Monday 19 November 2018

Short Observations

  1. Short idea (65): Even in a dream there is left and right, near and far, inside and outside, ordinary and awesome. When the dreamer wakes up, there is also a left and right, near and far, inside and outside, etc. It's difficult to describe the difference. This is partly because it's difficult to compare the two. And this is partly because it's difficult or impossible to be in both states at the same time.

  2. Short idea (183): People say "Relax!" but this assumes that it is in our power to relax. A Jewish prayer says, "Grant us Peace, Thy Most Precious Gift, Oh Thou Eternal Source of Peace" (Union Prayer Book II). If we think of the word "peace" as being an ancient word for what we now call "relaxation," the prayer implies that we can not relax, that we can not choose to relax, that we can not do something to make ourselves relax. It is not up to us. At this point in my life, I would say I agree, though with some reservation. 

  3. Short idea (154): Good Action along with periods of Silence and Aloneness can be a shield, a refuge, and a hospital for a weary, lost, bloody soul.

  4. Short idea (54): Being decisive is not always good. With some people it's better if they never make up their minds. If you're getting ready to do something bad, we pray you will waiver.

  5. Short idea (58): The call to psychology (to know yourself) is: "Stop! ... Stop more! ... Stop everything! ... Stop completely! ... Stop now!" — When everything stops, one's self comes into view (like it or not).

  6. Short idea (155): In every good marriage, at some point, the wife gives her husband an ultimatum. It can come in different forms, but, however presented, in tears or in anger, deep down, it is an ultimatum. If this ultimatum comes from the wife having reached her limits and not from a power complex, and if it is based on just and valid premises, and if the husband sees this and thinks he has been wrong and changes, either in actions or intentions or both, then the marriage can grow into a good one. Otherwise, not. Until then it is a baby marriage, naive and untested. 

  7. Short idea (37): The trouble in describing the deeper levels of the psyche objectively is that there is a tendency either 1) to water them down (because the experiences are so dramatic you don't want to sound crazy) or 2) to over-dramatize them (in a desperate attempt to express how surprising and remarkable they feel) or 3) to fall under their spell and become subject to their ways of viewing things and of speaking (which is to give up all attempts at objectivity).

  8. Short idea (10): In every conversation there are things unstated and un-statable. In every thought process there is something unthinkable. There are things we aren't grasping, can't grasp, and never will be able to grasp — no matter how confident and optimistic we are feeling at any particular moment.

  9. Short idea (192): There are two political parties in the United States. Younger members of each party are sure they are right and members of the other party are wrong and maybe even evil. Older politicians may feel this but become more practical and are willing to compromise in order to get anything done. But there is a third position: Neither party is completely right but that each expresses a part of the truth. Compromise is not a process where good makes a deal with evil to get at least some good. Rather it is a struggle that leads, if it works, to incorporating the goodness and truths of both parties into a higher, more complete good and truth. This struggle can take centuries.

  10. Short idea (151): Last week there was a video on the Internet from Australia that was receiving a lot of hits. It was of a life and death struggle between a pond python and a crocodile. The fight lasted over four hours. The python won and wound up eating the crocodile. I think that unless a person knows what it must have felt to have been the croc and what it must have felt like to be the python, he or she is lacking a significant chunk of self-knowledge.

  11. Short idea (108): There are people who object to religion with their intellects; the ideas of religion don't seem rational to them; they strike them as superstitions. But there are other parts of a person's psyche that can have a negative reaction to religion. A person's emotions and feelings may be jarred by one or more religious practices, or a religious practice can jar a person's value system. Even a person's imagination can rebel against religion: it is possible to have one's own images of how the world was created and so on. I think the body too can react negatively to some thing or things in a religion. If all these parts of a person object all together, the person is, for all practical purposes, no longer involved in the religion in any deep way. The person will have to turn elsewhere for answers to the deepest questions.

  12. Short idea (86): When good people become bad, they often become very very bad, and when bad people become good, they often become very very good.

  13. Short idea (127): Freud and Jung disputed over whether dream images were signs (of something else) or symbols. I wonder if it isn't possible that dream images and, actually, each and every thing, is both a sign and a symbol at the exact same time. Every thing is a sign of other things; every thing is also a symbol. Every thing
    1) is
    2) is linked to other things
    and 3) points beyond itself to things in the future and to things in the past.

  14. Short idea (170): Asthma, emphysema, and COPD are physical problems, but there is also a psychological side which is experienced as dissatisfaction and desperation in the deepest, most central, most personal spot in the ego. 

  15. Short idea (60): Success can serve as an anesthetic for the suffering that comes from peering into the deeper levels of reality.

  16. Short idea (55): Learning and Knowledge are not always good. It depends on what people learn and what they do with the knowledge.

  17. Short idea (200): Perhaps the most seductive things in the world are words — including the words that come into your head. 

  18. Short idea (29): When a person withdraws from the world as much as she or he can, what's left is Psychology, that is, the psyche.

  19. Short idea (80): Smoking and being a jerk are similar in many ways. They are both addictions that are hard to kick. Still, each can be given up by a simple choice even if this is only after years of denying there is a problem in the face of everyone else saying there is. The choice often comes after some "revelation" that the behavior is not good for oneself or for loved ones. And, like all addictions, there is a period of withdrawal and maybe of back falling and of longing to return to the old, easier way. — Being a jerk, I think, is rooted deeper in the personality and requires more than a change in behavior to understand and uproot completely.

  20. Short idea (203): Psychology has set up its store at the intersection of Reality and Imagination, at the corner of the Literal and the Metaphorical — there in that fire pit, in that cauldron.

  21. Short idea (144): One type of injury, like a cramp, can be helped by exercising it and by not giving in to it. Another type, like certain sprains, require the opposite. These require immobilization and no movement and are dependent on time to heal. It may be that sometimes these never heal; the best you can hope for here is to learn to compensate, to learn what movements to avoid aggravating the injury. There are also these same two types of psychological wounds and the same two types of psychological healing.

  22. Short idea (124): Even old wise men can have delusions, even many delusions.

  23. Short idea (52): There is a difference between a decision you make inside your head while lying in bed and one your whole body makes after it gets up.

  24. Short idea (1): In psychology, as in war (and as in life in general) there are no experts. Some psychologists have a lot more experience than others. These are the wily veterans, more familiar with the up's and down's of "the battlefield" than the greenhorns — but they are not expert in the way people who use Microsoft Word or tie bow ties or dice vegetables or solve calculus problems can become expert.

  25. Short idea (78): There are two psychological states, A (withdrawn) and B (involved). One's self = A + B. It is only while in A that a person can learn about A, about B, and, therefore, about A + B. While in B there is too much activity, and so no time to look at B. Yet to know about oneself it is not enough to know only A. A has to look out at B and examine it as well. — Further, no one can be in A and B at the same time. It is probably impossible to be good without knowing oneself, which requires A. It is impossible to be good while in A. A good person must act in B based on what is learned in A.

  26. Short idea (72): For many people, one of the most difficult things, psychologically, is to accept the feeling of uncertainty.

  27. Short idea (4): In the night: the eyes close, the outer recedes (but does not disappear completely), and the inner comes to the fore. In the morning: the eyes open, the inner recedes (but does not disappear completely), the outer comes to the front. The inner and the outer are in a relation, and, together, they make a whole.

  28. Short idea (85): To the young, old age and death seem as unreal as a dream. To the old and dying, youth and life feel no different than last night's dreams.

  29. Short idea (150): Following his quadruple bypass heart surgery, former president, Bill Clinton, was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on October 28, 2004 for her program, Primetime Live. President Clinton spoke about his changed values with respect to the political "game," and he added, "I thought, you know, you've been given an unknown but substantial amount of extra time. And you should give it back. So, that's what I'm going to try to do.” On the one hand, it is nice that he has had some sort of conversion to wanting to devote his life to helping people. On the other hand, it would be nice to think of all presidents, including him, as being devoted to this during their presidencies.

  30. Short idea (107): I think psychology could (and should) be a meeting ground for all religions, a common ground. The deepest religious experiences are experiences, vague perceptions of the deepest levels of our psyches, and can, I think, be taken as psychological perceptions. Here are five explanatory points: 1) Religious dogma is not the same as living religious experience. 2) My view implies that no religion has exclusive access to reality; each is a different window into reality. 3) Religion should not feel in competition with science or with other religions; they are all searching for reality. 4) Religion is not "primitive superstition" but an attempt to express truths that are difficult to express in ordinary language. 5) Religion should be viewed as bringing to light new areas for scientific research; it should not feel pushed into standing against science in order to defend the objective territory it knows it has found and knows it has been exploring for millennia, often heroically.

  31. Short idea (156): Many people would be just as sad if there were only one religion as if there were only one type of food or one type of tree or one type of person.

  32. Short idea (134): Just as there are people who are stronger than me and people who are smarter than me and people who have more money than I do, there are also people who are morally better than me. And the same goes for you.

  33. Short idea (189): We tend to believe "he was a good man": 1. If he was polite to us and 2. if he gave us things or helped us. If he was difficult with others it does not make as great and deep and lasting an impression on us as how he was with us.

  34. Short Idea (24): There is the god of the Jews, the god of the Arabs, the god of the Christians (the son of the Jewish god), the gods of the Babylonians, and the like. Each people has its god. Is there a god that is the god of all peoples?

  35. Short idea (186): Seeing is a power. Seeing "below the surface" is a great power.

  36. Short idea (135): It is correct to say that, at any moment, we have five senses (some say six or seven) that are functioning to get information about the environment in which we live. It is equally true that, at any moment, we have one overall sensibility or sensorium which we can, if we want, analyze into sights and sounds and tastes and feelings which we can label as inside us or outside.

  37. Short idea (98): In colleges in the U.S. we are trained to see Imagination and the Intellect as inherently at war. I think it is more useful, and probably more accurate, to focus on the possibility of them cooperating and on what they have in common. After all, they are part of the same organism and probably developed with the same goal, that is, the adaptation of the organism. I think they have a common source, and images are part of thinking. The two are like two gangling beasts who are married and who are constantly stumbling over each other and who often get into conflicts but who, deep down, still love each other, or, at least, should learn to get along.

  38. Short idea (90) : Dying is not death. It is an experience (or ongoing experiences) within life. It often involves a long series of "Goodbye's."

  39. Short idea (143): Anger is like a storm: You can't prevent or stop or control it, but you can do your best to weather it and keep down the damage.

  40. Short idea (165): Two Provisional (and condensed) Definitions: 1) Humility = Self-Knowledge + Knowledge of the Future. 2) Arrogance = Ignorance. Axiom: The more self-knowledge you have and the more knowledge of the future you have, the greater humility you have.

  41. Short idea (193): If you believe that there is a religious instinct, then atheism will be viewed as a form of neurosis. It can be seen as a form of hysteria (possibly conversion hysteria) in which one whole chunk of reality is denied.

  42. Short idea (122): Computers have been compared to brains and spoken of as brains, but the brain has different parts. It seems to me that computers can be correctly compared with the higher cortical brain, the part considered to be responsible for logical thinking, the type of thinking used to solve complex mathematical problems. But computers do not have lower brains, the part of the brain connected with need and want and drive and emotion and passion. Because of this, computers can't be irrational; they can generate random series of numbers, and they can make mistakes, but this is different from being irrational. To be irrational you have to have interests, and you have to have passions that make you act irrationally by going against your interests. Computers don't have interests, so they can't act irrationally. If a computer could be given a lower brain, such a computer would be much more human.

  43. Short idea (63): We make decisions all day long, but only a few are made consciously. Decisions pile up. Over the years we have piles and piles of them lying around. One day we turn around and look at them. It can be a shock, like looking in the mirror and seeing that your hair has turned white. You've looked in the mirror every day but never quite saw yourself this way. However, in peering at the sum of what you've chosen, you aren't seeing how you now appear, but who you now are.

  44. Short idea (133): If a person's goal is power, then winning feels good (even if he or she is seriously wounded in the process). However, if a person's goal is to be good, then winning will feel bad (as well as good), because it brings with it responsibilities (that is, responsibilities to the ones who have lost to you).

  45. Short idea (99): The Imagination usually does not come clothed in the words "I am your Imagination at work here." Usually it comes with words like: "So and so is trying to hurt me!" or "What a wonderful thing this is!" or "He is a prince of a man!" or "She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen!"

  46. Short idea (168): You can make two columns — one for all the things in life that are fun and one for all the things in life that are just work. For many people, as you get older and older, activities that were in the first column when you were younger have to be moved over to the second column. Towards the end of life, activities that were fun or so easy that they were barely noticed, like breathing or walking, can become labor and even labored.

  47. Short idea (149): Over the last few years I have spent a lot of time thinking about the psychology of Anxiety. If I had to sum up my thoughts at this point in time about what is Anxiety I would say: Anxiety = Future. 

  48. Short idea (166): Do animals have religious experiences (that is, numinous experiences, experiences of the sacred)? Do they have a sense of sacred space, sacred objects, and so on? — This is another way of asking if there is a religious instinct.

  49. Short idea (164): The nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty, can be used to illustrate a psychological point. Once the big egg fell and cracked and broke, all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put him back together again. We are like this, psychologically. We start whole, but then we fall and crack up and break, and then nothing can put us back together again. We long to be whole again. Is it possible?

  50. Short idea (59): If you have a camera whose pictures are getting more and more inaccurate — this is a good metaphor for getting old. Decaying tools can cause problems. There are additional problems if you don't know your tools are decaying. And still more problems when you insist to others that everything's fine when everyone can see it isn't.

  51. Short idea (13): There is a difference between the mind, the psyche, and the self. Mind has to do with thinking and imagination. Psyche includes the mind. And the self includes the psyche.

  52. Short idea (161): Memory is a skill.

  53. Short idea (130): "2 plus 2 = 4" may express an eternal truth, but adding 2 plus 2 is a mental operation that takes place in particular people at particular places and times. Thinking is an activity that uses up time, and it always occurs in a particular place. Thinking can be done out-loud or to oneself, with others or alone, while awake or while dreaming. Like all other activities, we think for reasons, and these reasons can be more or less conscious. And we can think too much or too little, and in a useful way or in a way that causes trouble for ourselves and/or others.

