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: http://www.politicalcartoons.com/
  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.


The Secret Blessings of This Awful Election

The Secret Blessings of This Awful Election


Lost in all the hubbub of this awful election is the steady emergence of several new levels of social consciousness.

The most obvious is the rapid shift from an age of male-dominated power to a new balance of feminine and masculine energies.

In the United States, we are witnessing the demise of the old patriarchal order that has suppressed and abused women for centuries. And, intertwined with it, we are seeing the death throes of the overlapping order of white supremacy. It is perfect that both of these orders found their ultimate expression in Donald Trump. No one else could have embodied them so exquisitely – almost to the point of parody.

And, we are seeing exactly how his karma – his own actions toward women – has brought about his downfall and the collapse of the Republican Party, which has nurtured the seeds of patriarchy and white power for so long. The same phenomenon has brought down Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, which has long been the propaganda wing of the far right of the Republican Party. Ailes is now an “adviser” to Trump.

Christian Right leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. James Dobson and Ralph Reed are being called out for their hypocrisy in supporting Trump – by their very own followers, and especially by women.

As the old structures dissolve, we can finally turn to dealing with critical problems that our planet faces. For the world, this means that scientific evidence on climate change and the urgent need for environmental remediation will no longer be denied. International treaties and national environmental policies will be enforced and strengthened.

New movements are arising to raise consciousness.  Most young people reject America’s participation in overseas wars and the global Game of Thrones:  Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and all the many other military failures that have depleted our souls and our treasury, and have killed millions in the process.

In the Muslim world and elsewhere people are starting to recognize that militant Sunni Islamist groups such as ISIS and Al Quaeda have to be dealt with by Muslims themselves, not by American or European armies. Islam will have to find its own version of the Protestant Reformation, its own Martin Luthers and John Calvins, to restore it to wholeness or it will founder from within. Groups based on hate and a desire to return to seventh century practices cannot sustain themselves for long in an age of global communications, education and the empowerment of women.

The most powerful person on the planet will be a woman – for the first time. Women will be running governments in the USA, in Germany, in the UK and many other countries: a seismic shift of the same order as seeing a black man elected to be President of the United States eight years ago. Men are also showing up in positions of power who empathize with and support this movement: Pope Francis and Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada, to name two.

Other old ways of dividing people to manipulate them are also collapsing. We see it in Black Lives Matter.  Many young black people are in the vanguard of a new consciousness movement, challenging authority, prejudice and abuse of power, and forcing whites to see their own unconscious bias.

And we see the same sea-change too in the steady acceptance of LGBT rights in most parts of the world.

So, though this election has dragged on far too long and though it has been ugly and draining, it has been an instrument of change. Ugly behavior and attitudes that have festered in darkness have been exposed and challenged. The Republican Party is falling to pieces. We will soon have a more liberal Supreme Court. Women are standing up for all their rights, and most men are backing them. Black Americans are demanding equal justice, and will get it.

This is a revolution in consciousness, similar to that which happened in the 1960s. Dig out those old bell bottoms, wear some flowers in your hair, and celebrate on November 8th.



I have played many sports over my lifetime: soccer, rugby, badminton, golf, tennis. I have been a member for more than 30 years of different gyms. So, I have heard a lot of locker room banter among men of different ages, classes, education levels, nationalities.

When that talk turns to women, there is a commonality. There are exchanges about how attractive a certain woman is and sometimes comments about this or that part of her anatomy or character. There are assessments and judgments. And there’s usually a bit of fantasy, especially if the woman is a public figure, an actress or a singer. (“God, what I’d like to do with her.”) And sometimes some of the remarks can be crude.  I’ve noticed that happens more often with younger men. As most men age the banter changes to become softer or turns to other subjects.

But I have never heard any man say that, as a matter of course, they feel compelled to kiss and actually kiss an unwilling woman or to grab her genitals. I’ve never heard any man say that their status as a “star” or “boss” or “manager” or any other position of power entitles them to be a sexual aggressor and to get away with it.

I have never heard any man brag to another man that he tried very hard (“like a bitch”) to have sex with the other man’s professional colleague, a married woman, and then demean her body.

When a man does say these things, he is not just indulging in locker room banter. He is describing actions, his own past and present behavior. He is relating sexual assaults on young women. He is saying: “See how powerful I am and what I can do without any consequences to me.” And when he says how he can’t help doing these things, he is revealing a deep and abiding compulsion to abuse women.

It is not a defense to say that other guys do it too or that Bobby does it more than I do. We are each personally responsible for our own actions.

And it not a defense or an acceptable justification to say that boys will be boys. Especially when you are 70 years old. When does a boy become a man? 

No man wants his daughter or sister or wife or friend to be abused and exploited in this way. And no man wants his son to see this kind of behavior as admirable or a model for manhood.

If you do not understand these things, you are not yet worthy to be called a man.  You are a predator.