Monday, April 30, 2007


Look upon me you foolish mortals and tremble!

Apparently through some warp in the space-time continuum, the TTLB ECOSYSTEM has me listed as #1 and a Higher Being!!!

I know and you know that this is fair and just and how things should be. However, I suspect that there is a glitch somewhere that caused this frabjous day to come to pass. Instapundit is number 35,000 or so (an Insignificant Microbe). Heh.

Let's see how long it will last! Congratulations to all the newly promoted Higher Beings:

Higher Beings

1.Dr. Sanity (4462) details
2.Dumb Ox Daily News (4219) details
3.Church and State (3893) details
4.The Right Nation (3788) details
5.Rightwing Guy (3744) details
6.Reject the U.N. (3700) details
7.The Daily Dish (3629) details
8.IRAQ THE MODEL (3415) details
9.Don Surber (3280) details
10.Sillie Lizzie's Rock (3207) details

UPDATE: (3:11pm) Drat and curses! Foiled in my dreams of planetary conquest yet again! The infinite improbability drive has been turned off and the ecosystem has emerged from the probability warp and returned to normal....well, I was Queen for a [part of a] day.


Victor Davis Hanson on Iran and its plans for the end of days:

Ahmadinejad faces two hurdles: He must get the bomb, and he must create the psychological landscape whereby the world will shrug at Israel’s demise.

Oddly, the first obstacle may not be the hardest....

But the second obstacle — preparing the world for the end of the Jewish state — is trickier.

True, the Middle East’s secular gospel is anti-Semitism. State-run media in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan broadcast endless ugly sermons about Jews as “pigs and apes.” Nor do Russia and China much care what happens to Israel, as long as its demise does not affect business. But the West is a different matter. There the history of anti-Semitism looms large, framed by the Holocaust that nearly destroyed European Jewry. Thus the Holocaust is now Ahmadinejad’s target just as much as downtown Tel Aviv.

Holocaust denial is a tired game, but Ahmadinejad’s approach is slightly new and different. He has studied the Western postmodern mind and has devised a strategy based on its unholy trinity of multiculturalism, moral equivalence and cultural relativism. As a third world populist, he expects that his own fascism will escape proper scrutiny if he can recite often enough the past sins of the West. He also understands the appeal of victimology in the West these days. So he knows that to destroy the Israelis, he, not they, must become the victim, and Westerners the aggressors who forced his hand. (emphasis mine)

This is a must-read by Hanson, who goes on to discuss at length various strategies to deal with Iran.

What is most interesting to me is context of Iran's "psychological landscape", i.e., the extreme religious fanatacism driven by a shame culture.

Let us consider for a moment how a shame culture--like Iran and all these Islamofascist terrorists for that matter--deal with success and failure.

For a typical shame culture the most important issue--indeed the issue that trumps truth or reality every time--is what people believe.

What others believe to be true has a far more powerful impact on behavior than what any particular individual believes; since the desire to preserve honor and avoid shame to the exclusion of all else, is one of the primary foundations of the culture/religion. This need to avoid shame motivates and exculpates the individuals in the culture to engage in wrong-doing as long as no-one knows about it, or if he piously disavows that he did it.

It also motivates them to do whatever is necessary to give the impression that honor has been preserved.

As long as others in the culture believe that honor has been preserved, then neither the individual or the group will experience either guilt or shame. It is not surprising therefore, that a great deal of effort and planning goes into making sure that others are convinced of your innocence (even if you are guilty); your victimization (even if you are the oppressor); and your victory (even if you are the loser).

Do you begin to see why Ahmadinejad's tactics play so well in the West--particularly to the intellectual and cultural elites whose intellects are drowning in a toxic brew cooked up in the postmodern kitchen?

Since shame cultures work best within a collectivist/totalitarian framework, it is often fairly easy to manipulate appearances in order to avoid shame and claim honor has been preserved. When you control the media and/or the social structure; have unlimited money and sophisticated tools for the development and dissemination of propaganda, then it is even easier.

It is an absolute cake-walk if you also happen to have a bunch of useful idiots managing the media of the enemy you hope to shame and give the appearance of defeating.

Remember, in this kind of culture, nothing is more important than making sure you do not experience feelings of humiliation and shame.

In a true shame culture, the goal is not necessarily to win a war, particularly since maintaining conflict with the traditional enemy--i.e., the "Jew"--is part of what is perceived as an "honorable" way of life, and should never really end. The primary goal of Iran and its proxies in Iraq and elsewhere is very simple: to impose shame on the West and Israel.

As long as they do that, then they have "won" by their standards. Faking photographs to demostrate the evil of their enemy; hiding among women and children to force the enemy to kill those same women and children; transforming every loss of personnel into a condemnation of Israel for attacking "innocents"--all these tactics serve the purpose of shaming the enemy and inducing guilt.

Thus, by these standards, the new barbarians of the Islamic world, know they cannot lose in any conflict with the west--no matter what the reality is.

By these standards, all that is required for them to proclaim victory is to avoid shame and make their enemy feel it instead.

By these standards, they will ALWAYS--always-- be psychologically empowered, encouraged; and reinforced in their delusions of grandeur--not to mention in their violent, aggressive and barbaric behavior-- by any compassionate or concerned humanitarianism on the part of their despised enemies; by any cessation of conflict before they are utterly and complete defeated; or by any attempts on the part of the west to negotiate a real and lasting peace.

Is it surprising that in the mullahs eyes, the Democrat's insane desire to ensure defeat and utterly surrender in Iraq is a source of honor and status?

And, in a shame culture, the granting of "honor and status" from the culture's perceived enemies will not induce them them to compromise or negotiate in good faith. Instead, it will breed the exaggerated arrogance; even more swaggering rhetoric and veiled threats; more taunting of the Jews, Israel, and the West; more oppression of its own people, and more flaunting of its nuclear ambitions in the face of the world.

This, by the way, is exactly the same dynamic that charges our relationship with North Korea, yet another shame culture run by a megalomaniac. In that instance, the forces of appeasement, surrender, and complete moral idiocy are working hard to bring honor to Kim Jung Il and shame to America.

What motivates regimes like Iran and North Korea is the avoidance of shame, and maximization of honor. For them it is is simple elementary psychological math. In such cultures maximizing their honor involves shaming you. Thus, the recent spectacle of Iran's aggression against Britain, the taking of hostages and flaunting them on the world stage; and the ultimate grandiosity--"graciously" granting them pardons after honor has been maximized.

Then all you have to do to stretch honor out a little further is sit back and watch your leftist allies in this peculiarly postmodern game engage in the usual displays of gratuitous self-flagellation and mea culpas. This is music for the thuggish souls of the Islamofascists (even if music and most other forms of pleasure are forbidden).

They can now offically consider you as weak and inferior to themselves. By their cultural standards, they have won and you have lost.

It is only a matter of time until they logically proceed toward your complete subjugation. Only by your total humiliation and defeat can their own honor continue to be maximized. Just ask the women in their culture (the ones that are not brainwashed by this cultural dynamic anyway).

By allowing these shame-avoidant and repellant regimes to preen and flout their sense of superiority at the expense of the West, the intellectuals of the postmodern political left regularly prove to the mullahs that there is no one strong enough to stop them now from obtaining (or using) nuclear weapons.

By ceding Iraq to the thugs of Iran; by treating Ahmadinejad and his mullahs as moral equals; by granting them the honor and status of --in short, by imagining that they think like you do; value and seek peace like you do; and in general believing that they are motivated by reason and truth and reality like the West--only makes them anticipate your eventual submission more strongly.

The well-meaning, but ultimately stupid projection of our own deeply ingrained cultural values onto this extremely pathological shame culture by our politicians and media; combined with the perverse and irrational leftist multicultural-politically-correct-victim pap that derives from an ideological agenda that shares common goals and rhetorical strategies with the terrorists; has further enabled and encouraged these fanatics to believe that they can easily wipe us off the map (just as Kruschev wanted to "bury" us) or force us to submit to their religion.

In their frenzy for power and regaining the White House, the Democrats have outsourced their rational cognitive processes to their unconscious feelings and fears; they have closed their eyes to the unpleasant reality about the inevitable psychological consequences of their defeatist and continually appeasing behavior. And they are in the grip of a profound and near-suicidal psychological denial and projection, where they can even (with a straight face) pronounce their actions political "realism".

Such are the everyday delusions that arise from the interaction of the postmodern mindset with psychopaths like Ahmadinejad and all the religious fanatics of the Middle Eastern shame cultures.

As Hanson clearly recognizes, this toxic interaction will not produce peace in our time; but, on the contrary will inevitably lead to more war and even more death and destruction than is now able to be imagined. Because, these Islamic fanatics--who do not let reason or life interfere with their jihad; who abide by no treaties, follow no rules, and scorn the very values upon which western civilization is founded will not be appeased and will use the postmodern lunacy very well to their advantage against us.

