The psychological defense mechanism being described is projection (which, with just a little psychic push can become full-blown paranoia).
Collectivist politics of any stripe requires enemies, because they rely upon coercion. Socialist utopias don’t come into existence spontaneously. There would be no need for confiscatory tax rates on the wealthy, if the wealthy voluntarily used their money to buy cars and houses for everyone in the lower income brackets, without requiring them to work in return. Nobody would be talking about nationalizing health care if doctors and hospital staff were happy to work eighty hour weeks for minimum wage, and pharmaceutical companies were run as giant charities that cheerfully sank billions into developing drugs they resell at cost. Few people would leave a sizable chunk of their estates to the government, if the government didn’t seize the money through death taxes. No large group of people on Earth has every freely chosen to peacefully organize themselves into a socialist collective – they either slip into it through small losses of freedom that seem relatively painless as they happen, or they are forced into it at gunpoint. If Franklin Delano Roosevelt had proposed Obama’s current budget and regulatory plans at the outset of the New Deal, he would have been laughed out of office, and if he had attempted to impose Obama’s policies by force, he would have needed infantry platoons and tanks.
The basic premise of socialist government, as Obama famously explained to a plumber in Ohio last fall, is to take wealth away from the more successful people in society, and “spread that wealth around.” This will always be a more attractive proposition to the people serving as the bread, than the people being used as the peanut butter. The creators of wealth must be forced to participate in the system, far beyond the point where a sense of civic duty or compassion for the downtrodden would keep them in line. After all, nearly half the country currently pays no income taxes, and they’re not all “downtrodden” people deserving of charity. In fact, the socialist dream is to reach the point where over half the population pays no taxes, and will thus be inclined to support all expansions of government power. You can’t get to the magic 51% of tax dependents just by using hungry orphans as props.
Increasing levels of coercion are necessary to expand the socialist system, and keep wealth producers trapped within it. To maintain popular support, the socialist needs voters to stay angry at designated class enemies. The Obama style of total government control over private businesses tends to turn feral with frightening speed, because it attempts to preserve the illusion of private enterprise, even as the “entrepreneurs” are enslaved to the total state.
The beginning of the 21st century will surely be looked back on as a golden age of paranoia. The headlines of today fairly ooze with the delusions and vast conspiracies dreamed of in the mind of the paranoid left.
I will also admit that paranoia and delusional thinking are equal-opportunity, multiracial, multicultural and gender-indifferent psychological processes. And, they are so easy and convenient to use, that they are accessible even to the youngest of children or the most physiologically disabled adult mind. The political left certainly has no claim of exclusivity in the use of these two immature defenses, but they are without a doubt the gold medal winners in the American paranoid olympics, and the political right will have to work very hard to ever catch up with them.
Which brings me to the most prevalent mental dysfunction of our time, and the underlying cause of all denial, projection and paranoia: The Unwillingness To Face Reality And Its Consequences.
I deal regularly with people who have various levels of physiological abnormality in their brain. Through an unfortunate series of events--their genetics; random biological mutations; or the deliberate use of mind-altering substances that activate the latent psychosis; etc. etc., these unfortunate souls start out with or unknowingly stimulate a defective physiology which causes a dysfunction in their cognitive faculties. Their defective brain works hard to integrate events and make sense of the world, but it is at a serious and overwhelming disadvantage because its neural pathways don't work properly. Hence, auditory or visual hallucination; bizarre delusions; complicated conspiracy theories; disorganized thinking; and an impaired critical thinking capacity in general--all of which lead to pervasive misperceptions of the world and the people around them.
We rightly call such people mentally ill. For the most part (except for the substance-induced psychotics) the only choice they have in the matter (and this, too is often dependent on whether or not the insight they have into their illness has been spared the physiological degneration that effects other parts of their brain) is whether to regularly take the medications that give them some hope of being able to accurately perceive reality.
The political paranoia and projection that is rampant in the world today repesents a process as close to being mentally ill as it is possible to get. In political paranoia and projection there is the same catastrophic physiological disruption in the brain that the paranoid schizophrenic has; it's just that it is achieved via a different biological route.
Political paranoids aren't necessarily born with much of a physiological vulnerability for becoming detached from reality....no, they had to have repeatedly travelled down a very specific psycho path--or be manipulated and enticed down that path-- to reach their final delusional destination. It is likely that at first those so manipulated just went along with the crowd mentality and took a cognitive 'wrong turn', leaving the main highway of reason and reality. It is always within their cognitive power to return to the main road (unlike those with mental illness who are biologically trapped on the false path); but at some point they choose to stay on their projected course.
