American History From An Addiction Perspective…

The other night I realized that many of Trump supporters … and whole other sections of our society — are acting like addicts. They seek something that will kill them and they know it, but they go there anyway. Those of us not in that addictive phase, or without that gene or whatever, don’t understand the apparent suicides. This is becoming more and more apparent at this moment in history, and it might be worth taking a look at it.

Years ago, I worked at a detox unit outside of Boston where the majority of clients were dealing with a heroin problem. Relatively fresh from grad school, I had a book knowledge of the addiction and recovery process. Having worked in a church with three AA groups meeting daily, I witnessed the recovery process often, including getting addicted, but not really what being addicted was like.

At the detox, that changed when my boss told me to ask the clients about their experience. I did and heard much, but the thing that struck the most was a woman who said, “You don’t get it. If we’re watching the evening news and they say, ‘the new deadly drug being sold has, let’s say, a skull on crossbones on the bag‘ , you think you should avoid that stuff. It’s deadly. I and all the addicts I know think, ‘That’s the good stuff!’ . Those other people are wimps who can’t handle it. We go out looking for it.”. At that moment, I understood how “out there” they could be and how I could misunderstand it so much.

For those clients, in active addiction, good is bad and bad is good. Death feels like life, and normal, boring life feels like death. Systems therapist Virginia Satir says, “once you understand the premise, everything makes sense”. So let’s start there and bring it to our situation.

That story brings me to the Trump rally in Michigan yesterday, the Republican Party under Trump, anti-vaxxers and Q Anon, and addiction in general. Trump’s supporters believe that good is bad, and bad is good. When Trump supporters, or Q Anon people, or whoever start, they hold rigid beliefs that deny their own experience. Russell Brand, a well-known (recovering) addict says that addiction isn’t about the drug or sex or whatever. It’s about trauma. In my time working with addicts, I have yet to meet an addict without a trauma history. Sometimes that’s before they started using, sometimes it’s a trauma like a friend dying while they used, but there is trauma involved somewhere. Does this mean that trauma causes addiction? No, but it certainly hastens or deepens any addiction one might have.

So, backing up to history, people who know right from wrong, and know what they see and hear, come to believe the opposite of that. That takes a lot of work, and a lot of denial about how bad or troubling an experience is. Satir says that nearly all dysfunction comes from shame.

Let’s say, person A did something to person B that they know is wrong, and they feel ashamed of the pain they know they have caused. A healthy individual might apologize and try to fix things… unless th thing they did is so awful that they can’t imagine that it can be fixed. Sometimes, with abusive parents, every error is that big. Sometimes, the person has actually done something so bad that to hurt someone else, that coping with it required denial, and a lot of it.

If we combine the two, we get a child who has hurt another person, and feels bad about it, and their parent yells at them, tells them that they are bad, because they didn’t hurt the other person enough. Donald Trump not only says that people don’t need masks, he says you’re wimpy, or bad if you want to wear one. The listeners are stuck between what they know about the virus and its effects, what they have done to others, and the information that they’re bad for feeling bad. Denial/ doubling down is an easier escape route from their shame than facing it, and so the psychosis begins.

On a larger societal scale, what is racism or sexism or homophobia but abusing people while knowing that abuse is wrong? All of those old children’s stories of two children who grow up together and one is the dominant group and the other isn’t, so they have a falling out — what if those stories happen more often than we know? What if White Billy and Black Billy grow up as friend, and had a falling out while their parents said, their friendship wasn’t “proper” anyway, and should have happened anyway — that they were stupid for trying, or trusting, the other person because that’s just how “they” are? Soldiers who have been forced to do horrible things in war speak of moral injury. All of the -isms involve moral injury. When we treat humans as non-humans, and feel we have to because it would be wrong to do otherwise, we morally injure ourselves while we demonize the other.

This is consistent with any number of religious teachers, including Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi, and in America, Martin Luther King, but I’m psychology we can see it as well.

It is often said that children aren’t born hating. They are taught to hate. What if that process of changing from “open to the possibilities of others” to “hurting them due to some biological reason” — skin color, gender, national origin, sexuality , or whatever causes moral injury and shame to the person taught to hate? What if the act of hurting a person we know — and being told that is the right thing — is the cause of an addiction to hate, because it causes shame that can’t be removed under those conditions.