We could have lived with them if they did not insist that we must submit, become what they are, or die. But they have defined the groundrules (or the non-rules) of this conflict; and eventually, we will have to meet them at their level--or they will win. They have set the psychological landscape of this war, and the political left in our own country and around the world has done all it possibly can to ensure that those committed to our destruction have the advantage and that we must operate under a vicious, self-imposed handicap.

However, Hanson, an expert in history , cautions rightly:
But what the Iranian theocrats, like the al-Qaedists, never fully fathom is that if the American people conclude that their freedom and existence are at stake, they are capable of conjuring up things far more frightening than anything in the 7th-century brain of Mr. Ahmadinejad. The barbarity of the nightmares at Antietam, Verdun, Dresden and Hiroshima prove that well enough. In short, there are consequences to the rhetoric of Armageddon.

So far the Iranian leader has posed as someone 90 percent crazy and ten percent sane, hoping that in response we would fear his overt madness, grant concessions, and delicately appeal to his small reservoir of reason. But he should understand that if his Western enemies appear 90 percent of the time as children of the Enlightenment, they are still suffused with vestigial traces of the emotional and unpredictable. And military history shows that the irrational ten percent of the Western mind is a lot scarier in the end than anything Islamic fanaticism has to offer

The dire consequences of not understanding the motivations and behaviors of a shame culture are paralleled by the shame culture's inability to understand the motivations and behaviors of the democratic and freedom-loving Western mind.

When it comes right down to it, the cost of this war will be more than all the lives lost; it will also be for the humanity and civilization the West will temporarily abandon to win. In the real world, the good and virtuous whose cause is just do not always win; and bringing a knife (unsharpened at that) to a street fight where the other side has guns is suicidal.

The ultimate advantage a guilt culture like ours has over the shame culture is that, when we are finally cornered and must allow our own barbarism to surface to combat theirs head to head, then we will always be prepared to live with the consequences--including the agonizing guilt that will properly ensue--or else everything we hold dear, everything we aspire to become, will forever perish from the earth.

Just ask the Japanese.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


When Mata Harry and the Democrats of Doom talk about a troop DEADline, they mean it! They will continue to facilitate and encourage those who are killing our troops for as long as it takes...they're in it for the long haul... either till America's defeat or the Dems anticipated victory in 2008!

Oh, and don't forget, according to them, it's not the economy, stupid.


Image hosted by Time for the weekly insanity update, where the insane, the bizarre, the ridiculous, and the completely absurd are highlighted for all to see! This has been a week of rare idiocy (as always!). So, if you want to remain sane, the best thing is to poke some fun at the more egregious absurdities.

And, while you are in the Mood for Madness, go directly to the Weekly Whackjob Awards!

Send all entries for next week's carnival to Dr. Sanity by 8 pm ET on Saturday for Sunday's Carnival. Only one post entry weekly per blogger, please. And you might read this before submitting an entry.


1. This is not your father's Vietnam ! The Dems may be listening to the wrong polls.... Pity.

2. The US Constitution may not be a suicide pact, but the European Human Rights Convention sure is.

3. Even a suicidal Bozo could figure this out if he bothered to think about it. From his lips to OBL's ears.

4. Speaking of bozos! Facing the beast takes so much courage! Except when it is yourself, I guess. Clearly, the real party at fault is the kid.

5. Cocks for Clinton? I think they meant "kooks". Off with their heads....errr breasts!

6. A tale of two scandals.

7. The Ambien defense..a wake-up call! Consumers are in the dark about light bulbs, too.

8. Another wake-up call. Kill the infidel...but not in Pittsburgh please!

9. Some uncensored, politically incorrect speech about Islam. Waaaaah! He's just another victim of American imperialism. And they're just poor victims of a yet another dastardly Jewish conspiracy plot.

10. "Negotiate" is palestinian-speak for "wipe off the map". Two shame cultures...but one of them is ashamed of murderous behavior and the other is proud of it.

11. Some f****** religious fanatic somewhere has undoubtedly issued a fatwa on this woman. Meanwhile this man has the same thing on his mind. The effect of losing your virginity on academic achievement--this is good to know!

12. If the NY Times ever won a lifetime achievement award, it would be in this area. Or their skill at playing the "Name that Party" or "Name that Citizenship" game! Page page 21.

13. The universities definitely deserve him. And to a lesser extent, her.

14. There is no area too trivial that these pettypotty dictators...but this war is definitely lost! Too bad she will never have to personally deal with the consequences of her own assinine ideas.

15. Don't worry, bee happy and Keep the chocolate coming and no one gets hurt.... Hyphy?

16. Fearmongering for me, but not for thee. Hey! We're scaring the children!

17. Variations on the tinfoil hat. Are you feeling stupid today, punk? ....Stupidity reaches new heights? Some people will do anything for a beer.

18. A genetic waste of time? I've had bosses like that.

19. Now this is definitely a career change! Why don't these CEO's ever become perma-lancers? This is how they manage the "work-life balance" !

20. American Idle...a guilty pleasure?

21. Blood on his hands socks. Just bloody awful.

Carnival of the Insanities can also be found at The Truth Laid Bear's √úberCarnival and at the BlogCarnival.

If you would like to Join the insanity, and add the Carnival of the Insanities button to your sidebar (clicking on it will always take you to the latest update of the Carnival), click on "Word of Blog" below the button to obtain the html code:

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Saturday, April 28, 2007


Headline in today's Ann Arbor News: "FEARS OF A RECESSION STIR: U.S. Economy Grows at Most Sluggish Pace in 4 Years".

What was I saying just the other day?

As Assistant Village Idiot astutely pointed out in a comment to that post:
But I saw an actual poor person last week on the news, so it can't be a good economy and it must be Bush's fault. I mean, the Democrats wouldn't lie about that, would they?

I would have to agree. The Democrats wouldn't dream of putting the left's ideological agenda and their own narcissistic fantasies ahead of the nation's interst.

Would they?


Cliff May at The Corner has some recent poll results that are extremely interesting:

  • According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% of Americans oppose “denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq,” and opposition is up from 58% in February. (3/23-25, 2007).
  • A Bloomberg poll reveals 61% of Americans believe withholding funding for the war is a bad idea, while only 28% believe it is a good idea (3/3-11, 2007).
  • A recent Public Opinion Strategies (POS) poll found that 56% of registered voters favor fully funding the war in Iraq, with more voters strongly favoring funding (40%) than totally opposing it (38%); (3/25-27, 2007).
  • POS found also that a majority of voters (54%) oppose the Democrats imposing a reduction in troops below the level military commanders requested (3/25-27, 2007).
  • A separate POS poll finds 57% of voters support staying in Iraq until the job is finished and “the Iraqi government can maintain control and provide security for its people.” And 59% of voters say pulling out of Iraq immediately would do more to harm America’s reputation in the world than staying until order is restored (35%); (2/5-7, 2007).
  • A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll show 69% of American voters trust military commanders more than members of Congress (18%) to decide when United States troops should leave Iraq. This includes 52% of Democrats, 69% of Independents and 88% of Republicans (3/27-28, 2007).
  • According to a recent Pew Research survey, only 17% of Americans want an immediate withdrawal of troops (4/18-22, 2007). That same poll found a plurality of adults (45%) believe a terrorist attack against the United States is more likely if we withdraw our troops from Iraq while the “country remains unstable”
  • Should a date for withdrawal be set, 70% of American believe it is likely that “insurgents will increase their attacks in Iraq” starting on that day. This is supported by 85% of Republicans, 71% of Independents and 60% of Democrats. (FOX News/Opinion Dynamics, 4/17-18, 2007).
  • An LA Times/Bloomberg polls reveals that 50% of Americans say setting a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq “hurts” the troops, while only 27% believe it “helps” the troops (4/5-9, 2007).

He concludes:

I’m sure our friend Glenn Greenwald over at Salon will be reporting all this to his readers any minute now.

Any minute now these fascinating results will be reported by the MSM. Any minute now....


If you haven't been following Sigmund, Carl & Alfred's latest series of posts on the Middle East, then you have missed a comprehensive and in-depth behavioral analysis of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; beginning with the birth of Israel after the devastation wrought in World War II, to the present-day global implications of the Arab inability to cope with Israel's incredible success, let alone its reality.

Birth of a nation, a garden blooms
Temptations And Choices
The Poison
The Promise
The Third Rail Of Palestinan Failure.

In the last piece, Siggy notes:
The Palestinians, as a group and as a society, have failed. Unlike other Arabs in the region, they live in close proximity to a vibrant and free society. They know and see the benefits of what living in a free society means. They also know to acknowledge Israel’s successes, they have to acknowledge their own failures. Culturally, that is too high a price to pay.

The cycle of violence is not simply destined to perpetuate itself- the cycle of violence is reinforced and ever escalating. Dysfunctional behaviors that were unknown or unheard before have become commonplace.The self destructive behavior of the Palestinians comes about as the result of the integration of exaggerated love and exaggerated hate into a fused single exaggerated emotion. What distinguishes the two becomes no more than a blurred idea. Thus, violence directed at each other is a appropriate as violence directed at the Israelis.

