Saturday, January 31, 2015

Living On The Right Half of the Plane

I'll begin this post with yet another metaphor.

The behavior of nearly all physical systems can be modeled by systems of differential equations. Solving these equations as a function of some independent system variable allows for prediction of how the physical system responds to variations in a particular system input. One problem with differential equations is that all but the simplest of them are quite hard to solve. Therefore a system modeler is always on the lookout for tricks and tools to simplify the solution of differential equations.

One such tool is the Laplace transform, by which linear differential equations can be turned into algebraic equations. These algebraic equations can be easily manipulated to determine those functions which are solutions of the original differential equations describing the physical system in question. These algebraic equations can, in fact, be combined into a transfer function which describes the behavior of the physical system. This transfer function is usually written as a factored polynomial expression with a polynomial numerator and a polynomial denominator, like this:

The numbers z1, z2, etc. are called the zeros of the transfer function, and the numbers p1, p2, etc. are called the poles of the transfer function. The poles and zeros are complex numbers of the form a+jb, where j equals the square root of -1. For any pole or zero, the number b can be equal to zero, in which the pole or zero is entirely real. If the number a equals zero, then the pole or zero has no real part, and the physical system is marginally stable. If the number a is positive, the system is unstable – that is, in response to a finite change in a system input, the system output grows without bound until the system destroys itself. When any of the poles of the system transfer function have a positive real part, we say that these poles are on the right half of the control plane, signifying that the system is unstable. One way to make an unstable system stable is to add a negative feedback loop which counteracts the tendency of the system output to grow without bound.

Many social systems behave in the same way as physical systems modeled by differential equations, in that there is some element of instability for which we must compensate by adding a feedback loop to prevent the system from destroying itself. From whence the instability? From the people who make up the social system – “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied; and a man's eyes are never satisfied.” (Proverbs 27:20) The cravings of each of us require checks and balances, lest by the unrestrained exercise of those cravings we destroy both ourselves and the social systems of which we are a part.

This realization has guided the formation of enduring social structures, including societies, communities and cultures that last over the long run. The members of such social units realize that the happiness of the individual and the happiness of the collective are linked, and that they must be balanced in a healthy way. Therefore, the members of such communities recognize that there must be necessary curbs on the pursuit of individual happiness. A good summary term to describe this connectedness is the Bantu word ubuntu, the meaning of which has been summarized as follows: “I am because we are.

Looking at social systems in this way enables us to see that the United States was an unstable social experiment from the very start. The American revolution, financed and led by wealthy and wealth-loving upper-class colonists, was an affirmation of “...inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness...” The underpinnings of this affirmation were, among other things, the writings of John Locke, who believed that the role of the government should be limited solely to protection of private “property”, defined as a person's “life, liberty and estate.” To put it another way, “...all are entitled to lead a free life in the pursuit of happiness, but how they get there is up to them. The pursuit is that of an individual, not of a larger force.” (Cogan, Clio's Psyche, June 2011).

Wealthy people – especially those with a Western mindset – can be quite selfish; thus the emphasis on an individual pursuit in the society created by the wealthy former colonists, a society which was dominated by what Alexis de Tocqueville described as “crass individualism” and narrow self-interest: “...[I see] an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest—his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not—he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.” (de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1840).

That quote is from a portion of de Tocqueville's work where he describes how democracy might slide into despotism. I think there were some things which de Tocqueville might not have anticipated (such as how such a society might slide into narcissism); yet I submit that his quote describes the logical outgrowth of a society built on the individual pursuit of happiness without regard for how each person's pursuit might affect the larger collective. In the United States, therefore, the necessary feedback loop of being forced to consider the consequences of one's individual pursuits on the health and welfare of others was greatly weakened from the start.

This has led to a society which, after only a few generations, produced a number of holders of great concentrations of economic power, people whose actions therefore had a strongly disproportionate and frequently negative effect on the health of the entire community. On multiple occasions, the holders of such wealth and power successfully fought off the efforts of the community to rein in that power by appealing to “the free market ideal,” and the rights granted to men by “natural law,” the chief right being the “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet the unrestrained actions of these people led to frequent system crashes and painful reboots where the ability of individuals to amass large concentrations of economic power was temporarily curtailed. The social system called the U.S.A. was able to recover after each crash because this country still had a large economically exploitable base of natural resources.

Now we are facing what may possibly be the mother of all crashes, and instead of rediscovering our connectedness to each other, many in the U.S. are addicted to right-wing demagogues who want to remove all community restraints on the exercise of individual “rights.” Some of these people are favorites of some members of the “peak oil/collapse” scene. I am thinking of those who agree that our government has become a corrupt oligarchy, those who decry the capture of the government by big business, and who put forward people like Pat Buchanan and Ron and Rand Paul as potential saviors. They even quote Ron Paul publicly wringing his hands over the power big business has at all levels of government. What these people are not sharp enough to realize is that the solution proposed by Buchanan and the Pauls and people like them is to remove all government restraint over the individual pursuit of whatever makes each of us happy.