Regarding recovery from addiction, the key to recovery is complete honesty, facing the acts that were done under the spell of the addiction, and coping with them, then living honestly for the rest of one’s life. If there is an addiction to hate, or ignorance, or fear, we must break it in order to be free. All of the acts of genocide or individual violence in our history have led us to this time. As victims acknowledge their own hurt and call for justice, and average people witness extreme violence against others for no particular reason, our society feels shame or guilt. Those who can acknowledge their own issues in it (and many people have not had personal conflicts with “the other”, so only feel sadness or guilt) can be be free by working the issues through in this time of reckoning. Those who cannot, or will not, will remain addicted and getting sicker and more challenging as time goes by.

May we all find the freedom that honesty provides.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Radical Christian Terrorism is NOT Christian At All

In the 1967 “Batman” movie Commissioner Gordon, the Dynamic Duo and Chief O’Hara are beginning to figure out that the world’s 4 top super-criminals are getting together to destroy something that will turn out to be the UN Security Council. As the pieces come together in their mind, the Commissioner says, “it would be something so terrible, I dare not give it utterance”. So it is as the pieces come together in my head about *my* faith. Actually, it’s not my faith. It’s like my faith in Bizarro world, or my faith in a really bad “fun house” mirror. And it is “something so terrible that I dare not give it utterance”. Remember “Radical Islamic Terrorism” and how it was used to scapegoat people who were neither radical nor terrorists, (and, amazingly not always Islamic either)? That is what I don’t want to name, and that is why.

I am reading the book, “See No Stranger” by Valerie Kaur, a Sikh woman whose family and friends were beaten or killed in America, after 9/11 by people who thought they were a) Muslims because they wore turbans; and b) all Muslims were terrorists. Some were beaten. Some were killed. Many (70% of Sikhs!) were terrorized by hate crimes because American “Christians” (always said loudly, apropos of nothing in a conversation) thought Turbans = Muslim= Terrorist Threat/Target for Murder — instinctively.

Ten minutes after 9/11, while building pieces were still falling Kaur’s uncle saved someone in his taxi and was threatened by people who “knew” that he was a terrorist. She says that this is before pictures of Osama Bin Ladin had even been published! That kind of thing can only be understood as instinct or deep, fearful brainwashing. What it can not be is Christian.

If it were, Jesus’ story of the “Good Samaritan” would have had another chapter where the Samaritan, after saving the man’s life and paying for his lodging and medical care, gets beaten to death. It doesn’t, because that’s not the world Jesus envisioned— ever. Furthermore, the founder of our faith would never have said “Love your enemies” (He did) and would have been quite happy when one of his disciples cut off an enemies ear on the night of his betrayal. (He wasn’t).

So, let’s get right to it: The words “Christian” (follower of Jesus) and terrorist should never be used in the same sentence. Jesus wasn’t a terrorist. People who follow him shouldn’t be. People of his faith might have called him a terrorist after he used a whip in the Temple, but even that wouldn’t have been true. It would have been propaganda spoken by others about him. So it is with faithful people who are misunderstood and stretch the boundaries of their faith. They don’t speak for themselves, but are spoken about disparagingly.

I will tell you upfront that I know almost nothing about Islam, so I don’t believe I can say anything about it. About Christianity, however, I know a lot. There is a spectrum of Christian beliefs, from “non-denominational” and “Bible believing” Christians to more-denominational, less built on the Bible, more intellectual and reasonable, Christians. The first group are more grounded in the “Jesus died for your sins, you need to be saved” worldview and the second group are more grounded in the “Jesus taught us how to live”, “social justice” model, also known as “the social gospel”. Both of those may see the other as “radical” in a bad way, and themselves as “radical” in a good way. Both understandings are part of the faith. I suspect that this is like “Sunni” Muslims vs. “Shiite” Muslims, but I don’t know. Neither of the two types of Christian believe the “if you’re not a Christian, I get to kill you” model, though sadly the church and military conquerors have used in the past. The conquering of the Incas, the destruction of Native American civilizations, and so much more tragedy is under the misguided (evil) belief of “be Christian or die”.