This kind diseased thinking is not just about violence. Even the wildest conspiracy theories, widely welcomed and accepted, become a reflection of a dysfunctional defense mechanism and absurdity. As Arab religious and political leaders whip crowds into a wild frenzy, warning of ‘Jewish plots’ to control the world, these same religious and political leaders have no trouble promising that ‘Muslims all over the world will work together to control the world’ and that the ‘flag of Islam will fly over the White House’ and the British Parliament. Those who resist will be destroyed.

These kinds of projections are used by religious and political leaders to control and feed the fantasy with the intoxication of absolute power....

There is a difference between backward societies and failed ones. Backward societies are unaware of the possibilities in front of them. Failed societies have squandered the opportunities that have been afforded them.

Two good companion pieces are ShrinkWrapped's Pity the Poor Anti-Semite and The Suicidal Core of the Anti-Semite. Shrink writes:
The Nations of the Muslim Middle East should be among the wealthiest in the world, yet they have done less with more than any people in history. Their massive failure is not coincidental but is inseparable from their anti-Semitism; unless there is a change in their soul-sickness, they will destroy any hope their people can ever have in becoming part of the successful, modern world of possibilities.

The two posts examine the self-imposed inferiority of the anti-Semite; and how the anti-Semite, in attacking the people they have built into demi-Gods, must necessarily lose their battle against them. With only hatred left to fuel his passions, the core of the anti-Semite has no room left to develop the positive emotions required to build a functioning society.

If you truly want to understand how destructive psychological denial, projection and paranoia are on a societal level, you can find no better example in the history of the world than present-day Palestinian society, which embodies all the worse aspects of human nature; and whose dysfunction has been embraced and championed by the entire Middle East , as well as many of the intellectual elites of the world.

In the escalating psychopathology of the Palestinians you can begin to see and understand the core premises and abnormal psychology that fuels the terrorist/jihadist vision, which is based on a hatred so consuming, it has not only destoyed the very soul of the Palestinian people, but it threatens to envelop the entire world with its madness.

Don't miss these must-read posts by SC&A and ShrinkWrapped.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Go for the new logo, [shamelessly stolen from a painting by Clive Barker], but stay for the exquisite insanity.


And who feel this is a good idea.

THE GREATEST STORY NEVER TOLD ***Updated*** the one about the US economy, per Larry Kudlow:

It was truly an historic day on Wall Street yesterday as the Dow Jones Index rocketed to a record-breaking, first-ever, 13,000 close with a dramatic 136-point surge....

Stocks surged across the board with a 15-point gain by the S&P 500 and a 23-point gain in the Nasdaq. Record closings galore for transports, utilities, and the Wilshire 5000. The S&P 500 is nipping at the bit, just 30 points away from achieving its all-time high....

If I may, permit me to once again call this what it is—the greatest story never told.

We are in the midst of the longest uninterrupted bull market run in memory. We have record low tax rates on capital, a benign inflation rate, and recent economic releases suggesting the Goldilocks soft landing scenario remains very much in place.

But in the end, it all boils down to two simple things—two stock market locomotives that have created enormous, still untapped, value in equities. Viewers have heard talk about them night after night:

High earnings, low interest rates.

Mark my words, it ain't over yet.

Will George W. Bush ever get any credit for this?

Don't be silly, Larry. Of course he won't, particularly since the Democrats are still pushing the meme that the economy is in ruins and that poverty and misery are all on the rise because of Bush.

Bizzyblog wonders why "the Formerly Mainstream Media always seem to be 'surprised' by good economic news?"

I am sure this is a rhetorical question, since he has explained repeatedly why that same media cannot possibly allow anything to be printed which might reflect positively on Bush.

Over a year and a half ago, when the economic reports showed the US growing at an amazing rate, reports of this were nowhere to be found on TV news, nor in the headlines of the day. It was carefully tucked away in the business section of the MSNBC website or on the back pages of the major dailies. I wrote then that the American public was hearing "command hallucinations":
The American public is hearing voices. And like auditory hallucinations experienced by psychiatric patients, these voices whisper continual doom and gloom. They tell the American consumer that prices are too high. That the economy is tanking; that poverty is on the rise; and that everything is bad bad bad.

These voices are persistant and continual. They are unrelenting. They are often frightening. And like the command hallucinations that torment many of my psychotic patients, they are completely and totally untrue. You are bad. Life isn't worth living. They are trying to hurt you. Don't try, it's not worth it.

It is very rare for such voices to say anything at all positive. They have a specific goal--and that goal is the distortion of reality.

So why do patients believe them? Especially the one's that are bizarre and so obviously out of touch with any known reality? You know, the ones that say aliens have implanted electrodes in your brain and are monitoring your thoughts and things like that.

It is a triumph of false perceptions over reality. It is testimony to how profoundly and fundamentally people trust their perceptual faculties and let their peceptions rule, even when those perception come in conflict with common sense, truth, or reality.

We, the American people have come to have a similar trust in the voices of the MSM. Over the years, they have almost become an additional perceptual faculty that we rely on--simply because life has become too complicated and overwhelming, that the use of our ordinary senses is insufficient in the modern world.

In other words, we rely on the media in the same way we rely on our own senses to provide us with the information necessary to make decisions and judgements in the real world.

The MSM has become those evil voices inside our head.

George Bush will never get any credit at all for the fact that, in spite of 9/11; in spite of war; in spite of Katrina; in spite of EVERYTHING, the US economy keeps cruising along.

But, you can count on one thing. If the Democrats can continue to scam the people into believing we are on the eve of destruction and complete economic meltdown; and if by doing so they can take back the White House in 2008; then within 6 months (possibly even less) they will be giving themselves credit for a "sudden economic turnaround" --Good times will be here again!

In essence, the dysfunctional and delusional Democrats along with their MSM henchmen treat the good news about the economy exactly like they treat any good news about the war. They don't want to hear about it because they've already decided what to think and any facts are irrelevant.

When you are unable to process reality, then all that's left are the voices in your head. And you can make them tell any kind of story you want.

UPDATE: How about this incredible story from yesterday:
U.S. tax receipts from individuals hit a record one-day high of $48.7 billion on April 24, a Treasury Department official said on Wednesday.

The previous record was $36.4 billion, set on April 25, 2006, said Jennifer Zuccarelli, a Treasury spokeswoman.

The record reflects taxes not withheld from individuals over the course of the year, but paid to the government before this year's April 17 income-tax deadline.

While some of those tax payments come from taxpayers who withheld less tax from their paychecks than they owed, much of it was owed on income from investments or profits.

"This reflects the fact that Americans in high-income brackets had a very good year in 2006," said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The one-day total is a small fraction of the estimated $2.5 trillion in overall tax receipts the government is likely to collect in fiscal 2007, Crandall said.

But strong tax revenues point to the likelihood of a shrinking budget deficit, he said.

Notice that the Dems are no longer demanding the elimination of the Bush tax cuts? But will they admit that the cuts have generated more personal income, more spending and therefore more revenue? Never!

Instead we get parsed headlines that look at the rate of growth, instead of growth itself to make people believe that things are going badly. Consider the title of the linked article, then read the last sentence of the article:
Consumers whose shopping is indispensable to a booming economy boosted their spending at a 3.8 percent pace in the first quarter. That was a solid showing although it was slightly weaker than the 4.2 percent growth rate logged in the fourth quarter.

A key reason why consumers have remained resilient, even in the face of the painful housing slump, is that the jobs markets has managed to stay in good shape. The nation's unemployment rate dropped in March to 4.4 percent, matching a five-year low

If you actually read the article you will discover that the headline focuses on the only negative aspect they could find in the latest economic news.

Economic reality simply drives today's Democrats crazy.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

DEAD WRONG - Hysteria, Denial and Paranoia Are Not the Answer !

Victor Davis Hanson this morning lists the reasons why the opportunistic Democrats(exemplified by losers like Harry Reid) are dead wrong to imagine that the war on terror would be over if only the US would get out of Iraq. He concludes:

This is a strange war. Our successes in avoiding attack convince some that the real danger has passed. And when we kill jihadists abroad, we are told it is peripheral to the war or only incites more terrorism.

But despite the current efforts at denial, the war against Islamic terrorism remains real and deadly. We can't wish it away until Middle Eastern dictatorships reform - or we end their oil stranglehold over the world economy.

These days, Republicans or conservatives are hysterically accused of "fearmongering" by the peace-loving leftists whenever said conservatives point out the simple truths that Hanson delineates.

The voices of determined denial, as Hanson outlines, grow more shrill daily. Of course, it is those same voices who insist that anyone who cannot see that we are destined to lose the war in Iraq are the ones in denial. (See this post for a discussion of dueling denial accusations and how a rational individual might be able to tease out who is correct and who is not).