Such a removal is sold as a means to guarantee that each of us has a crack at becoming a self-made Horatio Alger story millionaire or billionaire. Yet the truth is that the world's dwindling store of remaining wealth has been concentrated in so few hands that in the aftermath of the removal of all government restraint, the free-for-all competition for what's left will be a zero-sum game in which those who were already the fattest predators win and most of the rest of us get gobbled up.  Afterward, we will find ourselves being ruled solely by naked corporate power.  (Imagine, for instance, your children daily pledging allegiance to the flag of Microsoft.)  And then the system will crash, because its owners did not recognize the limits to growth, the consequences of ruining the environment, or the outcome of devouring their own fellow human beings.

So to return to my original metaphor, I feel like a hostage passenger on a bus careening down a mountain dirt road. Someone has drained all the damping fluid out of the shock absorbers, thus removing all the negative feedback which would keep the bus from bouncing off the road as it hits bumps and ruts at a rate which coincides diabolically with the resonant frequency of the bus-shock absorber-tire system. Some of us are about to get car-sick (or is it bus-sick?), some of us are saying our prayers, and too many of us are trying to help the bus to crash by dancing in the aisle. And the bus driver has his pedal to the metal, and whoever gets to drive the bus after 2016 isn't likely to be any better.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Syriza's Day

Today, the Syriza party won nearly half of the seats in the Greek Parliament.  This will likely set Greece on the path to an exit from the European Union, and on a path to a drastic reorganization of its internal economy toward a more equitable arrangement for its people.

The experience of Greece (and of Portugal, Italy, Spain and the Baltic states) in the European Union shows that it's not just the British and Americans who can play the game of "hierarchy of white privilege."  The EU has arranged itself so that flows of economic wealth enrich a few nations at the expense of many others.  Thus the enjoyment of the benefits of "European privilege" have been reserved for a few while the costs of that privilege have been borne by the many who are overwhelmingly non-Germanic, non-English, non-Scandinavian, and historically less industrialized.  Today that arrangement is in danger of coming apart.

The recent history of Greece has some interesting similarities to recent history in the United States, including neoliberal takeovers of political and economic processes and riots over police shootings of unarmed teenagers.  It will be interesting to see how the holders of privilege in the United States react to Syriza's victory.  A successful political revolt such as Syriza's has become less likely in the United States, due to the dismantling of the American political process.  (See this and this.)  Yet there are other ways for a healthy periphery to go "No Contact" with a pathological political center. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Locus of Instability

After I wrote my last post, it occurred to me that I had completely neglected three men who comprise what is quite possibly the strongest example in recent memory of provoking national narcissistic rage. I am thinking of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. These three men were responsible for leaking (Manning and Snowden) and publishing (Assange) national secrets of the United States and Great Britain related to the efforts of those nations to rule the world. Manning blew the whistle on American war crimes committed in the name of the “War On Terror.” Assange had the temerity to publish the documents leaked by Manning. Snowden revealed the existence of the “Five Eyes” spy program by which the United States, in conjunction with the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, conducted electronic espionage and cyber-sabotage against almost every non-English-speaking government on earth.

These men did nothing worse than tell the truth about the aims, motives, and policies of the people in power in the United States and its “allies.” Yet the truth they told, combined with the response from those in power, reveals much about the pathology of those in power. In the aftermath of their revelations, these men became the targets of the sort of rage that narcissists express when they've been exposed, after their carefully constructed image of perfection and sainthood has been punctured. In this case, ad hominem attacks (“These men are traitors! Enemies of freedom! Sympathizers with terrorists!”) were combined with ad baculum attacks: “And as soon as we get our hands on these men, we will throw them IN JAIL!!! FOREVER!!!”

The truth they told also reveals the way the rest of the world is viewed by the holders of concentrated privilege in the United States and its English-speaking allies. It appears that in the eyes of the “Five Eyes,” there is a “hierarchy of whiteness and privilege.” It is thus not surprising that the “Five Eyes” should watch China, Latin America (where, for instance, the NSA spied on the Brazilian oil firm Petrobras), and the Arab nations. But the “Five Eyes” were also gazing on the citizens and governments of Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Germany. What was their motivation? I believe it was to gather intelligence in order to guide U.S. attempts to open the economies of these countries (and of the European Union as a whole) to capture by American and British-owned multinational corporations in the name of free-market neoliberalism. From a business standpoint, such a goal makes sense. But what kind of pathology makes a person want to own and control all the economies of the world? The revelations of NSA spying showed the non-English European nations in yet one more way that they were not the “golden children” of the pathological family headed by the United States.  The white privilege promulgated by the holders of concentrated privilege in the United States is therefore not even for all white nations. Rather, the holders of that privilege want the rest of us to regard it as the sole possession of the English-speaking white nations. 

And within the United States, the masters of white privilege are unwilling to share it even with all of the white citizens of the United States.

