Monthly Archives: October 2017

Trump And/Or God?

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In Richard Russo’s novel, “Nobody’s Fool”, Rub Squeers, sometime friend of Sully (played by Paul Newman in the movie), often says with a stutter, sometimes to Sully, sometimes to himself, “You know what I w-wish -t?”

His wish is usually for a small improvement in his circumstances, never realized. Yet, he is optimistic and quite endearing.

The moment science reported that those among us with a modicum of optimism live longer, recover faster from illness, and tolerate chronic illness better than pessimists, a poster went up in the hallway of a mental health center I visit, proclaiming HOPE in bold letters. It has since come down.

I thought of these things while watching a bunch of religious (or faith community) leaders praise Donald Trump and the power of prayer in the oval office. One went as far as to announce that we all know prayer works. They each thanked Donald within the same paragraph they thanked God, knowing, I’m sure, who really had the power to dispense favour at this moment.

Of all the players in these three separate stories I think I prefer the simple honesty of Rub Squeers. He wishes, and momentarily it gives him hope and small pleasure, but he has few expectations as he trundles on getting by.

And prayer itself. I have always had a problem with prayer. Okay, it can support hope; it can strengthen community, but this juxtaposition of the stroking of Trump’s ego and the appeals to God certainly drew a clear parallel. For prayer itself implies that before God might notice my suffering, I must praise him. Not just praise him, but prostrate myself before him, beg him to intervene. So that image of God, that particular concept of God, involves an ego even bigger than Donald Trump’s. God the narcissist.

And as long as they have prayer I suppose they can continue to pave over the wetlands, ignore the disrepair of the damns, dykes, levees and drainage systems, cut taxes, remove environmental regulation, promote unfettered growth, and ignore climate change.

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The Obama Legacy

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I have had a lifetime of sitting in a comfortable chair, walking safe streets, and observing the struggles of our neighbour to the south. Beneath their constant boasting I witnessed their progress, through Kennedy, desegregation, Johnson, Alabama, Martin Luther King, until finally they elected a black president. Which meant, I thought, that at least half of the population of the United States had worked through their demons of oppression and slavery, of segregation, of racism. Their future looked bright. And if the future of the USA looks bright so does that of the rest of the world.

But when I listen to Donald Trump, to Steve Bannon, to Harvey Weinstein for that matter, and many other white male Americans of age, I realize how much their terrible history is still in play. For beneath all of their bluster, their provocations, their aggression, there lies a deep pool of fear and guilt. Or guilt and then fear, which would be the correct order. Guilt to fear and then to aggression.

It is embodied by Donald Trump. It is being played out by Donald Trump on the world stage. His narcissism is astounding, as is his ability to lie, but he embodies another dynamic that must be addressed if the USA is not going to implode. And that is Donald’s fixation on Barack Obama.

With much of what Trump says he leaves unspoken a final sentence that is beginning to ring loudly in my ears. And that is the removal of the “stain” of Barack Obama; the castration and lynching of Obama, expunging him from history.

The dynamic is guilt (guilt from deeds and thoughts and a denied history) which leads to a fear of retaliation, which is quickly turned into aggression.

It is risky applying individual psychology to the behaviour of groups and nations but over the past 50 years I think I have been watching Cognitive Behavioural Therapy being applied to America’s history of slavery, violence, segregation and racism. Superficially much progress has been made. “We shall overcome.” But I think they need Desmond Tutu. Some truth and reconciliation. A full catharsis if we are not to see this cycle repeated again and again.

That is (and perhaps it will be possible in the backlash choice of president after Donald Trump), they need to really face their history, the truth of slavery, the remnants of the civil war, their guilt and fear. It could start with a loud and public discussion about all those civil war monuments and what to do with them.

