Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics

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Offline bigron

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Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« on: March 02, 2010, 07:31:47 AM »
Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics

If we don't understand how decent, god-fearing, victimized people can come to espouse such dangerous ideologies, we won't be able to fight them effectively.



By Michael Bader, AlterNet
Posted on March 2, 2010, Printed on March 2, 2010
http://www.alternet.org/story/145848/

These Tea Party folks seem to most liberals -- well, to most of us who live in the "reality community," or, as I like to call it, "reality" --- like crazy f**kers.

As a recent New York Times article reports, this hodgepodge of people and groups spout frankly paranoid beliefs as received wisdom, e.g. the Federal Reserve is our enemy and should be abolished; citizens should stock up on ammo, gold; and survival food in anticipation of an impending Civil War; states should "nullify" federal laws and even secede; medical records are being shipped to federal bureaucrats; the army is seeking "Internment/Resettlement" specialists; and Obama is trying to create crises in order to destroy the economy, convert Interpol into his personal police force and create a New World Order.

Conspiracy theories involving shadowy elites like the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations have resurfaced. Self-defense and armed resistance are frequently called for. Racist stereotypes, innuendo and hostility run rampant. The Constitution is its sacred text and Glenn Beck its most beloved prophet. They don't usually wear aluminum hats but perhaps they should.

I hate these folks but I also understand them. And, well, uh, I also empathize with them. They share the same psychology as the paranoid patients I treat every day. The only difference is that the paranoid beliefs of the Tea Party movement are political while those in my consulting room are of a more personal nature. The causes and dynamics, however, are the same. And so just as I have empathy for my patients, I have come to have empathy for the Tea Partiers, even as I despise their influence and work hard to defeat their ideology. It's crucial that the Left does likewise because if we don't understand the ways that decent, god-fearing, and victimized people can come to espouse such a dangerous ideology, we won't be able to fight them effectively.

I treat people who are paranoid all the time. Sometimes they're only mildly paranoid. For example, someone I treat can't tolerate blame of any kind, can't take any responsibility for failures, and can't really be optimistic about the potential goodness in others. It's always someone else's fault. Other times, they're more severely paranoid. A patient I saw spun tale after tale of slights, interpreted innocuous events as malignant, saw conspiracies everywhere, and always imputed malevolence to others' motives. The most extreme cases can be found in the delusions of schizophrenics.

There isn't one cause of paranoia. Tomes have been written about it. Individual variations and exceptions abound. A few generalizations, however, can be made. Paranoid people are trying their best to make sense of and mitigate feelings of helplessness and worthlessness. Their beliefs are attempts to solve a profound problem, albeit in ways that distort reality.

People can't tolerate feeling helpless and self-hating for very long. It's too painful, too demoralizing and too frightening. They have to find an antidote. They have to make sense of it all in a way that restores their sense of meaning, their feeling of agency, their self-esteem, and their belief in the possibility of redemption. They have to. They have no choice. That's just the way the mind works.

The paranoid strategy is to generate a narrative that finally "explains it all." A narrative -- a set of beliefs about the way the world is and is supposed to be -- helps make sense of chaos. It reduces guilt and self-blame by projecting it onto someone else. And it restores a sense of agency by offering up an enemy to fight. Finally, it offers hope that if "they" -- the enemy, the conspirators -- can be avoided or destroyed, the paranoid person's core feelings of helplessness and devaluation will go away.

Take an extreme case. Someone I saw years ago had a paranoid delusion that orbiting satellites were trying to control his mind. He went to great lengths to insulate his apartment so as to repel these psychic assaults. When I got to know him better, I discovered he developed this delusion as a way to make sense of an ongoing but terrifying experience, the genesis of which lay in his childhood: that he wasn't a separate person and didn't have the right to his own thoughts. This terrifying feeling of helpless vulnerability was rendered comprehensible to him by his delusion about orbiting satellites. In a paradoxical way, his delusion reduced his terror even as it generated its own fears and dangers.

