Category Archives: Psychology/Psychiatry

From Brexit to Trump, it’s Death by 1,000 Cuts

Has anyone else noticed how over the past few years the corporate media has been dedicating ever more space to articles on how to deal with loneliness, anxiety and insomnia, as well as ways to immerse ourselves in escapist new technology?

Our attention is being diverted away from the political to the cultural, medical and technical. When our elites have no solutions to the most pressing problems of the day, when all the objective evidence indicates that the political system they oversee and have designed to enrich themselves is driving us over a cliff edge, with our economies going bankrupt and our planet dying, they desperately need to rechannel our energies. Instead of blaming them, we are told to fix ourselves – or at least to pacify ourselves with entertainment.

That, of course, all sounds a lot more plausible when we clearly do need to fix ourselves. We are more anxious, more isolated, more confused than ever before. And for very good reason.

A new poll finds that 83 per cent of Britons are exhausted by hearing blow-by-blow news of Brexit, Britain’s interminable struggle to find a credible way to leave the European Union. Two-thirds believe that the anxiety provoked by this slow-motion plunge into the unknown is bad for people’s – presumably including their own – mental health. They are not wrong.

Heavy emotional toll

Meanwhile, Russiagate – the establishment-promoted conspiracy theory that Donald Trump stole the 2016 presidential election by colluding with Russia – has similarly sucked out all oxygen from the US political arena. For more than two years pundits there have spoken and thought about little else.

I suspect surveys of US public opinion would find a similar ennui among most Americans about these wildly improbable, and now disproven, claims against Trump. American friends who consider themselves part of the so-called #resistance to Trump tell me they wish they could just shut their eyes and the whole mess go away. It’s clearly not helping their mental health either.

A heavy emotional and psychic toll is being inflicted even on those fronting these establishment narratives, as was evident when Rachel Maddow, TV cheerleader-in-chief for the Russiagate conspiracy theory, had to announce on air that the Mueller investigation she had so excitedly played up for two years was a dud. Robert Mueller had found zero evidence of collusion.

Maddow’s pained facial contortions, her manic laughter as she tried to prop up the last vestiges of a narrative that had just been discredited by the very establishment she is a key pillar of was distressing to watch. Here was a woman who looked more in need of therapy than a major TV show.

Boring us to death

But maybe it’s too simple to see this as nothing more than an example of mass cognitive dissonance. Maybe the emotional, mental and spiritual breakdown is actually the point. Maybe the goal is to frustrate and bore us quite literally to death.

Politically and ideologically we are stuck. Capitalism has failed – and not marginally but ignominiously. Any ideology premised on an outcome that burns the planet to a crisp, or grows the world’s population until the resources to support it are exhausted, or both, is not only mistaken but dangerously deluded. Insanity, in fact.

But for decades we have all been caught up in that spell. Think of the Thatcher and Reagan years, of how most of us lapped up the idea that there was no such thing as society, that each of us was an island as our governments sold off public infrastructure and the common good. And at some level we all absorbed those mantras, even those of us in the UK who railed against Thatcher’s poll tax and supported the miners.

We all watched “serious” debates on TV in which eminent intellectuals told us that history had ended and that free-market capitalism had triumphed. We were on our journey to nirvana. Even when some of us wondered whether such arguments might be wrong or too simplistic, we rarely greeted them with the derision they so obviously deserved.

Now the delusion, the insanity cultivated in us over those past decades, is coming home to roost. We have so deeply imbibed the ideology of those who exploit us that we cannot imagine – we even fear – the possibility of being liberated from it.

Distracted by baubles

The elites whose power and wealth derives from the current system have absolutely no interest in changing course, in allowing new ideas, new paradigms to emerge. They are no more likely to provide a platform for radical or experimental thinking either in the establishment media or in our legislative echo-chambers than they are to fund Extinction Rebellion or shut down the offshore tax havens where they hoard their gargantuan wealth.

Even efforts to return us to the order that predated Thatcher and Reagan – one that placed some value in the collective – is being aggressively snuffed out by our elites, whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or Bernie Sanders and the Congress’s insurgency lawmakers in the US.

The self-destruction of capitalism – the signs of its internal contradictions, its need for endless economic growth on a resource-finite planet – has been evident for some time. Once we could be distracted with baubles, with new iPhones and home entertainment systems, and by politics as fun-filled spectacle. Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK may be the logical endpoints of that political process.

Political paralysis

Now we are moving from spectacle, from politics as entertainment, to politics as death by a thousand cuts.

Britain cannot leave the EU, but also it cannot stay. The UK cannot move forward, and it has no possibility to move back. It is trapped, politically paralysed. A decision either way will tear the fabric of the social contract to shreds.

Does Brexit not offer us a parable for our times? It is in miniature our predicament as a species. We cannot move forward with capitalism because it is killing us and most life on the planet, but the capitalist class will not allow us the space or resources to find another way out of the mess they created. And brainwashed for so long, we fear even a modest diversion from our current suicidal path.

So we aimlessly watch TV unfold as if we have no power over either our individual fates or our collective fate. We stare into the abyss, a mixture of boredom and creeping anxiety our only responses to our own imminent demise.

We feel lonely, anxious and confused. We medicate ourselves with trivia, with entertainment, and we allow ourselves to be briefly distracted with establishment shadow plays that invert reality, from Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism to US war criminals assigning themselves the right to pick Venezuela’s president.

No time for boredom

We have been on this path to collective insanity for a while, as the renowned psychologist Erich Fromm warned decades ago. It is at least a sign of hope that it is finally dawning on many of us that we are immersed in delusion, that we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually at a dead end.

That requires understanding that Trump isn’t the enemy, he is a symptom of our collective illness. Similarly, Brexit isn’t really the end of the world, it is grand displacement activity – our effort to distract ourselves from much deeper questions. Whether the UK stays in Europe or leaves, capitalism will still be herding us towards extinction. Brexit is unlikely even to affect how quickly we bring about such end-times.

The deeper questions we have been evading force us to address who we are as individuals and as a society, and whether we wish to have a future, to belong to a planet that possibly uniquely in our small corner of the universe can sustain higher life forms and the supreme achievement of our evolutionary branch-line, human beings.

Only in facing those questions can we rid ourselves of our political confusion and our individual anxiety. Standing on the edge of an abyss should be no time for boredom. It is time for deep reflection, and rapid personal and collective growth.

The Circle Over the Triangle: A Collectivism and Cyclic Belief Change Comes Around

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

There is an American Native game, counting coup, which is both rarefied and possibly the answer to the male testosterone/female co-opting of testosterone that has given rise to Civilizational humanity since the so-called fertile crescent gestated the evil arts of subjugating man, woman, child and ecosystems to a small cabal of landowners (sic) who got humanity to work for food.

I always go to Daniel Quinn and other neotribalists to look at the long-range, way back, to give some justification to a tribal and hunter-gatherer past that for many of us is locked in our genes, accessible to fewer and fewer people daily as the world becomes a landmine of DNA-warping, cell-depleting, culture-sapping madness orchestrated by white men (mostly).

In our cultural mythology we see ourselves as having left tribalism behind the way modern medicine left the leech and the bleeding bowl behind, and we did so decisively and irrevocably. This is why it’s so difficult for us to acknowledge that tribalism is not only the preeminently human social organization, it’s also the only unequivocally successful social organization in human history. Thus, when even so wise and thoughtful a statesman as Mikhail Gorbachev calls for “a new beginning” and “a new civilization,” he doesn’t doubt for a single moment that the pattern for it lies in the social organization that has introduced humanity to oppression, injustice, poverty, chronic famine, incessant violence, genocide, global warfare, crime, corruption, and wholesale environmental destruction. To consult, in our time of deepest crisis, with the unqualified success that humanity enjoyed here for more than three million years is quite simply and utterly unthinkable.

Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Adventure

What’s lovely about my own intersection with Gary Brumback – the author of the book this review-dash-screed is enveloping: Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites: Can the Living Field be Leveled?  — is that Gary reached out to me and solicited my comments and possible endorsement of this book (he’s a regular contributor to Dissident Voice), through the auspices of one of modern civilization’s double-edged swords – the world wide internet.

I think it’s both unreal and uniquely human to reach out across the digital universe, and when someone who is connected to me through my words, and finds some linkage, then I believe that’s sign enough to make some connection deeper, or revealing.

It’s gutsy for this 84-year-old former organizational psychologist to have reached out to me (I’m not now your typical thinker and writer), and the proof is in the pudding when it comes to his writing and then how the diner/reader of those ideas, through the grist of his words and grammar (courses) gets the true taste (or terroir) of the author’s (chef’s) orchestration of ideas and composition.

As many readers of my work know, I am captivated by holism and systems thinking, and many times I am looking at life – universalities — through my own optics. I understand the drive to want to understand how tidal wetlands work and how elephant seals can go down 7,770 feet for up to two hours without succumbing to the bends or nitrogen narcosis.

But inherent in that learning and yearning, I understand the power of attracting forces, both physics and metaphysics, and the value in coincidences, both mathematical and magical, and more and more, daily, I am grasping the reasoning for my own living and thinking and breathing. Here I am on the Oregon Coast (central) just having done my first day’s class to be a certified marine mammal (and to help tourists/visitors understand the other zoological and ecological concerns) naturalist. I was about to fiddle with my short story collection which is coming out in several months from Cirque Press, and I was also prepped to blog from my post here in Otis, Oregon.

Instead, I answered the email call from Gary to take a look at his book and write up something. What interests me most about fellows like Brumback is his tenacity to not only understand the world around him using a variety of tools from his 84 years on the planet, but also his desire to be one among us as writers – anti-authoritarian thinkers who deeply question the role of this country in the upsetting of people and cultures throughout the globe.

“Call of Duty” is what I see my role now turning 62 next week. I have engendered good will and hard learning in thousands of students, at public gatherings where I “ran the show” (a hat off to Ed Sullivan) and in my writing, big and small. I’ve written three-parts to my hell-hole experience working with homeless veterans at the Starvation Army in Oregon. But in reality, the linchpin for me is my call of duty, call and answer, to carry forth in any way possible, the message of revolt. Speaking of revolt, I remember hanging out with Robert Bly on two occasions – one time in El Paso as we made it over to Juarez for tequila, and another time 23 years later in Spokane with bourbon and quietude. I wrote a promo article for his appearance in Spokane as part of Get Lit!. His poem, “Call and Answer,” is powerful, even at 17 years old.

I bring this up as a tangent to describe some of what I interpret as the core value in Gary’s new book:

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

It is the Saturday of my life, most likely, as I just spent sometime at Cascadia Head, where the Salmon River and the Pacific Ocean battle it out during the various tides ebbing and flowing. Alone, with harbor seals popping their heads up, and their partner, a river otter, watching me look at two bald eagles looking for seal placenta to gobble up.

Here, visiting Canadian photographer Isabelle Hayeur who is on a residency at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, is shooting the Oregon Coast. The Canadian is here on the Pacific Coast of Oregon for first time, and her residency continues her exploration of water and land, people and ecosystems — to show the changes to the ecosystems caused by humans. Here, that Cascadia Head shot and the Salmon hitting the Pacific near Lincoln City, Oregon.

See the source image

I know for sure as the colluding forces of capitalism – a real misanthropy of both the mind and body – eat at my exterior, the very simple act of movement — with my plodding bag of bones — if I am to survive in this sick world of capitulation of both parties working to mine the last corpuscles of the workers and working class — is sometimes herculean. It’s my Saturday, as Bly states, but I am not sure of this writer Gary’s place in time, if it’s Thursday for him, or Sunday.

I’m not saying this is the 84-year-old Brumback’s position, but I know his clarion calls are what Bly states clearly in these stanzas from this small poem –

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

Brumback is looking to reach those angels of our better selves, and he is wanting the cries of great writers and thinkers, alive and passed on, to push out the silence that is engulfing the entire body politic and public of this ripped-off-land-and-killing-natives country that has made more than a trillion pacts with the devil, a foundation that daily reverberates as the grand Faustian bargain of keeping silent for the few spoils of capitalism.

Americans are in their own tight spot now: keeping on the lights, fridge half full, Super Bowl projected on plasma TV, the latest model of Jeep in the driveway, work that eats at the soul and the body. The bargain, I believe, Brumback is not so quick to go quietly into the night, as this book uncovers the full weight of an old man’s lamentations and ruminations.

His book is compelling for those young minds that have been colonized and whose hearts and souls have been metastasized by consumer culture, the true bedrock of capitalism. Small intonations of the country’s history and this current manifestation of corruption are the drumbeats to his march forward in this quickly drawn book of very big historical ideas unleashed for the uninitiated mind.

Back to that Native American counting coup allusion I begin with:  It’s sort of what I see unfolding as my own literary device while reading Brumback’s book, Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites. “Coup” for the Lakota and others was counted to establish position in the tribal honor system. Status mattered, and competition to count the greatest coup was intense. Here’s the beauty of this bravery – getting close enough to touch an enemy with a coup stick without causing him harm.

The self-styled book is by former organizational psychologist Brumback, who counts his own coup many times in this book, as he wanders through the history of the United States, with both whimsy and with a Quaker’s eye toward justice. He uses a variety of wide angle and telephoto angles in order to look deeper at the simple equation of the rich — with military might behind them — controlling the destiny of the country – us, its inhabitants – and the insecurity of the planet, from all the other inhabitants of 192 countries plus the flora and fauna of the planet’s Gaia.

Here, for the Lakota, killing an enemy far away or at long range did not count as a coup. Moreover, winning by overwhelming numbers counted as a “non coup.” Bravery involving a solitary warrior in a headlong battle charge that was climaxed by touching, with no lethal tap of a stick, now that was a coup, as Indians harmlessly touched an enemy with wooden sticks for the purpose of counting coup.

In so many ways, Brumback’s book “touches”—counts coup — upon the enemies of humankind, with myriad of histories of this country since first contact with those Lakota et al. The writer delves into the mess of the United Snakes of America utilizing quick riffs while cracking open these causal relationships of greed, power, hierarchy, elitism, pathology in this country’s early years and now advancing into today’s predatory capitalism and parasitic economics (or our Shock Doctrine derived from our Monroe Doctrine) Brumbuck is interested in.

