Saturday, December 20, 2014

Uncle Sam On The Couch

In my last post, I described an educational clinic located in a poorer part of a large American city. I described the healthy cooperation between the tutors in the clinic and the children who are being tutored, and the contrast between these kids – all of them from low income families, and many of them immigrants – and many Americans. I want to elaborate on that contrast. Therefore, today's post will not be directly about post-Peak education.

I have described these kids as “technicals”, comparing them to the small, nearly indestructible trucks used by some governments and most separatists in developing countries. Just like the trucks, these kids are tough, simple (but not stupid), and easy to fix. Their toughness and simplicity both arise from the fact that they are not full of their own self-importance, but they know that they have to share the world with others, and that this sharing involves saying “Please” and “Thank you” and waiting their turn for things. I contrasted them with Americans (and many other native-born citizens of the First World) by comparing the “First-Worlders” to BMW's, which are called “the ultimate driving machines,” but which are complicated, expensive to own and fix, and which need constant pampering. It can easily be argued that a person who is complicated, expensive to maintain, and in need of constant pampering is probably affected by a personality disorder. I submit to you that America's public face – the face put forward in American mainstream media, the face worn by the wealthiest Americans and the politicians they own, the face worn by many, even among the poor, who sympathize with the wealthy of this country – is the face of someone with a personality disorder. Being personality-disordered has consequences, both for our interpersonal relations and the relations between this country and nations and peoples external to it.

In discussing personality disorders, I will be referring to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The manual is commonly referred to as the DSM-IV. (The APA has published a new edition, the DSM-V, but I think it waters down some key diagnostic points which are pertinent to this post.) According to the DSM-IV, a personality disorder is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual's culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.” According to Joanna Ashmun, a personality disorder is “a pattern of deviant or abnormal behavior that the person doesn't change even though it causes...trouble with other people...”

What are the marks of America's personality disorder? The DSM-IV describes a disorder characterized by “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy...and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. ...a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love 
  3. believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) 
  4. requires excessive admiration 
  5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations  
  6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends 
  7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others  
  8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her  
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."
These are the characteristics of the narcissistic personality disorder. There is one other key characteristic that is not in this list. This characteristic is called “scapegoating” or “enemy creation,” and it is usually the outcome of narcissistic rage – the inevitable reaction narcissists have toward those who burst the bubble of their false self-image. Bursting that bubble is surprisingly easy – all one has to do is to contradict a narcissist or assert one's right to exist as a human being separate from, and different from the narcissist. M. Scott Peck writes, “A predominant characteristic...of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at any one who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection. Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world's fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others...Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters....The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures.” (Excerpts taken from People of the Lie, as reposted on Reflections on Cultic Christianity.) (Another note: Jon Krakauer also mentions narcissistic rage in his book Under The Banner of Heaven.)

Over the last decade or two, most who have written about NPD have written of the manifestation and effects of narcissism in interpersonal relationships, especially relationships of romance and family. These writers have been like most writers of poetry and songs in Western pop culture who have devoted the majority of their efforts to writing about the ins, outs, ups and downs of romantic love. Yet it should come as no surprise that the techniques needed to write a good love song can be applied with equal skill to writing a good song about almost anything else. In the same way, a great deal can be learned by studying the ways in which clinical narcissism can affect and motivate not only family dynamics, but the culture and policies of nations.

Therefore the next one or two posts will explore the origins of the narcissistic American national identity, and the way this identity has guided American foreign policy, the treatment of marginalized groups within this country's borders, and this country's response to limits – both its own human limits and the limits to growth imposed by resource constraints. I'll also make a few guesses regarding likely responses of this country to upcoming challenges, and what those responses will mean to its citizens. In attempting to describe the public American persona, I must say that there are many Americans – people from every national and ethnic background – who don't act like they're personality-disordered. However, theirs are not the dominant voices in America nowadays. Also, in laying out a roadmap for my next few posts, I am sure that I've given away enough to enable someone else to beat me to the punch with posts of their own on the same subject. Go for it, if you feel so led.

One last thing.  My assessment will not be patriotic or supportive of the current wars this country is fighting.  Therefore, what I say may cause a few readers to spew coffee on their keyboards.  You've been warned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Clinic At The Meeting Place Of Nations

The Meeting Place: The meeting place of nations is now not very far from most Americans. It can be found in most large cities, especially those located on the east and west coasts. There one will find immigrant populations from many nations, many of whom are arriving in the United States with very few material possessions. The narrow-minded among us blame these immigrants for their poverty. But the truth is that many immigrants are coming here because the things that were valuable to them in their homelands – land, freedom, self-determination, and natural resources – are being taken from them by American corporations and American military might in order to maintain a lavish lifestyle for privileged Americans. In their poverty, these immigrant populations are being joined by an increasing number of Americans who have recently been forced out of their privileged positions by people higher up on the ladder of privilege. Poverty is a great integrator.

