Europe vs Australia: Happiness and the Capitalist Behemoth

 

I’ve just returned from about a month in Europe, mainly in Spain and a little bit in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Naturally I’ve experienced some of that travel bias where you spend a few days in a place and suddenly decide it’s the best and you want to live there, without experiencing or paying much attention to the drawbacks and things that don’t work so well. Still I think there’s value in noticing things that are good about a place, and thinking about how it might improve how we live back home.

Barcelona: There a many things to be said about Barcelona, not the least of which, they are taking 100 years to build a 170m high giant sandcastle in the middle of the city, La Sagrada Familia (imagine pitching that to the state government) In Barcelona, banks close at 2pm, and just don’t open on Wednesdays, because why work your ass off. This really annoyed a friend of ours who was trying to run a business there, but as he said, the trade-off for the inconvenience is a very relaxed and laid back culture

Public Spaces: Cities in Europe seem to be filled with public spaces, namely squares where people meet and hang out. After the dictator Franco died, 200 public squares were established in Barcelona, because the ability to gather was seen as essential to a functioning democratic society. Squares are found all over the place, and I know when I now think of Europe the first thing I think of is hanging out in a public square.

Paternity leave in Denmark: In Copenhagen I immediately noticed that pretty much with every young child I saw, both mum and dad were present. Looking into it Danish Dad’s get 2 weeks paid leave, and then the couple have 52 weeks of paid leave to divide amongst themselves. This sure beats Australia’s 18 weeks for primary parent (typically maternity leave), and 2 weeks maternity leave. I think this makes sense given the first 3 years of life, more than any other period, have a massive impact on how a person develops. The more intensive the support and care a child receives at this time, the less likely they are to develop mental illness, addiction and criminal behaviour.

Danish urban planning: At the Copenhagen Architecture Museum we watched a documentary about Jan Gehl (see video above), a Danish architect and urban designer who has had a big influence on how modern Copenhagen has taken shape. He talked about the ‘welfare state’ which in Australia actually has negative connotations, but in Denmark pertains to the state actually working to make society healthy and happy. In Copenhagen it is harder to find a spot to park your bike than your car. You can walk, ride or use public transport to get everywhere. On the main streets, cars must give way to pedestrians at every intersection (see photo).

IMG_20170717_184221

What all these things have in common is that they are about happiness and wellbeing rather than about profit. In the case of Denmark the results are self-evident in it consistently being rated the happiest country in the world – their unemployment rate is also lower than ours, so their economy isn’t doing too bad either.

I compare this to Australia which seems quite the opposite, where we are letting our cities and ultimately the whole structure of our lives be dictated by profit rather than happiness. We are building cheap and ugly apartment blocks of every square inch of land, we are building more roads, digging more mines, we are ditching penalty rates because apparently Sundays, once a day to relax,  is now ‘just like any other day’.

Maybe some of this is because, as  the last continent to be  colonised,  in western terms (I talk about Aboriginal Australia a bit later) we are very young and vulnerable in a cultural sense. The villages and cities of Spain and Denmark have centuries of history, which have influenced the buildings, the food, the music, the dress, the language, daily habits and values of their people. With a developed cultural identity, there is a sense that some things are important, and worth protecting against the global pull to make everything bigger, faster, denser, more efficient, and more profitable (this ‘pull’ may also be known as the capitalist behemoth, swallowing everything in its path).

Australia however has a very vague and underdeveloped cultural identity – something about ANZACs, battlers, footy, beers, meat pies. The nation of Australia only existed for 50 years prior to the post WWII capitalist explosion. Without a strong cultural identity, I fear the capitalist behemoth will swallow us – our whole society and lives will be structured around making and spending money and there will be no real community and we will all be depressed and lonely. But hey, our GDP might be good. I feel like as a country we have the choice of continuing to buy this idea that what is good for business is good for us, and probably end up like the USA, or start supporting policies that are about happiness first and profits second, and probably ending up like Denmark.

One thing Europe doesn’t have is the oldest landscape in the world. I couldn’t help but take a couple pictures from the plane returning home, somewhere over the QLD outback (see below).

IMG_20170724_102121

Of course to say that Australia is young in a cultural sense is very incorrect. Funny how you look at Roman ruins from 200BC and think wow that’s old, but then remember that there are paintings by the first Australians which are from 40000BC. Tragically European invasion managed to destroy much of this ancient culture, but thanks to the resilience of these people it was not destroyed completely. And thank goodness, because if we listen to Aboriginal people and value their land as they do, we will be working towards a cultural identity worth protecting. I guess the good thing about being in some ways a young nation is that we have the opportunity now to choose what we want to be about.

Pat

Advertisements

Re-asserting the importance of community

Our inner experience, both shared and individual, cannot be totally explained or helped to flourish by that which you could read in a policy manual or philosophy textbook. Resolving social drama and conflict depends upon our ability to deeply connect with other human beings in community. Intellectual frameworks can be useful, but as tools, not rigid instruction manuals for how our society should function.

