SLOW LEARNERS?

ARE WE SLOW LEARNERS?

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. – Edmund Burke

Winston Churchill paraphrased Burke thereby reminding us that a much less painful education can be gained by learning about the mistakes of others rather than: “learning the hard way.”

 

The Repetition Compulsion
When it comes to governing, it seems clear that we continue to replicate the same stupid mistakes of the past. Freud described this as an inherently human characteristic which he named the Repetition Compulsion, arising from “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” It seems more likely to me that our government often makes poor decisions as a result of a lack of historical perspective, which brings up the question as to whether they choose to ignore lessons of the past or simply “do not know history.”

 

Who Needs History?

According to the American History Association, there has been a recent and significant decline in the number of college students who opt for a major in history. This is not surprising when one considers the soaring student loan debt in this country. These kids (anyone under the age of 40 is a kid to me) are primarily interested in finding a way to make a quick buck, and there aren’t many companies recruiting historians.
There is also the massive technological change which has occurred in the space of one generation, apparently leaving many to feel the old rules are no longer appropriate and that we old folks are “stuck in the past” and one should strive to live in “the here and now.” Further evidence of the lack of interest in what has gone before, is seen in the near collapse of the antique market. Nearly all the shops in my area that used to hawk old stuff are gone. The PBS TV program Antique’s Roadshow frequently mentions the decline in value of items treasured by many of my generation. Many of us who have collected and admired such things often find little interest on the part of our inheritors. Even family heirlooms sometimes take a hit and no tears are shed as so called “time honored” traditions are discarded. There is a bright spot however, as there seems to be renewed interest in genealogy largely due to interests in DNA, the more ready availability of records due to digitization, and companies like Ancestry.com. Hopefully, this interest in genealogy may provoke more curiosity about what has gone before, and help us avoid repeating some of our ancestor’s screw ups.

One thing that history can teach us is that democracy is fragile. In my generation alone, we saw Germany, Italy, Spain, and multiple south American and African countries become dictatorships. And now we see that truth is played out again as democratic governments throughout the world become more authoritarian: witness Turkey, Poland, and Venezuela. Yet, we Americans naively think it could never happen to us. As students of history, the dangers were evident to our country’s founders, exemplified by Franklin who responded to a question as to what kind of government had been formulated by saying: “a republic if you can keep it” (popular usage has caused us to use the word democracy as synonymous with republic).

Beyond Rationale Debate to Divisiveness and Polarization
We live in a time when Americans are more divided than at any time in the past 200 years. Many believe this divisiveness presents a grave threat to the republic, for divide and conquer has long been the mantra of those who desire to subjugate others. Gone are the days of rational debate, conciliation, and the search for truth among our lawmakers and the public at large. Respectful dissent by our politicians is frequently replaced by character assassination and name calling. Allegiance to one’s political party is paramount consequently; independent thinking is frowned upon. As a matter of fact, members of each party are given “talking points” to regurgitate whenever questioned about issues.

john_adams.jpgBut the desire to be re-elected is the most powerful motivator of adherence to the party line. Oh yes, group think is alive and well in the halls of congress and the deliberations of elective officials throughout the nation. Perhaps John Adams had a point when he described the two-party system as: “…the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

 

Too much information. Not enough knowledge.
There are obviously many other factors that contribute to our divisiveness, such as social media which allows false accusations and conspiracy theories to be promulgated without consequence (hence, the term “keyboard courage”). Our President’s friend, Mr. Putin, has made good use of the internet with his targeted bots designed to sow confusion and fear in the electorate. Of course, we will never know to what extent those activities affected the outcome of the past presidential election. Meanwhile, we seem to have learned little from that experience for there appears to be little effort being put forth to interfere with future election tampering.