He’s also demonstrating another sort of intellectual “counting coup” in a sense since Brumback touches the enemy with his own touchstones and short pithy points connecting to the current state of global affairs.

His goal, it seems, is to consolidate a lot of his writing over his 84 years on planet earth and to codify a body of work he’s studiously read and then to bring himself to some conclusion that there might be some hope for his children and grandchildren. His belief in organizational psychology as a determinant of how bloody sociopathic the not-so-modern corporation is and how that pathology has twisted and turned (morphed) into a gigantic toxic and self-replicating broken set of laws regulating the elite’s projects of domination and extermination is the umbrella covering his writing.

Oscar Wilde is right when defining a cynic in his work, Lady Windemere’s Fan, with Lord Darlington quip: “A person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

From Raj Patel’s first chapter, The Value of Nothing, Patel can help me understand Brumback’s criticism of capitalism and his somewhat of a defense of it in some idealized state that hasn’t yet existed:

From its inception, the free market has spawned discontent, but rare are the moments when that discontent coalesces across society, when a sufficiently large group of people can trace their unhappiness to free market politics, and demand change. The New Deal in the United States and the postwar European welfare states were partly a result of a consortium of social forces pushing for new limits to markets, and a renegotiation of the relationship between individuals and society. What’s new about this crisis is that it’s pervasively global, and comes at the last moment at which we might prevent a global climate catastrophe. But the breadth and depth of both these crises reflect how profoundly our society has been transfixed by free market culture. To understand how this will affect us in the twenty-first century, we need to understand how it began, and to ask why today’s markets look the way they do

Here, the book Gary sent me, in a nutshell, which Brumbuck puts in his own book’s preface:

Here’s a quick overview of this book. It’s a substantial distillation of and addition to my relevant books and articles on the subject.

The first chapter may seem very abstract and academic, but believe me, it is about very real matters, life itself. This chapter lays the groundwork for understanding why the power elite do what they do and what happens when they do it.

The second chapter explains the very nature of power and introduces my concept and illustration of the “power tower” with the elite at the top and the “les Misérables” at the very bottom with several levels in between.

Chapter Three probes what makes the power elite “tick” by looking inside their “black boxes.” When you read this chapter, you will understand that I don’t flippantly ascribe evil motives and evildoing to the power elite.

Chapter Four thoroughly describes and explains the power elite’s “badvantages,” my term for situations and circumstances that give advantage to bad behavior. For example, “our” government gives many handouts to its master, Corporate America.

Chapter Five describes the seemingly limitless bad behavior of the power elite and their functionaries of the corpocracy.

I want to warn you about Chapter Six. It is a true horror story of the consequences of the power elite’s evil doing. By the time you have finished reading this chapter you may be a bit depressed if you believe it is credible. As an antidote I’ll try to inject some homespun humor now and then, starting now. “There is no beating around the Bush, he is what he is.”

And finally, Chapter Seven asks whether the power tower with its power inequality can be changed to the power rectangle with its power equality; in other words, can the living field finally be levelled? This question explains the question mark at the end of the book’s subtitle. Putting there instead an exclamation mark would have been sheer balderdash.

What his book does is galvanize much of his reading – and respect for – other writers who have peered through the looking glass of the Military-Prison-Financial-Ag-Chemical-Education-Legal-Patent-Pharma-Med-IT-AI-Real Estate-Insurance-Education Complex to discover the truths many of us in the anti-authority/ anti-hierarchical/pro-humanity/ pro-universal rights of nature have discovered through our discourse, our deep and fledgling philosophies, and our own experiences in the insanity echo chamber that is modern and post-modern America.

He dedicates this book to Howard Zinn, and Brumback mentions that other books he himself has written could not have been envisioned or codified without the teachings and writings of Zinn:

I am also dedicating this book to the late Howard Zinn, the author of a book on American history that is a must read! I dedicated my previous book to him, which shows how indebted a follower I am. Like my previous book, I could not have written the one you have in your hands were it not for Mr. Zinn’s illuminating history book that tells the true history of America [A People’s History of the United States, 2005]. The power elite understandingly hate Mr. Zinn’s book. The former governor of my home state, for example, was gleeful upon hearing of Mr. Zinn’s death and promptly banned his book statewide from high school curricula. Is it any wonder that my high school history classes in the 1950’s remain the same today, “trivialized, militarized and numbing?”

What I love about this Will Rogersian approach to history Gary brings to this book is the power of his short, deliberate passages outlying the rules and madness that have been fomented in the name of a small elite in this country. He captivates himself in each section, as if new to the material himself, embarking on a self-styled journey to tell what he knows and what he’s read.

This book is a compilation, a Popular Mechanics and Farmer’s Almanac of Brumback’s autobiographical intersection at explaining how capitalism is a game of manipulated vestiges of a global  usury past, where Fiefdoms and Kingdoms and unholy alliances of dictators and religions have splayed humankind. No matter where Gary treads, he comes up with the same underpinning for the book, and his other books and probably all his other writings, as well as his own conundrum now in advanced age:

I’ll finally end this long Preface with two questions and an advance notice about my choice of certain nouns and pronouns.

First question: do you think on the one hand that there is a tolerable difference between a handful of evil doers choosing villagers in a far-away land and then bombing them to smithereens in our names and on the other hand the many millions of us letting it happen?

Second question: do you think the surviving loved ones blame the few or us in general? You can tell my answer by my varying use in the text of nouns versus pronouns. For example, instead of writing “the military bombs innocent people,” I will occasionally write “we bomb innocent people” to emphasize that whatever is done by a certain few is being done in our names. Since you might find this practice irritating if I always do it, I will do it only occasionally.

Here in the preface, Brumback sets up the entire tome on a simple proposition – what is done and said by/in Las Vegas/USA stays in/with those living/working/dying in Las Vegas/USA.

The contradiction is blaring, though, as one of my friends, Andre Vltchek states in his humanitarian and global writing – that the rest of the world, that is, the world other than Western Civilization; i.e., Europe/EU, UK, USA, Canada – pays for its/our so-called “higher standard” of living, higher level of economic/environmental/health well-being, and its/our unlimited (seemingly) time to ponder its/our own rotten and degenerate selves.

Through the eyes of someone (Gary’s unblindered eyes, as he states it in his book) in this country, USA, who believes that capitalism somehow can be fixed or somehow is derived from a fair system of checks and balances (however, capitalism always relies on growth and continual growth, antithetical to anything we know about the limits of growth, the finite systems), I venture close to proposing to Gary another set of principles needed to live as Homo Sapiens in this world, tied to retrenchement and a form of ecosocialism, far from any new and improved or regurgitated capitalism:  we are living in a closed system of planet earth, and the fragility of the commons (air, water, sea, land, food) now is even more pronounced with ecosystems collapsing (Sixth Mass extinction on steroids) from over over-harvesting, over-polluting, over-rearranging/razing.

Ecosocialism is Utopian, but so are we as writers and thinkers:

Ecosocialism is a vision of a transformed society in harmony with nature, and the development of practices that can attain it. It is directed toward alternatives to all socially and ecologically destructive systems, such as patriarchy, racism, homophobia and the fossil-fuel based economy. It is based on a perspective that regards other species and natural ecosystems as valuable in themselves and as partners in a common destiny.

Ecosocialism shares with traditional socialism a passion for justice. It shares the conviction that capitalism has been a deadly detour for humanity. We understand capitalism to be a class society based on infinite expansion, through the exploitation of labor and the ransacking of nature.

Ecosocialists are also guided by the life-ways of indigenous peoples whose economies are embedded in a classless society in fundamental unity with nature. We draw upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest science, and will do what can be done to bring a new society, beyond capitalism, into existence.

I go back to Andre Vltchek  who looks at the polluting effects of capitalism on cultures wide and far, tied to the so-called artist :

You say “European cultural institutions”, and what should come immediately to mind are lavish concerts, avant garde art exhibitions, high quality language courses and benevolent scholarships for talented cash-strapped local students.

It is all so noble, so civilized!

Or, is it really? Think twice!

I wrote my short novel, “Aurora”, after studying the activities of various Western ‘cultural institutions’, in virtually all the continents of the Planet. I encountered their heads; I interacted with the ‘beneficiaries’ of various funding schemes, and I managed to get ‘behind the scenes’.

What I discovered was shocking: these shiny ‘temples of culture’ in the middle of so many devastated and miserable cities worldwide (devastated by the Western imperialism and by its closest allies – the shameless local elites), are actually extremely closely linked to Western intelligence organizations. They are directly involved in the neo-colonialist project, which is implemented virtually on all continents of the world, by North America, Europe and Japan.

‘Culture’ is used to re-educate and to indoctrinate mainly the children of the local elites. Funding and grants are put to work where threats and killing were applied before. How does it work? It is actually all quite simple: rebellious, socially-oriented and anti-imperialist local artists and thinkers are now shamelessly bought and corrupted. Their egos are played on with great skill. Trips abroad for ‘young and talented artists’ are arranged, funding dispersed, scholarships offered.

Carrots are too tasty, most would say, ‘irresistible’. Seals of approval from the Empire are ready to stamp those blank pages of the lives of still young, unrecognized but angry and sharp young artists and intellectuals from those poor, colonized countries. It is so easy to betray! It is so easy to bend.

Please note I am not comparing Gary or his book to other writers or their books/writing, some of whom he cites liberally throughout this latest one. I believe in a new way of book analysis, or reviewing a book – by putting myself into the stream of consciousness that cascades for someone like myself who in the process of reading will take to heart how closely or far away that content resonates with my own life and my own writing. It is the power of a book like Gary’s to incite not only my own deep introspection about what it means to be an American, someone who has worked (albeit struggled by not getting bought and sold by corporate America, but still . . . sold down the river in the careers I’ve held), but also what it means to be counter to almost anything and everything this country produces or stands for in its national collective consciousness.

His thesis for the book is tied to his own backing of organizational psychology. He uses these equations to illustrate where he’s coming from:

Anyone’s Equation:
Person + Context = Person’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Organization’s Equation:
Organization + Context = Organization’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Nation’s Equation :
Nation + Context = Nation’s Behavior + Consequences

Of course, every person, every organization, every nation has their own equations, sort of like a unique DNA code. The specific details in any equation can change from day to day, except some of the details for chronic habits like that of America’s endless warring and spying change less.2 A nation, therefore, over the entire course of its history may have gone through zillions of its more significant equations with varying details in the input side.

Thus, what anyone, any organization or any nation do throughout their lives depends on themselves and their contexts. Behavior never happens without both and will never be fully explained without both.

Beyond his background in psychology, Brumback looks to his writing now as a way to express his historical knowledge of America’s bloody programs of subjugation and to militate his belief in non-violence as he was reared as a Quaker.

He sets up the book by talking about his background working with organizations, treating them sort of speak to heal themselves, which in the end he sees as impossible under the current structures of limited liability companies and the bigger transnational corporations that are rapacious in every way.

Brumback alludes to working a long time for industry, the US federal government and non-profit research business. The power of the company man, and his own background in academics (a rather conservative and lock-step group think cabal), he admits, muted his criticism of the Viet Nam War as he was then (1960-75) fearful of endangering his career and his family.

He talks of being a “recovering” academese reader, writer and talker, and his book is far from any sort of style found in the pedantic journals where members of the nefarious American Psychology Association dump their stories on.

Brumback: This book is therefore as deliberate ‘street write’ as I can make it, a conversation, although one-way with you.

Interestingly, he gives us 12 Facts (as seen in a Jan. 23, 2019 Dissident Voice piece) that are not truths that have embedded into the American mindset, the American propaganda of historical warping, lying and outright censorship. There is a reason why this country goes into zombie or dervish mode every year — when two multi-billion dollar organizations, Rams and Patriots, under the umbrella of a white patriarchy elitism called the NFL — watching entitled, redneck or mute millionaire players whose ultimate contribution to society is to sell cars, beer, Viagra and the lies of empire on their way to permanent Traumatic Brain Injury hell.

  • False Fact: The American Revolution was fought to free the people from suppression by King George and his chartered corporations.
  • False Fact: “We the people of the United States——-do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • False Fact: We are the “United States of America.”
  • False Fact: America is a democracy.
  • False fact: America’s Civil War was fought to free the slaves.
  • False fact: America’s wars have been unavoidable and just.
    False Fact: Whistleblowers are traitors.
  • False Fact. Our nation’s military represents the best this country has to offer.
  • False Fact. America’s war veterans are heroes.
  • False Fact: To rationalize its own excesses, including its hand-outs from the government, corpocratic capitalists spout the theory of trickle-down economics as a rationalization for their own hefty welfare benefits, arguing that more money at the top will eventually trickle down to the bottom in the way of jobs.
  • False Fact: The rich say the poor get what they deserve.
  • False Fact. Public services need to be privatized because government is inefficient and costly.

In many ways, Brumback has both fun moments and sarcastic fluidity  with these American exceptionalist delusions throughout his book, but he is serious about launching a straightforward attack on the elite’s continual degradation of the citizenry of this country: hollowing out our “symbolic democracy” through the systematic formula of penury, debt slavery, theft of the commons resources, the rapacious appetite to despoil ecosystems and communities, the socializing of the externalities of their dirty businesses and then in turn privatizing all the profits; and, finally, their basically illegal, unethical and unconstitutional ways of going about their wealth and political power accumulation.

What I like best about this book is the earnestness that Brumback brings to the page. He is there to guide the reader into the hall of mirrors and house of horrors that embody America. He is a troubadour for truth and unraveling the seemingly complexities of the elite’s rule over the majority, the 90 percent of us who are not any part of the Point Zero Zero One percent’s project of human annihilation.

In the end, Brumback hits back at the idea of nature versus nurture, at the very end of the book:

Recall in Chapter 3 that I included genetics as an input in the black box. Our genetic history simply can’t be denied. But when it comes to being bad or good morally speaking, what do we know about the role of genetics, and does it really matter?

Psychologist Stephen Mason concludes that “some people are, quite simply, born bad.”

Not so concludes psychologist Dacher Keltner. “He finds that positive emotions lie at the core of human nature.”

Two diametrically opposed conclusions. My conclusion is that while babies are innocent at the instant of birth because they have not had time to behave badly, some will eventually do so habitually, and some won’t. What role nature plays in influencing their behavior is immaterial in my opinion. What matters from a practical standpoint is the question of how to deal with the resulting wrongdoing.

