent" on the way to illumination, or repentance and the positive character changes that follow can flow naturally from a deepening of consciousness.

Contrary to what scientific materialists believe, with purification, one actually begins to see the world as it is. In other words, the world disclosed by science is fine as far as it goes, but we must never forget that it is an abstraction from the fullness of reality--it is not the thing itself, but an abstract representation of it. The Real Thing is so impossibly rich and multifaceted that it could never be "contained" by the linear categories of science.

There are many ways to practice purification--meditation, contemplation, prayer, ritual, certain types of reading (lectio divina), etc. If successful, you should be able to experience a bit of "levitation," as you are lifted from this plane and offered a glimpse of the adjacent World. You may not be able to fully inhabit that world, but you can certainly know of its existence, as it becomes increasingly clear, luminous and transparent. This is called "illumination," "awakening," or being "born again from above." It signifies the breakthrough of vertical energies, an awakening to higher truth, love and beauty. This may be confusing, because it doesn't mean to posit two entirely different worlds. Rather, it is to see another world within this world (actually, "around" this world; this world is contained within it).

In this regard it is somewhat similar to modern conceptions of the unconscious in psychoanalysis. In Freud's older model, the unconscious was literally thought of as a sort of separate realm, with a horizontal line between the ego--the conscious part of ourselves--and the unconscious "below." But now we understand that there is more or less of the unconscious in every conscious thought, emotion or act. It is more of a "holographic" model, in which various dimensions of the psyche are copresent and interpenetrating.

The same is true with respect to the logic of Divine presence. In one respect it is "above," in the sense that it is ontologically and developmentally higher. Nevertheless, it is an immanent, "embodied above" that interpenetrates the "below." That is why, as I said above, it is just a micron away--just a tiny shift in perception brings it out, like a small movement of a kaleidoscope brings a new pattern into view.

Illumination can be a lifelong process, since the realm of spirit is literally inexhaustible. We use language and other symbols to translate it into a local representation, but this is simply going to the river with a bucket. Don't confuse your little bucket with the boundless River of Light.

The promise of the final stage is union, known in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as "theosis," in Vedanta as "moksha" or "samadhi," or in Kabbalistic Judaism as "Yecidah" ("single one"). It's what happens when you die. Of course, if you arrange to die before you die, then you can experience it while you live. Or so we have heard from the Wise. But in any event, there's nothing to worry about. One way or another, you'll get there, either heart first or feet first.

In One Cosmos Under God, I tried to capture some of what we're talking about here in a more poetic and metaphysically humorous form, at the very end of the book. Here is some of it, rendered in verse instead of prose*:

If your powers of deception were cleansed
Then nothing would appear as it isn't.
No body crosses the phoenix line
Lest it be repossessed and amortized.
Some by fire, some by flood,
But all buy the farm & bury the form.
Eloha, that's a good bye
For the Love that removes the sin and other scars
(speaking allegheirically).

*(If anyone can decipher all of the puns and literary allusions packed into this little snippet, I hereby grant you one indulgence for any past or future foible, peccadillo, or indiscretion.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bush Lied, Logic Died

It's amazing to me that the "Bush Lied" meme has gained as much traction as it has. Roughly fifty percent of the population believe it, and it is fair to say that the belief is both unsupportable and ineradicable. In fact, if there were actually a little evidence for the belief that Bush lied about WMD, the assertion would be less believable, because the evidence would then have to be weighed against all of the other considerable evidence that the WMD existed. Thus, by actually having no evidence, the Bush-lied conspiracy theorists can imagine a secret "smoking gun" of such massive proportions that anyone who saw it would know in an instant that Saddam absolutely had no WMD. And the imagination is much more powerful than reality--especially the paranoid imagination.

The conspiracy theorists have it exactly backwards. The burden of proof should be on those who are making the accusation that Bush lied. As it stands, the accusers are getting a free ride, since they are making an ex post facto argument to the effect that, since WMD have not been found, ergo Bush was lying about them. This is such a perverse substitute for thought. In reality, of course, one must consider only the evidence that President Bush had before him at the time he made the decision to invade. Therefore, it is necessary for those who argue that Bush is lying to present us with the evidence that proves that Bush knew the WMD did not exist.

In fact, no one has identified, nor will anyone ever identify, the supposed evidence that President Bush had to have had in his possession that trumped all of the other intelligence and convinced him that there were no WMD in Iraq. For that is what the conspiracy theorists are asking us to believe. If Bush is lying, his lie is necessarily based on some evidence that only Bush and no one else has seen--not the CIA, not the UN, not any of the other intelligence agencies in the world. And it had to be extremely powerful, compelling evidence to overturn all of the counter-evidence. So where is it?