With intellectually driven progress, we may live longer and more comfortable lives in the physical world, but this is a pyrrhic victory indeed if we cannot maintain and develop communities that nourish our inner lives.

To me there is a tremendous irony that the very cultural phenomena that has brought people in closer physical proximity than ever before, the city, has played such a key role in dissolving our local and more sensually tangible sense of community. In the city, one might have community based solely on family and old friends who live far away: call it our “weekend community”. We may belong to groups of people with common interests, or socialize with people at our places of business, but it is fair to say most of us city dwellers do not know our closest neighbours all that well!

The more dense the environment, the seemingly more true this is. I grew up in the city and it is a completely normal feeling to walk past someone and have no idea who they are. Five hundred years ago very few humans lived like this. Quite an adjustment indeed.

Technology has made it easier than ever to create superficial community, but who is relying on someone from their MeetUp group for spontaneous company when the chips are down or when there is conflict to be resolved? We need community not just for fun times, but for all times.

We must guard against condensing our community down into a few small but vital relationships, and leaving everything else to “The Man”.  Think of a couple arguing passionately at the slightest thing, such is the importance of that relationship, but choosing to email their building manager to go “apply the policy” to the person making noise upstairs rather than going to meet them. To me, there is something disempowering about this for all concerned.

We might complain when “the policy” is not to our liking, but actually, the problem is not the policy, but the impossibility of loading all our human drama into a policy! This applies as much to a neighbourhood dispute as it does the Trans-Pacific-Partnership.

Our approach to dialogue over immigration and refugees in Australia is a great illustration of institutional and societal frameworks that fail to empower community spirit, and therefore don’t resolve deep divisions satisfactorily. I think we rely on the Federal government of Australia as a substitute for the community power we don’t have but desire. The result is our being forced to stomach Pauline Hanson in Federal Parliament, when in her heart of hearts, she’s probably much more concerned with Ipswitch.

When it comes to Australia’s ugly refugee policies, I believe community and inner disempowerment is at the heart of the issue, even if it manifests through rationalisations of racism and xenophobia. I also think it is something we could all relate to if we try.

Imagine there was a gang war in your street, and anyone looking to flee the gang war had simply to make it to your front door, and you would be obliged by a policy framework to not only give them shelter, but permanent residence. I’m guessing that it would not be the act of giving hospitality that would riel you, but the idea that you have no choice in the matter. You are being asked to act as an inhuman cog in a policy machine, no matter that it is a policy machine designed to do good. Your vote (or not) for the party that brought in the policy in a Federal election is probably cold comfort.

Of course our country and our communities are not the same as our homes, but I don’t think the analogy is as far off the mark as many of us would like to assert. It’s never comfortable to look deeply at how permeable are the lines we draw between ourselves and those whose behaviour offends us.

Giving locals the power to decide who can and cannot live in their community would sure have its complications and down sides. In the case of refugees, we would surely be empowering a lot of ugly tribalism, discrimination, and racism. But before your mind explodes at this proposition, stop and ask: do we have so little faith in the building blocks of our society, our people and our communities, that we must force them to do what we consider to be the compassionate thing? Does this even work in the long run? Is it the best we can do? Is it progress?

With this kind of radical empowerment at the community level, perhaps we could move past detention camps, or the grotesquely named “offshore processing”. Refugees would be allowed to stay in Australia, but in areas where people were happy to have them. Over time there would be opportunities to introduce the new arrivals to those who live in more insular and fearful communities, slowly but surely building diverse communities organically, and without needing to rely on disempowering policies. Of course there are many ramifications for such a move, such that I am not even advocating that we just go and do this. But a recognition of the need for more community empowerment broadly would be a good start.

This kind of thing is in many ways a call that we be more patient, and in general when we think of progress, be willing to await organic, community based progress that elevates inner humanity and experience above objective and intellectual notions of success. I believe there is immense wisdom in allowing things to flow, even if that flowing brings short term ugliness and challenges, rather than forcing intellectual ideas upon ourselves and others, no matter how positive the intention.

Submitted by Luke

Addiction as both Symptom and Cause – Psychological and Religious Perspectives

by Zevic Mishor

It’s the weed; she smokes it all the time, you know

Oh ice, he’s addicted to ice, keeps taking it, that’s why

References of this kind to dependence – in the examples just given, on drugs, but also in other forms – carry with them and reassert two vitally important assumptions, that together constitute a common type of view held by individuals and by societies (as evidenced, for example, by their legal/punitive regimes) regarding the subject of addiction and its harms. I suggest that that worldview is problematic, because of the incomplete picture of the cause-and-effect relationships it’s based on. In order for healing to be better facilitated, therefore, a more complete picture must be formed.