After that they could look at the guilt they must feel for the destruction they unleashed on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Perhaps if that is ever faced we will no longer read that 50% of Republicans are in favour of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

The ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ and Other Consoling Fictions

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I understand the families of soldiers killed in war must find ways of understanding their loss, their grief, of honouring their sons and daughters, their husbands, brothers, sisters. I understand that those who send these young men and women into war must find ways, beyond guilt and despair, of understanding, of justifying their responsibilities.

I understand that when most of us conclude that the war in question was unnecessary, foolish, and tragic, the families and generals must double down on their consoling fictions.

General John Kelly, as a military commander who sends young men and women into war zones, and who lost a son in Afghanistan has as much a need as anyone to find consoling fictions. And in his recent press conference defending Donald Trump he did just that. He elevated the fallen, those killed in battle, to a very restricted strata of society, the best of the best. He lessened his guilt by emphasizing that these young people know what they are signing up for, that they are fully aware they may be sacrificing their lives, that they do it for “love of country”.

I understand his need to think as he thinks, to imagine his son sitting with Athenian Gods in a Parthenon of heroes. It is no less a fiction than the stories told to ISIS fighters, and to all young men and women in totalitarian states.

We must grieve and honour these soldiers and console their families. We must do this in a way that does not perpetuate the myth of glory, that does not undermine the more important message, “never again”. We must do this in a way that does not perpetuate the fictions of a warrior culture.

For it is these fictions, “the ultimate sacrifice” for “love of country” as a “choice made by the best of the best” by fully cognizant young men and women, by a special elevated breed of human — it is these fictions that will allow us to go to war again, nay, require us to go to war again.

More Assault on Democracy

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In my list of instructions (the order was arbitrary) for undermining democracy, point 9 included curtailing unfavourable reporting by newspapers and TV networks via “licensing bodies”. Donald Trump floated the idea in a tweet earlier this week, “at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license?” and then, apparently emboldened, directly suggested it a day later. “…licenses must be challenged and if appropriate, revoked…” His target this time is NBC.

The outrage has not been deafening. Perhaps because another Trump tweet suggested pulling FEMA out of Puerto Rico while accusing them of being in a financial mess of their own making, and he is about to sign a bill that will undermine the Affordable Care Act. He is also busy undermining multiple international agreements from NAFTA to UNESCO. And we are distracted by the crimes and misdemeanors of Harvey Weinstein and the killing spree of Mr. Paddock.

A serial killer inures himself to remnants of fear and anxiety by engaging in a self-designed desensitization process. The same process works with large populations. “This is an unusual presidency”, someone says on CNN, “He doesn’t fit the mold.” “Should we take him literally?” “Should we take him seriously?” someone else asks.

But I think I have been most disturbed of late to hear even the thoughtful and presumably liberal experts and pundits on CNN tell me that, with respect to North Korea, “Diplomacy has failed. We have tried diplomacy for 25 years and it has failed.”

And then even when they say war is not an option, they calculate the cost of war, conventional or otherwise, as being a few thousand U.S citizens residing in South Korea, perhaps a few million South Korean lives, and the devastation of the Korean peninsula.

So this is where we stand at the moment, 9 months in:

  • Limit, by threat and licensing, the free press
  • Create chaos and anxiety at home (the soil from which grows tyranny)
  • Vilify and dehumanize an enemy
  • Desensitize the population to the truth and reality of war.

(in case anybody missed the point, North Korea has not attacked anyone in 25 years, so “diplomacy” has been working)

Reality VS Reality TV, Las Vegas and Packing

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I confess I have been watching too much CNN of late. This is not conducive to good mental health. But one of the things very apparent this week has been the struggle on the part of hosts, interviewers, guests and pundits to find a clear narrative in the Las Vegas story. Somehow there seems to be a need for this real life event to conform to the conceits of fiction.

Perhaps this should not be surprising for so-called reality TV does just that. It takes recordings of (albeit within a contrived and manipulated context) real human behaviours and organizes them in the editing room to fit, to satisfy the demands of story telling and fiction. Perhaps the presidency of Donald Trump is another symptom of fiction infiltrating reality; he certainly treats his job as if he is still the producer and star of a reality TV show. “Maybe this is the calm before the storm.” “What storm, Mr. President?” “You’ll see.”