  54. Short idea (126): Here is a powerful idea I heard that I think is an exaggeration with some little truth in it, though you may have a different opinion: All suffering that remains unconscious becomes a physical illness. If the suffering is the private suffering of one individual, the individual will get a physical illness. If it is the suffering of a country, people all over the country will get sick. If the unconscious suffering is of all the people in the world, people all over the whole world will get sick. If the unconscious suffering is deep enough, painful enough, and unconscious enough, the resulting physical sickness is a fatal one.

  55. Short idea (198): To argue that evil doesn't exist because all it is, is the absence of good (privatio bono) is parallel to arguing that death doesn't exist because all it is, is the absence of life.

  56. Short idea (67): Some people believe there is a Secret to Life that will enable them to handle any problem if they can find it and learn it. Some who believe there is such a Secret think they can learn it in school; others think they can learn it from a wise person; and others think they can find it in themselves, but they all believe that such a Secret exists somewhere and that they can find it. Others think the belief in such a Secret to Life is just a wish and a fantasy.

  57. Short idea (40): If you want to examine worms or Sumerian clay tablets or other galaxies or the species of human beings in any one of its many aspects, there is a department in some college where you can go. But if you want to examine your own mind and study it, where is the college that has such a department?

  58. Short idea (76): To give in to impulses or to resist them? Everything depends on learning which to give into and when.

  59. Short idea (129): For every single problem, there is always a solution, and there is always at least one good and right way to solve it and one wrong and bad way.

  60. Short idea (132): Every family struggles with psychological problems to some degree (just as every family struggles with physical or economic problems to some degree). It is a matter of degree.

  61. Short idea (47): Some experiences are too painful to remember. This doesn't mean they're gone.

    The first snow covers the grass.

    Soon we forget the grass.

    But it's still there.

  62. Short idea (159): Almost everything that is happening has never been imagined by anyone.

  63. Short idea (28): Regarding the psychology of Place: the most important thing is Where you are and Where you're not. Here versus There.

  64. Short idea (51): There may be a difference between what you think you value, what you want to value, what you tell others you value, what values you act in accordance with even though they are not your own, and what you value. It may not be until you are an old man or woman and have seen yourself react in many different situations that you become conscious whether you value this more than that or that more than this, when it comes right down to it. Sometimes it is only in extreme and unusual situations that we see what is really and truly important to us. What you value is connected with how you choose to behave, not just with how you picture yourself.

  65. Short idea (148): We all have good tendencies, and we all have bad tendencies. We all have saintly tendencies, and we all have evil tendencies. We all even have godly tendencies, and we all even have demonic tendencies. A tendency we have that isn't always good and can be evil or even demonic is to think we are being good or saintly or even godly when we are being bad or evil or even demonic.

  66. Short idea (17): An agitated, angry moment; an ecstatic, happy feeling; an itch in the right knee; a dream of a red fox walking in the snow; a thought of tomorrow's barbecue — all are made of the same "stuff." There is a common denominator.

  67. Short idea (191): There are certain moments when we can become aware of the intimate connection between the Mind and the Body and the World around us. One is when we take an in breath. Another is when we feel our heart beat. Another is when we have a sexual response. Another is when we get furious. And another is when we feel an intense pain. Another is when we see or hear. And so on.

  68. Short idea (169): Regarding which mattress is the most comfortable: When you are tense and troubled, no mattress feels comfortable.

  69. Short idea (121): There is an intoxication from alcohol or drugs, but there is also intoxication from ideas or ideals, or from beauty or love or success or power, or even from danger or food or sex. Some intoxication contains inspirations leading to wonderful things; others contain dangerous, even deadly, seductive delusions. However, whatever the content or cause, intoxication, in itself, can be a dangerous state for the person intoxicated and for those around him or her. It can turn into mania which can lead to exhaustion, ranting and raving, and other dangerous behaviors. (Jung called the danger "inflation.") Since the need for intoxication seems to be one of our basic needs, it must be indulged in with circumspection and in the right time and place. I think, perhaps, it is natural to spend about one seventh of our time in some inspired state. I get this from the idea of the Sabbath: From a psychological angle, I see the law to set one day a week (and no more) aside to be with the Lord as recognizing the human need for intoxication and as setting some boundaries to limit it.

  70. Short idea (153): There are many reasons to have censorship in movies. For example, it can be awful to see abuse and killing in films, and many would like a censor to keep these things out of what we and our children see. One reason not to censor is that films are an expression of the psyche and soul of a people. In this way they are like dreams, and like dreams, they probably have a balancing function. If you could censor dreams, the individual might become unbalanced. Also, films can be used to monitor what is going on in the collective psyche. This monitoring can give sensitive people a window into the future of a nation, into what is about to happen, and it gives some time to prepare. Censoring, whatever its value, takes away this mirror.

  71. Short idea (18): What can be done in a minute? – Here are some things: certain complete conversations, brushing of teeth, driving about 1/4 mile on a dirt road, feeding a dog, ...

  72. Short idea (140): Usually people see myths as attempts to explain and understand processes in nature such as the cycle of day and night. Even if true sometimes, at other times they may be attempts to explain or describe and stay conscious of internal processes and cycles such as the cycle of emotions (from elation to depression). Inner and outer are both pieces of nature and the same processes and cycles are found in both. So an outer cycle can be used to bring attention to a parallel process that goes on inside.

  73. Short idea (136): The eyes and ears are extra-sensitive parts of the skin and sights and sounds can be thought of as feelings received through touch. At the same time, the less specialized areas of the skin can be thought of as relatively insensitive eyes and ears that receive sights and sounds through touch. — If this isn't true, it is a useful mental exercise in introspection.

  74. Short idea (56): Knowing thyself is a means, not an end. Unexamined lives may not be worth living, but it doesn't mean examined lives are. Knowing you're a jerk isn't enough; you have to do something about it. But what and how?

  75. Short idea (113): From a developmental point of view, I think that Sensation must have been the first adaptive psychological function to appear (every living cell senses — as do human infants). Imagination assumes Sensation and builds on it, and I think it must have been the second function to appear (dogs dream). Thinking assumes Imagination and Sensation and integrates them into itself, and, I think, it must have been the third of the functions to appear (language is needed for thinking; infants don't yet have language). Reflection, Evaluating, Moral and Ethical Reflection, and Planning integrate Sensation, Imagination, and Thinking, and I think it is the fourth function to arise and probably does not arise in everyone. Wisdom couldn't develop without being able to build on the previous four functions and there would also have to be character traits present such as courage. And, if there is any psychological function further along than Wisdom, perhaps some Unifying function, it would develop, if at all, only after everything else was in place and functioning.

  76. Short idea (117): Whatever journey each one of us is on we can't slow it down, but we can't speed it up either.

  77. Short idea (137): A tentative psychological idea: There are two kinds of people: those who are too anxious and those who aren't anxious enough. A person is either one or the other. If a person could choose his or her type with respect to how they worry, they would have to choose between being a worry wart or a naive babe in the woods. It must be added that people often don't worry about the things they should be worrying about.

  78. Short idea (131): To a vast degree, the world is not what we think or imagine or perceive or expect or want it to be.

  79. Short idea (11): An interesting thought a violent schizophrenic patient told me many years ago: "I like to think that everyone has the same amount of suffering they have to experience in their lives. For some it is spread out, and, for others, most of it comes all at once, but we all have the same amount of suffering."

  80. Short idea (81): I was raised in an environment where it was considered a problem if a child preferred being alone. It was understood as a fear of others, and the child was encouraged to overcome the shyness and "be more social" and "try to make friends." Preferring to be alone was seen as an escape from others, from the natural inclination to be with others. But it also happens that being with others can be an escape from being with ones own thoughts and feelings and the figures that appear in ones dreams and fantasies. Not everything frightening lies without. Not everything good lies without.

  81. Short idea (49):
    1) Psychological Suffering = Suffering.

    2) Psychological Suffering + Unconsciousness = Suffering x 2 (or possibly x 3).
    3) Psychological Suffering + Consciousness + Time + Quiet + X + ? = Peace + Calmness.

  82. Short idea (171): Derived from my own introspection and understanding of Freud's and Jung's dream theories: If you are heavily caught up in the external world and intent on succeeding and feeling you have a good chance of succeeding, then Freud's theory applies. If you are withdrawn from the world or are pursuing private and personal goals, then Jung's applies. For Freud, dreams reminded you of your inner goals that were overshadowed by you concentration on externals. For Jung, archetypal dreams drew you into deeper and deeper places in yourself and in the world as it appears to you when you feel alone. 

  83. Short idea (83): Without feeling disrespectful in any way, it is useful for a psychologist to think of the impulse to spiritual beliefs as an instinct. If it is, it is as deep rooted as the impulse to eat and the impulse to sex. Some ascetics have tried to cut their eating down to a bare minimum. Other ascetics have tried to eradicate all traces of their sexuality. Ascetics of a different kind try to eradicate all spiritual impulses in themselves. On the other extreme, some dissolute people brag they give into all impulses to eat or to engage in sex. Others, of a different type, are proud they believe in the reality of every visionary experience of every person who reports them ("If a person feels there's a ghost in their house, sure, there must be one"). — Extreme positions with respect to spiritual realities are similar to extreme positions with respect to the other instincts. They have their places in the history of the world and in the history of each individual's life, but, for most people, in the end, they are impossible or near impossible to sustain. It usually doesn't work to give into them all or to try to get rid of them all.

  84. Short idea (119): We all feel filled with Energy sometimes, bursting with Energy; at other times listless and sluggish and filled with inertia. This feeling of Energy has a psychological label: Libido (sometimes "Libido" is used to refer to all psychological energy, sometimes only to sexual energy). If we look at objects in the physical world we can often see what fills them with energy. For example, a moving object hits one that is still, and the second objects moves, filled with the energy transferred from the first object. It is not so easy to see what fills us with the feeling of Energy or takes away the feeling. If we do see what does, it is difficult to understand how this can happen. For example, how can bad news make us feel all the Energy draining from us? We may be able to picture how a virus could take the wind out of our sails, but how can hearing bad news do it?

  85. Short idea (35): Elephants are so big many people have trouble imagining they are emotionally vulnerable and sensitive and can feel fear, let alone dread and terror and agony.

  86. Short idea (45): There is physical abuse, intellectual abuse, religious abuse, emotional abuse, and abuse where one person browbeats and tyrannizes another person with tastes or values. Physical abuse is probably the most painful. (I say probably.)

  87. Short idea (93): To explore the idea of experience, it is useful, for a few minutes, to pretend that the following idea is true, even if it is false: Every experience you have is part of your body. Every sound you hear is part of your body. If you are driving a car and look out and see green grass and green and brown trees — and whatever you are currently looking at — this is all part of your body. Under this view, your body has different layers, to use an imperfect word. There is the visual layer, the sound layer, the skin layer, the muscle layer, the inner organ layers, the heart layer, the lung layer, and so on. Each embodies it's own unique type of experience. The central part of this idea is that there is a layer of sights and and a layer of sounds that are each part of your body but are experienced as outside of it — as outside the skin and what is inside the skin.

  88. Short idea (66): An educated man I know thinks the idea of "ghosts" is a primitive superstition. Last year his mother died. Recently he dreamed his mother and another dead relative came to him inquiring if he had taken care of the paper work required for them to move to another state or country. He said he had. Even in the waking state after this dream in which he dutifully carried out an obligation to the dead, he didn't think twice about looking down on and ridiculing those he heard saying they saw a ghost or communicated with the dead. How do you explain this apparent contradiction?

  89. Short idea (181): Whatever else is true about Empathy, it requires at least two psychological functions, feeling and imagination (and not just feeling). You have to be able to imagine what it is like to be going through what another is going through, and then you have to be able to respond with the same feeling you would have responded if you were going through it.

  90. Short idea (43): A good side of difficult experiences is how they peel off the surfaces of yourself. If you're a fan of self-knowledge, this is a plus. It creates a chance to catch a glimpse of things you don't and can't usually see. If the painful experiences are rooted deeply enough, they cast a new light on ordinary experience and behavior. This, in turn, can lead to the development of new adaptations.

  91. Short idea (176): If you are the type of person who is devoted to thinking, it is probable that you are not the type of person who continually tries to balance your feeling state in order to feel as good as you can feel. And vice versa: If you are constantly monitoring your feelings and sensations to adjust them to their optimal state, it will be almost possible for you to be what is called "a thinker." All your thought and energy will be devoted to adjusting your feelings.

  92. Short idea (27): Some psychologists such as James and Jung have distinguished between Active Thinking and Passive Thinking. Active Thinking is work, because it requires an expenditure of energy over time. And, like any work, it can exhaust.

  93. Short idea (36): Devastating experiences make a person feel closer to those who have been through similar experiences and distant and separate from those who haven't. Losing a child separates a person from most other people; losing an old parent makes one feel part of the natural flow.

  94. Short Idea (41): If Moses had decided never to come down from Mt. Sinai and to stay forever with the Lord, we might not have learned we shouldn't steal or kill or disrespect our parents.

  95. Short idea (116): From a psychological point of view there are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of religions besides the five or six major religions. If religion can be compared to vessels on an ocean, the major religions are like giant ocean liners — like the Queen Mary or the aircraft carriers. The smaller religions are like lifeboats or submarines or tugboats or schooners or houseboats or barges or ferries or fishing boats or rowboats. Some religions are one man (or one woman) boats, big enough for one person only. Of these one man boats, some people make their own which is not easy. Psychologists often see patients who are struggling to make such a one man kayak or canoe. I suppose the ideal is to set out and swim free, without any boat, but that feels almost — almost — unfathomable, inconceivable; at least it is sink or swim.

  96. Short idea (50): If you think nobody in the world cares about you, you have to be willing to look closely at the possibility that you don't care about anybody in the world. There is also the possibility that you are absorbed in a waking nightmare (in which nobody cares about you) and that you're not aware it's just a nightmare.

  97. Short idea (182): Relaxation is not a "Yes" or "No" thing; it's not that we are either relaxed or not. Relaxation and Tension are two poles of a continuum with an innumerable number of possible positions. There are  degrees of relaxation and degrees of tension.

  98. Short idea (175): Anger is a way of holding things at arm's length, of isolating oneself from what you are angry at. We know the negative sides of this distancing for oneself and for others, but a positive function is that it seems to be a necessary step in thinking; it is pre-condition of observing and analyzing.