The first important assumption underlying typical worldviews is that the addiction is a (and often the) cause of a very conflicted lived reality for the individual in question. The second assumption is that the individual chooses to engage with the habit. Clearly, addiction – with each new instance of the behaviour manifesting in a seemingly endless procession, stretching ad nauseam backwards and forwards in time – indeed is a cause of further effects that entail deep suffering, and indeed does involve a component of free will in relation to each such new instance of the habit. There is much to be said on this assertion regarding free will; here I wish only to point out that there seems to be an important connection between addictive behaviours and the splitting of the psyche into two unintegrated parts, that subsequently vie with one another for control of consciousness.

What I want to draw attention to in this article is the other half of the picture: addiction as an effect – that is, as a symptom that manifests through the psyche in response to psychological ruptures and pressures. The addiction, of course, becomes the cause of further chaos and pain, and indeed, so much so that the original problem may almost be forgotten, on a conscious level, in the mists of time, or is wrapped up for the sufferer in layers of their own story that are as convoluted as the addiction itself.

The recognition of addiction as such an effect – that is, as constituting a symptom in and of itself – is largely lacking in contemporary societies. Think, for example, of the flavour and implied moral judgement of the phrase “drug user” in the mainstream of the modern world. A gruesome and deeply tragic massacre is unfolding in front of that world’s very eyes at present in the Philippines, as a result of the coupling of such a moral attitude taken to its extreme, together with the truly evil narcissism of the current regime and its law enforcement services, who have adopted murder as a “solution”.

The process by which addiction manifests as a response to ruptures and pressures of the psyche can be conceptualised through different psychoanalytic models, in which the aforementioned process of splitting often plays a central role. In a simpler, metaphorical sense, however, one function that addiction serves may be described as a “band-aid” to trauma and its ongoing consequences. In order to constitute such a band aid, the mental grouping that holds sway when the addictive behaviour is being enacted must seek to maintain the absolutely fantastical, yet so very human, self-delusion that that behaviour and the “chamber of comfort” it tentatively and momentarily supplies can continue forever.

Addiction, then, may be thought of simultaneously as a symptom and as a cause. Modern societies appear to favour the latter attribution over the former, with the corollary that the individual in question is choosing the behaviour, of their own free will. And if the addict is completely responsible for that behaviour, then their free will must also be absolute. This sits nicely with modernity’s narcissistic conception of itself as the prime mover, with any suggestion of another Will that is greater than and contains its own done away with. It may be for this reason that in most countries the conception of addiction as a freely-chosen cause of the woes it so clearly leads to holds sway, even though this conception is rarely acknowledged nor consciously understood. An openness to the alternate possibility tacitly places in doubt the primacy of the human will over any other.

It seems more realistic to acknowledge, however, that we’re neither a zero nor a one, but somewhere in between (and often closer to the former). We sometimes move, but are often moved, sometimes truly act, but are often acted upon. This dichotomy maps onto the classic dual pairs of victim versus perpetrator, symptom versus cause, and wounded child to hug versus battleground for good and evil (see onwards).

On the individual level, and returning to the hypothetical accusatory phrases given at the beginning of this article, the emphasis by a therapist, family member, friend, or society at large on addiction as a cause of suffering, and indeed, the very forgetting of the addiction as also an effect or symptom of other suffering, is not at all conducive to authentic dialogue, understanding, nor to healing. The seminal Rat Park studies of the late 1970s – wherein rats placed in laboratory conditions, essentially hellish for a rat, consumed large amounts of morphine-laced water to which they were given free access, yet rats placed in family groups within an enclosed park that simulated their natural habitat consumed nineteen times less of the same opiate-laced water – should also be kept in mind in this context.

The above reference to “wounded child to hug versus battleground for good and evil” goes to the heart of the matter, representing also the different roles and functions of psychology versus religion. The former tends to secularise the issue, acknowledging pain and trauma and the need for healing. Psychology recognises the wounded child, who – despite him or herself now being also a perpetrator of suffering upon self and others – is in desperate need of understanding and support. Religion, in contrast, in some of the modes that it comes in, introduces the demonic. There is a battle of good and evil unfolding, that the individual must engage in with the entirety of their free will. The forces in question are not only contained within the human – “in” in the sense of his or her conscious human form – but are external to that form, originating in largely unknown higher-order dimensions of reality.

Psychoanalysis, in the approach largely established by its founder Freud, has sought to secularise those forces, relegating them to the unconscious. This can be a very useful conception to work with, at times. On the other hand, we know that some successful approaches to the treatment of addiction, such as Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps, actively recognise a “Power greater than ourselves”, that is vital to the healing process. In contrast to Freud, Carl Jung was able to speak from a transcendent viewpoint on these opposite pairs, of psychology/religion or unconscious/demonic (or Divine), comprehending that the deeper/higher one goes, the more the unconscious and the Divine are realised to be one and the same thing, in terms of constituting the Source that churns out the reality experienced by the conscious self.