 

News vs Propaganda
There are also problems with those in the media who behave more like propaganda machines than honest brokers of the news. They no longer even pretend to lack bias, and routinely extol the virtues of one party while trashing the other. This results in their gaining a loyal audience of people, who as a result of this confirmation bias, will rarely hear the other side of any story, i.e., they are only told that which is consistent with what they already believe. Those in the news business know conflict sells, and no one is better at promoting conflict than our President. This was noted early in the Trump campaign by the former president of CBS, who said of Trump: “He is damn good for CBS.” Little wonder that he seems to have had unlimited access from the beginning of his campaign. As a candidate, Trump must have been very aware of this, for his approach was to exploit divisiveness rather than to promote unity.

 

Image result for trump with his maga hat

The essentials of good stagecraft are followed carefully by Mr. Trump. He utilizes such tactics as always keeping audiences waiting for enough time to make grander entrances, with carefully choreographed “spontaneous” news conferences that occur on the walk to the helicopter where there just happens to be a cadre of reporters waiting to pay homage to the great one. Everyone knows that costuming is important in any show and Trump’s genius came into full flower with the Make America Great Again trucker’s cap. The ball cap has become a nearly essential part of the working-class uniform of people who had become disaffected and felt left behind. The message printed on them harkened back to a time when living wages were the norm and labor unions were powerful. When Trump donned his cap, he became as one with them. Quickly forgotten was his history of paying starvation wages to immigrant laborers, stiffing tradesmen who worked on his projects, and his privileged “silver spoon” childhood that allowed him to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War and only “get a small loan of $1 million” from his dad to start his business.

Editors Note: Just a few articles to support eshrink’s statements above regarding Trump’s history of hiring and exploiting immigrant works, stiffing contractors, and using his privilege to avoid military service.

Business Insider: Donald Trump avoided the military draft 5 times, which was common for men from influential families

A Brief History of Trump Swindling Small Business Owners including a cabinet maker from Philly, a paint seller and servers in Florida, a drapery business in Vegas…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Fortune: Trump Got a Tax Break for Stiffing Contractors

USA Today: Hundreds allege Trump doesn’t pay his bills

Reuters: Trumps Art of the Deal: Dispute Your Bills. A review of 50 court cases brought by workers and contractors against Trump

Nothing Unites like a Common Enemy
Trump has made good use of his showmanship skills to appeal to his supporters who nearly all remain loyal no matter what. They obviously like him and want to believe him consequently, when something unfavorable is written, and he tells them the press is “the enemy of the people”, they switch to Fox News to get the straight scoop where they will likely never hear the other side of the story. Mr. Trump has united his “Trumpsters” with the time-honored strategy of inventing an enemy, in this case immigrants, and convincing his followers that they are a menace.

 

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
Although I continue to believe Trump is significantly impaired as the result of a serious personality disorder, he continues to demonstrate his genius at self-promotion, with adherence to the Public Relations dictum that there is no such thing as bad publicity. With that in mind, he immediately sensed the value of Twitter, an instrument by which one can instantly reach millions with a few key strokes. It is also an effective tool to transmit any message repetitively for it has been proven that when something is repeated often enough, it eventually is believed. If there is any doubt about the success of his strategy, consider this: even though Trump is a serial divorcee who paid hush money to hide his adulterous relationships, used bankruptcies as a business strategy to line his pockets at the expense of others, is known for his casual relationship with the truth, paid $25 million dollars to settle a lawsuit over the Trump University fraud case, and was filmed bragging about his sexual assaults on women, he received 71% of the white evangelical Christian vote!

 

We now live in a shrinking world with enlarging problems, including perhaps the most pressing one of all, namely climate change, while our energies and attention remain focused on fighting with each other. We ignore the wisdom of our ancestors who when faced with monumental problems coined phrases such as “united we stand, divided we fall” and “we must hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.” Our current problems are unlikely to be solved in an atmosphere where we have no respect for each other’s point of view and only react to disagreement with anger. The polarity is so complete that even on a personal level, politics is a taboo subject. Gone are rationale debates, a desire to ensure opinions are based on facts rather than confirmation bias, and a basic interest in seeking the truth.

