Tuesday, December 09, 2008

No Drama Obama

In the recent post-election news the concept of “No Drama Obama” has gone “viral.” By no drama Obama is meant that there has been a remarkably low level of leaks and melodramatic behavior coming from his organization which even SNL has satirized and labelled "cool." The pundits are taking it for granted that Obama achieves this result by keeping tight control over his staff. Some on the Fox network think that it shows that he is a cold, calculating politician ready to betray anyone and everyone while plunging the US into a socialist nightmare.

This could be of interest to transactional analysts because of an alternative explanation. To the suggestion that Obama achieves his no drama outcome through tight control, I would offer that he achieves that outcome by refusing to play games. There is an intriguing relationship between the “no drama” attribute of Obama and transactional analysis' familiar concept of Karpman’s Drama Triangle within which people switch between three roles (Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim) while playing melodramatic sociallyand personally dramatic games.

Observation of Obama’s behavior repeatedly confirms that he resists Persecution or Victim behavior even when persistently urged by constituents and news people. His reluctance to retaliate against Clinton’s, McCain’s and Lieberman's attacks and his quick conciliatory efforts soon after the election, are good examples.

No drama can be seen to mean that Obama lacks a tendency to get hooked into games and prefers and is able to stay in his Adult ego state. This probably was a decisive factor in his election as it gave him an aura of maturity and competence that he needed to persuade independent voters. I assume it will continue to serve him well as he assmbles his cabinet of ideologically diverse, extremely talented and I would assume headstrong advisers.

One can deduce from what we know about Drama Triangle dynamics that he is equally reluctant to engage in Rescue behavior. The fact for instance that he refused to consider Clinton as vice president might be an example. This could indicate that he would make important appointments in his government on an objective basis of competence rather than as a Rescue of needy bureaucrats or as a return for previous Rescues. It all bodes well, given the gigantic problems that he will be facing. I think we did well to elect him.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Two years to make our point

How can the emerging message from the Progressive liberal vision makers—“We are in this together”—be effectively conveyed to a public that has been under the influence of a relentless campaign to demonize the progressive agenda as tax-and- spend, soft on crime and terror, immoral and corrupt?

It seems according to recent research ("End of the end of ideology." American Psychologist , Oct 06 ) that people with a conservative political orientation score high on the variables of fear of death, fear of instability, threat and loss, and need for uncertainty avoidance, structure, order and closure.

In addition it has been found that there are differences between children which predict future political orientation far ahead of the establishment of such orientation. Preschool children described by their teachers as energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, self-reliant, resilient and impulsive were more likely to identify themselves as politically liberal, years later in adulthood. Children seen by teachers as inhibited, fearful, indecisive, rigid, vulnerable and over controlled went on to identify as conservative when adults. All this plus twin studies in which monozygotic twins tend to have more similar political orientations than fraternal twins indicate that these predispositions may have an significant genetic basis.

All of this suggests that significant crossection of the population—not surprisingly--is chronically frightened and in need of security assurance. Given those facts its undrestandable that terror alerts and hints that terrorists being fought in Iraq will come to our shores if we “cut and run” are effective motivators of conservative voters during elections. In fact, research further reveals that threat “precipitates” a conservative shift even among people who were not initially conservative.

It can be surmised that the shift to conservatism is an attempt to defend against insecurity. However it was shown in a longitudinal study of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack that a shift to conservatism did not bring well being but in fact increased chronic symptoms of PTSD and depression. So a shift into conservatism actually exacerbates a fearful attitude.

It is clear that the propaganda techniques of Karl Rove and the Republicans in the last years have perfected the exploitation of fear of threat, disorder, impulsive behavior and other insecurities by painting liberals as—literally—the enemy and the source of such threat. That is done by implying, or openly stating, that Democrats will coddle criminals and terrorists and let them loose on the streets, while the Protector in Chief makes assurances of unyielding defense of our security. Arguably, Bush and the Republicans are unique in their resolve to kill, prosecute, imprison, interrogate and--if needed-- torture evil doers who threaten our security. Understandably, given the fearful environment in the country, these are effective propaganda techniques.

Interestingly this view is not in total agreement with George Lakoff’s notion that the conservative presentation of the national family is that of a family headed by an authoritarian father. A protective, authoritarian father seems a more apt decsription.

The Republicans have effectively presented Democrats as willing to undermine our economic security with tax increases, erode traditional values with gay marriage and stem cell research, weaken the military and police and coddle criminals while allowing the untrammeled expansion of an inept government. Accordingly, Republican strategists sooth the fears of conservatives by promising to protect them from taxation, reducing wasteful government, maintaining a powerful military, and fighting against the "fatuous depravity of San Francisco values” by championing traditional values.

