Trans Pacific Partnership

Thaistacls 

  WARNING:Mind-Exploding Outrage (that is, the Trans Pacific Partnership) Ahead,” writes the Hightower Lowdown. “Unbeknownst to most people, a cabal of corporate and political elites (including Presidents Clinton, Bush II, and Obama has stealthily negotiated international trade deals during the past two-plus decades that have fabricated, piece by piece, what now amounts to a privatized world government. It’s a secretive, autocratic, plutocratic, bureaucratic government of, by, and for the multinational corporations.” Its 29 huge chapters include “rules limiting what our domestic governments are permitted to do, plus new rights and privileges for corporations enforced through supranational closed-door tribunals. This adds up to a privately gated ‘government.’”

 Wolves in sheep’s clothing? For a long time some folks have been worrying about a “world government.” Well, its closing in on us. And it’s a corpocracy. Obama is also promoting a Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

But the TPP is closer. Negotiations have been going on since 2005. It’s almost done. And who wrote it? CEO’s of giant multinational corporations, and their lawyers and lobbyists, in secret, behind closed doors. These include Halliburton, Chevron, PHRA, Comcast, and other such companies you know and love. Congress is being intentionally kept in the dark about what the TPP document says. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden says, “More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still banned from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. Economist Robert Reith states, “It is incomprehensible that the leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits . . . are actively involved in the writing of the TPP while at the same time, the elected officials of this country. . have little or no knowledge as to what is in it.”

Shhhh!—the remarkable media blackout

There is an almost complete news blackout about the negotiations. I did find one 2013 article in the Washington Post. Otherwise, silence, Almost everyone I mention it to says, “The TPP—what’s that?” It would change our society forever—but almost no one has even heard of it, despite great daily coverage of such events as a cat rescued from a telephone pole. But then, who owns the media? Maybe some of the folks who are writing the agreement—but that’s not for you and me to know.

What are the benefits—and what aren’t?

All of the above is presented to “We, the People” as a Very Good Thing. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative touts the TPP as a step “to enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, to promote innovation, economic growth and development, and to support the creation and retention of jobs.” Doesn’t that resemble a replay of NAFTA, of which there have been far more complaints than kudos? Just a for instance—all those new jobs it promised—well, just as many old jobs have dematerialized as the new ones that materialized. Perhaps President Obama has not seen the figures that show that the income gap between the rich and the rest of us has widened since he took office. Not his doing, but reality nonetheless. Economists who have seen leaked drafts of TPP chapters say it would accelerate that trend. Economic growth, yes. But for whom? It would supercharge the growing gap between the great corporations and the very wealthy on one hand and working people and the poor. And between the nastiest of the Great Corporations and their competitors. For instance, in the U.S. Big Coal and Big Oil have already gotten penalties enacted to make biosolar energy less competitive. Some solar panel manufacturers are going broke, Almost everywhere the interests of giant corporations and those of ordinary citizens conflict, the megacorporations manage to slap The People and their smaller business competitors down (despite all those pretty ads you see on TV).

A short list of what’s wrong with the TPP proposal.

  • Protections against toxins and other unhealthy ingredients in food are weakened.
  • Laws requiring “country of origin” labeling on many foods vanish.
  • Freedom of speech is reduced, such as a company putting “Not GMO” on its labels.
  • Safety laws can be invalidated.
  • A law to protect people or the environment can be struck down, in the Lowdown’s words, simply if it shows that “the expected future profits” of corporate investors might be lower.
  • States or countries with environmental or health standards higher than the TPPs can be sued for lost “expected future profits.”
  • Present laws to favor local businesses are weakened or vanish. A company can sue a town that wants to keep its local character instead of getting overrun by big chain stores
  • The approval process for generic drugs is slowed down.
  • Some drugs will be delayed for years, such as one to fight cancer
  • It makes it easier for big multinational corporations to swallow up smallr local corporations and companies worldwide.
  • S., state and local governments could not have “buy equipment made in USA” when possible policies. The same thing goes for other countries.
  • The document is being written in secret behind locked doors.
  • Corporate challenges to laws protecting people or the environment are decided by   secret tribunals with almost nothing to prevent conflicts of interest.
  • A decision by such a tribunal is FINAL, with no appeal possible
  • The conflict of interest is blatant. It is being written by those who stand to gain from it.
  • All aspects of its negotiation, adoption, and implementation are designed to prevent citizen participation.
  • It is written in obtuse, complicated language that appears designed to confuse.

The Devil in Disguise: Fast Track

Only one U.S. Congressman, Colorado Republican Hank Brown, read the full text of the 1994 GATT agreement. He had previously favored the agreement, but changed his mind after reading it. He didn’t have much time to read it. In 1974 President “Tricky Dick” Nixon devised a uniquely undemocratic ploy to bypass congressional consultation, one that appears unconstitutional to me, and conned congress into buying it. The U.S. Constitution charges congress with giving advice and consent on trade agreements. It says,

[The President] shall have power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur.