When one considers the expressions of the “white privilege” being pushed in this country, one can see clearly why that privilege is not intended even for all white people in this country. Consider the “patriarchy” movement now being pushed by many conservative, Republican-leaning, white male evangelical leaders. Or consider the violent underpinnings of the “men's rights movement.”  Or consider the “manosphere” which harbors such movements, and which provided inspiration to Eliot Rodger's shooting spree in 2014. (See this and this.)  The manosphere is also the source of death threats against women who have publicly objected to the portrayal of violence against women in online video games.   Consider also the effect of Republican support for gun rights on domestic violence in this country , or Republican obstructionism in drafting domestic violence legislation for the military, or the conservative talking heads and politicians who want to repeal female suffrage. I could go on and on.

In other words, it has become quite clear that the holders of white privilege in this country intend that the chief holders of that privilege be white, English-speaking men. Therefore, it is not surprising that they are very frightened and angry now at the emergence of a multipolar world in which one person or group will not be able to lord themselves over another, but in which people will have to rely on politeness in order to get on with their fellow human beings - even within their own homes. One recent expression of that anger is the Tea Party, “a reflection of enormous anger, primarily of white conservative men. They are older, better educated, and economically better off than most Americans...” Many of the outbursts of violent or threatening rage among white Americans are a reflection of “whites' fears that this country and the world are on the verge of losing its Anglo-Saxon domination.”  (Clio's Psyche, June 2011)  

The formal expressions of that rage and fear come from the wealthy and the politically connected, whereas the trashiest expressions come from people like the man whose picture adorns this week's post. Either way, the voices of that rage and fear are not only white, but overwhelmingly male. They long for the "return" of a world which never quite existed, a world in which they imagine they could act like kings without regard to the effect of that kingship on others.  Those who subscribe to the brand of white privilege I have described want the heavy costs of that privilege to be borne, not just by non-white people, or non-English speakers, but by their own women and children. This is hardly the way to construct an enduring society.  It is, however, a good way to construct a society that self-destructs.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Help for the Disheveled

Imagine with me for a few minutes. Close your eyes and picture two people who wake up in the morning and make nearly identical mistakes in the process of getting ready to leave their homes. Person X therefore traipses out of his front door with both shoes on the wrong feet and both shoelaces untied, one sock missing, his fly unzipped, his shirt inside-out and buttoned up crooked, and a smudge of ketchup on one cheek. Person Y is in nearly the same condition, except that while he managed to put on both socks, his pants are on backwards, his shirttail is hanging out and he has a smudge of peanut butter on one cheek. Now imagine that a neighbor sees each person and says to each, “Yo dude! You look funny. Go back in your house and check yourself out in a mirror.” Lastly, imagine that one of the poorly dressed people is otherwise normal and the other is a clinical narcissist. How will each person react to the ungentle yet constructive criticism delivered to them?

I think it's safe to say that neither person will particularly like being criticized. Yet the more normal of the two persons will most likely respond constructively. He will be more likely to ask, “What do you mean, I look funny?” In other words, he will seek to know the details behind his neighbor's statement. As the neighbor elaborates on the pants, the sock, the shoelaces, etc., the more healthy person will beat a hasty retreat into his house for some serious grooming. And he will appreciate the favor his neighbor did for him in pointing out that he was not quite ready to be seen in public.

As for the narcissist, he is “extremely sensitive to personal criticism and extremely critical of other people. They think that they must be seen as perfect or superior or infallible, next to god-like...or else they are worthless. There's no middle ground of ordinary humanity for narcissists...Thus, no matter how gently you suggest that they might do better to change their ways or get some help, they will react in one of two equally horrible ways: they will attack or they will withdraw.” (Ashmun, 1998-2008). Thus the clinical narcissist will likely look at the criticism as an intolerable injury to his grandiose self. If he attacks (and far too often, such people do respond by attacking), it may well be a baseless, wildly over-the-top ad hominem attack which totally disregards the factualness of his neighbor's comment. (In extreme cases, it can turn into an ad baculum attack, summarized as “I'll beat you up if you criticize me!”)

This is a real shame for the narcissist, because all constructive criticism contains valuable information. Moreover, all people and entities composed of people need evaluation and constructive criticism from time to time (indeed, on a daily basis). Both we and the social units we create are imperfect, after all. As the Good Book says, “Reproofs of instruction are the way of life...” (Proverbs 6:23) By rejecting the reproof and attacking the reprovers, narcissists miss out on the healthy correction and improvement that results from listening to valuable information.

In the last several posts, we have considered the United States as an narcissistic entity – especially the public persona projected by the leaders, the wealthy and the media of this country. It is not surprising that we should expect the signs of clinical narcissism in the way this country and its most influential spokespersons have responded to criticism over the last decade and a half.