This short article has pointed out some conceptual dichotomies, that have deep moral implications, in approaching the question of addiction. The habit may be seen as a cause or as an effect. Each new instance of it may be treated as a symptom of deep pain and suffering, requiring love and support, or as a failure of the free will (the innermost principle, according to certain conceptions, of what it is to be human) to “activate” itself, requiring criticism and reprimand. Religion can provide several perspectives on this dichotomy, but is most often associated with the latter position.

Which approach is best, for the individual with themselves and for anybody trying to help? The answer is, of course, absolutely both – there is a time and a place for each; sometimes support, sometimes reprimand. We must, clumsily, haltingly and often chaotically – yet doing our best – mix and match, applying this one and then that, until new horizons present themselves and paths forward are revealed. Note the parallels here to parenting, for indeed, is is precisely the same thing.

Within the suffering of addiction we’re challenged to seek and to forge meaning; this is concomitant with finding fresh horizons from which to understand the predicament and thus possess it, rather than be possessed by it. This is human lifemaking at its symbolic rawest.

The Pretend of Hyper-Rationality

Introduction

I have an on-going dialogue with a very good friend of mine, about the role of rationality in our respective lives. He is a scientist, and he works in the financial services industry. He firmly believes that we should rely upon scientific knowledge to guide our lives, and ignore other ways of knowing. I know he, like everyone else, relies upon ‘gut feeling’: intuition and wisdom that goes beyond surface-layer logic, but what intrigues me is that he does not want to acknowledge this in his personal life.  It’s like he is embarrassed by his humanness. I want to explore this not uncommon trend within us– why the embarrassment? We’re not computers, but it’s like we’re pretending that we are.   I will also explore this trend of “the pretend of rationality” within wider society, though I recognise that the wider society question is more difficult.

We live in a secular society, where utilitarianism dominates.  In a philosophical sense, rationality can be defined as the state of being reasonable, as conforming one’s decisions to facts or reason.  Of course there have been extensive discourses about the role of rationality in life, including in philosophy, religion,  political theory, economics, and in art history.

I appreciate the obvious benefits of rationality in the public realm.  For instance I do not disagree always with economic rationality. If material wants can be best met through economically rational strategies, there is nothing wrong with this. Decisions are justifiably influenced by economic and scientific evidence. Similarly in the private realm of choices we make about our own lives, instead of relying upon untested modalities or remedies, we can instead rely upon scientifically tested strategies that are proven to work.

However, rationality now seems to be presented as a god as if it’s the only factor in life, the topic most worthy of public discourse. Rationality has become so strong, we have begun to believe it has all the answers, to the exclusion of any other set of human values. Some rationalists, in criticising religious fundamentalism, are guilty of adopting fundamentalist-type thinking themselves, that is, that no one has the answers but themselves, which fails to generate a relational dialogue between two sets of fundamentalist paradigms. In a way, economics and technology have been too successful, too brilliant that it has submerged everything else. It seems these days humanity must serve rationalist goals.  Now, I’m exaggerating my point perhaps a little. In reality, there is plenty of irrational behaviour left in the world.  However, my question is to ask whether we as a society have an excessive tendency for rationality.

If we too are complicit with this denial of anything else but rationality, this bolsters purely rationalist objectives as the sole paradigm for the wider context of our lives. I call this ‘hyper-rationality’.  Hyper-rationality of the western world arguably diminishes our humanity.  Harmful outcomes can result from rationalisations that are devoid of a wider set of deep values, a deeper context of humanity, and this here is my concern.

The symptoms of Hyper-rationality

So, what sort of problems do we encounter with hyper-rationality?

The main problem is that hyper-rationality fails to provide a cohesive set of social values that are sincere, and that integrate the heart, body and mind. It’s hard to be sincere and consistent about a set of cognitive rational principles without an underlying emotional content. Robotic, legalistic thinking is just plain lazy. Pure rationality tends to produce actions that are convenient and self-serving to the rationaliser. For example, politicians of the world have plenty of very rational reasons as to why action on climate change is not necessary in their electorates right now. It would be different if politicians and their electorates had a deeply held set of values in favour of ecological conservation.

As evidenced by my friend, hyper-rationality is based on an embarrassment of the sacred. By divorcing itself from deep thinking, it aligns itself exclusively with what can be called superficial calculation, or cheap rationalisation. It has no checks and balances on itself. This leads to a world that is myopic and apathetic towards anything that is not immediately beneficial in a utilitarian sense. In that sense, hyper-rationality often aligns itself with extreme economic-rationalist views. Can you imagine all the incredible projects in the world that would have never started, let alone been finished, if hyper-rationality had dominated us through history?

 

Hyper-rationality crowds out all the other voices that need to be heard, in particular those voices that are bigger than just your daily thoughts, that are repetitive, sometimes very annoying, and not particularly useful.

