Skip to comments.We Need to Have Empathy for Tea Partiers
Posted on 03/05/2010 12:05:55 PM PST by MaelstormEdited on 03/05/2010 12:08:24 PM PST by Admin Moderator. [history]
These tea-party folks seem to most liberals-well, to most of us who live in the "reality community," or, as I like to call it, "reality"-like crazy [expletive deleted by Mod].
As a recent NY Times article reports, this hodgepodge of people and groups spout frankly paranoid beliefs as received wisdom, e.g. the Federal Reserve is our enemy and should be abolished, citizens should stock up on ammo, gold, and survival food in anticipation of an impending Civil War, states should "nullify" federal laws and even secede, medical records are being shipped to federal bureaucrats, the Army is seeking "Internment/Resettlement" specialists, Obama is trying to create crises in order to destroy the economy, convert Interpol into his personal police force, and create a New World Order. Conspiracy theories involving shadowy elites like the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations have resurfaced. Self-defense and armed resistance are frequently called for. Racist stereotypes, innuendo, and hostility run rampant. The Constitution is its sacred text and Glenn Beck its most beloved prophet. They don't usually wear aluminum hats but perhaps they should.
I hate these folks but I also understand them. And, well, uh, I also empathize with them. They share the same psychology as the paranoid patients I treat every day. The only difference is that the paranoid beliefs of the tea-party movement are political while those in my consulting room are of a more personal nature.
The causes and dynamics, however, are the same. And so just as I have empathy for my patients, I have come to have empathy for the tea-party'ers, even as I despise their influence and work hard to defeat their ideology. It's crucial that progressives do likewise because if we don't understand the ways that decent, god-fearing, and victimized people can come to espouse such a dangerous ideology, we won't be able to fight them effectively.
I treat people who are paranoid all the time. Sometimes they're only mildly paranoid. For example, someone I treat can't tolerate blame of any kind, can't take any responsibility for failures, and can't really be optimistic about the potential goodness in others. It's always someone else's fault. Other times, they're more severely paranoid. A patient I saw spun tale after tale of slights, interpreted innocuous events as malignant, saw conspiracies everywhere, and always imputed malevolence to others' motives. The most extreme cases can be found in the delusions of schizophrenics.
There isn't one cause of paranoia. Tomes have been written about it. Individual variations and exceptions abound. A few generalizations, however, can be made. Paranoid people are trying their best to make sense of and mitigate feelings of helplessness and worthlessness. Their beliefs are attempts to solve a profound problem, albeit in ways that distort reality.
People can't tolerate feeling helpless and self-hating for very long. It's too painful. It's too demoralizing, too frightening. They have to find an antidote. They have to make sense of it all in a way that restores their sense of meaning, their feeling of agency, their self-esteem, and their belief in the possibility of redemption. They have to. They have no choice. That's just the way the mind works.
The paranoid strategy is to generate a narrative that finally "explains it all." A narrative-a set of beliefs about the way the world is and is supposed to be--helps make sense of chaos. It reduces guilt and self-blame by projecting it onto someone else. And it restores a sense of agency by offering up an enemy to fight. Finally, it offers hope that if "they"-the enemy, the conspirators--can be avoided or destroyed, the paranoid person's core feelings of helplessness and devaluation will go away.
Take an extreme case. Someone I saw years ago had a paranoid delusion that orbiting satellites were trying to control his mind. He went to great lengths to insulate his apartment so as to repel these psychic assaults. When I got to know him better, I discovered that he developed this delusion as a way to make sense of an on-going but terrifying experience--the genesis of which lay in his childhood--that he wasn't a separate person and didn't have the right to his own thoughts. This terrifying feeling of helpless vulnerability was rendered comprehensible to him by his delusion about orbiting satellites. In a paradoxical way, his delusion reduced his terror even as it generated its own fears and dangers.
Another patient I saw had a daughter who was mentally retarded. When the daughter's disability was discovered, he felt so helpless and guilty (normal feelings that were exaggerated by experiences from his own childhood) that he slowly developed the belief that the daughter had been the unwitting victim of sexual abuse by relatives, that this abuse had led to various cognitive arrests, and that treatment for the abuse could and would restore her to normalcy. In this way, he negated his guilt, and momentarily overcame his helplessness through a heroic search for a therapeutic "cure."
While extreme cases, these vignettes illustrate the core truth about paranoia, namely, that it is an attempt to lessen unbearable feelings of self-blame and powerlessness. In this special sense, psychotherapists understand paranoid beliefs as attempts at adaptation and self-healing, even as these beliefs compromise the ability to test reality and invariably create suffering of their own.
Paranoid beliefs about Obama and the government promulgated by the ultra-right have a similar genesis and meaning. In the Times story about the tea-party movement, the writer describes how most tea-party activists are not loyal Republicans. "They are frequently political neophytes," he writes, "who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame."