 

Impeachment
As I write this, we are in the midst of impeachment proceedings against the President. Although I feel he should be removed, I am fearful that regardless of the outcome, the proceedings may further increase the divisiveness and rancor that pervades the country. Senator McConnell has guaranteed the President will be found not guilty regardless of what evidence is brought forth, but no matter the outcome we can be assured that half of the country will be angry. I even wonder if the words of a hack like myself who enjoys writing about this stuff may in some small way simply harden opinions and inhibit discussion.

 

Power: The Wisdom of our Founders
This impeachment is in the final analysis about power. History teaches us that power is for most people like money in that we never have enough. That is especially true for those who aspire to positions of leadership. Those who risked their lives in order to found this republic were students of history and well aware of that trait. They also had first-hand knowledge having suffered the consequences of authoritarian rule. They wanted representative government to chart the course of the ship of state, but needed someone to steer it in the prescribed direction. With people being the way they are, I suppose it was inevitable that the guys at the helm would vie with the Congress for power, and it seems clear that Presidents have been gaining in that quest for a long time.

 

Presidents had been chipping away at the restraints placed upon the power of the executive branch for decades. In my lifetime, Roosevelt defied a predominantly isolationist Congress which was still recovering from World War I to finagle a way to send war materials to England during WW II in spite of their objections. Prior to that, he had been credited with reviving the U.S. economy from the Great Depression. He was elected to four terms and died in office while still immensely popular. Out of concern that others might become “president for life” a Constitutional Amendment was passed by Republicans in 1951 that set the current term limit for the presidency. Ironically, in 1987, Ronald Reagan suggested rescinding the rule.

 

So far, watching this impeachment thing has been a grueling experience. Nevertheless, I have suffered through a few hours of it. I’ve come away convinced that if there is no conviction, certainly the most likely outcome, Trump will have wrestled more power for the presidency than did even FDR. I find this very frightening for tipping the scales too far on which that balance of power rests would send us to a very gloomy place. Ben Franklin’s answer to the question that was posed at the Constitutional Convention “Do we have a republic or a monarchy?” should be a rallying cry for all citizens:  “A republic if we can keep it.”

 

We are the stewards of this republic: the great experiment of democracy. Most of us did nothing to earn the right to grow up under the freedom, opportunity, and liberty this great nation provides, except to be born here. Our founders and our ancestors did the heavy lifting so we could enjoy the privilege that freedom provides. At the very least, we owe it to the country’s founders and our ancestors, to learn about history, to read the Constitution, read the Declaration of Independence, and to refresh our memory of the basic lessons in civics. Get informed. Get involved. Seek the truth.

 

While it is the sworn oath of those serving in Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, to follow the Constitution of the United States of America, it is ultimately up to each of us to own our part of that responsibility.  To quote President Lincoln who led this country through arguably the most divisive period in our history:

“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

 

How the Media’s 10 Rules of Hate Sow Discord and Make Us Despise One Another

Hello dedicated “eshrinkblog” followers. This is eshrink’s editor (and daughter) writing a quick post to share an article with you.

When one goes to the mailbox and instead of junk mail (see eshrink’s post “Looking for Trees. Check my Mailbox), finds an envelope from eshrink with an article inside, you stop and read it.

This article about the state of media and how we got here is a must read. For my part, I guess I saw it happening but didn’t realize that I had gotten suckered. For background, I was motivated to earn a degree in journalism because I saw being a reporter as a noble profession that was part of a functioning democracy. Inspired by “All the President’s Men” and “The China Syndrome” and “Absence of Malice” I thought a reporter’s job was to report the facts in an objective fashion and let the public decide their opinion. I saw our job as important to keep politicians accountable and the public informed.

During my junior year, a statement by one of my professors struck me (and stuck with me). This was 1984. He said the biggest threat to journalism would be business (follow the money) as in media conglomeration. I don’t recall the precise numbers, but at that time, there were numerous independently owned newspapers and radio stations. Even local TV affiliates were common.

