Sunday, May 24, 2015

Exodus As Survival

As I have watched the unfolding pattern of police violence, excessive force and murder against unarmed people of color in the United States, I have also been watching the protests which have arisen in response, and particularly the organized Black Lives Matter protest movement. I am encouraged in a small way by the protests; however, I am also deeply ambivalent toward them. It's not that I don't think that the murder of unarmed people of color should be quietly accepted. It's just that I don't think that the protests by themselves will accomplish anything.

The cause of my pessimism lies in the subject which has occupied this blog for almost a year, namely, the way in which an entire national culture has become personality-disordered. The particular personality disorder which I have discussed is malignant narcissism. One of the features of a malignant narcissist, whether that narcissist be a person or a narcissistic nation, is an overwhelming urge to abuse others. Another feature is that reasonable people cannot reason with the narcissist to restrain his abuse. The narcissist is unreasonable, and thus implacable. A reasonable nation would apply one standard of law enforcement to all of its residents, rather than playing “favorites.” The police forces of a reasonable nation would not murder unarmed Hispanic teens driving cars as the police in Denver, Colorado did to Jessica Hernandez in January.  (They allege that the car she was driving was stolen. I did a Google search and was unable to find any evidence to support this claim.) The justice system of a reasonable nation would not throw the book at people of color accused of petty crimes while being lenient toward rich white offenders guilty of much more serious offenses. But the United States is not reasonable. The United States is a narcissistic nation now indulging in narcissistic rage. Therefore it is violently projecting its own dysfunction onto people whom it has tried to groom to be scapegoats and receptacles for its rage, targets whom it blames for its own dysfunctional behavior.

I have previously listed examples of scapegoating behavior, but here is a new example of scapegoating and “white-on-white crime,” a story about the Midwestern and Western towns and small cities which became boom towns during the now-expiring shale oil craze.  As prices rose, a large number of Caucasian oilfield workers flooded these towns, bringing with them both lots of money and a sharp increase in crime. Now that shale revenues have fallen, oil patch towns and counties have fewer resources to fight the increase in crime that has resulted. But they haven't lost their ability to scapegoat, blaming, for instance, the sharp increase in drug use on “Mexican drug cartels.” There's only one problem with that accusation: the biggest drug problems in these towns are methamphetamine, prescription painkillers, and alcohol. You don't need to find a Mexican drug cartel to find these items. And meth is incredibly easy to make.  The corruption in this nation's heartland is not the fault of Mexicans.

The wealthy and powerful, and those who enjoy American “white privilege” in this country are facing an existential crisis internationally, as the United States loses its place in the world. In their desperation to find some safe place where they can nurture and revive their identity of dominance, they are increasingly looking inward, at those victims within the nation's borders on whom they can dump their hostility. 

One of the features of narcissistic abuse is that the protests of the victims actually fuel further narcissistic abuse. Why is this so? Because in the protests of their victims, narcissists see the reflection of their own power – so narcissists can say to themselves, “Look! I have power to inflict pain on other people. I have the power to make others say 'Ouch!'” If the only response of victims is to protest, the protest winds up feeding the abuser with "narcissistic supply."

Which leads to the second potential pitfall of protesting, namely, becoming entangled in the narcissist's response to your protests. Most of the time, that response can be summed up in one acronym: DARVO which stands for “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.” The way it works is that the narcissist does something to injure a victim. When the victim protests the narcissist's action, the narcissist responds by Denying that he did any wrong, Attacking the victim's right to protest by attacking the victim's character or humanity, and Reversing the roles of Victim and Offender by casting himself as the victim of some imagined slight on the part of the real victim. In recent months, DARVO has played out thus: a crooked cop shoots an unarmed person of color under extremely questionable circumstances. When the victim's relatives protest, the cop Denies that he did anything wrong. Then the cop and his department, along with a bunch of right-wing talking heads, Asserts that the reason for his treatment of the unarmed (now deceased) person of color was that the cop was working in a high-crime area and the victim of his shooting – a member of a criminal race – somehow threatened the cop (even though a gaggle of witnesses denies this). Then the cop and friends Reverse Victim and Offender by protesting that “police lives matter” and that police work is very dangerous. "And besides, this entire ordeal has stressed out the poor 'widdle' cop, so let's support his feelings." For a sickeningly over-the-top example of an offender passing himself off as a victim, see this. For a more truthful look at the actual level of danger in police work, see this.

