Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Practicing Progressive

Good morning class! Welcome to Abnormal Psychology 301. This semester we will be studying that fascinating distortion of the human psyche known as Psychological Projection. Our textbook will be the daily paper or your favorite political blog. This course strives to achieve a balanced approach to this aberration but, truth to tell, recent events have made it particularly difficult to find better subjects than those offered by certain sanctimonious politicians.

To wit: Our first case study comes from South Carolina and the strange story of the two-faced Governor. Mark Sanford has been described as a fervent fiscal and social conservative who stands for strong family values except, it appears, in the case of his own family. Governor Mark, as most of you know, went missing last weekend and after a flurry of lies and distortions ended up confessing his affair with an Argentinean lass by the name of Maria. Please write an essay of 500 words on the cognitive dissonance between Mr. Sanford’s public abhorrence over President Clinton’s philandering and his own.

Case Study #2 may be found only a few newspaper issues previous to the Sanford affair. Another Republican presidential hopeful, Senator John Ensign of Nevada also admitted his inability to keep his pants zipped. Ensign did his fooling around with the wife of one of his own staffers which makes him not only an adulterer but a pretty lousy boss. Another 500 words on this classic case study, focusing on the senator’s foolish assumption that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Hypocrisy comes in a myriad of ways, of course, and one of the more interesting was brought to us by the former Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho who got caught with his pants down in a well-known gay hangout at the Minneapolis Airport. Before this embarrassment, Mr. Craig was one of the senate’s most vocal critics of homosexual rights and, once again, a passionate advocate of traditional family values. Your essay on this case should center on the question of self-hatred as a catalyst to political advancement.

Our class will find that self-righteousness is not limited to Republican causes. A Google search away will have you reading of (former) New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s campaign against prostitution that was brought to a screeching halt when the guv was found to be in bed with the enemy…frequently and with a few admittedly bizarre flourishes. Here your paper could investigate how psychological projection only seems to be a Republican personality trait.

Some of you may remember John Edwards. Too bad. That sanctimonious scoundrel cheated on his wife while she was undergoing chemotherapy. Your assignment will be to compare and contrast his immorality with that of Newt Gingrich who did much the same thing a few years back but hopes we’ve all forgotten it.

For extra credit, you may explore this same psychological dysfunction among the clergy, a profession that seems to attract similar personality types. Researching the strange case of Pastor Ted Haggard, for example, whose private dalliances with both drugs and boy-dates stood in sharp contrast to his pious public persona, is worth ten extra points. A field trip to Colorado Springs will bring another ten points, while to Rome or Dublin, five hundred.

Your final paper will be a careful examination of the enormously harmful effects foisted upon innocent people by these projecting perpetrators. Think especially of the millions of GLBT folk who have suffered at the hands of men who purport to be pillars of piety when they are anything but. You might wish to include reference to the irony inherent in defenders of traditional marriage denying that right to others while despoiling it amongst themselves. Your concluding paragraph should address the hypocrisy and futility of legislating morality…especially with hypocritical and immoral legislators.

Class dismissed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Practicing Progressive

I don’t envy Michael Dell…well, maybe just a little but the multi-billionaire CEO and founder of Dell Computers has a very sticky situation on his hands and how he manages to extricate himself may mean millions of dollars either lost or gained for his struggling company.

One of Dell’s largest markets for its personal computers is China. Last year, over 40 million computers were sold to China by Dell and a few other U.S. computer companies. But this past week, the Chinese government issued an edict that demanded all new computers sold in China must be programmed with a government controlled censoring software called Green Dam. This decree is to take effect July 1.

In other words, Dell and his peers have until the end of this month to either stand up to the grossly undemocratic Communist Chinese diktat or to a potentially hostile conglomeration of capitalistic stock holders who may not be too happy with losing some very lucrative dividends in this recessionary year.

It’s a tough choice and one that has to take into account a myriad of issues including this troubling dilemma of profit versus principle. Right now Dell and the others seem to be pleading the pragmatic rather than the ethical problems inherent in the Chinese pronouncement. It is reasonable to assume that a newly added software program may wreck havoc with previously programmed software ultimately resulting in the potential for shutting down millions of new computers. Now you wouldn’t want that, would you Chairman Hu Jintao?

But the ethical side of the problem may be even more troubling. Should an American company that has enjoyed the freedoms and privileges of a democratic government support through its commerce a most undemocratic practice?

Politics, we are told, is the art of compromise so one assumes some very deft politicking is going on right now. It will be interesting to see just how this plays out, whether any party will emerge with both their dignity and principles in tact.