Another thing that struck me when I was a reporter was a book I read written by David Brinkley. In his book, he talked about how select reporters would meet in the Oval Office with President Roosevelt and decide what the news would be that day. I was shocked. Propaganda!! I had such respect for Brinkley. I couldn’t believe they were using the public airwaves to brainwash the public.

I could go on and on, but it’s more important for you read this article.

How the Media’s 10 Rules of Hate Sow Discord and Make Us Despise One Another

 

LONELINESS

Many years ago I treated a patient who was suffering from a near fatal case of loneliness.

 

No, I am not exaggerating for this person would later confess that she had come to me in a last-ditch attempt to resolve her problems while promising herself that if I couldn’t help she would hang herself. She was a 20-something attractive and very modestly dressed woman who did indeed look very despondent with the psychomotor retardation and furrowed brow characteristics of clinical depression. When I asked her why she was there to see me, she hung her head, stared at the floor, and tearfully responded that she had been shunned.

 

She went on to tell of how her infraction of the church’s rules (one that most of us would consider a minor infraction) had resulted in her being officially designated as one with whom the entire church should have no contact whatsoever. You may be thinking: “Big deal go find another church.” But her story was more complicated. She had grown up attending this church. It was the center of not only her spiritual, but also her social and family life. Since the church doctrine insisted that only members of their church were true Christians, the members were warned about the dangers of consorting with people outside the church, apparently convinced that sin was contagious. Thus, when alienated from the congregation, which to make matters worse, included her entire family, she found herself totally alone.

 

Such stories are not new as evidenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tear-jerker, THE SCARLET LETTER, but give witness to the importance of relationships and the pain of loneliness. Many religions have used banishment of varying degrees of severity to punish wayward members. The Catholic Church’s policy of excommunication appears to be less stringent and is viewed by the church as a means to save souls whereby one can return to the fold and regain salvation by repenting. Such tools are powerful and their use can have long lasting effects. For example, I recently discovered that my Great, Great, Great Grandfather was shunned and ejected from the Quaker church. It occurred to me that if he had toed the line, I might be a Quaker.

 

AND YOU THOUGHT SMOKING WAS BAD

Solitary confinement has long been used as a means to enhance the discomfort of imprisonment, and is agreed by many to be a form of torture. In a previous blog, WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? I contended that our need for relationships is encoded in our DNA, having evolved long ago as a major contributor to the survival of our species. If one were to accept that premise, it would be logical to assume that loneliness could be a major problem for us. Indeed, according to Vivek Murthy, M.D., the former Surgeon General of the U.S., loneliness has become “a growing public health crisis.” He has said that loneliness is a more effective agent in reducing longevity than obesity, and that its toxic effects are worse than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Recent research into the prevalence and effects of loneliness tends to confirm Murthy’s assessment. Last year Cigna released a report on a study of 20,000 people age 18 and over as measured by the UCLA loneliness scale.

 

Nearly half reported loneliness as a problem, but even more concerning was that 27% felt no one understood them, and 43% admitted they felt their relationships were not meaningful. One in five felt they rarely or never felt close to others or that there was anyone they could talk to. It was also noted that Generation Z (those born after 1996) were the loneliest of all the generations measured.

There have been a number of studies which confirm the effects of loneliness on physical and mental health. It is not surprising that it could result in affective disorders such as depression, and may help explain the increase incidence of suicide as mentioned in my previous blog, but there is also evidence that loneliness can cause or aggravate innumerable maladies including: hypertension, coronary artery disease, dementia, inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, impairment of immune systems, and even some malignancies to name a few.
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine sponsored by the National Institute of Health followed 1604 people over the age of 60 (average age 70) for 6 years and measured their physical decline and mortality rate. Their stark conclusion was: “Among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.” Need I say more about our need to engage with our fellow man?

 

WE ARE NOT THE ONLY LONELY

It turns out that we are not the only nation where loneliness has become a problem, both from a public health and productivity perspective. Great Britain’s parliament has recently appointed a commissioner to investigate remedies for what has been called a silent epidemic after a study showed that 20% of Brits reported they were lonely most or all of the time. It appears there are similar studies in progress in other European countries. It would be helpful to know if loneliness is a worldwide problem or peculiar to our culture.