In interactions with a narcissist, DARVO too often leads to a response from the actual victims called JADE, which stands for Justify, Argue, Defend and Explain. The victims, still believing that the narcissist can be reasoned with, attempt to Justify the reasons why they deserve fair treatment. Then they Argue and try to verbally Defend themselves against the narcissist's ad hominem attacks. They waste their remaining breath on trying to Explain their point of view to the narcissist. While all this might work in dealing with a reasonable person, the narcissist will respond only by serving up a second helping of DARVO – along with a side dish of further abuse. Again, our recent societal troubles provide an illustrative example. After a crooked cop shoots an unarmed person of color, and after the ad hominem attacks from the cop and his allies attempting to justify his actions, there are usually protests. These protests provoke certain right-wing gasbags to get on television and loudly proclaim that aggressive policing is needed in minority communities because of the problem of “black-on-black crime,” yadda yadda. Then the victims of police brutality begin to speak up, citing historical examples and government statistics which prove beyond doubt that white people are at least as capable of serious criminal behavior as black people, that crime rates for certain stereotypical offenses are actually lower in Black and Latino communities than they are in white communities, and that White populations regularly engage in rioting and property destruction, usually for very, very stupid reasons.  The victims then heave a collective sigh of relief, believing that now that they have told their side of the story, things will change. Except that they don't. Nor do the oppressors give the slightest sign that they have heard the victims.

If the Black Lives Matter protests are just a form of JADE'ing, and the response of “the powers that be” will only be more DARVO, then what is an effective response on the part of victims to the erosion of civil rights and equal protection under the law by the rulers of a narcissistic country? The answer is simple, but it is rather painful to put into practice, because the answer is No Contact.  Why No Contact? First, because continuing to remain in contact with a society which wants to use you as its toilet bowl is not good for you. It can cause a great deal of psychological damage, not to mention damage of other kinds. (An unfortunate example: suicide rates among young Black American children rose sharply from 1993 to 2012God damn America!) Second, as long as you remain in contact with a predatory system, you continue to feed the predator. This point leads to a discussion of what going “No Contact” with an oppressive society looks like.

“No Contact” takes place within three spheres: the economic, the cultural, and where necessary, the physical. In the economic sphere, we have seen historically what can happen when an oppressed minority withdraws its support from economic organs that are used as instruments of oppression. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is an extremely effective case in point.  That boycott was characterized by people of color finding and devising alternatives to a system of transportation which was being used to oppress them. But the boycott was not without cost: in addition to suffering white violence, those who participated in the boycott had to endure the inconveniences of withdrawal from an oppressive system. And the boycott lasted 381 days before its goals were met. The Blackout Black Friday boycott was very little more than a symbolic action in comparison. We went back too soon to the system that is destroying us. (How many people of color shopped at Walmart after Black Friday 2014? Walmart is where the police in Beavercreek, Ohio shot an unarmed John Crawford to death last year as he was buying toys for his children.)   No Contact may have to last a long time. 

To see economic “No Contact” from another angle, here's a link to a 2013 podcast covering the urban adaptation strategy known as “Permaculture.” Permaculture is a strategy for building the household economy by smart agriculture and community building. The goal of permaculture is to make households and communities resilient in the face of the failure of large-scale commercial enterprises due to resource depletion. Many permaculturists are also activists with strongly leftward economic leanings, who oppose the destruction now being wrought by the present economic order. In this particular podcast, David Holmgren, a co-founder of permaculture, stated his belief that the task for permaculture activists is not to try to start a huge movement to reshape the dominant society, but rather to develop working models for resilience and self-sufficiency. His reasoning was that economic contraction would provide all the motivation required to get people to seek alternatives to a dominant and destructive system, and that they would naturally seek out people who had successfully created those alternatives. Once a critical mass of such people formed, their withdrawal from the dominant system would succeed in bringing down the system – or at least slowing down its destructiveness. This would be far more effective than shouting loudly in mass protests. The economic contraction of which Holmgren spoke is happening now. Can you teach yourself to get your needs met without giving your money to people who are trying to destroy you?

Cultural “No Contact” begins with throwing your TV into the trash. It begins with cutting yourself off from organs of mass media which are trying to poison your mind. It proceeds to home education of your children, thus saving themselves from an educational system which has been turned into a weapon of mass destruction. It also spreads to the people of your neighborhood, where you all get to know each other and learn to work with each other and celebrate each other without some intermediary trying to tell you all what you can and cannot do.  In essence, you create a culture within a culture - a culture of health and support within and separate from a dominant destructive culture.

But sometimes economic “No Contact” and cultural “No Contact” are not enough. If a locality is physically threatening – if, for instance, it is like Ferguson, Missouri which has a large minority population, yet the local political system has been so screwed up by wealthy interests that there is no minority representation in the local government and almost no minority presence in the police force – and if the local government has become well-known for throwing many of its citizens in jail or slapping them with exorbitant fines for increasingly trivial offenses – then maybe it's time to move. Moving is traumatic, especially when you're poor, but it can be done. And it's better than remaining in place and losing your life.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hoarders Of A New Currency

Wisdom is supreme.
Get wisdom.
Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding.
– Proverbs 4:7, World English Bible

In the last several posts, I covered several of the points stated in my post, “Scapegoat Survival in Uncertain Times.” Now it's time to talk about becoming rich in things which cannot be taken away from you. Those things comprise the intangible possessions which a person has. One of those possessions is knowledge. Knowledge is easy to share, and it can't easily be taken away. Moreover, the right kind of knowledge is an essential ingredient of a sound education.

