Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Man in the High Tower: Thoughts on Accreditation Ceremonies and Trump's Narcissism.

An unhappy followup to Burning down the house: Trump, mobs, and narcissistic rage .  Apologies to Philip K. Dick.



Trump is president-elect. Where do we find hope? 

Our Alt History, The Man in the High Tower, opens with an unmoored executive branch, a broken one party Congress, and the absence of a working Supreme Court. The sequence starts with adoring crowds gazing upward at a towering glitz then pans to brown faces hidden behind drawn shades. Interspersed are headlines, The Markets Wobble, and night vision shots of Russian irregulars crossing borders, and in Massachusetts and California people too stoned to hear the loud knocking on the door.

So where can we find hope when the world's most significant Accreditation Ceremony degrades practically everything so many of us value?  

Parallel to a Degradation Ceremony’s denouncer, witness, and perpetrator, an effective accreditation requires the witness of a community that shares common values, an affirmation of the newly accredited, and an acknowledgment by the affirmed.  If there is a glimmer of hope it might come from Trump's narcissism and the people who support it.


Trump's thin-skinned vulnerability might have a mitigating upside that comes with his continuing need for admiration.  Caught now in the sticky web of dysfunctional government, soon to be hearing  “show me the meat”, where will he turn?  For months, Trump's closest circle’s been sycophants skilled in dark and nasty branding, successfully marketing his off-message rants as manna from heaven.  In the corridors of power, that message will not fly. There will be no wall, no mass deportations, no religious bans.  He will have to stop grabbing pussy. But, unless he's a fundamentally changed man, an unlikely possibility, he'll still need his narcissistic feed or face his emptiness. He won't be hanging out with his about to be betrayed base.  Soon enough, they'll know they've been screwed again. 

He’ll need skilled operatives to manage the machine and will require their adoration. He'll need to feel respect from significant international players. Whoever these folk turn out to be, this is where he'll turn. Let's hope he's not an ideologue committed to the darkest desires of his base but a brilliant manipulator with an unquenchable thirst for admiration. 

It will boil down to his inner circle of advisers. Let's hope he has more in mind than getting the trains to run on time. 

We have no real choice but to stay tuned.  




11/22/16
POTUS, LLC., A DIVISION OF THE TRUMP EMPIRE

Looks like POTUS, LLC a division of The Trump Empire, is his bottom line. That, and filling his narcissistic void. I posted this on FACEBOOK after reading that Trump will not go after Clinton and sees no illegality, ethics aside, in attending to his businesses while in the White House. 

"Smart move to normalize Bannon and distract from what should actually outrage. Clinton was never going to be prosecuted. Trump's masterful manipulation with his misogynistic rant excited hate and now its retraction will appear presidential. Meanwhile, his abortion of liberal democratic and cosmopolitan values runs rampant. His goal, a nepotistic kleptocracy. A derailed focus on his corruption will continue hardly checked. He'll seem more human when he concedes that he can't deport the 11 million and that Muslims have Constitutional protection. Unless he profits from the concrete, the wall isn't going to be built. Looking for eight years, he'll keep the Democrats in line with infrastructure pork and maintain his alliance with Republican reactionaries by appointing to SCOTUS judges who take a primitive Federalist view of the Commerce Clause. Hello states rights, goodbye voter rights, LBGT protection, Roe v Wade. Inequality will widen, dynasties will prevail, and the white lower middle class will remain screwed. Meanwhile the slime that's slithered out from under the rocks will comfortably don their hoods and find it much easier to recruit. I hope I am so very, very wrong."










Sunday, October 16, 2016

Burning Down the House: Trump, Degradation Ceremonies, and Narcissistic Rage

A person will not choose less behavior potential over more.  Peter Ossorio, Place

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.  Matthew 18:9

A group is impulsive, changeable, and irritable. It is led almost exclusively by the unconscious.  Sigmund Freud agreeing with Gustave Le Bon, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego

Narcissistic rage is characterized by the relentless and ruthless need to exact revenge and rectify a perceived injustice, accompanied or proceeded by intense shame or humiliation.  Auchincloss and Samberg, Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts


"Blinded by Medieval Vampire"  Ashley Sinclair


The great analyst of narcissism, Heinz Kohut, quoted Matthew to describe the intensity of rage against a self that sees its fall.  I'm going to use it another way: The urge to destroy the witness of one's humiliation and the denouncer who pointed out the awful deed.        

We're watching the rise and expected defeat of a grandiose narcissist for the Presidency of the United States claim he's being cheated, denying what should evoke shame and humiliation. Apparently immune to mature guilt, Trump's entitled and thin-skinned grandiosity cannot tolerate the insult of being seen for what it is: a compensation for God knows what. Here is a man who has mostly gotten away with it. But what will happen when he doesn't?  And what will happen with his most vulnerable supporters, folk without advantage who've been taken along on his ride, identifying with his promise of greatness and revenge? For many of them, Trump shouting his free associations tells it like it is and evocatively gives voice to their understandable but suppressed desire for vengeance. Justified with grievance, inflamed by betrayal, what will his base do with their frustration when he loses and they've been told the election was rigged? Impotent to redress real social and economic problems, will they seek satisfaction in the spasm of the mob? Trump is inviting this.

We are watching the spectacle of Degradation Ceremonies played out across the American community. Harold Garfinkel described the ritual of the degradation ceremony as involving a denouncer, witness, and perpetrator. The denouncer and witness present themselves as community members in good standing, represent the community's values, and indicate that the perpetrator's actions are both a violation of those values and a true reflection of character not to be explained away or otherwise excused. The effective degradation demonstrates that in some significant way the perpetrator is not one of us. From where I stand, Trump is a perpetrator that deserves a degradation ceremony. 

There are various ways a perpetrator can regain good standing in the community or undo their degradation.  The normal path to regain status is repentance and reparation but that requires authentic guilt. There are darker options: in reprisal, the degraded can attempt to discredit the denouncer, blind the witness, or blow the whole thing up.  

Regardless of merit, a degradation ceremony can be effective or ineffective, accepted or rejected.  And don't forget that the actions one community finds degrading, another may affirm. Turning the table on his denouncers, a charismatic perpetrator like Trump may attempt to change the community's acceptable values or remain within the crowd, now organized, of those who already value what others despise. Here the perpetrator becomes the denouncer and Trump's base the witness. A Trump media platform and a third party would serve this goal.

When this election ends, there's going to be a large population of painfully insulted, angry, and betrayed people. And their Leader who needs adulation to compensate for injured pride.  Trump will want someone to degrade to feel whole. His crowd will want to direct their rage, and Trump has been pointing the targets out.

Continued in November's The Man in the High Tower....




Dana Milbank writing in the The Washington Post added  Trump Can't Just Be Defeated. He Must Be Humiliated.