What’s your opinion?

While we can argue over epigentics and the complete failure of the human seed and human semen to produce unadulteratedly since the  products of capitalism; i.e., toxins, from Teflon to aromatic particulates, from Atrazine to PCBs, from glyphosate to flame retardant, from mercury to cesium, have overtaken humanity and all zoological systems.

Is Donald Trump, the sociopath that he is, friend and abuser with Jeffrey Epstein and Roy Cohn, and that Donald whose father is in a Woody Guthrie song for the old man’s racism, well, is that president (sic-sic) who represents the ills of the father and the unfettered protection of his elite class and the muscle of his casino thugs, is Donald, with NPD (narcissistic personalty disorder), responsible for his hatred, racism, lies, and power hunger? Or is it his upbringing, or months inside his mama’s womb, or the people around him to blame?

roy cohn

That’s the crux of the book, really: Brumback is asking the reader to judge for ourselves the depth of the conspiracy of the rich toward absolute control of the majority. Is there true evil in the world, or are all children borne of original sin?

Those toxins and carcinogenics and structural violence systems were created, marketed, sold, defended, patented by men/women, in corporations. The socipathic definition of a corporation is the same as the person, but can we give a free ride to the majority of people in the corporation who are just, to recoin my favorite phrase, Little Eichmanns?

In any sense, the embodiment of the Hudson Bay Company is the message in the Heart of Darkness, which reflects the individual as sociopath and the LLC as sociopathic, as the amorality of corporations is obvious from a million cases we all can tap into from the written record. That these companies — polluters — have gained personhood is compelling, from the start of this country’s slide deeper and deeper into the morass of capitalism — set forth 133 years ago in 1886 in the Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This obscure case set the precedent that corporations have some rights under the 14th Amendment and were given de-facto personhood.

So, then, we have given corporations even higher status in this personhood allusion/legal definition in the Citizens United Case . What sort of person is a corporation?

Are they philanthropic and kind to their neighbors or are they the kind of people who will slit your throat to take your wallet?

For most of us in the Brumback class, we see the very nature of the corporation as both amoral and sociopathic.

They exist to make money, regardless of the social consequences. And they have gotten legal protections from the consequences of their crimes — a true Mafioso or cartel paying off the politicians and the cops and judges to gain unimaginable wealth and power over us, the 90 percent.

A sociopath and a corporation have identical incentive structures and motivations:

  • Both sociopaths and corporations exist for the sole purpose of self-centered goals—sociopaths want a variety of things (money, power, sex, etc.) while corporations are solely focused upon making money.

  • Neither has an internal sense of morality and, barring intervention from a more powerful authority, both are willing to exploit others in service of their goal; just as how a sociopath may be willing to lie, cheat and steal their way through life, a corporation is willing to use child sweatshop labor to depress costs.

  • Both sociopaths and corporations are constrained through risk/reward analysis—sociopaths weigh the value or pleasure of doing something immoral against the legal/social risks, while corporations weigh the profit of their actions against the cost of legal/social actions against their agenda.

In the end, we have to develop both sensitivities and thick skins in the gambit called This American Life. Brumback makes his claim to some of those contradictions and dichotomies in his book. He can be contacted by the reader here for more information on ordering the book. Gary Brumback.

I sign off with the words of Eduardo Galeano whose Memory of Fire trilogy sets deep in my soul. From an interview:

I want to be an honest man and a good writer, as James Baldwin was. I greatly admired him. He once told a story that I used in the third volume of Memory of Fire. He was very young, and he was walking down the street with a friend, a painter. They stop at a red light. “Look,” says the friend. Baldwin sees nothing, except a dirty pool of water. The friend insisted: “Look at it, really.” So Baldwin takes a good look and sees a spot of oil spreading in the puddle. In the spot of oil, he sees a rainbow, and the street moving, and people moving in the street; and he sees madmen and magicians and the whole world moving. The universe was there in that little pool. On that day, Baldwin said, he learned to see. For me, that’s an important lesson. I am always trying to look at the universe through the little puddles in the streets.

Stability and Dynamics of Individual Personality in a Dominance Hierarchy

In this article, I develop a physics model of the bimodal personality of the social animal. The model uses free-energy barrier-crossing theory and provides a new and testable paradigm of individual behaviour and perception in a dominance hierarchy.

A realistic theory of social organization must use a correct model of the individual. The said correct model must not only contain correct elements but it must also be sufficiently complete to be predictive and to produce observed social behaviour.

For example, it is correct to say that the individual is intrinsically driven to seek safety, resources and to reproduce, however actually expressed in society.  By “intrinsic” I mean “hard-wired” or “evolutionary” or “physiologically proscribed”.  But these correct biological characteristics of the individual are not sufficient by themselves to explain that dominance hierarchy is virtually always the organizational type in societies of social-animal species.

Nor do these correct characteristics of the individual explain the long-term stability of a given class-structured dominance hierarchy, or the phenomenon that many individuals in society can choose to forgo reproduction or even forgo striving to obtain optimal levels of safety and access to vital resources.

Having posited the internal drivers for safety, resources and reproduction, the next level of complexity of the model of the individual is to describe the individual’s intrinsic response function to external (i.e., societal or environmental) signals. Such signals include both positive and negative social feedback, and include both aggression and rewards from the dominance hierarchy.

Regarding the individual’s intrinsic response function, in a 2011 article I postulated that the strong causal relation between poor individual health and subjection to dominance-hierarchy stress was a biological reality that both enabled the formation of dominance hierarchy and provided a mechanism to cull burdensome individuals from the society.1

However, this was a linear response function that incorrectly does not admit any beneficial effect from stressor events, in any circumstances. It also did not make the important distinction that the “stress” that determines health is not an objective consequence of the external stressors but, instead, must be understood as the “experienced stress”. I described the important additional concepts of “experienced stress” and comparative “self-image” in 2014.2 These modulators move us towards the needed non-linearity of the response function, and in themselves explain many health outcomes.

Independently, it has been a major theoretical breakthrough, in the area of individual health, to explicitly posit that the individual’s intrinsic response function is not linear and has a “U” shape. This is scientist-reviewer Sapolsky’s “inverted-U” function.3 I have reviewed these advances in my critical assessment of cancer science.4  The inverted-U idea is that there is an optimum degree of stress, not too little (isolation) and not too great (overwhelming oppression), which maximizes individual health.

While the inverted-U curve of stress response is a useful unifying concept, it does not account for the capricious nature of experienced stress, which in turn is the actual determinant of health in a given individual.  The same objectively measured external stress can have opposite health effects in different individuals in the same social class, and opposite effects in the same individual at different times while remaining in the same social class, for example.

The above considerations, the overwhelming importance of dominance hierarchy as the main organizational principle in animal societies, and a review of the science of the monoamine neurotransmitter serotonin in relation to social status, aggression and dominance interactions led me to propose the simplification that “social animals have two modes of being”, which I explained in the following way:5

I propose that the animal has two modes of being, which are binary end-points on an attitudinal, self-image and behavioural psychological-state-scape.

I’m not saying that each individual is permanently in one or the other mode of being. Rather, I propose that the individual shifts and slides into one or the other mode depending on his immediate social circumstances and on his history (biological and metabolic memory) of being predominantly in one mode or the other.

The modes of being that I propose map onto the social dominance hierarchy, and are consistent with the roles of different individuals within the hierarchy.

Specifically, one mode is the mode (and strategy) adopted by the dominated individual. This mode is one where the individual seeks “fairness” and minimal aggressions in their environment. The individual seeks a “safe space” and has no actual design to displace dominants. The culture of individuals that coalesce into such a stratum of the hierarchy is one where “kindness” and “being a good person” are the highest social values that are encouraged and rewarded. Altruism and “goodiness” are elevated to a status meriting religious indulgences. Viciousness actuated by enforcers within the social stratum is turned towards violators of this code.

The other mode is the mode (and strategy) adopted by the individual who intends to be and to remain dominant. It is an outlook of waging and winning battles for dominance. This is the climber with a “killer’s instinct”, prepared to joust for relative advantage and eager to dominate.

These modes are distinct mental and physiological states of being. …

In the present article, I want to extend and formalize the proposal of two modes of being by casting it within the physics paradigm of thermally induced transitions between two free-energy minima of different depths. My intention is to optimally capture the biological, metabolic and social dimensions of the problem with a minimalist model that is sufficiently realistic to explain non-trivial social phenomena.

Within this new picture, the individual’s intrinsic response function (response to external signals), realistically depends on the state (or mode of being) that the individual temporarily occupies and on the landscape of possibilities for given expenditures of metabolic energy.

The single-variable “free-energy” function that I will draw has a y-axis labelled “E”, which is excess metabolic energy expenditure that the individual needs to use in changing their circumstances on the road to transitioning between modes of being.  “E” is analogous to the so-called free energy in physics and chemistry. However, it is excess energy expenditure (or effort) and is therefore on a per-unit-of-time basis for the individual. It is a rate of energy expenditure. It is an “excess” rate because there is always a basal metabolic rate of energy expenditure simply to sustain the life of the inactive individual (beating heart, etc.).

In chemistry, one could be looking at transitions between two bonding configurations of a molecule. In physics, one could be modelling transitions between two orientations of a supermoment on a magnetic iron-oxide nanoparticle. In all cases, the x-axis (or variable) in the “free-energy” picture is a quantity that represents the “state” of the system (molecule, nanoparticle, individual animal) at a given instant.

I label the x-axis “S”, for “state”. In the chemistry example, “S” is a parameter that captures the molecular configuration (a bond angle or an inter-atomic separation). In the physics example, “S” is a parameter that captures the magnetic state of the nanoparticle, such as the angular orientation of the supermoment relative to the ambient magnetic field.

In the case of the individual in a dominance hierarchy, “S” is defined to capture the bio-metabolic state of the individual. For example, we could posit that “S” is the concentration in the blood of a neurohormonal substance that determinatively modulates animal behaviour and perception, which in turn can be interpreted to map onto a “mode of being” or some intermediate transitional mode. Several researchers and scientist reviewers have suggested that serotonin is a candidate to be this substance, but the details of the candidate substance(s) or metabolic quantities do not alter my model.

The possibility of transitions controlled by a modulating substance and occuring in a bimodal state-scape was envisioned for animal behaviour in the landmark 1988 article of Kravitz:6

Such compounds, therefore, can influence large areas of the nervous system in a way that parallels the manner in which transmitters, acting through second messengers, alter the properties of individual nerve or muscle cells: they bring the system (a cell for a transmitter or a circuit for a hormone) from one stable state to a second new stable state that now shows a changed response to selective stimulation. This is done by the alteration or sensitization of a logical set of component pieces that together modify the output of the system.

To continue, here is my picture of the excess metabolic rate versus the state variable value (E-vs-S) function. In fact, five different E-vs-S functions are represented for five different individuals in a dominance hierarchy, subjected to five corresponding different degrees of perceived dominance signaling from their social environment:

The curves “1” to “5” for the five different individuals are labelled in order of increasing dominance oppression perceived by the individual. In most circumstances (2, 3 and 4), there are two troughs (labelled “L” for “loser” and “W” for “winner”) in the E-vs-S functions, separated by a barrier maximum labeled “B”.

Here, L and W correspond to the “two modes of being” described above. L is the dominated mode, whereas W is the dominant mode.

At small values of S, such as small blood concentrations of serotonin, say, the individual naturally settles into the L-mode simply by minimizing its rate of excess metabolic energy expenditure. Moderate expenditures of excess metabolic energy do not allow the individual to escape the L-mode, as it simply relaxes back down to minimal expenditure after the temporary exertion.

Similarly, at large values of S the individual naturally settles into the W-mode by minimizing its rate of excess metabolic energy expenditure. Moderate expenditures of excess metabolic energy do not bring the individual into the L-mode.

A winning fight, requiring expenditure of metabolic energy up to the barrier value (L to B) can allow an individual to cross over from the L-mode into the W-mode. Likewise, a losing fight that requires metabolic energy expenditure from W to B can push an individual out of the W-mode and into the L-mode.

Some individuals (curve-1 in the figure) cannot escape the W-mode that, for them, is the only stable mode. This shape of E-vs-S curve occurs for individuals that get constant re-enforcement of their high “dominant” societal status, and that are not subjected to threatening hierarchical oppression. An example would be a high-status government or industry leader that is always accompanied by a small army of ego-boosting sycophants.

Similarly, some individuals (curve-5 in the figure) cannot escape the L-mode that, for them, is the only stable mode. This shape of E-vs-S curve occurs for individuals that are constantly reminded of their low “dominanted” societal status, and that are subjected to threatening hierarchical oppression. An example would be a forced coal-mine worker or a prisoner of war in a forced-labour camp.

Importantly, however, the degree “dominance oppression” that determines the shape of the E-vs-S curve for a given individual is subjective rather than objective. It is the “perceived dominance signaling” from the individual’s environment. As noted above, the said signaling includes both positive and negative social feedback, and includes both aggression and rewards from the dominance hierarchy.

Therefore, a low-social-class individual can be in a stable W-mode although this will be rare, on a population basis at a given time, and so on. Put another way, on a time basis for a given individual, such a given low-social-class individual will, through the metabolic expenditures of interacting, spend most of their time in the L-mode but some of their time in the W-mode. And these outcomes are similar but inversed for high-social-class individuals.

The said “perceived dominance signaling” that determines the shape of the E-vs-S curve for a given individual plays a central role. Let’s simply call it “H”, for the sake of convenience. H is analogous to the ambient constant magnetic field experienced by the nanoparticle in our physics example, and it is analogous to a uniaxial stress (pressure) experienced by the molecule in our chemistry example.

In our case of an individual in a dominance hierarchy, H can be defined as H = fp.Mp − fn.Mn, where the first term is the product of the occurrence frequency (fp) of positive signals and the average magnitude (Mp) of a positive signal. The second term is the product of the occurrence frequency (fn) of negative signals and the average magnitude (Mn) of a negative signal. A signal is a social feedback, such as a facial expression or a look, or an interaction in the dominance hierarchy, including aggressions and rewards.