One of the problems is that politics in general, and the Democratic party in particular, is dominated by lawyers, especially trial lawyers. (Ambulance-chasing trial lawyers such as John Edwards are the largest donors to the Democratc party.) And lawyers are trained to think legalistically, not morally. More ominously, they can just as well use an argument to attack truth as a means to arrive at it. This is not necessarily their fault. It is what they do. But we should be able to see through this kind of false logic.

I have a great deal of familiarity with how unscrupulous lawyers think and behave, because I do a fair amount of forensic work in psychology. Apparently, what I would call inexcusably unethical behavior, they would call "being an effective lawyer." This would include muddying an issue rather than illuminating it, twisting logic rather than applying it, and attacking truth rather than honoring it. (Obligatory disclaimer--the field is also full of unethical psychologists, just as there are many fine and decent lawyers.)

Few cases in the field of forensic psychology are absolute "slam dunks." Rather, one takes a detailed history, reviews medical records, administers psychological tests, and conducts a mental status examination, so that there will be a wealth of different kinds of evidence and information to arrive at an opinion. Once you have been convinced that a certain opinion is true, you don't present the opinion as being fifty-one percent true, or seventy-five percent true, but as simply true. In other words, you present the argument as strongly as you can. You give countervailing arguments their due, but with logic, evidence, rhetoric and presentation, you make the strongest case you can

Clearly, this is what the Bush administration did with regard to their belief that Saddam possessed WMD. Undoubtedly there were countervailing arguments, but nothing that outweighed the mountain of evidence pointing to their existence. Therefore, just as in my job as a forensic psychologist, they made their argument as strongly as possible, based on the weight of the evidence. Bear in mind that at no point was the threshold of evidence one hundred percent, or even seventy five percent. Rather, in a life-or death situation such as this, the threshold may not even have had to be fifty percent. For example, what if someone told you that there was a twenty-five percent chance you had a brain tumor? Would you go to the doctor? Or would you wait until you were one hundred percent convinced? What if there was a twenty-five percent chance Saddam would possess nukes within five years?

But just as in my job, it is very easy for a clever lawyer with no interest in the truth to attack some small portion of the argument, so as to convey the impression that the entire argument has been toppled. You will note that this was the strategy of O.J. Simpson's diabolical legal team. By attacking this or that small aspect of the evidence, it was easy enough to sway an invincibly stupid and credulous jury that was predisposed to believe in Simpson's innocence anyway. Simpson's attorneys gave the jury "permission" to believe what they wanted to believe.

The MSM and their political action wing, the Democratic party, are using this identical strategy in putting forth the "Bush lied" meme to a dim and/or credulous population in the throes of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Everyone thinks that Johnnie Cochrane was motivated by some great love of black people and their cause. In reality, he had such utter contempt for them, that he knew that his courtroom trickery would snow them. Likewise, Democratic elites have such contempt for the intelligence of the average Democrat, that they know all they have to do is throw out a couple of bogus arguments, and they can lead them by the nose, much as they have cynically done with minorities over the past forty years.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Vertical Church of the Perpetual Bob Scrapped

When I first began writing One Cosmos Under God, I thought I might have to invent a new religion in order to convey my ideas about spirituality. This would have meant becoming a guru, corralling a bunch of fawning disciples, or "bobbleheads", soliciting constant love offerings (i.e., cash) from my flock, and deputizing Petey to be my official spokesperson.

However, as I immersed myself in Higher Things, I happily discovered that all of the available "big box" religions are perfectly capable of taking you just as far as you want to go in the realm of Spirit. These things aren't necessarily advertised to the masses. Rather, you have to go deep into your tradition, way past the mere Words department, so that you may forego the pastorized milk in favor of drinking directly from the sacred cow.

Christianity is a case in point. If you're anything like me, then it is likely that you internalized a dysfunctional version of Christianity as a child, warping your ability to see it as anything other than a bunch of quaint fairy tales for the slack-jawed masses. From my earliest exposure to Christianity in Sunday school as a child, I had some real problems with it--not because of Christianity, but because of the people presenting it. Something is wrong if religion is conveyed by an adult to a six year-old in such a way that the child thinks to himself, "Geez, what an idiot. Does he really believe this stuff?" It is fair to say that I struggled with some version of this smug and misguided six year-old attitude for the subsequent thirty years or so, which is what undoubtedly prompted me to initially seek metaphysical nourishment elsewhere, in eastern religions. I'm sure this is a common pattern.

