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September 2009

Drew Westen: How Race Turns up the Volume on Incivility: A Scientifically Informed Post-Mortem to a Controversy

It all depends on what you mean by racism. If you mean that the average American consciously believes we should discriminate against Mexicans because their skin is brown, no, any more than the average American consciously believes a black man is incapable of being President. But does it mean that the average American harbors unconscious biases that render Mexican immigrants less "like us" than English immigrants--and that those biases make it easier for many to wonder whether a black President shares their values, loves his country, or can put his country before "his people"--even though the people who reared him were his white mother and grandparents?

What's been missing from our national discourse on "is it race or isn't it?" is the distinction psychologists and neuroscientists have made for over two decades between conscious and unconscious (often called "explicit vs. implicit") prejudice.


Hawk's Notes:

Drew Weston gets at the point I made yesterday about resistance to notions of anything "unconscious" in the American collective. I believe this is a valuable article for anyone desiring a better world and wondering how we make one, wondering what makes change happen.

One gripe I've had with many approaches to grassroots organizing -- which I think is a key to change for the better -- is a failure to apprehend and integrate necessary elements of individual psychological wiring and process into theories of organizing.

The reverse is often true, of course, for people -- including me -- who came into such discussions from psychoanalysis, psychology, etc. My involvement is grassroots activism and anti-racism training over the past few years has been extremely valuable for exploring those places where the rubber of the individual psyche meets the road of society.

I think this is one reason I so much appreciate Drew Westen, George Lakoff, Slavoj Zizek and others who bring thinking about individuals (and individual brains) into thinking about culture (and brains of the Other).

Anyway, this is a subject that I am passionate about and will be writing more on at this blog, as well as my new one exploring my anti-racist journey at Word Press: Raising Cain.

America, the beautiful (America, the ugly) | Salon Books

As the editors explain in their introduction, a survey of American literature has to be fundamentally different from a similar book on, say, France or Germany, countries that have "organic literatures or organic societies that long preceded the emergence of the modern French and German nations." America, by contrast, is "made-up," summoned out of a fusion of Enlightenment ideals, economic needs and geographic happenstance. It's a nation literally constituted out of documents, particularly the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Both of those literary works get examined in "A New Literary History of America," in fascinating entries (by Frank Kelleter and Mitchell Meltzer, respectively) that probe the contradictions within each. On the Constitution, Meltzer writes that the framers "turned away from the traditional reliance upon religious sanction and engineered a new paradox, what could be called a secular revelation," officially enshrining certain truths as emanations of the human heart and mind, not the word of God.

Pushing back against this humanist, rationalist impulse is a fierce vein of religious fervor. This makes itself felt in John Winthrop's "City Upon a Hill" speech (made to a boatload of Puritan settlers and misrepresented by conservatives ever since) and the jeremiads of the late 17th-century Congregationalist ministers, the lineaments of which can be detected in today's State of the Nation speeches. These latter clergymen would scold the populace for straying from the piety of the original colonists and then promise a restoration of righteous contentment if they cleaned up their act -- the original return-to-values harangues. In George Whitefield, an itinerant British preacher who toured the colonies in the 1740s, astonishing the devout by acting out "fear and rapture ... stomping and cavorting on stage, crawling on his knees and breaking down in tears," contributor Joanne van der Woude sees the trigger of the first Great Awakening (a wave of revivalism that swept the new nation) and the prototype of modern charismatic evangelists.


Hawk's Notes: This book is the newest addition to my wishlist. Lately I've been exploring ideas about Americans and American culture, and what seems to be a resistance to notions of the unconscious. This resistance manifests, I think, in national conversations that scurry around the surface of issues but never seek the depths, never look inside, never question our assumptions. It strikes me that this book has something to offer that may enrich my contemplation of these ideas. Just this tiny window into the book seemed to stimulate a lot of new thoughts and feelings about all this.

The Jet-Propelled Couch: true story of a physicist who thought he was a science fiction hero on another planet - Boing Boing

This is the incredible true story of a physicist who believed he could project himself to another solar system and live as a swashbuckling interplanetary adventurer. When he was a teenager and living on a Polynesian island, he had read a series of "strange and adventurous" science fiction / fantasy books by an American writer. The protagonist shared his name, and eventually the physicist started thinking he really was the character. But he was still able to maintain a duel identity -- he sort of "astral projected" into that fantasy world while keeping the appearance of a skinny-tie wearing physicist.