At any rate, I don't happen to agree with those who want to pretend that everything would be hunky-dory as soon as we capitulate to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Certainly, no one can predict the future, and we may indeed lose the battle there; but the fact remains that the long-term consequences of proactively surrendering to a ruthless, psychotic enemy like Al Qaeda and their allies will only encourage and strengthen their desire to kill us--and make them think they can do so with impunity.

Newsflash. This is not "fearmongering." This is the nature of the enemy we are dealing with; and the reality of the kind of war we are fighting.

Yesterday, I listened to a Democratic "analyst" say that it was ridiculous to suggest that the US could be seriously harmed by any terrorists (let's ignore for the moment the contradictory discourse that the Dems have put out about how much harm they are supposedly doing to our troops in Iraq). The threat is greatly overblown, she continued confidently, smiling at the other talking head who was cautioning against giving Al Qaeda ammunition to continue killing our troops by passing a withdrawal plan in Congress. She went on to say that it was "absurd" to imagine that Al Qaeda or the terrorists were "tuned in" to anything that went on in the halls of American political power.

This is a Democratic analyst speaking. Supposedly this person is intelligent and capable of complex analyses of events (otherwise why is she considered an "analyst"?), and yet... she appears to be incapable of understanding even the most fundamental concepts about war (or any complex system). The idea that for every action on our part, there is a counteraction that the enemy will take is apparently too difficult a concept to grasp by this "analyst".

This kind of one-dimensional thinking exhibited by the above analyst--and most of the Democratic party these days-- is characteristic of people who are deep in the throes of psychological denial. For them it is always a simple black and white equation; not a matter of adaptation or complexity (and they accuse the right of not be able to be nuanced!). Their only concern about the future revolves around the obsessive desire to get back in the White House and/or to destroy the current administration while trying. Planning, or adapting a strategy to win a war, is beyond their psychological capabilities.

This is why they have been aggressively incapable of developing any kind of a plan to succeed in Iraq. Success in Iraq is irrelevant (or even counterproductive) in the pursuit of their only goal.

In order to win this war--or any war, for that matter, a nation must be able to cope with their fear of failure/defeat by using healthy psychological defense mechanisms. Psychologically losing the war requires only denial, distortion, displacement and self-deception; winning, or doing everything possible to attempt to win, requires the ability to anticipate and adapt to the real world, putting off short-term goals to focus on the long-term. Defeat is, of course, always a possibility; but a healthy person or group, will not surrender when the consequences of surrendering have such catastrophic long-term implications.

The psychological defense mechanism of anticipation, in the words of George Vaillant:

....involves realistic and affect-laden planning for future discomfort. [...] of all the mature defenses, anticipation rearranges outer and inner reality the least. Rather than use self-deception, anticipation spreads anxiety out over time. It involves the self-inoculation of taking one's affective pain in small, anticipatory doses....In the worlds of the psychoanalyst Heinz Hartmann, one of the pioneers of ego psychology, "The familiar function of anticipating the future, orienting our actions according to it and correctly relating means and ends to each an ego function and, surely, an adaption process of the highest significance."
Most of us, like Scarlet O'Hara would prefer to "think about it tomorrow." Making a list of worries before embarking on a trip seems like a reasonable cognitive coping strategy. But nobody likes to worry; thus we "forget" to act on such advice. We would never miss planes or forget to floss our teeth if we had consciously pondered the unpleasant consequences in advance. Moreover, it is far easier to plan voluntarily for neutral events like plane trips and tooth decay than for affect-laden events like funerals and the real costs of war.

For some time now--9/11 to be precise-- the left has claimed that the Bush Administration has beens using fear to manipulate the population. Every time 9/11 is mentioned; every time someone suggests that the threat is not going to go away; or that enabling and encouraging the enenmy only makes us less safe--the cry of "fearmongering" is raised.

Let's discuss this from a psychiatric and psychological perspective.

Anticipation is a healthy and appropriate psychological defense against terrorism and the Islamofascists (who most certainly want to kill us and destroy our society). It, among all the defenses, is probably the most conscious one, able to be used when coping with fear. The idea that it is preferable to use a psychotic defense, e.g. denial; or paranoia (e.g., saying that it was Bush or the US government that was behind 9/11--not Islamofascists); or a neurotic one (e.g., that the only thing we have to fear is...President Bush; or the Christian fundamentalists. The latter is a defense mechanism called displacement that I have already discussed in an earlier posts) is quite untenable.

In fact, the "fearmongering" accusation has elements of all three immature defenses, as well as a noticeable touch of hysteria. Any reasonable person who is aware of all the pervasive and barbaric Islamofascist homicidal behavior around the world; or sees the millions of fanatics in the Middle East who regularly chant "death to America" or "death to Israel" or "death to those who insult islam"; would seem to be justified in experiencing fear in the face of such irrationality and hate.

The implication of the accusation of fearmongering is that that the only purpose in talking about such fears --which are judged to be inappropriate by those in psychological denial--must be to manipulate or consolidate power (a projection, perhaps?). And, their bizarre conclusion is that, while we are fighting this "illusory" enemy, the Bushitler has been amassing power and will soon set himself up as a dictator, initiate a Christian theocracy, and eliminate all our freedoms.

I will let you decide who we have to fear more--the President of the United States or the religious fanatics of Islam who want to obtain a nuclear weapon? Who do we have to fear more: those who are trying to prevent another 9/11 or those who would like nothing better than to do something even worse in our country?

Anticipation is the realistic planning for future discomfort or pain. This defense mechanism includes goal-directed and even overly careful planning or worrying--depending on the situation. Anticipating realistic events such as death or illness or separation and loss; and then consciously utilizing personal insight and self awareness to mitigate the worse effects, if possible is the height of maturity and healthy psychological functioning.

I don't know about you, but I am afraid of terrorism and what the Islamic jihadists want to do to the world. In fact, I think it is extremely reasonable to be afraid. We are not dealing with people with whom you can sit down and negotiate a reasonable settlement of disagreements.

The Islamic fanatics want to either forcibly convert us, enslave us , or kill us. They have repeated these objectives clearly many times. I happen to find none of their options particularly attractive. Nor do I find the "moderate" course in dealing with such fundamental irrationality particularly helpful as an overall strategy (although supporting moderate voices within Islam may be a useful tactic in appropriate circumstances). The moderates of the left and right mean well when they argue for moderation and tolerance; but in reality, they are enabling the first two of the Islamists' objective's (convert or enslave) as a compromise tactic because they would prefer not to have conflict.

EVERYONE reasonable prefers not to have conflict. No sane person wants to have war. But the enemy in this instance has made it perfectly clear to anyone who is listening that unless we convert to Islam or submit to Islam, they intend to kill us.

What, then, is the best way to cope with the reasonable fear that a reasonable person should be experiencing about this unreasonable strain of Islam that is sweeping the world?

It doesn't take a psychiatrist note that radical Islam is pushing any moderates into impotent bystanders on the sidelines--much in the same way I imagine the rise of National Socialism in Germany did to some of the more moderate Germans in the 30's.

One thing I know. DENIAL of the threat won't work, except to give our enemies time and space to do what they are intent on doing. DISPLACEMENT won't work, except to facilitate denial and tie the hands of those who are doing their best to deal with the threat. PARANOIA (and its little brother PROJECTION) only work against those who really are out to get you. It is not a helpful survival strategy if you give into your suspicions and turn your gun on the colleague standing next to you when the raging bull is bearing down on the two of you.

The psychologically healthiest way to cope with fear is ANTICIPATION, which allows you to realistically plan for an identified danger. SUBLIMATION, which allows you to transform otherwise negative emotions into positive actions; HUMOR, which allows you to identify the danger without being overwhelmed by it; SUPPRESSION, which allows you to put aside irrelevant (yet perhaps important down the road) activities or feelings that might interfere in dealing with the immediate danger; and ALTRUISM, that allows you to provide service to others in a way that is both positive and pleasurable.

What is it except hysteria and fear-mongering that motivates the left to believe that the President of the United States intends to eliminate our most precious civil liberties and establish a fascist state? What is it except hysteria that can only focus on the daily death counts from Iraq, and not on the context of what our soldiers are dying for? What is it except hysteria that concludes the death of 3000 innocent Americans at the hands of religious fanatics in ONE DAY is nothing to be concerned about; but the death of 3000 professional soldiers in FIVE YEARS is enough to cut and run?

Even emotionally healthy and extremely rational people can be appropriately afraid. Because if they are not afraid, they will die. If they do not take steps to protect themselves, they will die. If they ignore for too long the threats amassing to kill them, even the strong will die.

I am not arguing that there should be a carte blanche given to the executive branch of government. But even the Founding Fathers understood that during a war is no time to be arguing like children about who gets to do what. The Constitution allows the president to assume powers and responsibilities that he otherwise would not even want. It is truly hysteria and fear-mongering that motivates the likes of Olberman and many on the political left these days. Their hatred of Bush and conservatives/Republicans knows no bounds and it is impossible to convince them that we are not going to become a fascist state under George Bush--just as it was impossible to convince them that the fascist state run by Saddam represented a serious threat to the world.