 

Adherence to hyper-rationality means you have no abiding set of values to give life meaning, other than lowest common denominator factors that everyone can agree upon, such as keeping busy, achieving and to not question the assumptions. One instead focuses one’s attention on being functional and useful, continuing with dull inner selves. We then have unconscious emotional needs and unfulfilled needs for potency, together with the mistaken belief that these can be met by consuming something (Rollo May). Again, this perversely aligns with the interests of economic stakeholders.

 

Hyper-rationalism mistakes what it is to be human, with emotions and capacity for deep wisdom. By disowning that side of humanity, a vacuum is formed in the human psyche, one that is rapidly filled with other less noble pursuits, based around self-centredness. With no other overriding values, we are left with dwell on self-centred materiality, acquiring stuff for its own sake, produced and consumed evermore efficiently. This is seductive, as it promises ‘freedom’: a freedom to consume whatever, with endless possibilities. Now, ‘we are a community … who has to obey his buyer’ (Auden).

By denying non-rationalist dialogue, it goes underground, where it becomes unaccountable and distorted because it is untested in the social realm. The non-rationalist realm becomes a breeding ground for prejudice, simplistic and facile arguments, and a childish lack of depth.

With no other symbols of ultimate concern upon which they can attach a sense of human belonging, people feel they don’t belong. This leads to a diminished sense of healthy community. With reduced communal feeling, individuals might even become preoccupied with sex, because we need to grasp at alternative ways to maintain the Self and find feeling (Rollo May).

In such a society, the natural tendencies towards greed and envy are untempered. We would feel a sense of belonging in such a society only if ‘we’re good enough’. It’s not ‘OK okay to be people’. A unifying ultimate concern or deep value in this society is that you must achieve. We would all internalise this message, that achievement is valued above all. People would increasingly judge themselves on their material acquisitions and achievements, and adopt frenzied activity as their primary mode of living. We would orientate ourselves with values of competitive striving, prestige, accumulating power, utilitarianism, functionality, conformity and technical efficiency.

 

Where logic and rationalisms are life’s main focus, there is little time for individuals to confront apparent futility of life. One resigns oneself to simply do what others tell you to do and find meaning that way. In the face of such hopelessness, this of course leads to conformity and a susceptibility to being told what to do by governments.

In the hyper-rational society, the process of government becomes skewed. ‘Government policy’ can become camouflaged on behalf of individuals who know how to manipulate it on their behalf. In that way, society reverts to a primitive tribalism (CS Jung), with manipulative and self-serving messaging about economy from vested interests in corporations and governments (for example regarding climate change and negative gearing).

 

Real deep change, not tinkering with the system

Despite all these issues, it seems like we’re powerless to change the system. The most that happens is that there is occasional tinkering around the edges of the hyper-rationality paradigm. For instance, some suggest that we should have new economic indicators that include social outcomes. The problem with this is that it ignores the root causes and actually reinforces the longevity of the hyper-rationality paradigm.

I suggest instead a bigger task: to completely deconstruct and de-mythologise the rationalist obsession/paradigm. Resolving this dilemma involves a journey into the mental tendencies of the human mind, to generate a new paradigm of ultimate concerns that go beyond selfish economic ones. Lets go for the big fish, not the small fish, and lets not take short cuts promised by those attractive self-help gurus.

What’s needed is a renewed social dialogue on non-rationalist thought, a revitalised broadening of humanity’s context and how we find meaning. So we need new ways of thinking for us to adopt, which will create some other paradigm of thought that can ameliorate hyper-rationality. Modernists will argue that trying to engender renewed ultimate concerns in society is too divisive. Perhaps our western society has been so scarred by the idealism that led to the wars of the 20th century – particularly those involving the different politics of communism and fascism – that we’ve retreated to the ideologically cool, value-free world. This hybernation may have been useful but its time to wake up.

It’s worth recalling that other regimes have also tried to create a value-free world. For instance, the Soviet Union encourages its artists to eliminate the subjective, and instead just portray what is rational reality.  This was supposed to improve upon the human senses. Notably, the strategy was designed to be a tool for the Communist “class struggle”, with hardly enlightening outcomes.

Rationality can best operate not in isolation, but within a wider context of human knowledge, including human experience established through tradition and other experiential learning.  My scientist friend has to admit that the process of scientific discovery is likely to originate with an intuitive hunch, followed by rational evidence to support it.  Another friend of mine who is a doctor also claims that experienced doctors approach a patient with intuitive understanding, before seeking blood pressure readings and other rational evidence-based factors.

