North Korea: Let’s Try Non-Violence

There has been a complete lack of creative thinking in Washington about how to deal with the threats and posturing of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator  Both he and his father, the former leader, have a long history of issuing menacing statements, rattling their sabers and vowing war and destruction on the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Kim Jong Un

In part, this serves to make the North Korean people (millions of whom have died of famine, disease and imprisonment under the Kim family’s leadership for three generations) subservient and willing to unite against the outside world. In part, the Kims have learned that this crazy looking behavior unnerves the conventionally thinking politicians who run Western-style democracies. They see Kim Jong Un as actually crazy, irrational and as ready to go to war in an instant if he is thwarted in his demands.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 the Kims and North Korea have threatened to overrun South Korea. Seoul, the capital of the South, is only 35 miles from the border and within easy reach of the North’s artillery and missiles. Yet, despite a long history of threats, provocative actions and minor confrontations, North Korea has not attacked South Korea or any other country. And they have learned that acting rabid has worked for them – often producing concessions and financial and other inducements from their “enemies” to get them to back off from their threats.

Since its first successful atomic bomb test in 2009 the North Koreans have focused on producing nuclear weapons and, more recently, on missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead. It appears that now they have almost reached the stage where they have the capacity to launch a long range ballistic missile that could strike the western coast of the United States. Their intermediate range missiles could strike Japan.

The United Nations has responded to these recent alarming developments by increasing sanctions. President Trump has responded by threatening “fire and fury” such as the world has never seen if Kim continues missile development or nuclear tests.

We have once again reached the kind of stalemate that has become familiar. Sanctions seem to have no impact on the North Korean government. They ignore the pleas for moderation from China (their biggest trade partner and sometime ally). The South Koreans are in a panic because they fear the death of millions that would take place if war breaks out and Kim Jong Un uses nuclear weapons. The United States government grinds its teeth in frustration – with no good outcome or easy solution available.

It is time for a different approach. For over 60 years the USA and its allies have tried to subdue North Korea by encircling it with military and naval power, by imposing sanctions and embargoes, and by trying to isolate it from the outside world through alliances and international organizations. It has not worked. These strategies come from the minds of military and political leaders who imagine that force and overpowering weaponry will compel the North Koreans to capitulate.

It is the same old strategy that failed to bring the Cuban government to its knees since their revolution in 1959, and failed to bring down the Iranian regime since their revolution in 1979.

The time has come for non-violent and non-traditional solutions.  Some of the elements of this approach would be:

  • A joint declaration by the United States, Japan and South Korea that they will not attack North Korea or try to change its form of government or leadership.
  • An offer to gradually rescind sanctions over a period of several years, contingent on the North Koreans stopping missile development and tests, and subject to regular verification and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. These procedures (negotiated by the Obama administration) have worked well with the Iranian government to stop their development of nuclear capability. They are a good model for North Korea.
  • An undertaking by the United States to withdraw all forces from South Korea in 10 years if the North Koreans respect the weapons ban and the inspection procedures for that period.
  • Opening diplomatic relations between the two countries so that each has an embassy in the other state.
  • Agreeing to a limited amount of trade that can be increased if good relations persist. This type of economic agreement has also been very effective in persuading Iran to keep to its promise to stop developing nuclear weapons.
  • Face to face talks between the leaders of the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia. Jaw-Jaw is always better than war-war, as a wise Englishman once said.
  • Creating a special direct aid fund. North Korea is desperately poor. Its population is 24 million. In 2006 its per capita income was $1,108. If the United States, South Korea and Japan create a fund that would provide $100 per year to each North Korean citizen, it would cost only $2.4 billion annually. This would provide a huge boost to the well-being of the Koreans and to their economy, and would show them that the outside world wants to help, not destroy, them. Better still, this fund would be a tiny fraction of the money now spent on maintaining U.S. military bases and weaponry.

It’s time to be more creative in dealing with North Korea, and it’s past time for non-violent, non-military strategies to be given a chance.