The word “education” has come to be loaded with a certain unfortunate baggage. Nowadays what is called “education” is really just a glorified form of job training. I want to propose a different definition: namely, that education is the “equipping” of the person who is educated. It consists of appropriate knowledge combined with practical application to produce a suite of tools for inhabiting and navigating a particular environment. The environment for which we must be educated is characterized by the following stressors and risk factors:

  • economic contraction caused by the depletion of natural resources and ecological degradation caused by pollution generated by the industrial economy;
  • gross and intensifying economic inequity caused by the robbery of the poor majority by the wealthy minority;
  • social unrest resulting from the oppression of the poor majority by the wealthy minority. This oppression is motivated by the evil pragmatism and unhealthy psychology of the oppressors.
  • Lastly, the prospect of international conflict caused both by evil pragmatism and unhealthy psychology within the ruling classes of specific nations.
The central challenge for decent people in the emergent uncertain environment is to live a meaningful and moral life without becoming oppressors or oppressed. As one blogger put it a while ago, “...most of us spend our lives as prey, economically and psychologically. Awareness is the key to understanding this; but once we understand it, we may transcend it, choosing, when we can, to be neither prey nor predator.” That awareness must take three forms. First, we must become psychologically literate, so that we can both recognize and promote healthy psychological development in ourselves and in those we care about. But psychological literacy must also equip us to recognize the psychological diseases of those who oppress their fellow human beings, so that we may not be damaged by the oppression. Second, we must become aware of the very practical steps we can take to avoid or mitigate the physical things oppressors do in order to oppress us. Third, we must learn to use scarce material resources to achieve the maximum benefit for the largest number of people with a minimum of waste.

All these things we must do on our own, at least for those of us living in the United States. Whereas in many other countries, the governments and ruling members of those countries recognize their duty to provide for the public good, the people of the United States have been drinking libertarian, “free market” Kool-Aid for such a long time that many of us no longer recognize our duty to each other. This is especially true of our rulers and wealthy elites. Indeed, the Republicans who have captured so many state governments and both houses of Congress are busy turning this country into a place where everyone who is not wealthy will be turned into the prey of the wealthy. (For an example, take a look at this doofus, who with his cronies wants to destroy Medicare and deny tax credits to the poor in order to increase military spending.) Don't expect the government of the United States or its wealthy citizens to provide for the common good.

In the United States, what we have been seeing for a long time is the denial of resources to the poor and the increasing of obligations on the poor. The denial of resources is accompanied by a great deal of propaganda about how the poor are “welfare queens”, etc, and that the poverty of the poor is their own fault. The increasing of obligations occurs via such things as raising of rates for essential utilities and the imposition of fines for an ever-expanding list of non-criminal infractions, with jail time for those who can't pay the fines. Thus, as reported by another blogger, in Baltimore and Detroit, tens of thousands of people have had their water shut off by the city governments, who have hiked rates by huge percentages. Baltimore's water department has for years been guilty of numerous billing errors. And in Portland, Oregon, one school district has received a brand new middle school, and the school district is issuing i-Pads to each of its students. However, students at another district no more than five miles from the district just mentioned do not have access to textbooks that they can take home with them.

If you're unlucky enough then to live among the poor, and to be counted as one of the poor, learning to use scarce material resources to achieve the maximum benefit for the largest number of people with a minimum of waste will be a very urgent task – especially as the more privileged keep trying to take from you the little that you do have. Nevertheless, it can be done. The beauty of learning is that people who are motivated and have the right resources can learn to teach themselves. The knowledge gained by self-education is valuable even if you don't go the traditional route of paying lots of money for an expensive piece of paper – oops, I mean, a diploma – from a university. For while there are many baristas and burger flippers who graduated from a university with an expensive piece of paper, there are not that many people who are educated.

One strong focus of your education should be mathematics and the sciences. Mastering these two subjects will give you a suite of tools that you can apply to a wide range of difficult situations. For instance, if you live in a house in a city whose water department has hiked your rates to unaffordable levels, how much roof area do you need in order to collect enough rainwater to live decently? The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors. Can you identify them all?