Where that happened, I can tell you that not only isn’t it Christian or Jesus-like, it’s anti-the teachings of Christ, and the early church. Jesus told parables about wheat and weeds that grew up together until the planter (God) decides to decide. Jesus said things like, “judge not, lest you be judged”. Jesus also tells rigid thinking people in his faith that they will ultimately go to hell for thinking they are saved, and not acting like it. In the Old Testament, the Bible says, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord”. It doesn’t say “Vengeance is yours. Go get it.”

The fear that “Muslims are going to impose Sharia law“ would be like the fear that Christians were going to force Old Testament-type law down others’ throats. What I want people to know is that I suspect Sharia Law is no more Islam than the Old Testament law is Christian. It’s simply rigid thought, with rigid categories of “the way things ought to be” that make some people more important than others. It’s hierarchical, “do what I say, because I said it!” Culture. Since Jesus says we are “not to lord our authority over others”, the whole “do what I say!” thing isn’t Jesus’ plan. It’s human’s plan. That’s a problem. Imposing “not-Jesus’-plan” on others simply can’t be Christian by definition.

So, to sum it all up, there are lots of people who claim to be Christians. There are also plenty of people who actually are Christians. There are radical Christians, of one sort or another. Even Radical Christians can’t claim terrorism as a model.

There can only be radical terrorists. The minute they become terrorists and killing others because they are different is the minute they stop being Christians. Again, I suspect it is the same in other religions. I know it is true in mine.

Resisting in Peace,

John

Calling Each Other The Right Political Names

One of the things that drives me nuts in this propaganda-driven world is names. The fact that we call each other names at all is first, of course. After that, the idea that we call —and get called — the wrong names. I can put up with the political names that actually represent me, but if you’re going to dislike my views, at least talk about my actual views, than some random category that doesn’t represent me at all. To that end, I want to straighten things out with facts as far as I know them. I won’t make a judgement, I’m just going to explain, I hope it helps make things easier between people to mean the same things when we talk.

Part 1 — Politics vs. Economics — not always the same.

The first misconception is that the opposite of “democracy” is “communism”. Communism is about money and who owns what. Democracy is about politics, it’s about who makes decisions about the way things are in the country. The opposite of Communism is Capitalism. There are a whole lot of things that are “opposite” of democracy, including “oligarchy” and what we had under a king. By the way, the term Oligarchy means, “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.” It, as we’ll see later, is the opposite of democracy.

Capitalism is the older of the two types of economic systems. That’s the one we have in America. Communism is the one that Russia and China used to have when I grew up. Now, my friend Jen, a history teacher, reminds me, the only actual Communist country still left is North Korea. Russia has become an Oligarchy and China is moving towards capitalism economically. Economically, an oligarchy means that the people will all the power also have most of the money.

Capitalism is the idea that people who have money or ideas own those things. They convince others to make those things. Those people who make things are workers. The owners pay them for their work. The owners pay other workers to sell those things. In the end, though, the owners make the bulk of the money because it’s their idea, their product, and they own it. They also take the risk by putting it out there. If it fails, in whatever way, the owners take the risk and therefore the pain. This used to apply to land owners and farms as well. They owned the land, the workers got paid, or protected by the owners or something. The land owners were in charge of, and responsible for everything.

Communism is an economic theory, proposed by Karl Marx, that says, in essence, that the workers do the work, therefore they should get the profits. Any profits made should get divided up and given to everybody. I don’t know enough to say where ideas come from, or who puts up the money, and who decides to put them on the market. As far as who is responsible if things fail, but I assume that everybody is because that’s the way it turns out now, here — the workers get the blame. Since the economy is controlled by the workers and the public as a whole, everybody should feel the pain of failure.

Now, to be totally fair and honest, there’s another part to the capitalist world: stockholders or investors. Stockholders don’t come with the ideas, nor do they build or sell them. They use their money to own a piece of the product’s profits, if it succeeds, or losses if it fails.. They lose if it doesn’t go well, but they are not creators or workers.