H has a value that is measured on a certain sensitivity or measurement time (ts) of the individual. The value of H is not sensitive to environmental changes that occur within times smaller than ts, and H may vary in time on timescales larger than ts. The sensitivity time, ts, is the integration time for establishing a long-term memory that modulates perception. For adult humans, it can be as short as days and as long as years. In other words, the frequencies (fp and fn) of signals in the above formula are determined on the time window ts, where fp and fn are necessarily (much) larger than 1/ts.

All this to say that social environmental changes occurring on a timescale larger than ts can change an individual’s E-vs-S curve that in turn determines both (a) the relative amount of time the individual spends in either the L-mode or the W-mode, and (b) the kinetics of the individual’s transitions between the L-mode and S-mode. See below.

The picture I have described so far gives a statistical-mechanics view, based on animal metabolism of a social animal in a dominance hierarchy, to explain an individual’s inertia regarding personality, perception and behavioural changes, and provides a model for an individual’s transitions between the dominated and dominant modes of being, as follows.

If we define a correct “temperature” of the system, then the model will give quantitative predictions for time spent in each mode and kinetics of transitions between modes.

By analogy with the systems in physics and chemistry to which free-energy barrier-crossing theory applies, we can define “temperature” as follows. Let the temperature, T, of an individual in a dominance hierarchy be the mean magnitude of the rate of spontaneous excess metabolic energy expenditure, which is self-generated by the individual (same units as E). This is the rate at which the individual expends metabolic energy to act in the world, beyond just being alive.

Key predictions follow. Let E(L) be the E-value at the bottom of the L-trough, E(W) be the E-value at the bottom of the W-trough, and E(B) be the E-value at the barrier maximum (see figure). And write the natural exponential function (of x) as “exp[x]”.

Then the average time, t(L), spent by the individual in the L-mode before transitioning to the W-mode is given by this simple formula:

t(L)  =  t(TLW)   exp[7 / T ]

where t(TLW) is the average time between temperature events (of average magnitude T) that constitute attempts to crossover into the W-mode.

The corresponding formula for the average residence time in the W-mode of being is:

t(W)  =  t(TWL)  exp[ (E(B) − E(W)) / T ]

where t(TWL) is the average time between temperature events (of average magnitude T) that constitute attempts to cause cross-over into the L-mode. Here, 1/t(TLW) and 1/t(TWL) are the so-called attempt frequencies of free-energy barrier-crossing theory.

The ratio of residence times is independent of E(B):

t(L)/t(W)  =  (t(TLW)/t(TWL))  exp[ (E(W) − E(L)) / T ]

The latter equation can be tested experimentally, since all the quantities are times and rates of energy expenditure that can be measured.

The above equations may be the first physics equations that predict average residence times of individuals in given L and W metabolic states (modes of being), and that describe the underlying statistical mechanics of animal transitions between the two modes of being.

My model predicts how an individual embedded in a class (characterized by “H”) within a dominance hierarchy is confined to react to their environment to adopt a mode of being. Is your E(L) larger or smaller than your E(W)…? Dominants have E(W) < E(L), whereas dominated individuals have E(L) < E(W), assuming t(TLW) = t(TWL). Arguably, the single number that best characterizes the main coarse features of the individual’s true personality is the dimensionless ratio E(L)/E(W), which largely results from the individual’s environment (H).

The model shows how the dominance hierarchy creates two kinds of individuals that predominantly reside either in the L or W (dominated or dominant) modes of being. In this way, the animal’s intrinsic bio-chemical response to environmental signals provides a foundational mechanism for creating a stable dominance hierarchy, irrespective of the individual health consequences of an individual’s mode of being.

Dominance hierarchies are highly successful from an evolutionary perspective, such that social organization and individual metabolic reaction mechanisms would have co-evolved to be inseparable.

For humans, therefore, while complex institutions, technology and resource extraction efficiency theoretically permit individual emancipation, nonetheless the human animal cannot escape its intrinsic socio-bio-metabolic nature. Dominance hierarchy rules.8,9

  1. A Theory of Chronic Pain – A social and evolutionary theory of human disease and chronic pain”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, December 26, 2011.
  2. Self-Image-Incongruence Theory of Individual Health”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, October 26, 2014.
  3. “Stress and the brain: individual variability and the inverted-U”, by R.M. Sapolsky, Nature Neuroscience, October 2015, vol. 18, no. 10, pages 1344-1346. And see: “The Influence of Social Hierarchy on Primate Health”, by R.M. Sapolsky, Science, 29 April 2005, vol. 308, pages 648-652.
  4. Cancer Arises from Stress-induced Breakdown of Tissue Homeostasis. Part 1: Context of Cancer Research”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, December 4, 2015.
  5. Social Animals have Two Modes of Being”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, July 2, 2018.
  6. Hormonal Control of Behavior: Amines and the Biasing of Behavioral Output in Lobsters”, by Edward A. Kravitz, Science, 30 September 1988, vol. 241, pages 1775-1781.
  7. E(B) − E(L
  8. Cause of USA Meltdown and Collapse of Civil Rights”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, September 7, 2017.
  9. Humanity against People. Nature of the maturing geographical and global Western class conflict of Trump and Macron”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, December 16, 2018.

The War to End War 100 Years On

British author and social commentator H.G. Wells may have coined the expression that originally popularized World War I as The War that Will End War, as his book, based on articles written during that vast military conflict, was titled. In any case, in one version or another, the expression was one of the most common catchphrases of the Great War of 1914-1918 and has survived as an expression, often used with a grimace of sarcasm, ever since.

As we commemorate the passing of the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending ‘the war to end war’, one can only marvel at how wrong humans can be sometimes. Not content with the violence inflicted during World War I, humans used the twentieth century to systematically decimate human and other life as violence and war raged across the planet with an increasingly massive and sophisticated armory. In fact, by mid-century, in a tribute to their technological ingenuity and psychological dysfunctionality, humans had invented a weapon that could destroy life on Earth.

And by the beginning of the 21st century, humans were living in the era of perpetual war against life with war also the largest contributor to the climate catastrophe: Not only is the Pentagon the single largest industrial consumer of fossil fuels, but fighter jets, destroyers, tanks and other weapons systems emit highly toxic, carbon-intensive emissions, not to mention the greenhouse gases that are released from the detonation of bombs. How quickly the world forgot the toxic legacy of Saddam Hussein’s oil fires!’

So advanced is our war against life that human extinction is now imminent.

Resisting war historically

Of course, the failure to end war has not been the outcome of lack of effort. And while there have been many efforts focused on ending a particular war, efforts directed at ending a particular aspect of war (such as the use of a type of weapon), and efforts aimed at preventing a type of war (such as ‘aggressive war’ or nuclear war), there have also been ongoing efforts to achieve ‘the holy grail’: to end war itself.

These attempts have included ongoing grassroots mobilization by anti-war organizations spawned by World War I (such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom founded in 1915 and War Resisters’ International founded in 1921) and many equivalents since that time, official attempts to outlaw war such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact that outlawed war in 1928 but has been ignored ever since and institutional efforts to prevent it, particularly by establishment of the League of Nations in 1920 and its successor the United Nations in 1945, both also readily ignored or manipulated.

Separately from the above, however, there has been a long history of nonviolent activism to end wars and this has been conducted by individuals and groups all over the world. Undoubtedly the most effective anti-war movement in history was that undertaken in response to the US war against Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Inspired and supported by the nonviolent resistance of the civilian population, and building on the long history of resistance to war within the military (see, for example, The Soldiers’ Strikes of 1919),  there was widespread nonviolent resistance undertaken by US troops and conscripts to end the US war against Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1968 until it ended in 1975.

If you like, you can read detailed descriptions of the systematic and ongoing resistance (nonviolent and otherwise) within the US military in many forms, which progressively incapacitated the US Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force during the last years of the war, forcing the US out of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. See Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War and Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army during the Vietnam Era with a summary of the first book in ‘Antiwar Resistance Within the Military During the Vietnam War‘ and a review of it in ‘The soldiers’ revolt in Vietnam: Rebellion in the ranks.’

For a documentary account of the conscientious objection by more than half a million US conscripts to military service in South East Asia during this period, which overwhelmed the legal system making prosecutions beyond a token few impossible and, combined with soldier resistance and civilian efforts, forced Presidents Johnson and Nixon to curtail plans to escalate the war and make plans to end it, see the forthcoming film The Boys Who Said NO!

Reanalysing the Cause of War to Reorient our Resistance

So, if we are to use this 100th anniversary to renew our struggle to end war and to work effectively to achieve that purpose, then clearly we need to reassess our analysis of the cause(s) of war so that we understand the problem more precisely, and then use this revised analysis to guide the development and implementation of a strategy that addresses the cause(s). Of course, I am not suggesting that ending war will be easy, even with a sound analysis and a comprehensive strategy. But at least it will be feasible.

Before proceeding, I would like to record my own passion for this subject. I lost two great uncles to World War I: Tom Farrell was killed in action at Gallipoli and Les Burrowes was a victim of ‘shell shock’ – later labeled post-traumatic stress disorder – after being wounded in action three times at Gallipoli and then dying prematurely some years after the war.

My father served in World War II as a coastwatcher and both of his brothers, including his twin, were killed. I am named after my father’s older brother. Bob died when the Japanese POW ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by the USS Sturgeon on 1 July 1942. 1,053 Australian POWs died that night. And my father’s twin, Tom, died when his Beaufort Bomber was shot down on 14 December 1943 killing the entire crew.

So my childhood is dotted with memories of occasional commemorations of war which, for me, always ended with the same question: Why? But not just ‘why war?’ Given other manifestations of violence I observed around the world during my childhood, including exploitation of peoples in Africa, Asia and Central/South America as well as destruction of the environment, the deeper question was always my focus: ‘Why violence?’

Well, despite considerable research over three decades, I was never content with any version of the answer to this question that I found. Consequently, 14 years in seclusion with Anita McKone ‘taking our own minds apart’ finally gave me the answer I wanted. In ugly detail. If you would like to read this answer, which explains the unrelenting ‘visible’, ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence that adults inflict on children and the enormous lifetime damage (including the legacy of unconscious fear, self hatred and powerlessness) that this causes, you can do so in ‘Why Violence?‘ with our process described in ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

Needless to say, understanding a problem makes developing a strategy to address it far easier (which does not mean that the problem is easy to resolve). However, it is also the case that violence has many manifestations – notably including war, violence against huge sectors of the human population in various contexts (ranging from violence against women and indigenous peoples to military occupations and dictatorships), economic exploitation and destruction of the biosphere – and tackling each of these effectively requires its own sophisticated nonviolent strategy.

This is partly because certain manifestations of violence are structural or cultural as Professor Johan Galtung describes these terms, and they originated long ago and have been recreated and ‘built-in’ over successive centuries.

However, it is important to understand that the nature of any given structure or cultural symbol/process reflects the psychology of those who create and/or maintain it. That is, it is dysfunctionalized human beings who create and maintain dysfunctional (that is, violent and/or exploitative) structures and cultures.

So, for example, while the origin of capitalism can be explained in terms of the development of economic structures and processes that took place over preceding centuries (in a particular socio-political-legal setting), fundamentally the exploitative nature of capitalism is a direct outcome of the badly damaged psychology of those men who progressively created it and now those men (and some women) who maintain it, expand it and primarily benefit from the manner in which it exploits most others.

And if those men and women were not psychologically damaged by the violence they suffered during childhood, then they would devote their efforts to creating egalitarian economic structures and processes that benefited everyone equally and nurtured the biosphere. In short, a human being who is psychologically whole regards the idea of killing or exploiting a fellow human being as deplorable. This is not a moral stance. It is a psychological outcome for the child who is parented lovingly: such parenting produces compassionate identification with others (and, in fact, everything that lives and the biosphere as a whole).

The same reasoning applies to the institution of war particularly as it has evolved and is now conducted by western nations, led by the US, and their allies such as Israel. War is a method of conducting conflict. It has a great many components including elites who promote war-for-profit by using various channels such as ‘think tanks’, the corporate media, government propaganda and education systems to call for and ‘justify’ it, political processes to order it, legal processes to defend it (including against those who take nonviolent action against it), military command, control and communication structures to plan and implement it, corporations employing a labor force to manufacture weapons and other hardware to be used in it, military personnel to deploy and fire the weapons, and citizens willing to pay taxes (or too scared to resist doing so) to finance it.

But at every level of the institution of war, and despite vast advances in peace, conflict and nonviolence theory and practice during the past 60 years, it requires individuals who were terrorized during their childhood into believing that killing fellow human beings is an appropriate way to deal with conflict (or, a variation, that killing human beings is a reasonable way to earn a wage or make a profit). And because they are so psychologically damaged and now deeply embedded within the institution of war, consideration of alternatives to violence is only tokenistically contemplated, if at all (with occasional exceptions by those whose conscience survived the childhood violence they suffered). If you like, you can read a little more about how childhood violence creates insane individuals who perpetuate violence and war in articles such as ‘The Global Elite is Insane Revisited‘ but there is plenty more on that website.

In essence, if most human beings were not so psychologically damaged by the violence inflicted on them during childhood (leaving them unconsciously terrified, self-hating and powerless), there would be a mass uprising against the barbarity of war: the large-scale industrial slaughter of people like you.

So what are we to do?

Well, if we consider war as an outcome not of political and economic differences manifesting as military violence but, fundamentally, as an outcome of psychological dysfunctionality preventing intelligent resolution of conflict, then our strategy for ending war can acquire a sophistication it must otherwise lack. Put simply, by understanding the psychological roots of violence we can develop and implement a strategy that intelligently addresses these, both in the short and medium terms.

So how do we tackle, strategically, the interrelated set of problems that constitute the institution of war?

If your primary interest is focusing on war itself, check out the Nonviolent Strategy Wheel which simply illustrates the 12-point strategic framework necessary to conduct an effective nonviolent campaign and then consider the basic list of 35 strategic goals necessary to end war. Choose one or a few goals appropriate to your circumstances and conduct a strategically-oriented nonviolent campaign, as explained on the same website, to achieve those goals.