The received wisdom is that Democrats don’t have an idea or a plan. Yet one effective message is beeing developed by Democrats in recent years; the message of optimism and hope. Clinton played heavily on it and the remarkably successful Barak Obama leans on it consistently. It works because, while liberals may be energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, resilient and self-reliant, they are also seen as sour and remote in their attitudes. Scared people don’t want to hear elitist pessimism , doom and gloom but hope is not a plan. It is a good attitude but hope alone cannot be the message that will change American politics. A far more meaningful message is needed and that is emerging in the form of age-long progressive ideas of equality and justice recently embodied in the slogan: “We Are in This Together; Together we Win.”

How can this message of equality, justice, togetherness and hope be convincingly portrayed to the fearful voter? What could be more frightening to the average conservative than equality and freedom whether personal, economic or political? How do we persuade frightened people that security lies in equality and justice and togetherness? In fair taxes rather than no taxes, in diplomacy instead of military power, in freedom of individual expression and a large and benevolent government? Food for thought.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Big Democratic Idea: We Are in This Together

Based on the work of the Wellstone Democratic Club Vision Committee

Two years after the lowest moment in modern American history—the reelection of GWB--Democrats have recovered some ground but are in a veritable frenzy seeking a unifying, substantial, convincing, no spin message. This message needs to persuade people that our side has a viable alternative rather than merely a relentlessly critical view of the Republicans. It seems that there is a message emerging in the progressive camp, after the necessarily short lived “new direction” of this electoral campaign. The message is: “We are in this together” in contrast with, as the Republicans would have it: “Every man for himself.”

The now failed neo-conservative Project for the American Century was the global expression of that self-centered American attitude: we the beautiful, triumphant people of America, dominating all others for our own benefit and for the benefit of the world.

Merely due to the complete breakdown of the Iraq neo-con project, Democrats have won back the Congress. But the systematic defeat of the progressive propositions across the country reminds us that the electorate is still profoundly conservative. Democrats have two years to present a credible alternative to our opponent’s failed agenda. “We are in this together; together we win,” is merely a rewording of the basic liberal, progressive belief in equality and justice. But it will have to convince Americans that our egalitarian views can deliver on the promise for a “new direction” or we risk losing the gains of this election. How does the idea that we are interconnected as equals and need to cooperate personally, locally, nationally and internationally translate into bread and butter issues and subsequent legislation?

Republicans offer as their program 1. Low taxes, 2. Traditional values, 3. Strong Military and 4. Small Government. To Low Taxes we counter: Fair Taxes, to Traditional Values we counter: Social Values to Strong Military we counter: National Security and to Small Government we counter: Efficient Government.

How can fair taxes, social values, national security and efficient government be achieved?
The answers are imbedded in the three-point statement from the Vision Committee of the Wellston Democratic Club:

1. We depend on an equitable social contract.

The Republican message is most clearly expressed in the call for lower taxes and an untrammeled market in order to assist those few individuals who are in a position to benefit from them. Winners will be rich, losers will be poor and (alas) they will always be with us. The result of the application of this clearly immoral view is becoming increasingly clear; the rich are getting shamefully richer and the poor are getting dramatically poorer, while the middle is getting hammered.

By "social contract," we mean the compromise struck between the realities of a capitalist market economy and the requirements of community life. Today, America’s social contract is unraveling. Over the past twenty-five years, conservatives have succeeded in weakening the laws and regulations that sought to make business’ goals more compatible with social ends. The rising wealth at the top and the growing insecurity of American working people is the consequence of a rogue capitalist economy untouched by social policy.

America is one of the best places in the world to succeed, largely due to the freedoms granted by our Constitution and by public investment --paid by taxes--in education, science and technology, law enforcement, and in transportation and communication infrastructure.
Conservatives belittle the role that government and public investment play in every aspect of our lives. Their tax reduction crusade has succeeded in re-distributing the national wealth in favor of the rich. The rich are spared taxation while revenues are being supplemented by local sales and payroll taxes, which fall heaviest on working people.

Investment in public education declines; the harm of racial discrimination continues. Decent paying jobs disappear while low paying service jobs proliferate. These massive problems can’t be solved through local charitable efforts but require a resolute national program that provides help and real opportunities to our fellow citizens trapped in the cycle of economic decay. Our security is threatened by the poverty of tens of millions of Americans.