Entering The Conservative Mind

Entering The Conservative Mind

We live in a decidedly conservative country. The Presidency, both houses of Congress and nearly two thirds of the states are controlled by Republicans. It’s likely that the Supreme Court will once again soon have a conservative majority. And this has happened despite Democrats winning the popular vote both for the presidency and for the Senate. This is the first of a two-part article examining, first, how liberals can understand what motivates conservatives and, second, how conservatives can understand why liberals hold such dramatically different world views.

After many years of studying the intersection of politics, psychology and philosophy, I have come to see that the primary emotion that drives people to be conservative is fear. Fear arises in early childhood through many factors: genetic inheritance, dysfunctional families, harsh or absent parents, religious indoctrination (‘Fear thy God’), traumatic experiences or injury, unsafe environments. The child learns to fear whatever threatens her and devises strategies to protect herself. The strategies might include avoidance, submission, seeking protection, self-blaming, finding ways to become more powerful, and many other responses. We are very creative in defending ourselves.

When you feel fear, safety becomes paramount. So, people who have a habitual fear response, gravitate to security. Law and order become a basic need. Respect for the authorities that create and enforce law is a natural consequence. The king, the ruler, the President, the police, the military, the church hierarchy – all these authority figures are revered. So too are laws, rules, religious codes of behavior, societal norms. These precepts are what restrain people from acting out in undisciplined ways that would be threatening and might, thus, bring up fear.

Anyone who deviates from the law or the rules or even the social conventions becomes a threat. It might be a hippy with long hair, a homosexual, a person with a different skin color or religion, a protester, a communist. For many conservatives, these people become “not us”, alien, worthy of suspicion or discrimination or even enemies. Fear begets anger.

The conservative divides the world in this way: into us and them, safe and unsafe. The conservative motto might be: I will protect what is mine: my life, my family, my country, my religion, my property, my privileges. These are what must be conserved and defended.

The conservative’s first loyalty is to himself, then in gradually expanding circles to his family, his community, his clan or faith, his country. Because of this focus on self and family first, the conservative does not want to be responsible for the economic welfare of others. The conservative belief is that people should take care of themselves and their own. If they cannot, they are undeserving and a burden on all of us who are responsible. Thus, a conservative will happily pay taxes for a strong police force and military (protection from fear) but resent paying them for aid to the poor or sick.

It is, therefore, no surprise that our current President in his first few weeks in office has played on so many fears: undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, murder rates in Chicago, refugees who might become terrorists, journalists as enemies of the people, Islam as an alien ideology. And, naturally, his remedies are to increase defense spending, protect the police from lawsuits, build better and more nuclear weapons, exclude foreigners from the country and cut spending on social and environmental programs to pay for….protection from fear.

Because fear was baked in to the conservative’s mind at a very early age, it is really difficult for them to hear objective information that contradicts some of the fear messages they are always receiving.  For example, violent crime rates have been trending down for many years. Or, immigrants have lower crime rates than natural born citizens. Or, we have the lowest unemployment rate in a generation. Or, the US dollar is at an all-time high. Or, we have better air and water than most of the world because of our environmental regulations. Or, your handgun is more likely to kill you or someone you love than to protect you from an intruder in your home.

Is it even possible to communicate across the mental divide and world view that separate conservatives from liberals? I think there are ways, and I will be examining these in a future blog.  But coming up next: Understanding the Liberal Mind.

Staying Sane When The President Is Crazy

Staying Sane When The President Is Crazy

Nearly everyone I meet recently has been saying that they feel exhausted, stressed out, anxious, depressed, wired.  And everywhere I go – in barbershops, in parks, cycling, at picnics and in cafes – I hear the same refrain. We are all obsessing about the new President and the avalanche of tweets, executive orders, tantrums and falsehoods that has been cascading from the White House since January 20th. People are reading more newspapers, watching more television news, posting on FaceBook and other social media, calling their local Congressional representatives and protesting than at any other time since the Vietnam War.

In many ways this is heartening. We are seeing democracy in action as millions of people become informed and engaged. But the downside is this kind of nervous exhaustion. My personal experience is that this obsession with tracking every action of the President feels like an energetic black hole, which sucks energy out of me and gives nothing back.  I have realized that I need to find ways to pace myself. This is likely to go on for 4 years. So we need to find ways to both stay informed and activated while taking care of and nourishing ourselves so that we do not run out of steam.