As far as math resources, I'd like to begin by mentioning the excellent “Next Step” math series available from Copian. The nice thing about the “Next Step” books is that they can be used for both children and adults, and they take a learner all the way from basic counting to beginning algebra and geometry. There are also algebra and calculus textbooks available from here and here and here. Textbooks for children covering the sciences can be downloaded for free from the Departments of Education of some of the States.

As you educate yourself, you must also seek to educate your community. This is why it is a good idea to form learning “clubs”: math clubs, science clubs, etc. It is especially rewarding to get kids involved in such clubs – especially when you know that the club is exposing the kids to a world of possibilities that the dominant elites would like to deny them. Here is a picture of a kid who participated in a Saturday science club solar energy activity last year.  

She is from Mozambique and she lives in an apartment complex in one of the less “well-to-do” parts of town. Her clubmates were from Mozambique, Thailand and Myanmar. And here is a picture of a kid who was involved last fall and winter in a math club at another apartment complex in the same general neighborhood.

The kid in the second picture was in the school district which can't afford to issue textbooks. Therefore, the leaders of the math club downloaded a number of pdf textbooks onto thumb drives and handed them out to all the kids in the club. As long as the kids have access to a library, they will be able to read the pdf's. Long live the sneakernet.  In the picture, he is working from a printed copy of one of the "Next Step" books.

There's a lot more to say about post-Peak education, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, here is an article about the role which education and teaching of skills played in helping Cuba survive the loss of the Soviet Union in the 1990's. And here is a link to a non-traditional education initiative started by the Philippine Government in order to guarantee access to education to all of its citizens.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Slow Rolling Crisis of Legitimacy

Barack Obama was recently quoted in regard to what he termed the "slow-rolling crisis" of unarmed people of color being murdered by police in the United States.  He did not, however, use the word "murder."  While he he expressed his nuanced concerns over "too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions," he was very quick to unequivocally condemn the increasingly violent reactions to the ongoing police killings of unarmed African-Americans. 

The trouble with all of this is that the "troubling questions" mentioned by Obama have equally troubling, yet perfectly obvious answers.  The problem with mainstream America is that many Americans are engaging in a game of dodge 'em with the truth.  The dodges fall into one of two categories.  The first category consists of closing one's eyes, plugging one's ears, and singing "La, la, la" as loudly as possible whenever anyone suggests that the United States is an inequitable society founded on murderous white supremacy, and that oppression and unjust treatment are alive and well today.  The "La, la, la's" become especially loud whenever the U.S. is about to attack, destabilize, bomb or otherwise harass a country whose overthrow might provide some economic benefit to the plutocrats who run things here.

The other dodge category consists of excusing the inhumane treatment of minorities by exaggerating their criminality or lying about the circumstances of their deaths.  This kind of lying was fairly obvious in the case of Michael Brown.  But there are even more egregious examples of lying, including some which predate Brown's murder.  For instance, there is the case of a Hispanic teen in North Carolina in 2013, who supposedly shot himself in the head with a hidden pistol while handcuffed in the back of a North Carolina police cruiser.  (A neat trick, that!  Better than Houdini!)  A more recent example of creative fiction is attempt by certain voices to downplay the impact of organized police violence against the Black American community by saying that the problem of "Black on Black crime" is far worse.  Such people quote former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's claim that 93 percent of Black murders are committed by Black perpetrators, and that this statistic proves that we are indeed a dangerous, criminal race.  However, actual statistics paint a far different picture.  See this, this, this, this, and this for example.  And be sure to read the linked articles in their entirety - unless you'd rather sing "La, la, la" as loudly as you can with your fingers in your ears.

Both dodges are scale-free characteristics of narcissistic abuse.  For instance, you can see the same wilful ignorance of trauma inflicted, or self-justification of trauma inflicted, on the part of domestic abusers.

Back to Obama.  He is in an interesting bind, having been supported in 2008 by a broad spectrum of people who saw the ruinous direction the U.S. had taken under his predecessor.  Instead of fulfilled "hopes" for "change", what we got was a genial apologist for the continuation of those same policies.  In 2009, blogger Dmitry Orlov compared Obama to Gorbachev, saying of him that he is"...the smiling face behind the crumbling imperial façade, the personable, non-threatening loser."  To the Black American community, Obama's mission was to be a pacifying, genial token.  But reality had a way of rendering his tokenism ineffectual.  (By the way, Obama's disease is characteristic of the entire Democratic Party.)  Had he been an honest man being "held hostage" as many of us believed during his first term, he could at least have been honest enough to refuse to run for re-election.  But now many even in the Black community no longer care what Obama says; he's become irrelevant.

