Various Vermin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/12/2017 - 2:23am in

Once again, I was unable to find the time to complete my weekly blog last week so this post has TWO WEEKS of cartoons, which my abacus tells me is FOURTEEN!

(For a righteous embiggenation, click the chick in the below pic.)

I’ve been told by scientists that the above cartoon is completely possible as long as the bungee cord is made of something much stronger and more flexible than anything we’ve yet discovered and the alien is friction proof. I chose the setting intentionally because, like Bigfoot, extraterrestrials tend to appear before inebriated country folk more than anyone else.

There’s some new stuff in my store like coffee mugs. Go have a look and get yourself (or that special someone you love or hate) something nice.

Some zoology zealot pointed out to me that cow’s udders only have four nipples, not six. I don’t know if that is correct or not because I have spent very little time underneath cattle.

I’m surprised that a Viking zealot did not point out that real Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. Apparently, that motif was popularized by opera costuming. It is my understanding that opera singers also do not typically have six nipples.

“Germaphobia is a very real and debilitating condition that should not be made fun of. If you or someone in your family was germaphobic perhaps you would not think this was so funny. In the future please refrain from making fun of people in your “comics” just because they are different than you.”  ––a offended “reader”

I am now writing my own hate mail and I can definitely see the attraction. Righteous indignation provides a certain satisfaction that is difficult to find elsewhere.

If you are not familiar with Shriners, they are guys who belong to a secret club sort of organization that has elaborate rituals that are held at places called “temples”. They often wear fezes (no, that is not a misspelling of “feces,” it’s the plural of “fez”) and are known for supporting children’s hospitals, which is a good thing. They also frequently ride in parades and such on tiny cars and motorcycles, presumably to entertain the children they support, but I can’t be completely sure about their motivation.

One could also read this comic as a satire of any retirement community where people who are too old to drive are still doing so. Like most of Florida.

If you know anybody who likes cool art and/or coloring, my most recent book is PERFECT for them. Cheap, too! ($6! And I wish I was kidding.)

All of my sons-in-law were visiting us recently and half of them (Chris) said he’d thought of a cartoon I might like and I really loved it and here it is. If you’re from a place in the world where you’ve never been exposed to American country music, first, give thanks to whatever god you imagine is responsible for this minor good fortune, then become aware that American country music is often about sadness and two very popular reasons for this lamentation are sexual infidelity and the death of a cherished dog.

On a side note, I once heard of a country music song title that amused me: “My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend and I Miss Him”. Perhaps the best friend was his dog. I don’t really know.

In this era of outing people for harassment of and violence against women, I thought it might be good to point out the plight of cartoon characters, many of whom experience far more creative and consistent violence than those of us in the real world.

Yes, I agree with you. Violence against women (or anyone) is a serious issue and should not be the subject of humor. I don’t know what I was thinking.


In this Sunday title panel, I have made my Bizarro Bunny look like Mickey Mouse. I even signed my name like Walt Disney used to. Perhaps I will soon be impossibly wealthy.

As of yet, I am not wealthy, I’m just an artist getting by. A tiny part of how I get by is by selling stuff. Here’s a place that offers some super nice, archival, limited-edition, signed-and-numbered prints of some of my favorite Bizarro cartoons. They also sell some of my original art from Bizarro. Have a look.

It recently occurred to me that training an entire nation to find vermin adorable contributed to Trump’s election. I blame Walt.

It still boggles my mind that Bill O’Reilly got any traction out of Starbucks not putting blatantly religious imagery on their coffee cups a few years back. B.O. also found all kinds of other ways in which he perceived some kind of nationwide conspiracy to undermine Christianity and convinced plenty of people to get all lathered up about it.  I usually find idiocy of this sort to be hilarious but when it occurs on the magnitude that it currently does in the U.S., it’s more frightening than funny. (See “The Handmaid’s Tale” or the way any country that combines government with religion.)

Want to help support the kind of content I supply or just toss me a holiday gift? You can do that by making a one-time donation or a monthly contribution to Rancho Bizarro here. I will immediately become your imaginary best friend!

I adore dogs and think they are close to the most perfect creatures DNA ever coughed up, except for their utter lack of discrimination when choosing what to put into their mouths. My god, they make me want to vomit.

Moments later:

Dummy: Who just stuck their hand up my ass?!

Rocco: You wouldn’t have been able to ask that question if I hadn’t.

If living with a man who wears that yellow getup 24/7 isn’t enough to frighten Curious George, the fact that a known pedophile is about to be elected to the U.S. Senate with the blessings of the president and the Republican Party certainly is. This is what the “party of family values” is up to, folks. Still think it doesn’t matter which party you vote for?

In a country with an admitted molester of women, a Nazi sympathizer, an unmitigated liar and so, so, so much more in the White House, anything is possible. It is my contention that Trump’s not being hit by lightning is evidence either that there is no god, or that the ones that exist are sadistic assholes.

I got several complaints about this cartoon. This one is my favorite:

“I am extremely disappointed and offended by your cartoon printed on 12/08/2017. Considering children read your cartoons which are for the most part entertaining, but this particular one is sadly referencing a subject matter that hits to close to home with our children and adults at any time. Not everyone needs to be reminded of depraved situations on a constraint basis especially when the funnies are read by so many for the pure enjoinment of laughing and being entertaining to them, at least that’s what I’ve always given them credit for, not to make a horrifying statement that children could and would find frightening. This could actually ruin this and many Christmases for many children. Santa Claus molesting elves and rain deer is not funny and this cartoon crossed over even Bizzaro lines!”

My paraphrased reply was something close to this: I worded this the way I did so that younger, less sophisticated children would not know what it means. If a child is educated or sophisticated enough to understand it, they’re also likely old enough to understand it is a cartoon and has no power in the real world. If I thought any child would be upset by it (without an adult’s coaching) I would not have published it.

I refrained from mentioning that I was “extremely disappointed and offended” by her grammar and punctuation skills.


Not long ago, a reader asked me to do a cartoon with a ninja. At first, I ignored him but then I found him clinging to the ceiling of my bedroom wearing black pajamas with only his eyes showing, so I decided to relent. We still haven’t gotten all the pajama glue off of the ceiling. At least, we hope that was pajama glue.

That’s all for now, Jazz Pickles. Have a great week––until next time, be smart, be happy, be nice, and resist fascism and ignorance.

A Remembrance of Jerry Fodor, 1935-2017 (guest post by Georges Rey)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/12/2017 - 3:19am in

The following is an obituary for philosopher Jerry Fodor, who died earlier this week, by Georges Rey, professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland.

A Remembrance of Jerry Fodor, 1935-2017 
by Georges Rey

The loss of Jerry Fodor is not only a great loss to his many friends, but to philosophy and cognitive science. He was indisputably the most important philosopher of psychology of his generation.

At MIT from the 1960s through the 80s, and inspired by the work of Chomsky, he mounted a relentless attack on the various forms of anti-realism about psychology that had dominated mainstream philosophy and psychology since the 1920s. Contrary to the insistence of various kinds of behaviorists, from Skinner and Quine to Wittgenstein and Ryle, he argued that psychology should study real internal mental competencies and processes, which might be only quite indirectly manifested in the complexity of ordinary behavior. Claims about the mind should be grounded in lawful, empirically informed explanation about the systematic realities that underlie what we observe on the surface. More traditional a priori epistemology, metaphysics, and folk thought and talk about ordinary behavior he regarded as secondary, if relevant at all. In his seminal 1975 work, The Language of Thought, he went on to articulate and defend a computational theory of intentional causation that he argued provided the only serious framework—the “only president you’ve got,” as he quoted Lyndon Johnson as the epigraph for the book—for actual psychological research, some of which he himself pursued with linguists and psychologists with regard to natural language processing.

In early work in the 1960s with Jerrold Katz, he also defended a version of an internalist semantics that he thought cohered with Chomsky’s program in linguistics and underwrote traditional philosophical claims about the “analytic.” However, unlike Katz, he soon became persuaded that there was no way to save an internalist semantics from the challenge to analyticities raised by Quine’s “confirmation holism” (or the view that claims about the world are confirmed only in conjunction with the rest of one’s beliefs about the world). Fodor argued that this doomed any internal, “conceptual role” semantics to a “semantic holism” that would render psychological generalization and explanation impossible. In its stead, he came to insist for the rest of his life on various forms of an externalist, “referential” semantics: the “content” of expressions in a person’s internal “Language of Thought” were determined by a specific sort of lawful relation they bore to properties that in principle existed outside the brain. However, in a number of books from the 1990s—The Elm and the Expert, Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong, right up until his last book in 2014 (with Zenon Pylyshyn), Minds without Meanings—he struggled with various ways of explaining away what he appreciated were the appearances of internal, “narrow” content.

Fodor derives from Quine’s attack on analyticity another, more surprising moral. If there are no analyticities, or definitions of words in more basic (e.g., experiential) terms, then it’s hard to see how children could construct the concepts the words express on the basis of experience  If they couldn’t, then, argues Fodor, all such concepts must be innate. That is: children must be born already equipped with virtually all the concepts expressed by single words in natural languages. This view, which has come to be called “Mad Dog Nativism,” is, of course, widely regarded as preposterous. But anyone sceptical of it must be prepared to deal with the embarrassing fact that, quite as Quine predicted and Fodor stresses, successful analyses of most words simply don’t seem to be available.

A still further, perhaps even more surprising view that Fodor also derived from Quine’s holism, emerged in his 2000 book, The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way (a reply to Steven Pinker’s 1994 How the Mind Works). Computational processes over representations in a language of thought might be necessary for especially those parts of mental processing, such as perception, about which theorizing seems promising. Indeed, in perhaps his most influential book for psychologists, his 1983 The Modularity of Mind, Fodor urged a computational approach to perceptual systems, among which he significantly included linguistic parsing. But these systems, he argued, are “informationally encapsulated,” insensitive to the indefinite kinds of information that our central cognitive system routinely processes: perceptual illusions, for example, are resistant to our learning about them. It is in this central system that Quine’s confirmation holism seems to obtain, and this strongly suggests that classical computation would be far from sufficient as an account of it: in Turing’s famous characterization, computation is a fundamentally local affair, in terms of which non-local, holist confirmation would be computationally intractable. In this, Fodor can be regarded as echoing what many regard as Descartes’ prescient observation that, although machines might be designed to deal with many specific cognitive problems, they are incapable of what seems to be the “universal” reason displayed by people, a fact that Fodor and many others think has been borne out by the limitations of efforts in artificial intelligence.

Unlike Descartes, however, Fodor was a committed physicalist. But his own version was considerably weaker than many traditional ones. In particular, it was non-reductive: there was no requirement that there be bi-conditional bridge laws linking the phenomena of some special science to the underlying phenomena of physics. In the first chapter of The Language of Thought, he famously argued that “special sciences” should be pursued relatively autonomously from deeper physical theories whose regularities they may cross-classify. Thus, psychology may classify events as belonging to the same psychological type that differ in their neurophysiological properties, and neurophysiology might classify events belonging to the same neurological type that differ in their psychological properties.