The Clinic: Over the last year, I became acquainted with some people who like practicing charity. Some might view their passion as a hobby. They are, after all, as passionate about it as other people are about model trains, snowboarding, or restoring classic cars. They, however, look at it as doing what their Boss has commanded.

Their latest charity is something they're doing with their church. Over a year ago, the church encountered a family who live in an apartment complex in one of the low-income parts of the city where the church is located. In the process of befriending this family, the members discovered that the children of this family were not being well served by the school district in which they live. Those who live in the city where this church is located would not be surprised at this fact, in light of the general failure of the city's public school system to educate children of color and immigrants from developing countries. The educational plight of the children of this particular family motivated some of the members of the church to form a team to visit the apartment complex on a weekly basis for scholastic tutoring sessions.

The team uses various on-line free educational resources in their efforts. Most of these resources consist of public-domain PDF books that can be freely copied and distributed. Many of these e-books were created by volunteers associated with Copian (formerly the National Adult Literacy Database), a non-profit agency which was directly funded by the Canadian Government until June of this year. (As an aside, Copian was a truly remarkable group of people, whose members wrote a large number of free math, reading and ESL, and parenting books for immigrants and aboriginal populations in Canada. As I said, they were de-funded this year. And I think the reason they were de-funded is that first, what they were offering for free was really valuable. This was probably perceived as a threat to the potential profits of some rich capitalist. Second, I think that the powers that be may have seen Copian as being a little too successful in lifting marginalized populations through access to education. I think that neoliberal greed from south of the border has now contaminated Canada. Just my suspicion, I suppose. But I digress.)

The Clinicians: They are an interesting lot. The pastor of the church is one of the tutors, and he is well-qualified to teach, not only because he has a master's degree in Divinity, but because he is also a math nerd who likes building his own computers. His cohorts include two people with degrees in technical fields who work in technical design, and one college professor. Yet these are not typical pocket-protector types; one of them freely admits that hanging out with kids is a refreshing change from being stuck with grown-ups all day.

This team has created an educational clinic – a clinic at the meeting place of nations. Their clients consist of children from Asia, Mexico, the African continent, and the United States. The clinic is self-selecting, in the sense that while the clinicians are willing to take anyone who walks in the door, those people who can't stand to be with people who are different from them are not likely to walk in. Thus the clients tend to be more pleasant to work with than many Americans.

The Clients: They truly do seem to be special people. Special in the way that many kids are special: endearingly goofy even when they are not trying to be. Special because they don't “know” that they're special – in other words, they are not constantly full of their own self-importance. Special because, not being full of themselves, they have an accurate understanding of their place in the world, and of the fact that they must share the world with everyone else, and that this sharing involves saying “Please,” and “Thank you,” and waiting one's turn for things. Special in that they spontaneously share things with each other. Special in that they're “easy to fix.”

To illustrate this last point, let me use a metaphor. These kids are “technicals” – that is, tough, simple (but not stupid!), and easy to diagnose. And when they're angry or unhappy, it's possible to quickly get to the root of their problem and provide a solution. In contrast, many upwardly mobile people in this country (along with many who want to pretend to be upwardly mobile) are like a BMW. BMW's are supposed to be the “ultimate driving machine,” yet they are almost never seen in places where they're not likely to be pampered – places like the back roads of a developing country, for instance – because they are complicated and expensive to fix and maintain, as are many Americans and other native-born First World citizens.

These kids are easy to motivate if you offer them munchies as a reward for a night of working hard at learning. (But give 'em something healthy! Not Cheetos and Takis!) The tutors have connected strongly with them. Tutors and students have coalesced into a motivated team. They have also become an example of the sort of arrangements ordinary citizens will have to make in an age of disappearing social safety nets and continued cuts in government services – cuts made by free-market capitalists who have captured governments in order to cannibalize the citizens who are supposed to be served by those governments. When the “government” no longer provides any services except the supply of uniformed men to commit violence in the name of the “government,” the real job of governing falls on ordinary citizens. Those who serve their fellow human beings become the new “government.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What "Boycott" Means To Me

Sometimes it's very easy to start a fire, and sometimes it's very hard.  It can also be hard to channel fire to useful purposes, and sometimes it's hard to know whether your efforts to do so are succeeding.

The #blackoutblackfriday boycott, however, seems to have lit a fire, and it seems to be succeeding.  To me, one evidence of success is the fact that retail sales on Black Friday this year were down 11 percent from last year.  The explanations offered by the pundits for this drop all omit the economic boycott of major retailers by Black Americans who are tired of being harassed by people in this country who want to turn the clock back on human rights.  Because the pundits don't take this into account, their explanations sound rather lame.