They began listening to Beck, reading the Federalist Papers, books by Ayn Rand and George Orwell, and started visiting radical right wing websites. The Times writer then makes a crucial observation: "Many describe emerging from their research as if reborn to a new reality." In other words, like my patients, the tea party folks find in their paranoid views about politics a narrative that "explains it all," that reduces their sense of helpless confusion, and that channels their feelings of victimization into ones of self-righteous militancy. They go from passive victim to active agent, from guilty to innocent, but all at the price of distorting reality into one full of malevolent conspiracies.
The payoff is that they are no longer confused. They are reborn and now, thankfully, have the "answer." And that answer is that big forces are hurting and enslaving them.
And while these forces include the banks and large corporations, the main culprit is, of course, the government. People don't have a direct and immediate experience of Goldman Sachs. The do, however, experience government every day, not only on television news shows, but via laws, taxes, public services (or the lack thereof), law enforcement, etc.
Lots of people feel guilty and helpless, of course, and most don't become paranoid. Some become simply depressed or resigned, others turn to strategies of distraction or addictive self-medication. Others might face their feelings more directly, tolerate them, and find alternative solutions, e.g. turn to friends, therapists, or various communities of support. Still others may find relief for painful feelings by projecting all meaning and agency onto God. And some simply fight back against "reality," despite long odds. The psychological reasons that one person turns to paranoia and another seeks a healthier solution are not generally known.
It is also obvious that left wing conspiracy theorists share much of the same pathology as those on the right wing of the spectrum.
For new tea-party members, however, the drift toward paranoia is facilitated by the right-wing media machine that offers several ready-made narratives perfectly designed to help its consumers clear up their confusion, understand their helplessness, absolve them of any blame, and offer a way out. The conspiratorial alliance of business and government, a growing tyranny intended to disenfranchise, disarm, and exploit ordinary citizens, secret pacts to overthrow the constitution, etc. all currently led by an un-American, godless, colored, elitist, contemptuous, foreigner--Barack Hussein Obama. A grim and frightening picture of the world to be sure.
Psychologically speaking, however, it offers relief from helplessness and a sense that things are falling apart. It offers a sense of cohesion and identity based on certainty, a commonality of interests, innocence, and even martyrdom. While the world of the tea-party'ers is filled with danger, it is a danger mitigated by moral certainty, clarity of purpose, and a definable external enemy.
The "problem," then, is not the paranoid story line but the anxiety, helplessness, and pain that generate it. And that pain is not irrational or crazy. It's real. We all feel it. Most of us do feel helpless in relation to the most important aspects of our lives, from the nature of our work to its security, from our politicians who are on the corporate dole to those perpetuating gridlock through their narrow ideology, from the quality of our health care to its availability, and from the isolation and loneliness of everyday social life.
The pain of self-blaming is also ubiquitous in the cultural assumption that our lot in life is determined primarily by individual ability, not by getting help from others. Confusion, anxiety, disconnectedness, and a sense that "things are falling apart" are not crazy feelings. They are accurate and valid responses to a highly alienated and often abusive social world.
The "problem" is that tea-party activists move from legitimate feelings and normal longings to paranoid political positions that are dangerous and cruel. But because these positions serve an important psychological function, because they resolve an emotional dilemma, they can't be changed by rational argument. I have never been able to help a paranoid patient even a little bit by arguing with his or her view of reality. Not one bit. The only way I have been able to make any headway is use our relationship to provide real experiences that have a shot at providing an alternative and more satisfying "solution" to their underlying fears. Only then can I begin to offer a counter-narrative, one that acknowledges their pain and innocence, but enables them to more accurately identify its sources and, therefore, its antidote.
Perhaps the progressive movement shouldn't waste its time dealing with the tea-party movement except as a spur to get our own house-and movement-in order. A legitimate argument can be made that these people are, simply, the enemy and that our challenge is to build progressive majorities immune to their sabotage and interference. But I would argue that to the extent we want to reach people who are drawn to tea-party, patriot, libertarian, and other right wing movements but are not yet hard-line ideologues, or prevent others from becoming so, we have to begin with empathy. We have to get inside their heads, figure out how their choices are reasonable from their point of view.
It would help if we found ways to get into relationship with them, to demonstrate a genuine curiosity not about their paranoid theories but about the underlying pain and fear that is the source of them. In this way, perhaps we can figure out how to speak to that pain and fear in ways that are both authentic and comforting. Perhaps we can figure out what experiences they might need to have in order to feel safe enough to at least listen to another narrative-ours.
What is horrible is it is so unecessary. So much of the behemoth crap monster that is our federal and state government is absolutely unecessary for the vast majority of us. We all know it. History shows us how unecessary it is and was. We just have been accepting the political shell game and because we have known nothing different and don't understand the reality that this could be all different. The individual, the sovereign citizen can be respected and the charity freely given can service the needs of the those who can not help themselves. We do not need the beast to have a good society, good health care, good families, and good jobs. It is the big lie and those who are comfortable in the embrace of what on any other terms would be called evil are not looking out for our best interest.