Fodor’s writings display some striking idiosyncracies. He was almost compulsively jocular, and this led many readers sometimes to dismiss his writings as unserious. This would be a bad mistake. Fodor’s jokes were invariably deep and philosophically insightful. Two that come to mind: “If theories are merely instruments for predicting experience, why not just close your eyes and plug up your ears?” Or another, regarding teleo-semantic proposals: “Darwin cares how many flies [a frog] eats, but not what description [it] eat[s] them under.” He then wittily quotes Berthold Brecht: “Erst kommt das Fressen; dann kommt die moral.”

It can’t be stressed enough that such jokes are invariably backed up by rich argumentation. Indeed, in addition to his wit, his dialectical abilities were legend. In a marvelous simile about Fodor, Dan Dennett wrote:

most philosophers are like old beds: you jump on them and sink deep into qualifications, revisions, addenda. But Fodor is like a trampoline: you jump on him and he springs back, presenting claims twice as trenchant and outrageous. If some of us can see further, it’s from jumping on Jerry.

Another idiosyncracy: I mentioned earlier his concern with science as opposed to ordinary talk. This concern can, however, sometimes seem belied by the folksy, informal character of much of his philosophical writing. I once asked him, “Jerry, you probably know more scientific psychology than any other philosopher: why when you give an example of a psychological law do you take a trivial folk example, such as “Eating more potato chips can make you want eat more,” instead of any serious ones from actual psychology?” Without hesitation, he replied, “citing the science would be vulgar.” This struck me as a sincere and deeply revealing remark about his peculiar sensibility. But it shouldn’t lead readers to think that he didn’t take the science entirely seriously.

Indeed, he regularly dealt explicitly with the science when he took himself to be addressing a scientific audience, as in his The Modularity of Mind and his earlier, 1974, The Psychology of Language, a then classic text he wrote with Tom Bever and Merrill Garrett. But, not unlike some important philosophers before him (Hume and Quine come to mind), he felt he needed to be in some way more literary and sophisticated in addressing philosophers. This need also came out in his frequent reviews and “diary” entries for the Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books, which make for quite entertaining reading on a wide variety of topics of general interest.

These latter writings reveal Fodor’s passion equally for the arts as for science. He had an intense love of opera, ballet, painting and literature, and he often remarked on the depth of the psychological insights he found in Wagner, Verdi, Shakespeare and Henry James (who he much preferred to James’ psychologist brother). He often claimed there was far more psychological wisdom to be found in such work than in any journals of philosophy or psychology. I like to think that he was a little wrong about this, and that many will find some of his work to be an exception.


The post A Remembrance of Jerry Fodor, 1935-2017 (guest post by Georges Rey) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Wisdom is Tolerance of Cognitive Dissonance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/11/2017 - 12:00am in

In our daily interactions, we often try to consider what elements combine to create real “wisdom.” The challenge is that wisdom is what we call a mental construct. That is to say that it is something that exists only in our minds. Other constructs include motivation, creativity, and intelligence.

Mental constructs are hard to consider, yet we know that they are there. We primarily understand and accept them through outward behaviors and our actions.

The following quote from Robert Thurman tries to help crystalize exact what constitutes true wisdom.

Wisdom is tolerance of cognitive dissonance.

One of the reasons I love this quote is the inclusion of the term “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is the stress or imbalance that occurs mentally when we try to hold two competing thoughts in our mind. True learning occurs when there is this imbalance in our mind and actions.

An example of cognitive dissonance would be a person that considers themselves to be environmentally friendly, yet they drive a vehicle that does not have good gas mileage.

A lower level example of this would be regularly cooking with specific tools and methods, and then trying to cook food from a different region. Imagine regularly cooking pasta, and then trying to cook some Vietnamese food with a wok and unfamiliar ingredients.

In Thurman’s quote, he suggest that true wisdom comes from this imbalance or stress that occurs as we learn new things. It is in this discomfort, in these attempts to learn and struggle that we achieve true wisdom.


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Image Credit

Resizing Psychology, by Grazyna Zajdow

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/11/2017 - 7:32pm in



As a sociologist and a co-editor of a magazine that is interested in critical discussion and debate about social theory and the social world, a book like Mark Furlong’s that critically discusses psychology seems like a no-brainer. Being immersed in my discipline, I can become self-righteous when it comes to the ‘psy’ sciences. As an undergraduate in psychology, I was driven out finally by having to literally put a rat in a maze and watch it go around. In my first year, 1974, we became part of the infamous Milgram experiment as part of our assessment. I was the putative subject being ‘electrocuted’ by the poor student who did not know what was really going on. I didn’t really want to do it, but it was made clear that if we refused we would have to do extra work. You could say I was coerced, but really I was just lazy. As a teaching academic of sociology who every year sees thousands of students go into Psychology in the (mainly) vain hope of one day becoming a practising psychologist and ‘helping’ people, I am pulled up by the hold that Psychology has on the public imagination. Psychology, like economics, has come to dominate debates about our world and how we can understand, and navigate, its treacherous waters. For this reason alone, Mark Furlong’s book is an important publication. His stated aim is a tour of ‘Psychology’s estate’—that of Psychology with a capital P as well as the many diverse ‘psychologies’ that are part of it. Furlong presents the book as a text for non-specialists, but the construction of the volume by its publisher firmly directs it towards university students. Indeed the structure of the volume exhibits all the problems with modern academic publishing, but this is clearly not the responsibility of the author and I will come back to a short discussion of this later.

I am used to sociologists critiquing each other, and not just critiquing but questioning the very basis of their work. In many ways one could argue that sociologists eat their young, but that is the nature of our discipline. Not so with Psychology, according to Furlong. The critique of Psychology comes mostly from outside the discipline. While individual psychologists may criticise others for particular conclusions or results, they rarely critique the ideological or normative underpinnings of the enterprise. Criticism of the enterprise comes from outside, mainly from philosophers or sociologists such as Michel Foucault, Nikolas Rose, Ian Hacking, Zygmunt Bauman and the like. Psychology has become too large and influential an enterprise for anyone to try to criticise it too loudly from within. As with economics, there is too much at stake. And, also as with economics, the reason it is so large and influential is that it is the perfect vehicle for transporting the culture of our times. In a society in which neoliberalism holds sway and the free-floating rational economic subject makes decisions based on self-interest, a discipline that produces the well-adjusted individual as the normative agent, existing outside all social institutions will stand alongside economics as the discipline of our times.

Before Furlong gets to the Foucauldian-based critiques of Rose and Hacking he spends some time on the differences between Psychology and psychology. Psychology with a capital P privileges a particular form of psychology, that which identifies it as a science—indeed the only science—of behaviour. This Psychology privileges a self that is autonomous, individualised and only understood in its actions, not its intentions. The individual does not seem to be embedded in social structures and social networks that exist beyond that individual. Furlong identifies twenty-three psychologies from behaviourism to transpersonal psychology, but only very few of them have a ‘scientifically’ empirical base. Furlong points out that, in introductory textbooks, Psychology begins with Francis Bacon and belongs with the other sciences that had to fight for their existence against the ruling theological status quo. It is the ‘march-of-science meta-narrative’ that holds sway. Furlong spends the first three chapters forensically analysing that meta-narrative. Not surprisingly, the claims made by Psychology fall short.

The claims fall short for a number of reasons. As the list of twenty-three competing psychologies shows, there is no real coherent or objective knowledge base. In many ways it is easier to understand what Psychology is not. It is not psychiatry and it is not psychotherapy, even as it uses the language of both. Behaviourist psychology would contend that only behaviour that is observable and measurable can be part of its purview, a contention that many psychotherapists would resist at all costs. Cognitive psychologists are mostly interested in those learned human behaviours that constrain human agency and so they set out to produce programs to change those particular behaviours, not the structures that produce them. Cognitive and behavioural psychology illustrate why Psychology is the discipline of our times, not least because, inherent in their very fibre, they are normative disciplines. They provide the moral basis for much of what we understand as Psychology; it is the profession that produces the self and subject of our time: the self that prioritises the individual and their own happiness, distinct from the social world around them and with no relationship to the structures out of which they grew.

In the effort to legitimise its position, Psychology makes claims to utility and clinical effectiveness that cannot be proven, according to Furlong. Human behaviour, whether individually or socially, is not particularly amenable to the randomly controlled scientific trial. No individual can be extracted from their social world and all the values, norms and morals attached to them and then placed into an experimental situation. Furlong cites the example of the behaviourist Winthrop Kellogg, who brought a juvenile chimpanzee into his home to be brought up with his baby son in an effort to understand whether a chimpanzee could develop human-like language and human social skills. The two (his son and the chimp) were socialised identically, but the experiment ended when his son began to mimic the chimp, particularly in his demands for food. Furlong uses this example to question the relationship of researcher to subject. Kellogg showed a lack of scientific objectivity when he showed his paternal feelings towards his son and ended the study. He might have acted like a good father, but he was not a good psychologist.

In the chapter on the effectiveness of Psychology, Furlong delves into the rather murky waters of scientific psychology. It is here that his analysis is most telling. One of the fundamental underpinnings of all science is the replicability of studies; that is, for a study to claim that it is scientific with robust results, its findings must be able to be reproduced by other researchers. A study reported in the journal Nature in 2015 found that only about six in ten studies published in three prestigious Psychology journals in 2008 could be reproduced with the same results by others. Moreover, these were studies done in laboratories. Outside laboratories, confounding variables such as the complexity of the social world mean that almost all the studies were unable to be relied upon to understand how the world works.

In terms of clinical effectiveness, the search for common factors in therapeutic modalities is even more complex. A 1992 study found that the positive outcomes of any particular therapy were dependent on a complex mix that included clients’ social support and individual personality factors, the quality of the relationship between therapist and client, the expectations the client brought into the relationship, and the placebo effect (that is, just the fact that the therapy existed meant that there would be some positive outcome for the client). Only about 15 per cent of the outcome could be directly related to the therapy or therapeutic technique.

It is in his discussion of the normative nature of Psychology that Furlong really gets going. If we look at the most influential sectors of the industry, we come to those that support the public-relations, human-resources and educational industries. It is the production of standardised instruments for measuring human activity and behaviours that feed into the objectification of the normal and produce the normative. As Furlong writes, ‘this psychometric storehouse is densely stocked’. From the moment that the IQ test was developed in the early twentieth century, the measurement of intelligence of all sorts, as well as happiness and personality types, has become a strategy and policy of modern governance. The self-absorbed, even self-obsessed personality is a disturbing presence in the discussion of the ‘new normal’. Furlong argues that the industry has produced a normative individual that is no longer attached to others; there is no place for the community-centred, empathetic, other-oriented person. Guilt and shame are wasted on the well-adjusted modern individual. The locus of control is well and truly internal. The self-actualised individual reigns supreme. But, as Furlong points out, put into other situations, those whom the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow termed self-actualised could just as easily have been monsters. In their intrepid and self-absorbed pursuit of their goals, it was not their values and moral positions that made them self-actualised but their ‘innate tendency…towards growth and the fulfilment of (their) potential’. The self-actualised person is beyond caring what other people think. So Gordon Gekko could be as self-actualised as Albert Schweitzer.