  99. Short idea (22): Imagine that every single religious architectural structure in the world was destroyed. And that it became illegal to be a teacher of religion and even to talk about religion. And that there was a way of implementing these laws, so there was never again a religious structure, a religious custom, or even a religious idea that ever appeared in public. Some people would say this would make the world a better place; others would say it would be a disaster for the world. The question for the psychologist is, "Is there a religious instinct in us that can not be eradicated no matter what we might do to try?"

  100. Short idea (100): People change all the time, like it or not. But there is much argument about whether or not "people can really change," change their personalities. Does psychotherapy lead to real and deep and profound changes or only some more or less temporary and more or less superficial changes of behavior? Psychological observation shows there is such a thing as a complete transformation of the personality. This is not the same thing as willing yourself to change your behavior or deciding not to focus on yourself so much or anything on this level. And it is not the belief that you have changed or a dream or fantasy that you are a new person. It involves a complete and total metamorphosis of the way we think, the way we feel about things, the content of our fantasy life, and a re-valuing of all our values (to use Nietzsche's term). It takes time. Some people say it feels as if they are being reborn.

  101. Short idea (62): The average person in the United State knows about as much about Arab countries as he or she knows about the planets Jupiter or Neptune. It is probably vice versa also.

  102. Short idea (118): Psychotherapists learn quickly that people who appear good are almost never as good as they appear, and people who appear bad are rarely ever as bad as they appear.

  103. Short idea (14): You are driving on a winding, icy mountain road in a blizzard. You are struggling to see enough to stay on the road and in your lane. There are five cars behind you. They have it easier than you; They can keep their distance and follow the tail lights of the car in front of them. Some in the cars behind are impatient. — Moral: if someone seems slow, it may be because they are weak or infirm or old or meandering, but it also may be that they are making an all out attempt to find their way on treacherous ground we will all be entering.

  104. Short idea (196): Every person on earth, I would guess, is, by nature: 1) remarkable, 2) ordinary, and 3) inferior. Through work a fourth state can, if things go well, can be added, and this fourth state can be positive or negative depending on which direction the person exerts his or her energy.

  105. Short idea (120): If you think brain activities underlie all our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, and so on, here is a paradox: I can influence your brain (say through my words to you), and you can influence mine, but it seems impossible for me to influence my own brain or for you to influence yours. Why? Because if you think you are doing something to influence your own brain (maybe telling yourself happy words to make your brain have a different chemistry), it is your brain making you want to do the thing in the first place, it is your brain that lies behind your actually doing it, and it is your brain that causes you to be aware you are doing it. Similarly, if a man is strong enough and big enough, maybe he could lift any human being on earth, but he could never lift himself.

  106. Short idea (64): I see the human Imagination as a step forward in evolution. It is a tool for learning new things, for acquiring new inspirations and intuitions, and for testing new behaviors without ever having to get out of bed. On the other hand, it is fragile and extremely fallible and must be handled very very carefully. It is too easy to fall into it, thinking it is reality.

  107. Short idea (46): An abusive episode is like a tornado. Once it passes there is a calm just like on any other day. The only sign of what happened is what is left behind. — The weather is normal 99.9% of the time. Then along comes a tornado and kills a lot of people.

  108. Short idea (146): Every century is unique. Every decade is unique. Every year is unique. Every day is unique. Every moment is unique. Every thing is unique. Every event is unique. For example, every breath is unique. It is also true that we often feel that everything is the same, tedious, and boring and that nothing ever changes.

  109. Short idea (106): Everyone has two sides to one degree or another. There is the normal, sane side and the wild, crazy side. People feel good when they manage to let out the wild, crazy side in a normal, sane way. They feel bad if they never are able to let it out or if it bursts out in a wild and crazy way.

  110. Short idea (34): If you rely on people being unreliable, you won't get as angry as if you assume everybody is reliable. (But many people really are reliable much of the time.)

  111. Short idea (44): I think everybody has been abused by someone or other, to some degree or other, in some way or other, at some time or other. I think everybody has abused someone or other, to some degree or other, in some way or other, at some time or other. Abuse is not everything and everywhere, but it is part of life.

  112. Short idea (21): Everything passes including the awareness that everything passes.

  113. Short idea (202): It is not necessary to have a philosophy of fear, anxiety, depression, and terror, but it is necessary to have a philosophy of the place of fear, anxiety, depression, and terror.

  114. Short idea (190): Knowledge and Power: 
    The Intellect thinks: "Knowledge is power."
    The Imagination, when it experiences Self-Knowledge in itself or in others, thinks: "Super-Power!"
    When the Imagination experiences Consciousness, it thinks: "Magic" or "God-like" or even "All-Powerful" ("Omnipotent") and "All-Knowing" ("Omniscient").
    [This observations grew out my wife, Adelle Hersh's, thought that it is both a blessing and responsibility to have self-knowledge.]

  115. Short idea (201): We can injure ourselves while we are sleeping

  116. Short idea (162): To our Sense of Time, a moment can seem a lifetime, and a lifetime can seem a moment.

  117. Short idea (42): "He knows his own mind!" — This can mean, "He knows his own tastes" (he differentiates his tastes from the group's taste); "He knows his own thoughts"; "He knows his own beliefs"; "He knows his own values"; "He knows his own view of further out things;" and so on.

  118. Short idea (167): Speaking as a psychotherapist, I guess that some school shootings and work-place shootings are irrational, incorrect, misguided, illegitimate, and immoral attempts to gain power, respect, and dignity.

  119. Short idea (173): Some mythic stories can be understood, among other things, as attempts to present psychological states of mind that are difficult (or even impossible) to describe or present in ordinary language. An example is an American Indian story that tells about a man who was picked up off the ground and blown far away from his home by a great wind. When he landed he became a great healer. The whole story is one big metaphor.

  120. Short idea (110): There are two ideas of psychological strength: first, if someone is anxious and tense, and they turn away from their psychological pain and push on to meet their obligations, this is considered, by one camp, to be psychological strength. The other idea is that, if someone is anxious and tense, and they turn inward towards their pain and face it and explore it and come to terms with it, that is considered, by the other camp, to be psychologically brave and strong. Often a husband will have one idea and a wife the other. It is not difficult to think of the conflicts that can arise from this configuration.

  121. Short idea (180): If there are deep truths and generalizations about the best ways to live, each person must find them him or herself.

  122. Short idea (71): First come the explorers, then the map makers. Each child is an unexplored continent (or world or universe). A person who becomes interested in self-discovery and wants it to be useful has to become both explorer and map-maker.

  123. Short idea (184): For those interested in experience, there are at least two variables to consider. First is the variety of experience, and this is achieved by living fully. The second is the nature of any individual experience, and this is understood through introspection and meditation.

  124. Short idea (30): For whatever it's worth: I've come to believe that either there are two realities or one reality with two "faces." I prefer the second. If true, then one face appears in our dreams, and the other appears when we wake up.

  125. Short idea (142): It is helpful for psychologists to think of some families as cults. The leader (often the father) is experienced as God and his wishes are experienced as divine law. Conflicts can develop when family cult law conflicts with civil law. In such cases, families are mini-religions.

  126. Short idea (9): "Going along with others" versus "Getting along with others."

  127. Short idea (195): There are beautiful ideas and there are true ideas. Occasionally we find a beautiful idea that turns out to be true. And, occasionally, we stumble across a true idea that we come to see is very beautiful.

  128. Short idea (157): You can't trust anyone completely or count on anyone completely — not even yourself. This can be a hard fact to swallow and adjust to.

  129. Short idea (95): Every experience has a "tail," which is to say that a piece of every experience lingers on after the experience is over. For example, the experience of being in a severe thunder storm lingers after the storm is gone. The alertness, the feelings of fear and/or awe, etc. Tails can last a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, days, weeks, months, years, and even for a whole life-time. As you get older you accumulate more and more of these permanent tails, and all new experiences you have are filtered through them. The thicker the web of old tails, the less of each new experience will get through, and, gradually, new experiences will all come to feel pretty much the same, have the same flavor, as it were. Experience will become stale.

  130. Short idea (158): I can think of 5 roots of anxiety: Ignorance, Knowledge, Cowardice, Attachment, and Chemical Interactions.

  131. Short idea (3): "Everybody is a moon, with a dark side never to be seen by others." — Mark Twain. This was true when Mark Twain was alive, but now psychology gives us ways of seeing the dark sides of ourselves and others — if and when we want to.

  132. Short idea (25): There are two types of people. One type thinks they're really something. The other type thinks they aren't anything much. People who think they're something are surprised when they realize they will die. Those who think they're nothing special may be surprised when they realize they're alive.

  133. Short idea (57): "Seek the truth," they say, but is that enough? Mustn't we then catch a glimpse of it, and then aim towards it and try to grasp it, and then learn to hold on to it and then to handle it and to clarify it and refine it and absorb it and digest it, and also to carve it into something beautiful and useful to ourselves and others?

  134. Short idea (6): The way humans are built we can not see the back of our heads directly, no matter what we do.  We can get around this, if we want, by setting up a few mirrors or by asking others to look and tell us what they see. We also can't see the "back sides" of our own personalities. If we want to get around this we can look at our dreams (which reflect the sides of ourselves we can't see) or ask people how we look to them.

  135. Short idea (174): A psychological metaphor: The Ego crystallizes from its substrate, the Self, and then dissolves back into it. It crystallizes again and then dissolves. It crystallizes again, and then dissolves .... But in one of these crystallizations it can solidify and harden. If this happens, it has to crack apart or be cracked apart to return to the Self until it crystallizes again. "Dissolving" is another word for "Relaxing," and "Solidifying" is another word for "Working."

  136. Short idea (26): The Israelites thought it was a miracle when the Red Sea closed over the Egyptian army. But, when the Egyptians back home heard the story, they would not have thought it was a miracle. The escape of the hare is a miracle to the hare but a curse to the fox and his family. Current day Israelis and Egyptians hear the story with different ears.

  137. Short idea (89): Say there is a king who is a great man, and he has a servant. This doesn't mean that the servant is a great man (or even a great servant).

  138. Short idea (53): If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it is worth a million thoughts and feelings. If words are cheap, then ideas and feelings are worth next to nothing. If actions speak louder than words, then they drown out thoughts and feelings altogether.

  139. Short idea (112): It is an interesting psychological hypothesis (not a theological hypothesis) that the search for God involves the search for the self (finding God involves finding oneself). It would go the other way too: The search for the self would be, deep down, also a search for what people call, "God." This doesn't mean, necessarily that God = Self, just that the search for one might turn out to involve (or even be) the search for the other.

  140. Short idea (79): Of all the reasons a man climbs mountains, two stand out. The first is to test his endurance, skill, and tenacity and to compare his achievements with those of others. The second is to gain new vistas, to leave the ordinary and enter a new and higher realm, and to achieve a lofty spiritual experience. It is possible to climb for both reasons, and even at the same time.

  141. Short idea (111) : There are four kinds of hurts. Hurts administered by an enemy, hurts administered by a friend, hurts administered by ourselves, and imaginary hurts. Each requires a different kind of response. 

  142. Short idea (128): I was informed of a dream of someone's patient after the election of Pope Francis I. The dream proposed a riddle: "What do Tiger Woods and Pope Francis I have in common?" And the answer was also given in the dream: "They both breathe the same air and eat fish from the same oceans." I thought this dream was worth reporting.

  143. Short idea (125): There is obviously a world of difference between having $20 as all the money you have in the world and having $200 million in your banks. A person with $20 is very very different from someone with $200 million. There is at least one way, however, they are identical: They both have to count and watch and hold and spend wisely and spend well if they want to be responsible and good. The $20-aire has to count and watch and hold on to his or her pennies and spend them wisely and well; the $200 millionaire has to count and watch and spend wisely and well and hold on to his or her 10's of thousands, but both have to count and watch and spend wisely and well.

  144. Short idea (31): Having a positive First Impression of something is different from judging it to be Good. You can often tell immediately if you like something. If you begin not to like it after a week or a month, you say, “It turned out to be no Good in spite of my early impressions." Whether or not something's Good for the whole world may take a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand or even a hundred thousand years to tell. If something turns out to be Bad, then it was just a Fad. A fad can last for a hundred thousand years.

  145. Short idea (23): Mattress ads claim that the reason a person sleeps badly is because of the mattress, and, if you use their mattresses, you will sleep perfectly. It is the springs or the stuffing or whatever. This is a good example of an attempt to explain a psychological state of unrest or discomfort by reference to a thing or event in the external world.

  146. Short idea (82): Certainly it can be cowardly to run away from someone you are afraid of. The psychologist recognizes that it can be just as cowardly to run away from someone in a dream you are afraid of.

  147. Short idea (69): Sensations are like the sounds of the individual instruments in an orchestra; Feelings are like the sound of the whole orchestra. A Sensation is like a moving picture of an individual leaf on a tree moving in the wind; A Feeling is like a moving picture of all the leaves (and the whole tree) moving in the wind.

  148. Short idea (88): "The Great Mystery" — To many, these words are exciting, inspiring, and meaningful. To others, the idea of a Great Mystery is dangerously irrational and superstitious and agitates and angers them. What does this disagreement signify? One possibility is that it is a simple, intellectual disagreement and that one side is right and the other wrong. Another possibility is that there is a Great Mystery for some but not for others. It also may be that, for most people, those not at the extreme ends of the continuum, there are occasions when they sense a Great Mystery, whereas, at other times, they think the idea is a childish, naive wish.

  149. Short idea (188): It seems to me that there is a third option when confronted with an unpleasant situation besides Fight or Flight. There is also Assessment. Assessment includes Stopping, Waiting, Observation, Feeling, Thinking, and Imagining.

  150. Short idea (96): The logic and geometry of experiences is different from the logic and geometry necessary to get through everyday life in public. Here is an experiment in introspection the reader can do to see what I mean: Focus on a sensation deep within your body. Now focus on one on the surface of your skin. Now focus on a visual sensation somewhere outside your body. Now focus on a far away sound, as far away as possible. Now try to focus on outer space, space past our Milky Way galaxy, the furthest part of space there is. Now ask yourself where this last experience took place. I think you will find that the experience of outer space, if you had it at all, was a combination of thoughts and images within your own head. So, typical of the laws of logic and geometry for experiences, outer space was outside your body, beyond sights you were seeing and sounds you were hearing, but, at the same time, it was inside your head. — If you want to explore your own experiences, you have to get used to this kind of twist.