On Trump's vulnerability to humiliation: What Drives Donald Trump? Fear of Losing Status, Tapes Show

Trump is vulnerable to Degradation Ceremonies and this suggests he will have profound reason to undo humiliation by establishing a media platform and perhaps a third party. He needs to keep admiring attention. And violence committed in his name, vengeance for his "stolen election" would also serve this narcissist's grandiosity. Where Trump support remains a large part of a population, support that isn't fundamentally anti-Clinton but instead an identification with Trump's racist and ultra nationalist rants, targeted violence is something to worry about.

Trump will not admit defeat if he can claim he was robbed. From the 10/16/16 NYTimes on Trump's claim that the election is rigged.

This from the Washington Post: Trump supporters are talking about civil war.  Could a loss provide the spark?

Earlier I wrote about Degradation Ceremonies in Everyday Life.

And on what turns an American Conservative into a reactionary: A Note on American Reactionary Politics.



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Transgression, Denial, and Keeping Two Sets of Books



She is profoundly aware of the desire she inspires, but the desire cruel and naked would humiliate and horrify her. Yet she would find no charm in a respect which would be only respect.... she refuses to apprehend the desire for what it is; she does not even give it a name.... But then suppose he takes her hand....to leave her hand there is to consent in herself to flirt, to engage herself. To withdraw it is to break the troubled and unstable harmony that gives the hour its charm.  The aim is to delay the moment of decision....  We know what happens next; the young woman leaves her hand there, but does not notice that she is leaving it.    John-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness


I work with people who start by telling me they don't understand their transgressions since they have a "strong moral compass". It should be no surprise that the subject is sex. (If not sex, it tends to involve money or violence.) When caught they act bewildered, maybe panicked, and claim their action was out-of-character, a result of seduction, or coercive pressure. I think they are giving lip service to ideals they say guide them while not acknowledging what they actually do when sufficiently tempted or when the chips are down. 

They may claim, and I believe them, they don't want out of their marriage, that they love their spouse and family. The intense distress they exhibit when caught speaks to a recognition of what they have to loose. Often enough, they deny understanding why they got involved in the first place. 

I'm not talking about the people who betray their vows, want to get away with it, and know damn well that when sufficient opportunity occurs, they'll go for it.  They are not fooling themselves even while they make excuses or claim innocence. They know they are lying. 

I'm interested in the people who don't know they're lying to themselves. With them, I offer the image two sets of books, an accounting concept for hidden assets. One ledger is filled with the ideals they say count heavily, their "moral compass", while the second, hidden from sight, is only opened reluctantly but carries greater weight. When denying or not acknowledging the significance of this second text they engage in the self-deception that Sartre called bad faith. 

This hidden ledger contains active desires and denied values, motivations suppressed from immediate awareness that can't be acknowledged without guilt, anxiety, or shame; and a disposition to notice transgressive opportunity that won't be refused.

When acting from denied motives, it's unsurprising if the outcome is bungled and unfortunate. This unhappy outcome is often the initial reason they come to my office where my job is to empathetically invite the hidden, deceptive, and disowned to become available for examination and negotiation. It would be negligent not to. The struggle to owe up to this self-knowledge is the heart of the analysis of the resistance, a fundamental activity in psychoanalysis. Sometimes this involves confronting unconscious motivation but more often, I think, motivations we're reluctant to see, but could. We resist knowing and acknowledging these facts about ourselves (and others) even as our defensive negligence incurs a high cost. 

Why? It's natural, at times, to be at odds with oneself, to have values hard to reconcile where we can't have it both ways. We're defensive about this when our goodness and morality are at stake.  Here's a self-serving example.  Some weeks ago, mid morning, I was enjoying the frustrations of fishing inside the bay below the gut on Cape Pogue.  After hours of casting, I reeled in a beautiful but wee too short striped bass. I love the taste of bass in the morning.  There's no one else on the beach but my wife and dogs. My grill's in the back of the jeep. Did I mention I was hungry? Reluctantly, very reluctantly, after measuring the fish and confirming what I already know, three inches short of the legal twenty-eight, I eased the poor stripper back into the water. I'm conflicted. I'm hungry. I love grilled stripper. Knowing I can get away with keeping it, I throw it back just the same. Why? Because I'm a surfcaster who honors the conservation rules. They've worked to restore what had been a dangerously diminished stock. So I tolerate mixed feeling: the pleasure in the catch and the frustration and satisfaction in the release. (It is satisfying to do the right thing in a tradition I respect. Fishing ethics matter to me.)  It would be different if I was starving. It might be different if I was much hungrier, I can't be sure.  So I smiled at my wife, asked the dogs to shut the fuck up, and had enough bars to call the Shanty in Edgartown.  I'll settle for their lobster rolls and a Bloody Mary.  

I was working from one playbook that morning, motivationally conflicted or not. At odds with myself, but not that much. And I knew it. (Plus, now I can use it as an example here to illustrate my point and to show what a sportsman I am).

I started this posting with Sartre's famous example of bad faith. Versions of this involve sexual transgression with elements of denial, argued as out-of-character and not understood.  Often the acts seem out-of-character only to the perpetrators. This corresponds to their refusal or inability to open the second ledger where the actual weight given the pleasures of the erotic and the affirmations of being desirable might be inscribed. Finding that you're desirable is powerfully motivating when it's compensation for doubt or other significant kindred loss. Or when it seems the best thing you've got going.  This works many ways.

Are sexual transgressions all that mysterious? Consider the nature of actual human motivation. Why do people do what they do? The simple answer is that circumstance present opportunity. (What makes it opportunity is that it is something wanted, valued). Of course, the circumstances that provide opportunity have more than a few moving parts. We recognize pros and cons, or should. And not all pros and cons carry the same motivational weight, regardless of what we claim about our character. The actual weights, stable, subject to revision, claimed, disowned, or unconscious are a fundamental feature of our individual differences, whether we acknowledge it or not. Our neighbors and intimates will carry the burden of our neglect.

Some Descriptive Psychology, Psychodynamics, and a bit of Freud.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Mark 14:38

A person's reasons for action can be grouped into four categories:  Hedonics, Prudence, Aesthetics, and Ethics.  Moral standards will find a place in both our prudential and ethical concerns. The four are intrinsic motivations, understandable without further justification. Having an intrinsic reason is having reason enough to do something. These motives have a complex and dynamic relationship to each other as a person weighs what to do in any given circumstance.  This weighing of values can be immediate, a matter of careful deliberation, unconscious, or some combination. 