And so we come to a few further comparisons between the Gorbachev of the end of the Soviet Union and the Obama of today.  As the senile apparatchiks of the Soviet Union staged a putsch to restore themselves and their empire to its former glory, so senile redneck rich people in this country have hijacked the political process in a bid to restore their supremacy to its former glory.  Ultimately they will fail, but not before they seize every opportunity to make a mess that someone will have to clean up afterward.  Slow-rolling crises have a way of boiling over.

As for me, I seek as much as possible to be a pacifist.  (These are my Boss's orders.  Matthew 5:38-41.)  But if I can in any way help the current American system to survive and thrive, that help is henceforth withdrawn.  And I will seek to disconnect from that system as much as possible.  Both it and its owners are illegitimate.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Short Station Break

I have another post in the works, which will continue to expand the suggestions I made in "Scapegoat Survival in Uncertain Times."  (We have already covered the first three suggestions.)  But that post will have to wait at least another week.  Right now I am working on a mechanical engineering grad school project.  (That's why I wasn't posting for a long while until last fall.)  My project involves programming in a mathematical software package called Sage (  It's free and open source, which is very good.  And if you love playing with a computer all day and are a Ph.D mathematician, the online documentation can provide hours of fun.  I don't, and I'm not.  So for me, the last several days have been filled with long hours in which I was moved to pray or tempted to smash things, not necessarily in that order.  (Yes, yes, I too am human!)  As I sometimes say in front of my Russian acquaintances, "Бог, дай милость!"

If anyone knows anything about multiple arguments in a "for" conditional statement, please shoot me a comment.  If you don't know anything about that subject, at least pray for my soul.  I'll try to have something more for you soon. Thanks for your readership.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Self-Healing in a Traumatizing Society

A boy is born in hard time Mississippi,
Surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong, moving in the right direction,
Living just enough, just enough for the city...

– “Living for the City,” Stevie Wonder 

In the building where I work, there is a very nice lunch room, in which there are a number of magazines for people to read at lunch or on breaks. In the late spring of last year, someone left a magazine containing an article about the treatment of trauma and mental illness in the developing world. (When I first started working there, most of the magazines tended to be on the geeky side, although someone later started bringing in clothing fashion magazines and copies of Better Homes and Gardens.)

I read the mental health article with some interest. It described the prevalence of psychological trauma caused by organized violence such as war, as well as the trauma caused by sexual exploitation. (It may have also mentioned human trafficking, but I can't remember.) It also described how health-oriented NGO's were becoming involved in the training of primary health care workers in poorer countries in order to equip them to heal psychological trauma caused by organized violence. The focus of the training is the use of relationships of support and communities of support to help survivors heal. Medications are not the primary mode of the treatments studied, largely because the medications are expensive and therefore mostly unaffordable. However, the relational methods boast a high rate of success in helping survivors manage and heal from trauma. (One of the sidebars to this article described the decline of “talk” therapies and the rising use of medication in the treatment of mental illness in the West, especially in the United States.)

At the time I read the article, I didn't realize how appropriate its information would be for dealing with the events of the last several months. Both the article and the magazine which carried it were thrown away at some point, to be replaced by a clothing fashion magazine. Over the last few months I have tried without success to find an online version of that article. If anyone who reads this blog knows of the magazine, the article, or the authors of the article, please feel free to send me a comment.

In my research, however, I have found a wealth of other material on the subject of managing and healing the trauma caused by organized violence. Almost all of the material was written by researchers and health care workers dealing with traumatized populations in the developing world. But even the most cursory look at events in the U.S. over the last several months reveals that there are plenty of people being traumatized right here by the wealthy, the powerful and the privileged in this country and by their minions. Think of the many unarmed Black men and women who have recently been shot to death by white police in this country – think also of the bereaved families of these victims – and you will have some idea of the trauma being caused by organized violence against the powerless here in the United States. Think especially of the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy in Cleveland, Ohio, last year. Or think of the shooting of John Crawford in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, as he was buying a toy for his children. One media source reveals that police in the United States killed more people last month than any other nation killed in 2014. That includes China, a country four times as populous as the U.S., a country which, according to Western media, is supposed to be both godless and evil, yet whose police killed far fewer of their own citizens in 2014 than American police did this last March. (See also this and this and this.)

Consider also that the purveyors of trauma have for a long time been expanding their efforts beyond groups traditionally considered to be scapegoats in this country. For instance, there's Governor Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), who recently signed into law a bill that will allow anyone in Kansas to carry a concealed weapon without a background check and without training. This is yet another victory for American gun manufacturers and purveyors of the American myth of rugged individualism and the license to kill in the defense of white American “liberty.” Kansas is the sixth state to enact such a law. I am sure more states will follow. Now all the Constitutional “sovereign citizens” who worship the Second Amendment can traumatize each other, as I'm sure they will, after reading a recent study which links gun ownership to uncontrollable anger. (There are also many studies which irrefutably link gun ownership with domestic violence.)  In many other ways, the wealthy of our country – and the politicians they own, especially the Republicans – are trying to give us all a case of PTSD, as one blogger recently noted.