Its worth noting that theories of economics and utilitarianism (e.g. JS Mill) used to assume there was an underlying higher purpose and dialogue with society (in those days Christianity) that operates in conjunction with economics. However with the demise of that religion, utilitarianism is left to exist on its own strength. In other words, whilst utilitarianism was founded to serve humanity under the supervision of other non-rationalist thought, this is no longer the case.   My hypothesis on this is that rationality operates at its best when it exists in a bigger context.  It is but one faculty of our heart-minds, and there are other human faculties.  “Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a God” (M Denis de Rougemont) can be said equally of rationality. That is, rationality is great, kind of like a god, but if its worshipped like the one God, it ceases to be god-like.

 

What would a new paradigm involve?  

 

We need to re-create, in our minds, a new competitor to hyper-rationalism, a new paradigm that presents new symbols of ultimate concern for humanity. We need a sense of ‘telos’, a good purpose or moral compass to provide a sense of worth.

 

We need to be aware that we have incredible levels of technology. While this has benefits for the external world, it has taken attention away from introverted pursuits. Technology has magnified the human tendency to be fascinated by the external world, and to lose contact with one’s own inner reality and reality in general. Instead, our ultimate concerns need to be directed away from technological pursuits and the external world. Perhaps this involves placing greater faith in one’s inner life, instead of misdirecting that inner energy into outside activities where it doesn’t belong.

 

We need a re-appreciation of matters that don’t necessarily fall within rationalist Western thought. Rationalism believes that everything has a rational cause, and that demons don’t exist. This sounds fine in theory, but the reality of such a view is that is causes individuals to ignore irrational forces, and focus just on what is predictable and consistent – and therefore good for economic growth. Reliable inner growth relies on confronting one’s own inner demons; they are not rational!  Any system of thought must integrate the two sides of humanity, the rational and the intuitive. Without integration, there will be more and more examples of extremism, tribal associations, belligerence, unwillingness to compromise and overall just a whole lot of unintelligent actions. Maybe we are starting to see more of this with Donald Trump, and Brexit.

 

We need to acknowledge that hyper-rationalism does not actually exist- it actually is a mask used to hide irrational prejudices, in order to pursue an agenda.  Look at how easily any environmental consultant can rationalise a freeway, and come up with benefits to outweigh the costs.

 

We need a new sense of myth. One of the key components of humanity in classical culture was reason, but the other one was myth. The Greeks had ‘myths’, stories that addressed rationality with emotional life and morals. Indeed, life is a story, a myth, a romance, with morals attached. We know that these stories are valid, in the sense that they consistently strike a cord with humans, despite being irrational. So we need to generate new myths for humans.

 

Ultimately, there is no quick cultural fix. It depends on us as individuals. The obsession with rationalism is just one example where people accept society’s dictates and don’t find their own individual meaning. CS Jung thought this occurred because humans have a weakness: believing that certain rules are universal and always true. So we follow what others say. This denies our subjective individual experience, so that we become anonymous components in abstract ideas (government’s economic plan). Individual realisation is replaced by policy directions from authorities such as the government or religious organisations. The current obsesssion with hyper-rationality and efficiency is just one of them. Joseph Campbell’s concluding paragraph in Hero with a Thousand Faces states that modern man’s greatest challenge, or the ‘hero’s journey’ so to speak, is to find a true self through and in spite of a society and culture that presents falsity.

 

I don’t suggest any world wide movement against hyper-rationality.  Its likely to be mis-understood as a war against rationality, which is not my point.   Instead as individuals we need to change our hearts about hyper-rationality. Over time nothing changes unless we as individuals change, and this is especially true today, because we live in a highly individualistic world. Ultimately, I am not arguing against rationalist principles, but against those who deny there is anything else. Because such denial simply forces non-rationalist thinking underground, into the shadows, instead of integrating it with reason and advancing humanity.

 

Marc Allas

6 September 2016

 

 

Donald Trump, behavioural analysis and effective activism

In my work as a psychologist I struggle to think of a more valuable question than

“What is the function of this behaviour”

We can find ourselves in baffling patterns of behaviour that are so damaging to our lives and the lives of others. Extreme versions can involve addiction, violence and self-harm.  In behaviourism the fundamental assumption is that all behaviour serves a purpose. Another way of phrasing this is that a behaviour only continues if it is reinforced in some way. In the case of addictive behaviour it may be that substance use provides relief from painful emotions. Violence may result in the perpetrator getting their desired outcome or may give them a sense of control. Self-harm may also ironically result in relief from emotional pain and can elicit care from others. Psychologists may apply an ABC analysis of behaviour:

 

Antecedents: What situation, events, thoughts, feelings lead to the behaviour?

Behaviour: What is the target behaviour?

Consequences: What are the consequences of the target behaviour?

 

In a simplistic example of alcohol addiction…

 

A: Workplace conflict, negative thoughts, feelings of stress and anxiety

B: Excessive alcohol use

C: Feeling good, numbing painful feelings

 

How might these principles be applied to social and political issues?