All working Americans must be protected from the threat of disabling injuries, catastrophic illness and old age insecurity. These programs require fair taxation. We must restore progressive taxation so that the tax burden is larger on those who increase their wealth in our fertile, economic climate.

2. We depend on a dynamic economy.

We need to make common cause with the business world. The conservatives are correct in one point. Only a prosperous economy can generate the taxes that are needed to fulfill the social contract. For too long, progressives have been hostile to economic growth, business, and market-driven processes. Failing to present a real alternative to corporate America’s model of economic development is an unsustainable posture.

American workers are faced with gloomy realities, working longer hours in lower paying jobs while our industries go out of business or move to lower wage countries. Investment in our future—in education, science, research, infrastructure—is in sharp decline. We face irreversible environmental degradation. We are squandering our great productive potential, mortgaging our future, and failing to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. We can only correct these trends in a partnership with American business interests.

We need to reeducate voters about taxes and the free market. Presently, our nation is under the spell of a dangerous, conservative creed about the harmful effects of taxes and any other attempt to interfere with the competitive market, which if left alone will find the best solutions to every problem. As a consequence needed market regulation is being legislated out of existence and anti-trust oversight ignored so that small numbers of huge corporations have been consolidating their control over vital sectors of our economy to the public’s detriment. Anti tax and free market views have become firmly established as received wisdom and need to be challenged.

Democrats are rightly suspected of wanting to raise taxes; only an effective government backed by sufficient taxes, representing all of us acting together, is in a position to develop a long-range strategy and invest in developing the infrastructure, science and technology that can put us on the path to healthy growth.

We need to use the economic instruments of government to re-shape and direct market mechanisms and to move development in a sustainable direction. Our future infrastructure, tax policies, business subsidies, publicly funded research, science and educational strategies, must shift towards renewable energy, and eco-friendly goods and services while we develop innovative environmental regulatory programs that are compatible with market mechanisms.

We can invigorate our economy, healing rather than amplifying humanity’s rift with nature with a crash program of public investment in eco-friendly science and technologies for transportation, land and water use, waste management and urban planning. These areas of research and development would fuel creativity and productivity and provide higher paying jobs

At the same time we need a strategy to guide America in the developing global economy. While taking action at home to insure that America can compete in the global economy, we must, at the same time, adjust to the developing world.

3. We depend on national security in a peaceful, multilateral, global community

Vital to our security is the creation of a framework that binds all nations for resolving conflicts peacefully based on diplomacy, cooperation and the rule of law.

Maintain a Secure Nation.
Replace military might with a national security regime that includes a strong, well trained military as well as alliances and diplomacy but even more importantly a well educated, economically secure and healthy citizenry to guide our government in making decisions in the nation’s interests.

Return to civility, diplomacy, and multilateralism in a law-governed world.
With the emergence of a global marketplace, the world community is developing principles and conventions to serve as a legal framework to govern the relations among states This is the best path towards a peaceful, stable and sustainable world. We must re-join the family of nations and return to methods of dialogue, diplomacy, and mutual respect with other states.

Work for a sustainable globe.
Disruptive migration, falling wages, global warming, resource depletion, pollution, and the danger of pandemic disease—can only be solved if we approach them globally. As one of the world’s great melting pots, a pioneer in constitutional and democratic government, and a leading economic power we have much to contribute to a peaceful, sustainable world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mi Casa es tu Casa; The Market and the Social Contract.

Evolutionary psychologists are discovering that the human being is driven by genetic, deeply imbedded tendencies, which though powerful are also amenable to being moderated and modified in their expression. One such genetic tendency is the competitive, hierarchical, territorial, ownership driven: “What is mine is mine” aspect of behavior; the other also genetically driven tendency supports cooperative, egalitarian, collective, mutual aid, “what’s mine is yours” behavior. These two strong but plastic and modifiable behavioral trends are largely mutually contradictory and require regulation and arbitration by a separate human capacity of rationality and control, which, in an advanced society, is represented by a democratic government of laws.

Competition vs. Cooperation.

The drive to compete and the drive to cooperate—are in a grand struggle in the present transition between millennia. The drive for hierarchy, territory and capitalist competition—a primitive drive arguably lodged in the reptilian portion of the brain--became ascendant toward the end of the 19th Century until its excesses brought about the communist revolution. The revolution was an attempt to bring to bear a second tendency--arguably lodged in a more recently evolved brain center, the limbic brain--the need to cooperate, act collectively, share resources and engage in mutual aid. But the communist revolution attempted to obliterate the basic need for individual effort, personal property and competition while failing to adequately represent the human need for cooperation thus creating abject failure for its ideals.