  151. Short idea (61): The Jewish people, as a people, suffer from PTSD. This doesn't mean that every individual Jewish person has PTSD.

  152. Short idea (160): What we believe is different from what we think we believe.

  153. Short idea (197): Things we like and enjoy can be bad for us, including some people we like and enjoy.

  154. Short idea (172): Linear (or active) Thinking is a chain or line of thought in which we use thoughts to solve a problem. Associative (or passive) Thinking is a line or chain or thoughts linked together by previous associations. Both Linear and Associative are step by step processes with each link in the chain, each point on the line, connected to the previous one by an understandable connection. There is another type of thought that we might call Archetypal in which an idea "pops into ones head," and it seems completely unconnected with any previous thought. It "came out of no where," as it were, "out of the blue." If, on examining a new archetypal thought, it does seem connected with ones previous thoughts at all, it seems more as if it is an observation or commentary or insight about the line of thought that came before. It may seem as if it came from outside oneself, almost as if it was the point of view of another, often more intelligent and wiser, person.

  155. Short idea (109): Anything can become everything within a person's experience.

  156. Short idea (75): In the following I use a flute as an example, but I could have used any thing: It is difficult to stay clear about the difference between the sound of a flute (gotten from hearing), the sight of a flute (gotten from vision), the feel of a flute (gotten from touch), the memory of the sound or sight of a flute, the image or sound of a flute in ones imagination, the idea or concept of a flute (from thinking), the desire to own a flute or see a flute or hear a flute, and a flute.

  157. Short idea (19): Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Emily Dickinson were opposites: De Saint-Exupéry never had a home; Dickinson never left hers.

  158. Short idea (20): The same door can look different from inside and from outside depending, in part, on our moods. However it looks at any given moment, it is important that it be well balanced, with oiled hinges, and with a strong lock.

  159. Short idea (33): Everybody is normal. Some people are also abnormal. – This is a paradoxical way to put it, but I can't think of a clearer way. Implications: Abnormal people will begin to seem normal if you get to know them, and normal people may turn out to be abnormal. – You can use the same formula for “ordinary” and “extra-ordinary”: Everybody is ordinary; Some are also extra-ordinary; etc.

  160. Short idea (7): Feelings do not come labeled. Often we don't know what we are feeling and have to wait to find out. Other people may see and tell us. Or we may notice the effect of what we just said on someone and realize we must have been angry. Or we may get a call from a doctor we saw last week and realize all the feelings we have had in our body was nervousness. Or we may never find out. We may feel the feeling but not know what it is. And soon we may forget we are feeling anything. People can go their whole lives feeling tense, never relaxing, and never knowing it.

  161. Short idea (147): It is easy to have bad motives and to try to cover them over with warm smiles and expressions of care and concern and with promises to always be helpful. So it is possible to be doing very bad things and to appear like an angel. We all fall for this. It is also possible to be doing very good things and not to care at all about how you look. You can be so involved in doing this good thing that you forget about others around you, and they can think you are selfish and self-centered and short-tempered and bad. We all make the mistake, at times, of thinking people are being bad when they are really being very good.

  162. Short idea (32): I have developed a method for thinking about minor problems. I withdraw into myself, and wait for a clear and illuminating impression to come. Of all the clear and illuminating ideas I have had, I estimate about 15% have been useful to me or to others. “Clear and Illuminating” is not the same as “True and Useful.”

  163. Short idea (16): Everything you experience is real, but not everything is real in the same way:  Some things are useful and substantial and important to you; others are dangerous; others are pale reflections, elusive and amorphous and hard to describe and maybe fleeting and unrepeatable and useless; others mislead you like a delusion that comes into the head while lying in bed on a long Winter's night.

  164. Short idea (94): Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, according to Lord Acton. In our day, with our microscopic focus on human motivation, we might look at it even more cynically. Human nature is already corrupt, but most humans don't have the power to act it out. Fear keeps most of us in check. Give us power, and we let go. Give us absolute power, and look out. — On the other hand, we know there are other, more positive forces working in us, and, in some of us, they hold sway no matter what.

  165. Short idea (92): "God is in the Heavens." If you are thinking about God, and you are thinking of Him in the Heavens, you are doing this in one of two ways: 1) you are outside under the sky, actually looking up into the sky, and picturing Him up in the sky. Or, 2) you are inside, picturing Him, picturing the sky, and picturing Him in this pictured sky. For 1) you have to be outside, with eyes open, looking up at the sky. For 2), you can be inside, sitting in an easy chair, eyes closed, imagining the sky with God in it. There is such a big difference between 1) and 2) that I think people who think about God in the heavens in the second way may not be able to picture Him in the heavens the first way.

  166. Short idea (5): Some have, as the whole goal of their lives, to come out of their shells and to enter the world and to venture out and to live and experience and achieve. Others have, as their goal, to retreat from the world, to dampen and tone down their experience, to withdraw from new experiences, to filter out much of the incoming stimuli, to protect themselves. The same person can have the opposite goal at different times, even at different times of the same day.

  167. Short idea (38): For many, the things they are most proud of when they are doing them are the very same things they are most ashamed of when they reflect on them later.

  168. Short idea (114): Frederich Nietzsche famously said, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." This is now the title of a popular country song in the United States. Hard to believe, but true. The irony is that the beautiful and inspiring idea that has come into the minds of so many people who are suffering was not true of Nietzsche himself; he got weaker and weaker over time. 

  169. Short idea (138): Feelings can be thought of as like watercolor paints: They can stand alone, individually, or blend together. There are an infinite number of possible blends. You can have a specific feeling, and then a new one can come and mix with it, wholly or in part. Or the new one can become superimposed on the first in a transparent or opaque way. Or, like two side-by-side colors, if you have two "side-by-side" feelings, one can stand out and be brighter or more intense than the other and the other can be shadowy and vague and in the background. And so on.

  170. Short idea (194): Mania and Anxiety can be seen as forms of increased psychological Energy (Libido), that is, excitement. Each can be taken as the opposite of Relaxation.

  171. Short idea (101) : Psychologically speaking, sometimes the only way out is in. At other times, the only way to penetrate deep inside oneself is to go outside and get lost in the world.

  172. Short idea (187): In my experience everyone is bad. In my experience everyone is good. In my experience, when focusing on the bad of a person, the person is experienced as all bad and when focusing on the good of a person, the person is experienced as all good. In my experience, when focusing on the reality of a person, the whole person, the good and bad of a person recede into the background as natural properties inherent in everyone.

  173. Short idea (179): It is only when it feels that all is lost that the self can emerge.

  174. Short idea (48): Psychological pain is always an opportunity to learn about our illusions; about where our feelings are registered in our bodies; about our bloated or otherwise incorrect self-images; about our unreasonable and immature expectations; about our obsolete, un-honed, imprecise, conflicting, or superficial values.

  175. Short idea (177): It is continuously amazing to me how people can feel they are the greatest, when everyone else can see they are jackasses or fools. To be fair we have to include ourselves in this evaluation and be aware that we also, at the exact moment we feel we are at our best. are often being selfish and stupid and blind and weak. Just because a person feels good and thinks they are good doesn't mean they are. It is sobering to see what we are really.

  176. Short idea (73): There's a difference between accepting, liking, and, maybe, loving yourself, which is a wonderful thing, and being in love with yourself and worshipping yourself which is, at best, immature.

  177. Short idea (74): If you watch an horror movie and get anxious, and even feel some fear, this is real anxiety and real fear, but it is caused by events in the movie. What percent of all the anxiety and fear a person feels in life is caused by events in inner "movies"?

  178. Short idea (15): An experience of the whole, no matter how important and healing and tremendous it may feel, is, itself, only a minuscule and transitory piece of the whole.

  179. Short idea (91): There's a parallel between the passion of sex and and the passion of anger. I think almost every human being in the world would agree that there should be some limitation and restraint on the expression of sexual impulses and angry impulses (both for themselves and for others). It would be impossible for all humans to agree on just where the lines should be drawn, but pretend we all could agree. Pretend we all went to a big conference and could all agree that people, from now on, can express their sexual and angry impulses up to a certain boundary line but no further, that certain sexual and angry behaviors are totally unacceptable. Then, we might also agree that, as long as people do not step over the lines, everyone is free to express their sexual and angry impulses any way they see fit in accordance with their own individual styles. The points I am making are: 1) every human being has sexual and angry impulses; 2) every human being has to limit them; 3) every human being needs to express them in some way; 4) and people have just as much variation in their preferred ways of controlling and expressing their anger as they do in their preferred ways of controlling and expressing their loving feelings.

  180. Short idea (84): If we make an analogy between the Imagination, Sensation, Need, and Thinking on the one hand and four rivers on the other, then there is a place where the rivers merge with each other and eventually form an ocean. Or, we can start with the idea of an ocean and picture the Imagination, Sensation, Need, and Thinking as four rivers that separate and flow out of it. — Without the ocean and its rivers we would all be dead. On the other hand, people often get swept away and drown in one of them. It's naive to forget the dangers of the rivers and the ocean and equally naive (and even fanatically suicidal) to try to get rid of them.

  181. Short idea (105): In some ways, Heisenberg's ideas can be applied to consciousness: when we try to "observe" our own conscious experiences, the act of trying to observe them changes them or even destroys them. The reason this happens is different from why, according to Heisenberg, our attempts to observe sub-atomic particles change them. Speaking metaphorically, we are embedded in our conscious experiences, absorbed in them. In order to inspect them, we have to pull out of them, and this pulling out, this distancing ourselves from them, is part of what changes or destroys them.

  182. Short idea (178): The only way not to have expenses and expenditures is to be dead.

  183. Short idea (97): An altar is a focal point for attention, and it is made to focus attention. A little girl dies and a mother makes a little altar at a spot in a room and places a cross on it, the child's favorite ribbon, and a picture. The altar focuses the mother's attention (and is made to focus her attention) on these things. The things help her remember, and to remember in a positive way, and so to counteract the grief and terror of the loss. Not only can the mother sit in front of the altar, but, wherever she is, she knows the altar is where she left it; and she knows the moves she must make to get back to it; and this, by itself, makes her feel a little better. Creating the altar is an unconscious process and can't be contrived. It happens as everything in nature happens.

  184. Short idea (12): A human relation is like a weaving or a web; it can be torn or broken, and then it needs to be mended which involves work.

  185. Short idea (68): It is very important to Adapt. But to what? Definitely to other people, to the forces of nature, and so on. But also to our feelings, our thoughts, our pains, and to figures that appear in dreams and fantasies. What stands in the way of Adaptation? One thing is the denial of the existence of an experience, or, after recognizing its existence, the denial of its importance or significance.

  186. Short idea (152): An introspective exercise I did made me think that thinking is a branch of the imagination and that reason is a branch of thinking. However, it is just as possible that thinking and fantasy are offspring of the same parent (maybe the need to grasp the future). Or that they both come from the same root or need. Or that they are two forms of the same thing.

  187. Short idea (102): Everyone has two sides, but only one side comes out and shows at a time. Some people show one side more than the other, and other people show the other side more often. But all people have both sides.

  188. Short idea (39): We can find ourselves in unfamiliar territory such as in another state or a foreign country, but we can also find ourselves in an unfamiliar inner state of mind. There are unfamiliar thoughts and feelings and images and impulses and dreams.

  189. Short idea (123): The ongoing argument between Creationists and Evolutionists assumes either we are descendants from the apes or we have not evolved from apes. There is a third possibility: that we are apes.

  190. Short idea (141): People in cities understand daytime (and light) and its subtleties more than nighttime (and darkness) and its subtleties.

  191. Short idea (104): People do the worst things when they think they're right. They can do even worse things when they know they're right.

  192. Short idea (103): A house can make sounds like those of a living creature. Some people, especially at night mistake these sounds for the sounds of living creatures entering their houses.

  193. Short idea (70): There are unknown events going on inside and outside our bodies that, at this very moment, are shaping our futures.

  194. Short idea (199): Many people are running towards something and also running away from something, and they feel they will die if they stop running. Sometimes they are right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes they will die if they keep running.

  195. Short idea (145): One image of love that comes down to us from ancient times is of a cute little chubby infant, Cupid, shooting one of his tiny arrows into someone's heart. This image appears In paintings and on greeting cards and in T.V. advertisements selling gifts for happy lovers. But the image of Cupid shooting an arrow into an heart must have had different meaning for the ancients. We don't use bows and arrows for hunting or warfare, but they did. To be shot in the heart with an arrow would not have been thought by them to be a wonderful, happy experience.

  196. Short idea (139): I am sympathetic with those who speak of an inner and an outer world, but this way of speaking leads to needless complications. I think it is less confusing to say there are two ways to experience the world: inner and outer. — There is an inner way of experiencing something and an outer way.

  197. Short idea (77): "If only I had listened to her (or him)!" is a thought I have had many times. But I have also had the opposite thought: "I shouldn't have listened to her (or him)! I should have listened to myself!" Based on this, sometimes I should listen to others, and sometimes I should listen to myself. It would be nice to have a rule to tell when to do one and when to do the other, but I haven't found one.

  198. Short idea (163): More important to me than coming up with a psychological diagnosis (from the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual, 5th Edition) is to answer the question whether or not the patient can get better and how.

  199. Short idea (115): Alfred North Whitehead said that all European philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Plato lived roughly 2,500 years ago and Freud lived roughly 100 years ago, but, to paraphrase Whitehead, I would say that all psychology, including all American psychology, has been a series of footnotes to Freud. — I say this even though I am not a Freudian.

  200. Short idea (8): Everybody has to be inside sometimes and outside sometimes. There is a door that separates the inside from the outside. Some walk easily, back and forth, through the door. Others have to be dragged in and/or out, screaming. And, for others, the door is jammed, and, to get them in and out, a wall has to be broken down.