Furlong takes Psychology to task for much of the work that psychologists do, such as those who are part of the military and who devised many of the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques used by the armed forces and the secret services. In 2002, the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest professional association in the world, amended its ethical guidelines so that individual members could legitimately bow to the demands of legal authorities in matters such as assisting torture. Effectively, this allowed the use of the Nuremberg defence. Psychologists implicated in the CIA use of torture against those caught up in the US War on Terror included former presidents of the APA. I recognise that psychologists are not the only professionals who make money from morally questionable practices, but the ultimate irony is that most of the psychological practices based on supposedly rigorous research have been found to be unreliable at best.

Furlong’s book is a wide-ranging text and is clearly born of a great deal of research. The writing is lively and very readable. But, as I noted at the beginning of this review, it is published in a form that unfortunately reflects the problems of academic publishing in the twenty-first century. The publishers contract out their proofreading to companies in the subcontinent and this is evident in the reams of proofreading errors throughout the book. One error changed the very meaning of a sentence. At the bottom of the first page of each new chapter is a citation to the book itself, which indicates the publishers’ intention to sell each chapter individually via digital download. That would be fine, but it means that each chapter must begin by reiterating the point of the whole text while at the same time being complete in itself. Thus sometimes the text feels repetitious as well as disconnected from a coherent and longer argument. The demands of the digital world have disrupted universities’ ability to sustain debates and arguments in long-form writing, and this becomes clear in a book like this one. That is very unfortunate because Furlong’s arguments demand greater and more sustained debate. Still, this book is a major step in the right direction.

Chaos: The New Normal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 8:28am in

In life, just like closets, the enemy is chaos.

Even our most mundane mess — clumps of mismatched shoes on the floor, tangles of unworn shirts falling off hangers, layers of ancient bills on the desk, weeks of forgotten wanna-do’s in the corners of your mind — can be unsettling. Debilitating. Depressing. Thus, the success of super-organizer Marie Kondo, whose passion for housekeeping is existential, with its promise that tidying up can transform your spirit and get your life back on track. “I found the opposite of happiness is not sadness,” one of her newly freed followers explains. “It’s chaos.”

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President Donald Trump stands outside the West Wing of the White House as Klaus Iohannis, Romania's president, not pictured, arrives on Friday, June 9, 2017. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Anxious in the Trump Era? You’re Not Alone

BY David H. Rosmarin | September 11, 2017

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

One year after the federal election process was upended by some combination of deluded voters and devious Russians; nearly 10 months after Trump turned the White House into a graveyard for truth, civility and intelligence; his ruinous romp through our institutions, our policies, our history, our freedom, our language and, yes, our souls, has littered the American landscape with far more than a messy wardrobe. Pick his most egregious slur — toward Muslims or Mexicans or members of the press, or women in general, or John McCain specifically; parse his most idiotic jumble of words; question his blatant corruption of democracy into kleptocracy. The hashtag on Twitter is #ThisIsNotNormal. The national anxiety level is trending upward. Because we are engulfed, in a phrase, in primordial chaos.

“It’s a void, a complete void, where nothing makes any sense,” explains classical scholar Mary Lefkowitz, Professor Emerita at Wellesley College, where she once taught me to cherish the words and wisdom of the ancient Greeks. I have turned to her for help in understanding this insidious phenomenon, an appeal to time-honored words and reason in an attempt to re-establish some order at this distinctly disordered time. She points me to Hesiod, the 8th-century BC poet whose mythic cosmology was the first, and most quoted, in that era.

“He was one of the main sources for understanding religion,” Lefkowitz tells me, citing Hesiod’s Theogony, where the word, and condition — “chaos” — appears for the first time. It’s the same root as “chasm,” because in the beginning, he is saying, there was an abyss of emptiness. The starkness is jolting; I appreciate, once again, the wisdom of the ancients in describing our worldly condition. The yawning gap of Hesiod’s cosmology precisely captures the mind of our president.

Strength will be right, and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him.

— Hesiod, 'Works and Days,' circa 700 BCE

Hesiod goes on to chronicle the appearance of Zeus and his cronies, who magically appear to fill the void and then set up their own dysfunctional cosmos. Later, in another poem, “Works and Days,” Hesiod describes a time of human turmoil, when men “praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing.” When “Strength will be right, and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him.” And when “the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them.”

“That seems like the kind of chaos we’re in now,” Lefkowitz says. “No justice, no order, no cure. It may be the end of humankind.”

I ask her why it matters what Hesiod wrote 2,800 years ago.

“Because the Greeks understood very clearly human frailties,” she says. “They understood the limits of understanding. And sometimes they’re right.”

Hesiod wasn’t the only one, of course, to warn us about Trump’s disruptive nature. Jeb Bush sounded the alarm in a December debate during the primary campaign, when he called Trump “a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president. He would not be the commander-in-chief to keep our country safe.”

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Republican Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) buttoned the charge last month when he portrayed the president as a dim and dangerous force, saying only several members of Trump’s team “help separate our country from chaos.”

In fairness, anyone who didn’t get the message long before that was just not paying attention. Toxic Trump adviser Steve Bannon made no secret of his surprisingly Marxist-rooted desire to overturn the government, for the “creative destruction” of tearing down to rebuild. As in Trump’s eagerness to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. Problem is, he had nothing with which to replace it, or anything else — at least nothing either sensible or acceptable.

And never mind Chaos Theory — the scientific acceptance, over the past four decades, of a fuzzier cosmos than the orderliness and predictability of natural and human-made systems. It stands light years beyond the intellect or grasp of Donald Trump, for whom science is yet another alien language.

“He’s given chaos a bad name,” says author and science historian James Gleick, whose bestselling book Chaos describes the jolt to the scientific world when it started finding patterns in disorder. Suddenly, he tells me, “chaos became a kind of positive thing. There was something liberating, something freeing — it meant science could be comfortable with disorder, and with unpredictability. It led to all kinds of new things.”

But Trump?

“He’s the bull in the china shop,” Gleick explains. “He’s breaking rules, breaking norms, disregarding laws created by human society, and is there anything scientific to say about that? I don’t think so.”

I ask whether there is any parallel to Trump’s chaos and scientific breakthroughs. “Look, science stole the word because it’s kind of sexy and cool” Gleick says. “And the idea of a ‘science of chaos’ struck people as a contradiction in terms. But they found something hopeful in chaos, they found opportunity, creativity. They found something useful in being able to make the laws of science a bit more flexible, made them more powerful.

“Trump’s breaking all that. What he has done is return us to the abyss, to helter-skelter, disorder, turbulence, lawlessness, all of the things that made chaos something to be avoided.”

So our anxiety intensifies, as a litany of frustration grows under the hashtag #chaos on Twitter. Laurence Tribe, the distinguished Harvard Law School constitutional scholar, recently responded with a wry addition to the natural world: “The forces of chaos have an unfair advantage. It’s the fourth law of thermodynamics.”

There are really only three Laws of Thermodynamics. Chaos wrecks everything.

So the rivers continue to flow backward (ancient Greece again; this time from Euripides’ “Medea,” a relentless tragedy about the very darkest side of human nature), a sure sign of global chaos. And I keep trying to make sense of it all. In a recent and fine piece about a trauma surgeon treating the victims of the shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the reporter described the injuries caused by high-velocity bullets. They “mimic an explosion,” she wrote, “sending powerful shock waves into surrounding tissue as they travel through the body. That’s war.”

RELATED: Democracy & Government

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers on ‘A Duty to Warn’

BY Bill Moyers | September 14, 2017

I think that also perfectly captures the psychic fallout from chaos: endless anguish and angst in a civilization more attuned to rational arguments than unhinged blather.

Last year, reflecting on the fallout from Trump’s descent down the escalator into the first circle of the hell he would produce, I found a parallel to his demagoguery in the 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, where the struggle between order and chaos took place on an unnamed island, with a villainous cohort of English schoolboys.

The dark side won there, too.

Like many who hope for a brighter, or saner, or, at least, less chaotic future, I am cheered by the results of last Tuesday’s election, hopeful that there is, indeed, light at the end of this tunnel. I got my best sleep in a year that night.

And then I woke up, and Trump spread his poison in Asia. And we were reminded that nothing comes more directly from the Putin playbook than chaos and confusion.

This is not normal.

But we can plan. Marie Kondo tells those who want to clean up their closets, their homes, their ways of life, that they should surround themselves only with things that bring them joy. “Let me share with you the secret of success,” she concludes. “Start by discarding.”

Works for me.

The post Chaos: The New Normal appeared first on

Prompting Deliberation about Nanotechnology: Information, Instruction, and Discussion Effects on Individual Engagement and Knowledge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/11/2017 - 7:55am in



Deliberative (and educational) theories typically predict knowledge gains will be enhanced by information structure and discussion. In two studies, we experimentally manipulated key features of deliberative public engagement (information, instructions, and discussion) and measured impacts on cognitive-affective engagement and knowledge about nanotechnology. We also examined the direct and moderating impacts of individual differences in need for cognition and gender. Findings indicated little impact of information (organized by topic or by pro-con relevance). Instructions (prompts to think critically) decreased engagement in Study 1, and increased it in Study 2, but did not impact post-knowledge. Group discussion had strong positive benefits for self-reported cognitive-affective engagement across studies. Also, for some types of engagement, effects were more positive for women than men. When predicting knowledge, there also was some evidence that discussion was more positive for women than men. Finally, need for cognition positively predicted engagement and knowledge gains, but rarely moderated the experimental effects. Given these mixed results, future research should continue to test theoretical assumptions about the effects of specific deliberative design features.

The Difference Between Tories and Labour over Misogyny and Offensive Jokes

Mike’s put up several pieces over the past few days commenting on the recent ‘dead cat’ scandal the Tories are manufacturing over a joke Clive Lewis made at the Labour party conference. In one event, one male volunteer asked if he could take part on his knees. Lewis replied that he could, and jokingly referred to him as ‘bitch’.

This complete non-event, which no-one present objected to at the time, is now the subject of a storm of fake indignation from the Tories and their Blairite enablers in the Labour party, like Jess Philips, who is accusing Lewis of sexism and misogyny. One Tory female MP, Nusrat Ghani, wants an early day motion to debate Lewis’ horrendous comment.