These two behavioral responses exist in all humans in varying degrees and in opposition to each other and have evolved into modern manifestations. The competitive, territorial, hierarchical, aggressive instincts have evolved in modern man into the market and its invisible hand. The egalitarian, cooperative herd instinct has developed into the social contract and its social welfare institutions. Both are essential to human survival; our continued existence depends on how they coordinate their contradictory, and at times mutually exclusive operation.

Both are fundamental aspects of human nature that, in order for humans to prosper, need to work together balanced by intentional, mutual regulation. The function of regulation is performed by a third part of the brain-- the frontal lobe-- the source of rationality and control, embodied in its modern manifestation by the law and democratic institutions. When the law fails to maintain the balance between competition and cooperation, the market and the social contract fall out of equilibrium and human development and further cultural evolution is halted or even reversed.

We are in a historical moment in which the flaws of the social contract have been revealed and exaggerated, while laisse faire capitalism is again reasserting its reign in world events. It is time to reestablish the ascendance of rationality and control--democracy, law and regulation--over these two tendencies if we are to avoid continuing catastrophic environmental damage, lawlessness, polarization of poverty and wealth, global conflict and chaos.

The Market and the Left.

People of the left have traditionally been deeply skeptical about capitalism, the market and competition. The market is, without a doubt, a powerful soulless machine that, if unfettered, can run over and destroy all that is alive as easily as it can aid in building it. But history has conclusively demonstrated that the competitive marketplace, if regulated, is also a powerful engine of productivity and a potential source of well-being. However, the market will not control itself; today the increasing unleashing of market forces by the Executive and the Republican dominated Congress is creating the polarization of wealth resulting in immense richness for some and abject poverty for others.

The left, arguably represented by the Democratic Party, has placed its hopes for humanity in the powerful psychological laws of cooperation and mutual aid while disdaining competition and individualism. Today, we are experiencing a backlash after many years of taking care of others through Democrat inspired government intervention, notably the New Deal and the War on Poverty. The conservative reaction against the inefficiencies of government involvement, represented by the Republican Party, has resulted in a catastrophic neglect of the social contracts that would bind the people of the US to each other.

Both the Democratic and Republican visions—welfare and laisse faire capitalism--are bankrupt. We must recognize that both powerful forces—the Market and the Social Contract—are equally important and need to be expressed if our people are to live out the promise of the US and its Constitution.

The Bush Administration.

The myth of the 2004 presidential election was that the country is divided between Christians people of faith and Godless liberals and that values and religion won. In fact, what caused people of the Christian faith to vote in large numbers for Bush was a subterfuge that persuaded them that the dangers that loomed over their lives were gay marriage, abortion and Saddam Hussein instead of the damaging results of capitalist excesses; deteriorating health care, failing education, underemployment and a debilitating, endless war.

As the war mongering, corruption, neglect and cronyism of the Bush presidency develop it becomes evident that his promise of "compassionate conservatism" with its hint of social contract protection was a mere campaign slogan in the service of the narrow and selfish goals of a small elite of corporate bandits. Recent polls show that people all over the US, religious or secular, Christian or agnostic, are appalled at the evident malfeasance of the so called conservative faction and are dramatically losing confidence in their leader and his program.


We want to live in a just, balanced society that is good to all without unfair privileges for anyone. Well to do, poor and middle class folks want the same thing: an opportunity to create a good life for themselves, their children and grandchildren. That opportunity requires the right to participate in the market as well as to control and divert some of its gains by way of taxation; taxes to help educate, heal and provide security for those amongst us who, for whatever reason, have failed to make the market work for them.

In order to have the benefit of both a healthy market and a meaningful social contract we have to have a democratic system of just laws to manage their interaction. Fair taxation of wealth laws, fair tax collection laws, fair private versus public property laws are essential for an effectively functioning nation.

That is why it is essential that we on the left promote and support a world in which competition (the market,) and cooperation (the social contract) are seen as equally valuable human functions essential to the attainment of human security and well being as long as the law regulates them.

Claude Steiner

Monday, September 26, 2005

Governement Drowns

Grover Norquist a leading Republican has said: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

Drowning the government is equivalent to drowning children the elderly, the poor and the sick, and Norquist got his wish. At least a thousand people, most of them Democrats, black, and poor - drowned in the New Orleans basin. It would be overly paranoid to say that this was planned but it certainly can be said that it was expectable after Bush drastically cut the funds for the Army Corps of Engineers who would have reinforced the levies, and put an Arabian horse expert and failed executive in charge of FEMA.