I'm sure they all tremble in their beds at night, waiting for the Bush Gestapo to come and take them away. Underneath all the posturing about civil rights and such, truly paranoid people and people in denial are actually very fearful people, desperately trying to avoid dealing with their fear.

Those of us who prefer to be proactive and anticipate for future attacks are the ones who are dealing directly with our fears.

The various defense mechanisms mentioned here are mostly unconscioously used. As I said previously, anticipation is the only one that can be turned to deliberately or consciously. The others--denial, paranoia, projection, and displacement--will continue in the user until they develop insight and self-awareness; i.e., be able to stand outside themselves and identify when an immature and problematic defense is being used instead of a healthier mature one. Only then can someone in denial be able to observe his or her own behavior and appreciate what drives that behavior; and hence be willing to change it if necessary.

Let me make this clear. ALL defenses --healthy or not--are involuntary and unconscious attempts to deal with dangerous , overwhelming or unbearable situations. I am not making a moral judgement about the use of denial, paranoia, projection, displacement or other psychotic or neurotic defenses to cope.


The ability to control behavior is absolutely necessary to living in any kind of a civilized society. When our unconscious motivations and fears determine that behavior, we lose control over it. Only by self-reflection and developing insight into why we do the things we do, and say the things we say is it possible to make the unconscious conscious; and thus exert some control over behavior.

It is not easy to look at one's own behavior and recognize it to be dysfunctional and counterproductive--or even morally reprehensible. Yet doing so is essential to optimally cope with reality and survive (and thrive under) life's challenges.

Immature defenses primarily exist to accommodate an immature/developing neurological system (that is why children are the heaviest users of these kind of defenses); and when adults resort to them it is because such defenses might be helpful to cope over the short-term; and may provide transient relief from overwhelming, dangerous and unbearable situations. But as long-term coping strategies, they will inevitably lead to unhappiness, mental illness, and even the death of the individual who uses them regularly and consistently.

When such immature coping strategies are used by political leaders like Reid and Pelosi for short-term political gain; and when they are used by cultural figures like O'Donnell and many others; then they should be roundly condemned and exposed for the dysfunctional behaviors they are. People using denial, projection, paranoia and displacement are dead wrong.

And, they place all of us at risk.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Was NBC's decision to show the narcissistic ramblings of a homicidal suicide shooter a symptom of a dysfunctional media ; or a mature adaptation to the realities of journalism?

OK, I stacked the deck against NBC, but even my teenager could answer the question their producers faced, more maturely.


I have written quite a lot about psychological defense mechanisms on this blog, primarily because I think that a solid understanding of these critical psychological processes shed quite a bit of light on both individual and group behavior. To follow-up on the post from yesterday "In Defense of Psychological Defenses", I thought it would be useful to review how psychological defenses can either be "red flags" that alert a person (or an observer) about an underlying conflict; or they can be mature adaptations to life that bring pleasure and fulfillment, as well as enhance society.

There are three key books that I refer to repeatedly that have shaped my own understanding of defense mechanisms: Anna Freud’s The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense; and George Vaillant’s two books, Adaptation to Life and The Wisdom of the Ego. I can highly recommend all three books for anyone interested in these topics.

Before I tackle the question posed in the title of this post, I would like to provide some background and context on some of the research into psychological defense mechansisms.

Many people mistakenly confuse "pop" psychology--the kind of advice you read in supermarket tabloids and magazines-- with real clinical psychiatry; and the ideas of Freud, Kohut, Bion and other theorists, with those of modern, best-selling self-help gurus, who mostly oversimplify to the point of misrepresenting those psychological concepts and ideas. Between those people who worship the gurus and those who think anything from the psychological realm is a a load of BS, there is not a lot of understanding or appreciation of the importance of some of the basic concepts of psychology and their relationship to what we now understand of neurophysiology.

Freud wrote at one point in his life about his theories that,
...The deficiencies in our description would presumably vanish if we were already in a position to replace the psychological terms by physiolgoical and chemical ones.

Since the time Freud wrote that insightful comment, considerable neurophysiological evidence vindicating many of his theoretical concepts has emerged. Interdisciplinary groups studying neurology, physiology and psychoanalysis are discovering how useful Freudian ideas are for understanding the way the brain works and to interpret the physiology, while offering a template upon which further understanding can be built.

I recommend an article in the May, 2004 Scientific American titled "Freud Returns" for an overview of this issue (article is available online only by subscription or purchase). In the article, Eric Kandler, the 2000 Nobel laureate in physiology states that psychoanalysis is "still the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind."

George Vaillant is a brilliant researcher who has spent most of his professional career studying psychological defense mechanism and collecting data over their use during the lifetime of many individuals. I can summarize some of Vaillant's conclusions based on his extensive research thusly:
• Psychological defenses are real and used regularly by everyone
• These defenses can be reliably identified and analyzed
• The “maturity” of a person’s defenses is positively related to mental health
• This positive association between mature psychological defenses and mental health appears to be independent of gender, social class, culture, or educational level
• Maturity of defenses also predicts a person’s satisfaction with life
• Maturity of defenses predicts physical health up to about age 65. After that age, other factors (most likely genetic and biological) take over.
• People with significant cognitive impairment (e.g., with IQ's less than 80; or someone who is brain-damaged) have demonstrably less mature defensive styles.

Defenses are typically considered in a hierarchy extending from immature to mature. The least mature—or psychotic defenses include: denial, distortion, and delusional projection (paranoia); the immature defenses are: fantasy, projection, hypochondriasis, passive-aggression and acting out. Neurotic defenses are: intellectualization, repression, reaction formation, displacement, and dissociation. The mature defenses include: sublimation, suppression, anticipation, altruism, and humor. Other defenses exist, but these are the ones most commonly discussed.

The purpose of all psychological defenses, whether mature or not-- is to assist the individual in coping with sudden changes; or severe internal or external conflicts that threaten to overwhelm the sense of self. Such changes or conflicts may relate to the people in our lives; to factors or behavior which challenge our values or our emotional capabilities; or to changes in reality that shake the foundations of our view of the world.

All such defenses-- to a greater or lesser extent-- distort reality. The less mature distort reality greatly; while the most mature allow for the expression of the inner conflict in socially appropriate--i.e., civilized-- and psychologically healthy ways that at least conform to reality, even if they don't necessarily acknowledge it.

The key to understanding psychological defenses is to realize that all of them--no matter how infantile or immature--are attempts to adapt to a difficult situation. What matters is not that an immature defense is being used, but how long the individual uses it before it becomes maladaptive, dysfunctional, pathological and/or potentially dangerous and life-threatening to the individual and/or group using it.

To put it plainly: it is not at all healthy for either an individual or a group of individuals (i.e., a culture) to distort reality for very long. In the short-term the use of an immature or even a psychotic defense can give a person time to adapt to painful reality without their sense of self falling apart. It gives them time to change themselves and adapt; or, alternatively, it can preserve the psychological self at the expense of the physical self. Generally, a significant injury or death is a rather high price to pay simply because accommodating the real world is too difficult or abhorrent.

Thus we come to our fundamental question. How does one assess if someone is using a maladaptive defense that is a symptom of an underlying pathology? Even more importantly, how can you tell when YOU YOURSELF are using maladaptive defenses to disguise your own biases and unacceptable feeliings?

Vaillant makes the following pertinent observation:

“…whether a defense is normal or abnormal depends on the eyes of the beholder. We always regard our own vigilance toward our enemies as adaptive, but we view their mistrust of us as an unwarranted projection of their own shortcomings”

This is why accusations go back and forth in political debates that can best be summarized by the following exchange:

"You are projecting!" or "You are the one in denial!"
"No, you are!"
"Who's projecting now?"

And so on. This gets rather tiresome very quickly as you might imagine. Each person in the argument believes they are free from the “contamination” of using an immature or primitive psychological defense while the other person exemplifies its use. Logically, of course one or the other may be correct in their assertion, both, or neither.

While feelings about the matter maybe useful pieces of data with which to understand reality, but they are certainly not the best tool for that purpose; and an overreliance on them to the exclusion of reason and critical thought is a strategy that cannot be successful if long-term survival is the goal. Nevertheless, with that said, sometimes feelings are all one has to go on.

While each person's perception rests on their own subjective experience, one of the unique aspects of psychiatry is learning how to use one's own feelings and subjective reactions to glean information from reality. In a previous post on "Feelings, Countertransference and Reality", I wrote:

To make an assessment of the gut feeling's appropriateness, the contents of the unconscious must be explored and brought to the conscious level and considered. Those unconscious internal conflicts can easily mask the inappropriate aspects of the feelings, making them worthless as a means of understanding the external world.

Taking this kind of action as a method of checking and understanding one's own feelings is a process called "insight" or "self-awareness". Some people do this quite naturally and honestly. Some learn in therapy or when they are in crisis. But if insight is absent then one's feelings have the potential to do great harm --both to one's self and to others.