Why is problematic sexual behavior so often a feature of self-deception? (I'll turn to violence and money in a later posting). The simple answer is the motivational category of Hedonics, the fundamental, often powerful and intrinsic value of pleasure, and the compelling, often automatic pull of the erotic.  Add to this a common polyerotic disposition that comes with our primate body.  Sexual desire is not always countered or balanced by prudent self-interest or the ideals that a person claims as their ethics. To make it more complex, the actual weight given to ethical standards may require the recognition of choice. Such mindful recognition might not be as immediate or compelling as the erotic.  

We don't ordinarily choose what turns us on. Over time most of us learn to exercise prudent caution regarding tempting circumstances and mortifying outcomes. These recognitions sometimes become automatic and immediate and part of how we see things.  Even if not automatic, we can, if our moral-ethical perspective counts enough, turn away from desire even as it aches. The complication is that renunciation is a deliberate action, involves choice, requires self-knowledge. To the extent a person's actual motivations are, for whatever reason, unavailable for self-examination, they are apt to result in problematic acting out with bungled or otherwise unfortunate outcome. What isn't self-acknowledged cannot enter into good-faith negotiation. What isn't acknowledged cannot be the focus of reconsideration or the socialization of sharing with a trusted companion. What is motivating but unacknowledged confounds emotionally competent judgment and compromises life. It's hard to self-correct what isn't considered in the first place. 


The Psychodynamic Judgment Diagram

Here's an illustration called the The Psychodynamic Judgment Diagram that parses out the components of judgment or appraisal that results in an action. Domain 1 corresponds to the open book. Domains 2 and 3 to the less acknowledged ledger.



If you're interested, the posting Bad Faith, Self-Deception, and Unconscious Motivation: Restrictions in Effective Choice explain and elaborate this model. 

In a similar vein, Sex and a Person's True Colors.






Sunday, June 26, 2016

Authenticity and Emotion: A note on the satisfaction of being "well-cast".




Our culture tends to regard the mere energy of impulse as being in every mental and moral way equivalent and even superior to defined intention. Instead we should consider an idea that once was salient in western culture: the idea of making a life, by which was meant conceiving human existence, one's own or another's, as if it were a work of art upon which one might pass judgment.... Sincerity and Authenticity  Lionel Trilling

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself....  Teach Your Children  Graham Nash

Since you are free to choose, you're free to make inauthentic choices as well as authentic ones, and that's why some people, indeed, are living inauthentic lives.  There is nothing that guarantees that you make the right decisions for your life.

Where does authenticity show itself? Primarily in social relationships. Not in the way you sit in the corner by yourself, but in the way you interact with people.  Personality and Personality Theories   Peter Ossorio


What Is It to Act Authentically?

A few weeks ago in the New York Times, Adam Grant wrote a piece titled, Unless You're Oprah, 'Be Yourself' is Terrible Advice.  The gist of the article was that authenticity is hazardous, that "nobody wants to see your true self".  By way of example he wrote, "A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.  He went on to add, "Deceit makes our world go round... Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse."

Grant is confusing authenticity with stupidity and boorishness.  Authenticity, being true to oneself, is not some mindless 'let it all hang out'.  And deceit is beside the point, not the central issue. Refraining from blurting all one's urges is not deceit,  nor is it being inauthentic. It's being emotionally competent. 

Authenticity is one of those wastebasket terms that collects much worth discarding.  Nonetheless, it has use in understanding how behavior and the course life provide satisfaction. 

Let's start with what we all know:  A person's actual behavior follows from their particular values, knowledge, and competence, and takes place in a more or less recognized set of circumstances. Notice that "values" is plural. Ordinarily, in any given circumstance, we have a multiplicity of values in play, with some being more intrinsic and dear than others.  

Here's what I want to keep in mind: Authenticity and satisfaction go hand in hand. The values held most significant define the through-lines of character linking authenticity, personal integrity, and satisfaction. Personal integrity is a matter of grit and resilience, of maintaining the centrality of one's fundamental and intrinsic values in the course of life's pressures and coercions. To the extent a person's intrinsic values hold sway, to the extent compromise does not violate integrity, life is authentic and satisfying. That's how I see it. 

The Descriptive Psychologist Anthony Putman in his essay, Being, Becoming, and Belonging provides a vision of authenticity that avoids Grant's caricature and respects the heart of the existentialist idea that authenticity is not acting in the bad faith or false consciousness of restricted choice.  Authentic action is true to a person's actual freedom within their world.  Known choice matters. A person's  choices within constraint and the pattern of enacted values define this understanding. Paradigmatically, what identifies an individual as a person is their ability to engage in deliberate action in a dramaturgical pattern. Deliberate action follows the motivational weight people give their specific reasons to do one thing or another. The specifics, the individual differences people show, are largely a matter of what they encounter and are actually able and disposed to value, know, and know how to manage. Over time, given a world of circumstance and "thrownness", this constitutes life's drama. 

Here are a few excerpts from Tony's essay"

Every day, as we go along being and doing in the world, we experience actions ranging from ones that seem straightforwardly an expression of “who I am”, to ones where we are just going through the motions and know it. We are interested here in the ones that are not an authentic expression of “who I am.” “My heart says one thing, but I do another.” “My job (school, church, marriage) requires me to act in certain ways, but that’s not the real me.” Some of these instances drop out of the picture as soon as we acknowledge that a person can deliberately choose to engage in an action which she knows is not an authentic expression of who she is. These choices are often made on prudential grounds (“Better not burn that bridge just yet”), moral/ethical grounds (“The fact that it’s true doesn’t outweigh the harm I would cause by saying it”) or even hedonic grounds (“Let’s just take the easy way this time.”) If these choices are inauthentic at all, they are at most “garden variety inauthenticity” and not likely to cause too many sleepless nights so long as they are balanced with a sufficiency of authentic acts. 

...we can understand authenticity as referring to the situation where 
a person is well-cast in the status she is being. Who she is and knows herself to be, is a good match for what the status requires her to be; what she is called upon to do in this status gives her good opportunity to express who she really is; as she “be’s” this status, she feels like her “true self” because the version of her this status calls for includes some of her most important personal characteristics.

Inauthenticity can be seen, then, as miscasting. The status he knows... he must be, is a poor match for the status he in fact is being in the world.... He is called upon to act on personal characteristics he in fact does not have, or which are weak in his overall scheme; the version of him this status calls for includes little of central importance to him. (As the Wizard of Oz said to
Dorothy: “I’m not a bad man. I’m a very good man. I’m just a bad wizard.”) Small wonder, then that he feels phony or inauthentic or empty....  One can take only so much of this miscasting before beginning to wonder, “Who am I, really?” because it has been a long time since “I have felt like myself” – that is, “since I have been well-cast in a status where the version of me I was being included important aspects of me, and matched well what the status required me to be.” “Real self”, then, is how we refer to a particular state of affairs. A person is his “real self” when who he is at the time...is a good match for who he is called upon to be by the Status he is currently being.... 