The article was written by the man's psychiatrist, Robert Lindner, and appeared in Harper's in 1954. (It was also a chapter in Linder's entertaining case-history book The Fifty-Minute Hour). The physicist, "Kirk Allen" (his name was changed by Lindner), worked in a government research lab, and his superiors were concerned by his behavior (Allen would often space out at work while his fantastical reveries played out in his head) so they sent him to Lindner.

I don't want to spoil the story (and the excerpt below won't spoil it). You can read it in its entirety at Harper's website (Part I, Part II). Harper's kindly opened access to the article at my request, so now anyone can read it for free. (If you subscribe to Harper's for just $16.97 in the United States and CAN$24.00 in Canada, you'll get access to all the archives dating back to 1850!)


Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious -

What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. It has been characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.”

He later would compare this period of his life — this “confrontation with the unconscious,” as he called it — to a mescaline experiment. He described his visions as coming in an “incessant stream.” He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”


I knew Chairman Mao had a red book, and sometimes my fellow Modern Freudian psychoanalysts refer to Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient by Hyman Spotnitz as the red book. But I did not know that Carl Jung had a Red Book -- a secret one, no less.

This fascinating NYT Magazine article by Sara Corbett tells the backstory of Carl Jung's secret Red Book, soon to be out for all of us to see -- well, at least the rich ones of us -- in October. I just checked at, and you can pre-order it for $122.95. Guess I'll have to savor Corbett's teaser and wait for the paperback.

When Getting Beaten By Your Husband Is a Pre-Existing Condition | Reproductive Justice and Gender | AlterNet

With the White House zeroing in on the insurance-industry practice of discriminating against clients based on pre-existing conditions, administration allies are calling attention to how broadly insurers interpret the term to maximize profits.

It turns out that in eight states, plus the District of Columbia, getting beaten up by your spouse is a pre-existing condition.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you're more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.

In human terms, it's a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.


Just found this AlterNet article...I posted the shorter article from the Service Employees International Union at my Daily R-r-r-ibbit blog about an hour ago.

This is pretty outrageous.

Frank Schaeffer: Glenn Beck and The 9/12 Marchers: Subversives From Within

Who are these people?! Where do they come from?! Ordinary Americans might wonder why anyone would stoop so low as to follow Glenn Beck, Fox News and Dick Armey (and their corporate sponsors masquerading as "FreedomWorks") as they organize their "9/12 March On Washington" to cynically exploit the 9/11 attack.

Patriotic Americans might question the organizer's aim to provide a media forum for dimwitted right wingers to scream "Liar!" "Socialist!" "Antichrist!" "Muslim!" "Death Panels!" "He's not an American!" and so on and on and on about the commander in chief charged with defending us from further attacks. And some people might even cry "shame on you!" to the more mainstream Republicans participating that include Dick Armey of FreedomWorks, as well as GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Pence of Indiana, Tom Price of Georgia, and South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint.

Ordinary folks from Planet Earth may ask why the Republican Party, right-wing activists and members of the Religious Right seem so unreachable with mere facts let alone decency and decorum.


Frank Schaeffer's articles (the second I've posted on this blog -- see the two posts for September 9th) continue to fascinate and scare me. I'm still working my way through his memoir, Crazy For God, as well as Jeff Sharlet's The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

I guess I could list a bunch of conscious reasons I'm interested enough to read further on the "Religious Right" and right-wing extremists.

First, I'm usually intrigued by beliefs, ideas and behaviors that seem alien to my own. Finding them triggers my seeking circuits.

I'm also curious about the emergence of attention by the media and people willing to watch or read about these particular manifestations of Republican politics, the Religious Right and right-wing -- and, for that matter, left-wing -- extremists in American culture.

The questions Schaeffer poses -- or offers to comment on -- are mine as well: Who are these people? How did they come to be who they are and believe what they do? Why do they do what they do?

I'm especially alert to the extreme negative emotional energy, foreclosure of debate, and rigid incivility that seems to flourish in their engagements with the rest of the world. These are dangerous symptoms in a supposed civil society.

I've had the opportunity to be in the same room with religious extremists and others who operate on a very primitive psychic level. I'm sure there are people like this in Tennessee, maybe some not that far away from where I live. I see them on TV and I monitor the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Watch blog and Hate Groups map. 

I have no doubt that digging into this issue is not comfortable. I put a fair amount of thought into what I was doing before I hit the publish button to share the first Schaeffer article. Any kind of helpful discussion we could have as a nation about this issue is just getting underway. I think we would do well to nurture that conversation and keep it as civil as possible, feeling the energy it arouses but not acting on impulses.