Some unconscious factors, or psychological defenses, that can make one's feelings untrustworthy are: 1) the person you are responding to has become symbolic of someone else in your life (displacement, fantasy, or perhaps distortion); 2) focusing on one particular aspect of a person, you ignore other, more objective data that are available to you about the person (denial); 3) you place your own unacceptable feelings onto the other person--e.g., I'm not an angry person, -- he's an angry person! (projection or full-blown paranoia).

The truth is that there are countless ways that unconscious processes within ourselves can distort our responses to others and to reality itself.

Growing up and attaining maturity requires that we take a moment to consider such factors playing a role in our emotions before we act on those emotions. If we come to know ourselves and understand our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, limitations and secrets; then our emotional responses to people or to the world can be very valuable tools to help interpret the world. But they are only tools, and if not used wisely, they can do more harm than good. Feelings cannot be used in a court of law--for good reason. And they are not ultimate truth in the court of reality, either.

As I have gained experience in psychiatry, more often than not, when I trust such feelings and proceed to analyze what is bothering me about the situation, I discover a wealth of information that would have otherwise remained hidden. Sometimes that "wealth of information" is only about myself; but even in that case, I learn something new --frequently something insightful that I didn't want to know--about myself.

Even with all the training; and even with self-awareness and a keen insight into one's own motivations and interpersonal dynamics, when it comes to implicitly trusting one's feelings above and beyond all other data; one has to be very cautious. All too often, mistakes are made; feelings can simply be wishes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality. If we are lucky, we discover this before too much damage is done.

The key to gaining control over behavior that is motivated by maladaptive, unconscious defenses is to make them conscious. This requires that a person be able to reflect on his or her behavior or feelings and on the contents of one's mind; and with honesty and forthrightness develop some insight into why one feels, thinks, or acts a certain way. This is particularly important if the way one is thinking, feeling or acting is causing serious problems to one's self or to others.

Let us return to the acrimonious political debate mentioned earlier. How can you decide if someone is "projecting" or in "denial" versus accurately responding to and interpreting objective reality? In other words, how do you tell if the use of a defense is a symptom of some underlying psychological problem versus whether it is adaptive and healthy?

In order to be adaptive, a defense:

• should regulate, rather than remove affect – that is, instead of totally anesthetizing a person, the defense would just reduce the pain (and therefore make it easier to cope; rather than to avoid coping altogether)

• should channel feelings instead of blocking them (i.e., allow a healthy expression of those feelings in a way that can discharge them in socially acceptable ways rather than keep them hidden and motivating behavior)

• should be oriented to the long-term; and not simply short-term comfort or avoidance

• should be oriented toward present and future pain relief; and not focused past distress

• should be as specific as possible (i.e., be as a key is to a lock; not as a sledgehammer applied to a door)

• the use of the defense should attract people and not repel them (Vaillant points out that the use of the mature defenses --i.e., humor, altruism, sublimation etc.-- is perceived by others as attractive and even virtuous; while the immature defenses are generally perceived as irritating, repellant, and even evil). Watch this video, for example, and try to imagine how many of the political leaders in either party could be this comfortable making fun of themselves. It is a sign of psychological health when a person can take his or her foibles and appropriately mock them in a pleasurable manner.

A discussion of the factors that influence the development of mature defenses and healthy adaptation can be found here.

For the purposes of answering the title question (which may have become lost in this rather long and windy discussion): when is a psychological defense a symptom and when is it a healthy adaptation; I would like to consider two words used frequently these days; comparing and contrasting their use in political discourse.

The two words are "antisemitism" and "islamophobia".

A discussion of the difference between the two concepts--which are considered similar processes by many is instructive. First, I will turn to ShrinkWrapped , who posted an excellent and rather elegant discussion of anti-semitism a while back. Antisemitism is a particularly virulent psychological projection that seems to occur frequently in the world of politics.

Most of us in the West have long recognized the danger of anti-Semitism. Victor Davis Hanson recently pointed out that it is symptomatic of totalitarian societies which need to deflect the blame for their failures onto others:
Anti-Semitism, of course, is the mother's milk of fascism. It is always, they say, a small group of Jews — whether shadowy cabinet advisers and international bankers of the 1930s or the manipulative neoconservatives and Israeli leadership of the present — who alone stir up the trouble.
The beauty of anti-Semitism is that the Jews have a long tradition of being small in number yet relatively visible in the societies in which they lived. Thus, they serve as the perfect objects on which to project ambivalently held traits. For example, the leading anti-Semites of the world are now found in the Arab world. Their projection of all evil traits onto the Jews is a thing of beauty in its incoherent hatred.

SW correctly notes that a significant amount of the anti-semitism in the world today comes from Middle Eastern and Islamic countries (although is certainly not confined to it). The rampant viciousness toward Jews in this particular culture appears to be boundless and, in many cases, unwaveringly repellent.

Tales of Jews eating muslim babies; pictures of them dripping with the blood of innocents are standard fare within Islamic culture. It is also clear that most muslims are completely oblivious to their own inappropriate and bizarre hatred. Presidents of Islamic countries openly announce that Jews are to be "wiped off the map"; and that perhaps the greatest genocide in the history of humanity is a made-up fantasy to generate sympathy for Jews.

You know I am not making these items up. You also know (I hope) that Jews do not eat Palestinian babies in blood rituals, nor do they harvest the organs of muslims for secret research (although this kind of horror was actually done by the Nazis to Jewish victims of the holocaust).

In response to a few innocuous cartoons published in a Danish newspaper a while back, we have international riots and violence. Leaders of Islam announce fatwas and put bounties on the lives of hapless cartoonists. Iran announces an ingenious "contest" to encourage the publication of "holocaust" cartoons, which they imagine equals the outrage they feel has been perpetrated on them; and which they consider an expression of their "free speech" (which in some ways it certainly is, but I am more interested in the psychopathology that underlies such "speech").

Here is one response to their contest that demonstrates how to effectively cope with unrestrained hatred being projected your way. Humor is alway an effective strategy for coping with insanity. So, for that matter are the other mature defenses.

Now, I ask you to compare and contrast using the criteria I outlined above. Consider the affect/emotion and how it is presented--positively or negatively? Are unpleasant truths or shameful feelings are being confronted or avoided? Is the response a "key" or "sledgehammer"? Is the amount of affect generated appropriate to the circumstances?

Look again at the Mohammed cartoons that started all the fuss. Then look at these cartoons that are typical of what is regularly published on a daily basis in the Arab press about Jews.

Which cartoons are truly offensive and clearly demonstrate an intense hatred toward the subject depicted by all objective criteria?

Consider the violent and over the top reaction of muslims to the Mohammed cartoons. Consider the reactions of Jews to the holocaust cartoons (were we witness to the eruption of the "Jewish street" as it acted out in anger and rage at the shame and humiliation of being told that the holocaust never occurred?).

Consider the point that Ahmadinejad was trying to make by initiating his "contest" for the drawing of holocaust cartoons; and consider the response I linked to above from Jewish students worldwide. Consider, too, Ahmadinejad's "scientific" Holocaust Conference (and, note the "experts" that attended it) where it was discussed whether or not the Holocaust actually occurred, by people whose agenda is to eliminate Israel and Jews.

More recently, there has been much buzz about the insistence by muslim groups that Holocaust remembrances be more "inclusive" because they want their piece of the victimhood pie. This is yet another expression of the pervasive antisemitism in that culture. If they can't be recognized as victims as much as the Jews, and since the Holocaust never happened anyway, then they will shut down Holocaust remembrance services.

Now ask yourself, is the ubiquitous, almost casual, antisemitism of the Islamic world a healthy, adaptive response to some injustices perpetrated by Jews that muslims have to deal with in the real world; or is it a projection that is symptomatic of some serious psychopathology within the muslim culture?

Now, let us consider the charge of "islamophobia" that is angrily thrown out by CAIR or muslims whenever anyone dares to question the behavior of the adherents of Islam.

These adherents violently protest with signs that say "death to those who insult Islam" and other assorted threats like "Behead those who insult Islam"; "Europe you will pay, 3/11 is on the way"; and "Be prepared for the real holocaust".

Sadly, such signs and their vile slogans cannot merely be considered exaggerated rhetoric; nor can the burning of embassies and the mindless violence be considered the expression of restless youth. Remember Salman Rushdie; Theo van Gogh; and others who have the threat of death or who have died because they dared to "insult" this religion.

Consider 9/11, 3/11, 7/11; and the London, Bali and Beslan travesties. Consider the plight of women who would like to live life outside a Burqa; the prevalence and condoning of FGM, or consider the kidnappings, abuse, torture, humiliation and decapitations carried out by the practitioners of the religion of peace on a regular basis. Consider--in case you have forgotten--the words of Bin Laden when he declared war on the U.S. Consider the discussion in Islamic circles about how many women and children it is permissible to kill with nuclear weapons. Consider the thousands in Iran; in Lebanon; in Gaza and all over the Arab world, who chant "Death to America and/or Israel".