However it was not GWB who began the process that inevitably led to this disaster. It has been going on for over twenty years when after the defeat of Barry Golwater a handful of corporations invested several billion dollars to launch a Right Wing take-over of our government. And I was with Ronald Reagan that the deliberate and intentional destruction of the US government took hold. Quote Reagan: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

The neo-Nietzshian neo-cons don't "believe" in government, in anything other than a military and police capacity. Government should punish, but it should never nurture, protect, or defend individuals. Nurturing and protecting, they suggest, is the more appropriate role of religious institutions, private charities, families, and - most cynically - corporations. Let the corporations control environmental protection, medical care and old-age pensions

That is not the vision the Founders of this nation fought and died for. That government should "promote the general welfare" – was written into the preamble to our Constitution in 1787.

The reason Republicans want to remove government in its protective capacity is because they can then make an enormous amount of money when they privatize former governmental functions. And ultimately they would not really mind if as many of the poor and feeble died off--as soon as "humanely" possible, and stopped “draining” our budget with their needs. They got their wish partially fulfilled with Katrina.

And yet when Middle-Americans hear "smaller government," they nod their heads in agreement, not realizing the hidden agenda at work, an agenda which is beginning to affect all of us. Have the American people had enough? I hope so. It can all be reversed at the ballot box,
> >

Friday, June 03, 2005


It seems that optimism was an important if not deciding factor in the outcome of the 2004 elections. Voters liked Bush better than Kerry probably because of his positive, optimistic attitude. Liberals tend to be realistic and eschew optimism to their peril

The 2005 Political Typology developed by the Pew Reserach Center examines the role that optimism played in the 2004 election and concludes that:

* Voters inclined toward the Republican Party are distinguished from Democrats by their personal optimism and belief in the power of the individual. (pg 2)
* Poorer Republicans and Democrats differ in their levels of optimism. Pro Government Conservatives (poorer Republicans in the typology) are optimistic and positive and Disadvantaged Democrats are pessimistic and cynical. (pg 5)
* The relatively moderate voters who have a positive view of their financial situation and the state of the nation in general ( the Upbeats in the typology) came out for Bush by more than four to one even though they have not usually formally identifyied themselves with either political party (pg 3)
* George Bush had the broadest personal appeal of any national political figure among the main independent groups, the Upbeats and the Dissafected.

Political Rhetoric; Clinton and Obama:

In his successful election campaign Clinton called himself the Man from Hope. The very successful Barak Obama bases his platform on optimism:

Thank you for believing…it is your abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation that make America a beacon of hope and freedom around the world

Hope--the hope that we hold in our hearts for our future, the faith we share in our dreams, the timeless conviction that in a nation of freedom and opportunity, anything is possible

Barak is as liberal as we can hope a Democratic Senator to be, yet to the liberal ear, this sort of optimism grates the sense of reality which seems to overwhelm the liberal mind. Liberals who are the fasted growing group of the Pew typology and are describes as lowest in participation in religious activities, seem to equate optimism with religiosity.

The Power of Positive Thinking.

Remember how appalled the intelligentsia was when The Power of of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale became a world wide fad? The book, which sold around 20 million copies in 42 languages is written in the language of simple church-going folk in the 1950s and was misread to simply imply that a happy smile can overcome all obstacles. But Peale took serioously the pain, difficulty and struggle of human existence, and for him there was no greater source of personal power to counteract that pain than the example provided by the Gothic tales of the Bible. He can be said to be a founding father of the human potential movement within which the notion that everyone creates their own reality was a dictum. That concept, say what you will, has enormous appeal because it empowers the individual and while we liberals sneer at it, we do it at our peril. The fact is that optimism and individual empowerment, quite separate from religiosity, are powerful tools. The arbitrary link of optimism with religion is being successfully exploited in today’s electoral politics; liberals eschew optimism and the Republicans make us pay for it.

Martin Selignman's Positive Psychology.

Martin Seligman PhD, is a prestigious psychologist, past president of the APA, recipient of multiple awards and the leading proponent of positive psychology a new, and to some shocking, recent direction in the field.

Says Seligman, based on his extensive research on optimism and hope.: "If you are a pessimist in the sense that when bad things happen you think they are going to last forever and undermine everything you do, then you are about eight times as likely to get depressed, you are less likely to succeed at work, your personal relationships are more likely to break up, and you are likely to have a shorter and more illness-filled life. That's the main discovery that I associate with my lifetime."

"In our research on the roles of optimism and pessimism we tested 15,000 applicants for life insurance sales, a difficult job with frequent rejection and a high drop-out rate. We measured, by questionnaire, the explanatory style (a metric of optimism and pessimism) of the regular qualified people who were hired. Also included was a special force of 129 people who failed the industry test - who wouldn't normally have been hired - but who tested very well on optimism."