A friend of mine used to be a member of the Conservative party, right up until John Major said baldly that students only went to university to avoid going to work. He was at the same College I was, and worked extremely hard, as did so many other students despite the propaganda pumped out by the press. You can probably remember the stories – students are all lazy, don’t do any studying and just use their grant money to get drunk. Realising that the party he’d supported had nothing but contempt for him and others like him, he left. Discussing the state of the Tory party, he quoted the old saying, ‘the Tory party is an organised hypocrisy.’

And as Mike has shown, it certainly is. In spades. He has provided quote after quote from Tories swearing at constituents, and making racist and very sexist comments. One female Tory MP was caught repeating the figure of speech ‘N***er in the woodpile’. One of the most horrendous hypocrites has been Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog infamy. Despite his professed horror at the use of the word ‘bitch’, Staines has bandied it around fairly freely himself. Mike quotes a couple of young women on Twitter, who were seriously maligned by Staines and his followers. One was accused by Staines when she was 17 of having got her place in Momentum through providing sexual services, and another was similarly hounded by his slavering followers when she was 19.

In fact, the idea that Staines has any respect for women is incredible, considering his political connections. Back in the 1980s, Staines was part of a Libertarian group on the fringes of the Tory party. This group were so extreme, that one year they invited the leader of one of the Central American Fascist death squads to be the guest of honour at their annual dinner. This were the same death squads that raped women, and sexually mutilated both their male and female victims. But now the poorly fellow is terribly outraged by the jocular use of the word ‘Bitch’.

This government has certainly been no friend to women, despite the attempt to portray the selection of Theresa May of Prime Minister as the Second Coming of Maggie Thatcher. As one of the female commenters on Twitter quoted by Mike has pointed out, the Tories have closed rape crisis centres. They also inserted a rape clause to justify not paying child benefit to women, who had a third baby through sexual violence.

And on the subject of rape and women’s reproductive rights, Jacob Rees-Mogg went off and said abortion couldn’t be justified at all, even when the child was conceived through rape. For which Mogg, now also being touted as the next great Tory leader, was also pilloried.

And the hypocrisy comes particularly thick and fast in the shape of Boris Johnson. Mike’s provided a number of comments from Blond Bruiser, which shows just how deeply prejudiced he is. In one of them, he says that women only go to university to find husbands(!) Well, yes, people often meet their future partners at Uni. But most students, female and male, go to university because they enjoy the subject they want to study, and hope that pursuing it will enrich their lives as well as hopefully lead to better career prospects, if not a career. For example, it has been projected that soon the majority of people in medicine will be women. And it’s very clear from the number of female doctors and other medical professionals that they studied medicine because they wanted to be doctors, nurses, surgeons, psychiatrists and therapists, not because it was simply a nice way of meeting a prospective husband.

The most recent offensive comment uttered by BoJo was about Libya and the prospects for capital investment despite the carnage wrought by the civil war raging there. Boris stated that he had British investors lined up to turn the town of Sirte into the next Dubai ‘after they’d cleared away the bodies.’ This cavalier reference to the police and civilians shot down in a battle with Islamist militants understandably upset a lot of people. It was even denounced in one of the Libyan parliaments. But the last thing I saw about it on YouTube had the headline that Boris wasn’t going to apologise.

He should. But he hasn’t.
Lewis, on the other hand, has. And according to the I today, Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the comment.

And so we’re back to Tory hypocrisy, as amply supported by Mrs Nusrat Ghani.

For the various comments and Mike’s response to them, see

The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival with Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/09/2017 - 7:31am in

 Reflections of Mind, Hope, and Survival. By Robert Jay Lifton.

Robert Jay Lifton was born 91 years ago. Living through the catastrophes of the 20th century — world war, tyrannical regimes, genocide, the nuclear bomb, terrorism — he grappled with their terrible impact on human beings. His work as a psychiatrist, historian and public intellectual forged his reputation as one of the world’s foremost thinkers. Among his 20 books are such seminal award winners as Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1967); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); and Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2014).

Now he has turned to climate change, which, he says, “presents us with what may be the most demanding and unique psychological task ever required of humankind.” In The New York Times three years ago, he wrote that “Americans appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming.” Borrowing a term from Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness, he called this shift a climate “swerve.” Lifton plunged into studying the phenomenon further and has just published a new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections of Mind, Hope, and Survival.

Here is my interview with him.


Bill Moyers: In that New York Times essay back in 2014, you wrote that “experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways” to bring about this change in attitude toward climate change. Yet you quoted Bob Dylan’s words that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Do you know now, three years later?

Robert Jay Lifton(Credit: Robert Sandler)

Robert Jay Lifton: Yes. Resistance to climate truths is giving way to an embrace of them. Our mindset has been changing from rejection to confronting climate danger. I take that to be a profound change and a somewhat hopeful one, because at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015, virtually every nation in the world joined in the recognition that we’re part of a single species in deep trouble, and that each country had to make some contribution in cutting back on fossil fuels emissions, which are the source of our danger. Maybe that really indicates the shift from identifying with the smaller group to ultimately identifying with the whole human species. That sounds sometimes grandiose or romantic, but it’s an everyday matter when we think about the truths of climate change. It also applies to the nuclear threat.

Moyers: How so?

Lifton: Well, with the nuclear threat we know that if sufficient weapons are used, human civilization — all of humankind — could be extinguished literally by “nuclear winter.” So we have to see ourselves as part of the ultimate human group, just as we have to do with global warming.

Moyers: You write that in the 1980s there was a “swerve against nuclear weapons” by millions of people worldwide that produced a call for “a nuclear freeze.”

Lifton: That’s right.

Moyers: But look at what happened. Three decades later, in the first days of his administration, Barack Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize for, in part, calling for an end to nuclear proliferation. Yet one of his final acts as president eight years later was to authorize a trillion dollars to modernize our nuclear weapons arsenal. One might say, “So much for the nuclear swerve!”

Lifton: It’s not over. Yes, it’s discouraging, and it was a terrible decision that Obama made. He made some kind of compromise and got something back from the Republicans. But these challenges are a continuous struggle, and it’s never won. There’s always a backlash. That’s true of any protest or struggle. However, it may well have been the swerve against nuclear weapons that kept them from being used after Nagasaki was destroyed in 1945. Maybe it’s served us in that manner.

The atomic cloud rising over Nagasaki, Japan. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Moyers: In his magnum opus A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee argued that civilizations would fall not because doom was inevitable but because governing elites would not respond adequately to changing circumstances or because they would focus only on their own interests. Remember that?

Lifton: Yes. Well, the governing elite and even the common people have not responded adequately to either nuclear weapons or climate threat. See what’s happening with North Korea right now. So yes, it’s discouraging, but if we keep at it, maybe what we can achieve even in a bumbling way will prevent an ultimate catastrophe with both a nuclear and climate swerve.

Moyers: Have we reached a level of fear about climate destruction similar to the fear some years ago of nuclear destruction?

Lifton: That is an important question, because usually we say, “Oh, fear’s a bad thing, anxiety’s bad,” but it’s appropriate to experience fear and some kind of anxiety in relation to both nuclear and climate threats. We probably haven’t reached sufficient fear of climate disaster but it’s been growing and it’s becoming more immediate.

Moyers: Let’s take one by one the three forces you say are contributing to the swerve toward climate change awareness. First: experience. You wrote three years ago that people had been stunned into a new awareness by a drumbeat of climate-related disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, by extreme heat waves and extreme cold, by rising sea levels and floods. So here we are, three years later, with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and now Jose and Maria right behind them. Wildfires are consuming large swaths of forestlands in the Northwest. There are droughts all over the world. Is experience telling us global warming is worse today than when you set out to write The Climate Swerve?

Lifton: Absolutely. The planet gets hotter, there are more and more catastrophic disasters. The hurricanes are bad enough, but it’s not only those hurricanes; it’s storms in South Asia and the South Pacific that are occurring at the same time — and, as you said, the droughts and fires, the wildfires on a new level, more and more encroaching into urban areas. These are profoundly menacing developments. So it’s the immediacy and experience of climate change that’s becoming more traumatic and immediate, and we’re aware of it to a degree that we have not been before. And this also brings up another issue. With climate change there hasn’t yet been until possibly now, and maybe not even now, an equivalent of nuclear imagery. When you see imagery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you really sense that the world could be ended — the imagery of extinction as I call it — by these weapons. They’re more than weapons; they’re instruments of genocide. We haven’t had equivalent climate images. But now the hurricanes, the devastation of islands that an hour before had been beautiful places of pleasure, wiped out and rendered uninhabitable — that’s a pretty staggering image.

 Gerben Van Es/AFP/Getty Images)

An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch Department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saint Maarten. (Photo: Gerben Van Es/AFP/Getty Images)

Moyers: The second force you identify as converging with experience is economics. You describe what you call a “wonderfully evocative term, stranded assets, to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars of assets stranded there.” And you write: “If we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground. In contrast, renewable energy sources are taking on increasing value in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and reduced harm to the communities where we live.” And, you write, “It matters that the market may end up devaluing their fossil fuel assets.”

Lifton: There’s more and more recognition that a carbon economy is dangerous to us economically. And there is increasing recognition that renewable fuels have economic value as well as obvious value for our health and our well-being and our survival. In fact, as you know, the economic revolution in renewable fuels has been impressive. It really had not been anticipated. In any case, you have the symbolism and active significance of members of the Rockefeller family and two of the Rockefeller foundations recognizing this — withdrawing from fossil fuels in terms of their investments, divesting themselves — and recognizing a new kind of economic possibility. So the economic side is making itself felt. Unfortunately, it’s still in a sense an impasse because there are lots of people who continue to defend those stranded assets with what I call stranded imagination or stranded ethics. They insist they have a fiduciary duty in terms of their corporation to serve investors by making use of those stranded assets. But there’s more and more pressure against them and more and more of what I call “species awareness” that condemns this pattern of stranded ethics.

Moyers: I want to believe you, but it still seems to me that powerful capitalist organizations such as ExxonMobil, libertarian oligarchs like the Koch brothers, and superrich right-wingers like the Mercer family are not going to want to leave all that buried treasure in the ground.

Lifton: Most of them will do their damnedest to bring it out of the ground and see themselves as even doing good in the process by creating jobs and by enhancing the economies of the developing world and other such rationalizations, yes. But there’s more and more of a recognition against it, again as embodied by the Paris accord. It’s of some significance Donald Trump tried to withdraw from Paris, never quite succeeded, and now seems to be looking for a way to stay in the treaty. Of course, he’s declaring all kinds of victories because he says we’re renegotiating the treaty, which means renegotiating with yourself, since you set the standards that one agrees to for reducing carbon emissions. But the fact that he couldn’t finally take us completely out of the Paris accord and that when he tried to there was a rallying by individual states, led by California and by others in the world, reasserting the principles of Paris we’re all in this together — well, you can’t deny the power of climate swerve — this new global awareness about climate danger.