Now, after you have thought all about these events and behaviors; do really you think it is unreasonable to experience a degree of "fear" or anxiety about people who engage in such cognitive dissonance and irrational behavior and who are members of this religion? Would this be adaptive on your part? Realistic? Based on the actual behavior one witnesses almost every day by real people in the muslim world?

If you ignore this reality or pretend that it doesn't exist, then a case can be made that you are engaging in a very maladaptive psychological response, e.g., denial; or engaging in a slightly less maladaptive reaction --e.g., fantasy, or displacement (i.e., everything is all Bush's/America's/Israel's fault)

Certainly there are many decent and honorable muslims in the world; but they are trapped in a religious connundrum that is currently unsolvable ; and hence have little or no impact on the direction their religion has taken.

The word "islamophobia" is bandied around as if it were somehow a complementary concept for muslims, similar to what "antisemitism" is for Jews. This is objectively not the case.

There has been no wholesale exploitation or abuse of muslims anywhere in the world--except by other muslims (Saddam and the Taliban come to mind; as well as all the other oppressive regimes in the Middle East). There has been no genocide of muslims--except by other muslims (consider Darfur; consider what Al Qaeda is doing to Iraqi civilians; what Shia are doing to Sunni and vice versa). There have been no systematic outrages perpetrated on the people of Islam--except by other people of Islam.

And if you are someone who believes Israel has oppressed the Palestinians; consider just for a moment the fact that the poor Palestinians would much rather kill Jews and each other than work to better their own lot in life--even after they have been finally given their own territory (see here also)

Let me be clear that I am not saying that real islamophobic behavior cannot be the result of projection or paranoia on the part of some individuals or groups. For it is the case that ANY CONVENIENT GROUP MAY BE USED TO PROJECT ONE'S OWN UNACCEPTABLE FEELINGS ONTO. Historically, the Jews have been the recipients of such pathology fairly frequently; but they are hardly the only group that has had to deal with it.

The leaders of Islam, however, seem to be suffering from a case of "victim envy"; for all intents and purposes desirous of acquiring the label of victim even as they go around victimizing the rest of the world with their suicidal rage; and even as they plan the final solution for the demonized Jewish population.

Objectively, there is just no case at all to support the idea that other groups are systematically or institutionally "projecting" their own unacceptable feelings or acting out toward the muslim population at large; nor are the scant number of individual cases of prejudice very compelling either; despite the unbelievable rhetorical flourishes of the left and other Islamic radical apologists. On the contrary, there is much evidence to suggest that the world is trying its best (perhaps trying too hard) to be decent and give as much leeway to muslim anger as is possible; and is even bending over backwards to make sure muslims understand that they are being treated equally, or even more equally in some cases, with all other religions and groups.

When "islamophobia" is used as a bludgeon to accuse and attack anyone who makes the mildest criticism of Islam--no matter how well-meaning that criticism may be--the attack becomes yet another psychological projection by muslims that deflects their own sense of shame, humiliation and inferiority and helps them to believe that such feelings would go away if only they got some respect.

Unfortunately for them, their historical shame and humiliation; as well as their medieval cultural and religious backwardness must be confronted and their behavior must change before they can be an effective part of the modern world. If it were not for the fact that oil happens to be found in that part of the world, I seriously doubt that Islam or Arab culture would have any impact on the world today; and the rest of the world could comfortably watch as their culture continued on its rush toward primitivism.

In the end, both antisemitism and the accusations of islamophobia are parallel symptoms of a single disease that is running rampant in Islamic countries and among those raised in a religion that thrives on hatred and violence, but somehow manages to believe in its heart that it is loving and peaceful and following the will of God.

In the end, there is only one effective treatment for these psychological symptoms: take one heaping dose of reality and two teaspoons of painful consequences; and call the rest of the world in the morning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

THE SANITY SQUAD - Dangerous Behavior

This week the Sanity Squad takes up a controversial topic: Can dangerous behavior really be reliably predicted?

And, if so, what should be done about people judged dangerous when they haven’t yet committed a crime? What is the role of mental health professionals and involuntary commitment in balancing the need to protect society with the need to champion the liberty of the individual?

Psychiatry and psychiatrists have been given this "social control" role by society, and yet they are expected to be able to appropriately balance that function with the best interests, liberty and privacy concerns of their patients.

These questions take on a critical importance in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech murders, as every talking head in America pontificates knowingly about what could have and should have been done to prevent it.

Hindsight is always perfect, of course.

The consequences of what might have been are unrecordable. No one considers that every day in every state, the psychiatric profession involuntarily hospitalizes people who are imminently a danger to themself or others and very likely saves many lives and prevents many tragedies from occurring.

But the thing about preventing a really terrible thing from happening is prevents a really terrible thing--or things-- from happening. So, nobody reads articles about how effectively the system works or how many lives were saved--because there is no way of calculating that metric.

Only when someone slips through the safety net, does it come to public awareness.

If the VA Tech shooter had been better diagnosed and treated.

If he had been locked up until he responded to treatment.

If he hadn't been allowed to obtain a gun.


Just as a point of interest, the people who argue these points and want MORE laws; MORE protection; MORE perfection from the psychiatric profession; and of course easier ways to lock up people who might commit violence; are the same ones who dismiss the idea that the actions that President Bush took after 9/11 have prevented another terrorist attack on our homeland. Bush, they insist had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Oh, and stop violating the civil rights of the terrorists in Guantanamo.

[Just as an aside: I am curious as a psychiatric professional--why do we appear to be more frightened of the mentally ill (who are not more violent than the general population but are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violence), but not of terrorists who were caught actively fighting and killing Americans and are now incarcerated at Guantanamo?]

Actually, this the conundrum associated with successful prevention: being successful operationally means never being able to prove--from a research data perspective-- that your preventive measures had anything to do with the success versus pure dumb luck.

My area of research when I worked at NASA was on the psychological aspects of space flight. I was involved in astronaut selection and in identifying the psychological stressors of space and developing countermeasures against them for operational use.

One of the issues connected to this research used to bother me a lot and it was this: preventing something from happening is a good thing (e.g., you obviously don't want astronauts manning a space station or on a 2+ year trip to Mars to become suicidally depressed and become a risk for the mission), but by the very act of preventing such a thing from occurring you can never then prove that it might have occurred in the first place. And from the opposite perspective, if something bad does happen (like the VA Tech shootings) how can you show that 95% of the time the procedures are working--it is the demand for perfection every single time that is unrealistic.
Assessing and predicting human behavior will never be perfect no matter how many laws are passed. The act of taking away someone's personal freedom for something they might do must always be balanced by the needs of and risk to society at large.

In other words, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few; and sometimes it is the reverse. All mental health professionals are right in the middle of this dialectic and must constantly search for a synthesis for each particular individual they treat.

Join Neo-neocon, Siggy, (Shrinkwrapped and me as we consider this dilemma--and of course, relate it to the politics and culture of the day.

All podcasts of The Sanity Squad can be found here; and you can also download them from iTunes. (search for Pajamas Media)

(The Sanity Squad cartoon is drawn by Eric Allie, whose collection of political cartoons can be found here and here).


I frequently use psychiatric and psychological concepts to describe behavior in this blog, and because of that, many people accuse me of labeling anyone who disagrees with me politically as having a mental illness.

This is not true; and it suggests that most of these critics know little about psychiatry, psychiatric diagnoses, or psychological defenses.

While I do believe that some of the people I describe might indeed have a mental illness; and that some are, in fact, perfectly healthy but simply malevolent or evil; it is simply not the case that by exposing certain psychological defense mechanisms that explain their behavior, I am giving the political opposition a medical/psychiatric diagnosis. Nevertheless, if a particular diagnosis fits, I am perfectly content to let them wear it.

In discussing psychological defense mechanisms, what I am trying to do is understand how and why people behave in the way that they do. Describing psychological defenses is not the same thing as "making a diagnosis" for one very simple reason. All humans utilize psychological defenses, all the time. Both Democrat and Republican; Left and Right. Good and Bad.

Psychological defenses are involuntary, regulatory coping processes.

By themselves, defenses are not evidence of "illness". When used, they may appear to be "sick," evil, or even irrational, but basically, they reflect a creative adaptation to the world.

George Vaillant, a brilliant researcher in this area, and a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, uses the analogy that defenses mechanisms are deployed in a fashion similar to physical symptoms-- such as a fever, cough or elevated white blood cell count. All of the latter physical symptoms occur when an individual is coming down with an illness.

Vaillant points out that the body reacts to the environment with these physiological responses in order to prevent or ameliorate the attacking illness. Without these normal physiological responses, we would be at the mercy of many illness and die.