If you are concerned that you need some form of military defense against those who might attack your country, it is actually strategically superior to use a strategy of nonviolent defense, which is explained in detail in The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach and presented more simply in Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy. In fact, this strategic framework can be used to plan and implement a nonviolent strategy to defend against a foreign invading power or a political/military coup, to liberate your country from a dictatorship or a foreign occupation, or to defeat a genocidal assault.

As an aside, if your preferred focus is the climate catastrophe, some other assault on the biosphere or a social justice campaign of any kind, the Nonviolent Strategy website will assist you to develop a comprehensive and focused strategy.

When conducting any campaign, keep in mind a clear understanding of ‘Nonviolent Action: Why and How it Works’ and remember the distinction between ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’. By keeping these points in mind, your campaign (including each of your tactics) will be focused for strategic impact.

If your interest in ending war is more focused on undermining it at its source, consider making ‘My Promise to Children’ and nisteling, whenever appropriate, to children too. See ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening’.

This will mean that any children in your life are supported, at least by you, to become self-loving and powerful individuals who are immune to the seductions and indoctrination of those who advocate and make war while developing the capacity to pursue life-enhancing behavioral options when dealing with conflict.

If parenting children in this manner feels beyond you, consider allowing yourself the time to heal from the violence that you have suffered throughout your life. See ‘Putting Feelings First.’  And don’t forget: while depending on our psychological dysfunctionality to accept, finance and conduct war as a means of dealing with conflict, at its most mundane level, war is a conflict over resources, particularly fossil fuels, strategic minerals and fresh water, and it is our consumption of these, in all of those products (such as meat and cars) and services (like airline flights) that we buy, that fuels the wars conducted in our name while also destroying the biosphere in various other ways. (If you want to understand the psychological origin of this obsession with material goods, see ‘Love Denied: The Psychology of Materialism, Violence and War‘.) In short, there is no point deluding ourselves that we can subvert this violent world order without substantially reducing our consumption on all fronts.

So another way you can have strategic impact in undermining the institution of war (and capitalism), while slowing destruction of the biosphere, is to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth.’ The Flame Tree Project outlines a simple plan for people to progressively reduce their consumption, by at least 80%, involving both energy and resources of every kind – water, household energy, transport fuels, metals, meat, paper and plastic – while dramatically expanding their individual and community self-reliance in 16 areas.

You might also be interested in signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ where the names of many people who are working to end war (and other violence) are already listed.

Ending war is not impossible. Far from it, in fact. But it is going to take a phenomenal amount of intelligent strategic effort, courage and commitment.

The Psychology of Fascism

The continuing rise of fascism around the world is drawing increasing attention particularly as it takes firmer grip within national societies long seen to have rejected it.

Some recent studies have reminded us of the characteristics of fascist movements and individuals, particularly as they manifest among politically active fascists. For example, in his recent book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us And Them Professor Jason Stanley has identified ten characteristics shared by fascists which have been simply presented in the article ‘Prof Sees Fascism Creeping In U.S.’

These characteristics, readily evident in the USA, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and elsewhere today, include belief in a mythic (false) past, propaganda to divert attention and blame from the true source of corruption, anti-intellectualism and a belief in the ‘common man’ while deriding ‘women and racial and sexual minorities who seek basic equality as, in fact, seeking political and cultural domination’, promotion of elite dogma at the expense of any competing ideas (such as those in relation to freedom and equality), portrayal of the elite and its agents as victims, reliance on delusion rather than fact to justify their pursuit of power, the use of law and order ‘not to punish actual criminals, but to criminalize “out groups” like racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities’ which is why we are now ‘seeing criminality being written into immigration status’, and identification of “out groups” as lazy while attacking welfare systems and labor organizers, and promoting the idea that elites and their agents are hard working while exploited groups are lazy and a drain on the state.

In an earlier article ‘Fascism Anyone?’, published in the Spring 2003 issue of Free Inquiry Magazine, Professor Laurence W. Britt identified fourteen shared threads that link fascists. These include powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism, disdain for the importance of human rights, identification of enemies/scapegoats (such as communists, socialists, liberals, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals and ‘terrorists’) as a unifying cause, obsession with national security and avid identification with the military, sexism, a controlled/compliant mass media that promotes the elite agenda, a manufactured perception that opposing the power elite is tantamount to an attack on religion, corporate power protected by the political elite while the power of labor is suppressed or eliminated, disdain for intellectuals and the arts, expanded police power and prison populations in response to an obsession with the crime and punishment of ordinary citizens (while elite crimes are protected by a compliant judiciary), rampant cronyism and corruption, and fraudulent elections defended by a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

Offering a more straightforward characterization of fascism in the US context, which also highlights its violence more explicitly than the characterizations above, the eminent Norwegian peace research scholar Professor Johan Galtung explains it thus:

US Fascism? Yes, indeed; if by fascism we mean use of massive violence for political goals. US fascism takes three forms: global with bombing, droning and sniping all over; domestic with military weapons used across race and class faultlines; and then NSA-National Security Agency spying on everybody.

Among other recent commentaries, one draws attention to a recent fascist gathering in the USA, another to the ways in which fascism, under various names, is being effectively spread and another warns of focusing too narrowly on one issue and missing the wider threat that fascism poses.

In any case, for those paying attention to what is happening in places like the United States, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and elsewhere, it is easy to see that the rush to embrace fascism is accelerating.

But why? Surely, in this ‘enlightened’ age, notions such as freedom, democracy, human rights and equality are deeply embedded in our collective psyche, particularly in the West. We believe that elections should be, and are, ‘free and fair’ and not determined by corporate donations; we believe that the judiciary is independent of political and corporate influence. But are they?

Well, in fact, the evidence offered by the casual observation of events in the places mentioned above, as well as elsewhere around the world, tells us that none of this is any longer, if it ever was, the case. Let me explain why.

Fascism is a political label but, like any such label, it has a psychological foundation. That is, the political behavior of those who are fascists can be explained by understanding their psychology. Of course, all behavior can be explained by psychology but I will focus on the psychology of fascist behavior here.

There have been attempts to understand and explain the psychology of fascism, starting with the early work of Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism. So what is the psychology of individuals who are fascists?

You might not be surprised to read that the psychology of fascists is complex and is a direct outcome of the nature of the extraordinary violence to which they were subjected as children.

The Psychology of Fascists

Let me briefly identify the psychological profile of fascists and the specific violence (‘visible’, ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’) that generates a person with this psychology. For a thorough explanation and elaboration of this profile, and explanations of the terms ‘visible’, ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence, see ‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

First, fascists are terrified and they are particularly terrified of those individuals who perpetrated violence against them when they were a child although this terror remains unconscious to them. Second, this terror is so extreme that fascists are too terrified to consciously identify to themselves their own perpetrator (one or both parents and/or other significant adults who were supposed to love them) and to say that it is this individual or individuals who are violent and wrong.

Third, because they are terrified, they are unable to defend themselves against the original perpetrator(s) but also, as a result, they are unable to defend themselves against other perpetrators who attack them later in life. This lack of capacity to defend themselves leads to the fourth and fifth attributes – a deep sense of powerlessness and a deep sense of self-hatred. However, it is too terrifying and painful for the individual to be consciously aware of any of these feelings/attributes.

Sixth, because they are terrified of identifying that they are the victim of the violence of their own parents (and/or other significant adults from their childhood) and that this violence terrified them, fascists unconsciously delude themselves about the identity of their own perpetrator. They will unconsciously identify their ‘perpetrator’ as one or more individuals of whom they are not actually afraid from an existing ‘legitimized victim’ group such as children or people from a different gender, race, religion or class. This is also because their unconscious terror and self-hatred compels them to project onto people who are ‘controllable’ (because their original perpetrators never were). For this reason, their victims are (unconsciously) carefully chosen and are always relatively powerless by comparison.

This is easy to do because, seventh, children who become fascists have been terrorized into accepting a very narrow-minded and dogmatic belief set that excludes consideration of those in other social (including gender, racial, religious or class) groups. The idea that they might open-mindedly consider other beliefs, or the rights of those not in the ‘in-group’, is (unconsciously) terrifying to them. Moreover, because they have been terrorized into adopting their rigid belief set, fascists develop an intense fear of the truth; hence, fascists are both bigoted and self-righteous. In addition, the belief set of fascists includes a powerful and violently reinforced ‘lesson’: ‘good’ means obedient; it does not mean intrinsically good, loving and caring.

Eighth, and as a result of all of the above, fascists learn to unconsciously project their self-hatred, one outcome of their own victimhood, as hatred for those in the ‘out-groups’. This ‘justifies’ their (violent) behavior and obscures their unconscious motivation: to remain unaware of their own suppressed terror and self-hatred.

Ninth, fascists have a compulsion to be violent; that is, they are addicted to it. Why? Because the act of violence allows them to explosively release the suppressed feelings (usually some combination of fear, terror, pain, anger and powerlessness) so that they experience a brief sensation of delusional ‘relief’. Because the ‘relief’ is both brief and delusional, they are condemned to repeat their violence endlessly.

But the compulsion to be violent is reinforced by another element in their belief set, the tenth characteristic: fascists have a delusional belief in the effectiveness and morality of violence; they have no capacity to perceive its dysfunctionality and immorality.

And eleventh, the extreme social terrorization experience to which fascists have been subjected means that the feelings of love, compassion, empathy and sympathy, as well as the mental function of conscience, are prevented from developing. Devoid of conscience and these feelings, fascists can inflict violence on others, including their own children, without experiencing the feedback that conscience and these feelings would provide.

What Can We Do?

There is no simple formula for healing the badly damaged psychology of a fascist (or those who occupy a proximate ‘political space’ such as conservatives who advocate violence): it takes years of violent parental and adult treatment to create a fascist and so the path to heal one is long and painful, assuming the support for the individual to do so is available. Nevertheless, fascists can heal from the terror and self-hatred that underpin their psychology.  And they can be assisted to heal by someone who is skilled in the art of deep listening.

Unfortunately, given their cowardice, fascists are unlikely to have the courage to seek the appropriate emotional support to heal. In the meantime, those of us so inclined must resist their violence and, ideally, this should be done strategically, particularly if we want impact against fascist national leaders.

The good news is that we can avoid creating fascists. If you want to nurture a child so that they become compassionate and caring, live by their conscience and act with morality and courage in all circumstances, including when resisting fascists, then consider making My Promise to Children.

You might also consider joining the worldwide movement to end all violence, fascist or otherwise, by signing the online pledge of  ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.

In essence: Fascists are terrified, full of self-hatred and powerless. But, too scared to feel their own terror, self-hatred and powerlessness, they unconsciously project this as fear of, and hatred for, the people in one or more ‘legitimized victim’ groups, including their own children (thus creating the next generation of fascists). They then try to ‘feel powerful’ by seeking violent control over these people themselves or by seeking to have violent control exercised over these people by various ‘authorities’, ranging from school teachers and religious figures to the police, military and various corporate and government agencies.

No matter how much control they have over others, however, it is impossible to control their own terror, self-hatred and powerlessness. So they are unconsciously and endlessly driven to seek (delusional) ‘relief’ by violently controlling those in legitimized victim groups. It is because their own children are the most immediately available ‘uncontrollable’ target that fascism is readily perpetuated.

Resisting Illegitimate Authority in the Era of Trump

In the current era of Trump, much of American society finds itself frustrated, angry, and traumatized by an authoritarian president whose leadership is being perceived increasingly as illegitimate. Oddly, a large reason for Trump’s success in getting elected in the first place as well as his continued seemingly inconceivable support is largely due to the illusion that he is anti-authoritarian and will shake things up and create change.

Trump, of course, is no anti-authoritarian. Rather, he is an authoritarian who resists power only when he doesn’t have it. Anti-authoritarians challenge and resist all forms of illegitimate authority. Bruce E. Levine, in his newly released book, Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian, tells us that the traits of an anti-authoritarian include a compulsion to speak out against cruelty and illegitimate authority no matter what the political cost, a willingness to sacrifice one’s own freedom for the cause of freedom, a compulsion for truth-telling, and a repulsion with hypocrisy. In his profiles of several U.S. anti-authoritarians, Levine details how, from Thomas Paine to Ralph Nader, many of them experienced great rejection, marginalization, and suffering for their views.

Trump so often lies, doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and has engaged in so many cruel and hypocritical acts that not only is there an anti-Trump resistance, but Trump may actually be the greatest contributor to this movement. Those anti-authoritarians who are already part of this resistance may find direction, comradery, and support in Levine’s profiles of anti-authoritarians who suffered before us, fighting so many of the same battles.

Levine makes clear that his book is not about Left versus Right or Democrats versus Republicans, but, rather, it is about challenging oppression, coercion, blind submission, and hypocrisy. Such a trove in a time when these factors are rampant is refreshing, indeed.

For quite some time, a powerful allegiance between politicians, Wall Street, and the military industrial complex along with clergy have often provided a means through which dissent in the United States has been silenced. In recent times, mental health professionals have become the new clergy. As Levine states, “By pathologizing and thus depoliticizing malaise, psychiatry helps maintain the status quo, meeting the needs of the ruling power structure” in the same way that police and clergy have controlled the population in times past.

Many who would likely oppose illegitimate authority are increasingly being drugged and outcast as mentally ill at a young age. A label of mental illness and the powerful tranquilizing drugs that tend to accompany these labels, now commonplace among American youth, are powerful means of delegitimizing dissent.

Doctors, along with politicians and military personnel, are historically among the most authoritarian of professionals. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and assuring that resistance and opposition be silenced. A perfect example of this can be seen in the recent expulsion of Peter C Gøtzsche, MD, an internationally respected founder of the Nordic Cochrane Center, a purported independent evaluator of medical research. Gøtzsche, because of his years of opposition and non-compliance, was voted out after his very vocal criticism of the corruption in pharmaceutical company funded research and the falsehoods being spread to the public. His stance not only threatened a lucrative and powerful partnership, he dared to actively challenge the status quo and break rules. Doctors, particularly psychiatrists and psychologists, have also been a central force in genocide, as defined by the United Nations, both during Nazi Germany as well as within the United States, especially with respect to Native Americans, past and present.

Levine notes: “Today, a potentially huge army of young anti-authoritarians are being depoliticized by mental illness diagnoses and by the attributions that their inattention, anxiety, depression, and disruptiveness are caused by defective biochemistry—and not by their alienation from a dehumanizing society and their resistance to illegitimate authorities.”