NOTHING ELSE TO DO

If one accepts the premise that loneliness is a significant problem, the question arises as to how did we get this way and what can we do about it. Prior to the industrial revolution, multi-generational families provided a sense of belonging. Relatives galore, including parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles usually lived in close proximity. With the switch from an agrarian to an industrial society, there had been a migration to cities where houses were built close together, which resulted in the development of neighborhoods usually composed of people with common interests. There was the inevitable clustering of children who interacted with only minimal adult supervision, and stay-at-home moms who could relate to each other in a very personal way. Neighbors were evaluated based on certain standards including friendliness and mutual respect. The lack of air conditioning and television made front porches very popular especially on hot evenings, and provided an opportunity for informal socializing. The only taboo subjects were sex, religion, and politics.

 

BETTER THINGS TO DO?

Soon after World War II ended, front porches began to disappear from neighborhoods, and there was a wild rush to the suburbs where large green lawns were treasured and families had fewer opportunities to be “neighborly.” On hot summer nights, it became more comfortable to be inside the house (with air conditioning) than outside. There were also new-found entertainment devices available – first radio, then TV, movies in the VCR and then DVD Player, video games, and then the internet which gave us social media and streaming. One could go for months or longer without ever having face-to- face contact with one’s neighbors. There was no longer danger of an errant foul tip sending a baseball through someone’s window. Privacy became important, and it was no longer considered a snub to build a fence between houses.  There were no kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalks, as a matter of fact, there often were no sidewalks in these new neighborhoods.

Competing Schedules and Activities

As more mothers joined the workforce and children were exposed to more structured extra-curricular activities, long-held family traditions changed. There was concern about the “latch key children” so named because they would come home to an empty house. The evening meal, often the only time in which the entire family came together, was often disrupted due to conflicting schedules. This led to the so-called crock pot families where the family meal was available to all who passed by…making it easy to just grab a bite and be on your way without any hassle (or conversation).

Forced Socialization in the Pew

Another effective defense against loneliness was the weekly church service. Traditionally, religious institutions encouraged socializing (and in some cases, demanded it). However, attendance at religious institutions has declined in recent years (one study says church membership in the U.S. has declined from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2018).

 

WHY SO MUCH LONELINESS?

It is ironic that in this digital age when we have vastly improved modes of communication, that we would identify loneliness as a problem. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, insists that he saw his invention as a tool by which relationships could be fostered throughout the world and help dispel feelings of loneliness and dissention, but it appears that it has done more to promote divisiveness and distrust.

 

With the invention of the telephone we gave up non-verbal cues in our conversations, and the trade-off for its convenience seemed like a good deal. Now kids have largely given up talking on their cell phones in favor of texting. Voices from the internet, news media and politicians all conspire to promote divisiveness and paranoia to the point that it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation about many of the issues of the day.

 
Today people are marrying later and living longer. As reflected in the census figures of 2012, 32 million or 27% of Americans lived alone which was up from 17% in 1970. As you might expect, widowhood is likely responsible for many single occupant households, and in another study it was found that 47% of women over the age of 75 lived alone. With aging, comes the inevitable debilities and limitations. The National Institute on Aging reports that nearly half of all people over the age of 75 have hearing loss, which can be a major impediment to any meaningful social interaction resulting in withdrawal from friends and family.

 

It has been said that Americans are losing faith in our institutions, and our political leanings are often shaped by who we hate rather than who we like. Political discourse has hit a new low. Muck raking is no longer good enough, and has been replaced by personal insults a la grade school rants. Respect for contrary opinions has now gone out of fashion. Divide and conquer is the new strategy, and a tactic that seems to have even been adopted by the news media (Matt Taibbi has written an entire book about it, called “Hate Inc.”). We lack heroes. We frequently hear the term “disenfranchised” these days, a synonym for “left out” and to be an outsider is lonely for any herd critter.