Authenticity is not in the expression of all one feels but of being well-cast, of finding roles and communities where one's intrinsic values count.  Compromise is the nature of real life, but a person can act authentically when necessary compromise does not violate personal integrity.  Participation that facilitates authentic expression is inherently satisfying. 

Emotional Action and Authenticity

We tend to view emotional presentations as revealing something authentic about a person. Emotion as a spontaneous expression may be taken to reveal "true feeling" free of guile. A sort of "now I see how you really feel!"  But does it?  The answer is yes and no. The Descriptive concept of emotion as felt and immediate intentional action may clarify this.  Emotional behavior involves the learned tendency to act on an appraisal of a situation without deliberation.  We don't think it through and then decide what to emote. It's more immediate and impulsive.  But, this is not to say that some balance, a simultaneous recognition of what is appropriate or effective, isn't seen immediately or in retrospect. The balance, and the accuracy of the initial appraisal, contribute to whether the emotional response is performed competently or not. And, no matter the immediate reaction, the valued balance may require further reflection. 

Emotional reactions are not necessarily the best evidence pointing to what is authentic.  My immediate response may not necessarily reveal "the true me".  The "true me" can change.  Over time, the satisfaction of authentic expression may come more from reflection and reconsideration.  People are, after all, deliberate actors capable of reconsidering and reordering priorities.  Some circumstances require a considered response that overrides an initial reaction of fear, hostility, lust, and the like.  We're able, more or less, to change our mind.  The second thoughts that protect a person's integrity are as much a feature of true character as anything else.


A satisfying and happy life requires understanding and competently dealing with the sort of natural complexity and ambivalence that accompanies the inter-dependency of intimacy, friendship, and family life, to point to an obvious few.  Is it inauthentic if I show my concern without reminding my beloved that her broken toe came from choosing the wrong thing to kick?  The time may come for that, but need it be said while I apply the splint? 

Two Descriptive Psychological tools

Two Descriptive tools, the Judgment Diagram and the Emotion Formula, can help us sort these issues out. Let me show you. 

The Judgment Diagram 



The Judgment Diagram is a format for understanding how a person weighs his or her circumstances, forms an appraisal (with or without deliberation), and acts accordingly. A central reminder here is that the overall circumstances (the big "C") can have many relevant considerations.  The varied reasons (from the small "c")  can work well together or can conflict.  In sum, they create the dynamic we call a motivational hierarchy.  A person's "true colors" are revealed by the weights they give their various reasons to act one way or another. This diagram also serves as the basis for the Psychodynamic Judgment Diagram where unconscious and under-examined motives are included in the judgment.

The Judgment Diagram can be used to illustrate a temporal or sequential process of thinking over the circumstances and reasons to do one thing or another. (She loves me, she loves me not?)  Or, it can simply list the features of the recognized overall circumstances, immediately seen as such. A person does not have to think through what they already recognize as the case. People differ in their sensitivity and understanding of their overall circumstances. A person's grasp of the "big picture", the differentiated nuance they simply see, is a way to conceptualize intelligence, emotional or otherwise. 

Circumstances provide reason to do one thing or another. Some of these reasons might be represented by the "unless clauses" of the emotion formula. 


The Emotion Formula

The Emotion formula is a special case that applies the behavioral logic of The Relationship Formula.








W:  What the actor Wants to accomplish.
K:  What the actor Knows, distinguishes, or recognizes in the circumstance that is relevant to what the actor Wants.
KH:  What the actor Knows-How to do given what the actor Wants and Knows about the relevant circumstance.
P:  The procedural manner or Performance of the action in real time.
A:  The Achievement of the action.

Emotional behavior involves a leaned tendency to act without deliberation.   Deliberate action and the process of deliberation are not the same although they share the common feature of recognized alternatives.  What I recognize in an instant can be complex and nuanced and simply how I see and know how respond.  Or, on the other hand, circumstances can give me pause and reason to think it through. Deliberation is a useful option when the consequences of my action are not what I want. Given what I hold dear, my sense of integrity, I might want to rethink my priorities or the manner I've implemented my intentions. 


Or consider this mundane example. 

A young, beautiful, and smiling colleague brings to my desk a problem she wants to clarify. I don't have to think about the boundaries and possibilities of this encounter. I know who we are to each other and how to act accordingly.  I maintain eye contact and don't look her up and down. I've learned to act this way.  In my pleasure to be in her company, I drop what I am doing and engage her question. She clearly shows her appreciation for my shift in priorities.  I don't spend time thinking about any of this. I'm simply present for her. Do I need to think through that I'm old enough to be her father, that I'm married and her advisor.  That whatever the sexual tension, it's not the business at hand? (OK, probably mine, not hers.  I try not to be an old fool.) 

My immediate happiness, my emotional response, is from being in her company and of valued service. After all, here's an opportunity to share my wisdom. (Be nice now).  Her beauty is icing on the cake. I don't have to think it over. Are their similar situations where I might think about other possibilities, real or imagined? Sure, but not this one. During this encounter the overall circumstance includes her beauty, youth, and sexuality. All this carries weight in balance with my other valued dispositions and recognitions.  I know all this without having to think.  Authenticity does not require commenting how hot she is. She'd find that creepy.  We're not well-cast for each other this way.  Here, authenticity is expressed by doing a job I intrinsically value, enjoying her company, and not pretending otherwise.  

Is authenticity necessarily a good thing?  It depends.  What works in some circumstances can be deeply troubling in others.  Consider current presidential politics.  What to make of a demonstration of authentic unbridled narcissism, racism, ruthlessness, and entitlement?    

Authenticity can lead to boorish and unconsidered disregard.  Moral and clinical language, like jerk or personality disorder, gets at this. Usually such casting doesn't work out well. We've our own integrity to maintain in dealing with such folk.  

But unless you really are an asshole, being yourself is probably something to attempt. Although it might not be easy, try to find roles that fit your intrinsic values, try to find relationships where you're well-cast, circumstances where necessary compromise won't violate your integrity. Try to find it. If you do, I'm pretty sure you'll find life satisfying.



Emotional competence is explored in the entry,  Emotional Competence, Self Experience, and Developmental Patterns. 

More on satisfaction in the construction of ones's world: Satisfaction, Narcissism, and the Construction of Worlds.

Totally antithetical to the above but in character.  "Let it all hangout!"

7/10/16   Adam Grant responded with this corrective arguing that sincerity works better: The Dangers of Being Authentic.  Not the same conceptualization as a concern with being well cast but with useful reminders.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Through-Lines and Dogs. Significance in Dog Psychology.