Analysis and change of the behaviour of those we disagree with

When Donald Trump first announced he would run for President of the United States, the announcement was met with ambivalence from many and audible laughter from some. Yet he has won a clear majority in the Republican primaries and recent polls have indicated that he is a serious contender in the election. The general tone of responses I have encountered in the media in Australia at least has been shock, disbelief and fear. When I look at the millions of human beings who are endorsing Donald Trump, I feel this is a very good time to ask the question “What is the function of this [supporting Donald Trump] behaviour?” This article provides some possible answers:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/opinion/campaign-stops/trump-clinton-edsall-psychology-anti-pc-vote.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=2

Why is it useful to understand the function of a behaviour? Because the better we understand it, the more likely we are to be effective in changing it.

I work a lot with kids with disruptive behaviour problems who scream, bite, kick and occasionally set fires. One response to the question of why these behaviours are happening is well “well clearly s/he’s a bad little boy/girl”. Is to too much to say some times we treat those we disagree  with as bad little boys/girls? In other words, we reduce a person’s behaviour to them just being a bad person. The ‘bad little boy/girl’ hypothesis tells us nothing about the function of problematic behaviours and therefore gives us nothing on which to base an intervention. In the case of children, the resulting treatment from adopting the ‘bad little boy/girl’ hypothesis is often prescribing medication, which apart from all the other issues associated with this is likely to be ineffective in the long-term. Effective interventions tend to be preceded by careful assessment of school and family environments in order to complete an ABC analysis. We can then work out whether the behaviour is the legacy of trauma such as witnessing domestic violence (which we can then treat with trauma therapy) and/or a lack of appropriate rewards and consequences that encourage desirable behaviours (which we can treat by putting rewards and consequences in place)

Another important thing about behavioural analysis is that it is inherently validating. Hearing someone say you do a behaviour because of X, Y and Z rather than you do a behaviour because you are fundamentally flawed, feels much better right? And as discussed in my previous post, if we want people to change, validation must come first.

So I would say that if you are seeking to help change the behaviour of others through some sort of activism, an ABC analysis of the target behaviour can be helpful in understanding the target behaviour and then coming up with effective activism.

Engaging in more effective activism

I think another essential question for anyone engaging in an act of activism, is “is this behaviour likely to be effective in bringing about desirable change”. I use the term ‘activism’  broadly to include say joining a political party, attending protests, commenting on Facebook, writing letters to the editor, writing emails to politicians, terrorism – any act designed to change the behaviour of others.  There are too many examples of effective activism to name because they are occurring every day. A few obvious and invaluable examples might include the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war protests, the suffragette movement, the work of Rosie Batty in Australia, Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence. However I can equally think of many examples of ineffective, and in some cases counter-effective activism. One that springs to mind is the violent protests that followed the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy. Whilst the protests may have been an understandable reaction to prevailing racism and islamophobia, far from shifting these behaviours, the protests likely perpetuated them.

There appears to be a dangerous cycle occurring around the world, particularly in Europe at the US, where people with left-wing persuasions are reacting with shock, horror, disgust and derision to people with right-wing persuasions, who then may then feel invalidated, angry and alienated, leading to a hardening of their right-wing persuasions, which are then reacted to with further shock, horror, disgust and derision, leading to a further hardening of right-wing persuasions, and so on. We then have the polarisation of politics and society and the volatile and dangerous conflict that ensues. A good example of this polarisation is the recent Austrian national election, where the left-wing Greens party beat the right-wing Freedom party by just 31,000 votes out of the 4.46 million votes cast.  Again my point is that it is important to ask the question, “is this behaviour likely to be effective in bringing about desirable change”, or is it likely to be ineffective or even make things worse. I know in my therapeutic work there is every possibility that an unsophisticated intervention will not only be ineffective, but will make the situation a lot worse.

Analysing our own activist behaviour

It is important to analyse our own activist behaviour to see if it is being reinforced by consequences other than effectiveness. Why might we continue to engage in a certain type of activism despite it being ineffective?  I have brainstormed some possible reinforcers, which I can say at least certainly apply to me, even in the context of this very blog post.

  • Expressing anger, frustration, disgust can feel good
  • Feeling smarter, or morally superior to others feels good
  • Activism can give a sense of purpose
  • It feels to good to oppose authority
  • Activism might lead to attention from others.

I am confident that these reinforcers are often at play when people are engaging in activist behaviours, which isn’t necessarily a problem. I am not suggesting that one should stop engaging in activist behaviours because of these reinforcers. What is problematic is when activist behaviours are so intensely driven by these reinforcers that whether or not the behaviours are actually effective is  totally eclipsed. E.g. It feels so good for me to write that angry letter, post that angry Facebook post, attend that protest that I don’t even think about whether or not my behaviour is likely to be helpful.

So take home message, if you are thinking of engaging in an activist behaviour (e.g. making that Facebook post, attending that protest, signing that petition) first consider:

  • What behaviours am I aiming to increase/decrease?
  • How likely is it that my activist behaviour will be effective in achieving this?
  • How can I improve the effectiveness of my activism?
  • What other reinforcers do I need to be aware of?