"First, within the regular qualified group that was hired, the optimists significantly outsold the pessimists. Second, the special force of optimists who failed the industry test outsold everyone. In another study, when subjects were given a lower grade in a class or a slower recorded time in an athletic event, thereby simulating defeat, the optimists rose to the occasion and did better the second time around while the pessimists did worse."

In 1988, Seligman and Harold Zullow content-analyzed the speeches of 33 senatorial races for optimism or pessimism and sent their predictions in sealed envelopes to the New York Times. By choosing the most optimistic candidates as the winners, they were able to predict 25 of 29 races, including five out of six upsets. They did better than any other forecaster. This research may be behind the Clinton and Barak campaign themes though there is no doubt that both of them are truly optimistic and hopeful in their attitudes.

People prone to despair have a pessimistic explanatory style marked by brutal honesty. They are in Seligman's words, "at the mercy of reality," a characteristic than can be said to be shared with liberals in the Pew typology.

Transactional Analysis and Optimism.

In Transactional Analysis the much maligned and little understood OK/OK existential position was made famous by Tom Harris who, with his book I'm OK Youre OK outdid Eric Berne's two year best seller Games People Play. The OK?OK position is called the "universal position" because Berne assumed that "people are born OK" that is to say that people, in their innate state tend to health, healing, and a benign expectation and trust of others.

It has been shown through hundreds of studies that human beings strongly tend to be positive in their language, thought, and memory and that people who are psychologically healthy show a higher level of positive bias. The research also indicates that people with an OK/OK attitude are likely to be healthier and live longer. It has been postulated that optimism has driven human evolution and is an innate, adaptive survival mechanisms of the species, a view that coincides with Berne's. The age-long notion--Vis Medicatrix Naturae; Nature's Healing Hand--reflects the fact that we are genetically programmed for self-healing and nurturance.

When lost, according to Berne, the OK position can be regained as it is innate while the not OK position is tied to an acquired "life script" an arbitrary narrative or schema decided upon early in life, on which people tend to base the rest of their lives; in other words the pessimistic position or attitude is optional and can be redecided if we put our minds to it. Is the glass half full or half empty? This question turns out to be an important indication of human destiny. Evidence over the last centuries is that the human social condition-- barring an ecological catastrophe--is steadily progressing in the positive direction of equality, cooperation, democracy and humanitarianism which would tend to support the view that this is an innate trend of the species.

Optimism, Realism, Pessimism and the Religious Feeling.

Is it possible to be realistic and optimistic at the same time? Is it possible to be optimistic and not religious? It does not seem to the liberal mentality to be possible. Realistically it seems, we are going to hell in a handbasket. Yet realism, even if it leads to dire predictions through statistical methodology does not necessarily mandate a pessimistic attitude. Nor does an optimistic attitude or religiosity necessarily denote an unrealistic approach. Realism and attitude about the future are not necessarily tied together and are in fact aspect of different portions of the brain.

Realism, a product of the frontal lobe, makes predictions which in the case of complex systems like economics, the weather and health are variable in their accuracy especially if they are projected far into the future. Optimism, pessimism as well as the religious feeling which are emotional in nature are functions of the limbic brain. Even though connected through neural pathways these two portions of the brain tend not to relate to each other though they are fully capable of developing a neural connection.

Jimmy Carter learned the hard way how being realistic and speaking of malaise can get you unelected. George Bush has been groomed otherwise. His message is unrelentingly optimistic and was much preferred to Kerry's realistic stance. One clear outcome of the elections was that Bush with all of his studied ignorance, arrogance, malaprops and untruths was far more popular than Kerry. I attribute this to a wholly manufactured polarity of optimism and negativity between the candidates which was combined with a superb use of the effect of positive attitudes on the electorate, to make Kerry the less likeable candidate.

As an example on the crucial issue of the war, Bush's unwavering attitude was (and still is) "We did the right thing, it was a good thing, we are winning we are going to succeed." Kerry's message: "Wrong war, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, catastrophe, mistake” was music to my liberal ears but had a hidden component of pessimism that threw voters sympathies to Bush.

One truly gruesome consequence of the realism, pessimism confusion is the oft experienced liberal glee—duly noted by Republicans--as a reaction to dreadful news of deaths in Iraq; a sort of desperate clinging to bad news as a way to prove ourselves right. Should it not be possible to sadly say “this is as was predicted” instead of feeling the pleasure of vindication? How f-----d up is that? Go figure…

What are we to do?