ALL IS NOT LOST (stay with me…a little break from “downer” time)

There is some evidence that there may be some efforts underway to deal with the loneliness issue. I was pleased to see a recent article in Psychiatric News suggesting that psychiatrists are focusing more on loneliness as an underlying psychiatric problem (don’t know why it took so long to figure that out). A former president of the American Psychiatric Association has suggested that assessment for loneliness be part of any evaluation or perhaps become a diagnostic category in the DSM 5 (the shrink bible). There is also a growing awareness of a worldwide suicide epidemic which most would agree loneliness all too often plays a part.  Lonely lifestyles also frequently seem to be common with mass murderers.
lonely quote

LONELINESS VS. BEING ALONE

Proximity to other people is not necessarily a solution for loneliness, for it is not unusual to feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. Obviously, some type of emotional engagement is necessary to dispel lonely feelings. Ordinary discourse involves much more than words. Unfortunately, in our digital world many of the nuances of communication are lost. Not only are the tone, rhythm, volume, and timbre involved, but there are multiple non-verbal cues which can modify or even completely change a communication. As a matter of fact, some very significant interactions may occur without any words spoken. In that vein a text hardly measures up to a face to face encounter as a means to communicate feelings.

 

Emotional tone is less relevant, for even an argument can dispel lonely feelings.
Although, until recently, there have been few attempts to measure the extent of loneliness, there is definitely a consensus among sociologists and mental health professionals that there has been a definite increase. Employers have taken note of recent research which has shown that employees are more productive when they are encouraged to interact with each other. As a consequence, in many cases the traditional office cubical arrangement has been scrapped in favor of a more open environment, teamwork is encouraged, and brief chats at the water fountain are less likely to result in a dirty look from the boss. Since most workers spend nearly half of their waking hours in the workplace such changes could be very beneficial for large segments of society.

 

GO TEAM

The needs for engagement with other humans has long been addressed by the formation of millions of organizations that bring groups of people together with myriad goals, but which also provide an opportunity to relate to others. The sense of belonging to a group is a powerful antidote to loneliness. Young people who feel neglected or alienated are more likely to join street gangs (easier to radicalize for terrorism and/or recruit for “religious” cults*). Athletic events and concerts attract millions, most of whom “show their colors” and cheer as one. One of my all-time favorite TV shows was Cheers which identified the locus of the show as the place “where everybody knows your name.” Organizations of all kinds including sports teams, military, and political groups or for that matter any group of people with a common goal make use of the need to belong which at the end of the day is an antidote to loneliness.

THEY NEED EACH OTHER

AARP sponsors a very interesting and apparently successful program called “Experience Corps” in which volunteer over 50 are enrolled in a program where they are trained to help children develop literacy skills. They spend 6 to 15 hours per week working with K-3 students with spectacular results including as much as 60% improvement in reading skills, fewer behavior problems, improved attendance, and increased graduation rates  The AARP foundation at last report had 2,000 volunteers throughout the country serving over 30,000 students. However; it appears the volunteers may be benefiting more than the kids from the program. A University of Michigan study reported a statistical decrease in depressive symptoms and functional limitations among the volunteers after two years involvement in the Experience Corps. There may also be a secondary benefit in that some kids may learn to venerate rather than denigrate us old folks. (Score 1 for the Old Farts!)

 

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

None of this should be interpreted as an attempt to diminish the value of solitude. Certainly, this need to relate can be overdone, and in some cases become pathological. In many cases of marital therapy, for example, too much togetherness can be identified as the problem. In testimony before Congress, Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad defined loneliness as ” the perceived discrepancy between one’s desired level of social connection and their actual level of social connection.”  She explained that some people who are socially isolated don’t necessarily feel lonely, and some people who are lonely are surrounded by people who make them feel more alienated.