Fast Track requires congress to act on legislation sent to it by the White House with a simple “yes” or “no” response, and no chance to offer any amendments, It never goes to congressional committees. It must be voted on within 90 days, with minimal debate. To me that doesn’t look much like the “Advice of the Senate” required by the Constitution. The Constitution also says,

All treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution of laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding. (Article VI, Clause II)

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles reinforced that point: “Treaties make international law and also they make domestic law. Under our constitution, treaties become the supreme law of the land.

President Bush the First lobbied heavily to renew Fast Track, which had expired. With its assistance, President Clinton managed to get NAFTA approved. It expired in 2007. Now Obama is asking congress to resurrect it for the TPP deliberations. In other words, congress would vote for or against whatever the corporate lobbyists put into the Treaty.

Trade is not an end in itself but a means to other ends. To declare that completely unrestricted trade is appropriate everywhere, in all circumstances, is like saying, “Penicillin is a great drug, so lets use it to cure everything.” France knows all this. It has “stubbornly” refused to lower certain tariff barriers that protect its farmers, because its farms don’t just provide food, but they’re part of the whole structure of French society.

The Lowdown goes one step farther. It says, “This is not a decision about trade—the TPP represents a tectonic shift in public policy that would radically alter the fundamental structure of our society and thrust a global corporate plutocracy on us. Shouldn’t we have something to say about that?

It looks to me like leaked sections of the agreement show that the god its drafters worship above all others is to gain the maximum possible profits for their corporations. Period. That attitude takes us along a path likely to end in a world where any form of democracy can exist. With the multinationals calling the shots, I do not imagine that the proposed treaty would be more advantageous for the smaller, poorer countries that would be part of it than for the U.S., and typically much less so.

There are always politicians and technocrats ready to show that the invasion of ‘industrializing’ foreign capital benefits the area invaded. In this version, the new-model imperialism comes on a genuinely civilizing mission, is a blessing to the dominated countries, and the true-love declarations by the dominant power of the moment are its real intentions. Guilty consciences are thus relieved of the need for alibis, for no one is guilty: today imperialism radiates technology and progress, and even the use of this old, unpleasant word to define it is in bad taste.” Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan journalist and author.

Instead of Fast Track, I suggest a SLOW TRACK procedure in which the entire draft that is to be submitted to congress must be posted on both White House and all Congressional websites so that every interested citizen can read it and communicate concerns and suggestions to his or her congresspersons. Perhaps it could be put up at the rate of 50 pages a week, giving people time to digest it—and perhaps meet and discuss it in community groups. How about moving toward democracy rather than away from it? After all, it has been ten years since TPP was proposed. If there is going to be one, it ought to be one that benefits the people and protects the earth.

What you can do now: Derail FAST TRACK. The vote may be as soon as March. The first link below will tell you which congressperson to contact if you’re not sure.

See also www.cwa-union.org/no-tpp

http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/ (January 2015)

 

 

 