  201. Short idea (185): Hypothesis: Believing in a life after death is as instinctual as eating or breathing. No matter how silly the idea seems to our thinking, no matter how irrational, no matter how vague or self-contradictory, deep down we it is still there. It's as impossible to hold off the opposite belief too long as it is to hold your breath too long. You can hold it at bay for a while with your rational mind, but, as soon as you relax, the belief in a life after death, for yourself and others, grabs hold again.

  202. Short idea (87): If you cut off the head of a worm, the body goes on for a long time. It's pretty much the same with people. If you cut out our ability to think (maybe by some violent emotion), we can still eat and drink — and vote.

  203. Short idea (2): Take anything on the earth or in the heavens or in the seas: There is someone who could become interested in learning about it. Whether it is a rainbow or the rhyming system of certain poems or ancient Sumerian palaces or how to fix a toilet or the mating habits of Sumatran elephants or the cost of pine nuts from China or the composition of dust or how children learn to spell. So it is no wonder that there are some people who are interested in learning about themselves.

JMH International Essays — Announcement

Original Essays on the Psychology of Anger and/or Violence 

We thank all those who have submitted an essay to the JMH International Prize Essay Contest. As of now, February 1, 2017, we have decided not to continue with the contest.

For those who feel they have an important contribution to the subject of the Psychology of Anger and/or Violence, please feel free to submit your essay with the form provided here. If the judges agree that the essay is a significant contribution, we will publish it here (subject to agreement with the author).

We include here links related to past essays — For the 2014 contest, click here for the summary article and here for the list of winners; for the 2015 contest, click here for the summary article and the list of winners; and for the 2016 contest, click here.

Longer Observations

  1. Longer observation (17): The Center of Everything: It is usually as clear as a bell to young children that the sun and moon are the largest and closest objects in the sky; that the sun is the brightest object in the sky and the moon is the second brightest; that the sun is the center of the daytime sky and moves around our earth; and that the stars are the faintest and most distant objects in the sky.

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  2. Longer Observation (5): Measuring Time: There are many ways of measuring time.

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  3. Longer Observation (21): Deep Cures: Traditional wisdom says that the Lord heals, not doctors. In our times, when medicine is charging ahead recording remarkable successes in its crusade against suffering, is there any place for this old wisdom? In discussing this question I will be focusing on psychological suffering.

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  4. Longer observation (12): A Suggested Model of Memory: Here I would like to make a suggestion for a possible research approach to Memory.

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  5. Longer observation (1): Raised in a Cave: I read about a South American Indian tribe. In their territory there was a cave, and, occasionally, a newborn child would be selected (I forgot how) to be raised 100% in the cave.

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  6. Longer observation (8): A Mother's Sensitivity: When a mother becomes pre-occupied with some concern or other, she may not feel able to handle her children at the level required by her own standards. This is especially true if the children are also worried about what is worrying the mother. It's difficult enough for the mother to handle her own feelings.

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  7. Longer observation (13): Imagining Ourselves Dying (1): There are different ways to try to imagine we are dying. One way is to picture ourselves in the middle of our daily activities, and then to picture the same scene without us in it. And we think, "That's what it would be like if I were dead!"

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  8. Longer observation (6): Everything is Real: Speaking informally, in ordinary language, not scientifically or even logically, we can say, from a psychological angle, that everything is real, but, at the same time, it is also part of the Imagination, part of our Thoughts, and filled with our Feelings and Emotions.

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  9. Longer Observation (4): Dream of a Raging River: If a patient can’t cross a raging river in a dream, this can be the whole focus of therapy, and it may take many years for her to discover if she needs to and wants to cross and then how to cross and if she can. And then there is the crossing itself and, finally, the beginning of life on the other side.  These are difficult goals to explain to insurance companies.

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  10. Longer observation (18): The Great Mystery: Whatever you think about the Great Mystery, the Answer, or the Secret, there are many people who spend much of their lives searching for such things. A portrayal of someone on a Search or Quest for such things is given by Somerset Maugham in his book, The Razor's Edge.

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  11. Longer observation (10): Experiences of the Location of Sounds, An introspective report: The following is a report of observations I made on four nights over a 3 week period.

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  12. Longer observation (2): What makes Success: The very thing that makes a person a success in the world, the very consciousness required — the work ethic, the cool objective eye, the ability to close off subjective thoughts and feelings and to focus on an end — these abilities, and they are abilities (abilities that not everyone has but that can be developed);

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  13. Longer observation (14): An Objective Measure of Success?: Here is a mathematical formula offered as an expression of the amount of success in a person's life: s = (h-l) + w + gwh - d

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  14. Longer observation (19): Imagining Ourselves Dying (2): Imagining dying is different than trying to imagine death. Dying is a process; death a state. Here I want to write about a certain type of dying, one where there is no pain, no physical discomfort, and no inconvenience. Here is I am trying to imagine an unusual situation: You find that you will be dying, painlessly, in 30 seconds. I think most people, if they became convinced of this, would be upset. The question is, "Why?"

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  15. Longer observation (3): "Why do Good People Suffer?" or "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

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  16. Longer observation (20): Limitations of the DSM-5: Whether or not the newest edition (Fifth Edition) of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for mental illnesses is an improvement over the Fourth Edition is being debated within the mental health professional community. Which ever side of the debate we find ourselves on, perhaps we will agree that any attempt to categorize mental illnesses has inherent limitations. We use the image of a building with windows to demonstrate the point.

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  17. Longer observation (11): The Body & the Earth: In early thinking the human body is sometimes compared to the earth.

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  18. Longer Observation (22): Looking for the Best: Some people are not satisfied unless they have the best, whether it be the best car or the best cheese or the best wine or the best house. If they feel they have anything less, they feel dissatisfied, that they are missing something. There is value in this approach to life, in this value system, but there is also at least one important short-coming.

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  19. Longer observation (15): Is he Bad or Mentally Ill (or Both)?: In these modern times we hear people discussing people who have done something bad. One person says, "He's just bad! No excuses! He should be punished!" and the other person says, "No! He's mentally ill! You would have done the same thing if you had been through what he has been through! We should be compassionate!" The person in question could be a criminal on trial or a political tyrant or even a family member who is hurting and, maybe, tyrannizing, people within the family.

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  20. Longer observation (16): The Growth of Trees and of People: If you look casually at a large tree that has lost its leaves for the Winter, you might be struck by an intriguing and/or beautiful pattern, but the pattern itself will probably appear meaningless and random. A grove of trees or a forest can feel even more overwhelming and confusing and meaningless to an intellect trying to understand it. However, if you begin to think about the tree (or trees) from the angle of their history, the patterns begin to make sense.

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  21. Longer observation (7): Science and Self-Knowledge: It is easy to have views about things, even strong views, even certainties, and to be wrong. Science does not guarantee truth, but the scientific method is an attempt to subject our views, even our certain views, to a slow and methodic and public scrutiny, filled with checks and safe-guards to try to filter out as many false views as possible.

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  22. Longer Observation (9): Imagination & Reality: Forgetting the difference between Imagination and Reality.

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A Psychological Approach to Fascism/Tyranny

 

Introduction

As I see things, fascism is on the rise again in both Europe and the United States, perhaps worldwide.

What I mean by fascism I will state below. I will not stop here to give a definition except to say that I use fascism as interchangeable with the older word, tyranny.

In what follows, I find it useful to remember that fascism is a buzz word that often leads to strong reactions. For some it has positive connotations. For most, I guess, it brings up fear and anger.

I divide this essay into six discussions: 1) a discussion of different levels or degrees of fascism, 2) a discussion of the situations that can lead to the different degrees, 3) a rough definition of fascism, 4) a discussion of “the” fascist personality, 5) a discussion of different evaluations of the fascist approach, and 6) some thoughts about trying to handle the emotional issues raised in 1) to 5).

I will try to avoid (or, at least, hide) my emotional responses and moral judgments — not because I am above them or able to resist them or think they are out of place when talking about fascism — but because I want, as much as possible, to have a calm discussion. I want this essay to be like a demilitarized zone for discussion and mediation. I want it to be like a marriage counseling session in which the counselor tries to remain neutral and keep his or own feelings out of the mix. Still, the warring parties may remain irreconcilable.

I am not an expert or researcher on fascism. I am a retired clinical psychologist who is using his point of view (including his own introspection) to glimpse phenomena we all experience and to comment on them from his point of view. I hope this statement will help you view this essay from a more objective perspective and will help explain its strengths and weaknesses.

I should add that I was never at the top rung of the professional hierarchy of psychology. I rate myself as a good clinician overall, maybe with a “B” average.

Finally, I don’t see this essay as adding new ideas to the discussion of fascism. Rather, I hope it presents the issues involved from a different, but still useful, perspective. I will consider it a success if it makes us stop and think, to become more willing to struggle with genuine questions and confusions and to become more conscious of and better able to tolerate real ambiguity, ambivalence, and contradiction in ourselves and others.

— A caveat: I am not offering a formal psychological analyses or diagnoses of any of the particular people I mention. I don’t have enough personal information about any of them to give any sort of formal professional opinion.

 

1. Different levels or degrees of Fascism

Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Mao Zedung, Idi Amin, Kim Jong-un, the leaders of the Ittihad ve terakki, and other such humans were (are) authoritarian dictators in the sense that what they wanted, they were able to make happen; what they ordered, was carried out. A country run by a dictator imposing his (or her) will and molding the country to his taste is what I think of as a fascist country or government.

Nothing on earth is 100%, so it is certain that none of these leaders had absolute power They had to have support within their countries and would have had to cater, to some extent, to those who supported them. From this angle, there are no 100% fascist countries either.

There are levels of or degrees of fascism and dictatorship. There is a scale of fascism and dictatorship, and countries and people can be ranked. We all fall somewhere on this scale: Some of us have little of the fascist tendency or trait, and some of us have a lot. It’s a matter of degree.

Without implying a moral evaluation, I would rank Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedung, and the others on the list on the highest level, being examples of the highest degree of dictatorship attained to this date.  They had the power over life and death over everyone in their countries, or nearly everyone, and they used it freely. They could kill pretty nearly anyone they wanted to, and they did.

There are fascists who do not have total power. They live in countries that don’t allow them to live out all their tendencies. They rank at the highest degree on the fascism scale (in terms of motivation) and may have attained to the highest level of government, but they don’t have unlimited power and can not rule as they wish to rule.

Alternatively, these fascists who have not achieved total power can be looked at as incompetent fascists. I am not meaning to be facetious when I say that tyranny is, for many, an ideal. It is something to attain. It requires a skill set and perseverance and not every would-be fascist has the patience and skills to reach their goal.

I classify Donald Trump as a fascist on the higher end of the scale who is limited, at the time of the writing of this essay, by others in his government and country.

It is my view, that, if Donald Trump were given complete power, he would shut down news media that didn’t praise him, kill competitors who got in his way, and have illegal aliens expelled or shot. And he would be proud of it. He would brag, “I’m no weakling! I’m tough!”

I have expressed this view to others whose opinions I admire and value, and they disagree. They think President Trump wouldn’t go that far. I base my view on his open and visible admiration of Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, and his stated view that we need to be strong and never back down — ever.

If you don’t think Donald Trump is a fascist or if you think him lower down on the scale — not wanting as much control and/or not being willing to do whatever it takes to get it — or as an incompetent fascist, so be it, though I think, if President Trump was told that you ranked him lower on the scale than, say, Mussolini or Franco, he would probably feel insulted.

At a still lower level of the fascist hierarchy, there are countries who don’t have a dictator at the top but who flirt with the idea and have fascists in high government positions, and so on.

At the lowest level, there are countries that have fascist civilians who are ever present but who have little power.

So there is a scale of fascism with respect to individuals and with respect to countries. Everyone and every country is somewhere on the scale. From a psychological perspective, it is safe to say that no person or country is completely free from fascist tendencies and that no one is a hundred percent pure fascist.

 

2. What, in a country, brings out fascism and dictatorship?

From my reading and observations as a layman, what sets the stage for an increase in fascism in a country are conditions that lead the citizens to feel intense fear. The world feels more and more chaotic; it is harder and harder to picture the future and how you will get by in it; you feel more and more you are losing your grasp on reality.

The closer the people of a country are (or think they are) to, say, starvation, or being attacked by an enemy, the greater the likelihood the country and its citizens will become more fascist, at least during that turbulent period. Intelligent, competent fascists wait for these moments.

Spain was fascist for a time. So was Germany. It seems, looking back, to have been a phase in the histories of these countries. But relative economic and social stability may end. We don’t know if fascism will return to these countries or appear in “virgin” countries.

Individuals go through similar phases with respect to their own fascist tendencies. We fall into fascist moods, fascist ways of thinking and reacting, come out of them, and then return to them. We all do — at least, according to my observations of people including myself.

It is possible that fascism, as I am using the term, is our natural state, that the original society was one dominated by absolute monarchs: kings and queens with their princes and princesses waiting in the queue. Democracy may be a temporary experiment, a fad. Alternatively, the world and its individuals might be developing further and further away from fascism.

At some point, if survival is felt to be an issue, most of us will forget whatever moral feelings we have and will do or sanction more and more extreme measures in order to survive and/or to help our loved ones survive. Freedom for others and respect for them means less and less as we become more and more desperate. Our social world shrinks, and we feel on our own, like newborns, strangers in a strange land.

It is easy to judge others as fascists, but most of us have never been tested. We don’t know how we will think or feel or act under most types of extreme stress.

And we can be feeling extreme stress and be unconscious of it and our reaction to it.

As things become worse and worse, there is a tendency to long to be protected and cared for and to fantasize a super strong parental figure or messiah coming to save us. We tend to stop caring as much about our own freedom, let alone the freedom of others. We lose faith in our own abilities and judgment and become like lost children.

By this understanding, the United States is not, in June 2018, in danger of extreme fascism, at least not now. There is genuine economic anxiety here among many and fear of terrorism and fear of uncivil political conflicts, but there is no comparison with the conditions in Germany when Adolph Hitler was voted into power (for example).

I predict that (and am willing to bet that), unless things turn a lot worse for this country, Donald Trump will not be given the power to dominate and dictate and run things as he sees fit, even if he tries his best to get these powers. In time, an event will occur that will flip the way people see him, and there will be more and more defections. (I add the caveat that, if I am underestimating the anxiety and fear in this country, then all bets are off, and Donald Trump or, more likely, one of his successors, could well be given more and more power.)