Of course working out what are effective and ineffective behaviours is only half of it. Actually changing our own behaviour is likely to be very difficult, in part because when we humans are faced with opinions and behaviours we disagree with, strong feeling of anger, frustration, disgust are likely to take control. I think the ongoing challenge for us is soothing, validating, gently holding these strong feelings, taking a breath and proceeding in a wise and effective manner. Maybe more on this another time.

Pat

Applying acceptance and change to social issues

 

In this video DBT founder Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), so perfectly demonstrates a balance of acceptance and change. Here she is working to help change the behaviour of a man who is assumedly a perpetrator of domestic violence. I notice the judgement arising in my mind when I watch this video – “This man is a weirdo, he’s a creep, he’s evil”. Notice how Marsha is able let go of any judgements and be accepting, validating and respectful.  Notice how this helps move the man to a place where he is contemplating change.

This post seeks to explore how we might apply the ‘dialectic’ of acceptance and change in order to bring about positive social change. A ‘dialectic’ occurs when there are two different points of view which are both true in some ways. DBT holds that both acceptance and change are important. A person doing DBT for alcohol addiction  may practice self-acceptance by acknowledging that their drinking serves a purpose and that reducing their drinking is very difficult as it involves breaking an old habit. They may also practise ‘change’ by setting goals to reducing their drinking and trying other ways of managing painful feelings. Just as dough requires a balance of both flour and water, a balance of both acceptance and change is required. Too much acceptance can mean remaining stuck. Too much change can mean stress, unsustainable solutions, breakdown, or not even getting started in the first place.

What does this mean for those who wish to change society for the better? If you want to help people to change their mind on things, acceptance needs to come first. Lets take the issue of race and immigration in Australia. On one side there are those opposed to immigration and people other than white Australians. On the other side there are those who welcome immigration and people other than white Australians. What are the common strategies of these groups to try and change society? Disrespecting, shaming, antagonising and insulting those who disagree? How effective are these strategies in changing people’s minds, especially those whose minds need to be changed? The alternative offered by DBT is to first accept and validate those who have different views. By doing this we help to soothe their strong feelings and free them up to look at an issue with more clarity, flexibility and wisdom. What do we stand to gain by engaging those of differing views with acceptance?

If we have decided that we want to approach those with differing views with more acceptance, how do we do it? To validate means to say something is valid. So when we validate a person, we are saying your thoughts, feelings or actions are valid. Validation feels good. It soothes painful emotions and helps us then make wise choices rather than emotional choices. The trick to validating another person is being compassionate, respectful and generally curious about what life is like for them. Here are some basic ways to validate:

  1. Reflect: Repeat what the person has said to you so they know you have been listening. E.g. “what I’m hearing is…” “Sounds like…”.

 

  1. Identify feelings: See if you can work out what the person is feeling and put a label on it. Again it shows that you are listening and can also help the other person step back and clarify how they are feeling. E.g. “It seems like you are feeling frustrated”

 

  1. Understand: Share with the person that their thoughts, feelings and behaviours are understandable given the circumstances. This helps them to feel human and respected, which in terms helps them to soothe their feelings. E.g. “I can understand why you might feel that way given X”. It is important here not to be fake and say you understand when you don’t get it at all. For instance if someone said to you “I went on a beach holiday and it filled me with murderous rage” and you replied “that’s understandable” without exploring why, its not likely to be genuine validation. It might only become genuine when you explore it with them further – turns out their accommodation was double booked, there were tourists on every inch of sand, they had their phone and wallet stolen and the ocean was filled with biting sea-lice. If you have explored and you still don’t understand, that’s okay. You can say something like “I’m trying to understand”, or even “can you help to understand more”

Importantly, validation does NOT mean condoning, excusing or agreeing with behaviours. To validate is not to agree with what someone has done. Rather it is to acknowledge that what they did serves a valid purpose and is understandable given the circumstances. For instance, for a soldier who has returned from a war zone with flashbacks and intense terror and anxiety, I don’t think drinking everyday is a good solution, but I can understand why someone might behave that way given the circumstances.

What makes validation hard? Sometimes it can be literally not knowing how to do it because you were never taught. Other times it can be strong emotional reactions. For instance if you hear a politician saying something you really disagree with, strong anger might come up. This might makes sense if it is an issue on which you have particular views and experiences that you care deeply about. Acting from this anger, are you effective in actually bringing about change? What could be gained by validating your own anger, and still validating those on the other side of the debate? Potentially you could make others feel more understood, included and respected, which might then free them up to be more wise and compassionate themselves.

Written by Pat

Have you got some ideas that you would like to share on Society Needs Therapy? Good, because SNT needs submissions! Go to Menu and see the ‘Submissions’ page.