You can trust a dog with your life...but not your lunch.  Stephen Huneck

Maxim 1. A person takes it that things are as they seem unless they have reason enough to think otherwise.  Peter Ossorio

A through-line description is, paradigmatically, the description of a non-contiguous sequence of a person's courses of action as having a shared significance.  For me, that's sufficient formulation.  Greg Colvin 


A friend asked what through-line descriptions I could give of my dogs. Dogs are impulsive. Maybe not the highly trained, but the dogs I know are.  A student of mine remarked that dogs are like children with impulse control issues.  She went on to suggest cats "are sort of on the spectrum".  Certainly my dogs could do a better job at restraint and the cats I love seem a bit indifferent.  

What follows are thoughts about dogs and their personable ways.  I'll use the Descriptive Psychological Person Concept, the interdependent concepts of Individual Person, Behavior, Language, and World. I'm going to make a point of invoking person qualities where they seem appropriate.  I'm aware of the hazards of being overly anthropomorphic.  We might argue about this.

I think no one in their right mind doubts dogs have personalities, with individually different abilities and dispositions. If you know a dog, you recognize a character. While never knowing exactly what a dog will do, we come to know what they find important. They sometimes surprise us, but mostly they act in-character in their dogged ways. 

I am certain dogs are intentional actors, consciously aware and often deliberate.  If you seriously doubt this, my bet is that you relate to them differently than I do. (And that's too bad. Here, I'm thinking “I to Dog” akin to “I to Thou”, in contrast to “I to It”.  My dogs are family members, not property.  This is a topic for a different time.)

That dogs have personal characteristics and engage in intentional action, paradigmatic intentional action, carries the logical requirement that their behavior involves courses of action with significance. Their lives have through-lines organized by what they hold important.  I think this is the case for all animals. The through-lines descriptive of humans may seem more complex but that claim may be an artifact of a failure to recognize the nuanced sensitivities and forms of life that matter to our canine companions. Obviously they hear and smell beyond my competence to judge what they appreciate. These sensitivities inform their natural needs and provide significant information beyond my ken. Why do they roll in dead worms with such obvious delight? 

All personal characteristics develop from an individual's prior capacities (e.g., in-born and developed sensitivities and body based needs) and their intervening experiences. Dogs and humans alike find themselves in an environment of restricted possibilities where they find, create, and practice their individual ways. Dogs are usually more restricted than humans. We keep them this way.

It's appropriate to think of a dog as a sort of person. For this to make sense I need to explain how I'm using the concept. By person I mean an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical Pattern, a pattern that makes sense the way stories do. A person's actions follow from their individual characteristics and their circumstances, reflecting what they try to achieve given their values.  Having values means being able to want some state of affairs over others. This in turn produces the patterns I call through-lines, a form of description that identifies an individual's significant concerns.  Along with the ability to engage in deliberate acts, paradigmatic persons also have language, an ability to deliberately share symbolic representations corresponding to their world, states, and practices. 

Deliberate Action is a form of behavior in which a person (a) engages in an intentional or goal directed action, (b) is Cognizant of that, and (c) has chosen to do that.  A person is not always engaged in a deliberate action but has the ability to do so.  A human being is an individual who is both a person and a specimen of Homo sapiens. This last sentence carries the reminder that non-human individuals could also be persons. By paradigmatic I am referring to the method of paradigm case formulation that allows for variations and transformations in the paradigm, including the deletion of elements.  Paradigmatic refers to a full or undoubted case, a case where all competent judges likely agree. Some judges may find some attributes more essential than others, but by starting with a paradigm where we agree, it's simple when elements are transformed or deleted, to know where we disagree. Dogs, to me, are deficit case persons. 

Intentional action involves something an individual recognizes and wants, and knows how to achieve. This corresponds to a performance, an observable implementation of trying to achieve what desired. Intentional action has significance, ultimately grounded in the actor’s intrinsic, done-for-it's own-sake values. The reasons for an intentional action are ultimately or finally justified by something intrinsic.  (In a baseball game, the pitcher by throwing a pitch, is trying to strike out the batter, by trying to strike out the batter, he is trying to win the game, by trying to win the game, he is doing what baseball players do if they are actually playing baseball.) Keep this in mind, because a problem in understanding the behavior of dogs is we can't simply ask, "what are you trying to do by doing that?".  Nor can we ask, "what didn't you do?"  This last question makes it difficult to judge if the behavior was chosen, i.e., deliberate.  This doesn't mean it wasn't deliberate, it just means it's hard to gather the evidence that comes with a verbal description of choice.  Choices are easiest to see when the speaker can tell us what option wasn't selected. We will return to this since some reasons for behavior, especially those that involve ethical or aesthetic values, require the ability to engage in deliberate action, the ability to decide not to go down a particular path.  Choice can involve renunciation, "the high road or the low road?" 

Significance, as I am employing it in it's Descriptive Psychological sense, is grounded by something intrinsic. Humans, paradigmatic Persons, are able to successfully justify an act as significant given their intrinsic and specific Hedonic, Prudent, Ethical/Moral and Aesthetic concerns.  I'll return to this in a bit.  I have no trouble arguing dogs have hedonic and prudent concerns.  Clearly they're pleasure seeking, pain avoiding, and self-interested. I don't doubt they are cognizant and deliberate, but I'd have trouble making a strong case that dogs have ethical and aesthetic values, even though I think some might.  I treat my dogs as deficit case persons, worthy of respect, but they're dogs so I don't trust them with my lunch (but then again, I might not trust you either). 

Do dogs have an ethical sense?  A 2008 study in The Proceeding of the American Academy of Sciences found that dogs respond to unfair treatment, cooperating less when they witness a partner dog getting a bigger share of food. Since I don't know of a case where a dog has acted to make sure another dog gets a fair share, this seems more a matter of self-interest than an ethical concern with fair distribution. Perhaps, they only really care when they are at the short end of the stick. But I can't speak for what the dog is actually considering. 

Dogs are clearly less competent than humans in language use, although I don’t write them off completely. (Another point to argue). Their limited verbal repertory along with the importance they give hedonics and prudence, with an apparent lack of ethical and aesthetic perspective, keeps them deficit cases in my book. But here are all sorts of reasons to argue.  I argue with myself about this.

Some Limitations to a Dog's Through-Lines 

Dependency, rapid maturation, and an extraordinary awareness of smell and sound, inform and shape a dog's all too short life.  In the span of human growth from infancy to adolescence, most dogs live their entire lives. By the time a human has just begun to understand what they find significant, a dog has come and gone. This makes for shorter through-lines.  As a human with a limited ability to appreciate the nuanced world my dog senses, the through-line descriptions I offer are less complex and differentiated than those I construct for a human I know well. My limited appreciation limits my competence to adequately describe what they find significant. This, I suspect, is also partly why dogs are sometimes described in ways we talk about children.  A dog's life and a human's youth span a similar number of days. And dogs, like human children, are domesticated, bred and socially shaped to fit the worlds of persons and our ways. 