On the other hand, there is enough anxiety to have led to a turning up of the fascist dial, as seen, among other things, by the election of and support for Donald Trump.

We seem to get adjusted to fascism within our own countries, we begin not to notice it — like living next to an airport — unless it begins to crash into us directly. In psychology this is called adaptation. It is easier still to adjust to the oppression, and even stamping out, of those around us who we see as strangers or strange, more so if we perceive them as possibly dangerous.

When we’re feeling strong, many of us make an effort to tolerate others. When reality begins to dissolve, we have more and more trouble maintaining this tolerance, even if we still want to try.

By my understanding, the Great Depression in the United States made fascism more likely, even more so after the country entered the second World War. By my definition, when the Congress granted Franklin Delano Roosevelt more and more power, our country was heading in the direction of a fascist state. Roosevelt never was granted and maybe didn’t want absolute power. If it had been given to him, he may have turned out to be a loving person, a benevolent dictator, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that the situation in the United States, from what I have read, was not as desperate, even then, as it was in other countries, and this is part of why a full-blown fascism didn’t develop here.

This is not to say that conditions by themselves, automatically produce dictatorship. The dictator needs high motivation, talent, and a skill set as well as being born into the right times. This is true for a person whose goal is to become a dictator as much as it is for a person whose goal is to win a Nobel Prize. If a man tries to gain recognition for his scientific research and theories and fails, he can blame others or tell himself he is a misunderstood genius who is ahead of his times, instead of faulting his own abilities, work ethic, etc.

The same is true for wanna’ be dictators. We notice how President Trump responds when he doesn’t get his way: He blames his staff, the country, the news media, and so on. It is possible though, that he lacks the competence, the abilities, for becoming a first class fascist, or he may, deep down, not be as ruthless as he says he is and maybe thinks he is.

— (As an aside, I can imagine a university for training dictators, not for studying them but for training them. One textbook for Practical Fascism 101 would be Machiavelli’s, The Prince .… But this line of thought takes us in a different direction than I want to go.)

Dictators often want more than to dominate their own populace; they want world domination. This can bring them into conflict with each other as when Hitler and Stalin clashed. Given the results of the clash, on a fascist scale of values, Stalin seems to have been a greater dictator than Hitler. Trump, on this scale, is nowhere close to being in the first class, and he may develop an inferiority complex if he ever thinks about it.

These are desperate times! The destruction of the world is possible, many think inevitable. Pick your worry: terrorism, economic collapse, meltdown of cultural values, nuclear war, global warming, the disrespect of nature, and on and on. Whatever worries me seems real and important, and I minimize the other terrors. This is a fertile breeding ground for dictators. A psychologist, Mike Ozar, speaks of liberal fascism and conservative fascism. It’s easier to see the fascism in others than in ourselves.

 

3. A definition of fascism

My definition of fascism is very broad, too broad, but I adopt it for a reason. It is a temporary, working definition to be used only in this essay. It is a tool I have made for this one project, since I can’t find the right one in my everyday toolbox. It’s a mental ladder I think I need to climb to a perch for a more complete view of the phenomenon on which we are focusing our attention.

I use the word fascism to apply to an aspect of all natural processes from smallest to largest, from specific to abstract, from inanimate to animate, to individuals and within individuals, and to countries.

For the fascist quality on the physical dimension, different words and phrases can be used: Destructive Power, Force, Rigidity, Energy (as opposed to Mass or Density or Inertia), Acceleration, Momentum, Tension, Stress, Heat, Light.

In inorganic nature it appears, most obviously, in the metals (iron, steel), in fire and in the sun, in powerful storms like tornadoes and hurricanes (though it is not an airy quality), in tidal waves, and so on. In the plant kingdom, successful fascists might be compared to giant sequoias and spreading oaks and sprawling vines, and they might see those they try to eradicate as weeds. With respect to animals, fascists portray themselves as lions and wolves, eagles and vipers, and see themselves as ridding their countries of spiders and ants and worms and mice and rats — vermin.

Regarding abstract qualities, a fascist country might see itself as pure and unalloyed and eternal instead of impure, mixed, contaminated, and evanescent. Fascists feel superior and haughty, though not lofty or high. They think of themselves as the opposite of humbled or lowly or underfoot.

In humans, fascism appears as the urge to Fight, to Control (including to control one’s self), to Dominate, to be Strong and Tough, to let ones Instincts out (whoever is hurt), to be Harsh and Angry and Cruel and Sadistic and Arrogant and Closed and Insensitive and Stubborn and Heartless and Hardhearted and Soulless. It is Muscles and Fists, not Heart or Head.

It is also found in the Ambition towards Mastery. The desire to master anything, by my definition, is a form of fascism. It is there in anorexia and in all other forms of Perfectionism. It is in the unwillingness to let go of a thing or a project or a person or a moment in time. It is there in the desire to get to the bottom of things, come what may, and to get in the last word.

In its most abstract form, it is an aspect in all Change. What is old is broken down and dissolves and disappears and is replaced by the new. What begins, is in full power for a while, and then is pushed out, destroyed in the next second or moment or year. It’s as if Time itself is a fascist, destroying our youth and then our lives and the lives of everyone we know.

If we think of this destructive force symbolically, the Hindu god, Shiva comes to mind. He is the god of destruction, the Destroyer of Worlds. He can be found physically, in fire, but he is also present, more abstractly, when any thing or any moment comes to an end. And he is there when everything feels it is falling apart.

The opposite of this force I am calling fascist, the opposite side or pole on the scale, is, in humans, Passivity, Weakness, Acceptance, Self-Sacrifice, Humility, Meekness, Love, Morality, Receptivity, Openness, Softness, Gentleness, Having a Heart, being Soulful, being Forgiving, and so on.

Which pole we view positively and when we view it this way and what words we use to name it and describe it depends, in part, on our personality and on our circumstances at a specific moment. Immediately after the 9-11 attack on the United States, some of the gentlest people I know said they hoped the government would torture captured terrorists for information.

As I see it, destructive forces are necessary parts of nature, and we need them to survive. They can not be uprooted or destroyed. If you could push a button and destroy them (a possibility which has a touch of the paradoxical), the world would disappear and all of our lives with it.

It follows that we can’t get rid of all fascist tendencies in our countries, in our relationships, in our own actions, and in our own souls. Again, sometimes these forces seem to lead to good for us; sometimes to bad for us. 

The fascist (destructive, powerful) tendency takes many forms and does not always appear powerful. It has been pointed out that, in a sense, water is more powerful than fire, as it can destroy it and more powerful even than rock in that, over time, it can wear rock away. And icebergs and glaciers are forms of water. A drop of poison from a cobra kills as surely as the crushing strength of a lion’s jaws.

When we judge an aspect of ourselves as bad and try to suppress it or get rid of it, we are giving sway to one form of the destructive force in us. When we judge others and find them guilty of some evil, we are exercising our harsh judgment even if we are right in our judgment and even if we are trying to be good and responsible and even if we are, in fact, being good and responsible.

The opposite of this destructive urge is not the desire to protect and defend ourselves, as this is another example of the same urge for survival. To survive is, to some extent, to dominate and win and destroy: to eat, for example, is to break down, digest, and then make part of ourselves.

The opposite of the fascist urge is the urge to weakness, to passivity, to self-sacrifice, to allowing to happen whatever happens. (At times, even this can be a form of destructive action. A dramatic example would be if you are told that your family will be killed if you don’t set off a bomb in a government building, and you let your family die rather than agree.)

A relationship based on loving feelings and softness and receptiveness and weakness, will, psychologically speaking, always have a power aspect. Husbands and fathers, traditionally, have had their overt ways of dominating, but so did wives and mothers, and even children have their ways of fighting back and getting under the skin of the parents. You don’t have to be big to cause trouble — witness some bacteria and viruses.

Why stress and stretch the word fascism so much?

Though there are obvious reasons against stretching the definition as much as I have, even if it is just for this essay, the following are arguments for it.

Fascism is a human quality, and this is easy to forget when you are a victim of it or are afraid of becoming a victim. It is almost impossible, especially in extreme moments of terror, to avoiding thinking of your oppressor as a monster and of you as innocent. And there are times in life when this is true, and there are other times that, at least as a matter of survival and mental health, it is necessary to think it is true.

But when we pull back and reflect — if we escape from the monster and have the luck and luxury of being able to reflect again — and if we are perfectly honest, we realize that monstrous tendencies are there, ready to be awakened, in all of us.

Further, many of the smaller misdeeds we ourselves commit are not big acts of fascism, high up on the scale, but they are on the same scale. It is inaccurate to dismiss them as nothing. If you think you are in no way fascistic, you will not recognize the small acts of fascism you commit. This can be as naive and as dangerous as dismissing a seed of a poisonous plant as harmless. What is a minor act of fascism to the person stepping on may be a major one to the person being stepped on.

This is not to mention the fact that often we would do worse but don’t have the power or the nerve. We may even envy those with the courage to stand up and do what they want, “Damn the consequences!”

Further, when we don’t give the proper name to what we are doing, we may be proud of something that, under another name, would make us ashamed of ourselves.

Psychologically, it is dangerous to project the desires to win and to dominate onto others, to see them only in them when they are also in us.

It is dangerous, in part, because projection prevents us from seeing our enemies clearly. We don’t see that they are human, and so we under or over estimate them.

For example, it is dangerous to forget that Stalin seems to have loved his children and that the terrorizing dictator allowed them to dictate to him in certain situations and that he, himself, was often terrified that his enemies would destroy him and his family — he was as terrified as you or I.

And, is it wrong to say that two of Stalin’s positive qualities were courage and perseverance and even to admire these qualities and wish we had more of them? To do this does not mean we will not, in the next moment, turn our head a few degrees and see his other side and shiver at it.

If we see Stalin as pure evil and as 100% opposite of us and deny his positive qualities, we will not even allow ourselves to wonder if he ever wondered if he went too far, if some of what he did was unnecessarily cruel — How can we understand and face our enemies without asking questions such as these?

It is natural, I think, for even the enemy of a fascist to watch him with admiration and fascination, spellbound by his tenacity, like watching an ant roll a large stone uphill or a cheetah chase down an antelope.

Projection, as we have discussed, blinds us to our own black misdemeanors and crimes, because we assume, that, prima facie, we are innocent and incapable of even minor evils, let alone bigger ones; we assume that some of us have zero fascism.

For example, when we lose our temper at a loved one, it is not, we tell ourselves, because we are being dictators but because we are standing up for ourselves after being misunderstood and disrespected. Or we might believe, and tell our loved one, that we are correcting them for their own good. — This is not just a tendency towards fascism; by my definition of fascism it is an example of it, even if we are right that they did something wrong. — I am being ruthless in applying the word!

And projection blinds us to our part in greater atrocities that we don’t commit ourselves but whose outcome we secretly couldn’t care less about or even welcome. Many are tolerating Donald Trump’s fascism, because their stocks are going up or because the regulations on their businesses are being removed or because judges they like are being appointed or because he seems to be standing up to North Korea. They are secretly happy he is shaking things up, though they may not be able to admit it to themselves.

Going still further, refusing to see — or being unable to see — that force is sometimes necessary, makes us believe that all responses, on any level, that require strength, toughness, the ability to draw lines and boundaries, and so on, are wrong. We react to the word force and suspect and shrink from any response that requires us to feel and manifest our own power. Like it or not, these shrinkings can lead to our own harm and to the harm of our loved ones and can come to be seen, later, even by ourselves, as acts of cowardice.

And, from the opposite end of the scale, when we are proud of our strength and toughness and self-reliance, and begin to think we are tough though and through, 100%, we are in danger of losing our souls and, with them, any chance for relaxation and joy and love, all three of which requires letting down ones guard and trusting, at least for a while. Psychologists can confidently say to the fascist: “You will never be happy, never get what, deep down, you are probably seeking!"

From still another angle, being aware that we all have fascist tendencies and that they come out, like it or not, on an ongoing basis, helps us understand the outrage and pain of people around us who feel victimized by us when we can’t see why. Even if we think we did something wrong, we minimize what we did, and our perception of the other person becomes distorted: “Why is she (or he) making such a big deal of it? She’s overly sensitive.” If we are alert to the fact that even we, ourselves, are fascists at times, we better understand some reactions of others to us, and we have more freedom to stop ourselves if we want and to better figure out how to handle difficult situations.

Accepting we have a fascist side also helps us understand our own dreams in which, for example, we are dressed up as Stalin or Hitler or are being tempted to join their political parties. — We can be both nice and loving, and fascists.

We all know we all are the same in fundamental ways, but none of us acts as if we believe it.

But, in saying all this, we have to be aware of an important danger of our definition: We can not forget the distance between the two poles of our scale. Certainly your and my minor misdemeanors — if we come to see them as misdemeanors at all — weigh “millions of pounds” less than major crimes. Stalin yelled and cursed at his daughter when she told him who she wanted to marry. This was a form of intimidation and fascism but on a lesser level than when he created an artificial famine to starve five million Ukrainians. (I think it is relevant to this discussion that, though Stalin tried to prevent his daughter’s marriage, in the end he let her go ahead with it.)

There are different levels or degrees of fascism in terms of outcome and/or morality. With this in mind, though, I remind myself that words can kill and so can a look or a touch and, probably, even a thought. And every angry act is a killing on the level of the soul. In particular cases, such angry acts might be good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, but they kill. And let’s remind ourselves again that morally judging someone is condemning them and hurting them, even if we are right (as Nietzsche saw so clearly) and even if they will benefit from being punished.

Speaking further about this most subtle level, far from the sound of marching armies: looks and touches and words (spoken and written and thought) can heal as well as make sick.

 

4. What is the fascist personality?

Fascism, I am saying, is an aspect of reality, an aspect of nature and of the nature of all of us, but so too is its opposite, Passivity. Whether there is something that is deeper than fascism and passivity, a substratum of which these two poles are a part or manifestation is a question I am not capable of answering.

It seems that, like all other human traits, each of us exhibits more or less of the trait of strength/weakness. There is, I would guess, a bell-shaped curve for this trait as with all other human personality traits. Some are, by nature, more likely to be passive; others are more likely to attack and to try to dominate.

There are different ways of trying to dominate, some open and obvious and some, like the use of poison, more secretive. It is possible to hide our true motives from each other and even from ourselves, so it is not easy to assess who is what.