If you're poor, nonwhite, or both, and you live in the United States of America, it is therefore quite likely that you will have to deal with the trauma caused by organized violence at some time within the next few years. It therefore also necessary to learn how to recognize the effects of trauma, and how to manage and recover from trauma. I have written before about the narcissistic motivations of those who are causing the trauma. (Yes, yes, racism and oppression are expressions of narcissism.) What is the goal of those who abuse their fellow human beings, and how does that message affect the targets of abuse?

The goal of the abuser is to magnify his own grandiosity by invalidating and destroying his target. The height of success for an abuser is therefore to get his victim to internalize the abuser's message – for the victim to come to believe that he or she is worthless, that he or she is worthy of the treatment perpetrated by the abuser, that the treatment received is the victim's fault, to get the victim to endlessly ask, “What did I do to bring this on myself?” Indeed, one of the things that makes the abuse so traumatizing is its unpredictability, and the resulting powerlessness of the victim in avoiding the abuse or managing encounters with the abuser. This is why self-rejection and self-harming behaviors are the pervasive effects of the trauma caused by organized violence. The self-harming behaviors then serve to reinforce the message implanted in the victim that the victim is worthless and deserving of the abuse inflicted by the abuser. (See this, this, and this for a discussion of self-rejection in victims of gender violence. See this for a discussion of self-rejection as one of the outcomes of colonialism, and this for a discussion of self-rejection in victims of racism.)

What then is the key to managing and healing from the trauma inflicted by organized violence? This question has been explored by a number of mental health professionals, among whom is Dr. Richard Mollica, author of Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World. In a presentation given in 2011, Dr. Mollica described the importance of the trauma story in the healing of trauma victims, as well as the creation of a safe space for trauma victims to share their trauma stories. In his words, “Dialogue and empathetic listening between survivor and therapist maximizes the benefits of emotional disclosure.” He also described how to facilitate and encourage the natural process of self-healing of emotional wounds inflicted by severe violence. In that same presentation Beth Filson, a certified peer specialist, described the benefit of relationships of support which can arise within a community of survivors, and the need to foster those relationships. One of the keys to activating the self-healing response in trauma survivors is survivor involvement in projects or teams performing altruistic service for others who are also disadvantaged or who have suffered trauma.

A good example of a healing community of survivors engaged in altruistic service is Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. This is the church which was pastored by the good Reverend Jeremiah Wright for a number of years. This church has a strong Biblical commitment to social justice and the healing of those who have been broken by the injustice of the United States of America. In their statement of the Black Value System, they address many of the same elements of self-healing discussed by Dr. Richard Mollica. The statements in the Black Value system also address the legacy of self-harm produced in the Black community because of the oppressions of a dominant, exploitative society that is hostile to anyone who is different from its members.

We need to form many such communities of healing. The communities need not be large or highly visible, yet they should be deep, rich and full of mutual support. We will need to learn all the healing techniques at our disposal as the United States becomes an increasingly traumatizing place to live. One of the chief goals of our healing must be the recovery of our human ability to observe, orient, decide and act wisely in the midst of a hostile space.  And we cannot wait for someone else to do this recovery for us. We are the ones we have been waiting for, as a writer said a while back. The tools are at our disposal. Let's get to work.

For more information, please read:

“Bringing Order Out of Chaos: A Culturally Competent Approach to Managing the Problems of Refugees and Victims of Organized Violence,” Eisenbruch, et al., 2004

“The ISTSS/RAND Guidelines on Mental Health Training of Primary Healthcare Providers for Trauma-Exposed Populations in Conflict-Affected Countries,” Eisenman, et al., 2005

“War Exposure, Daily Stressors, and Mental Health in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings: Bridging the Divide Between Trauma-Focused and Psychosocial Frameworks,” Miller and Rasmussen, 2010

“The Impact of War and Atrocity on Civilian Populations: Basic Principles for NGO Interventions and a Critique of Psychosocial Trauma Projects,” Summerfield, 1996

"Invisible Wounds: A Practitioners' Dialogue on Improving Development Outcomes Through Psychosocial Support," World Bank, 2014

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Not Someone Else's Bonsai

The attitudes of a culture toward the people it touches are seen in the impact that culture has on the people and things it touches. Sometimes a culture can turn those it touches into works of art. Sometimes a culture succeeds only in turning everything it touches into garbage. Not infrequently, the culture in question can become confused as to which category its works belong to, and as to whether or not its modifications of the “wild” are actually an improvement.