The world of politics attracts paranoia, conspiracy theories and projection like flypaper attracts flies. And it is deeply disturbing to observe.
There is, of course, a reason that human beings experience suspicion, distrust and hypervigilance. That reason is because there is REAL danger in the world. Our ancestors in the caves knew this to be true. They lived with continual danger just to survive every minute of every day. Those who did not have the psychological capacity to perceive the danger in the environment surely died out long ago.
But this important psychological trait which senses danger and strives to protect the ego; and which is accentuated in children and early in life, is appropriately balanced out by the development of the rational faculty--the intellect.
The tools of the paranoid are denial, distortion, and projection. These psychological tools are almost always pathological when used to cope with the real world. For the user these three primitive psychological defenses permit a [hopefully temporary] rearrangement of external reality so that an actual, often unpleasant or painful reality may be avoided; for the beholder, the users of these mechanisms frequently appear crazy or insane. These are known as the "psychotic" defenses, common in overt psychosis, in dreams, and throughout childhood.
Denial is a refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening. There are examples of denial being adaptive (for example, it might be adaptive for a person who has a terminal illness to use some degree of denial). But for the most part, denial is only useful as a short-term strategy, to permit a person to come to terms with reality. As a long-term strategy to protect self-identity, it is potentially lethal--since the person or group that uses it extensively is blinded to the real danger that might be out there.
Distortion is a gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs. It is more acceptable to believe that some evil person has tricked you, than it is to believe that you behaved stupidly.
Delusional Projection occurs when an individual or group have delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature. Scapegoating is not only possible under these psychological conditions, it is often necessary as Dr. Zero points out.
Just to be clear, there is a reason that all human beings are capable of psychological projection, which is the emotional technique of attributing one's own unacceptable feelings to someone else in order to 'disown' those feelings. The result is a psychological inversion of reality. For example, instead of saying, "I hate my father", the individual thinks, "My father hates me", and this serves two important functions. First, it gets rid of the unwanted and unacceptable feeling within; and second, it make the person projecting a victim of someone else (in this example, a victime of the person's father).
Now, why would such a psychic mechanism exist? Projection is rightfully referred to as an immature defense mechanism because children early in their development quite routinely use it. As they mature, this initially unconscious capability to project one's own emotions into others will become the conscious psychological capability of experiencing empathy.
The key word is conscious; and the action of making our unconscious needs, desires, emotions and all the other irrationalities swirling around in our brains fully conscious is called psychological insight. When we are conscious of our foibles and fantasies; our insanities and irrationalities, we can choose how best to deal with them--even, constructively deal with them; instead of letting them deal with and control us.
As I mentioned previously, full blown paranoia is only a short step away from projection (when you believe your father hates you instead of admitting that you hate him, it is not much of a leap to imagine that he is going to hurt you and to become fearful of him). Indeed, even in the paranoid person, logic is unimpaired and they make all the right logical connections. The problem (i.e., their disconnect with reality) is that their basic premise is flawed or totally incorrect.
Now, when we get to political paranoia and projection, we have various forces in the group, society, culture or nation, working deliberately to encourage such faulty and dysfunctional premises. And they do it for exactly the same reasons that individuals resort to these primitive defense mechanisms: to avoid dealing with an unpleasant reality about themselves. One that, if exposed, would crush their sense of self; or their self esteem; or make them the object of ridicule and/or shame.
It is easy to see how such psychological manipulations work to keep a person or a group insulated from reality. In truth, we witness such behavior all around us (and it is certainly not exclusive to one side of the political spectrum--though the political left has almost exclusive rights to it at this point in history).
Before we discuss the most recent attempts by the neo-Marxist left via the Obama Administration) to totally scapegoat capitalism and business for our current economic woes; let us turn to the "masters of scapegoating"--the dysfunctional and broken culture of the Middle East.
It has always amazed me to observe that the political left in this country is so taken with the Palestinians and the jihadists and have made the Palestinian cause their own.
It is only a very short step from marching to support and cleverly rationalizing the homicidal and violent terrorist groups that make up the Palestinian cause to then swallowing whole the vile antisemitism that motivates the delusions they need to maintain their victimhood status.