As I say in my book, I see spiritual reality as a sort of invisible topology with innumerable "springs" dotting the landscape and bubbling forth vertically from another dimension. Fortunately for me, in the course of writing my book, I stumbled upon one of these springs that allowed me to appreciate the great beauty, power and truth of Christianity. I look at the different religions--real religions--as analogous to, say, telescopes or microscopes in the realm of science. Just as the scientist uses a microscope to enlarge invisible entities so that they may be seen, we "look through" the great religions in order to see another kind of invisible reality that normally cannot be detected. I used to think that you only practiced a religion if you believed in God. Now I understand that you practice a religion in order to know God.

If you are using your religion as a successful macroscope, then it will awaken hidden layers of the soul, which in turn will provide you with the means necessary to see more deeply into the Divine. As this happens, you will experience a compelling influx of new ideas, capacities, sentiments, and aspirations that cannot be explained in any other way. Religions are full of "secret" knowledge that is inaccessible to those who do not take the time to practice one.

In order to allow the things above to be reflected in the things below, you must create a mirror that is clean and stable: "The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep" (Chuang Tzu). Effort is required, but effort alone is insufficient. And it is an unusual kind of effort, because it is actually more like a "non-effort." That is, one must first learn to silence the mind and unknow one's thoughts. There is a reversal of figure and ground, so that silence becomes the context out of which thoughts arise and pass away. Effortless silence is anterior to spiritual knowing, but it is a concentrated and expectant silence, a foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered things.

Thankfully, the cosmos is not a closed circle, but an open circle with an entrance and exit. An unknown Christian friend says that the key to reconciling personal effort and spiritual reality is to master concentration without effort and transform work into play. This is why I say that my eight month old is my new spiritual advisor. With single-minded playfulness, he busies himself along that vast shoreline where the infinite sea washes up to the edge of our finite shore, where this world ends and another begins. There is no other moment than this one, and never has been. It just gets deeper.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How I Cured Myself of Leftism

Yesterday, reader Julian asked an excellent question: "How is that I used to be a liberal but then changed? Why are some of the smart people I know still wedded to the Kool-aid, but others not? Is it some sort of blend of inertia and fear of the unknown?"

The first thought that comes to mind is that I knew this would happen once people started tinkering with the definition of marriage. Soon enough, people would be wedding Kool-aid.

Seriously, I used to think this was a purely psychological question, but it can't be that simple. Like you--like almost everyone--I also began as a leftist. I guess I'll have to start with analyzing my own awakening, and then determine if it has any general applicability to others.

At this point in time, I am more inclined to think of leftism as an intellectual pathology rather than a psychological one (although there is clearly considerable overlap). What I mean is that it is impossible to maintain a priori that a conservative person is healthier or more emotionally mature than a liberal. There are plenty of liberals who believe crazy things but are wonderful people, and plenty of conservatives who have the right ideas but are rotten people. However, this may be begging the question, for it is still puzzling why people hold beliefs that are demonstrably untrue or at the very least unwise.

One of the problems is with our elites. We are wrong to think that the difficulty lies in the uneducated and unsophisticated masses--as if inadequate education, in and of itself, is the problem. As a matter of fact, no one is more prone to illusions than the intellectual. It has been said that philosophy is simply personal error on a grandiose scale. Complicating matters is the fact that intellectuals are hardly immune to a deep emotional investment in their ideas, no less than the religious individual. The word "belief" is etymologically linked to the word "beloved," and it is easy to see how certain ideas, no matter how dysfunctional--for example, some of the undeniably appealing ideas underpinning contemporary liberalism--are beloved by those who believe them. Thus, many liberal ideas are believed not because they are true, but because they are beautiful. Then, the intellectual simply marshals their intelligence in service of legitimizing the beliefs that they already hold. It has long been understood by psychoanalysts that for most people, reason is the slave of the passions.

Underneath the intellectual's attachment to the dysfunctional idea is a more insidious fear that their entire intellectual cathedral, carefully constructed over a lifetime, will collapse in ruins. Religious people are not as prone to this same fear, because they accept it that their religion is ultimately based on a leap of faith. One can see how this is playing out, for example, in the intellgent design debate that has philosophical materialists frothing at the mouth. Intellectuals live under the illusion that their system is based solely on facts and logic, which is easily disproved, even with regard to mathematical knowledge (for example, Godel's theorems prove that there is no formal system that does not contain assumptions unwarranted and unproveable by the system). For most intellectuals, understanding actually precedes knowledge. In other words, they have a certain feeling about the world, and then only pay attention to knowledge that confirms that feeling-based view.