Further, even the most passive amongst us have at least some will to dominate, and vice versa, so it is never easy to tell what is what with people with respect to this trait (as with other traits). And, our own passive side and/or destructive side might be unconscious even to ourselves even when they are visible to others.

And, as Nietzsche pointed out, even passivity can be used as a weapon to undermine a perceived oppressor.

It is also unclear, as with other human traits, how much is nature and inherited and how much is learned.

It seems to me that, if you try to evaluate the amount of fascism within yourself, there is a tendency to under or overestimate it. If you try to figure out your rank, your place, remember that how much money you have and how many people listen to you and fear and respect you at this moment doesn't determine your true social or political or professional position on the scale.

We imitate our parents, but we also can rebel and try to be the opposite of them.

In addition, if we are beaten down, we may develop a philosophy of fighting back and of dominating others before they dominate us. At the other pole, if we grew up in a loving family, we might come to believe that we can get what we want in life by being loving and trusting and nice.

And it is possible to get stuck in an attitude and way of behaving long after it has stopped being effective.

How much of our behavior and attitude is imitation, how much learned, how much decided upon, how much habit, and how much our nature is unclear in every specific human being.

And, of course, different situations can bring out different sides of ourselves. We know, if only by seeing the example of others, what we might do in extreme situations. All hell can break loose in us, and we can be swept up and swept away by outer forces. Only God knows why some of us resist and some of us go in whole hog.

Acknowledging, but putting all these complications out of our minds, we can say that, on a surface level, some people seem more dominating, more power hungry, more controlling — more fascistic. Others seem weaker, more accepting, more peace loving, more receptive, more considerate, more gentle, more loving. And, as we will remember, these traits can be described positively or negatively relative to person and situation. Love can be seen as weakness, and so on.

We are all mixtures of strong and weak, angry and loving, dominant and passive. We all fall somewhere on the curve.

Tribes, peoples, countries, civilizations seem to fall on the same curve.

For most of us, no matter on which side of the fascist/passive spectrum we fall, our other side sometimes breaks out strongly. The mild man finds himself yelling; the dictator finds himself having a soft spot for a friend; the ascetic finds he has a weakness for chocolate. — (I should mention that this fascist/passive trait, if it exists, is not identical with any of the five personality traits in the so-called, Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality, but I will not discuss this here.)

There are also degrees of how far each of us would go in different situations, so this is another factor in determining our place on the scale. Not all Germans joined the Nazis party nor did all Russians become Communists.

As already discussed, no one is 100% fascist. Even those on our list who had the highest degree of this trait and who had the opportunity and ability to act it out, were not fascist in every one of their responses.

I think it’s possible to say something about people at the two extremes: Anyone stuck in the power “gear” and who can’t shift out of it even when it is not necessary to use it, is crippled, and may, because of this limitation, get into an accident and injure himself (or herself) and others.

And the same has to be said about someone who is stuck in and who can’t shift out of the self-sacrificing “gear.”

From a practical point of view, we each have both “hands” and should use both as needed, not tie one behind our backs. Power and Love are like two hands: Sometimes we should use one; sometimes the other; sometimes both together.

People without one arm, know they have a lack, what they lack, and understand that this creates a limitation. People who lack one pole of the tough/soft trait may not know they lack something, may not see it as a problem (often they see it as a strength), and may not see how this lack limits their ability to respond to situations.

The fascism of Donald Trump

(Again, I note that I can not offer a professional analysis of Donald Trump, the real person, because I’ve never met him. I have an image of him, and it is this Donald Trump I am analyzing.)

For any individual fascist, it is not clear whether the trait comes from heredity, philosophy, training, imitation, reaction to abuse, or habit. It is even possible for part of the fascist impulse to come from a desire for activity, excitement, stimulation, challenge, and change (like a high speed racer) and/or from a felt need to escape from ones own inner life. In extreme cases, it may stem, in part, from a suicidal impulse. It is hard to tell what is what with Donald Trump.

The following is a story that indicates that part of his fascism might be philosophical, willed, decided upon and that it may be dependent on simplistic thinking combined with inability and/or a laziness for a certain form of work.

As of today, June 20, 2018, there is a conflict between two sides in the United States about securing our southern border with Mexico. For whatever reason, the Trump side (the side in power) has separated 2,300 children from their parents who were seeking entrance into the United States. People at the other pole in the argument have demonstrated vigorously against the Trump side.

So we have two poles, two sides of an issue: the weak pole and the strong pole. In my language, the strong pole, in this essay, I am calling fascist, though, as I have stated more than once in this essay, it can be called by other names and looked at as a good or a bad.

For whatever reason, it seemed, in the last few days, that the weak or loving pole (depending what word we choose to label it) has gained momentum to the point that President Trump today appeared to back down, and he signed an executive order ending his own policy of separating children from parents.

The point here is not to make a moral judgment or to take sides or to claim to know how he will react tomorrow. What I want to do here is to try to extract the man’s way of looking at the situation from something he said to Senator Lindsey Graham about what the President called “the dilemma … a tough dilemma.”

“Lindsey, the dilemma is that if you’re weak, if you’re weak, which some people would like you to be, if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.” (https://www.vox.com/2018/6/20/17484506/family-separation-trump-immigration-congress)

This sounded to me like a straightforward and honest statement of how President Trump understands his position, his dilemma.

Every one of us in the United States has the issue of what to do with people who try to enter this country illegally, and the President sees it through one pair of glasses. To him, it is a matter of whether to be weak or strong, and he sees it is Either/Or.

But this is not the only way of framing the problem. We can look for a solution that is reasonable that will be as tough as necessary (and no more) and as humane as possible. It is possible to be tough and humane (we may imagine how Lincoln, for example, might have reacted to the problem). Assuming this is not an urgent (today) problem and that we don’t have to rush to solve it here and now, we have time to utilize both poles to work out a solution.

This will be hard work with no promise of a perfect solution or even of success. It is work of a special kind that, like all work, requires skills that have to be developed and practiced and patiently employed. If you want to do this work it implies you value it and are willing to put in the time.

What if you are a sadist, committed to hurting and killing, looking for a way to avoid any humane solutions? Ugh!

Returning to the quote, we can say that the President seems honest in telling us his fantasy that, if we are weak, millions will overrun the country and, presumably, hurt him and all of us. This, to me, is a paranoid fantasy — like a nightmare we wake from and take as true — and, like many paranoid fantasies, there may be some truth in it in less exaggerated form. Countries, to be countries, have to have borders, and a border is a place where entry can not always be allowed — or so it seems to me. A border is often a symbol in dreams. It is a complex, ambivalent place in both dreams and reality.

Not only does this incorrect thinking present only two choices and not only does it have a paranoid flavor, but it also indicates a lack of personal experience and familiarity with those on the other side of the border. Such a lack of familiarity breeds irrationality, as our imaginations are all we have to go on. The stranger in our imagination can be wonderful, but, as in the imagination of the President, the stranger can be terrifying. This leads to irrational behavior on our side.

President Trump’s thinking, as expressed in the quote, suffers from all these defects.

For completeness I need to add that a person wedded to the idea that we always have to be gentle seems to show the same error in thought, and this approach has similar dangers as the ones we just discussed. We will remember that here is a liberal as well as a conservative fascism.

In the United States, many liberals talk as if they’re still in power. They pick and snipe at and bate the President in a nasty, haughty, self-righteous, and supercilious way. Aside from whether this is right or or wrong, it seems naive. If Donald Trump is a true fascist bear, why poke him with a stick? Sour grapes and immature, impotent whining are not effective weapons with fascists. And fascists are proud they lie, are proud they contradict themselves! They play be different rules than those established by Aristotle in his writings on logic.

An idealistic thought is that we all are facing real problems, and many of these are understood as such by everyone. Is it possible to aim our rage at the problems instead of at each other? I don’t know.

In the end, it’s not about Donald Trump but about us and not really about us but about me. It really is about me. And about you and you and you. I told patients who wanted to complain about, say, a parent, “Start by looking at yourself!” If the rule made sense then, it makes sense here, in this psychological essay, this psychological approach to our subject.

 

5. Pros and cons of fascism

I have been trying, as best as I can, to bracket my emotions and moral feelings out of this essay, but I will try even harder in this section. I am doing this with the goal of looking at fascism with a pure, though pragmatic, intellect.

Here is a Warning! It can be dangerous to approach our problems intellectually! For this essay, this exercise, I am treating Good and Evil as abstractions. But, in our real lives, there is a universe of difference between whether a stranger we are about to deal with is good or evil. In living reality, there is a palpable difference between Good and Evil. But the thinking function can only note this reality as part of an argument, since Good and Evil are just two different marks on the same ruler.  

In other words, there is a danger of slipping into a sociopathic-type attitude in which we box up our empathetic and moral reactions. The intellect is so seductive that it is easy to slip into treating the biggest moral issue as if it were a fascinating and fun intellectual game or puzzle. If we slip into this, the essay itself becomes an evil, an escape from the monsters out there and the monsters in ourselves. We don’t want to forget this danger and become like naive children having fun skipping along after our thoughts as they lead us hither and yon.

And it is easy to forget the dangers in and around us. As Freud pointed out, everything in us wants to forget them, to escape from them. It is very easy to forget our own petty misdeeds, but it is also possible to forget or ignore the meaning of the greatest misdeeds going on around us, even the ones that may soon be affecting us. Even if we know they are dangerous, we still adapt and forget (and, psychologically, we have to in order to live!). Stalin said something to the effect that one death is a tragedy, a million is a number. We forget and have to forget, but I don’t want the thinking I am doing here to be an example of this escape from moral reality.

Yet I continue now with an intellectual point: I think we are all alike, wherever we fall on the fascist/passive scale, in that we all destroy and kill. There is a way to be meek or helpless in relation to certain things and behaviors but it is relative. A young girl being dragged to her death by the fascist police is scrapping the ground with her feet, crushing new blades of grass, over-turning a rock and uprooting a family of pill-bugs.

Intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, we destroy. All the time. Saint or sinner. Even when we breath: We suck up (displace) and then destroy the oxygen that would have been able to continue its existence if we had not existed.

It seems impossible to avoid. We can’t decide, “I will never destroy anything!” and then live out this decision. Even suicide — the elimination of ourselves and our ability to destroy — would itself be a huge act of destruction both towards ourself and towards others. And, because of this, suicide, with the motive of eliminating one person’s power to destroy, has an air of paradox. And not all suicides have this motive. Probably most of them don’t.

I knew a woman who had tried to drown herself in her bathtub. Her son found her and saved her life. She said she put on her clothes, got into the bathtub, took some pills, turned on the water, and lay down. I asked (among other things) why, if she was going to die, had she put on her clothes. She said, “Oh, don’t you know, silly? I didn’t want my son to see me naked!” Apparently she thought it would be more upsetting for him to see her naked than dead.

Looking now at the opposite pole, I assert that every destructive action has creative and positive outcomes, every fascist does help someone or something even by his most destructive acts. This may be a horrible thought, but, if we do our best to keep out our emotional responses, the following stories can be understood as examples:

The victim is removed, possessions and property taken, and then killed. Atrocity for the victim (and for all of humanity), but someone gets the property and the home, and the new owner has a place to live and a means for him or her self and family to survive for a while. The new owners will eventually all but forget the previous owners. And, if some new invader comes along and takes the property, the family will feel an atrocity is being committed against them, that their home and property are being taken from them.

Syrians leave their country, escaping fascism, looking for freedom, innocent victims, maybe brave heroes setting out with no possessions, on foot, to a promised land where they and their children will be safe and can thrive. But the people in those lands are entrenched and many feel fear that they will be crowded out and lose their livelihoods. And they respond by electing fascists and supporting them and becoming fascists themselves. From an inner viewpoint, they are, mistakenly or not, seeking survival and are no different than the Syrian refugees.

Everything I have said about the history of the United States is from the point of view of the European immigrant. The American Indians see things completely differently. This does not mean European Americans should idealize the Indians and identify with them to the point of forgetting themselves.

A wave of immigrants replaces the previous wave. Every layer of civilization is built on the tels of ones that came before.

Floods cover fields but fertilize them. Fire destroys forests but stimulates seeds that now have open ground in which to grow and thrive. Lionesses kill and eat a zebra which allows them to nurse their starving cubs. I do not find this beautiful as some do, but I find it true.

We all live on land that was forcibly taken from other humans and, if not from humans, from animals, and if not from animals, from plants. And we forget.

What we call “keeping our house in order” is pure fascism to the spiders we exterminate. We sweep them out and then step on and crush the black widows in the garage, poisonous creatures that creep us out and give us the chills, and frighten us to the point of appearing in our nightmares.

 

6. How to handle these paradoxical forces in and around us

Nothing I have said so far is original to me, and what I am about to say is not new, and it is not an answer to the confusion created by the paradoxical, ambiguous, and ambivalent forces we have been discussing. If I thought I had the right approach, here is where I would write it. What I have to offer is a few scattered thoughts representing my own struggles, the struggles of a psychologist.

First, central to depth psychology is the belief that, in addition to keeping our eyes peeled for outside dangers, we should, at least for the purpose of self-knowledge, try to see what we are really like. This is difficult.

It is impossible to see the back of our own heads without a mirror. It is the same with our personalities. One “mirror” in which we can see the back side of our personalities, the dark and shadowy side, is to listen to how others see us.

According to Jung, another way to see our personal Shadows, as he called it, is to keep an eye on the content of our dreams. The assumption here is that dream figures sometimes are images of aspects of ourselves. In “looking” at them, we are seeing different sides of our personalities. For example, the homeless man in my dream is an aspect of me — not me, but an aspect of me.

It is also possible, within our imaginations, to interact with these figures and affect them and be affected by them. This is what Jung called Active Imagination, and he meant really and truly going back into the imagination and talking with the figures, arguing with them, coming to compromises with them, painting them (during the day), and so on. The goal isn’t just to interact with them as if they were real; they are real! (in a sense).

I have found Active Imagination to be useful for me and my patients. It is an approach that, in my experience, can bring, for a time, a feeling of integration. After you take back a projection you feel that, before this you had been in a dream, that you had not been in reality even though it felt real. If you ever are angry at a person who stood you up for a meeting, and then you find he didn’t stand you up but had an accident and was rushed to a hospital, if you ever have had such an experience, you know what I mean. You are left with all these feelings and thoughts and images of yours that, a second before, you thought were completely outside of you and that now you realize are in your own head, your own psyche.