Another patient I saw had a daughter who was mentally retarded. When the daughter's disability was discovered, he felt so helpless and guilty (normal feelings that were exaggerated by experiences from his own childhood) that he slowly developed the belief that the daughter had been the unwitting victim of sexual abuse by relatives, that this abuse had led to various cognitive arrests, and that treatment for the abuse could and would restore her to normalcy. In this way, he negated his guilt, and momentarily overcame his helplessness through a heroic search for a therapeutic "cure."

While extreme cases, these vignettes illustrate the core truth about paranoia; namely, that it is an attempt to lessen unbearable feelings of self-blame and powerlessness. In this special sense, psychotherapists understand paranoid beliefs as attempts at adaptation and self-healing, even as these beliefs compromise the ability to test reality and invariably create suffering of their own.

Paranoid beliefs about President Obama and the government promulgated by the ultra-right have a similar genesis and meaning. In the Times story about the Tea Party movement, the writer describes how most Tea Party activists are not loyal Republicans. "They are frequently political neophytes," he writes, "who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame."

They began listening to Glenn Beck, reading the Federalist Papers, books by Ayn Rand and George Orwell, and started visiting radical right-wing Web sites.

The Times writer then makes a crucial observation: "Many describe emerging from their research as if reborn to a new reality." In other words, like my patients, the Tea Party folks find in their paranoid views about politics a narrative that "explains it all," that reduces their sense of helpless confusion, and that channels their feelings of victimization into one of self-righteous militancy. They go from passive victim to active agent, from guilty to innocent, but all at the price of distorting reality into one full of malevolent conspiracies.

The payoff is that they are no longer confused. They are reborn and now, thankfully, have the "answer." And that answer is that big forces are hurting and enslaving them. While these forces include the banks and large corporations, the main culprit is, of course, the government. People don't have a direct and immediate experience of Goldman Sachs; they do, however, experience government every day, not only on television news shows, but via laws, taxes, public services (or the lack thereof), law enforcement, etc.

Lots of people feel guilty and helpless, of course, and most don't become paranoid. Some become simply depressed or resigned, others turn to strategies of distraction or addictive self-medication. Others might face their feelings more directly, tolerate them, and find alternative solutions, e.g. turn to friends, therapists or various communities of support. Still others may find relief for painful feelings by projecting all meaning and agency onto God. And some simply fight back against "reality," despite long odds. The psychological reasons one person turns to paranoia and another seeks a healthier solution are not generally known. It is also obvious that left-wing conspiracy theorists share much of the same pathology as those on the right wing of the spectrum.

For new Tea Party members, however, the drift toward paranoia is facilitated by the right-wing media machine that offers several ready-made narratives perfectly designed to help its consumers clear up their confusion, understand their helplessness, absolve them of any blame and offer a way out. The conspiratorial alliance of business and government, a growing tyranny intended to disenfranchise, disarm and exploit ordinary citizens, secret pacts to overthrow the Constitution, etc. all currently led by an un-American, godless, colored, elitist, contemptuous foreigner: Barack Hussein Obama. A grim and frightening picture of the world to be sure. Psychologically speaking, however, it offers relief from helplessness and a sense that things are falling apart. It offers a sense of cohesion and identity based on certainty, a commonality of interests, innocence, and even martyrdom. While the world of the Tea Partiers is filled with danger, it is a danger mitigated by moral certainty, clarity of purpose and a definable external enemy.

The "problem," then, is not the paranoid storyline, but the anxiety, helplessness and pain that generate it. That pain is not irrational or crazy. It's real. We all feel it. Most of us do feel helpless in relation to the most important aspects of our lives, from the nature of our work to its security, from our politicians who are on the corporate dole to those perpetuating gridlock through their narrow ideology, from the quality of our health care to its availability, and from the isolation and loneliness of everyday social life. The pain of self-blaming is also ubiquitous in the cultural assumption that our lot in life is determined primarily by individual ability, not by getting help from others. Confusion, anxiety, disconnectedness and a sense that "things are falling apart" are not crazy feelings. They are accurate and valid responses to a highly alienated and often abusive social world.