That liberalism is a new pseudo-religion seems quite obvious to me. While it is true that the conservative intellectual movement includes religious groups, it has been my experience that conservatism actually maintains a far clearer separation of religious and political impulses than liberalism, simply because it acknowledges a sharp difference between the two. Since leftism denies the existence of spirit, it ends up conflating politics and gnostic spirituality into a single ideology that is neither politics nor religion, but a monstrous hybrid of the two.

As Jonah Goldberg has observed, "Like many spiritual movements, liberalism emphasizes deeds and ideals over ideas. As a result, when liberals gather there’s a revivalist spirit in the air, with plenty of talk about fighting the forces of evil and testifying about good deeds done." The philosopher Eric Voegelin coined the phrase “immanentizing the eschaton” to describe the messianic liberal impulse to remake mankind and to create heaven on earth. Goldberg cites several examples, such as "the spiritual nature of the environmental movement; the quasi-messianic treatment of Martin Luther King Jr.; Bill Clinton’s invocation of 'covenants' with the American people; Hillary Clinton’s 'politics of meaning,' which claimed to redefine what it meant to be a human being in the postmodern world — all of these are examples of what Voegelin would describe as the neo-Gnostic effort to make the hereafter simply here." Similarly, "It should be no surprise that Hillary Clinton justified her Senate candidacy on the claim that she was more 'concerned' about the issues than her opponent. And of course her husband won the presidency by arguing he was better at 'feeling' pain."

At the same time, for the person who is not under the hypnotic psycho-spiritual spell of contemporary liberalism, it is strikingly devoid of actual religious wisdom or real ideas. As such, it is driven by vague, spiritually infused ideals and feelings, such as "sticking up for the little guy," or "war is not the answer." On the other hand, conservatism is not so much based on ideas, but on simply observing what works, and then generalizing from there. It is actually refreshingly free of dogma, and full of dynamic tension. For example, at the heart of conservatism is an ongoing, unresolvable dialectic between freedom and virtue. In other words, there is a bedrock belief in the idea that free markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources and to create wealth and prosperity for all, but a frank acknowledgment that, without a virtuous populace, the system may produce a self-centered, materialistic citizenry living in a sort of degenerate, "pitiable comfort." Thus, there is an ongoing, unresolvable tension between the libertarian and traditional wings of the movement.

There is no such dynamic tension in liberalism. Rather, it is a top-down dogma that is not dictated by what works, but by how liberals would like reality to be. This is why liberalism must be enforced with the mechanism of political correctness, in order to preempt or punish those who deviate from liberal dogma, and see what they are not supposed to see.

Consider this recent piece of work by that older piece of work, Howard Dean. He recently posted this summary of liberal beliefs and achievements on the DNC website. See if you can detect any substantive thought whatsoever. At the same time, note the crypto-religious, messianic tone:

--"Our leaders in the House and Senate... continue to pressure the administration for the truth about manipulating prewar intelligence, sending a strong message that Democrats will fight for what is right."

--"The DNC, the Democratic House and Senate leadership and Democratic mayors and governors are sitting at the same table to create policies and strategies for restoring honest government and fiscal responsibility to America."

--"We need to continue to work together on judicial nominations, environmental legislation, trade and jobs to send effectively the message that we are again ready to lead the American people with purpose and in a fundamentally new direction."

--"The key to winning is running a national campaign based on our different vision and the themes that Democrats around the country have put forward."

--"We will offer real ethics reform and election reform so that the Government Accountability Office can report in three years that we can have confidence in our voting machines."

--"We will offer a program for American jobs that stay in America... "

--"We will offer Americans real security. We all agree that 2006 must be a transition year in Iraq."

--"We will offer the American people a government that is honest in preparing for any deployment of American troops and honor their sacrifice when they come home."

--"Americans believe that using issues to divide us as a country to win elections is bad for America. We will restore America’s sense of community."

--"Most important, we will talk about Democratic values, which are America’s values."

--"Americans believe it is immoral that not everyone has some kind of health insurance. We agree."

--"The vast majority of Americans believe it is immoral to lets kids go hungry. We agree. The other party cuts school lunches (they just can’t seem to leave that one alone.)"

As an aside, have you noticed that leftists always believe they are "speaking truth to power" when they are actually "speaking lies to the powerless"? It occurs to me that Dean works so closely with the a-holes at moveon.org, that after his chairmanship is over he'll be able to switch his specialty to proctology. With that last wisecrack about conservatives having a value system that places a priority on making sure that children go hungry, what can you say but: Physician F**k Thyself. Immediately.

Where was I, anyway? Oh yes. I was about to describe my journey from the darkness of contemporary liberalism to modern conservatism. Next post, I guess.