 

One’s work may require so much contact with others that it can become oppressive, and some personalities may cause anal pain of the worst kind!  Nevertheless; before you make plans to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island or join an order of non-verbal monks, be careful what you wish for. Time-alone can be refreshing, relaxing and creative, but as with most things in life, it can be overdone. Alone can be good, but lonely can be very bad. In this time in which we are all mutually dependent, it has become even more necessary to have relationships than we did in those days when we needed help to bring down a woolly mammoth. It is difficult nowadays to survive in this world as a loner. We face enormous problems including an increased global population, competition for resources, and degradation of our environment. It is once again time for us to hang together or hang separately.

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK?

The ability of the human race to relate to each other has allowed us to survive and to thrive.  We need to exercise that talent now more than ever.  As I finished writing this, once again two hate-filled young people described as loners committed horrible atrocities within hours of each other. It goes without saying that we need to take logical steps to limit access to those instruments designed to kill people, but the prevalence of these kinds of behaviors also require us to learn more about the milieu in which they occur.  For example: are there genetic influences involved, does our society in some way generate such hatred, are certain personalities more easily recruited to violent organizations, is shyness a precursor, and finally does the hatred cause the loneliness or vice versa?  We need to understand more about how these people end up the way they are if we are to have any success at solving the problem.

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

rodney king

It has been 27 years since Rodney King, an alcoholic drug-addicted Los Angeles cab driver, tearfully uttered those words. Rodney was a troubled soul whose beating by police officers was filmed by a bystander and precipitated the L.A. race riots which resulted in the death of 63 people, hundreds of injuries and massive property damage. The answer to Rodney’s question remains moot, for we are still not getting along very well. Perhaps we need to spend more energy on learning why this is still true.
REAL CHANGE OR WINDOW DRESSING?
It is true there has been progress in race relations, the issue of police brutality is being seriously addressed, and the “metoo” movement has garnered some traction, but we continue to expend a great deal of energy in fruitless debate which never seems to find resolution. This is especially true in our current political scene where vituperative language has become the norm, and both democrats and republicans cling so rigidly to their positions that compromise is impossible. Disagreements have become personal. Name calling and character assassinations are routine.
A PERFECT STORM
Not since the civil war has there been so much divisiveness or tribalism as is the currently fashionable term. It appears to me that there are multiple reasons why we can’t “all just get along,” one of which is the nature of our political campaigns. Somewhere along the way experts in such matters determined that so-called negative campaigns are the most effective strategy, and that has become the modus operandi for all kinds of kinds of candidates from dog-catcher to president. With the candidates continually trading insults and accusations, there is little relevance paid to issues and the undecided voter is left to decide which of the candidates is worse. Since his vote is based largely on his disdain for the character of his hero’s opponent rather than issues he is likely to retain very negative feelings towards the one whom he voted against. Such feelings may be carried forward and make it more likely that when a discussion ensues between two on opposite sides of an election civility is less likely.
NEWS. ARE YOU KIDDING?
So-called cable TV news stations have also in my opinion contributed to this giant schism in our political discourse. I use the term so called for they can hardly be called news outlets, but are dominated by political commentary to be generous or perhaps more accurately political propaganda outlets. Fox News leads the pack with the most viewership and the most conservative commentary. Their current star Sean Hannity is said to be one of Trump’s most trusted political advisors yet they have the temerity to call themselves “Fair and Balanced.” At the other end of the political spectrum is MSNBC who no longer attempt to hide their pro democratic bias. Then comes CNN which makes a pretense of being neutral, but fails miserably. They do have some conservative consultants on their staff which they bring in on occasion for their group discussions.
WHERE IS THE MIDDLE?
One thing these networks have in common is their programming which consists mostly in bringing in groups of experts (there must be a lot of experts in Washington for they never seem to run out) and have a group discussion with participants representing more extreme positions on both sides of an issue. Consequently; a viewer is likely to choose a more radical position. The days of political reporting in which both sides of an issue are elaborated upon by a single person with no skin in the game seems to be long gone. Only PBS seems to follow that old-fashioned format of simply presenting the facts and allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions.