The "problem" is that Tea Party activists move from legitimate feelings and normal longings to paranoid political positions that are dangerous and cruel. But because these positions serve an important psychological function, because they resolve an emotional dilemma, they can't be changed by rational argument. I have never been able to help a paranoid patient even a little bit by arguing with his or her view of reality. Not one bit. The only way I have been able to make any headway is using our relationship to provide real experiences that have a shot at providing an alternative and more satisfying "solution" to their underlying fears. Only then can I begin to offer a counter-narrative, one that acknowledges their pain and innocence, but enables them to more accurately identify its sources and, therefore, its antidote.

Perhaps the progressive movement shouldn't waste its time dealing with the Tea Party movement except as a spur to get our own house -- and movement -- in order. A legitimate argument can be made that these people are, simply, the enemy and that our challenge is to build progressive majorities immune to their sabotage and interference.

But I would argue that to the extent we want to reach people who are drawn to Tea Party, patriot, libertarian, and other right-wing movements but are not yet hard-line ideologues, or prevent others from becoming so, we have to begin with empathy. We have to get inside their heads, figure out how their choices are reasonable from their point of view. It would help if we found ways to get into relationship with them, to demonstrate a genuine curiosity not about their paranoid theories but about the underlying pain and fear that is the source of them.

In this way, perhaps we can figure out how to speak to that pain and fear in ways that are both authentic and comforting. Perhaps we can figure out what experiences they might need to have in order to feel safe enough to at least listen to another narrative: ours.


Michael Bader is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco. He is the author of "Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies" and "Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It -- and Men Don't Either."

2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/145848/

Offline tritonman

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Re: Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2010, 07:44:44 AM »
I would love to be a mouse in the corner when all of his paradigm comes crashing down around him.  It should make for quite an emotional outburst , him realizing that the so called delusions are in fact real. ;D
     

Offline THX11384EB

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Re: Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2010, 01:22:09 PM »
Just so you know im surrounded by psychologists in my family as well as I have attended many psychologists as I know the personal benefits of psychotherapy, of discovering oneself, digging deep into the unconsciousness and turning it conscious to solve every aspect of ourselves that neutralize our persuit of happiness, and I can well understand between a well funded distrust to pure paranoiah, and besides you "debunking" these views on your pure assumption that is just a self-defense mechanism to isolate the helplessness and such what really irritates me is that you go up there on the internet and so easily share information about your patients, haven't you learned doctor-patient confidenciality at all? you may not list names but the pure act of you talking about them is already breaking their privacy and betraying their trust to you, your duty as a psychotherapist is to become a blank wall in which your patients can project their feeling to you, a blank wall in which these stories will not reach beyond this wall and still here you are sharing private information.

Also even if you are still in a subjective current of thought your duty is to be objective as possible about such matters and still here you are saying how you hate tea partiers but still empathyse with them and even care for them, sorry did Orwell came in the room shouting doublethink for a second there? anyways there is something called statistical normality, these "delusions" as you put them are subjects written about in hundreds of books, newspapers, documentaries, investigations, political views, etc. The Federal Reserve Act subject is pretty easy to comprehend why these people are against it, if you knew how central banking currency really worked and had one of the Federal Reserve Modern Economics books with you, you would discover how the current central banking currency of the U.S. is backed by nothing but inflation and debt, the more currency there is in circulation the more debt and inflation there is, not only does the circulation of more currency generates more debt but it also deprices the currency itself, and the only thing the government can do to "eliminate" this debt is by using the same loaned currency to do it which now costs less than the debt it created, making it impossible for the government to pay, the U.S. government now owes this private institution about 30 trillion dollars if im correct.

Tyranny and conspiracies is not something new, you can see it everywhere in human history, from Alexander of Macedonia to Nero, from the Vatican in the middle ages to Robespierre on the french revolution, from Nazi germany to Soviet Russia, now be worried when these people start talking about David Icke, an artificial moon and lizardheads, then you can start declaring paranoid squizophrenia without a second thought, but again seeing how unethical you are by sharing private information I don't believe you are even up for the job you are doing right now, so either rethink your ethics or rethink your line of work.

Anyways since obviously the guy is not here I would love to get his e-mail and forward this to him...