In addition, children are being indoctrinated through the school system to blindly obey and never think independently, lest one be labeled a troublemaker or worse. Levine describes how the educational system has directly contributed to our difficulty in assembling and effectively being able to fight back against an authoritarian regime.

A century ago, when only 6% of Americans graduated high school, Populists had power to form cooperatives and politically astute organized resistance, effectively challenging corporations and politicians. Now that 85% of Americans graduate high school, little organized resistance exists beyond symbolic marches that affect little to no change whatsoever. People who don’t eventually conform and submit are considered “behavioral problems” or “oppositional,” and few are willing to embrace such accusations, even as children.

As Paul Krugman notes in “Why it Can Happen Here,” the death of democracy is a very real possibility in America. And, our education and mental health systems are almost guaranteeing it, as the more we drug, diagnose, and indoctrinate our children, the less likely anybody will have the will, capacity, or awareness to resist authority.

In examining the history of those who have sacrificed much in the name of justice, Levine provides us all many warnings, while also imbibing hope. He highlights both the ways in which anti-authoritarians can basically ruin it for us all (i.e., The Ted Kaczynski/Unabomber) as well as providing examples of ways anti-authoritarians foster compassion and peaceful resistance while honing one’s rage into getting things done.

From Malcom X’s rebellion against the oppression of capitalism to Edward Snowden’s exposing how the U.S. government is spying on its people, anti-authoritarians have paved the way for many to have the advantages and civil rights that currently exist. Levine’s Resisting Illegitimate Authority is an anti-authoritarian handbook of sorts. We all need anti-authoritarians who will challenge and overcome illegitimate authority—without them, we will never be the Land of the Free and certainly not the Home of the Brave.

Is Shocking People Revolutionary?

Image from Maria Online

White popular musicians rebelling against appearances

Recently I attended two music concerts in one of our local parks that were billed as a combination of soul, rhythm and blues and blues. The musicians were all white.

I am not going to argue that white people playing this kind of music is “cultural appropriation” and that they should not play it. There are wonderful white musicians historically and contemporarily who have played in all these musical forms. What I am more interested in is the appearance of the band members. Historically, music, like all the arts originally came out of sympathetic magical practices. In preparation for a magical ritual, the participants had clothing made for them or they made the clothes themselves. In addition, each participant had a very specific role. The ritual was intended to draw a line in the sand and say “what is going on here is beyond everyday life and we have to look and dress accordingly.”

In western religion, singing in church was and is accompanied by a choir who had roles to play and dressed according to their role so they distinguished themselves from their audience. Historically, when black musicians began to play secular music, they continued to carry forward the same things they did in church. They dressed for the occasion. Their dance moves and the outfits were choreographed with the background singers dressed in the same color. The lead singer would be dressed in a color that might be analogous or complimentary to the background singers. If any of you remember the Temptations, the Miracles, or Gladys Knight and the Pips you know what I am talking about. In the 50’s and the early 60’s the white Rock ‘n’ Rollers also dressed up for their performances: the groups Danny and the Juniors, Dion and the Belmonts both did this.

But somewhere in the late 1960’s white rock bands decided that dressing up for performances was somehow giving ground to the Establishment. So, the band members began to wear any old clothes: tee shirts, jeans, sneakers, anything that would level their relationship to the audience. In addition, each band member dressed in a way that was not coordinated with what the other band members were wearing. They made an extra effort to tell the audience, and especially whom they deemed the authorities, that they didn’t give a fuck about clothes or roles. However, the band still had to play roles, because, of course, they were specialists in what instruments they played. But as much as they could, they were rebelling against the concept of taking appearances seriously. I cannot track what has become of popular music since then because, frankly, I lost interest in the kind of music that was being played. But if my recent experience in the park is any indicator, there are at least some white musicians who operate with this same code of appearance fifty years later.

I am not trained as a musical critic but I spent three years working in music stores in Times Square in New York City and this job required you to become familiar with different types of music. In addition, many musicians came to our store and gave us tickets to the Apollo theater in uptown Manhattan so I’ve seen many musical acts. I was about 20 years old and working in a music store at the time the changes in appearance of the white musicians were taking place.

The western rebellion against appearances in philosophy

The predominant western tradition has been at war with the value of appearances for most of 2,500 years. Plato characterized appearances as deceptive, shallow, temporary and lacking of substance, while reality was true, deep and eternal. Socrates attacked the Sophists and rhetoric for very similar reasons. Mainstream Christianity, at least in theory, has seen the preoccupation with appearances as a sign of the devil’s work, associated with idolatry. A true Christian got beyond the surface appearances of this world to discover the true source of reality – God – on a transcendental plane. The major philosophers of the west have been hostile to appearances, whether it be Descartes, Kant, Bradley and to a lesser extent, Leibniz, and Hegel. Those who have taken appearances seriously have been few and far between, (Hume, Locke) and the Enlightenment philosophers.

Romantic Rebellion Against The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment and the Renaissance were two intellectual movements that appreciated the magnificence of nature, whether expressed through science or through art. Neither were interested in the above, the beyond, or the transcendental. They made clear distinctions between form and content in art. In terms of clothing, the Enlightenment, while rebelling against of foppishness of aristocratic appearances, still believed in the importance of clothing because they were linked to roles people played. Like those in the Renaissance arts, Enlighteners valued the power of illusion, whether it was in perspective painting or in creating distance between the stage and the audience in their plays.

The romantic rebellion in the early 19th century was a new kind of rebellion against appearances. The importance of a person’s inner essence required that they dispense with roles and appearances in order to get to the essence of the person’s soul. When they did that they were being “sincere”. The romantics were about tearing down boundaries: the boundaries between form and content; picture plane and reality; stage and audience; roles and inner state; the objective world and the subjective world. This boundary trampling characterized modern 20th century music, the symbolists, the Dadaists, the surrealists and the abstract expressionists.

Romanticism and the Early New Left

Beginning in the early1960’s the New Left rebelled against the Old Left in a similar way as the romantics rebelled against the Enlightenment. Identity politics, with the focus on individual experience, replaced class politics; the “subjectivity” of the situationists replaced the economic analysis of capitalism. Infinite diversity replaced unity. By the mid 1970’s to call for unity within diversity was seen in some sense as imperialistic. From the Frankfurt School, to postmodernism, boundaries between disciplines or genders were all signs of the Old World. But to rework the title of James Hillman’s book One Hundred Years of Therapy and the World is Getting Worse, we’ve had One hundred years of Romanticism and Capitalism is Getting worse.

The rebellion against appearances and roles of the musicians in the introduction to this article is part of a larger New Left movement rebellion against the Old Left and a continuation of the romantic rebellion against the Enlightenment. But here is the problem. It is one thing to wear whatever you want if you are content to exist for your entire adult life at a university as a professor or work with a liberal non-profit which prides itself in “diversity”. If all the members of the New Left wanted was some kind of “lifestyle” politics, than there wouldn’t be a problem. But there is a big problem. The New Left socialists are increasingly cut off from mainstream Americans and capitalism is getting worse for 90% of the population.

The New Left and the Shock Value of Appearances

The New Left in the US understands that it must reach sectors of the population that are not on board with its romantic roots. For almost 50 years the New Left has ignored its working class and dismissed them as stupid, bought off, simpletons and Archie Bunkers. What is its strategy? To shock people. So, by the multiplication of half shaved – fluorescent colored hair, body piercings and tattoos along with compulsive black attire, it tells the authorities and mainstream Americans to drop dead. The problem, however, in the case of the working class, is that you are telling the same people you need to make a revolution with to drop dead. It would be naïve to think that working-class people in the United States, at least in their thirties, do not also color their hair, have tattoos and more. However, the working class is also composed of people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who are still working, have the power to stop capitalism with strikes and boycotts, and they don’t particularly like all the New Left garb.

On the one hand New Lefters think appearances are phony and don’t really matter. In true romantic style, what is of substance to them is an inner essence beyond those appearances. But on the other hand, in trying so hard to rebel against traditional appearances they develop a new set of counter cultural appearances that they work very hard to maintain, scrupulously crafting the appearance that “appearances don’t matter”.

The psychology of shock value

As a social psychologist I say the desire to shock people by appearances is not a desire to extend and move people to join in a common project. Rather it is a haughty, in-your-face “we don’t give a shit what you think” stance. I also have suspicions that the people this hostility is really directed at are not as much the general public but the bankers, and other elites (whom they naively imagine are paying attention). Just as likely as a target, this shock therapy of appearances might be directed at their parents. Given the age of the people who are in the business of shocking people, I see this as a developmental issue of people in their late teens or early 20’s. I would be happy to admit I was wrong if I could find a substantial number of people over 40 who continue to dress this way.

You have to meet people where they are if you expect to take them where you want to go

Let me use my own experience as an example. I have been a “full-time” adjunct college teacher for 27 years. I have taught in universities: mainstream and alternative. I’ve taught for the Air Force and the Navy, I’ve taught in prisons and I’ve taught in community colleges. All these students have a great deal of differences in how they expect their teachers to dress. I also have my own agenda about how I prefer to dress. My goal in teaching is to appear in such a way that gives students a sense that I respect the role I am in, and gives them clear messages that the role I am in has something significant to do with what I am wearing.

I have had about 1-½ years of training in figure drawing and color theory based on the Old Masters approach. From studying the Old Masters, I came to appreciate earth colors – yellow ochre, olive green, burnt sienna, burnt umber – and I try to incorporate these colors into how I dress. I also like two-toned shoes, like the old-fashioned wingtips. I also like to wear the caps that were commonly worn in the 30’s by the working class. I also wear colored bandanas which I have been wearing all my adult life. Lastly I have a pirate earring, which I started wearing ten years before other straight men invaded the earring departments in the early 80’s.

So, compared to most college teachers, my appearance is outside the norm. At the same time, I always wear a sports jacket, sweaters and cotton or wool pants. Although I like all these things, I am also aware that that they fulfill the role of a respectable looking teacher. Overall, I’d say I look more like a musician in a soul band than I do a college instructor, but because of the sports jacket, sweaters and pants, I get a pass. I’d say I am unusual enough not to be seen by students as “establishment” but not so “out-there” that students or faculty don’t know what to make of me. My message to students is something like “I have my own life and tastes but still intend to play my role as a teacher.”

Other instructors, especially at community colleges, don’t see it that way. Many of the male teachers go out of their way to look as much like the students as possible so that an outsider cannot easily tell from walking around the campus who is a student and who is a teacher. These teachers keep up with students not only with scraggly beards, colored hair, nose rings, tattoos and earrings, but they sometimes out-do them. I can only guess that it is confusing to students that these same people who act like they are showing solidarity with students, then act like authority figures who discipline them for lateness, absences, missing papers and low grades.

Shocking people is cross-culturally individualist

Cross-cultural research shows that 80% of the world population, mostly outside the U.S and Western Europe, are collectivist. “Collectivism” means that the needs of the group come before the needs of the individual. Collectivists very clearly link up clothing worn to the role that is being played.

The problem for those teachers who are wearing clothes that confuse or deny their role is that the people from other parts of the world who are their students as sojourners studying abroad lose respect for them. I base this on both cross-cultural research and my experience as a college instructor. Secondly, they are likely to put off college students within their own country who are in the military. The military is a very clear collectivist institution within the individualist U.S with the ranks, clothing and roles that goes with it. Lastly, these individualist teachers who are on a “shock mission” are also confusing and turning off first and second-generation students who come from collectivist countries and are immigrants and refugees. If these liberals or socialist teachers think they are “building solidarity” they will be doing so in spite of their appearances.

The dilemma for New Left

Since the middle 50’s when the Socialist and Communist parties were destroyed in Yankeedom, the New Left has existed on the margins of student life and identity politics with little relationship to the working class. Whether they be social democrats or anarchists, if they wish to reach the 60% of the poor and working class, most of whom don’t vote, they must be careful about how far out they go. These are matters of degree. There need to be some concessions in appearance that imagines what these classes think is normal. Appearances have to be sensitive enough so people don’t have to withstand your appearance in order to listen to you.

Conclusion: Appearances as a means – not an end

Talking about socialism and capitalism is easier now than it has been in well over 70 years. So to the New Leftist I say – “Why make these conversations more difficult because people are put off by your appearance?” I am not proposing which part of appearances should be changed. It is not a question of picking a part of identity and saying, “don’t wear this or that”. It is more a question of quantity and intensity of the hair color, body piercings and clothing that matter.

The heart of Christmas is the Christmas tree. The tinsel and the ornaments are subordinate. Past a certain point, if there is too much tinsel and too many bulbs on the tree, the tree becomes lost in the shuffle, or as the Christians might say, the meaning of Christmas is lost. Talking about socialism and creating a new society is like recognizing we are part of the Tree of Life, the tree whose sap produces all the wealth. We must focus on strengthening the tree, not on becoming preoccupied with the decorations. Our appearances must invite people to come and look at the tree of socialism and it must be an invitation for them to stay and get lost in its branches, twigs and leaves. The New Left is mired in tinsel, bulbs, and darkness and this must change if it is to ever join a working class which will mobilize without them.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths

You need to indoctrinate empathy out of people to arrive at extreme capitalist positions.

— Frans de Waal, “An Interview with Frans de Waal,” The Believer, September 1, 2007

My question is prompted by the recent Senate vote (unanimous as far as I can determine) for a $38-billion, ten year military aid package to Israel, the single largest in U.S. history, but it’s something I’ve pondered and written about for decades.

In the Israeli case, the best defense apologists can muster is that our spineless mollusks in Congress would do the right thing but for fear of AIPAC’s swift retaliation. While there is an element of truth here it’s unfair to our invertebrate friends. It conveniently overlooks the fact that in other situations — absent any AIPAC pressure — Congress assiduously avoids “doing the right thing.” Instead, it directly or indirectly funds brutal and barbarous overt and structural violence across the globe, a veritable galaxy of moral blind spots.

Hence my question: Are we, almost across the board, governed by psychopaths? Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not suggesting our rulers lack a conscience or any vestige of empathy. The situation is both more nuanced and more dangerous. We’re not talking about primary psychopaths like Jeffrey Daumer and Ted Bundy or fictitious murderers like “Dexter” or Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs. We need to set aside those individuals who are empathy-impaired as a result of damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex and those born with abnormal brain chemistry.