Now it seems that my call to extend the boycott through the entire holiday season is catching fire.  A number of other websites are echoing the call.  However, I think some folks may be confused over the meaning of the word "boycott."  I think of one site which urges its followers to do the following:

"Purchase ONLY necessities during the holiday buying season.  "Necessities" include:
  • Day-to-day items needed for grooming and hygiene
  • Gasoline
  • Food that can be cooked or prepped at home
  • Electronic devices vital to businesses and personal communication.
 "Boycott the purchase of non-essential, high price retail items.  These include: ...Entertainment, unless the entertainment has to do with justice (e.g. - has a social commentary as its subject matter.  Hunger Games, yes.  Horrible Bosses 2, no."
 I say "Amen" to limiting purchases solely to "necessities."  But what is "necessary"?  Personal grooming items like soap and toothpaste, yes.  Gasoline, yes.  Food that can be prepared at home (raw meat, uncooked beans, rice, vegetables, etc.), yes.  But electronic devices??  Let's the owner of the aforementioned site, do you see the potential for watering down your proposed "boycott"? 

And what about entertainment?  Of course, we should not consume "light" entertainment this season.  But what could possibly be wrong with Hunger Games - except that the story told in Hunger Games is already being played out in real life in the Greatest Country On Earth, and we don't need a movie to get the point.  That, and one very significant difference between the book and the movie.  (For another example of the same thing, see this.)  And what about the Book of Exodus?  It contains a great deal of social commentary, but why should I support the Hollywood dream-maker machine by watching that movie?  Just about every drama in the theater nowadays can claim to "have social commentary as its subject matter."  Yet they all share the same characteristic: they continue to portray one group of people, and one group only, as genuinely human, while all the other peoples of the earth are either ignored or caricatured.  To go to the movies at all right now is to continue to support Hollywood in its efforts to provide the privileged members of a dysfunctional nation with narcissistic supply for a little while longer.

Meanwhile, in real life, Syrians are being bombed for the "crime" of simply wanting to exist as a people separate from the control of the United States.  This is the same "crime" that was committed by the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Afghans, the people of Ukraine, the people of Vietnam, the Native Americans, and others too numerous to mention.  And in the United States, people of color are still being targeted and framed by police for crimes they did not commit.  "Conscious consumerism" won't stop these things from happening.  The only thing that will is to starve the beast.  I don't feel like watching a movie.  I'm not spending any money for the holidays.  Not one dime!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blackout the Year End - An Update

I have started a new blog, which will run from now until the end of the year.  This blog deals specifically with unjust police violence and murder of people of color in the United States.  The name of the blog is Black Out The Year End, and the address is Black Out The Year End.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blackout the Year End

Here's a condensed and simple version of yesterday's post:

In memory of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and in honor of all the other people of color who were shot to death without cause by police in 2014, please do the following:

  1. Pray for the United States of America, that God would chasten and correct this country for its murder.
  2. Please don't buy anything other than food this holiday season.  Please also avoid all movies and other paid entertainment.
  3. Spread the word!
Thank you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Holiday Season Boycott

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis stated that it is impossible to remedy the fact that one is going in the wrong direction by continuing in the same direction. Repentance consists of turning around and retracing one's steps in order to travel in the right direction.

The United States, a nation founded on oppression and bloodshed from its very beginnings, finally began to come to its senses during the 1960's and 1970's, as a result of massive protests against violations of the civil rights of its oppressed classes, both at home and abroad. But almost from the moment the ink began to dry on the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960's, the holders of concentrated economic and political power and privilege in this country began plotting to tear apart the civil rights gains that were achieved. They began plotting to reverse the U-turn which American society had begun to make. They began plotting during a time of plenty for the nation as a whole, a high point of resource availability and economic power, thus giving the lie to the notion that societies become fascist and oppressive only during times of leanness and economic contraction. They plotted thus and have continued to plot and to act on their plots over a period of more than five decades, thus showing the pathology of their plotting minds.

This week it looks like these plotters have won – among whom are Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, the Bush family, Rupert Murdoch, Charles and David Koch, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Giuliani, Charles Butt (son of Howard E. Butt, the owner of a large supermarket chain) and a whole host of fellow-traveler multimillionaires and billionaires. And the Republican Party is a revived, rampaging beast, seeking to dominate the world in the name of a hypocrisy masquerading as a theocracy. But all hope is not lost. In a post I made last week, my last prediction regarding events in Ferguson, Missouri is that I expected many disenfranchised people in this country to become quite creative in the art of passive rebellion.