Since children and domestic animals are dependent on the support of a more mature human community, their through-lines, informed by their idiosyncratic discoveries, largely concern their standings with each other and with their keepers and providers.  We watch them sort out whether to lead or follow, whether they've been individually recognized, and whether they're in good standing.  This and food seem front and center. Maybe more for dogs. By food I include the crap they constantly try to snap up and swallow.

The through-lines I can construct for my dogs are descriptions of how they manage their dependency and the imposed restrictions on their lives.  Since through-lines are an observer's construct, the descriptions I develop center on how I see them interact with me, each other, our family, neighbors, and the other dogs, strangers, and other animals encountered on walks.  

The trick with describing their through-lines is finding a nuance that captures the pattern.  So here's some for the dogs I live with. 

Hart, a dachshund rat terrier mix:  

Tirelessly keeping his eye on the "ball", he seeks potential allies incessantly imploring them to play his game so he can show off his varied moves and respond to acknowledgment. 

Sweetly obstinate, heedless of the other's power and direction, he makes a show of a resistance to follow. Knowing he will eventually come along, he digs in his heels and delays any attempt to distract him from a mission to sniff and mark where he's been. 

Here's two for Banjo, a dachshund lab: 

"Following from ahead of the pack", always eager to please, he seeks acknowledgment and a secure place where he'll not be bothered. 

Disregarding the consequences, if it smells palatable, it's to be gobbled. (Actually, this describes both Banjo and Hart). 

Not paradigmatically competent with language, but very communicative, both dogs mix and string sounds, phatic and evocative, along with body gestures that convey meaning. My understanding of their intended meanings, varied and sometimes complex, is vindicated by my response. If I respond with what they want, they stop imploring. The signal to noise ratio seems largely signal. If there is grammar to what they convey, it is simple and conforms to the forms of life, the practices, that matter to them. It seems to me that if I keep my vocalizations short and relevant to their concerns, they mostly respond accordingly, unless they don't want to. But that's the case with everyone I deal with. 

It is when I play with Banjo and Hart that I find reason to think they have a limited ethical and aesthetic perspective. Hart, at some point nightly, will stand in front of me, catch my eye, and bark. Then he'll stare. Banjo will run in from the bedroom, check out the scene, and for reasons hard to fathom, remain or return to the bedroom where he rearranged the pillows and snuck some item of my wife's clothing, never mine. I usually try to ignore Hart because I have my own agenda. But if he can hold my eye, he'll bark again, make a puppy whine and then turn his head to the mantle where his toys are almost hidden. He'll try to catch my eye and when he does he points to the balls.  He moves his eyes from mine to the mantle and eagerly waits.  I know he wants to play.

If he's caught me in the right mood, I take one of the squishy balls and toss it. Grounders, popups, fakes to the right or left. Gleeful mid-air catches and in-air toss backs. This goes on and on and on and on. When Hart makes a particularly artful catch he wiggles the way he does when excited and praised. He catches better than he throws, I'm lazy, so if he hasn't tossed the ball right to me I'll say something that amounts to "not close enough".  He'll look at me again and if he wants to continue will nudge the ball closer.  Sometimes he doesn't want to give it back, especially if Banjo intrudes. Banjo, awkward with the game, mostly runs interference. If he can, instead of bringing it back to me, he'll steal it and return to the bedroom inviting chase.  

This is a game. It has shared rules of fair and foul, and the happy appreciation of the beauty of a well executed play. Seeing it this way, acting accordingly, makes it work. 


but if dogs could talk....











Here's links to "What is a Person? And how can we be sure?" , where I examine the question of non-human persons,  and  "The Person Concept",  the foundation of behavioral science.
And on the Descriptive concept of "through-lines".

And what you already know that your dog knows, your dog understands the meaning and significance of your relevant language.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Note on American Reactionary Politics


The uncanny of real experiences....invariably accords with our attempted solution and can be traced back every time to something that was once familiar and then repressed. Sigmund Freud


The specter of Barry Goldwater haunts the GOP. Goldwater’s stance against the Civil Rights Act forged an alliance of anti-regulation money and the undereducated ultra-nationalist, fundamentalist, and racist white male. Solidified by Nixon’s Southern Strategy, bloated by gerrymandered redistricting, the GOP transformed LBJ’s Southern Democrats into Republicans. Heedless of failed promises to working class voters, the elites, both Democrat and Republican, did well. Meanwhile Democrats, hardly less beholden to big money, championed the interests of a diverse group of the disenfranchised at the expense of the white lower middle class. The markets rose and the privileged maintained and expanded capital with thanks to Reagan, Clinton, and their allies. The GOP, with only lip service opposition from the Democrats, maintained a grip on the economic agenda, thinking they could keep their Tea Party polite. These folk, feeling no advantage beyond nativism and whiteness, became more and more aggrieved. And then we elected and re-elected a Black president with a Muslim name and the pawns of the GOP lost it and rebelled. 




Here's my un-nuanced sense of the abused and aggrieved core of the GOP, a group of maybe 20-25% of the overall electorate. Not enough to win the presidency, but more than enough to make national life ugly. What turns white conservatives reactionary? Their perception that too many non whites are getting a piece of their pie. This is the heart of Trump's base. What makes religious conservatives reactionary? An uncanny and confused confrontation with the sanctioned transgression of enfranchised gays, uppity women, and gender benders feeling it's time to come out of the shadows. Cruz country. Trump and Cruz supporters overlap and share a hyper-defensive us violated by them. They finally chose Trump, the bigger bully, who encouraged impotent whites to share his narcissistic desire to tower. They're going to get screwed again, but more organized and rankled with neo-fascist frustration, entitlement, and aggression. We're in for a very dark rough ride.


What's Sanctioned Transgression and Uncanny Dread?

Let's make America great again or, the return of the repressed. 

Sex, gender, race, and family relations have always been subject to religion and the state for what people are permitted to feel and do. Sanctioned transgression concerns enhanced social or legal protection for behaviors and relationships a dominant group has previously kept forbidden. When legal protection is sought or offered for these "transgressions", taboos are less hidden, even celebrated. This doesn't sit well with the deeply defensive. It is especially problematic when it evokes a person's suppressed urges now openly exhibited in others. Freud called this the return of the repressed. It should come as no surprise that anxious dread surfaces in people unprepared to manage these feelings; nor is it a surprise these feelings are treated as provocation to assault the source of threat. So why Trump over Cruz? I suspect it's because Trump encourages attack, a position of strength that feels better than Cruz's creepy discomfort. 