Also, to be fair, there has never been a perfect example of either of those systems. Hard-core Communism yields authoritarian leaders or dictators in reality. So does hard-core capitalism, not because of the theory, but because human beings, who can be kind or they can be jerks. Human flaws, magnified in leaders and their policies, create really flawed societies. Human goodness, magnified in leaders and their policies, create better functioning societies.

Part 2 — Who’s Who in Politics

We usually talk about left and right in politics. I think it was the French legislature that was first set up according to parties. One group sat on the right side of the room, another on the left side of the room, with moderates in the middle.

I’m going to start on the left and move toward the right on the political spectrum.

On the left are people who want change. Right now, their party is the Democratic Party. They are liberal, (open) in their understanding of what is and can be. On the far left are radicals who want a lot of change and they want it now! They tend to use violence to get what they want. Then there are progressives, who want change and are constantly pushing for it, but understand that change doesn’t go as fast as radicals want it to. Then there are liberals who want change to happen but aren’t as forceful about it. They are okay with change when it happens, but they don’t often push for it. Moderates liberals have to think about changes that happen before they agree to them. On the far left in WWII was the violent Stalin and supposedly “Communist” Russia. I say “supposedly”, because economics don’t have to be violent, but violent revolution has been part of Russia’s historic leadership.

On the right side, conservatives want things to stay the same. Right now, their party is called the Republican Party. Starting from moderates, we move to moderate conservatives, to “regular” conservatives who don’t want things to change unless you can a) prove that they must and b) that your plan is better than what they already have. After that, you have “reactionaries” who want things to back the way things were before usually when they were in power. Reactionaries want things, for example, to go back to a White society, run by Christians, landowners, and men. Far, far right people are reactionaries and — in their purest, most violent form are “Fascist”. In World War II, Hitler was a Fascist, as was Mussolini, and Japan’s leader.

Part 3 — Between Right and Left — a free America

In theory, as borne out during World War II, America is neither violent Leftist (Russia) nor violent Rightist (Fascists). In theory, America is about ideas, and people argue about them. The best idea, proposed by the best debater, wins. The people all have a say in things, but not purely. They make their opinions heard to those people who represent them. Those people make laws after arguing/debating. This is supposed to provide the best laws for the people who elected them.

Steering the balance between Right and Left is The President. We the People elect the President, whom we think is capable and has good ideas for our country. If they don’t have great ideas, they know people who do. Those people present ideas/policies that become the President’s laws proposals. The President and Congress generally duke it out verbally to come up with the best policies for people.

Now here’s where it gets weird: The people we elect to represent us are supposed to both represent us and be trusted to do that. If they don’t represent us, we are supposed to protest. If they can’t be trusted, and/or they actively hurt us, they are corrupt and should be thrown out of office.

Part 4 — Back to Names and Name Calling…

One of the strange things happening in America is that people call liberals “unpatriotic”. This is usually done with disgust in the voice and an eye-roll. Liberals aren’t bad or good, more or less patriotic. They’re just liberals. Conservatives aren’t bad or good, and they usually aren’t “fascists”. In fact, very few liberals even use the word “fascist” about Conservatives unless they actually are.

But here’s the weird part, this President, along with Right-wing radio use the word “fascist” a lot. And they mix it with to call us Fascist Leftists. There is no such thing as a Fascist Leftist! Fascists are the opposite of Leftists! You can’t be one and the other. It’s that simple.

Going back years, for example, Rush Limbaugh coined the phrase “Femi-nazis”. By that, he means feminists, or left-leaning women. In fact, Eva Braun would be a female Nazi. In America, what we would now call “Karen’s” would be actually closer to femi-nazis. Women on the very conservative right — the lady screaming about being anti-abortion in the 1980’s — was the actual femi-Nazi.

About me? I’m a progressive Democrat, who likes the idea of more people getting what they need, and representing more people as American, including Blacks, Women, Hispanics, and people who are all over the place sexually. Economically, I’m closer to socialism than capitalism , but I’m not violent, and I shouldn’t be scary to you. If my wanting more people’s voice to be heard and included in the debate that is our electoral system, then well, that’s just too bad. If wanting more people to eat, have a place to live, and get health care is scary to you, that’s you are immoral, not me.

Resisting in Peace,

John