Fiction requires a definable conflict, clear motivation, and an inciting incident. In a Hollywood movie the inciting incident occurs 5 to15 minutes in. Fiction supplies a background that explains the principal characters’ personalities in simple terms. Each character has an arc of development. The second act comprises variations on the theme building to the third act resolution. We are seldom happy with an inconclusive ending. We crave identifiable heroes and villains. We crave motivation in the form of a logical sequence of events, or something with which we can empathize. For a series to work each episode must end in a cliffhanger. If not a cliffhanger at least a little foreshadowing.

Fiction abounds in our lives these days. We can spend every waking hour engrossed in fiction and not run out of new shows. And so it should not be surprising that the conceits of fiction are falsely shaping our perceptions of reality, or our expectations of reality. They even creep into popular psychology and mental health jargon. They have crept into our body politic. They have enthralled a substantial number of Americans into believing such a sorry specimen as Donald Trump would make a good president. They form the parameters of our questions about the Las Vega shooter.

I see this influence in the current search for specific childhood traumas that might explain the development of psychotic illness. I see it in the words “trigger” and “closure”, borrowed just like Multiple Personality Disorder and “alters” from fiction, in “recovered memory” and “flashback”. I see more than a bit of fiction in the popularity of CBT.

But real life seldom conforms to the rules of fiction. Lives are messy. Variables are plentiful. Folly is more common than conspiracy. Motives are seldom clear. Judgment is always limited. Feeling states can be fleeting or persistent. Pain, addiction, depression, and psychosis all cause tunnel vision, an inability to see anything beyond that which might alleviate the suffering. People do not acquire insight and learn great lessons within a 60 or 90 minute narrative.

It is reasonable I suppose, and very human, to try to figure out what mental state could guide a person like Mr. Paddock to do what he did.

But while we try to figure this out it distracts from the simple truth that a human being can slip into the kind of mental state that leads to the acquisition and use of immense fire power. If that serious lethal weaponry is readily available. If that serious lethal weaponry is readily available it will be acquired and used by someone to kill.

**

I was at a party last night. A wedding celebration. Several generations, kids to octogenarians, many people I did not know. The theme was Halloween or Goth so devils, fallen angels, bent priests, strict nuns, metal, blood, and hints of S & M abounded. The music was loud, the bar open, the speeches emotional, and, as with any such celebration, some of the relationships quite complex. With Trump and Las Vegas not far from anyone’s mind, they intruded into the otherwise congenial conversation. And I wondered out loud what it would be like attending this kind of event in the USA. Would I be calculating how many guests were packing (indulging in concealed carry that is), would I worry that one of the bride’s sketchy ex-boyfriends might arrive with semi-automatic weapon, would I feel this relaxed and safe, would I worry more about the morose uncle putting away his fifth glass of whiskey, would I worry about the veiled insult within one of the speeches?

My American friends. You are crazy. Do you not understand the sense of peace and security and safety that comes from knowing the man next to you is unlikely to be carrying a gun?

 

Las Vegas Massacre

By Dr David Laing Dawson

At any age there are some conditions (medical and other) that can befall us and cause aberrations in thinking and behavior. At age 64 they are unlikely to include the propaganda of ISIS or the illness schizophrenia or a drug induced psychosis. But they do include psychotic depression, brain tumour, frontal lobe dementia, and/or a combination of depression and early dementia. Psychotic depression refers to a combination of depression and paranoia.

When such a condition leads to violence it is usually isolated to suicide or murder-suicide. Even then the difference between suicide and murder/suicide (the murder usually being of a spouse) is often decided by the presence or absence of a lethal weapon.