As long as the Palestinians are the left's preferred and idealized victim group, neither have to face their own pathological inadequacies as people. As SC&A observe in a post on Arab conspiracies:
Israel and the success and contributions of Jews to western civilization as opposed to their own failures are in the mirror the Arab world has to look at daily. Those truths are almost intolerable to most Arabs. To be sure there are many progressive, intellectual Arabs that understand that Israel is a reality and that the successes of Jews in the west are a model that should be emulated, but for most, Israel and the success of the Jewish community integration into the American and western mosaic, remains a cruel violation of Allah's promise to them. The fact that Allah seems to have abandoned them to live in such squalor and hopelessness is of no concern- it is the non Muslims that remain the obsession. It is the non-Muslims that have upset the 'natural' Islamic order.
The Arab world is not humiliated by the lack of decent schools. The Arab world is not humiliated by their scientific backwardness and book burnings. In a smaller, interconnected world, they cannot be unaware of their own medievalism. The Arab world is not humiliated by collapsed economies. There are car manufacturers in China and Africa, yet there are only 'plans' for an auto industry in the Arab world.
To put it all in context- how is it possible that the humiliations of centuries of Arab failures are trumped by the political 'humiliations of today? What powerful agenda can pull a whole society away from reality?
The insane asylum we refer to as the Middle East and all its affiliates in Africa and Indonesia where Islamic delusion runs rampant, have a fully formed paranoid fantasy that explains their lack of progress and their dysfunction in the real world. Likewise, the lunatic left also subscribes to their own special convoluted explanations of dysfunction. In both cases, if the object of their projections did not exist, they would have to invent them because their world view cannot be held together without the gummy glue of the paranoid fantasies that connect all their dots.
If we turn to our own country, we must deal with an entire political party and half the nation or more in the grip of projection and early paranoia. It is the same powerful agenda of paranoia and projection that has pulled the political left away from reason, truth and reality.
In a sense, the Palestinians have become the poster children for all those on the political left who are as unwilling as they are to face reality. Hence the rising anti-semitism we witness in this country by the left, who actually identify and feel an emotional 'solitarity' with the Arabs. It is that emotional link that is the psychological basis of their alliance of hate with the Islamists, jihadists, and foes of America wherever they may be.
The paranoia, projection and denial all serve to make them feel better about themselves; make them feel less like the losers they are. By inventing themselves as the victims of the BushHitler--or the Jews, or the neocons or the Republicans or of capitalism and business-- they can, like a typical, arrogant paranoid psychotic, pat themselves on the back at their heroic, courageous, and "principled" stand against the forces of oppression. Their failures are NOT THEIR FAULT. Everything in their life would be better if THE EVIL OPPRESSORS would go away. Their need to externalize blame for their own failures, or for their own greed or envy, will trump any facts and obscure any contradicting reality.
When it comes to the Palestinians, and Islamic culture as a whole, without the paranoia, they are nothing. Without their feelings that they are persecuted and oppressed by the Jews, they might actually have to take responsibility for the pathetic state of their own society where killing the Jews is more important than life itself. Time after time they have been given the opportunity to have their own state and live in peace with Isreal and look forward, abandoning their dysfunctional envy and coming to grips with what keeps them backward and unable to thrive.
Likewise, for the political left who so recently won back the White House. But, to look forward would mean they would have to abandon their scapegoating of Bush and Republicans. To look forward would mean that they would have to acknowledge their own issues and correct the flaws in their ideology's basic premises. Instead, they have refused to give up the denial of reality and continue to nurture their paranoia and projection through a frenzy of undoing and hysterical amnesia.
The paranoid cannot ever afford to examine his or her premises and face reality because to do so would do two things:
(1) it would display to the world the deep, irrational hatred which he is defending himself against by making himself the "victim" of someone else's deep, irrational hatred; and
(2) it would cause him to admit his own insignificance, because if he is NOT the center of a plot and the focus of his "enemies" then he must be shamefully unimportant - a nobody.
You would think that a paranoid person would be reassured to discover that people or groups are NOT out to get him. That there is no conspiracy against the group. You would be wrong. This is the last thing that the paranoid individual or group really want, because--if they are not being persecuted, or betrayed, or lied to, or oppressed--then the paranoid must face the devastating reality of his own insignificance or intellectual bankruptcy. This he cannot do and it is why the alternate reality was constructed in the first place.
The paranoid solution to unacceptable thoughts or feelings is to say, "If I am having these bad thoughts or feeling or behaviors, then someone else must be to blame and is making me do it." The neo-Marxist of today's left does not take responsibility for his own thoughts or feelings or behaviors--their own envy or greed--because to do so would cause the whole house of Marxist cards to come crumbling down. Paranoid neo-Marxist logic goes like this:
- Are you poor? Someone must have robbed you of what you are entitled to!