In similar fashion, the psychological defenses are employed by the ego to respond to a threatening reality. With varying levels of success, our defense mechanisms ameliorate, distort and/or transform reality in order to protect our psychological self. The healthier and more mature defenses are a remarkably creative synthesis of our conflicts, needs and external reality; a synthesis that enable us to both give and receive pleasure in life.

Some defenses may be considered "immature" or even completely out of touch with reality; while others are "mature". This is not necessarily a value judgement, since it only reflects the fact that throughout development from childhood to adulthood; certain psychological strategies are generally discarded in favor of healthier and more effective strategies. The difference between the two types--mature and immature--is that the psychotic and immature defenses may cause considerable human misery and are, in the long run, not particularly adaptive or healthy. In some cases, they can even distort or warp reality to such an extent, that the person using the defense puts his life (and possibly others lives) at stake.

This is a very high price to pay to avoid a reality that is unpleasant or unacceptable.

Thus, when I see the predominance of "immature" strategies (e.g. projection, fantasy, acting out)--and/or some of the more primitive and potentially psychotic strategies (denial, distortion, paranoia)--being used by supposedly grownup adults, I begin to look around for explanations of their conduct that are not being acknowledged.

When I observe such strategies being used by large groups or even nations, I cringe; because the liklihood of a large number of deaths and considerable human misery is an almost inevitable outcome.

The careful observation and analysis of behavior is what I do for a living. I am very good at it; and I enjoy my profession. By helping people become aware of what they are doing that wreaks so much havoc in their life, I help them to change their behavior and therefore their lives. By pointing out and helping them to understand some of the unconscious motivations and conflicts they have, I help them to understand the psychological defenses they have employed which may be getting in the way of their pursuit of happiness.

By making the unconscious conscious, they begin to understand why they are behaving irrationally and why they have problems in their life. The goal is to get them to abandon those defenses that are distorting reality and holding them back; and to develop a new synthesis so that even their conflicts are put to a positive and productive use in their life.

Of course, the old joke about "how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb" is appropriate here: "just one....but the lightbulb really has to want to change." Many people are very pleased not to have to change and conform to reality. They will maintain their dysfunctional defenses no matter what the cost. Self reflection and insight are too dangerous for such people, and death is preferable to altering their beliefs or fantasies about the real world. Clearly, their distress about the possibility of changing themselves or their beliefs is far greater than any potential consequences they might experience by using an immature, unhealthy and dysfunctional psychological defense to avoid reality.

But the people who come to see me are generally in considerable distress from their symptoms and want to change (of course, that doesn't mean they will do so easily, unfortunately). When there is a physiological/biological component to this type of dysfunction, I may from time to time, prescribe medication so that their nervous system can optimally cope with the real world. This levels the playing field, so to speak; but even when medication is prescribed, only by looking at all the factors that come into play in an individual life--Biological, psychological, and social--am I able to help individuals change the course of their life. It is rarely only a "chemical imbalance" (although sometimes it is). The example I use with my medical students is the following:

A woman who comes to see me is profoundly depressed and suicidal because her husband beats her and her marriage is hell. She meets all the diagnostic criteria for a major depressive disorder, and it is clear that the prescription of an antidepressant might be very helpful. In fact, that is what the woman wants.

However, even if I prescribe the medication, I must gently point out to her that no amount of medication for her is going to change her husband's behavior. Only by changing her own behavior can she change things in her marriage-- e.g., she can leave him; she can demand that he get help; she can suggest conjoint counseling--whatever. Or, she can accept that he will continue to behave a certain way (beating her) and accept that. But the medicine will not magically make any of these things happen. All it will do is give her the physiological strength to cope better. She can accept this reality. Or, she might use denial and continue to believe that medication for her will change her husband's behavior. She might use fantasy to pretend that when her "illness" is cured, her husband will realize what a wonderful person she is and stop beating her up; she might use hypochondriasis, developing migraine headaches or other more serious symptoms that keep her away from her husband; she could be passive-aggressive, buying her spouse his favorite alcoholic drink that is the frequent disinhibitor that leads to him hitting her; she might use displacement and blame her husband's employer --who doesn't appreciate him--for her husband's aggressive behavior toward herself.

If she listens to what I am telling her, she might use anticipation and begin to plan to leave the situation at home an go someplace else. She might then find she has a knack for helping women who have abusive husbands and train to be a counselor (altruism); or find that she has acting ability and play the lead in a local production of "Cat on A Hot Tin Roof" (sublimation).

In fact she could use ANY of the many psychological defenses to help her cope with her problem.
Psychological defense mechanisms give people the psychological strength to cope with the vissictitudes of an ever-changing and often unpredictable reality. Some defenses are more useful than others for that purpose and one of the goals of mature adult functioning is to abandon the immature and problematic strategies that can only ultimately make things worse and which provide little pleasure in their life.

Probably the best description of defenses that I have ever read comes from George Vaillant, in his book The Wisdon of the Ego: (pg. 17 - 18)

1. Defenses reflect creative synthesis. The mind creates a perception that was not there before and that did not come just from external reality. In this regard, defensive behavior resembles art.
2. Defenses are relatively unconscious and their deployment is relatively involuntary.
3. Defenses distort inner and/or outer reality.
4. Defenses distort the relationship between affect and idea and between subject and object.
5. Defenses are more often healthy than pathological.
6. Defenses often appear odd or startling to everyone but the user.
7. Over time defenses often mature and allow the mentally "ill" to evolve into the mentally well.

Let me offer a concrete illustration of a defense--a photograph of a rainbow, if you will, obtained through my metaphorical telescope, the Study of Adult Development. I was interviewing an internist who had participated in the study for thirty years. He told me with vividness and enthusiasm, about his hobby: growing tissue cultures in his basement. He then told me with still more enthusiasm that the cells for one of these tissue cultures had been taken from a lesion on his mother's leg. He described his interest in tissue cultures as if it were the most ordinary pursuit in the world. But I have yet to describe his hobby to an audience without an uneasy ripple of laughter sweeping the room. Audiences have found the fact that this doctor was growing his mother's cells in his basement, as a child might raise flowers, extraordinary, even pathological. In short, the doctor saw his own behavior as normal; outsiders saw it as odd and, as we so often view other people's religion, politics, and dreams, possibly improper. Thus their laughter.

But anyone can have an unusual hobby. What mad this internist's avocation particularly noteworthy was that near the end of the interview he revealed to me--in the most matter of fact way--that his mother had died only three weeks earlier. Knowing that he had been very fond of her, I asked him how he had coped with her death. He said that, since he was a physician, he had spent his time comforting his father. On a conscious level, this man had rationalized --and he was good at rationalizing--that he had borne the grief o flosing his mother by caring for another person. Put differently, by his self-report he had used altruism as a coping strategy. Had I been interested only in conscious coping strategies, I too might have classified his means of mastering his mother's death as altruism. Instead, Ilocated his source of solace by makinig a connection of which he himself was probably unaware. I deduced that the knowledge that somehow his mother was still alive and living in his basement might be providing a secret source of comfort. Certainly he had described his scientific hobby to me with an enthusiasm and a warmth usually allotted to people and to art. Certainly, he had described the loss of his mother by death with the blandness usually allotted to leaves dropping off a tree in autumn--or to tissue cultures.

In short, defenses are creative, healthy, comforting, coping, and yet often strike observers as downright peculiar. But that is why defenses--like immune mechanisms--serve adaptation. That is why defenses integrate experience by providing a variety of filters for pain and mechanisms for self-deception. Defenses creatively rearrange
the sources of conflict so that they become manageable.

We may not be able to help which defenses our egos deploy in every situation. Sometimes, when reality is threatening enough or our conflicts are intense enough, even the most mature individual may find him or herself using the more immature defenses like denial and projection. What matters is that we make a practice of examining our own behavior and appreciating the underlying issues and motivations that drive it. Or to put it another way, we reflect on those subtle factors that may be controlling our behavior outside our completely conscious awareness (and therefore our control) and make them fully conscious. This is called developing insight and self-awareness. It is probably the equivalent of the "holy grail" in psychiatric practice, and we psychiatrists are forever encouraging our patients to go on such quests of self-discovery.

By making the unconscious conscious, we gain control over our lives and are able to make choices and attack problems based on a clear view of reality. Yes, we may make the wrong choice, or screw up in dealing with the problem even so; we may even discover some unpleasant truths about ourself. But when our psychological defenses are distorting or obscuring reality to begin with, we are far more likely to ignore a problem or pretend that it doesn't exist and then suffer even more serious consequences.

Maladaptive psychological defenses that bring ourselves and others a great deal of unhappiness and misery, can evolve into mature and adaptive responses to the world that both enhance and protect our lives. Human beings are remarkable creatures. Sometimes their capacity for self-deception and delusion seems unlimited; and sometimes their incredible creativity and ingenuity in coping with all the trials and travails that life throws at them is worthy of appreciation and even awe.

Other posts that are relevant:
Psychological Defense Mechanisms--A Review

Strategies for Dealing with Denial-I
Strategies for Dealing with Denial-II
Strategies for Dealing with Denial-III