People like this Dr. need the "beast" because it has evelevated them far beyond the worth of their nose gazing profession. They are the real paranoids because they don't trust their fellow man to see their worth, they need their ego's stroked by government panels and university boards. They need to be told they are a "good boy" by their peers. They are the house trained lapdogs of evil.
Here's some reality for you Mr. Asshat! Under Obama yearly $1.5 trillion dollar budget deficits! Blow on that reality!
Uh,,,, you need to do some editing for language!
I guess I'm paranoid because I don't want that.
I'll bet he will be the first to sign up to be on 0bama's death panels.
When the bullets start to fly the likes of Dr. Bader are going to be the first ones who catch them.
Yeah I’m sure he will take his pay cuts with a smile.
Please don’t call this douchebag an asshat.
Massive audience loss with first sentence. He loses any credibility right away with the profane labeling and implication liberal thought is sane.
I don’t think I need to go any further than the first sentence to know that this whole piece is a [expletive deleted by Mod]...;)
"Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, speaks [lovingly] about Green Job Czar, Van Jones, at the Netroots Convention on August 12, 2009. Then Van Jones speaks about [a COMMUNIST] transforming [of] the whole society."
"Jones was the leader and founder of a radical group, the communist revolutionary organization Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM. That group, together with Jones' Elle Baker Center for Human Rights, led a vigil Sept. 12, 2001, at Snow Park in Oakland, Calif.
STORM's official manifesto, titled, "Reclaiming Revolution," surfaced on the Internet."--via TheObamaFile
VAN JONES SHOCK ADMISSION [in his own words]: "Goal is Complete Revolution"
Here is the transcript of the above YouTube video:
Right after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat if the civil rights leaders had jumped out and said OK now we want reparations for Slavery, we want redistribution of all the wealth, and we want to legalize mixed marriages. If wed come out with a maximum program the very next day, theyd been laughed at. Instead they came out with a very minimum. We just want to integrate these busses
But, inside that minimum demand was a very radical kernel that eventually meant that from 1964 to 1968 complete revolution was on the table for this country.
And, I think that this green movement has to pursue those same steps and stages.
Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least were not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it wont be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression all together. But, thats a process and I think thats whats great about the movement that is beginning to emerge is that the CRISIS is so severe in terms of joblessness, violence and now ecological threats that people are willing to be both pragmatic and visionary.
So the green economy will start off as a small subset and we are going to push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.
SOURCE for this transcript (it matches the video):
Here's the original source for the Van Jones quote about the time he spent in jail following the Rodney King/LA riots (Jones was arrested in "peaceful" protests in San Fran). It was in a 2005 interview he did with East Bay Express. They of course (what else?) claim he "renounced his rowdy Black Nationalist ways" since then (yet he's calling for "complete revolution" in Aug 2009! ...see above):
But in jail, he said, "I met all these young radical people of color -- I mean really radical, communists and anarchists. And it was, like, 'This is what I need to be a part of.'" Although he already had a plane ticket, he decided to stay in San Francisco. "I spent the next ten years of my life working with a lot of those people I met in jail, trying to be a revolutionary." In the months that followed, he let go of any lingering thoughts that he might fit in with the status quo. "I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th," he said. "By August, I was a communist."
The 1992 LA/Rodney King riots were instigated by the Revolutionary Communist Party...
From David Horowitz's FrontpageMag.com /DiscoverTheNetworks.org:
"Throughout its history, one of RCP's [Revolutionary Communist Party] principal objectives has been to foment civil unrest in the United States. The most notable example of such efforts occurred on April 29, 1992, when RCP members looted and trashed the downtown and government districts of Los Angeles, triggering the infamous Rodney King riots. During the days immediately preceding the violence, RCP -- which maintained close ties to the L.A. gangs known as the Crips and the Bloods -- had circulated throughout South Central Los Angeles a leaflet featuring a statement by RCP National Spokesman Carl Dix, titled 'It's Right To Rebel' -- a quote popularized by Mao Zedong.
Encouraged by Dix, RCP activists helped lead the riots that would leave 58 people dead, more than 2,300 people injured, some 5,300 buildings burned, and $1 billion in property damaged or destroyed. On the ten-year anniversary of the rioting, RCP member Joseph Veale fondly recalled the violence as 'the most beautiful, the most heroic civil action in the history of the United States.'"
We’ll see who is paranoid in November pri*k!!
Well, I think it's probably time to shut down Psych departments in universities then.
And we are called the intolerant ones. All we want is to be left alone. People who are not paranoid where liberals are concerned are crazy because they do have an agenda and they have been relentless in implementing it.
Michael Bader, D.M.H. has issues that need to be addressed by a qualified professional. Paranoia being one of them.
The good “Doktor” would have fit in quite nicely in a few different fascist regimes that I can think of.
The USSR routinely classified anybody who dissented from communism as “crazy”, and locked them up. I can’t believe a psycologist using the same criteria doesn’t know this.
The best source on human psychology remains the Bible, which accurately describes the hubris that results in the pridefully blind foolishness demonstrated by this author.
I'd bet everything I have this author has no respect at all for the wisdom of the Bible.
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