The joke goes: Martin Luther's history-making speech was "I have a dream" not "I have a complaint."

It seems that pessimism and cynicism are optional attitudes and not necessary even for those who are realists and not inclined to religious beliefs. So for those of us who are compelled to be pessimists by our make-up or background and want to get on the same page with the electorate, the word, albeit glib, is "Get over it."

Claude Steiner

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Leo Strauss; The Prophet of Lies.

Leo Strauss; Neo-con Guru.
by Claude Steiner
Sampled and abstracted, with apologies, from numerous essays gathered on the Internet.

Leo Strauss the philosopher that legitimizes the Nietzsheian/Malthusian principles of the neo-conservatives that are now in power in our nation believed that the common people were unable to deal with the truth; that there is no God, no Nation, no Justice, no Equality, no God-given human rights. Noble lies are necessary to govern properly. If not deceived the people will lead the nation to destruction.

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) calls for a return to and a renewal of ancient political philosophy, in particular that of Plato. Strauss provides a very distinctive point of view about modernity; he is pre-modern and anti-modern, not in defense of religion or of tradition but in the name of reason.
Socrates, Strauss argued, was guilty as charged for philosophy is a threat to society. By questioning the gods and the ethos of the city, philosophy undermines the citizens' loyalty and thus the basis of normal social life, putting himself in danger of persecution. Yet philosophy is also the highest and worthiest of all human endeavors. Consequently philosophers should, and in fact did, keep their teachings secret, passing them on by the “esoteric” art of writing "between the lines." Strauss believed that he alone had recovered the true, hidden message contained in the great tradition of philosophy from Plato to Hobbes and Locke, namely; that there are no Gods, that morality is ungrounded prejudice and that society is not grounded in nature.

According to Strauss, Machiavelli's writings are the turning point that lead to modern political philosophy, and Machiavelli’s sin was to speak esoteric truths openly. He told all within hearing that there is no certain God who punishes wrongdoing; that one can get away with anything. He whispered these truths in the ears of princes but the common man heard.

Strauss was an atheist, for whom the Judeo-Christian religion was false, not just uncertain. For him, religion is at bottom simply dogmatic. Yet he combines this view with a vigorous defense of that self-same religion, because he believed that religion was a great necessity for ordinary men. Nietzsche, who he admired, was right: man needs lies.

From Nietzsche to Leo Strauss,

From Nietzsche to Strauss only the names have been changed. What Nietzsche called the "superman,” Strauss calls the "philosopher." The philosopher/superman is that rare man who can face the truth: that there is no God, there is no morality, no good and evil, and of course, no afterlife.

But the great majority of men and women are so far from ever being able to handle the truth, that they virtually belong to another species. Nietzsche called it the "herd," and also the "slaves." They require the bogeymen of a threatening God, the menace of punishment in the afterlife, and the fiction of moral right and wrong. Without these illusions, ordinary people would go mad and run riot and the social order, any social order, would collapse. This is a matter of human nature and, according to Strauss, will always be so.

It is the supermen/philosophers who provide the herd with the religious, moral, and other beliefs they require, but which the supermen themselves know to be lies. Nietzsche said that his supermen were "atheistic priests," and Strauss pretends that their lies are "noble lies." But they do not do this out of benevolence; charity and benevolence are mocked by Nietzsche and Strauss as unworthy of gods and godlike men.

However the philosophers require various sorts of people for support, the "gentlemen," among them. Rather than receiving the "esoteric," or secret teachings when young, the future "gentlemen" are indoctrinated in the "exoteric," or public teachings. They are taught to believe in religion, morality, patriotism, and the importance of public service. Of course, along with these traditional virtues, they also believe in the "philosophers" who have taught them their wisdom.

Those "gentlemen" who become statesmen, will continue to listen to the wisdom of the philosophers. The rule of the philosophers through their front-men in government, is what Strauss calls the "secret kingdom" of the philosophers, a "secret kingdom" which is the life's objective of many of Strauss's esoteric students.

Enter the Modern World,

The "modern world" of the modern, enlightenment philosophers who gave birth to both scientific-technological progress and the liberal ideology of social-political progress ha sfailed. The enlightenment philosophers argued that instead of hiding philosophical activities, philosophers should reform society to make it more hospitable to philosophy. One such reform is the acceptance of modern science, by which reason masters nature and provides material gratifications -- safety, health and wealth -- to common men. Physical science and technology would provide the know-how, while a new kind of regime, liberalism, would provide the conditions of rationality, liberty and equality enabling people to pursue their self-interest.