Some of that criticism has been scholarly, fact-based, and well-researched. I am thinking now of a long paper I discovered this past week, titled, “Symposium on the Psychology of American Exceptionalism.” The paper was published in June 2011, and in the table of contents are such provocative titles as, “A Psychoanalytic Approach to Exceptionalism in Foreign Policy,” “Extreme American Exceptionalism: Narcissism and Paranoia,” “Puritan Roots of American Exceptionalism,” “American Exceptionalism is Not Benign,” and “Delusion in Foreign Policy.” The paper also examines the unwillingess of the United States to acknowledge the limits of its power, and the stresses placed on the American psyche by the beginnings of the unraveling of that power.

The organization which published that paper is Clio's Psyche, whose website states that “Our mission is to enlarge and disseminate the related paradigms of applied psychoanalysis, political psychology, psychobiography, and of psychological history.” In short, they “...[apply]...psychology, in its broadest sense, or psychoanalyusis in a specific sense, to the study of the past.” The staff at Clio's Psyche are well-qualified to undertake such a study, with an editorial board consisting of several psychology PhD's and at least one person with an EdD who also have a solid grasp of history.

The paper I have cited delves the dysfunctional character of American narcissism and expounds some likely consequences of that narcissism. Yet I can guarantee you that most Americans won't read it even if they hear about it. Many of them will, however, go to the theater to watch American Sniper. This is an example of withdrawing from constructive criticism.

But what about the other narcissistic response, consisting of attack of critics? There has been an abundance of ad hominem attacks against America's critics over the last fifteen years – even though those critics had every right to criticize. However, I will consider only two critics, because they epitomize the nature of American attacks against any who criticize the U.S. The first critic is Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia. He is a member of the indigenous (non-European) Bolivian population, whose presidency instituted many policies designed to end exploitation of indigenous peoples, to prevent the privatization of Bolivian natural gas, and to more equitably distribute the country's wealth. He was also a vocal critic of U.S. policies in Latin America. As a result, the U.S. did all it could to brand him as a criminal, to manipulate Bolivian politics to expel him from power, and to cause the secession of wealthy parts of the country controlled by white Bolivians. The Bush Administration even attempted to use Peace Corps volunteers in Bolivia to spy out that nation's vulnerabilities.  However, it doesn't seem that anyone in the U.S. government ever tried to evaluate the validity of Morales' criticisms.

The other example - one of the best examples of U.S. ad hominem attacks against a critic - is the example of the good Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Reverend Wright preached a sermon, titled, “Confusing God and Government,” at that church on the 13th of April in 2003. That sermon was heard by a large audience on that day; yet it's safe to say that that audience was not even one thousandth of the population of the United States, most of whose citizens did not even know of this sermon until Fox News and the campaign of Hillary Clinton turned part of it into a six second sound byte containing a now-famous invocation.

Let's talk about that invocation. Before we do, I want to talk about the proper use of the word “damn.” That word is typically regarded as profanity these days (one of the lightest “cuss words” in our now long-since-tarnished lexicon). But the original meaning of the word is to consign someone to the worst possible punishment. To damn a person is therefore much worse than condemning them to earthly capital punishment. This is why polite society has taught that that word must be used carefully, only in justified cases, and not indiscriminately – just as police should be (but often are not) careful in the use of firearms – not indiscriminately shooting unarmed people of color, for instance.

Reverend Wright's invocation was an invocation of damnation. Specifically, he said, “God damn America!” Was his invocation justified? That question was never asked by the critics from the American right wing in 2008, which is not surprising, given that that right wing is now trying to impose a belief in American exceptionalism as a litmus test to determine who is a good American. Instead, Wright was characterized as a hater, a racist, whose criticisms ought to be therefore taken as invalid as a matter of course, no questions asked.

But let us examine the elements of Reverend Wright's invocation now. His invocation consists of three parts:

  • God damn America for killing innocent people!
  • God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human!
  • God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme!
Has America done these things? Yes, yes, and yes! Is there a judgment for these things? Based on the things I've read, I say Yes! According to the Good Book, the ultimate judgment will be damnation. But of the final outworking of that damnation, no mortal now alive has any first-hand experiential knowledge. Therefore, I will not say much more about it. However, I would like to comment on the beginnings of damnation, namely those consequences which begin the moment a person begins to choose evil, the consequences encapsulated by such Scriptures as “The wages of sin is death,” “The soul that sins shall die,” and “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap.”

The consideration of these consequences involves much more than easy, careless, lazy moralizing. Rather, the consideration of these consequences involves the careful observation of the ways in which invisible spiritual realities begin to manifest themselves in concrete, physical daily life in much the same way that invisible ionizing radiation affects living tissue. This observation takes an observer past the surface of life as reported by American mainstream media, leading instead to dry and dusty analyses, studies and reams of data describing the deterioration of the American body politic, the consequences this nation is reaping from having chosen inflexibly to be a certain kind of people. From the data one can see trends; from the data one can also find illustrative case studies. One particular case: we are now seeing the decompensation of George Zimmerman, the Florida Neighborhood Watch vigilante who shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Now it is coming out that Mr. Zimmerman has had a long history of violence, starting years before his murder of Trayvon, and including incidents where he punched the father of one of his girlfriends, threatened a motorist with a weapon in a road rage incident, and threatened a girlfriend with a shotgun. Now he's going to jail. But the authorities in Florida are treating him with a surprising amount of gentleness, and his lawyer is appealing to the public (and the judiciary) to treat him with gentleness in light of all he has been through. Who knows, maybe he will get out of a conviction and have further opportunities to terrorize everyone who crosses his path. And he will also have further opportunities to destroy himself.