Our focus should be on the powerful people who’ve allowed their biologically inherited empathy trait to atrophy, to be self-anesthetized in order to pursue their ambitions within the rules of the game. This “bracketing” is required by the capitalist system’s priority on accumulation, the milieu within which its “logic” dictates being highly selective about whom compassion is to be directed. Jon Ronson, an expert on psychopaths, is convinced that “the way capitalism is structured really is a physical manifestation of the brain anomaly known as psychopathy.” In his research, Ronson discovered that many traits found on the psychopath checklist are, in fact, positives for non-murderous psychopaths. Why? Because these traits render distinct advantages in achieving success in the highest ranks of politics, business and the military.

For example, on a given morning a member of Congress might present a public face of compassion as she sincerely scolds public officials who kidnap refugee children from their parents. Then, in the afternoon, she votes for U.S. military policies that terminally (as in dead) separate other children from their parents in Palestine, Afghanistan or Yemen. That evening, she embraces her partner, plays fetch with the family dog, reads bedtime stories to the kids and sleeps soundly, feelings of rectitude intact. This compartmentalization of morals classifies her, for lack of a better term, as a “secondary psychopath.”1

This behavior is determined by a culture which the same powerful people have helped to shape and, in turn, rely on to legitimate their actions. Little wonder these individuals not only don’t feel remorse for the victims, especially those far from our borders, but don’t even see them as victims. If seen at all, they are the necessary collateral damage required to perpetuate the system.
We have reached the point where, as Erich Fromm once observed, when operating within an insane society, the only healthy members are viewed as “maladjusted.”

If there is some merit to this argument we are far beyond just weeding out a few moral monsters on Election Day. But neither are we without hope or alternatives. Political struggles against empathy-numbing neoliberal ideology and the economic system it serves can create conditions that enhance the flourishing of empathy and love, the foundation for our better selves.

  1. See Martha Stought, The Sociopath Next Door (New York: Broadway Books), 2005.

Drawing Straws: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for an American to understand the truth

In a sense, blowback is simply another way of saying that a nation reaps what it sows. Although people usually know what they have sown, our national experience of blowback is seldom imagined in such terms because so much of what the managers of the American empire have sown has been kept secret.

It is time to realize, however, that the real dangers to America today come not from the newly rich people of East Asia but from our own ideological rigidity, our deep-seated belief in our own propaganda.

― Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, Second Edition: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

There are no more leaps of faith, or get out of jail cards left anymore.

The first casualty of war is truth.

Lofty heights of defining the first amendment are just overlooks onto the crumbling mythology of a democracy, where the people – citizens — vote for laws directly. We have a republic, a faulty one, the source of which is the power derived from billionaires, financiers, arms merchants, K-Streeters and the attendant moles allowing the government to break every charter of human concern.

So, in that regard, we in this corptocracy have the right to be fooled every minute, suckered to not know a goddamned thing about democracy in big quotes.

The very concept of manufactured consent and a controlled opposition destroys much of the power of agency and so-called freedom of assembly, association and travel.

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

― Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.

― Vladimir Lenin

But, alas, we have blokes who see the world not as a black and white dichotomous illusion of the for v. against bifurcation, but a world of flowing back to what words should mean, a world that allows the filters to be smashed like high polished glass and instead deploying a magnifying glass to point toward the very source of the blasphemies and strong arm robberies that have been occurring in the Republic the very first moment the beaver hat was put on and the first treaty scripted by the powdered wigs of Washingtonian Fathers and broken, ripped to shreds, seeded with the dark force that is the white race.

Here comes Tools for Transparency into the mix of triage to uphold the declaration of independence, and the few tenets of the constitution that are supremely directed to we-by-for-because of the people, AND not the corporation, monopoly, Military-Retail-Finance-Ag-Energy-Pharma-Prison-Medical-Toxins-IT-Surveillance-Legal Complex. This project is the brainchild of a former Marine who “came to life late in the world” of pure skepticism about the powers that be and his own questioning of the motivations and machinations of his government and political representatives. Sometimes it’s hard to don and doff the uniform of a trained/manipulated/choregraphed killer and make any sense of the orders belted out and campaigns designed with no benefit to the invaded peoples other than the demented good (bad) for that gluttonous octopus parasite called capitalism as it entangles its tentacles on each invaded country’s birthright, history, natural resources, land and people through the power of the high explosives bomb and the usury bond.

“Heck, before starting this project, I didn’t even know we had 535 representatives in Congress,” states Brian Hanson.

So goes the beginning of this start up, Tools for Transparency, an on-line clearing house for what Hanson hopes will be a light shed onto all the backroom dealings we as consumers of news just aren’t privy to. Or that’s at least what Brian Hanson is shooting for in this atmosphere of “fake” news, “really fake” news, “non” news, “no” news, “distracting” news “manufactured” news, “rabbit hole” news, “lies are truths” news, or newspeak.

The Beaverton, Oregon, resident is the father of this platform which is still in its infancy, as the former Marine throws his all into the project.

The 37-year-old Hanson is a Pacific Northwest product, having dropped out of traditional high school and landing up in an alternative high school where the instructors were outside the box. He recalls reading Shakespeare, doing two weeks of study on the Nez Perce peoples, and a class report on the Battle of Wounded Knee. With gusto, he told me that his class made a video of the trail of tears and presented it to the local Shriners.

For this father of a special needs daughter, he easily lets roll off his tongue, “black sheep,” both an emblematic moniker and symbolic of his travails, having stuck with him throughout his life, from high school, to the Marines (“where I learned to get responsible”) to today: divorced, single dad, precarious income stream. On top of that, he’s living in his elderly parents’ garage/converted small studio apartment.

After the Marines, where he specialized in communications, and field wiring, he worked on a community college degree, eventually ending up with a BA from Portland State University in psychology.

The disciplines of cognitive behavior therapy and behavior analysis “got to me” first in college, initially through the inspiring teaching of a San Bernardino community college instructor who helped the young Hanson stick it out after Hanson smashed up bones in a motorcycle accident: a spill that caused him to miss half the classes. This faculty member went the extra mile, Hanson says, allowing him to do outside work and test make-ups.

I was fresh out of the military and had no idea what I was doing. This professor missed dinners with his family, missed his kids’ recitals, to allow me to make up tests. . . . I’ve been a lifelong feminist because of this man, who instructed me on his own philosophy tied to feminism. I never had a male role model like that before.

Hanson kicked around, came back to Beaverton, worked with developmental disabled youth and then foster youth, where I met him when we were both case managers for 16-to 21-year-old foster youth.

We talk a lot about consumable information, as Hanson explains his gambit with his new information web company. It’s an age-old conundrum, what George Lakoff puts down as narrative framing. That was a big issue in the Bush Junior (W) election cycle, how born-with-a-silver-spoon George W had snookered Joe Six-Pack and NASCAR country with his Yale education, dicey National Air Guard record and Bush’s rich charmed life, getting a professional baseball team (Texas Rangers) as part of the family bargain.

The illustration is dramatic to both Hanson and myself, as we talked about Mad Men, the Edward Bernays and Milton Friedman schools of propaganda, framing stories (lies) and setting out to paint good people as bad, heroic politicians like Salvador Allende of Chile as Commie Baby Killers. Even now, Bush, the instigator of chaos in the Middle East, with all the cooked up lies and distractions of his own stupidity (like Trump), and, bam, W is reclaimed (in the mainstream mush media) as something of a good president, and especially by the likes of the Democratic Party misleadership. Bush, millionaire, entitled, crude, racist, and, bam again, we have dirt poor kids from Appalachia or Akron joining up through the economic draft of standing down the armies of burger flippers to fight illegal wars, and then to come home creaking decrepit shells of their old young selves to fight for oil and geopolitical checkmate brinkmanship of the World Bank and Goldman Sachs order. Here we have an old Connecticut political family, from Prescott Bush, putting the grandson out on tens of thousands of acres of scrub brush near Waco, Texas, with 4×4 hefty pick-up trucks and chainsaws (George is deathly afraid of horses), and we’re all good to call him a man’s man, roughing it West Texas.

Honest George or Rough-rider Teddy or Ahh Shucks Reagan, Yes We Can/Si Se Puede Obama, One Thousand Points of Light Bush Sr., Make America Great Again Trump — the news isn’t the news, and patriotism is the graveyard of scoundrels and their bromides.

A huge turning point for Brian was this last election cycle, with Trump getting guffaws and trounced in the court of public opinion as a wimp, liar, cheat, misogamist, racist, buffoon, narcissist, from people all over the political spectrum, during the beginning of the election cycle. But then once Trump got in, family feuds and friendship breaks occurred: “How was it that this relationship I had with a male buddy, a true friend, going on 27 years, just gets dumped because I was questioning Trump as a viable candidate and questioning his integrity?”

The age-old battle – turning blue in the face trying to explain to a friend, or anyone, that candidate x is this and that, based on the historical record. In Trump’s case, there is a long written, legal, quotable/citable record of this guy’s dirty dealings, bad business decisions, his lechery, racism, sexism, blatant unmitigated arrogance, criminality. For Hanson, it’s a no-brainer that anyone in their right mind might question Trump’s validity and viable character when he threw his toupee into the ring.

A great friend just dropped Brian. Took him off social media, stopped socializing, screen to black, and this broken friendship was racing through Hanson’s mind because of the new normal: the targeted toxicity of social media feeds, and the social and psychological conditioning which this huge chasm between red state/blue state ideology has meted out to an already bifurcated flagging American consumerist society.

Even having a respectable, clean and thorough debate about Trump is almost impossible, Hanson said while we talked over beers at the Yukon Bar in Sellwood. This huge cultural divide exists as far as individuals’ skills sets and critical thinking skills. The more technical the stuff like climate change or the deep state military industrial complex, people’s world views get challenged. They just don’t have the tools to dig deep into a bill passed (and endorsed) by their local representatives.

Again, “consumable” as a tool to enlightenment or at least knowledge comes up in our conversation, and Hanson has done the following thought experiment literally hundreds of times – “I hear an opinion in the news – FOX, MSNBC, the Young Turks – and I can spend four hours digging up truths, and how that opinion got to us.” What he’s found is the consumable stuff the typical news consumer gets is absolutely counter to the reality of that news’ origins, facts and context.

His Tools for Transparency cuts through the opinion, and as he proposes, makes the world news and the even more Byzantine and elaborate proposed legislation and lobbying groups behind “the news” approachable, again, consumable.

He taps into his college days taking courses in industrial organizational psychology, seemingly benign when the American Psychological Association gets to mash the term into a three-fold brochure by defining it for prospective students as business as usual for corporations, and humanity is better because of this sort of manipulative psychology, but . . .

In reality, it’s the science of behavior in the workplace, organizational development, attitudes, career development, decision theory, human performance, human factors, consumer behavior, small group theory and process, criterion theory and development and job and task analysis and individual assessment. It’s a set of tools to keep workers down spiritually and organizationally, disconnected, fearful, confused and ineffectual as thinkers and resisters, and inept at countering the abuse of power companies or bureaucracies wield over a misinformed workforce.

The shape of corporations’ unethical behavior, their sociopathic and the draconian workplace conditions today are largely sculpted and defined by these behavior shapers to include the marketers and the Edward Bernays-inspired manipulators of facts and brain functioning. This begs the question for Hanson, just what are today’s hierarchy of needs for the average American? Physiological; Safety; Love/Belonging; Esteem; Self-Actualization.

Of course, Maslow added human’s innate drive toward curiosity. Ironically, the lower scaffolds of the pyramid are deemed primitive – eating, sleeping, drinking, as are the safety needs and social needs such as friendship and sexual intimacy. In one sense, we see it played out – one cannot philosophize on an empty stomach and for Aristotle, his observation is prescient – ‘all paid work absorbs and degrades the mind.’

Hanson and I talk about the existential threats of climate change, terrorists, war, and our own mortality. We are in that hyper-speed moment in history when technology changes at breakneck speed, and disruptive technologies’ create disruptive economies which in turn give us disruptive communities.

We are avoiding the inevitability of collapse, peak oil, peak everything, so we construct comforting (read: dopamine-triggering and sedating) realities, tied to bourgeois values, consumeristic habits, customs, degraded culture, moral codes that are antithetical to our own agency, and, then, religious fervor.

Hanson states:

How do they get us to take actions against our beliefs? This conditioning now is based on not just ‘buy my product’ to attain unattainable standards. Today, we, as a society, are terrified if we can’t attain that level of status or standard,

Hanson’s singular (one of several) bottom lines is that his Tools for Transparency has to find a way to be consumable, and a second one Hanson repeats posits the solutions to our problems have to be profitable: “How can he create a market for alternative information profitable?”

Tools for Transparency uses the platform Patreon, founded five years ago as a platform that allows patrons to pay a set amount of money every time an artist creates a work of art. Hanson’s web site and service, then depends on loyalty, fee-paying patrons.

The result thus far for Hanson is nascent, but growing. I asked him how his daily routine tied to this dream can be synthesized in a nutshell:

My daily routine is actually starting to wrap up at this point, it has never been very consistent as a single start-up founder anyways. For the most part my site is not sophisticated enough to continue in perpetuity yet. Too many requirements for data and input that cannot be done on a static basis. So I am mostly working on a static prototype I can display, build an audience with.

For the most part I have been diving headfirst into legislative bulk data sets. Making connections between publications, finding creative ways to link (intentionally I think) differently formatted data together. Working to construct cohesive and understandable information. When I get tired of staring at data sheets, I will work to develop relationships with business people, work on marketing techniques, reaching out to colleges and programs, learning about business development, corporate securities, federal regulations pertaining to my business, or some general outreach (mostly family right now, you’re the first real contact outside my main family I am working with). There really isn’t anything routine about what I am doing, because it is mostly just me and a single developer friend working on the site.

We talked about other issues tied the militarization of society, and I posed some long-winded questions cut and pasted below:

1. What makes what you are doing relevant to the click bait/screen addicted generation?

2. You say you were terrified for the lives of the family members, the country. Blacks and Hispanics tell me that finally, the whites get what we have been experiencing for decades, since the beginning of the country. Speak to that reality. This has been and is a white supremacist country, and with that operating procedure/system, poor people, disenfranchised people, people of color especially, are on the chopping block for those white elitists and the militarized mentality of law enforcement and even our daily lives as a renter class.