George Washington on Political Parties

picture of George Washington

George Washington, who did not like political parties

George Washington refused to join or take part in any political party. He deeply distrusted them. He said explicitly that parties intensify antagonisms and make wise government more difficult. “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” We see that today.
Indeed, George Washington REALLY disliked parties. He wrote, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government . .  . which have lifted them to unjust dominion. . . The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection, and opens the odor to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government through the channel of party passions.”
When there is an extreme (or in recent years, sometimes even fanatical) commitment to a political party or faction of a party,, its members all too easily forget about justice, decency, reason, humanity, kindness, and the rest of the finer human virtues. They WANT TO WIN AND RULE, and too often all else takes second place.
Even with his  comments above, Washington was not finished. He added, “All obstructions to the execution of the laws . . . serve to organize factions, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force. [This puts] in place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small, but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the will of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans, digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”
We see it all too well today.  (We may note that the Constitution says nothing about political parties.) What Washington, Lincoln, and others feared, writes philosopher Jacob Needleman, was “the spirit of party.” This meant the attitude that one’s own faction or part is more important than the whole, or what came to the same thing, and that the best interests of the whole is the same as the interests and program of one’s party.  In other words, “We know best, and you shut up and do what we say.” The “spirit of party” meant the commitment to . . . overcome or even destroy, rather than learn from the opposition. (This view, of course, is intimately related to the adversarial structure of our legal system, in which prosecutors and defense attorneys get ahead not by ensuring that the truth is revealed and justice is served but by winning the case, regardless of what happens to be true and just. We saw that writ large when a 5-4 Republican majority of the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush present rather than letting the votes from a heavily Democratic district, which surely have thrown Florida and the election to Al Gore. We see it now when a 5-4 majority declares that unlimited spending in campaigns by incredible rich people and corporations is the same as free speech. We see it when the same party-line majority maintains that a corporation “is a person.” That’s a bid odd, isn’t it? A tanker car is not a person. A diesel engine is not a person. How than can many tanker cars and many engines that are part of a corporation be a person. Obviously they are not. Obviously the Court is “legislating” for the partisant interests of its party rather than
acting with the impartiality that is supposedly a court’s hallmark.
Washington sums up one big reason why such miscarriages of justice occur is rules that govern elections as well as in electoral politics in a sentence: “Few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” Because  recent and present politically partisan Supreme Court majorities ( all of the same party) consistently supports the highest bidder, democracy is gravely endangered.. It is most gravely endangered by the radically ideological partisans of the extreme right who have limitless funds to spend advancing their “spirit of party” rather than the good of the nation.  Their habitual practice of blaming “the other” for everything almost always steers us onto the darker path. Hatriots are not patriots, but pseudo-patriots. Patriots have at least some sense of common purpose with their fellow citizens. If you’re inciting people to hate those in the other party, the other race, the other country, you can sing the anthem as loud as you like and wrap yourself in the flag so tightly that you can’t see out, but you’re no patriot.
Historian James Thomas Flexner tells us that Washington “deplored the adversary theory which sees government as a tug of war between the holders of opposite views, one side eventually vanquishing the other. Washington saw the national capital as a place where men came together not to tussle but to reconcile disagreements. . . . Washington’s own greatest mental gift was to be able to bore down through partial arguments to the fundamental principles on which everyone could agree.”  George Washington’s democracy, says Jacob Needleman, “is not the freedom to try to destroy each other physically or philosophically or morally, but the freedom to bring one’s own best thought together with one’s best effort to listen and attend to the other. ‘The aim is not to reach the pale and crooked version of mutual accommodation that we call “compromise’ . . . but to discover a more comprehensive intelligence that allows each part and each partial truth to take its proper and necessary place in the life of the whole. . . .To have unity. . . one must struggle to become free from the false . . . separation that is represented by what we are referring to as the spirit of party.”
Former Vice President Walter Mondale recalls that when he served in the Senate in the 1970s, “debates were always heated. But I don’t think they had the kind of nastiness they do today. We need to lighten it up . . . to find a way of talking with each other. I’ve won and I’ve lost. And I like winning better. [But] when you run for office in a democracy . . . one person wins and one person loses. I think it’s important that we do it with civility, with respect.”
We would be a better, more decent, stronger nation by returning to George Washington’s view of democratic discourse. And by each thinking for ourself rather than parroting the beliefs and attitudes that our party bosses or our friends or family members who are ideological zombies lost in Zombieland want us to accept.

Jesus Christ — His Psychospiritual Teachings

 

Jesus Christ in Wilderness

Christ in the Wilderness, Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvincino) 1498-1554


JESUS CHRIST —  LESSONS FOR LIVING

Jesus Christ offered crucial lessons for living that receive far too little attention by many who identify themselves as Christians today.  Biblical scholar Burton Mack, in Who Wrote the New Testament, identifies two very different threads in early Christianity. He calls them the Cult of Christ. and the Jesus Movement. The Cult of Christ is what has developed into conventional Christianity. Its central architect and spokesman was St. Paul. Its ideology is based on the story of the resurrection after Jesus’ death, divine intervention in human history as a salvation event, and the principle that since “Jesus died for our sins,” we can slide along with less attention to our own sinful ways than we ought to give them. (I define “sin” as acting in ways that cause some kind of harm to ourselves and/or others.) Aside from such miracles as the alleged virgin birth and the resurrection, this theme ignores a great man items that most unbiased Biblical scholars say are almost surely the real words and deeds of Jesus. The other main thread in Christianity, the Jesus Movement, centers on Jesus as a teacher and on his teachings, as reflected in documents of sayings.

If we enlarge our view to take in the culture and events of the time in which Jesus lived, and what we know of what happened after he died and in the two millennia between then and now, we find that there are not just two stories about his life, his teachings, and what became of them, but several. Here I mention only two. Searching online will quickly turn up others.

Below you will find my own compilation, from decades of reading and reflection, of Jesus central psychological teachings. Here is my disclaimer: I am a retired professor of psychology, with no training for the ministry.  I hope that you may find this brief statement useful whatever your religious orientation may be. I deal with the work of Jesus from the perspective in which I am educated and competent, and leave the specifically theological aspects of his ministry to others. Here you will find what I consider to be the central practical teachings to be found in his words and deeds, together with the scriptural references for them. In a few cases I have made a bit of a conceptual leap from one of Jesus’ teaching stories to what appears to me to be the general principle that underlies it.