As long as mainstream American society continues to give itself a pass and refuses to take constructive criticism on board, its member will continue to suffer the accelerating consequences of being a dysfunctional people. Looking at the ways in which mainstream America is now suffering, I have to say I'm rather comforted. Maybe I shouldn't be. But I've been really angry over the last several months. Now it seems that my prayers are being answered. Wright isn't the only one who has said “damn” lately.

But maybe, in spite of all I have said, there are those readers who are not yet willing to receive some constructive moral criticism concerning our "great" country. Let me take you straight to the Source then, and leave you with one last quote from the Good Book, from the Old Testament book of Zechariah, which says, “The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus has the Lord of Hosts spoken, saying, ‘Execute true judgment, and show kindness and compassion every man to his brother. Don’t oppress the widow, nor the fatherless, the foreigner, nor the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.’ But they refused to listen, and turned their backs, and stopped their ears, that they might not hear. Yes, they made their hearts as hard as flint, lest they might hear the law, and the words which the Lord of Hosts had sent by his Spirit by the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of Hosts. It has come to pass that, as he called, and they refused to listen, so they will call, and I will not listen,” said the Lord of Hosts...” 

Look at this passage, then examine your history and the history of this nation, lest you find yourself one day entering Eternity with your shoes untied and on the wrong feet, one sock missing, your pants on backward with the fly unzipped, your shirt inside-out and buttoned up crooked, and a smudge of shame on your face.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

When The Ferris Wheel Flies Apart

“Decompensation” is what happens when a narcissistic individual or entity is no longer able to maintain the grandiose self which is its chosen identity. The Anglo-American identity which the United States has constructed for itself is just such a “grandiose self”: a “chosen nation,” a “city on a hill,” “the greatest nation on earth” because it consists of a race “predestined” to supreme greatness by “Providence.” In the name of that “Providence” it has conquered the North American continent, nearly exterminating the original inhabitants in the process, and it has managed to subjugate most of the rest of the world. In that process, moreover, the privileged among the citizens of the United States have come to believe that they deserve the special privileges they enjoy, having been predestined to these privileges; and that the nations and peoples who have been subjugated “deserve” the treatment which this country has inflicted on them, being “predestined” to that treatment. Throughout its history, there have been spokesmen for this country who have boasted that the United States is a “Christian” nation, “one nation under God.” Yet U.S. treatment of other nations – especially non-European nations – has been anything but a model of the Golden Rule, embodying instead the slogan, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Hence the need to invoke a Calvinist predestination to justify this country's treatment of other nations and peoples.

The identity which the U.S. has constructed is inherently unsustainable. It is now being threatened by forces beyond the control of this country and its privileged members. Some of those forces were identified in last week's post. The United States has become used to economic, political and military arrangements which allow four percent of the world's population to control almost all of the economic flows on this planet, and to enjoy over 40 percent of the world's resources. The rest of the world has for a long time regarded this a rather distasteful and burdensome arrangement, and has in the last few years begun to do something about it. Weekly – sometimes daily – new challenges to U.S. hegemony are now arising as nations seek to reassert control over their own affairs. The most recent contender is Greece, where the Syriza party, described as “far-left” by Western media, holds a lead over the ruling party days before the Greek general elections on the 25th of this month.  If the Syriza party gains a decisive number of seats in the Greek parliament, a Greek exit from the Eurozone would certainly be a possibility, as Syriza have made it clear that they want a drastic revision of economic austerity conditions imposed on them by the EU and the IMF. The beginning of a breakup of the EU would have serious implications for U.S. economic hegemony. Also, a number of European nations have been making noises within the last two weeks about breaking with the U.S. over the issue of sanctions against Russia.

But there is a more compelling reason than geopolitics for the unsustainability of the current American identity. This country has exhausted its base of many natural resources, just as the industrialized world has exhausted a critical mass of its natural resource base. The current and deepening depression in the price of oil, metals, and other commodities is a symptom of an anemic economy falling down after a period of overexertion. This fainting is a sign that the exertion was itself unsustainable. The German Energy Watch Group, which published supply outlook reports for oil, coal and uranium in 2007 and 2008, also published a comprehensive update to its forecasts in 2013. That update, titled, Fossil and Nuclear Fuels - The Supply Outlook, maintains that global production of conventional crude oil peaked in 2008, and that global extraction of all non-renewable energy sources will peak right around now. Concentrated energy sources are the lifeblood of an industrial economy, so the peak and decline in extraction means the inevitable decline of the global industrial economy. This means that a lot of people who were winners will now become losers; a lot of people who were used to being in control of things will lose control.