Moyers: Regarding the choices we face, I remember your once quoting the old Jack Benny joke in which a robber points a gun to Benny’s head and offers him a choice: “Your money or your life.” There’s a long silence, and then Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.”

Lifton: You need a few laughs if you are going to survive in all of this. Well, we’re thinking our choices over. And I call this the ultimate absurdity. If we do nothing different from what we’re doing now, continue with fossil fuels, not change anything, just do what we’re doing, we’ll destroy ourselves as a civilization. What could be more absurd than that? I distinguish between formed awareness and fragmentary awareness. You see one or two hurricanes and say, “Maybe what’s coming will be bad here, maybe it won’t.” That’s partial, fragmentary and skewed awareness, but if you have formed awareness it takes shape as a story, a narrative: “Global warming is real, it endangers the whole planet. We have to take steps toward eliminating or reducing it by eliminating carbon emissions and replacing them with renewable fuels.” That’s what’s taking place — formed awareness over the fragmentary awareness. It’s erratic, and any swerve is irregular, not quite predictable, and takes forms that we can’t anticipate. But it’s there and it’s happening, and even Trump’s experience regarding the Paris accord is evidence of it.

Moyers: What about people who say: “I agree global warming is happening and I know we should concerned about it, but my job depends on mining coal or on fracking. My job depends on oil and gas. My job depends on getting those resources out of the ground.” You told a story; I’ll tell another — of the longtime New Yorker who is walking down the street at night when an armed robber steps out of the dark doorway and demands, “Give me your money or I’ll blow your brains out.” At which the weary New Yorker replies, “Fire away, buddy; you can live in this city without brains but you can’t live here without money.” It’s a tough call many people face.

Lifton: Absolutely, and one can have considerable sympathy for them. Their jobs are essential, and that’s why with any kind of conversion into renewable energy, you’ve got to provide jobs for those who lose them when we step back from fossil fuels. It’s not so easy. Obviously, the Republicans haven’t thought about that and they’ve fought back against the climate swerve, but even the Democrats have probably not gone nearly as far as they should in recognizing the issue of jobs.

Moyers: To the two forces we’ve already discussed, experience and economics, you add third one that’s converging to create the climate swerve:
ethics. You write: “The swerve toward awareness of global warming was leading people to feel it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for future generations. Their consciences were being stirred. They were being energized.” This was three years ago. Do you still think that force is as powerful today as it was then?

Lifton: I think it still is, even though now with President Trump and his administration you have ethnonationalism, which combats exactly what we’re talking about. What we’re describing is a recognition that there’s something wrong with endangering ourselves as a species and perhaps even eliminating ourselves and our civilization. There’s something wrong with what we are bequeathing to the next generation.

//" target="_blank">Climate Centre</a>/ flickr <a href="" target="_blank">CC 2.0</a>)

Picture taken in St Maarten between 10 and 14 September by Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC) photographer Arie Kievit soon after Hurricane Irma damaged or destroyed more than 90 percent of the territory’s homes and buildings as it crossed near peak intensity. (Photo by Climate Centre/ Flickr CC 2.0)

Moyers: What did you think when you heard President Trump say to the victims of Hurricane Irma, “We’ve had bigger storms than this”? And Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, in effect said to reporters pressing him about the relation of Hurricane Irma to climate change, “Don’t bring that up. To use time and effort to address [global warming] at this point is very, very insensitive to the people in Florida.”

Lifton: Those were further expressions of climate rejection. I talk less and less about climate denial and more about climate rejection. And the reason why I make that distinction is that everybody now, including Pruitt and Trump, the most antagonistic people to climate truths, knows in some part of their minds that climate change threatens us, but they reject the threat because they can’t accept what it demands of us. It demands that government itself be active and connect with other governments, and this threatens their worldview and their identity. Pruitt doesn’t ever want to raise it. There’s a problem now with people like him and people like Gov. Scott of Florida, who see terrible devastation, who still want to see themselves as humane leaders, who try hard to walk a fine line between continuing to reject global warming as a major factor in the extreme weather and still wanting to be seen as caring for people. It’s a losing battle because as they do this, the truths of climate more and more impinge. There is the old idea that we just adapt to each disaster because there will be new disasters, that after all, climate does change, and we don’t know whether human beings do it or not. That’s what the rejecters are now saying. Adapt! That’s again a form of stranded ethics.

Moyers: The subtitle of your book is “Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival.” Those words express the hope you felt when you started writing it three years ago. But you didn’t — couldn’t — anticipate Donald Trump and the 63 million Americans who voted for him because they shared his worldview, or a Trump regime united in treating global warming as a hoax.

Lifton: Yes, that’s true. But my argument is that this climate swerve is still operative, still very powerful, still involves species awareness as epitomized by Paris, and that even Trump and his lackeys cannot buck it. They can try their best to delay it, to interfere with it, as they are, and they’ve done a lot of harm and they will do a lot more harm. But they cannot stop it. The swerve is larger than any person. It’s larger than Trump and his crowd. Again, I think his failure to leave the Paris accord is an indication of this.

Moyers: I hear you. And from the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima to the Holocaust, from genocide to terrorism — I know that you are not a romantic about human nature, or about power. But I have to say that I’m not as sure as as you are that Trump won’t get away with it. Here’s a man who says global warming is a hoax, who lies about the threat of global warming, who’s stacked the government with opponents of science, who’s created a hostile environment for scientific research by simply refusing to fill so many key scientific positions, who’s muzzled officials who are charged to inform the public—

Lifton: Yes, he’s done all that—

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BY Bill Moyers | September 14, 2017

Moyers: —who’s sidelined or fired scientific advisers, closed down the Environmental Protection Agency program that helps states and local communities adapt to rising sea levels and other effects of global climate change, rolled back fuel-economy goals, killed flood risk standards for infrastructure projects, removed climate-related content from government sites, and proposes sharply to reduce climate research. That’s not just a few inches won here and a few inches there, like the battles of World War I. These add up to a blitzkrieg.

Lifton: They are significant. And they’re evil. And they’re dangerous — they’ve already caused all kinds of danger. And I’m sure that things he’s already implemented have interfered with efforts at dealing with this sequence of hurricanes that we’re talking about, and he’ll do a lot more dangerous things, and there will be difficulties that he’s caused that will take years or even decades to overcome. So I’m agreeing with you. But there is a future beyond Trump, and there is a significant element of new human awareness. You know, I say at the end of my book, “It is always and never too late.” Of course it’s too late to do what we should’ve done decades ago in terms of combating global warming and what we should’ve done in blocking Trump and not electing him and in doing other things that would have stymied him. But it’s not too late because we can still try to get rid of Trump, to change these policies and save much of our civilization, to bring about life-enhancing patterns that are the very opposite of what Trump has done. So that’s the long-range view that I put forward as at least a human possibility. And what I’m talking about in the book is a mindset that’s open to that possibility, while acknowledging that we haven’t actually achieved it.

Moyers: Let’s talk about that mindset. Because as we discussed in our conversation last week, 4 out of 5 Republicans still support Trump and a large majority of the 63 million people who voted for him still support him. Let’s talk about their mindset a moment, their psychology.

Lifton: Well, as we’ve been discussing, there is a movement of more people recognizing global warming as a danger, recognizing the human contribution to global warming, recognizing the necessity for doing something about it. So there’s a trend in that direction, and that trend is consistent with what a climate swerve — which is, as we’re both saying, a mindset.

Climate change is all-enveloping in everything around us every day of our lives. Trump’s supporters can’t avoid it any more than anyone else. So the danger’s still very much with us, but we possess the evolutionary capacity of human beings to cope with it. Our minds, some say, are not wired for anticipating the future — the future of climate threat and the greater forms of threat that will increasingly occur in the future. But the fact is, our evolutionary achievement with our human mind has to do with imagining beyond the immediate. It’s a capacity we have, and at Paris, even with a flawed accord, there was an expression of that capacity transformed into a political act or universal agreement. Yes, it’s shaky because it depends upon following through with actions that physically and physiologically affect our lives. But the mindset is the basic requirement for such action. It would have been impossible, prior to developing this kind of mindset and this kind of species awareness, to imagine any significant steps on a wide scale, internationally, to combat climate change. Now we can imagine them, and we’re seeing some of them in a beginning way taking shape, because our mindset is evolving. Other studies have talked about — and they’re really important — the scientific nature of climate threat and the scientific findings. And the climate scientists are really prophetic in what they’ve told us about climate danger. But one also has to look at what the human mind is capable of doing and where it is in relation to this capability.

Moyers: The Canadian writer Judith Deutsch recently published an excellent essay on “Convenient Untruths About ‘Human Nature:’ Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?” She invokes the book The Garden of the Finzi-Continis to make an important point. Did you read the book or see the movie based on it?

RELATED: History

Robert Jay Lifton, author

Robert Jay Lifton

September 17, 2001

Lifton: Yes, I did. I saw the film, yes.

Moyers: As the Nazis were consolidating power over Italy, everyday people were still exulting in the warm and pleasing experiences of daily life. They simply could not see or believe impending disaster. Some people cannot bring themselves to imagine the worst.

Lifton: That’s right. And that was true of many people in the Holocaust, many Jews who could not believe the danger they would be in and could not give up their homes and possessions, and could not allow themselves to imagine the horrors that the Nazis had begun to impose on people. There are patterns of what I call psychic numbing and other ways of diverting one’s mind from unacceptable truths. And there is a parallel, as you’re suggesting, with climate change.

But in a way, these hurricanes have been useful to us because they have received all kinds of visual expression now. We have all seen those dreadful threatening images of these hurricanes on television or the internet. This doesn’t mean that people won’t still deny, reject, numb themselves to climate change, but it’s harder to do so, and perhaps fewer and fewer do so successfully in the mixture of rejection and acceptance that many have in connection with this danger.

Moyers: How do you explain the studies showing that when some people — a lot of people — are confronted with an indisputable fact that contradicts their belief system, they will choose their belief and their values over that fact every time?

Lifton: I think the people who reject the facts of global warming in order to sustain a belief system that rejects it are a minority, and perhaps a minority that’s growing smaller as the mindset I’m describing in The Climate Swerve is growing. I repeat, it’s touch-and-go, and there’s no moment of truth. But it’s happening. That’s the argument I’m making. I’m not envisioning some beautiful future of humankind behaving perfectly and wisely in this new mindset. I just think we have an increasing capacity to avert catastrophe and to take some life-enhancing steps that comes from the mindset.

Moyers: What’s the danger that the vast and growing inequality of our time is leading to a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest world? You may remember the chief economist of Britain, Nicholas Stern, who quantified people’s right to live on the basis of wealth. I read that he justified expanding Heathrow Airport because he said a rich person would lose money having to wait for a flight and that this wealth was worth more than the wealth of people dying due to the greenhouse gas emissions from flying.