Here's a somewhat more nuanced view and some problems with neutrality: Politics and Religion: Psychotherapy's third rail.
A posting on the behavioral logic of social progress and reaction: Why Marriage Equality (was) Inevitable.  And Empathy, Inclusion, and Moral Dialog or What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice?





Sunday, March 20, 2016

Politics and Religion: Psychotherapy's Third Rail




I cannot advise my colleagues too urgently to model themselves during psycho-analytic treatment on the surgeon, who puts aside all his feeling, even his human sympathy, and concentrates his mental forces on the single aim of performing the operation as skillfully as possible.  Sigmund Freud

Silence is collusion.  Sheila Kitzinger

A person requires a community in order for it to be possible for him to engage in human behavior at all.
A community is characterized by a common world, a language, a structure of social practices, statuses, way of living, choice principles, and individual members.  Peter Ossorio

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.  John Newton


My clinical psychology trainees rarely have trouble asking their clients to explore something problematic. The point, explicitly stated or not, is to increase understanding and free up consideration of whether something might be done differently. Such inquiry is not always welcome. Questioning implies a judgment that something is questionable.  We all know this. This is why when therapy touches politics or religion, trainees are awkward and uncertain about what they should appropriately ask.  I suspect this holds true for most of my colleagues.

Politics and religion are the “third rails” of psychotherapy, off limits and taboo, especially as practiced in the United States. Political correctness as respect for difference suggests caution. This is good policy. But when does it become unserviceable inhibition? In our cosmopolitan multi-culture, where politics and religion provide conflicted guides to behavior, this is a thorny issue. 

For good reason, we've learned to avoid these topics on Thanksgiving. 

It's no surprise the current state of American political turmoil enters the consulting room. Here’s a composite cobbled from case presentations from recent weeks:  A young junior college student, “Bob”, white, lower-middle class, complains of bouts of depression and anxiety. What brought him to treatment was the consequence of a drunken brawl that resulted in his arrest and mandated counseling. In reconstructing the day of the fight, Bob mentioned feeling “pissed” when he observed an attractive classmate dropped off on campus by a man driving a BMW. Angry, Bob described her as the sort he’d like to date but wouldn’t ask, “a stick in the ass type” who wouldn’t give him the time of day. His therapist, we’ll call him Dr. James, heard Bob mutter “sand nigger” referring to the driver. Not knowing what to do, Dr. James let the comment pass. Near the end of this first hour when asked about family, Bob said his father had a history of bar fights and usually ended up worse for wear. This was not spoken with pride. 

In the early weeks of treatment, Bob cancelled an appointment to attend a Trump rally. In the session that followed he described elation during Trump’s speech, saying he felt “solid, strong” yelling support in the packed arena. Dr. James wondered if he was being baited when Bob used “libtards” and “Gimmedat Party” in describing disdain for the “typical Boston” supporter of “Obummer”.  Dr. James recognized he needed to sort out his own judgmental stance and not react to these remarks. Too early inquiry into Bob’s words, he feared, might undermine further treatment. I agreed. 

Dr. James wondered if Bob’s ardent support for Trump wasn’t compensatory for resentful feelings of sexual, social, and economic inadequacy. James saw Trump as an authoritarian populist, a demagogue neo-Fascist, who manipulates his crowd into celebrating racism, hyper-masculinity, us against them nationalism, might makes right, and cathartic violence. We shared this political appraisal. 

We asked ourselves, is this young man’s support of Trump essentially a grievance compensation for impotence, inadequacy, and envy? Are his politics essentially vicarious identification, an unconscious wish to merge with a strong-man leader? When my supervisee asked Bob why he canceled his previous appointment, he responded that he’s been hurt by affirmative action, how Obamacare will make it impossible for him to get a decent job, and that Trump calls it like it is about Muslims.  Still, regardless of his compensations, identity politics, or wishes to merge, we need to ask, is Bob’s conscious justification unreasonable for someone in his situation? Doesn't a person's politics often address grievance? 

And what can Dr. James do, while maintaining the integrity of his own values, professional and personal, to help Bob?  (Values that James and I share in our supervisory community of two.) When is inquiry into the roots and significance of Bob’s politics appropriate and to what end? And when is the absence of inquiry collusion? Darkly, Dr. James and I worried how silence is assent to an aggrieved and violent movement, a step toward the consolidation of a dangerous political community whose specter will haunt America regardless of the election's outcome.  

I asked my friends in the Descriptive Psychology community for help. Here’s Anthony Putman’s response.  First, a bit of background to frame his comments starting with Descriptive Psychology’s understanding of psychopathology: 

A) A person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a dramaturgical pattern.
B) When a person is in a pathological state there is a significant restriction on his ability (1) to engage in Deliberate Action and, equivalently, (2) to participate in the social practices of the community (Peter Ossorio, The Behavior of Persons, 2006/2013).

The remarks that follow rest on the way Descriptive Psychologists use the concepts of satisfaction, ultimate satisfaction, community and world.  I’ve written that a person feels satisfied when they have competently engaged in behavior that reflects their intrinsic hedonic, prudential, aesthetic, or moral/ethical values. Putman adds that “satisfaction is participation” and this clarifies his very interesting thought that ultimate satisfaction is the immediate experience of participation that establishes or shows how a person's world comes together and make sense. Naturally, this includes one's place in that world. Tony introduced this concept in describing his experience as a young mathematician solving a proof and suddenly feeling "how it all comes together into a single irrefutable whole".  At that moment he was participating in the great chain of mathematicians, a young man competently expressing an aesthetic value intrinsic to the world of mathematics. At these moments a person feels cohesive, authentic, sound, and belonging.  Understandably, the corresponding elation, bliss, and vitality, once felt becomes desire.  Or, if appraised pejoratively, addiction. Once found, the taste is hard to relinquish.

Ultimate satisfaction requires a community that facilitates the expression of a person's intrinsic values. Religions and political movements provide this space. 

Tony’s comments:

“Bob's a good example of how pathology is understood through the lens of status and world. In lieu of a carefully reasoned analysis, some points:

Bob seems to be suffering from status degradation, in his own mind and, he believes, in others. He wants to be eligible with the attractive classmate but knows he is not; he doesn't have the resources and opportunities others do; he can either see that as his own failure (depressing), or see it as an unfair provocation (anger). Anger does not limit behavior potential like depression; he chooses more behavior potential over less having learned this from his Dad.

Bob clearly does not experience ultimate satisfaction in his world; his place does not fit him. Then he goes to the Trump rally and find a community whose world makes sense to him; he participates in it and experiences "elation" -- a very good way of identifying ultimate satisfaction. Finally, I can be me and say what I think, and it fits here! Good luck prying Bob away from his new world. 