This modern project failed, Straussians claim, because it exposed the true nature of philosophical beliefs and ultimately prostituted philosophy into the service of common men. The esoteric tradition was forgotten, and modern philosophy with its belief in truth, equality and democracy inadvertently exposed people to certain hard truths, truths too hard for them to bear: that there are no Gods to reward good or punish evil; that no one's nation—patria--is really any better than anyone else's; that one's ancestral ways are merely conventional. This information in the hands of the common man leads to nihilism; the listless, meaningless life of the bourgeoisie.

The Straussians go on to imply that the major evil of modern egalitarianism is that it makes philosophy impossible, by reducing anything that is not accessible to the common man to the lowest common denominator. But philosophy is not the only thing that suffers: so do creativity, heroism, authority, and all other "elite" qualities which the members of the herd cannot comprehend.

Strauss, an ethnic Jew and refugee from Nazi Germany saw the liberalism of mid-century America as a mirror image of the Weimar Republic: morally weak, incapable of self-preservation as proven by the ignominious collapse of the liberal establishment, both political and academic, in the face of the New Left. Curiously, the Straussians and Left-wing nihilists agree on most points—there is no God, no Nation, no Justice, no Equality--differing only in that the Straussians think these "truths" should be known only to the few.

The key Straussian concept is the "Straussian text," which is a piece of philosophical writing that is deliberately written so that the average reader will understand it as saying one ("exoteric") thing but the special few for whom it is intended will grasp its real ("esoteric") meaning.

There is an evident contradiction between the idea of philosophy as the pursuit of truth, and the Straussian imperative to write obscurely. Allan Bloom, a Straussian, wrote The Closing of the American Mind a stunning 1980’s best seller which much more clearly written than anything by Leo Strauss. But even Bloom makes his argument complex and subtle to the point of evasiveness, as if he wants to confuse and mislead the reader. The Straussian method is so careful to hide the point of its argument that he nearly fails to make it; certainly he fails to support it. Strauss puts his students to such a mental effort to try to understand him that they are too exhausted to make the mental effort to criticize him.

Straussians believe that we need to try to refurbish the old notion of "natural rights," on which the republic was founded. Bloom regards "natural rights" as illusory, and bourgeois society as distasteful; but they are at least preferable to the nihilism of the New Left which was the inevitable culmination of the ideology of liberty and equality. Given the disaster of the modern egalitarian project Bloom's only hope seems to be the cultivation of a tiny cabal to pass on the old lore through the new Dark Age of egalitarianism.

This small cabal of Straussians has among his adherents Justice Clarence Thomas; Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes; former Secretary of Education William Bennett; Weekly Standard editor and former Quayle Chief of Staff, William Kristol; Allan Bloom; former New York Post editorials editor John Podhoretz; former National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chairman John T. Agresto; the National Review publisher William F. Buckley; former Reagan Administration official Alan Keyes; current White House bio-ethics advisor Francis Fukuyama; Attorney General John Ashcroft; and William Galston, former Clinton Administration domestic policy advisor, and co-author, with Elaine Kamark, of the Joe Lieberman-led Democratic Leadership Council's policy blueprint.

Earlier Strauss allies and protégés in launching the post-World War II neo-conservative movement were Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Samuel Huntington, Seymour Martin Lipset, Daniel Bell, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Q. Wilson. All these individuals have been influenced by Strauss’s thinking and share with him the belief that it is not possible to govern without hiding the truth from the people. The openly support liberty, God given human rights, freedom, equality, democracy, religion, the Constitution, but privately-esoterically-they are highly skeptical of these concepts and would not hesitate to covertly undermine them if they believed that to be to the advantage of effective government.

Are People Entitled to the Truth?

The neo-cons' answer to this question is plainly "No!." The necessity to be truthful, for these people and others who have become the leaders of our country is merely a practical encumbrance; there is no harm in lying unless the lie is discovered. In fact it is a necessity; it is impossible to govern by being truthful, people cannot tolerate the truth and need to be lied to. For instance, the facts about the threats from external as well as internal sources to our country has been systematically falsified from the time that Donald Rumsfeld testified to the existence of secrets Soviet weapons in the 70’s, the time that Elliot Abrams and Nicholas Negroponte lied to congress about the Nicaraguan contras, the lies about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the progress of democracy in the Middle East. The same sort of falsification is going on internally with regard to the threat to our Social Security System, the willful and systematic destruction of our welfare system and the true threat of terrorism. The list of “noble lies” is long and will continue as long as the Straussian cabal maintains control of our nation’s affairs.

Claude Steiner