GROUP THINK
During my career as a Psychiatrist my patients taught me much about our desire or perhaps more accurately said our need for validation. As such we are inevitably drawn to those who share our beliefs and perceptions, and therein lies the effect of today’s dueling media outlets. Those of us who harbor conservative beliefs will be drawn to Fox while the more liberally oriented will stick with MSNBC or CNN, “and never the twain shall meet”. The same phenomenon is operant with “talk radio” and with the internet which is becoming a news source for increasing numbers of people. As we continue to be immersed in one particular viewpoint and converse only with people of like mind we find ourselves rigidly attached to one particular political philosophy having convinced ourselves that we are the only custodians of truth.
LOGIC BE DAMNED
An argument can be defined as a person or group attempting to convince others that they are wrong. It is also true that political issues can have serious consequences therefore; political arguments can and often do become emotional. I recall as a child hearing the admonition that one should avoid discussions of politics or religion in polite company, and indeed these are the two subjects about which people are likely to have the most intense feelings. Since I am a peace-loving man and something of a wimp to boot I must admit that I tend to shy away from raising the issue of politics with friends whom I know to be on the opposite side of the fence. I submit that this same phenomenon exists throughout society and deters us from discussions of the issue that divide us and hopefully learn to compromise or at least respect the opinions of those with whom we disagree.
Advertisers have long proven that repetition in TV ads will sell everything from Viagra to Tylenol, so why not politicians. The Washington Post reports that $6.5 billion dollars were spent on the 2016 election much of which undoubtedly went to television ads leaving us drowning in a sea of powerful messages describing how terrible are all those candidates for office. Little wonder that elected officials now share the worst favorability ratings ever, and that disgusted citizens are so sickened they don’t even bother to vote.
BAD GUYS EVERWHERE
Among the most powerful motivators are anger and fear, and those masters of propaganda who manage elections are adapt at using them as weapons. Naturally when one votes for a person because he is persuaded that the other candidate is a threat other issues will become irrelevant adding more fuel to that fire which inhibits reasonable discussion.
Our prevaricator in chief has proven himself to be a master at eliciting those feelings and continues to describe the press as “the enemy of the people” and members of the Democratic party as “evil”. There are also the warnings about immigrants characterizing them as criminals, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and subversives. His talent for instilling such feelings is well demonstrated by the behavior of some of the attendees at his rallies. History shows us that a very effective way to unite a group of people is to find a common enemy, and his followers revel in chanting “lock her up”.
THERE REALLY IS “FAKE NEWS”
Last but certainly not least is the effect of the internet and social media which held such promise in bringing people together has now become a powerful weapon to interfere in our elections primarily by propagating conspiracy theories and lies of all kinds so numerous that it is virtually impossible to rein them in. Artificial intelligence has further sharpened these tools so that individuals can be targeted with false information tailored to their own particular biases or prejudices, and can reach millions of people in short order with very little expense. Nearly everyone except Mr.Trump agree that the Russians were very involved in such shenanigans in our last election and although we are told the effects on the election cannot be determined there is little doubt that it has contributed to much confusion and misinformation designed to enhance our divisiveness.
WISHFUL THINKING
The other day when I began writing this I thought there were signs of at least some yearnings for a coming together to work out problems. Niki Haley in her retirement announcement appeared to break from her boss and indicate that she did not think political opponents to be enemies. There was commentary on our need to come together, but those hopes were soon dashed with the pipe bombs, and now the senseless shooting of 2 black people in Kentucky followed by the mass murder of Jews in Pittsburg.
SOME BEHAVIOR IS PREDICTABLE
With such horrors filling the headlines you might think they would provoke serious talk about bridging the now toxic divide that separates, but after expressing regrets and sympathies yesterday our fearless leader is back on track today blaming the news media for causing the tragedies. Apparently, the false flag theory which named the Democrats as the perpetrators didn’t fly so he was forced to go to his fall back strategy. Nevertheless, we once again hear talk of our need to come together in spite of our differences. Will we follow through this time?  Hope springs eternal!