The various nations are being affected unevenly by this contraction, depending on whether they are producer nations who still have valuable concentrations of resources or importer nations who have largely used up their resources. The U.S. is an importer nation. A loss of hegemony by the U.S. at a time of energy and resource contraction means that U.S. consumers will increasingly find themselves cut off from access to remaining stocks of raw materials which exist in distant nations and are controlled by those nations. Those nations may be temporarily hurt by the current drop in demand for their materials, yet the fact that they can still produce things of value will enhance their long-term survival prospects compared to nations which import most of their resources and finished products. Thus the long-term standard of material wealth in a nation like the United States will inevitably and irreversibly decline.

What does this mean in plain language? This nation has built its identity as a “special and chosen people” on a foundation of having lots of stuff and being able to tell lots of people what to do. That identity is about to take a huge hit. When that happens, many of us will get to watch decompensation in action.

Of this decompensation, it has been written that “The stress of aging or illness and the attendant loss of beauty, strength, or cognitive function can undermine narcissistic fantasies of invulnerability and limitless power. It may lead to an empty, depleted collapse on the one hand or a frantic search for compensatory thrill-seeking on the other, both of which are described in the classic “midlife crisis”. Later-life crises, such as one experienced on the eve of retirement, also may reflect narcissistic pathology.” (See this and this.) In other words, the loss of ability to maintain a grandiose self provokes a crisis. What does that crisis look like? I am not a psychologist, and I don't usually make predictions, but I'd like to suggest a few possibilities.

I propose that there may be two phases to decompensation. Both phases are characterized by scapegoating and projection, but the nature of that scapegoating changes from the first phase to the next. In the first phase, scapegoating takes the form of “enemy creation” in order to justify not only the exploitation of groups or individuals targeted for exploitation, but also to distract from the dysfunctional dynamics experienced by those who are in long-term association with the narcissist. The scapegoating is an ever-present feature of the narcissist's interactions, but when his grandiosity is endangered, the scapegoating may kick into overdrive as the narcissist seeks a defense from the threat he perceives. This may well explain the evolution of the U.S. “War on Terror” from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the present day. The takeaway message of the “War on Terror” is that because the United States is a “special” nation, there are enemies out there who “hate our freedom” and want to attack us. This then becomes the primary focus of our attention, and we are trained to ignore our own dysfunctional treatment not only of others, but of the marginalized members of our own society. This also plays into two of the symptoms of narcissism described in the DSM-IV: “...believes that he or she is 'special' and unique...,” and “...believes that others are envious of him or her...”

In this first stage of decompensation, scapegoating then consists of “enemy creation” the purpose of which is to promote the cohesion of the dysfunctional group led by the narcissist, to mask the pain of the dysfunction experienced in the narcissist's pathological space, and to justify the exploitation of those who have things the narcissist wants to take, or who by their very existence threaten the narcissist's identity as the “fairest one of all.” I think this is what was behind the undeserved publicity surrounding the supposed North Korean hack of the computers of Sony Pictures over its release of “The Interview” – a movie about attempting to assassinate the leader of North Korea, a movie which was so technically and artistically bad that it earned a rating of only 52 percent from Rotten Tomatoes. Other examples include the inaccurate portrayal of people of color as largely criminal in the aftermath of the shootings of unarmed Black people in the U.S. last year, as well as the inaccuracies in media coverage of Libya and Syria prior to U.S. and NATO military action against these countries. And let's not forget the granddaddy of them all, the false case for “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq just before the 2003 invasion led by the United States.

The trouble with this kind of enemy creation is that over time, it stops working. Instead, an increasing number of people come to believe that each new “terror incident” or “threat incident” in the news is nothing more than a “false flag” attack designed to advance the ulterior interests of the nation which is supposedly warning us of the “threat.” (For instance, a surprising number of people believe that the recent Charlie Hebdo attack was a false flag operation designed to advance the “War on Terror” and the political prospects of far-right European nationalist political parties, as well as to dissuade member nations from leaving the EU. See this.) Think of the boy who cried “Wolf.” Nevertheless, it would not surprise me to find an increasing number of “enemies” being created by Anglo-American leaders and media in the years to come.

As the decline of our formerly grandiose nation continues, and we begin to enter the second stage of decompensation, we will begin obviously to lose the ability to affect events on the world stage. This will lead to a further decline in our material standard of wealth. At this stage I expect the scapegoating to turn to asking whom we can blame for our loss of prestige. This may take the form of infighting between powerful leaders of economic/political factions, with a little (or maybe a lot) of the old enemy creation added in the form of targeting foreign-born people and people of color within this country's borders. The point will be that someone, somewhere has to answer for the failure of this country's grandiose self, and the people who caused that failure will prove to be too brittle to take responsibility. Therefore they will project that responsibility on the most convenient target they can find. I think of a scene out of the Great Divorce where Napoleon Bonaparte is in Hell, in a well-lit mansion which can't keep out the rain, and he is endlessly pacing up and down, muttering, “It was Soult's fault. It was Ney's fault. It was Josephine's fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English...” The second stage of decompensation may also take a suicidal turn, as the remaining leaders of the old order enact policies which they know to be self-destructive, as Hitler did during the waning days of the Third Reich, or as Jim Jones did on the day that he and his followers drank poisoned Kool-Aid.