PullMyFinger

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Re: Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2010, 02:15:27 PM »
Just so you know im surrounded by psychologists in my family as well as I have attended many psychologists as I know the personal benefits of psychotherapy, of discovering oneself, digging deep into the unconsciousness and turning it conscious to solve every aspect of ourselves that neutralize our persuit of happiness, and I can well understand between a well funded distrust to pure paranoiah, and besides you "debunking" these views on your pure assumption that is just a self-defense mechanism to isolate the helplessness and such what really irritates me is that you go up there on the internet and so easily share information about your patients, haven't you learned doctor-patient confidenciality at all? you may not list names but the pure act of you talking about them is already breaking their privacy and betraying their trust to you, your duty as a psychotherapist is to become a blank wall in which your patients can project their feeling to you, a blank wall in which these stories will not reach beyond this wall and still here you are sharing private information.

Also even if you are still in a subjective current of thought your duty is to be objective as possible about such matters and still here you are saying how you hate tea partiers but still empathyse with them and even care for them, sorry did Orwell came in the room shouting doublethink for a second there? anyways there is something called statistical normality, these "delusions" as you put them are subjects written about in hundreds of books, newspapers, documentaries, investigations, political views, etc. The Federal Reserve Act subject is pretty easy to comprehend why these people are against it, if you knew how central banking currency really worked and had one of the Federal Reserve Modern Economics books with you, you would discover how the current central banking currency of the U.S. is backed by nothing but inflation and debt, the more currency there is in circulation the more debt and inflation there is, not only does the circulation of more currency generates more debt but it also deprices the currency itself, and the only thing the government can do to "eliminate" this debt is by using the same loaned currency to do it which now costs less than the debt it created, making it impossible for the government to pay, the U.S. government now owes this private institution about 30 trillion dollars if im correct.

Tyranny and conspiracies is not something new, you can see it everywhere in human history, from Alexander of Macedonia to Nero, from the Vatican in the middle ages to Robespierre on the french revolution, from Nazi germany to Soviet Russia, now be worried when these people start talking about David Icke, an artificial moon and lizardheads, then you can start declaring paranoid squizophrenia without a second thought, but again seeing how unethical you are by sharing private information I don't believe you are even up for the job you are doing right now, so either rethink your ethics or rethink your line of work.

Anyways since obviously the guy is not here I would love to get his e-mail and forward this to him...
;D.Welcome to the forum!!!.I am sure a search of his name wil provide an e-mail adress so you can send him the above.
This however why I personally think it would be like talking to a brick wall:
Quote
but again seeing how unethical you are by sharing private information I don't believe you are even up for the job you are doing right now, so either rethink your ethics or rethink your line of work.

Offline Geolibertarian

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Re: Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2010, 02:30:53 PM »
Quote
Conspiracy theories involving shadowy elites like the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations have resurfaced [blah blah blah]....

I treat people who are paranoid all the time...[blah blah blah]...A patient I saw spun tale after tale of slights, interpreted innocuous events as malignant, saw conspiracies everywhere, and always imputed malevolence to others' motives [blah blah blah]....

The Times writer then makes a crucial observation: "Many describe emerging from their research as if reborn to a new reality." In other words, like my patients, the Tea Party folks find in their paranoid views about politics a narrative that "explains it all," that reduces their sense of helpless confusion, and that channels their feelings of victimization into one of self-righteous militancy. They go from passive victim to active agent, from guilty to innocent, but all at the price of distorting reality into one full of malevolent conspiracies. [blah blah blah]....



I strongly urge all relative newcomers to carefully read the following thread:

       http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=161407.0
"Abolish all taxation save that upon land values." -- Henry George

"If our nation can issue a dollar bond, it can issue a dollar bill." -- Thomas Edison

http://schalkenbach.org
http://www.monetary.org
http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=203330.0

H0llyw00d

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Re: Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2010, 02:42:01 PM »
better one for ya Geo ;)


Offline THX11384EB

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Re: Why We Need to Have Empathy For Tea Party Lunatics
« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2010, 08:18:51 PM »
Thanks for the warm welcome and suggestion Pullmyfinger, glad to be around.  :D