Lifton: Well, I don’t think such a view would gain too much of a hearing right now. I keep returning to these hurricanes. I think they’re very significant psychologically as well as physically. What they psychologically tell us is that everybody’s vulnerable. Rich vacationers, retirees in Florida, along with ordinary people are just as vulnerable as people whose islands in the South Pacific might sink into the ocean. There is the fantasy that calamity will affect them but not us. That’s wrong, and the hurricanes make the truth more available to us. I think, again, the experience side of climate change right in their own backyards, in our own backyards, alters that.

Moyers: Is there a danger we’ll be so dazzled by technology we’re likely to ignore the reality of danger? Remember what Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman reported after the first atom bomb test in New Mexico? He said that the scientists who brought it off broke into “tears and laughter. We beat each other on the back. Our elation knew no bounds. The gadget worked.” He got out his bongo drums and led a snake dance! What does that tell us about—

Lifton: There are a lot of things it tells us. The scientists who made the atomic bomb are, in my sense, people with a tragic destiny. You know, there was the US race with Nazi Germany and good evidence that the Germans were more advanced in nuclear physics, and we had to get the bomb first. But then there was the use of that dreadful weapon, or instrument of genocide, and many of the more sensitive scientists turned quickly into anti-nuclear people — and very effective ones.

But what you’re talking about in terms of the gadget and our embrace of gadgets more generally is an attitude toward technology, especially the idea that technology will serve us and save us. I speak of what I call rescue technologies. For example, there’s an embrace of what’s called geotechnology, a vast technology to change the climate, actually change the weather, which has never been proven and could have all kinds of dangers of its own. It’s significant that the scientist Edward Teller, who so believed in the technology of destruction — perhaps the leading nuclear theorist of his time — was also a leading advocate of geotechnology of this kind.

RELATED: climate change

Let me say embracing rescue technologies is very, very dangerous. Another rescue technology for nuclear weapons has been the strategic defense initiative, SDI, as though if we set up these anti-missile missiles, we’ll be OK and we can keep our nuclear stockpiles. The trouble is, it’s not OK. They’re never guaranteed to get all the incoming missiles and bombs. They may get most of them, but it’s never been demonstrated — and it seems unlikely to ever be demonstrated — that they can be foolproof against all nuclear weapons that are used. So this worship of technology, what I call technicism, which is a kind of child of scientism, is deeply dangerous, and that’s I think you’re implying with your question. Although it extends to all sorts of things we do in our culture that go beyond bombs and beyond climate, maybe it’s most dangerous with nuclear weapons and with climate.

Moyers: Why does all this matter to a 91-year-old man who, like me at 83, is, not likely to experience the worst climate disasters that might await our species? Why do you care?

Lifton: Bill, this book is about a vast universal problem. It’s also very personal in the way that I write it and the way I think about things. And it’s a series of reflections that I feel are justified in terms of my experience. I hold to the idea of what I call larger human connectedness. It’s a secular version of the sense of human continuity, or even sense of immortality, and we as a culture-creating species we really, really require. We don’t just live in a single moment. We don’t even live only in the lives of our parents and children and grandchildren, but rather as part of the great chain of being. I feel that very strongly. So it matters to me what happens along the way in that chain, what happens to the world in the future, what becomes of the nastier forces that I’ve struggled against in my lifetime. It matters to me that these convictions continue for the remainder of my life, and beyond, as part of the great chain of being.

The post The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival with Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers appeared first on

Big Something

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/09/2017 - 2:27am in

(The embiggenation of some of these images can be caused by clicking on them.)

Bizarro is brought to you today by America’s Next President If I Have My Way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bigfoot lately, although I’ve no idea why. In the cartoon above, we see that Sasquatch belongs to a family in which each member has one oversized thing. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Not long ago, I published a cartoon about Bigfoot and his relationship to Trump. You can see it here. The cartoon inspired me to create a Bigfoot campaign poster and put it on a T-shirt. I’m offering it in several styles and colors, so be sure to poke around a bit and find one you like. I think this design is super fun and a subtle way to tell people where you stand politically. (Way out in the wilderness where it’s safe. Relatively)  As always, your purchase helps keep the lanterns full of oil here at Rancho Bizarro so we can keep poking the Orange Menace with our cartoon swords late into the night. Please also consider forwarding the link to folks whom you think might like the shirt! See the wonderful, aformentioned product here.

Some other funny shirts are in my store, too, so fish around a bit. So far, I have two pages of stuff. Here is my store’s homepage with the rest of the products.

Contrary to what many people think, dogs are not the only pets that do tricks. Cats are very good at disappearing and alligators are excellent at making others disappear.

I’ve never participated in group therapy per se but I’ve participated in a number of support groups, which are very similar except they aren’t normally led by a licensed therapist. I’m a big believer in this kind of thing because when you’re struggling in your personal life, it is so easy to fall into the trap of over examining every miserable aspect of your existence and losing touch with how your life stacks up against others in your community. You may rightly be upset that your husband of 30 years left you for a 22-year-old stripper, but then someone else at your support group tells the story of how they lost their husband and two children to an escaped pet alligator. Suddenly your problems seem a little more manageable.

The benefits of support groups are deeper and more subtle than that, of course, but you get the idea.

Whenever I see people dressed in mascot costumes––whether they’re advertising some commercial establishment on the street or trying to entertain kids or whatever––I always wonder about the person inside. Perhaps it is a teenager and this is an acceptable, temporary job for them, but maybe it’s a formerly successful, middle-aged guy who lost his family to an escaped alligator, became an alcoholic, and can’t hold down a better job. That makes me sad.

It also reminds me of this cartoon from the turn of the century.

A few of my readers have criticized me for doing cartoons about politics in the past year. Some don’t like them because they are pro-Trump, others are just sick to death of politics being in their face 24/7. So here’s a shout-out to show that I sympathize. And I truly, deeply do sympathize in a meaningful way. If I lived in the U.S. right now, I’d be pulling my hair out. On our recent visit there, the Cheeto Mussolini and people analyzing his latest embarrassing tantrum or scandal were everywhere, constantly; bars, restaurants, airport waiting areas, etc. Here in Mexico, I can limit myself to reading a few headlines and stories online and I don’t watch any TV news or video whatsoever. In doing so, I’m able to go many months without ever seeing his face or hearing his voice. It’s a life saver.

This cartoon came from a comment I made while writing a blog post a while back and I figured it might make a good cartoon. Also worth noting is the poster on the wall that says, “The Electoral College and the End of the World” which shows these three steps: 1) Russia meddling in America’s election just enough to get Trump elected via the Electoral College, 2) the American fascist authoritarian facing off against the North Korean fascist authoritarian, 3) a nuclear mushroom cloud. The book on the kid’s desk says, “What is This? The History of Books”.

This cartoon actually happened to me. One day I was at my drawing table and chased with a flyswatter what I thought was an elusive mosquito. I wasted a couple of minutes looking like an idiot before I realized it was a floater in my eye. I was worried this gag might be too soft, not funny enough to relate to, maybe even too vague but it turned out to get lots of comments on social media from others who’ve done the exact same thing. Funny how that kind of stuff works out.

Thanks for reading this week’s roundup, Jazz Pickles, and not just skimming the cartoons in 9 seconds and moving on to Alex Jones’ website to see what institutional insanity looks like.  If you enjoy what I’m doing, please recommend my work to your friends and consider some of the options I’ve listed above and below that help me make ends meet as increasingly more folks read my work for free on the Interwebs.

Till next time, be smart, be happy, be nice.

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers on ‘A Duty to Warn’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/09/2017 - 7:59am in

There will not be a book published this fall more urgent, important, or controversial than The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the work of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts to assess President Trump’s mental health. They had come together last March at a conference at Yale University to wrestle with two questions. One was on countless minds across the country: “What’s wrong with him?” The second was directed to their own code of ethics: “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn” if they conclude the president to be dangerously unfit?

As mental health professionals, these men and women respect the long-standing “Goldwater rule” which inhibits them from diagnosing public figures whom they have not personally examined. At the same time, as explained by Dr. Bandy X Lee, who teaches law and psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, the rule does not have a countervailing rule that directs what to do when the risk of harm from remaining silent outweighs the damage that could result from speaking about a public figure — “which in this case, could even be the greatest possible harm.” It is an old and difficult moral issue that requires a great exertion of conscience. Their decision: “We respect the rule, we deem it subordinate to the single most important principle that guides our professional conduct: that we hold our responsibility to human life and well-being as paramount.”

Hence, this profound, illuminating and discomforting book undertaken as “a duty to warn.”

The foreword is by one of America’s leading psychohistorians, Robert Jay Lifton. He is renowned for his studies of people under stress — for books such as Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1967), Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans — Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973), and The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986). The Nazi Doctors was the first in-depth study of how medical professionals rationalized their participation in the Holocaust, from the early stages of the Hitler’s euthanasia project to extermination camps.

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump will be published Oct. 3 by St. Martin’s Press.

Here is my interview with Robert Jay Lifton — Bill Moyers



Bill Moyers: This book is a withering exploration of Donald Trump’s mental state. Aren’t you and the 26 other mental health experts who contribute to it in effect violating the Goldwater Rule? Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatrist Association’s code of ethics flatly says: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization.” Are you putting your profession’s reputation at risk?

Robert Jay Lifton: I don’t think so. I think the Goldwater Rule is a little ambiguous. We adhere to that portion of the Goldwater Rule that says we don’t see ourselves as making a definitive diagnosis in a formal way and we don’t believe that should be done, except by hands-on interviewing and studying of a person. But we take issue with the idea that therefore we can say nothing about Trump or any other public figure. We have a perfect right to offer our opinion, and that’s where “duty to warn” comes in.

Moyers: Duty to warn?

Lifton: We have a duty to warn on an individual basis if we are treating someone who may be dangerous to herself or to others — a duty to warn people who are in danger from that person. We feel it’s our duty to warn the country about the danger of this president. If we think we have learned something about Donald Trump and his psychology that is dangerous to the country, yes, we have an obligation to say so. That’s why Judith Herman and I wrote our letter to The New York Times. We argue that Trump’s difficult relationship to reality and his inability to respond in an evenhanded way to a crisis renders him unfit to be president, and we asked our elected representative to take steps to remove him from the presidency.

Moyers: Yet some people argue that our political system sets no intellectual or cognitive standards for being president, and therefore, the ordinary norms of your practice as a psychiatrist should stop at the door to the Oval Office.

Lifton: Well, there are people who believe that there should be a standard psychiatric examination for every presidential candidate and for every president. But these are difficult issues because they can’t ever be entirely psychiatric. They’re inevitably political as well. I personally believe that ultimately ridding the country of a dangerous president or one who’s unfit is ultimately a political matter, but that psychological professionals can contribute in valuable ways to that decision.