The task, then – for marginalized peoples in this country and for all people of principle who seek to maintain a good conscience – will be to successfully navigate perilous days for a while. For while it may be tempting to run away to another country, the reality is that most of us don't have that option. Also, there are other countries which have been poisoned to the same extent as the United States. (I think particularly of Great Britain, Canada and Australia.) Yet I don't think all areas of the United States will be equally bad. There will be a surprising number of geographical and cultural nooks and crannies where a meaningful and healthy life can be led. Finding and thriving in these niches is part of the task before us.

P.S. Please do read in their entirety the articles on narcissism which I quoted and linked from the Web of Narcissism site.   Pay special attention to the stories of decompensating individuals.  Then take a look at the folks around you.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Breakup of Pathological Spaces

To summarize last week's post, present-day American narcissism stands on the following legs:

  • A 1700-year legacy of the preaching of national exceptionalism in Europe by state churches who tried to justify the disconnect between the words of the New Testament and the actions of the states in which these churches were embedded.
  • Exceptionalism “taken to the next level” through Calvinism: first, the belief that some people were predestined from before the womb to eternal salvation, and others predestined from before the womb to eternal damnation, this election being completely independent of the choice of any of those so predestined. Second, the belief that all that happens in the world happens because God has willed it; therefore, all that happens must have been approved by God. This morphed into “social Calvinism”: the belief that the sign that one was a member of God's elect was material prosperity and success in earthly business, the belief that those who were not successful or who were poor were so because they were not of God's elect but were under God's curse, and the belief that whatever “God's elect” got away with doing to the rest of the people in the world was approved by God and a sign of His “Providence.”
As I said in last week's post, this is the foundation of American narcissism, the belief that this nation is above all nations in that it has a special mission from God (a mission which conveniently lines up with American imperial ambitions), that Americans (specifically, white Americans) are a special, chosen people, and the belief that both Scripture, Providence and nature bear this out.

The effect that such beliefs, combined with a long string of seeming “successes” has had on the Anglo-American psyche is that this has become the unconscious foundation of national identity and the unconscious justification of white privilege. Americans know they are special just because they are. Therefore many of them have begun to compete with each other to see who is most “special.” (“Mirror, mirror, on the wall...”)

Today's post will consider the environment which narcissists create for themselves and in which they operate. That environment is the narcissist's Pathological Space: “the network of relationships in their home, extended families, workplace, and neighborhood.” (Krajco, 2004-2007). Its purpose is to feed the narcissist by providing victims and mirrors who reflect back the narcissist's grandiose self. Garden-variety narcissists don't care about anything outside their pathological space, even though they know that there is a world full of people who live outside that space. Therefore they don't trouble themselves with that outside world unless someone mentions it to them, in which case they disparage the outside world and turn back to contemplating their own glory. Within the pathological space, everyone else is either a victim or a mirror. A person can choose to be a victim or a mirror, although sometimes mirrors are turned into victims apart from their own choice.

A mirror is an adoring lackey or sycophant, who always gives the right answer when asked the All-Important Question: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?” A victim is anyone who contradicts the narcissist. Contradicting is extremely easy to do. You can give the wrong answer to the All-Important Question – first, by pointing out someone (other than the narcissist) whom you admire or look up to, second, by being someone of obviously praiseworthy virtue or competence yourself, or third, simply by being obviously different in any way from the narcissist – especially if your “difference” makes you “vulnerable” in the narcissist's eyes.

So what happens to you if you contradict or refuse to validate the grandiose self constructed by a narcissist? You become the target of attack while you are in the narcissist's pathological space. The attack is designed to destroy you, for a contradiction to the narcissist's grandiose self must not be allowed to survive, as the contradiction is an existential threat to the narcissist's identity. If you fight back or defend yourself, you simply provoke a drastic multiplication of the narcissist's rage – he has to be right and victorious, or his grandiose self will suffer an intolerable injury. Therefore, it will be a no-holds-barred, knock-down and drag-out fight from his point of view. Even if you win a round, you'll have to be forever on your guard, because the narcissist will never quit – even if at times he seems to surrender. The only way to rid yourself of the narcissist is to cut off all contact with him, and that introduces an entirely different set of dynamics and risks into the situation.