And that is just what is happening. Many, not only African-Americans but others as well, sick to death of being oppressed by narcissistic, sociopathic supremacists, have decided to strike back in a way that is both non-violent and perfectly street-legal. Today, many of us are celebrating Blackout Black Friday, a day in which we are boycotting all the sales at retail outlets trying to move commercial trash. Many of us have pledged that we will not spend one dime today. (Disclosure: I am at Starbucks typing this. But that's because over two years ago, I swore off paid Internet service. Once I'm done here, I'm done spending money.)

I hope Blackout Black Friday is a roaring success. However, I think we should extend our boycott to the entire holiday season. And here's what I mean. I know we all need groceries. But let's swear off buying anything other that what is needed for everyday life. Let's forgo buying toys of any kind, whether toys for kids or toys for grown-ups. If your TV breaks between now and New Years, take it as a sign that you should give up watching TV. If your computer breaks between now and New Years, find a used computer or borrow someone else's. If the phone you have now still makes phone calls, don't upgrade it. Trust me, you don't need more consumer electronics. Let those who still drink the Kool-Aid of supremacy take on the burden of trying to save this shopping season. Let's see what happens when they max out their credit cards.

If such a boycott really takes off, expect whining multimillionaires to dominate the airwaves complaining about how we're “hurting the economy” and “depriving people of holiday celebrations.” I have an answer for that also. If you still feel the need to give gifts to people this season, then give food to the hungry. Extend hospitality to the widows, the orphans and the strangers – especially the dark-skinned strangers from foreign countries who have come here because economic and military policies of the United States jacked up their former homelands. A hot meal is always in season.

In short, let's have a holiday season devoid of materialism. For those who are Christians, let us return to a pure celebration of the birth of Christ, and let us remember His concern for the oppressed, laid out in Matthew 25:31-46. For those who are Jewish, remember the God who commands His people to care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger; and remember that God is not a “respecter of persons.” For those who are not religious, remember that you are connected to your fellow man, and that “an injustice against one is an injustice against all.” Take time this season to reconnect with your fellow human beings.

A good place to boycott is Wal-Mart, where John Crawford was shot to death by police in Ohio in August for buying a toy pellet gun for his children. Some good toys to boycott include pellet guns from any and all manufacturers because of the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police while he was playing with a pellet gun in a public park. (Here is a list of more shootings that have taken place since Michael Brown was shot to death.) A good company to boycott is Emerson Electric, which is headquartered in Ferguson, Missouri, and which manufactures appliances and tools under the ClosetMaid, InSinkErator, Metro, ProTeam, RIDGID, and WORKSHOP brands. Some good entertainment to boycott includes all sports events (including all bowl games), all celebrity shows, all movies, and any other entertainment designed to distract us from the horrible injustice we are seeing in the “greatest nation on earth.”

One other thing.  We now know that the picture circulated on conservative media of police officer Darren Wilson sustaining injuries from his encounter with Michael Brown was a fake.  (See

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Michael Brown as a Rorschach Test

Well, it looks like my powers of prediction regarding Michael Brown were pretty good so far. (This doesn't make me very happy.) Then again, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how things would go. But what has been interesting to me (in an unpleasant way) is the discussions of the verdict and its aftermath, both on-line and in person, in which I have been involved this week.

First, there is a widely spread rumor that has been accepted as Gospel truth, that Michael Brown was stopped by Darren Wilson after robbing a convenience store. For those who believe this, allow me to point out the following facts:
  1. Michael Brown was not stopped by Officer Wilson for being a suspect in a convenience store robbery. At the time Brown was stopped, Wilson did not know of the alleged robbery of the convenience store which Brown is accused of robbing. (Source:
  2. The video which purports to show Brown robbing the store is of such poor quality that no faces can be recognized in it. (Source:
  3. The employees of the store allegedly robbed by Brown have admitted that they made no 911 calls regarding a robbery on the day that Brown was shot. (Source:
  4. Michael Brown had no criminal record on the day he was shot. (Source:
Lastly, no cigars were found on Michael Brown's body or on the ground next to him after he was shot dead.

But one interesting element in all these facts is that either they have been buried under a flood of right-wing propaganda and scapegoating, or that many people don't want to hear them in the first place. When people only see what they want to see, it's always a sign of an underlying issue of character or personality. So allow me to suggest that Michael Brown has become something of a Rorschach test for the American public. In this, he is like Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, ISIS, and Vietnam, except that what happened to him hits a lot closer to home. If the Rorschach test is supposed to differentiate between sanity and insanity, then the United States has been badly failing over most of its history. And times are coming – in fact, they are already here – in which we'll need all the sane people we can muster, because of the consequences of a failure of sanity among many members of the general public, who continue to believe that we can continue to scapegoat those who are crushed by the cowboy conquistadores of this country in their search for a little more Lebensraum.