Here are some tools we can use for regenerating.

  1. With all the talk of fake news and alternative facts, find a news source that you can trust to do independent research. It might be the New York Times, The Washington Post or, if you are conservative, the Wall Street Journal. Subscribe to that source.
  2. Take a one day break every week (the same day each week) from all forms of electronic media including TV news. Use the break to relax, meditate, take a walk, read a book, meet a friend, or just be quiet. Your nervous system will thank you. This is a self-recovery practice.
  3. So much of what is flowing out of the White House is designed to instill fear or vent anger. Be aware that if you are feeling these emotions, they may not arise from anything personal in your life but from the collective consciousness we are part of. My remedy is to make a random act of unsolicited generosity or caring to someone else. Help a homeless person, donate to a charity, tell someone how grateful you are to them, pick up some litter, volunteer at a food bank. The act itself is less important than the intention. And the intention is to practice selflessness and consideration for everyone in the face of relentless narcissism and self-promotion from the President. We are all connected.
  4. Take refuge in humor and intelligence. When we laugh, our bodies relax. And it’s clear that the President does not understand humor and is angered by it. We have wonderful resources: Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Amy Schumer, Alec Baldwin and the SNL team, plus so many others. We also have great cartoonists and satirists. You might look at this website for a few giggles:
  5. Remember what nourishes you the most, and allow time for that. It might be writing a journal, watering plants in your yard, listening to great music, taking your dog for a walk. Again, the specific action is less important than remembering that life is wonderful, rewarding, and that we do create our own reality. Feeling joy, celebrating, dancing, luxuriating in pleasure of any kind are acts of defiance to the dark, threatening and dismal world view of the man in the White House.
  6. Lastly, stay connected with your friends. Collectively, we have immense power. Look at the Women’s March in Washington and all across the nation to see just how many millions of people are coming together, with no leaders. We got rid of a corrupt President Nixon in 1974. We can do the same again today. It will take time. But when we come together, we can run a relay race, handing off the baton to others while we stand down for a day or two to come back refreshed and stronger.



Narcissus In The White House

Narcissus In The White House

What can we learn from the fact that our new President spent the first day after his inauguration complaining that the national press were trying to delegitimize him by reporting that his claim that his was the most widely attended and viewed inauguration ever was simply not true?  There was ample photographic evidence that the Obama inauguration in 2009 attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees more than Trump’s. There was also evidence from Washington DC Metro on how many people it had transported on both occasions, and again the Obama celebration was massively higher in number. And Nielsen, the television rating company, reported that many more millions of viewers had tuned into the 2009 inauguration than for 2017.

Trump and his staff denied all the evidence. Their proof: Trump’s statement that he had seen one to one and half million people in front of him – and false claims that the National Park Service has been using metal detectors to screen people and that this had caused hundreds of thousands to be late in arriving. There was no such screening.

Once again we are witnessing how desperately the President needs to always, always be the best, the strongest, the most admired, without peer. Once again we are witnessing a narcissistic personality disorder in full display.

The Mayo Clinic defines the disorder thus:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticismIf you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care….At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.

It is no secret that the President shows many of these behavioral traits.  It gnaws on him that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Beaten, by a woman! And he cannot accept that President Obama’s inauguration had much higher attendance. So he vents his anger on the press, and his staff makes up “alternative facts” to support his narcissistic need.

But his behavior this weekend also reveals other disquieting tendencies. He is impetuous, and cannot resist the temptation to lash out at criticism. He is vindictive: he is now threatening to restructure the White House Press Room to give access only to journalists acceptable (read, amenable) to him and exclude those who are out of favor. He has an insatiable need for approval and to brag about his accomplishments. He spent his first speech to CIA employees boasting about the large crowds who came to his election campaign events.

Many of the good people who voted for him did so because they viewed him as strong, as someone who would speak the truth. What we are getting is a man who is petty and resentful, and one who tries to manipulate facts and evidence to present a fictional reality. Like Narcissus, we have a man who can see no further than his own reflection, who is in love with himself.