What happens when a narcissist or narcissistic nation manages to turn the world into a Pathological Space? I think when that happens, you get the sort of foreign policy which the United States has enacted from the late 1800's until now (with more than a little help from England, another nation ruled by narcissists). The war against “contradictions” has involved the following nations:

  • Haiti, a former slave colony which obtained its independence by revolting from France in 1804. In the aftermath of the revolution, the United States sided with France in trying to economically isolate Haiti in order to destroy its self-determination and its government. France imposed a fine on Haiti in order to recoup the losses to its earning power resulting from the loss of its African slaves in Haiti, and the United States assisted France in its economic punishment of Haiti. Moreover, the United States has invaded the country numerous times during the 20th and 21st centuries. (For an example, see this.)
  • The Philippines during the Filipino-American War, where the United States inflicted casualties to the tune of at least 220,000 and possibly over 300,000 people, according to some historians.
  • The Dominican Republic, which was invaded four times by the United States from 1900 to 1965.
  • Vietnam, whose citizens fought a war of independence against France from 1946 to 1954. The French had become involved at the behest of the British government after World War 2. During that war, the United States supported the French with arms, intelligence, and funding. However, the French lost the war. Once the French were kicked out of the country, the United States brokered a partition of the country into North and South Vietnam. When the South Vietnamese government proved itself to be inept and corrupt, the Vietnamese people began fighting to overthrow it, thus triggering the American involvement of the 1960's and early 1970's which ended when Nixon negotiated a “peace with honor” that enabled America to walk away without having to admit defeat.
  • Both Gulf Wars, ISIS, Syria, and Afghanistan, where American intervention has caused from 1,200,000 to possibly 2,000,000 (yes, that's two million) civilian deaths so far, according to several sources (such as this one);
  • And many, many more!
In People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck wrote a chapter on the Vietnam War titled, “My Lai: An Examination of Group Evil,” in which he states that we fought so hard to conquer that country because psychologically we just had to be right, even though the facts on the ground contradicted us. We would rather have destroyed the contradiction entirely than admit that we had been wrong. Our zeal in fighting therefore shows our narcissism. It can be argued that this nation has never truly backed down from a war which it has started as an attempt to conquer a nation whose citizens plainly showed that they did not want to be ruled by the United States. After the U.S. was forced militarily out of Indochina, it used economic policies to enforce a partial subjugation of the region. And the U.S. has never truly left Iraq.

When the “good angels” in a narcissist's pathological space get together to compare notes, often the result is an exodus of people from the pathological space. Many writers describe this as “going No Contact (NC)” with the narcissist. Narcissists are enraged by contradiction, but they are made desperate by No Contact. Under No Contact, people who were mirrors to the narcissist, or who were used as sources of supply by the narcissist, are no longer there to reflect the narcissist's glory or power or influence back to him. Without such people, the narcissist faces an existential crisis even worse than the crisis provoked when he is contradicted by someone, for under No Contact, the narcissist sees his former victims and mirrors living meaningful lives completely independent of him, and he sees that his formerly grandiose self can no longer have any effect on them. This is the ultimate contradiction of his Grandiose Self.

Over the last thirteen to fifteen years, other nations have begun to go No Contact with the U.S. The diminishing of contact has taken place in the economic arena, as nations have sought to build trade agreements with each other independently from the United States, and to move away from the dollar as the world's reserve currency. This move was provoked initially by the American use of sanctions to subjugate Iraq after the first Gulf War. This move has accelerated in response to the unilateral American military and economic acts of aggression which have taken place since 2001. This move has not been without risk, as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi found out. Nevertheless, in spite of economic and military warfare waged by the United States, the U.S. dollar as a percentage of all foreign exchange holdings droppped from 55 percent in 2001 to 33 percent in 2013.  Further, new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and trade zones continue to be enacted throughout the world, independently of the United States, which is not being invited to enter these agreements. American attempts to wreck foreign economies through sanctions are backfiring, as targeted nations are learning that one can indeed survive without the U.S. dollar.

I think it's safe to say that we are witnessing the emergence of a new world order, but not one that is pleasing to the United States. What is emerging is a multipolar world, in which everyone must be polite, wait his or her turn, and say “Please” and “Thank you,” and in which no one nation will get to enjoy outlandishly “special” prerogatives or privileges over any other nation. The holders of concentrated privilege and power in the United States fear and hate the emergence of such a world, but increasingly, there doesn't seem to be a thing they can do to stop it. The long-term response of the United States to that emergence is likely to be some form of “decompensation.” That “decompensation” will be in part comically stupid, and in part dangerously ugly in many parts of this country, and in many sectors of American society. I'll talk about that in a future post.

A last note: when narcissists lose most of their current sources of supply, one sign of their resulting desperation is that they go back to former sources of supply and try to re-establish relationships with these people, in the hope of rebuilding a pathological space of mirrors and victims. Going back to former sources is called “hoovering” by many writers. As I think about hoovering, I think about the recent news that the United States is seeking to normalize relations with Cuba. Cuba – a nation which was ostracized by the United States over a span of 55 years – from the overthrow of the Batista regime until now. Cuba – a nation which has discovered that it is possible to live a meaningful and worthy life independent of the United States. Cuba – a nation which is now famous for having a first-rate medical system and which exports medical expertise and medical technology to the rest of the world. Cuba – a nation which is only 90 miles away from the American coastline. Cuba – a nation now being “hoovered”?  ¡Ten cuidado, Raul Castro!