Political compromise has seemingly fallen out of favor in recent years. Claiming unalterable allegiance to a particular position, our politicians no longer seem to regard compromise as an essential ingredient of a healthy democratic system. Some of us can remember reading the stories of Democrats and Republicans spending their days involved in vigorous debate only to adjourn to the nearest pub to reaffirm their underlying friendships and mutual commitment to the democratic process. Now it appears the closest these two sides get is shouting at each other from across the aisle.

Compromise, of course, is the cornerstone in any healthy relationship. Any married couple can affirm that axiom. You’re not going to celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary without making more than a few compromises along the way.
Most workplaces, I suspect, would also affirm the importance of compromise. Getting along with co-workers seems an essential part of not just a pleasant work environment but a productive one as well.

Still, compromise comes hard for some folk. President Obama has taken more than a little flak for suggesting that dialogue with our allies and even our enemies may be a successful alternative to our past bullying. Charges of appeasement and even cowardice come easy from those who claim to be standing firmly affixed to their unalterable principles. Such claimants often make better radio commentators (or newspaper columnists) than pragmatic politicians, of course.

The plethora of violent acts in recent days is a grim reminder of what can happen when there is no allowance for compromise. Certainly there are times when the opportunities for compromise are limited or even exhausted but those times should arrive slowly and with intense scrutiny. Cavalierly declaring that compromise is never an option is the jargon of ideologues whose usefulness in a world filled with warring nations and fanatic individuals is nil or worse.

As I say, I don’t envy Mr. Dell and his decision-making but I do await it with great interest. Will it provide a helpful guide to future negotiations with China or a sobering confrontation with the limits of compromise…or, just maybe, both?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Practicing Progressive

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never harm me!”

Such sentiment may be a consolation to little children being bullied on the playground but by the time they become adults they will learn that it is patently untrue.

Words have great potential to do enormous harm as the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita physician and part-time Dillon resident, can so tragically attest. Tiller’s murderer, who chose to assassinate his victim on a Sunday morning in the foyer of Tiller’s Lutheran church, was apparently an avid reader of some of the most vitriolic and inflammatory anti-abortion blogs on the web including David Leach’s “Prayer and Action Newsletter”. One can fairly assume that the hate-filled rhetoric that spews out of these blogs made an impression on the assumedly unstable murderer. It is worth noting that Mr. Leach responded to the murder of Dr. Tiller with this revealing quote: “To call this a crime is too simplistic. There is Christian scripture that would support this."

There are many others among the anti-abortion advocates who must bear responsibility for this infamous act. The language they employ, the ire they induce and, perhaps most especially, the divine mandate they claim, have contributed to the hate-filled, indeed murderous, atmosphere that permeates this controversial issue. Reading the recent remarks of some very popular conservative commentators one can’t help but question whether they are at least indirectly responsible for egging on the perpetrators of such heinous crimes.

One of Evangelical Christianity’s most revered theologians, the late Francis Schaffer, in one of his best-selling books compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler’s Germany and strongly suggested that it was morally justified to use the same methods against doctors who perform abortions as one would have used against Hitler. In other words, murder.

Words matter. When former President Bush employed the term “crusade” to describe the war on terror in his famous post 9/11 speech, he immediately engendered the disdain of millions of Muslims who have been schooled in the bloody battles Christianity once waged against Islam. The Muslim world was put on notice, they certainly believed, that the impending war was to be a war of religions rather than political ideologies. Such careless rhetoric, even if innocently stated, can have terrible consequences. A quiet conversation with almost any Middle-Eastern citizen will reveal just how powerful and hurtful that one word from President Bush was felt by many, if not most, Muslims.

In Christian churches all over the world, words read on Sunday morning invite hate and vengeance against non-Christians. In a myriad of scriptural passages, the Christian Bible berates Jews, even famously suggesting in one verse from Matthew that the murder of Jesus should forever be a curse upon all of Judaism. The fact that most Christians don’t overtly respond to such hateful language doesn’t excuse it from being used in Christian worship.

The recent condemnations of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is another blatant example of the damage that can be done by the careless employment of language. To hear her referred to as a racist by commentators who most often represent that segment of society that once stood idly by when African-Americans were attacked by dogs and beaten by police, reveals how irresponsible our utilization of language has become. Could such current name-calling incite an unbalanced true-believer into murderous action? It already has, many times.

“Sticks and stones…” Most children, of course, already know the lie inherent in that playground retort. Words do matter. All of us who are parents can certainly remember those profoundly sad days when our children returned home emotionally crushed by the hateful words of others. Brushing aside their pain with a bathos-filled bromide is to infer what we all know is simply false. Last Sunday’s murder was a tragic confirmation of this sad truth.