Moyers: Do you recall that there was a comprehensive study of all 37 presidents up to 1974? Half of them reportedly had a diagnosable mental illness, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It’s not normal people who always make it to the White House.

Lifton: Yes, that’s amazing, and I’m sure it’s more or less true. So people with what we call mental illness can indeed serve well, and people who have no discernible mental illness — and that may be true of Trump — may not be able to serve, may be quite unfit. So it isn’t always the question of a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s really a question of what psychological and other traits render one unfit or dangerous.

Moyers: You write in the foreword of the book: “Because Trump is president and operates within the broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process, that is, as politically and even ethically normal.”

The presidency and the behavior of the president can be seen as under that category of malignant normality. For example, Donald Trump lies repeatedly. We may come to see a president as liar as normal… In other words, his behavior as president, with all those who defend his behavior in the administration, becomes a norm.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: Yes. And that’s what I call malignant normality. What we put forward as self-evident and normal may be deeply dangerous and destructive. I came to that idea in my work on the psychology of Nazi doctors — and I’m not equating anybody with Nazi doctors, but it’s the principle that prevails — and also with American psychologists who became architects of CIA torture during the Iraq War era. These are forms of malignant normality. For example, Donald Trump lies repeatedly. We may come to see a president as liar as normal. He also makes bombastic statements about nuclear weapons, for instance, which can then be seen as somehow normal. In other words, his behavior as president, with all those who defend his behavior in the administration, becomes a norm. We have to contest it, because it is malignant normality. For the contributors to this book, this means striving to be witnessing professionals, confronting the malignancy and making it known.

Moyers: Witnessing professionals? Where did this notion come from?

Lifton: I first came to it in terms of psychiatrists assigned to Vietnam, way back then. If a soldier became anxious and enraged about the immorality of the Vietnam War, he might be sent to a psychiatrist who would be expected to help him be strong enough to return to committing atrocities. So there was something wrong in what professionals were doing, and some of us had to try to expose this as the wrong and manipulative use of our profession. We had to see ourselves as witnessing professionals. And then of course, with the Nazi doctors I studied for another book — doctors assigned, say, to Auschwitz — they were expected to do selections of Jews for the gas chamber. That was what was expected of them and what for the most part they did — sometimes with some apprehension, but they did it. So that’s another malignant normality. Professionals were reduced to being automatic servants of the existing regime as opposed to people with special knowledge balanced by a moral baseline as well as the scientific information to make judgments.

Moyers: And that should apply to journalists, lawyers, doctors —

Professor Robert Jay Lifton, photographed at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rick Friedman ©2003)

Lifton: Absolutely. One bears witness by taking in the situation — in this case, its malignant nature — and then telling one’s story about it, in this case with the help of professional knowledge, so that we add perspective on what’s wrong, rather than being servants of the powers responsible for the malignant normality. We must be people with a conscience in a very fundamental way.

Moyers: And this is what troubled you and many of your colleagues about the psychologists who helped implement the US policy of torture after 9/11.

Lifton: Absolutely. And I call that a scandal within a scandal, because yes, it was indeed professionals who became architects of torture, and their professional society, the American Psychological Association, which encouraged and protected them until finally protest from within that society by other members forced a change. So that was a dreadful moment in the history of psychology and in the history of professionals in this country.

Moyers: Some of the descriptions used to describe Trump — narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, delusional disorder, malignant narcissist — even some have suggested early forms of dementia — are difficult for lay people to grasp. Some experts say that it’s not one thing that’s wrong with him — there are a lot of things wrong with him and together they add up to what one of your colleagues calls “a scary witches brew, a toxic stew.”

Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: I think that’s very accurate. I agree that there’s an all-enveloping destructiveness in his character and in his psychological tendencies. But I’ve focused on what professionally I call solipsistic reality. Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world. In that sense, he does what psychotics do. Psychotics engage in, or frequently engage in a view of reality based only on the self. He’s not psychotic, but I think ultimately this solipsistic reality will be the source of his removal from the presidency.

Moyers: What’s your take on how he makes increasingly bizarre statements that are contradicted by irrefutable evidence to the contrary, and yet he just keeps on making them? I know some people in your field call this a delusional disorder, a profound loss of contact with external reality.

Lifton: He doesn’t have clear contact with reality, though I’m not sure it qualifies as a bona fide delusion. He needs things to be a certain way even though they aren’t, and that’s one reason he lies. There can also be a conscious manipulative element to it. When he put forward, and politically thrived on, the falsehood of President Obama’s birth in Kenya, outside the United States, he was manipulating that lie as well as undoubtedly believing it in part, at least in a segment of his personality. In my investigations, I’ve found that people can believe and not believe something at the same time, and in his case, he could be very manipulative and be quite gifted at his manipulations. So I think it’s a combination of those.

Moyers: How can someone believe and not believe at the same time?

Lifton: Well, in one part of himself, Trump can know there’s no evidence that Obama was born in any place but Hawaii in the United States. But in another part of himself, he has the need to reject Obama as a president of the United States by asserting that he was born outside of the country. He needs to delegitimate Obama. That’s been a strong need of Trump’s. This is a personal, isolated solipsistic need which can coexist with a recognition that there’s no evidence at all to back it up. I learned about this from some of the false confessions I came upon in my work.

Moyers: Where?

Lifton: For instance, when I was studying Chinese communist thought reform, one priest was falsely accused of being a spy, and was under physical duress — really tortured with chains and in other intolerable ways. As he was tortured and the interrogator kept insisting that he was a spy, he began to imagine himself in the role of a spy, with spy radios in all the houses of his order. In his conversations with other missionaries he began to think he was revealing military data to the enemy in some way. These thoughts became real to him because he had to entered into them and convinced the interrogator that he believed them in order to remove the chains and the torture. He told me it seemed like someone creating a novel and the novelist building a story with characters which become real and believable. Something like that could happen to Trump, in which the false beliefs become part of a panorama, all of which is fantasy and very often bound up with conspiracy theory, so that he immerses himself in it and believing in it even as at the same time recognizing in another part of his mind that none of this exists. The human mind can do that.

Moyers: It’s as if he believes the truth is defined by his words.

Lifton: Yes, that’s right. Trump has a mind that in many ways is always under duress, because he’s always seeking to be accepted, loved. He sees himself as constantly victimized by others and by the society, from which he sees himself as fighting back. So there’s always an intensity to his destructive behavior that could contribute to his false beliefs.

Moyers: Do you remember when he tweeted that President Obama had him wiretapped, despite the fact that the intelligence community couldn’t find any evidence to support his claim? And when he spoke to a CIA gathering, with the television cameras running, he said he was “a thousand percent behind the CIA,” despite the fact that everyone watching had to know he had repeatedly denounced the “incompetence and dishonesty” of that same intelligence community.

Lifton: Yes, that’s an extraordinary situation. And one has to invoke here this notion of a self-determined truth, this inner need for the situation to take shape in the form that the falsehood claims. In a sense this takes precedence over any other criteria for what is true.

Moyers: What other hazardous patterns do you see in his behavior? For example, what do you make of the admiration that he has expressed for brutal dictators — Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq, even Kim Jong Un of North Korea — yes, him — and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who turned vigilantes loose to kill thousands of drug users, and of course his admiration for Vladimir Putin. In the book Michael Tansey says, “There’s considerable evidence to suggest that absolute tyranny is Donald Trump’s wet dream.”

Lifton: Yes. Well, while Trump doesn’t have any systematic ideology, he does have a narrative, and in that narrative, America was once a great country, it’s been weakened by poor leadership, and only he can make it great again by taking over. And that’s an image of himself as a strongman, a dictator. It isn’t the clear ideology of being a fascist or some other clear-cut ideological figure. Rather, it’s a narrative of himself as being unique and all-powerful. He believes it, though I’m sure he’s got doubts about it. But his narrative in a sense calls forth other strongmen, other dictators who run their country in an absolute way and don’t have to bother with legislative division or legal issues.

Moyers: I suspect some elected officials sometimes dream of doing what an unopposed autocrat or strongman is able to do, and that’s demand adulation on the one hand, and on the other hand, eradicate all of your perceived enemies just by turning your thumb down to the crowd. No need to worry about “fake media” — you’ve had them done away with. No protesters. No confounding lawsuits against you. Nothing stands in your way.

So he says, in his famous phrase, ‘Only I can fix it!’ That’s a strange and weird statement for anybody to make, but it’s central to Trump’s sense of self and self-presentation.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: That’s exactly right. Trump gives the impression that he would like to govern by decree. And of course, who governs by decree but dictators or strongmen? He has that impulse in him and he wants to be a savior, so he says, in his famous phrase, “Only I can fix it!” That’s a strange and weird statement for anybody to make, but it’s central to Trump’s sense of self and self-presentation. And I think that has a lot to do with his identification with dictators. No matter how many they kill and no matter what else they do, they have this capacity to rule by decree without any interference by legislators or courts.

In the case of Putin, I think Trump does have involvements in Russia that are in some way determinative. I think they’ll be important in his removal from office. I think he’s aware of collusion on his part and his campaign’s, some of which has been brought out, a lot more of which will be brought out in the future. He appears to have had some kind of involvement with the Russians in which they’ve rescued him financially and maybe continue to do so, so that he’s beholden to them in ways for which there’s already lots of evidence. So I think his fierce impulse to cover up any kind of Russian connections, which is prone to obstruction of justice, will do him in.

Moyers: I want to ask you about another side of him that is taken up in the book. It involves the much-discussed video that appeared during the campaign last year which had been made a decade or so ago when Trump was newly married. He sees this actress outside his bus and he says, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” and then we hear sounds of Tic Tacs before Trump continues. “You know,” he says, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet, just kiss, I don’t even wait.” And then you can hear him boasting off camera, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything, grab them by the…. You can do anything.”

Lifton: In addition to being a strongman and a dictator, there’s a pervasive sense of entitlement. Whatever he wants, whatever he needs in his own mind, he can have. It’s a kind of American celebrity gone wild, but it’s also a vicious anti-female perspective and a caricature of male macho. That’s all present in Trump as well as the solipsism that I mentioned earlier, and that’s why when people speak of him as all-pervasive on many different levels of destructiveness, they’re absolutely right.

Moyers: And it seems to extend deeply into his relationship with his own family. There’s a chapter in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump with the heading, “Trump’s Daddy Issues.” There’s several of his quotes about his daughter, Ivanka. He said, “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody, and I helped create her? Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall. She’s got the best body.”

Again: “I said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” Ivanka was 22 at the time. To a reporter he said: “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married — and, you know, her father…”

When Howard Stern, the radio host, started to say, “By the way, your daughter —” Trump interrupted him with “She’s beautiful.” Stern continued, “Can I say this? A piece of ass.” To which Trump replied, “Yeah.” What’s going on here?