I think of this essay as, in part, my own Active Imagination on the two poles. It is a work on myself.

An advantage of Jung’s approach is that, if I am busy struggling with my inner figures, I am less likely to meddle in the affairs of others. — (It is my experience, however, that though this makes sense in theory, in practice returning to outer reality after a period of Active Imagination with its deep introversion, a person (I) can be more grumpy than ever. It’s like readjusting to the sunlight after having been in a dark room or cave.)

Any knowledge we might gain about ourselves in these inner exercises, can be useful in our lives. Generally speaking, knowledge is useful in daily reality and this includes knowledge about ourselves. If you are in a negotiation, it is helpful to know the goals and strengths and weaknesses of the person on the other side of the table (and knowing what we are capable of can help us know what he or she is capable of). If we also know something about our own selves, this is an added dimension that can be useful for myself and also for the other person and for the overall negotiation.

Second, as stressed over and over in this essay, everything has two sides. Everything is ambivalent, however, how we view these sides is relative to us. I mention again that even extreme forms of fascism have benefits, though these benefits are not benefits for everyone. We ourselves can be benefitted by a fascist government (currently, for example, the economy is thriving, possibly, in part, from the actions of the President).

It is often mentioned that Hitler had excellent roads constructed. These roads were good then for his army and good now for contemporary tourists but bad for the Allies who suffered deaths because of them.

If Donald Trump makes a real peace with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, most people will benefit (or so it would seem). Earlier, less fascist presidents, couldn’t make a real peace. It may be the very fascism of Donald Trump that allows him to pull it off, if his tough stand actually works.

Third, even if a fascist can, at times, pull something off that no peaceful person would ever have been able to do, it seems short-sighted for us, impressed by the fascist’s successes, to turn our power over to this person. All individuals have blind sides and stupidities and weaknesses. Unlimited power means these will be magnified without being buffered. Failures will follow that will be as big as or bigger than the successes. This is a rule based on the psychology of human beings. — For example, what if the leader has suicidal impulses.

In addition, if I idolize and idealize one person, I infantilize and stunt myself. Even if I gain something, I lose something.

People love fascists, and they love them for different reasons. As an example, people seem to genuinely love Donald Trump. Some probably love his belligerent attitude; some his voice; some, maybe, his hair; some the paraphernalia he puts out such as the red baseball caps. Some don’t love his personality and are even repelled by it, but love his policies. Some may love, not so much him, but the atmosphere of his rallies.

The danger of this type of love is that it can crash down suddenly, on a dime. It is like being drunk and then sobering up. It’s the same when you love any political figure.

It is less obvious but hating fascists can indicate projection and projection can indicate an unconscious fascination and attraction. Ditto for hating liberals.

Fourth, psychologically speaking, from the point of view of the fascist, it is never possible to completely control your environment or yourself. If you doubt this, remember your own nightmares: swarms of evil creatures, large and small. I run but escape only temporarily. I fight back and stamp them out, but they return.

If you are Donald Trump, this is as true for you as it is for everyone. You order someone to obey, and they do, and you’re on top of the world. But already forces are at work undermining your success. Even if you get what you want, it may be different from what you expected. This is the way life is for all of us. It’s a rule!

Sometimes the spontaneous, instinctual response is best. Sometimes fighting works. Sometimes fleeing works. Sometimes stopping and pondering works. Sometimes nothing works or could work.

Fifth, There are moments when we feel we have found an answer as to how to handle life, a method that works when we apply it to ourselves and to our environment. We feel we have found ourselves and the right and best way to live. These moments of certainty and clarity are rare and rarely last for more than an hour or so. Some of these may turn out to be genuine advances, or they may be illusory, but even if some are steps in the right direction, they may take years and years to develop fully — even if there is such a thing as fully.

A feeling of being lifted out of all the conflicts in the world and of ourselves — out of what Nietzsche called “the human, all too human” — is a real and meaningful experience, but other experiences compete with it and are equally real. If there is a genuine answer, a true method, a genuine union of opposites, can it bring something that lasts? If not, what’s the point of searching for it? I don’t know.

Jung thought he had found, couched in different occult practices and terminologies, a process he called individuation. In Alchemy, for example, the alchemist began the Magnum Opus (the Great Work) with a substance he (or she) called the lapis which was a “blackness blacker than black.” The alchemist thought that through different procedures, the lapis could be transformed, first into two “warring” substances, and, ultimately, in the final stage of the work, into an indissoluble and permanent unity, a Mysterium Coniunctionis (Mysterious Union), an alchemical gold and the goal of their work.

Jung understood this work of the alchemist as a projection of his or her inner process onto matter. He thought that the more sophisticated alchemists understood that the Magnum Opus was a psychological work and that the transformation they were seeking was in themselves, the transformation of the crippling darkness of the warring factions within into an inner, permanent, unified dazzling gold.

Jung found and documented similar symbols and symbols of transformation in religious and occult writings from all over the world and from all times. (A similar process can, I think, be found, in the progression of the numbered images of the Tarot card, and in certain kabbalistic meditations on the Shema where ecḥad {אחד, One} is the central focus).

Jung also found them, in his own dreams and visions and paintings and in those of his patients. He came to think that there is, in each of us, the potential for this individuation processes to unfold, and that, with hard work and luck, it will lead to consciousness of the opposites in us and, ultimately, to an experience of some sort of unity.

Jung stressed that this is not an abstract, intellectual process but a real and emotional confrontation within our imaginations, with the images of opposites. The application of our little flame of consciousness to the to’s and fros of their interactions is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the work to succeed. And it always involves the greatest suffering.

This last sentence is worth expanding on for another paragraph: The greatest suffering are words, a phrase, but the agony of the so-called inner work seems beyond words. There is no method for becoming conscious. Even if you can label the stages of transformation, a labelling that makes them sound orderly, going through them is not an A, B, C matter. The blackness that’s blacker than black, the falling to the bottom, the impossibility of knowing if you’ll ever come out or what you will be like if you ever rise from the ashes, the danger of falling apart (into the opposites), of being ripped apart, of becoming unglued, and so on — all these are phrases representing real pains and real dangers. Madness and hospitalization and medication is a possibility. When you’re feeling good, it’s impossible to imagine these mental states which, it must be kept in mind, are also physical states. The body can erupt with headaches and itches and indigestion and heart irregularities and other torments.

And even if we get this far, the unification can fall apart. This dissolution can be excruciating in itself and will lead to more suffering. And, even if a unification is less fleeting, the result is not happiness or bliss, but greater consciousness of self and surroundings. Often it is like being forced to watch something you find unbearable to see, and this something can be external or internal. A spotlight is being thrown on something that has been in darkness and that will take to get used to.

The individuation process may be a cure for a certain type of sickness in a certain type of person, but it is not a cure-all. It doesn’t solve anyone’s problems all the time let alone the world’s problems. It may be a cure for a certain kind of suffering, a certain blindness, but not for all suffering. If it helps others at all, it may be in you bothering them less.

Whether the outcome is ever more than a series of momentary unifications, whether it is possible for it to become a permanent and indissoluble state is an open question for me. It is also an open question whether you or I have the talent and fortitude to journey to the end of the path, to complete the work. And, for me, it is an open question of how unifications from any work on myself can or will affect others.

There is a mystical idea that this sort of change in one person can change the world. In Lurianic Kabbalah, for example, it is thought that spiritual exercises called Yichudim (unifications) can lead to Tikkun (the healing or unification of the whole world {tikkun olam} and even to the unification of the male and female sides of the Godhead). This is an idea that appeals to me whether or not it is true.

It is an interesting exercise to treat oneself as both raw material and artist. We are the blacksmiths, who, with skill and fortitude and patience, may be able to create a useful work of art out of the fire and iron in ourselves. Or, to use another image, I am a painter whose morning aches and pains and moods and fantasies are the pigments I have been given to shape my day into a meaningful work of art. To shift metaphors again, the more varied the ingredients used by a cook, the more complex the cooking process and the more that can go wrong, but also the more possibility for a rich and healthy meal. — If we ignore the fascism in ourselves or the pathetic weaknesses or any of the other parts of ourselves that we, by nature, turn away from, we will never have a chance of creating our deepest and most complete masterpieces.

(For a useful discussion, from the Jungian perspective, of the effect on Armenians of the Armenian genocide by the Turks, please see Uncle Toros: Towards Understanding Genocide through Dreams, Ara Chutjian, Psychological Perspectives, 61: 54-66, 2018.)

Sixth, and finally, if we attempt to grab a view of what is good and bad in the overall economy of the universe as a whole, we seem bound to fail. We don’t know and never can know what is what. We are too small, and our view is too limited and our mental and emotional abilities are not vast enough. And, if we did know, we may not like how things really are. We may not be able to bear the face of reality which may be why we don’t see more of it to begin with.

Maybe, we couldn’t even stand a glimpse, a flash of how things are. Maybe in the United States we are ahead in many ways but are naive children in our ability to stomach reality. We all experience a duality between ourselves and others: We, on our side, are good; they, over there, are bad. Can we bare it if the “here” and “there” are both in each of us?

In Judaism there is a view that God has two hands, the Left and the Right. The Right is His anger, and the Left is His love. The right is represented by the Archangel Michael and the left by the Archangel Gabriel. There is a prayer to God that is said to have been given each year by the Israelite High Priest at the holiest moment on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Israelite calendar: “May your Mercy outweigh your Judgment.”

Bringing morality back into our discussion, it seems we can and should do our very best to understand the conflict within ourselves and to take back projections. But, in the end, we are probably limited in this project by our limited power and abilities, our limited intellect and wisdom, and by our limited patience. (Relevant for these considerations is Lost Innocence by Herbert Morris from his book of essays, Disclosures: Essays on Art, Literature, and Philosophy, 2018.)

It may be that the image of the two hands of God is an image of our own two sides. Is it possible to use both hands consciously and wisely and in an integrated way? Maybe this is the best we can do or hope to do.

In the end, perhaps it is best to pray — whether we are a screaming fascist or a pathetic weakling — to whatever we hold sacred in ourselves, in others, and in the universe: “May Mercy outweigh Anger.”

Perhaps each religion has a similar prayer.

 

Postscript

The mind is a strange thing! It has only been a few hours since finishing the above ten thousand words, and, already, I feel removed from them, as removed as if they were last night’s nightmare. I hate all the words! They sound like philosophical whining! What a waste of time! Why inflict them on you? You are not my parent or analyst!

I decide not to show this essay to anyone, unless I can tunnel out of the pain it is causing.

What was the point of forcing myself, over and over again, to remember the most awful things about us? Black thoughts! An image I picked up somewhere comes to mind of swallowing a red hot iron ball. I have forced myself to swallow a red hot iron ball! I can’t spit it up, and I can’t digest it!

Worse! I now feel compelled to quote from a letter. It was written by a woman, and there is a note appended by her twelve year old daughter, Junita. It was written to the woman’s husband, the girls father, before the woman and her daughter were executed.

The mother’s part ends with

… I cannot convey to you our suffering. … The one thing you can do for us is to avenge our murders. We cry out to you: Revenge! I kiss you passionately and bid you farewell before we die.

Any fear or hopelessness this woman felt transformed in her into vengeful hatred. She seemed to pray for the opposite of what the High Priest prayed for. Her prayer to God would have been, “Revenge! May your Vengeance outweigh your Mercy.”

Junita’s addition:

Dear Father, I am saying good-bye to you before I die. We long so much to live, but all is lost — they won’t let us! I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass graves alive, Farewell forever. I kiss you, kiss you. Your J

What would we write back to our daughter? How could we live with the pain and go about our lives? How do we live with this pain, because aren’t we and our loved ones also in the jaws of the monster right now?

Terror of what is lying in front of us can turn to rage (not just outrage). If you’re not used to rage, you can feel you are going to burst with it, that you can’t keep it inside. And what you think of doing frightens you and fills you with self-loathing.

How to go on living a routine, normal life with what’s going on inside? How to hide it and not inflict it on others? How will life ever be bearable? 

Some act on their rage. What about the meeker of us who are not attracted to overt violence or to suicide?

My psychological experience over the last thirty five years tells me that, Lo and Behold, I am at a dead end! I think and think; no answer comes.

I fall asleep torturing myself. And now a dream can come!

But what about we who believe that turning to dreams for answers is just dangerous superstition, religious mumbo jumbo?

I thank James Kirsch, a Jungian analyst, for the following thought:

People throughout history who, in desperate situations received a message from their god, got it in an experience. Even if we have fallen away from thinking in terms of gods, I still have my experience.

The more desperate I feel, the more I am likely to have an experience that evens things out. This is not religion but a psychological fact, a law of psychology.

Such a balancing image in a dream (or visionary experience) is often from the iconography of the religion in which we were trained, but not necessarily.

The time lag between feeling awful and feeling good can be an instant.

Meaninglessness turns into meaning. (Using an image Jung researched, One is added to Three, and then there is Four.)

Such a Solution, to use a word from Alchemy, may not be permanent, but it might give life joy just when it is needed, at least, for a time. This is not a matter of “toughing it out” or of “letting go of this bad feeling” or of “looking on the bright side” or of “telling myself that things will get better” or of developing a stoic acceptance of pain. It’s not controlling oneself, destroying the weakness or wrong attitudes within. It’s more like a candle being lit in a dark room.

Psychological research gives us knowledge that such an experience is not isolated, as it happens all the time all over the world. We can expect the sudden appearance of healing images in similar situations in our own futures. But only when everything is lost and feels lost and hopeless.

Research even suggests we might begin to sense meaning growing, hesitantly, from the amorphous darkness and the strange and painful work we have been doing on it here.

Two Approaches to Understanding Psychology

via reflection on the world
via reflection on one's immediate experience
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   the One   the Whole
the Sacred
the Ordinary
People
Action
Experience
Consciousness
Universals
feeling stuck
feelings of failing,        of dying
waiting
 waking up — feeling reborn
   focusing   on the self
confronting the   unconscious
the whole person
living in multiple       worlds
learning about     the world
feelings of success,     of the good life