Consider the practice of bonsai, an Asian art which is over 1,400 years old. The word bonsai is a Japanese modification of the Chinese word penzai. Both words can be rendered as “tray plantings” and penzai is related to penjing, which literally means “tray scenery.”  The object of bonsai is to recreate a large-scale, wild landscape in miniature, using the same living elements which comprise the large landscape, yet at a scale which can be as intimate as a tray in the living room of a house. The living elements of bonsai are trees such as fir, maple, alder and elm – trees which in the wild grow to many times the height of a man. Yet the bonsai sculptor trains these trees from the seedling stage – using wires, bands, pruning and other techniques – to shape the tree into a living sculpture which is usually no taller than a man when mature, and which often grows to less than half as tall.

Imagine for a minute that you are a child in a locale where a large population must inhabit a limited living space. Now suppose that this population comprises a culture which loves greenery and cultivation of living things, yet which is forced to adapt its love of cultivation to limited spaces. Thus they become practitioners of bonsai. Throughout your youth, therefore, the only landscapes you see are miniature, planned down to the centimeter, carefully crafted. Then a day comes when you must travel to another place far away, and you must pass through a wild forest – full of maple, fir, alder, and elm trees, big and tall. Would the sight make you uncomfortable? Would you say, “A tree that is left growing in its natural state is a crude thing...”? 

I mention bonsai, not as a criticism of the art form, nor of Asian culture (for which I have the highest respect), but to use bonsai as a metaphor.

Each of us is a sculptor of others at some point in our lives. But how the sculpture turns out is often highly dependent on the intent of the sculptor. If the sculptor complains that his finished sculpture looks like garbage, maybe we should look at the motives of the sculptor rather than blaming the material which has been sculpted. When sculpting human beings, what material do we start with?

Here I look to the Good Book for answers. Acts 17:26 says that “[God] made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth...” That is, according to biblical Christianity, every one of us has the same origin. Therefore, every one of us is fully human. There is only one race within the human race, and that is the human race. We have the same basic genetic makeup, and therefore the same basic potential. This assertion is backed by science, which has determined that the concept of individual “races” within the human race has no factual validity. In other words, the human race has no subspecies.  The abundant proof of this is seen in such things as the success of “colorblind” organ transplants and blood transfusions.  It is also seen in the similarity of outcomes in those children across all “racial” and ethnic classifications who are exposed to the same “sculpting” process – also known as nurture.

That nurture has been scientifically examined in recent years, and the relative weight of nurture versus nature in producing specific outcomes has been examined as well. In 1993, a team of cognitive psychologists led by K. Anders Ericsson published a paper titled, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.”  That paper asserted that innate talent is vastly overrated in the making of an expert in a particular field of endeavor. Rather, the key to the making of an expert is regular, consistent, “deliberate” practice. (Ericsson's definition of “deliberate” is itself deliberate.)

This research turned out to be rather controversial, and it deeply offended a number of people who had come to believe that they and their offspring are innately “all that and a bag of chips.” But there are several examples, both historical and modern, which justify Ericsson's assertions. One example cited in Ericsson's paper is that of Laszlo and Klara Polgar, a Hungarian couple who set out to train their three daughters to become chess masters. As a result, two of them became the best and second best women chess players in the world, and the third is ranked sixth in the world. Ericsson's research is also confirmed by the documented experiences of Shinichi Suzuki, originator of the Suzuki method of music instruction.

The focus of Ericsson and his colleagues, as well as Suzuki, was the outcome of healthy nurturing by mentors with good intentions. But mentors with evil intentions can be just as effective in producing the outcomes they want to see in their protégées. This is why adult children of alcoholics (ACOA's) and adult children of narcissists (ACON's) suffer such damage. Benevolent mentors lovingly encourage those in their care to develop their full potential, but personality-disordered and evil mentors seek to destroy those in their care – through constant put-downs, negativity, and active sabotage.

And when a society is itself narcissistic and dysfunctional, it destructively mentors those populations within it who are targeted as scapegoats. This was the motivation for laws in the antebellum South which made it illegal to teach African slaves to read and write. (See this and this.)  This was the motivation for segregated schools in the American South, and schools in the North which were de facto weapons of mass destruction.  This was the motivation for the first counterattacks against the minority education victories won during the civil rights struggles of the 1960's.  This is the motivation for the continued disparity in expectations, discipline and outcomes between white and minority children in American mass education, whether public or private. This is also seen in the portrayals of minority culture which are deemed to be acceptable to mainstream media (see this and this), media whose owners tend to look for the most dysfunctional elements of minority culture (especially Black American culture) in order to make sweeping generalizations about an entire people from one small element of what is after all a heterogeneous culture. Then they endlessly rebroadcast this elements to a defenseless and clueless public, saying thus that “THIS is what minorities are, and THIS is all they will ever be.” And they turn around and attempt to use the school system again as a weapon of mass destruction as the Oakland school district tried to do in the 1990's when it tried to force all Black children to be taught in the language of “Ebonics.”  One of the crowning successes of American mass media has been its ability to convince broad American society that Black Americans constitute a “criminal race” even though the facts contradict this. (See this and this for instance. Did you know that there are studies which indicate that actual rates of drug use among Black American youth are far lower than among White American youth, and that there is a higher percentage of White youth selling drugs than Black youth?)