He and I talk much about Black Lives Matter, and why this new movement is relevant in 2018 as it would have been in 1950 USA or 1850 America.

And I do not for a second believe it has ever not been exactly this way. Every regime has to have a solider class that it uses to enforce the social hierarchy. And the solider class is always expected to use violence to enforce ideology. The threats are always transient, ever shifting, but the response is doggedly the same. Authoritarianism flourishes in this environment, we sacrifice freedoms for security, and our world shrinks a little more.

Brian believes there is an awakening today in this country, and that the examples of movements such as those in Portland where youth are out yelling against the police state, and then how we are seeing individual officers returning firing with violence against those youth:

The viral video of an officer drawing his pistol on a group of school age children is terrifying.

We talk a lot about the devaluing of language and intentional discourse which includes the abilities of a society to engage in lively and cogent debate. For me, I know the forces of propaganda are multi-headed, multi-variant, with so much of American life seeded with lies, half-truths, duplicitous and twisted concepts, as well as inaccurate and spin-doctored history, which has contaminated a large portion of our society, up and down the economic ladder, with mind control.

Unfortunately, our language now is inextricably tied to emotions, as we see leftists (what’s that?) and so-called progressives screaming at the top of their lungs how Trump is the worst president ever. Black so-called activists, journalists, stating how the empire (sky) is falling because Trump talked with Putin. Imagine, imagine, all those millions upon millions of people killed because of all the other presidents’ and their thugs’ policies eviscerating societies, all those elections smeared, all those democracies mauled, all those citizens in the other part of the world hobbled by America’s policies, read “wars, occupations, embargoes, structural violence.” It is a daily reminder for us all that today, as was true yesterday, that we are ruled by masters of self-deception and our collective society having a feel good party every day while we plunder the world. Doublethink. Here:

Orwell’s point:

To tell deliberate lives while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Herein lies the problem – vaunting past presidents on pedestals while attacking this current deplorable, Donald Trump. The reality is the US has been run by an elite group of militarists, and by no means is Trump the worst of the worst, which is both illogical and unsupported by facts:

Yet, we have to mark the words and wisdom of those of us who have been marking this empire’s crimes, both internal and external, for years. Here, Paul Edwards over at Counterpunch hits a bulls-eye on the heart of the matter:

After decades of proven bald-faced crime, deceit and the dirtiest pool at home and abroad, the CIA, FBI, NSA, the Justice Department and the whole fetid nomenklatura of sociopathic rats, are portrayed as white knights of virtue dispensing verity as holy writ. And “progressives” buy it.

These are the vermin that gave us Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Chile, the Contras, Iraq’s WMD, and along the way managed to miss the falls of the Shah and Communism.

Truly an Orwellian clusterfuck, this. War Party Dems misleading naive liberal souls sickened by Trump into embracing the dirty, vicious lunacy Hillary peddled to her fans, the bankers, brokers, and CEOs of the War Machine.

Trump is a fool who may yet blunder us into war; the Dems and the Deep State cabal would give us war by design.

In an innocent way, Brian Hanson is hoping to dig into that “objective reality,” with his Tools for Transparency. He might be unconsciously adhering to Mark Twain’s admonition: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Maybe Tools for Transparency will get under the onion peels of deceit, a consumeristic and kleptocratic debt-ridden society to expose those culprits’ origins – where or where and how and why did something like the Flint, Michigan, poisoning of people’s water happen? Who signed off? How did it, the deceit (felonies), weave its way through a supposedly checked and triple-checked “democracy”?

As we parted from a free jazz concert in Portland, he has some pointed words for me: “I will keep working on you Paul to get some hope about society, about the world. I’m going to keep on you.”

The Sexual Passion of Winston Smith

Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.
— Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
— D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

The so-called consumer society and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form.  The need for possessing, consuming, handling and constantly renewing gadgets, devices, instruments, engines, offered to and imposed upon the people, for using these wares even at the danger of one’s own destruction, has become a ‘biological’ need.

— Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man

There is a vast literature analyzing the political prophecy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Big Brother, double-speak, telescreens, crimestop, etc. – all applied to our current political situation.  The language has become part of our popular lexicon, and as such, has become clichéd through overuse.  Blithe, habitual use of language robs it of its power to crack open the safe that hides the realities of life.

There is no doubt that Orwell wrote a brilliant political warning about the methods of totalitarian control.  But hidden at the heart of the book is another lesson lost on most readers and commentators.  Rats, torture, and Newspeak resonate with people fixated on political repression, which is a major concern, of course.  But so too is privacy and sexual passion in a country of group-think and group-do, where “Big Brother” poisons you in the crib and the entertainment culture then takes over to desexualize intimacy by selling it as another public commodity.

The United States is a pornographic society.  By pornographic I do not just mean the omnipresent selling of exploitative sex through all media to titillate a voyeuristic public living in the unreality of screen “life” and screen sex through television, movies, and online obsessions.  I mean a commodified consciousness, where everyone and everything is part of a prostitution ring in the deepest sense of pornography’s meaning – for sale, bought.  And consumed by getting, spending, and selling.  Flicked into the net of Big Brother, whose job is to make sure everything fundamentally human and physical is debased and mediated, people become consumers of the unreal and direct experience is discouraged.  The natural world becomes an object to be conquered and used.  Animals are produced in chemical factories to be slaughtered by the billions only to appear bloodless under plastic wrap in supermarket coolers.

The human body disappears into hypnotic spectral images. One’s sex becomes one’s gender as the words are transmogrified and as one looks in the mirror of the looking-glass self and wonders how to identify the one looking back.  Streaming life from Netflix or Facebook becomes life the movie.  The brilliant perverseness of the mediated reality of a screen society – what Guy Debord calls The Society of the Spectacle – is that as it distances people from fundamental reality, it promotes that reality through its screen fantasies.  “Get away from it all and restore yourself at our spa in the rugged mountains where you can hike in pristine woods after yoga and a breakfast of locally sourced eggs and artisanally crafted bread.”  Such garbage would be funny if it weren’t so effective.  Debord writes:

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images….Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.

Thus sex with robots and marrying yourself are not aberrations but logical extensions of a society where solipsism meets machine in the America dream.

As this happens, words and language become corrupted by the same forces that Orwell called Big Brother, whose job is total propaganda and social control.  Just as physical reality now mimics screen reality and thus becomes chimerical, language, through which human beings uncover and articulate the truth of being, becomes more and more abstract.  People don’t die; they “pass on” or “pass away.”  Dying, like real sex, is too physical.  Wars of aggression don’t exist; they are “overseas contingency operations.”  Killing people with drones isn’t killing; it’s “neutralizing them.”  There are a “ton” of examples, but I am sure “you guys” don’t need me to list any more.

Orwell called Big Brother’s language Newspeak, and Hemingway preceded him when he so famously wrote in disgust In a Farewell to Arms, “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice, and the expression in vain….Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene…”  This destruction of language has been going on for a long time, but it’s worth noting that from Hemingway’s WW I through Orwell’s WW II up until today’s endless U.S. wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, etc., there has been the parallel development of screen and media culture, beginning with silent movies through television and on to the total electronic media environment we now inhabit – the surround sound and image bubble of literal abstractions that inhabit us, mentally and physically.  In such a society, to feel what you really feel and not what, in Hemingway’s words, “you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel” has become extremely difficult.

Language, as the Greeks told us, should open up a clearing for the truth (Greek aleitheia, unhiddenness) to emerge so we can grasp the essence of life.  And so it is ironically appropriate that Orwell’s Winston Smith discovers such essence, not in analyzing Crimestop, his tormenter O’Brien, or Doublethink, but “in a natural clearing, a tiny grass knoll surrounded by tall saplings that shut it in completely” where he secretly meets a young woman who had passed him a note saying she loved him.   Away from the prying eyes of Big Brother and his spies, amidst bluebells and a torrent of song from a thrush, they come together almost wordlessly.  “Winston and Julia clung together, fascinated” as the thrush sang madly.  “The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as if the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity…He stopped thinking and merely felt.”  Here the secret lovers affirm their humanity, the truth of sexual intimacy that is the enemy of all abstractions used by the powerful to control and manipulate normal people and to convince them to participate in killing others.  “Almost as swiftly as he had imagined it, she had torn her clothes off, and when she flung them aside it was with that same magnificent gesture by which a whole civilization seemed to be annihilated.”  Reveling in love-making in a free space outside the Party’s control, they felt they had triumphed.

But as we learn in 1984 and should learn in the U.S.A. today, “seemed” is the key word.  Their triumph was temporary.  For sexual passion reveals truths that need to be confirmed in the mind.  In itself, sexual liberation can be easily manipulated, as it has been so effectively in the United States. “Repressive de-sublimation” Herbert Marcuse called it fifty years ago. You allow people to act out their sexual fantasies in commodified ways that can be controlled by the rulers, all the while ruling their minds and potential political rebelliousness. Sex becomes part of the service economy where people service each other while serving their masters.  Use pseudo-sex to sell them a way of life that traps them in an increasingly totalitarian social order that only seems free.  This has been accomplished primarily through screen culture and the concomitant confusion of sexual identity.  Perhaps you have noticed that over the past twenty-five years of growing social and political confusion, we have witnessed an exponential growth in “the electronic life,” the use of psychotropic drugs, and sexual disorientation.  This is no accident.  Wars have become as constant as Eros – the god of love, life, joy, and motion – has been divorced from sex as a stimulus and response release of tension in a “stressed” society.  Rollo May, the great American psychologist, grasped this:

Indeed, we have set sex over against eros, used sex precisely to avoid the anxiety-creating involvements of eros…We are in flight from eros and use sex as the vehicle for the flight…Eros [which includes, but is not limited to, passionate sex] is the center of vitality of a culture – its heart and soul.  And when release of tension takes the place of creative eros, the downfall of the civilization is assured.

Because Julia and Winston cannot permanently escape Oceania, but can only tryst, they succumb to Big Brother’s mind control and betray each other.  Their sexual affair can’t save them.   It is a moment of beauty and freedom in an impossible situation.  Of course, the hermetically sealed world of 1984 is not the United States.  Orwell created a society in which escape was impossible. It is, after all, an admonitory novel – not the real world.  Things are more subtle here; we still have some wiggle room – some – although the underlying truth is the same: the U.S. oligarchy, like “The Party,” “seeks power entirely for its own sake” and “are not interested in the good of others,” all rhetoric to the contrary. Our problem is that too many believe the rhetoric, and those who say they don’t really do at the deepest level.  Fly the flag and play the national anthem and their hearts are aflutter with hope.  Recycle old bromides about the next election when your political enemies will be swept out of office and excitement builds as though you had met the love of your life and all was well with the world.

But understanding the history of public relations, advertising, propaganda, the CIA, the national security apparatus, technology, etc., makes it clear that such hope is baseless. For the propaganda in this country has penetrated far deeper than anyone can imagine, and it has primarily done this through advanced technology and the religion of technique – machines as pure abstractions – that has poisoned not just our minds, but the deepest wellsprings of the body’s truths and the erotic imagination that links us in love to all life on earth.

In “Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley writes:

The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.

We are now faced with the question: Can we escape the forces of propaganda and mind control that run so very deep into American life?  If so, how?  Let’s imagine a way out.

Orwell makes it very clear that language is the key to mind control, as he delineates how Newspeak works. I think he is right.  And mind control also means the control of our bodies, Eros, our sex, our physical connections to all living beings and nature. Today the U.S. is reaching the point where “Oldspeak” – Standard English – has been replaced by Newspeak, and just “fragments of the literature of the past” survive here and there.  This is true for the schooled and unschooled.  In fact, those more trapped by the instrumental logic, disembodied data, and word games of the power elite are those who have gone through the most schooling, the indoctrination offered by the so-called “elite” universities. I suspect that more working-class and poor people still retain some sense of the old language and the fundamental meaning of words, since it is with their sweat and blood that they “earn their living.”  Many of the highly schooled are children of the power elite or those groomed to serve them, who are invited to join in living the life of power and privilege if they swallow their consciences and deaden their imaginations to the suffering their “life-styles” and ideological choices inflict on the rest of the world.

In this world of The New York Times, Harvard, The New Yorker, Martha’s Vineyard, The Washington Post, Wall St., Goldman Sachs, the boardrooms of the ruling corporations, all the corporate media, etc., language has become debased beyond recognition.  Here, as Orwell said of Newspeak, “a heretical thought…should be literally unthinkable, at least as far as thought is dependent on words.  Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express.”  The intelligently orthodox, he adds, must master the art of “doublethink” wherein they hold two contradictory ideas in their minds simultaneously, while accepting both of them.  This is the key trick of logic and language that allows the power elites and their lackeys in the U.S. today to master the art of self-deception and feel good about themselves as they plunder the world.  In this “Party” world, the demonization, degradation, and killing of others is an abstraction; their lives are spectral.  Orwell describes doublethink this way:

To tell deliberate lives while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.  Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.  For by using the word one admits one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

It may sound silly to say, but language, as its etymology tells us, begins with the tongue (Latin, lingua).  And the tongue is a bell, tolling out its meaning.  Indeed, all language springs from the body – is body language. And when language becomes abstract and devoid of blood, it becomes etiolated and unable to convey the truth that is the mystical body of the world.  It becomes a viper’s tongue, dividing the “good” people from the “bad” so the good can eliminate the bad who have become abstractions.

When Winston Smith and Julia hid in the arbor and for once felt free and alive as they fucked – despite its transitoriness – Orwell was suggesting something that his dystopian novel denies is possible: that we can escape our own 1984 in 2018 by returning to fundamentals. Whitman told us that if anything is sacred it is the human body, and he sung “the body electric.”  This is the task of artists: to sing the words that tell the truth the propagandists try to deny.

James Joyce writes in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Welcome, oh life!  I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Perhaps we should add: in the smithy of our souls and bodies.  His fellow Irishman, William Butler Yeats, brings us down to earth with the words:

Now that my ladder’s gone/I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

“Yes, I said. Yes, I will, yes.”