An excellent available and affordable health and mental health system could catch some of these, institute treatment and prevent tragedy. But the simple solution to preventing 20 kids in a school or 59 people at a music festival from dying is gun control. Of course it’s gun control. At least banning absolutely those kinds of weapons that can kill so many so easily.

I am writing this as professionals, journalists and armchair diagnosticians are all looking for a cause or motive for the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. But my point is that such breakdowns, such dramatic (sometimes surprising, sometimes not surprising) changes in behaviour will always be with us. Sometimes an alert relative or family doctor can prevent a tragedy. But the difference between a single suicide or limited murder/suicide and mass casualties will always depend on available weapons.

I could make my guesses about what condition lay under Mr. Haddock’s murderous actions and suicide but I shouldn’t. For that is the wrong focus for any prevention of similar events in the future. If Americans, Congress and Senate are at all serious about preventing this kind of tragedy they need to forget trying to figure out what drove Mr. Haddock and look instead at the insane ease which which he acquired his guns.

PLEASE NOTE: the name of the shooter used here is Haddock in order to illustrate just how unimportant that person’s name is. The issue is gun violence and this article describes just how absurd the US emphasis on guns is https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts

Trump’s Successful Assault on American Democracy

By Dr David Laing Dawson

At the very beginning of the Trump presidency I wrote a (I had hoped, satirical) set of instructions for undermining democracy. Nine months later some news items have prodded me to reread my instructions. Those news items were: 1. Justice department asking Facebook for information on people who “liked” an anti-administration protest page. 2. ICE agents arrest over 450 illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities. 3. Trump stokes racial division through the NFL. 4. Tax proposal to dramatically shift more wealth to the top 1%, including Trump himself. 5. A bill before the senate to loosen gun restrictions. (I didn’t think they could be looser until reading the specifics, which include ending restrictions on selling silencers, concealed carry, and armor piercing ammunition).

It is time to revisit my instruction manual and see how Donald and America are progressing.

1. Make frequent reference to the utter failure of all previous administrations. Take credit for anything good that happened during the most recent administration. Done

2. Promote a cult of personality. Suggest the new leader has God-like powers, such as controlling the rain, and solving complex and intractable problems with forceful statements. Done

3. Paint a bleak picture of the current state of affairs and grossly exaggerate the risk, the dangers posed by outsiders and nonbelievers. Done

4. Promote law and order and military power as the only forces that can keep us safe. Done

5. Incrementally reduce voting rights by insisting on regulations that favor your supporters and disenfranchise others. Do this by claiming you are controlling corruption and fraud. Done

6. Choose an enemy or two, give them names, and promise to eradicate them. Use emotionally inspiring words such as evil, kill, wipe them out, get rid of them once and for all. Done

7. Exaggerate the size of your support and the crowds attending your rallies. Refer to this as a movement. Done

8. Lie frequently and often. Use big, bold lies. This is a form of desensitization. More and more will believe your lies. The remaining citizens will stop caring. Done

9. Undermine the Fourth Estate. Seed distrust of news and information. Call all reporters and truth tellers liars. It will be difficult to fully control the media (this is not Russia) but consider using licensing bodies, libel laws and the courts to tie their hands. Done

10. Promote the idea that the people of your nation, your followers, are superior human beings, exceptional, and deserve to live better than others. American Exceptionalism. Or is that “Uber Alles”? Done

11. You will need the armed forces and intelligence agencies so flatter them frequently, while you replace their leaders with your own men. Done

12. You will need cabinet members and spokespeople who will unabashedly promote you and your statements and policies no matter how unpalatable or ludicrous they become. Some will be willing to do this for money, others for power and glory of their own, and others because of their own anger and resentment from earlier grievances. Unfortunately such people abound. But remember, it is not loyalty that binds them to you, but self-interest. Reward them generously; always be prepared to kill them. Done

13. Quickly disparage and render impotent any leader who opposes you. Memorable name-calling and disinformation will suffice. Done

