∼Psychology Is Advancing Politics∼

Fractal31Continued developments in the field of psychology are advancing political science. While we work on the goals of creating an ethic of care and advancing a political platform embracing The Common Good, there are at least four powerful dragons to slay, with which psychological breakthroughs can help.

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1.  The Dragon Named Psychopathy and His creation, Evil.  This dragon was discussed in the page Psychopaths and Evil. But it still deserves the number one spot in dragons to be slain. So how can psychological research help?

It is essential that a new academic field, Ponerology, be established to study the phenomenon of evil. Coordinated research should done by specialists in psychology, psychiatry, neurology, genetics, sociology, history,  anthropology, criminology, and political science, for a good beginning. Universities and Colleges should add this new field to their courses of study.

Once political science acknowledges the existence of evil, political psychopaths, and the horrendous consequences done to humanity by their evil behaviors, political science will undergo a revolution. And so will other academic fields. This new discipline will help us understand who psychopaths are, what conditions create them, what atrocities they created throughout history, what makes them do what they do, how society can help prevent or manage their behaviors, how citizens can recognize them when in political office, and how we can remove them from positions of power, just for starters.

And after we have acknowledged evil and learned to recognize psychopaths, we can study the darker human emotions: greed, jealousy, rage, lust, pride, hatred, and disgust. It will be interesting to know if and how these emotions differ in intensity or frequency when comparing the two populations, the psychopathic and the normal. It is past time for civilization to confront these issues head on. And once we do, think of the benefits that could be brought to all types of human relationships: intimate partnerships, family groups, parents and children, friendships, between leaders of nations, and between a nation’s leader and the citizens she or he represents. 

I do find it curious that humanity has never formally spent time or energy to investigate human emotions, especially the more positive of them like love, compassion, and empathy, and the behaviors they can elicit, like cooperation, sharing, and peace accords. Perhaps the reason why is as simple as this: the psychopathic structures that have framed our common lives have no interest in human emotions, except perhaps as they can be used to manipulate political campaigns and keep populations under their control.

Yet, there is no other field of inquiry more important to human civilization than this one. And no more powerful dragon to slay while we work on the goals of creating an ethic of care and advancing a politics of The Common Good. (But first of course, we need to convince a lot more people that evil exists and that political psychopaths rule the world.)

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2.  The Dragon Named Tribes. In a CBS This Morning News Interview a few weeks after the 2016 election, comedian Jon Stewart made some enlightening comments about tribalism in the US. He said that the US was an anomaly among nations, and it wasn’t supposed to work. The US is a multi-ethnic, multi-culture nation, and there is no other nation like it. He was amazed that the American experiment had lasted as long as it has, because essentially what we have done is put into one space many different tribes who do not know each other well but, according to the social contract, still have to try to get along and to work together. America’s Melting-Pot mythology works well when it comes to food (everyone likes Italian foods and Motown music), but not when it comes to much else, which constitute the seats of primitive conflict. (Among Stewart’s comments were that Trump won because he knew know to fan the flames of the resentments among the tribes, and to make his voters think he would speak for them.)

In Moral Tribes, Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, Joshua Greene uses psychology and neuroscience to explore the roots of morality in an effort to understand why different groups of people embrace different moral values, and why there is often instinctive animosity and conflict among them.

Moral Tribes

“The human brain processes morality automatically, influenced by evolution, culture, and experience but with a capacity for deliberate reasoning that allows for nuance, much needed in our increasingly complex world. Greene, a philosopher and scientist, draws on research in psychology and neuroscience to explore the roots of morality, particularly the tragedy of commonsense morality, when people of different races, religions, ethnic groups, and nationalities share the same sense of morality but apply it from different perspectives in whose differences lie the roots of conflict. Us-versus-them conflicts date back to tribal life. This is a highly accessible look at the complexities of morality.” –Vanessa Bush

So how can knowing that tribalism speaks strongly to people help political parties woo voters and win elections?

George Lakoff

Enter genius George Lakoff and his masterpieces about the differences between how Republicans and Democrats, think, feel and value things. The Republican and Democratic Parties are each a complex and unique tribe comprised of numerous smaller like-minded tribes. George Lakoff knows how they are alike, and how very different they are.

Among George’s most successful books are Moral Politics, How Liberals and Conservatives Think and Your Brain’s Politics: How The Science of Mind Explains the Political Divide.

The more each citizen understands about the in-depth psychological forces that drive tribalism, the more informed she or he will be, and the better decisions for The Common Good she or he will make in the voting booth. 

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3.  The Dragon named Lies, AKA Manipulation of Minds.  I want to include the manipulation of minds here because it belongs here. Certainly, developments in psychological research are advancing the way we do politics, and the more we learn, the more we can enhance The Common Good.

But I must admit that this is a time, April 2017, when the nation is reeling from a plethora of false news, lies, cyberwars, White House leaks, and massive deceptive propaganda from everywhere, as all citizens desperately search for the truth. And I confess, as I try to think in this fog, this is the hardest section of this site to write.

When I need something to cut the fog, I read articles by George Lakoff, Robert Reich, Rachel Maddow, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky. Because they help me think. Clearly. We desperately need to slay this dragon, but that’s all I got for now.

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4,  The Dragon named The Pain of the World. Unless you are a psychopath who has no conscience and no mirror neurons and so do not feel the suffering of others, you cannot participate in today’s world without feeling horrified, depressed, guilty, ashamed, vengeful, sad, homicidal, suicidal, and my-hair’s-on-fire-I-can’t-take-this-anymore anxiety! Don’t turn on TV or the internet or you will be forever scarred by images of bombs dropping on houses and hospitals, skeletal starving children, young bleeding soldiers, terrified animals drowning in floods, beautiful Pacific Islands being swallowed up by rising tides, and rage-full, scorching forest fires burning trees, wildlife, squirrels, homes, and sometimes even firefighters. Normal people feel very outraged and very sad for the state of our world, and worse, we feel powerless to save it.

powertled-1Joanna Macy’s Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age saved me from deep anguish and depression on two occasions. Once, when George Bush and Dick Cheney were waging war in Iraq and spewing hatred and cruelty, I read this book a few times and practiced some of the Buddhist meditations it contains, and I eventually came to deep sense of peace. Then again, after the election of Donald Trump, I spent a few weeks hiding under my bed, nauseated by the red-face rage and vengefulness of this man, the meanness he was happy to inflict on good and common people that are America’s most vulnerable, until I remembered this book. It has helped me for a second time to endure a most toxic and evil era.

What this remarkable life-saving book helped me with, and helped many thousands of other people with, is the acknowledgement that feeling the overwhelming pain of the world is a sign of a normalcy as a human being. It is not a sign of mental illness. Feeling the pain of the world is a component of mental health, and it’s hard to be mentally sane when the world around you, and the leaders who make all the decisions about your common destinies, are mentally ill themselves.

You can slay the dragon called the overwhelming pain of the world by acknowledging that you are a normal human being who feels, through your normal genetic inheritance that evolved during the past 200,000 years, the suffering of other people, of other animals, and the beautiful flowers and trees and ocean that are part of you.

Cherish your most human gift: compassion. It may force you to hide under the bed or avoid human contact at times. But it is also your greatest power – remember that without mutual cooperation and caring for each other, our human ancestors could not have survived or driven the course of human evolution for 200,000 years.

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“Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves The Common Good. I cannot wash my hands. We all have to give something. Politics is a noble activity. We should revalue it, practise it with vocation and a dedication that requires testimony, even martyrdom – that is, to die for The Common Good.”   – Pope Francis