The experience of minorities of color therefore continues to be similar to that of trees “sculpted” with fire, chain saws, battery acid and Roundup by a sadistic bonsai gardener who likes bare dirt better than soil “contaminated” by living matter. Yet seedlings manage to escape and turn into something much healthier than their sculptors planned. Some examples of plants which turned out differently than their sculptors intended include Junot Diaz, a writer from the Dominican Republic who made a name for himself by publishing gritty stories about life in inner-city ghettos in the American Northeast. Now he is working on a passion which for a long time was secret, namely, his desire to become an author of science fiction.  There is also Lloyd Ferguson, PhD, an emeritus electrical engineering professor who is also part of the Affordable Learning Initiative at Cal Poly Pomona. For many years Dr. Ferguson taught electromagnetics using a textbook written by another notable Black academic, namely Dr. Matthew N.O. Sadiku.  And there is veteran astronaut Robert Curbeam, and Vladymir Lamadieu, an information technology professional with a law degree who is also a good guitarist.  And there is Candace Makeda Moore, a Black American doctor now practicing medicine in South Africa.  I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of other female Black academics, professionals, or intellectuals, nor the vast number of Hispanics in the United States who are turning out differently than the masters of our predatory society had hoped. These all turned out as they did because they were not sculpted by American culture, or they learned to sculpt themselves in spite of American culture. In daring to be different, they risked the wrath of those who would accuse them of not “keepin' it real.” Not a few of the accusers are white!

Although high achievers in a scapegoated group can arise even in the midst of a culture which seeks to destroy them, the fact is that the scapegoating is almost always damaging. Dysfunction almost always results in the targeted group. This is seen across cultures and in many nations. The example of the Burakumin of Japan is illustrative, showing that the sort of dysfunction which arises from cultural scapegoating is very similar to that experienced by many members of the Black American population. It is also the same sort of dysfunction produced in Irish and Welsh populations by British occupiers from the 1700's to the early 20th century.

What scapegoated groups must therefore do is to disconnect from their abusers as much as is humanly possible. You're not somebody else's bonsai. Stop letting abusers treat you as if you were their plant to be ruined by them. There is also a need to heal the damage done by sadistic sculpting. And those who have been damaged will have to take charge of their own healing. That will be the topic of my next post.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Scapegoat Survival In Uncertain Times

As I have said in the past several posts, the United States is a narcissistic nation which is facing the constraints reality is now placing on the fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance and beauty which have been poured into the American psyche from the founding of this nation until now. The truth is that these fantasies were never really meant for anyone but their creators and masters, who happen also to be the people who ruled and shaped this country from the start. The enjoyment of those fantasies came at a certain cost – a price paid by the less privileged residents of the United States, including dark-skinned minorities, Native Americans, and for a while, women. The cost was also borne by those nations unlucky enough to have things that the United States wanted, without also possessing the means to defend themselves from having those things taken by force.

When people with a grandiose view of themselves become constrained by a reality that teaches them that they really are not “all that,” such people frequently react badly. This is the reason for the rolling back of equal protection and the escalation of violence against people who have historically been scapegoated in this country, such as people of color. The rollback is now being expanded to target women. The people doing the rolling back and committing the violence are predominantly rich, white and male (although there are a few women going along for the ride).

Therefore, unfortunately, the times we all live in have gotten more uncertain than ever for some of us. To those of us who are tired of being treated as scapegoats for dysfunctional American society, I have the following suggestions: 

  • Know your opponent (and his disease).
  • Know yourself.
  • Learn to heal your trauma.
  • Become rich in things which cannot be taken away from you.
  • Disengage from the system as much as possible.
My last few months of blogging have been an attempt to help people with suggestion #1. There are other resources as well for those who want help. Those who want to survive and thrive in these times must learn about malignant narcissism, not only as a problem in interpersonal relationships, but also as a driver of national culture and the policies of the wealthy and powerful members of our nation. One benefit of learning these things is that you will be able to stay strong mentally when the privileged (and formerly privileged) try to dump their hostility on you, and you will have tools for protecting yourself.

We'll explore the other suggestions in future posts.  That exploration will lead us in some directions which are not normally associated with life in the United States, as we consider the adaptive strategies which are being used by many residents of the developing world.  Stay tuned.