14. Create a language of code words for anything that remains unacceptable for most citizens. For example: “alternative facts” for lies, “violence in the inner cities” for racial profiling. Done

15. Use hyperbole at all times. A person or event is either “great”, “fantastic”, “amazing”, or “a disaster”, “evil”, “total failure”. This fosters a dichotomous view of the world and will help dehumanize victims when the time comes to purge. Done

16. Find some allies in other countries by directly or tacitly supporting their extreme views. Examples might include Putin, Marine Penn and Netanyahu. Be unpredictable for the others. Keep them on edge. Done

17. In the meantime cater to the dominant political force in the democratic body by quickly implementing all their pet projects (e.g anti-abortion legislation), and by canceling all social and medical initiatives started by that upstart negro president . Done

18. Build monuments to yourself. Oops. I forgot. You already have. Good. Build more. Start with the Trump Great Southern Wall. Done

19. Throughout this process continue to emphasize that you are working for the people. Use the words “people”, “working people” and “democracy” frequently. As you usurp power explain that you are protecting democracy. Done

20. Have patience. Others may deliver you the crisis and fear that will allow an incremental or bold increase in power. When you assume new powers present yourself as reluctant to do so. Done

21. Use as much pomp and circumstance as possible. People love ceremonies. Emphasize the sacred trust your office embodies. Done

22. Visit a religious leader (televised of course). Ensure him and the American Public that you understand the enormity of your office and the need for God’s guidance. Try not to sneer or chuckle doing this. It is not wise to compare yourself to God, but you can hint that He favors you in some way. Done

23. Don’t worry about the physical quirks the cartoonists seize upon, the little black mustache for example, or the blonde comb over. Ultimately these will confer upon you icon status. Done

24. There will be protests and marches against you. Be gracious in your response to those that remain peaceful. Come down very hard on those that become violent. Emphasize these, and use them to accrue more power. But, be assured that any large gathering of people can become violent with a little help from your friends. Done

25. Toady up to the leaders of organized religion, the church.  With few exceptions these religious leaders will see you as a means of helping them achieve their long-term goals. They will not stand against you for fear of losing their own power. Done

26. Allow others to live vicariously through you. This is a fine balance. While allowing the people to view your sumptuous life style use colloquial language, talk as they do. Remind them you work tirelessly for them. Pretend that one day they can all live as you do. Done

27. Women are tricky. Have one or two around you but not many. They tend to have empathy for others, children, small animals. They tend to prefer compromise and cooperation. Reference your own dear mother frequently, and say how much you respect women. But subtly denigrate them by your own actions, and limit their voices and rights through reproductive and child-care legislation. Done

28. Gain increasing control of your population. You can start this by controlling all immigration and visitation to your country. Then pick the minority group most feared or misunderstood by your followers and order a registration process. This will appear harmless, like getting a driver’s license. Then incrementally increase the strength of this process, include more identifiable groupings, until all citizens must carry “papers” with them and submit to police checks. This will instill fear. In progress

29. Finally, incrementally increase your power and authority until you can accurately call yourself “president-for-life” or “Supreme Leader”. This will take time. At some point you will need a crisis at home (Terrorist attack for e.g.) or you will need to provoke a crisis abroad and at home (Palestinian response to moving embassy to Jerusalem for e.g.). This will justify your transfer of a specific power from a democratic body (congress/senate/) to your own office. This can be done on the grounds that only you know all the facts, and quick decisions are required. It is also more acceptable if the democratic bodies are perceived as ineffective or too partisan. Your people can ensure the latter condition is met. Coming soon via N Korea or Iran.

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Carl Jung spoke of Hitler embodying the collective unconscious of the German people. We needn’t be as fanciful as Jung to see that a leader can personify and, by example, embolden the worst impulses of us humans, those impulses that may have had evolutionary utility when we fought over a watering hole and a hunting ground, those impulses that stand ready today to lead us down a dark path.

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