As I mentioned, Schaeffer's book scares me. I don't know all the reasons why, because -- yes, Virginia -- there is an unconscious. Because of my training in psychoanalysis, I read that fear as a clue to get curious about it, and dare to explore it further. After many years of practicing psychoanalytically, I trust the process. I'm sure I'll blog on about it.

t r u t h o u t | Review of Henry Giroux's: Youth in a Suspect Society

by: Tolu Olorunda  |  The Black Commentator

Youth in jail.
(Photo: Palgrave Macmillan)

    "In a radical free-market culture, when hope is precarious and bound to commodities and a corrupt financial system, young people are longer at risk: they are the risk."

    - Giroux, Henry. Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. x.

    "If youth once constituted a social investment in the future and symbolized the promise of a better world, they are now entering another stage in the construction of a global social order in which children are increasingly demonized and criminalized…"

    -Ibid. p. 29.

    "As the politics of the social state gives way to the biopolitics of disposability, the prison becomes a preeminently valued institution whose disciplinary practices become a model for dealing with the increasing number of young people who are considered to be the waste products of a market-mediated society."

    - Ibid. p. 82.


Rachel Maddow: 8/7/09: Fmr Christian Activist, Frank Schaeffer: Right-Wing Healthcare Violence


I decided to go ahead and share this link (promised in the post below) instead of editing that post. This is one of several videos of Maddow and Schaeffer available on YouTube.

Frank Schaeffer: Max Blumenthal vs. The Far Right "God" Of Dumb Hate

For me reading Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah--Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, (Nation Books) is like looking into a mirror. That might be because Blumenthal extensively interviewed me and drew rather heavily on my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back as a reference for his in-depth exposé of what has gone so very wrong with the Republican Party. He's on my turf so I happen to know he's telling the truth as its not been told before. But there's more.

Republican Gomorrah is the first book that actually "gets" what's happened to the Republican Party and in turn what the Republicans have done to our country. The usual Democratic Party and/or progressive "take" on the Republican Party is that it's been taken over by a far right lunatic fringe of hate and hypocrisy, combining as it does, sexual and other scandals with moralistic finger wagging. But Blumenthal explains a far deeper pathology: it isn't so much religion as the psychosis and sadomasochism of the losers now called "Republicans" that drives the party. And the "Christianity" that shapes so much "conservative" thinking now is anything but Christian. It's a series of deranged personality cults.


I am really fascinated by what Frank Schaeffer has to say. I just started reading Crazy for God after seeing an interview of Schaeffer by Rachel Maddow (I think. It could have been Keith Olberman -- I'll come back later and add a link). After reading this article today, I ordered Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah.

I was especially interested in Shaeffer's assessment that Blumenthal is the first "get" what's happened to the Republican party:

"But Blumenthal explains a far deeper pathology: it isn't so much religion as the psychosis and sadomasochism of the losers now called 'Republicans' that drives the party. And the 'Christianity' that shapes so much 'conservative' thinking now is anything but Christian. It's a series of deranged personality cults."

I understand the "psychosis" claim more in terms of Lacanian structural theory, and from that point of view I would have to agree with Blumenthal and Schaeffer. But I'd like to read more of both guys' books before I write more on this subject of extreme right and extreme left politics. Interesting stuff!

Drew Westen: Why the President Has Been Losing on Health Care, and What He Needs to Say

Pundits have offered a range of reasons for why health reform that was wildly popular and on which the President and two houses of Congress were elected has turned so far south in public opinion: The White House overlearned the lessons of the Clintons by letting a dysfunctional Congress try to create the legislation on their own. The President failed to lay out a clear plan and only suggested a set of principles. The White House emphasized cost, when most people who vote are more concerned with security and stability of their insurance and when the emphasis on cost ultimately drew attention to the weakest link in the effort to reform health care. The White House didn't stay on message.

True enough. But none of these gets at the root of them all: The White House didn't stay on message because it didn't really have one.

All it takes to understand why things have gone as they have is to ask two simple questions. First, "What story has the administration told the American people about what the problem is, what caused it, and how the cause naturally leads to a particular solution?" And second, "What story have the Republicans told about 'Obamacare' and why it's the wrong medicine?" When you ask those two questions, it's obvious why nearly 70 percent of Americans now say they are confused by the whole debate.