- Are you angry and experiencing hatred, but like to think of yourself as a loving, compassionate sort of person? Then the object of your hatred magically becomes the one who hates...you!
- Is your genius not universally recognized? You must have powerful enemies that prevent you from achieving the success you know should be yours.
- Have you made mistakes in your life or shown poor judgment? Someone has clearly tricked you into acting a certain way otherwise you wouldn't have.
The above mental gymnastics allow the left to externalize blame and avoid responsibility--and to encourage as many others as possible to avoid taking responsibility and to claim that their misfortune is always someone else's fault and not their own.
Thus begins the ever-expanding culture of victimhood and endless entitlement. It's so easy to convince others to follow the yellow brick psychopath to scapegoating and externalization-- because it is very hard to be a grownup and take responsibility for one's own life. Hell, why should you? The loving nanny state; mother of us all, will take care of you!
In addition to externalizing blame for one's own pitiful situation in life, there is yet another advantage to this paranoia and projection/scapegoating thing: very often, a creative distortion of reality can reliably pump up one's own self-esteem! You are the righteous; persecuting the true racists thus proving you, yourself, are incapable of any racist thoughts or emotions! Aren't you wonderful?
A talented con artist, e.g., our Con Artis- in-Chief, performs this kind of psychological manipulation consciously and deliberately and understands the effectiveness of the basic psychological maneuver. Con artists come in all sorts of political stripes, of course, but in our day the great examples are pretty much exclusive to the political left, because the vast majority of the left's minions have such an intense need to appear virtuous. In fact, the appearance of virtue in themselves is much more important than any other reality.
Reality is always redrawn in order to pump up their own righteousness and virtue. Anyone who opposes their policies is automatically branded as racist, sexist, homophobic, islamophobic-- take your pick, depending on the circumstances.
Hell, anyone who offers ANY new ideas in these areas are automatically branded with one of the "isms".
It is inconceivable to paranoid persons that people actually exist who view the situation differently from them. It is inconceivable that they could be wrong about their perception of reality. Con men always think others are out to con them. In fact, most paranoids consider themselves the ONLY reality-based community, because they get to define what reality is and it is always what they happen to feel. And it is always about making sure they feel good and virtuous and self-righteous.
Paranoia and projection also provide a rationale and justification (to the paranoid, at least) for acting out against those who--from their perspective-- stand in the way of implementing their social programs; or will not submit to the will of their god (whoever and whatever it may be).
Paranoia and projection as psychological defenses used by otherwise normal people are not mental illnesses that can be "cured" by mass quantities of antipsychotic medication in the water supply. Instead, they represent a distortion of reality that occurs in order to meet the inner needs of a crumbling self (or a crumbling ideology, culture, or society) that cannot otherwise be psychologically sustained.
To those who are using such a defense, their behavior and rhetoric seem perfectly logical and internally consistent. They are unbothered by the obvious contradictions because reality is all in their head anyway. Their logic is as impeccable as any reasoning can be--considering that it originates from distorted premises.
The clever manipulation of projection and paranoia--of finding a necessary (and imagined) enemy-- is all in a days work for the leaders of the political left.
Lee Harris once noted in a TCS article titled "Why Isn't Socialism Dead?":
It may well be that socialism isn't dead because socialism cannot die. As Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in "the profounder regions of our mental life," in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn't want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?
Here we have the problem facing those who, like Hernando de Soto, believe that capitalism is the only rational alternative left after the disastrous collapse of so many socialist experiments. Yes, capitalism is the only rational method of proceeding; but is the mere appeal to reason sufficient to make the mass of men and women, especially among the poor and the rejected, shut their ears to those who promise them the socialist apocalypse, especially when the men who are making these promises possess charisma and glamour, and are willing to stand up, in revolutionary defiance, to their oppressors?
The shrewd and realistic Florentine statesman and thinker, Guicciardini, once advised: "Never fight against religion...this concept has too much empire over the minds of men." And to the extent that socialism is a religion, then those who wish to fight it with mere reason and argument may well be in for a losing battle. Furthermore, as populism spreads, it is inevitable that the myth of socialism will gain in strength among the people who have the least cause to be happy with their place in the capitalist world-order, and who will naturally be overjoyed to put their faith in those who promise them a quick fix to their poverty and an end to their suffering.
It is discouraging to see this political insanity continue through the efforts of the neo-marxist collectivists like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Robert Mugabe--and now Barack Obama-- rising on a tide of populist socialist-bullshit.