Dr. James has to chose between being a therapist for Bob as he is or sticking to his own political/religious guns. I suggest that the latter is unprofessional and unethical. Dr. James has no play here unless he genuinely gets Bob's world and recognizes the core therapeutic issue: Bob lives in a world with no authentic place for him. He needs a world that does -- and that's the core issue of his therapy.

Dr. James has a core dilemma: In doing therapy with Bob: What am I doing by doing that? The canonical answer is: helping my client live an authentic, satisfying life. But of course he may also say: Helping a budding fascist realize his full potential. Therapeutic ethics say the first trumps (I know...) everything else -- but therapists are people, living their own lives and what is right for James may appropriately override what's right for Dr. James. Hard choice, made as all choices in the light of incomplete information -- but that's life as an adult.” 


I think Tony captured the central dilemmas. Let's work with:

"Dr. James has no play here unless he genuinely gets Bob's world and recognizes the core therapeutic issue: Bob lives in a world with no authentic place for him. He needs a world that does -- and that's the core issue of his therapy."

Can therapy can provide a space where participation is authentically satisfying?  For this to happen, it requires establishing a significantly valued relationship.  And this has to happen first before a person's politics or religious practices can be questioned. 

How can therapy accomplish this? When I posed this question to Saturday's study group, Bryan Harnsberger spoke of maintaining empathy and Al Ossorio suggested carefully noting the problematic themes with a question along the lines of, "how do you imagine I'm feeling about what you are saying?" To be fair, I thought, asking this might require the therapist to show his hand. (And, if it seemed inappropriate to ask the client about the therapist's feeling, a safer route might involve asking Bob how other significant figures in his life might feel.)

Therapy, I believe, requires patient and uncertain negotiation, with the therapist empathically attending to the unfolding improvisation that one way or another will demonstrate professional and personal values.  This happens silently or out loud. Therapists with their careful attention, kindness, and appreciation of their client's struggle show and model their deeply held values. But something also needs to change in a manner that helps the client along. That is why the client is there. The client needs acceptance but something about them, something they are doing needs to be addressed. This requires a new perspective and perhaps new skills.  Re-description, interpretation, and tactful confrontation serves this end. This is also where "how do you imagine I'm feeling..." might come to play. Appropriate functioning requires understanding that everyone stands at the center of their world.  For all sorts of reasons, people forget this or don't adequately keep it in mind. 

The therapist who achieves sufficient value, trusted and fair minded, and demonstrates an accurate appreciation of the client's experience is in a position to employ re-description, interpretation, and empathic confrontation. But how to handle "sand-nigger" and the joy of participating in fascism?  This boils down to whether Bob can find an authentic place for himself in the therapeutic work as a participant in the tiny community he has with Dr. James. Here, size doesn't matter but significance does. For this to work, James must able to accredit and maintain Bob's good standing within the dyad. They both must value belonging before participating in negotiation and improvisation can allow the possibility of a new "ultimate satisfaction".  It will require moral dialog, a disclosing of actual values. This mutual self-disclosure can be uncomfortable, risky, and something therapists reluctantly practice. 

Therapeutic improvisation requires an openness and acceptance to tolerate the to and fro assimilation and accommodation that takes people somewhere new, someplace likely unanticipated.  But consider the dilemma when one party tosses something unacceptable to accommodate. Rather than throw it right back, hold it a bit longer, pause, look at it closely and somehow indicate, hmm, what do I do with this? I am reminded of the annoying but sometimes wise parental move of indicating a child's behavior is bad without attributing essential "badness" to the child. This works if a basic trust that the child is a valued member of the family is securely intact. I often remind students of the similarities of parenting and therapy. 

Dr. James is smart to recognize he needs a firm alliance with Bob before he can take issue with Bob's politics. (And this assumes Dr. James has sufficient reason to).  If the relationship is significant enough, Bob will engage Dr. James' value laden questions and disclosures and make of them as he will. And who knows the outcome? There are no mechanics of necessary change beyond what happens when a person can safely consider another's view within a relationship that provides them a reason to do so. 

But why touch the third rail in the first place?  Why not stop with "to the extent a person can effectively engage in their communities, it is not the therapist's job to judge". This, of course, is complicated by the overlap and conflict that naturally attends communities. All of us are members of multiple communities, professional, ethnic, religious, recreational, and so on.  Some get along better than others and some are in intractable conflict. 

Forgive what might appear a digression. Back in the 1950's, the psychiatric anthropologist George Devereux wondered how to identify the normal and the abnormal in cultures different from his own. He explored this question while observing the lives and practices of Mojave shamans. He pointed out that no Mojave would ordinarily choose to become a shaman since it's a nasty and liminal role. Nonetheless, shamans occupy an important place in Mojave culture.  
  
Devereux observed a pattern common in the developmental history of shamans: offering a cure by becoming a shaman. The Mojave recognized that it is unfortunate to be disturbed, but if crazy in a particular way, with proper training, some of the afflicted can enter the ranks of healer. Some forms of craziness can be shaped by ritual. Devereaux thought Mojave shamans had ways to manage their own severe but culturally common neurosis, what I suspect are versions of Borderline Personality Disorder. 

Devereux contrasted the shaman's culturally syncretic disturbance, common in Mojave culture and guided by the culture's ritual options, with idiosyncratic disturbances that rendered an individual simply pathological, without a valued place to be. 

Perhaps you see where I am going. Politics and religion may provide a way to find satisfaction even while disturbed, but only if the disturbance is sufficiently shared and valued within the community. If the crazy dance fits, the otherwise troubled can engage in some of the valued practices of the community.  

But if your problem is idiosyncratic without community to provide membership and guidance, you're out of luck. Fortunately, psychotherapists occupy this domain with our license to question. 

Let me complicate this a bit further.  Devereux also described the plight of the Tonkawa. Although the stories may be apocryphal, the Tonkawa were alleged to eat the slain bodies of the warriors they constantly fought in ongoing wars with neighboring tribes. The Tonkawa are probably extinct owing to the alliance their neighbors formed to wipe them out. Being a normal Tonkawa ended up untenable. Devereux also wondered about the normality or pathology of the German Nazi and whether from May to June of 1945 the "normal" Frankfurt Nazi managed to become, depending on which side of the Main River, a communist or a Christian democrat.  

Communities exist side by side, overlap, share, compete, and clash. Sometimes the integrity and survival of one community requires action against another. This is a matter for politics, not therapy. Free from the consulting room, will Dr. James and Bob act with indifference, forge an alliance, or go at each other's throats? 


Kindred themes are taken up in On Indoctrination and in Empathy, Inclusion, and Moral Dialog or What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice.


Thanks to C. J. Stone for the clarity he provided regarding "political correctness" and to The Boston Descriptive Psychology Study Group's openness to explore. And special thanks to my William James students who put up with my trying to figure these things out with them and on their dime.