Lifton: In addition to everything else and the extreme narcissism that it represents, it’s a kind of unbridled sense of saying anything on one’s mind as well as an impulse to break down all norms because he is the untouchable celebrity. So just as he is the one man who can fix things for the country, he can have every woman or anything else that he wants, or abuse them in any way he seeks to.

Moyers: You mentioned extreme narcissism. I’m sure you knew Erich Fromm —

Lifton: Yes, I did.

Moyers: — one of the founders of humanistic psychology. He was a Holocaust survivor who had a lifelong obsession with the psychology of evil. And he said that he thought “malignant narcissism” was the most severe pathology — “the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.” Do you think malignant narcissism goes a long way to explain Trump?

Lifton: I do think it goes a long way. In early psychoanalytic thought, narcissism was — and still, of course, is — self-love. The early psychoanalysts used to talk of libido directed at the self. That now feels a little quaint, that kind of language. But it does include the most fierce and self-displaying form of one’s individual self. And in this way, it can be dangerous. When you look at Trump, you can really see someone who’s destructive to any form of life enhancement in virtually every area. And if that’s what Fromm means by malignant narcissism, then it definitely applies.

Moyers: You said earlier that Trump and his administration have brought about a kind of malignant normalcy — that a dangerous president can become normalized. When the Democrats make a deal with him, as they did recently, are they edging him a little closer to being accepted despite this record of bizarre behavior?

Lifton: We are normalizing him when the Democrats make a deal with him. But there’s a profound ethical issue here and it’s not easily answered. If something is good for the country — perhaps the deal that the Democrats are making with Donald Trump is seen or could be understood by most as good for the country, dealing with the debt crisis — is that worth doing even though it normalizes him? If the Democrats do go ahead with this deal, they should take steps to make clear that they’re opposing other aspects of his presidency and of him.

Moyers: There’s a chapter in the book entitled, “He’s Got the World in His Hands and His Finger on the Trigger.” Do you ever imagine him sitting alone in his office, deciding on a potentially catastrophic course of action for the nation? Say, with five minutes to decide whether or not to unleash thermonuclear weapons?

Trump is the most dangerous man in the world. He’s equally dangerous because of his finger on the nuclear trigger and because of his mind ensconced in solipsistic reality. The two are a dreadful combination.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: I do. And like many, I’m deeply frightened by that possibility. It’s said very often that, OK, there are people around him who can contain him and restrain him. I’m not so sure they always can or would. In any case, it’s not unlikely that he could seek to create some kind of crisis, if he found himself in a very bad light in relation to public opinion and close to removal from office. So yes, I share that fear and I think it’s a real danger. I think we have to constantly keep it in mind, be ready to anticipate it and take whatever action we can against it. The American president has particular power. This makes Trump the most dangerous man in the world. He’s equally dangerous because of his finger on the nuclear trigger and because of his mind ensconced in solipsistic reality. The two are a dreadful combination.

Moyers: One of your colleagues writes in the book, “Sociopathic traits may be amplified as the leader discovers that he can violate the norms of civil society and even commit crimes with impunity. And the leader who rules through fear, lies and betrayal may become increasingly isolated and paranoid as the loyalty of even his closest confidants must forever be suspect.” Does that sound like Trump?

Lifton: It’s already happening. We see that it’s harder and harder to work for him. It’s hard enough even for his spokesperson to affirm his falsehoods. These efforts are not too convincing and they become less convincing from the radius outward, in which people removed from his immediate circle find it still more difficult to believe him and the American public finds it more difficult. He still can appeal to his base because in his base there is a narrative of grievance that centers on embracing Trump without caring too much about whether what he says is true or false. He somehow fits into their narrative. But that can’t go on forever, and he’s losing some of his formerly loyal supporters as well. So he is becoming more isolated. That has its own dangers, but it’s inevitable that it would happen with a man like this as his falsehoods are contested.

Moyers: You bring up his base. Those true believers aren’t the only ones who voted for him. As we are talking, I keep thinking: Here we have a man who kept asking what’s the point of having thermonuclear weapons if we cannot use them; who advocates using torture or worse against our prisoners of war; who urged that five innocent young people here in New York, black young people, be given the death penalty for a sexual assault, even after it was proven someone else had committed the crime; who boasted about his ability to get away with sexually assaulting women because of his celebrity and power; who urged his followers at political rallies to punch protesters in the face and beat them so badly that they have to be taken out on stretchers; who suggested that maybe some of his followers might want to assassinate his political rival, Hillary Clinton, if she were elected president, or at the very least, throw her in prison; who believes he would not lose voters if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone. And over 63 million people voted to elect that man president!

Lifton: Yes, that’s a deeply troubling truth. And I doubt the people who voted for him were thinking about any of these things. What they were really responding to was a call for change, a sense that he was connecting with them in ways that others never had, that he would express and represent their interests, and that he would indeed make this country one dominated again by white people, in some cases white supremacists. But as you say, these people who embraced that narrative unquestioningly are a lesser minority than the ones who voted for him. And of course, he still didn’t win the popular vote. But it’s true — something has gone wrong with our democratic system in electing a man with all these characteristics that make up Donald Trump. Now we have to struggle to sustain the functional institutions of our democracy against his assault on them. I don’t think he’ll succeed in breaking them down, but he’s doing a lot of harm and it’ll take a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people to sustain them and to keep the democracy going, even in its faltering way.

Now we have to struggle to sustain the functional institutions of our democracy against [Trump’s] assault on them.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Moyers: He still has the support of 80 percent of Republican voters — 4 out of 5. And it seems the Republican Party will tolerate him as long as they’re afraid of the intensity of his followers.

Lifton: Yes, and that’s another very disturbing thought. Things there could change quickly too. What I sense is that the whole situation is chaotic and volatile, so that any time now there could be further pronouncements, further information about Russia and about obstruction of justice, or another attempt of Trump to start firing people, including Mueller, and that this would create a constitutional crisis which would create more pressure on Republicans and everybody else. So even though that is an awful truth about the Republicans’ hypocrisy in continuing to support him, that could change, I think, almost overnight if the new information were sufficiently damning to Trump and his administration.

Moyers: Let’s talk about the “Trump Effect” on the country. One aspect of it was the increase in bullying in schools caused by the rhetoric used by Trump during the campaign. But it goes beyond that.

Lifton: I think Trump has had a very strong and disturbing effect on the country already. He has given more legitimacy to white supremacy and even to neo-fascist groups, and he’s created a pervasive atmosphere that’s more vague but still significant. I don’t believe that he can in his own way destroy the country, just as he can’t eliminate climate awareness, but he can go a long way in bringing — well, in stimulating what has always been a potential.

You mentioned Erich Fromm. I met him through [the sociologist] David Riesman. David Riesman was a close friend, a great authority on American society. He emphasized how there’s always an underbelly in American society of extreme conservatism and reactionary response, and when there’s any kind of progressive movement, there’s likely to be a backlash of reaction to it. Trump is very much in that backlash to any kind of progressive achievement or even decent situation in society. He is stimulating feelings that are potential and latent in our society, but very real, and rendering them more active and more dangerous. And in that way, he’s having a very harmful effect that I think mounts every single day.

Moyers: Some people who have known Trump for years say he’s gotten dramatically worse since he was inaugurated. In the prologue to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Dr. Judith Lewis Herman writes this: “Fostered by the flattery of underlings and the chants of crowds, a political leader’s grandiosity may morph into grotesque delusions of grandeur.” Does that —

Lifton: That’s absolutely true. It’s absolutely true. And for anyone with these traits — of feeling himself victimized, of seeking to be the strongman who resolves everything, yet sees truth only through his own self and negates all other truth outside of it — is bound to become much more malignant when he has power. That’s what Judith Herman is saying, and she’s absolutely right. Power then breeds an intensification of all this because the power can never be absolute power — to some extent it’s stymied — but the isolation while in power becomes even more dangerous. Think of it as a vicious circle. The power intensifies these tendencies and the tendencies become more dangerous because of the power.

Moyers: But suppose that if Donald Trump is crazy, as some have said, he’s crazy like a fox, which is to say all this bizarre behavior is really clever strategy to mislead, distract and deceive others into responding in precisely the manner that he wants them to.

Lifton: I don’t think that’s quite true. I think that it’s partly true. As I said before, Trump both disbelieves and believes in falsehoods, so that when he did thrive on his longstanding and perhaps most egregious falsehood — the claim that Obama was not born in the United States — he’s crazy like a fox in manipulating it because it gave him his political entrée onto the national stage — and also, incidentally, was not rejected by many leading Republicans. So he was crazy like a fox in that case. But it’s more extreme even than that. In order to make your falsehoods powerful, you have to believe in them in some extent. And that’s why we simplify things if we say that Trump either believes nothing in his falsehoods and is just manipulating us like a fox or he completely believes them. Neither is true. The combination of both and his talent as a manipulator and falsifier are very much at issue.

Moyers: You may not remember it, but you and I talked l6 years ago this very week — a few days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. ll — and PBS had asked me to go on the air to talk to a variety of people about their response to those atrocities.

Lifton: I haven’t forgotten it, Bill.

Moyers: And in our discussion, we talked about your book, Destroying the World to Save It, about that extremist Japanese religious cult aum shinrikyo that released sarin nerve gas in Tokyo subways, you compared their ideology to Osama bin Laden: “He wanted to destroy a major part of the world to purify the world. There was in this idea, or his ideology, a sense of renewal.” We saw it in that Japanese cult. So the issue I am getting at is that such an aspiration can take hold of any true believer — the desire to purify the world no matter the cost.

Lifton: It is a very dangerous aspiration, and it’s not absent from the Trump presidency, although I don’t think it’s his central theme. I think it’s a central theme in Steve Bannon, for instance, who is an apocalyptic character and really wants to bring down most of advanced society as we know it, most of civilization as we know it, in order to recreate it in his image. I think Trump has some attraction to that, just as he had attraction to Bannon as a person and as a thinker, and that influence is by no means over. He’s still in touch with Bannon. So there is this apocalyptic influence in the Trumpean presidency: The world is destroyed in order to be purified and renewed in the ideal way that is projected by a Steve Bannon. And there is a sense of that when Trump says we’ll make America great again, because he says it’s been destroyed, he will remake it. So there is an apocalyptic suggestion, but I don’t think it’s at the very heart of his presidency.

Moyers: So our challenge is?

Lifton: I always feel we have to work both outside and inside of our existing institutions, so we have to really be careful about who we vote for and examine carefully our institutions and what they’re meant to do and how they’re being violated. I also think we need movements from below that oppose what this administration and administrations like it are doing to ordinary people. And for those of us who contributed to this book — well, as I said earlier, we have to be “witnessing professionals” and fulfill our duty to warn.

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