In re-reading Harris' excellent analysis, it occurs to me that if socialism cannot die because its mythology is seared into the psyche of the individual; captialism, the bane of socialism (just as socialism is the bane of capitalism), also cannot perish for precisely the same reason--each one is the political expressions of one of the two fundamental developmental lines of the human psyche (see here , here and here for a full discussion).
Thus, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the thing most feared by today's neo-Marxists is capitalism. They are right to fear it, because capitalism works in the real world; while communism, socialism and all the utopian variants thereof do not.
Capitalism and free societies are always willing to tolerate even the insanities proposed by collectivists, because in the marketplace of ideas, better ideas will ultimately win out. But collectivists (and leftists of every stripe) are not willing to do the same because they believe they are better people , and the very existence of people who disagree with them is existentially threatening.
In every empirical test in the real world, capitalism has worked better than socialism or communism or any Marxist ideology. The last century once and for all completely debunked all the original Marxist claims about socialism's supposed superiority.
--Instead of exploiting people, capitalism has empowered them, while Marx's theories made them poor, miserable, and oppressed.
--Instead of increasing poverty, capitalism has mostly eliminated it. The rich get richer indeed; but the poor get richer, too. Under socialism’s yoke, everyone becomes poorer--except, of course, the corrupt (see Cuba, Venezuela, etc. etc.).
--Instead of being more humane and peaceful, socialists and communists who gain control of a country have led that country to dictatorship and oppression; and then became aggressive and violent toward other countries as they attempt to externalize blame for their own economic and political failures.
The social engineers of the left, motivated as they are by their creative utopian aspirations--expressed by the desire to impose (forcibly, if necessary) universal peace, social justice and brotherhood upon humanity--are completely oblivious to the malignant side of their own nature; and to their own denial, paranoia and projection.. Both they and the capitalist entrepreneurs of the right who they despise so vehemently are both driven by the darker human emotions: envy, greed and a need to dominate others.
However, there remains an extremely crucial difference between them:
The do-gooder leftist in all the various ideological incarnations--the antiwar crowd, the environmental crowd, the communists, socialists, and assorted collectivists--offers the rationale that he does what he does for the "common good" and for "social justice", "peace" and "brotherhood". His high-minded, self-righteous rhetoric justifies (to him anyway) imposing his will and beliefs on others for their own good; and he will not hesitate to use whatever coercive capablity he has at hand to get others to do what he wants and what he says.
The capitalist, on the other hand, is overtly out to pursue his own selfish profit, and understands he must use persuasion. That is, he must convince people that his ideas and the products of his mind are better than all the rest so that they will be willing to part with their hard-earned money to possess them. His desire for power over others is manifested in an indirect manner because people must want what he has to offer and believe that they will benefit from an interaction with him.
There is no parallel social limitations on the behavior of the leftist. This tyrant wannabe does not feel the need to convince others of the veracity or even the effectiveness of his ideas; nor does he accept defeat when others are not interested or resist their implementation. He knows in his heart what is best for everyone, and he will use coercion if necessary. He will not allow options; nor will he permit others do do what they think is right for themselves. Their feelings or concerns are a matter of complete indifference to him. Only his own matter.
Just listen carefully to the clever rhetoric of the Obama Administration and the thuggish manner in which it is dealing with the economic crisis by demonizing business and businesses. Is it any different from how Islam demonizes Jews--then turns around and acts as if they are the poor, helpless victims of a Jewish plot?
Isn't the entire world a victim of A CAPITALIST CONSPIRACY??? (and if you can't read it, the disgusting depiction to the right says in the lower right corner, "TO: The World, From: Capitalism")
Yes, says the 'pacifist' left if we must kill, let it be capitalism--and the evil rich--that we kill!
Which brings us full circle to Dr.Zero's astute observation. In order to achieve his collectivist agenda, Obama and the left need a scapegoat. Watch and see who is being scapegoated and you will understand what is now happening in this country. To maintain popular support, the dedicated socialist "needs voters to stay angry at designated class enemies. When all else fails, they will crank up the hate and the projection ; and "turn feral with frightening speed." Obama will attempt to preserve the illusion of private enterprise, even as he demonizes entrepreneurs and scapegoats them to avoid having the federal government accept its own role in the current economic crisis.
Through the clever use of projection and paranoia; by scapegoating the productive and the wealthy, Obama's government will grow bigger and more powerful and never have to take responsibility for the worsening state of the economy. The necessary scapegoats are in place...let the show trials commence!