All references are from the four canonical gospels that received the stamp of approval of the early Catholic church, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, cited as Mt., Mk., Lk., and Jn. In some cases I have included items that are not obviously directly relevant to the point at hand but that add some additional perspective on it. The compilation below does not draw on the Gospel of Thomas or other Gnostic gospels, even though they apparently escaped the censorship of the Church and may convey some perspectives more accurately than the Big Four gospels. Of course this list reflects my own appraisal of what is most important in the teachings of Jesus. Someone else might make a different list, or disagree with some of my phrasings. This is how I see it. And of course much is lost in stating just the principles without the stories from which they are abstracted, Nonetheless, I think there is some value in this summary.

THE THIRTY CENTRAL TEACHINGS

1. The Divine Spirit exists somewhere, however deeply buried, within each person. At lest one meaning of the “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” is a spiritual state of thinking, feeling, and being that you can create within yourself and in your relationships during your lifetime here on earth. You have the choice of nurturing and encouraging this outlook, or of ignoring it. (Mt 18, 23-25; Jn 10, 13-34; Lk 17, 20-21)

2. Find peace within your mind and heart, and in your relations with others. (Mt 5, 3-12; Mt 5, 38-46; Lk 6, 26-36; Mt 12, 25-7; Jn 14, 27)

3. Act with love and kindness toward everyone. Be kind and generous toward all–even strangers, enemies, and those who cannot repay you. (Mt 5, 38-46; Mt 25, 34-46; Lk 6, 26-36; Lk 10, 25-37)

4. Do not judge others, and work diligently on letting go of your judgmental tendencies. (Mt 18, 23-25; Lk 6, 37-8; LK 10, 16; Lk 17, 4; Jn 8, 3-10)

5. Work diligently to give up self-righteousness, which blinds you to what you do and what is truly going on within you. (Mt 38-46; Lk 6, 29-30; Jn 8, 3-10))

6. Be a healer to yourself and others in whatever ways you can. (Lk 10, 25-37 and many healing stories)

7. Seek to know yourself. This includes becoming aware of your own self-deceptions and defenses. And do all you can to discover the divine spirit within you. ( Mt 12, 7-8; Mt 12, 36-7; Lk 6, 41-2; Lk 11, 33-6)

8. You are fully responsible for the effects of your words and actions on you and on others. When you disown such responsibility by claiming that “God told me to do it” when you act in harmful ways, you are lying to yourself.(Mk 4, 34)

9. It is what comes out of us (what we say and do), not what goes into us, (what others call us, what we eat, etc.) that degrades us. (Mk 7, 14-23)

10. To live in a joyful, illuminated, and illuminating way requires reducing the number and intensity of your self-centered concerns. In other words, working to become less egocentric, egotistical, and narcissistic. (Mk 14, 3-9)

11. What truly counts is what you do now, and tomorrow. What you did in the past is less important. (Lk 16, 10-12; Mk 2, 15-17; Lk 19, 1-10; Mt 21, 28-32)

12. Principles have value only if you act on them. A transformation of the heart and mind is a good beginning. Next we need to express it in our words and actions (Lk 16, 10-12; Mt 12, 36-7)

13. In giving we receive. Helping others helps you. (Mt 4, 34; Mt 18, 23-35; LK 10-16)

14. Avoid violence, and do not cling to anger or a desire for revenge. Do your best to let go of negativity. (Mt 5, 38-46; Lk 6, 26-36; Jn 7 )

15. Even those who have acted worst can repent, and act differently. (Just saying that you repent is of very little use unless you stop acting in injurious ways.) (Mt 12, 36-37; Mt 21, 28-32; Lk 9, 23-26; Lk 11, 33-36; Lk 16, 10-12; Mk 2, 16-17; Lk 19, 1-10; Lk 7, 37-47)

16. Forgive others when thy wrong you or otherwise act badly to the fullest extent that you can bring yourself to do. (Mt 12, 25-7; Mt 5, 38-46; Lk 6-37; Jn 7-53)

17. In conflicts, whenever possible, reach an accommodation with your opponent rather than going to court about it. (Mt. 5, 21-24; Lk 12, 59)

18. A gentle spirit is the state of mind we ought to seek. “Blessed are the merciful . . . and the peacemakers.” (Mt 5, 3-10; Jn 7-53)

19. Wealth tends to interfere with living a spiritual life. Wealth and power are worse than useless when you deaden your soul and & dull your sensitivities to gain them. (Mt 4, 14; Mt 12, 12-13; Mk 11, 11-15; Lk 9, 23-6; Lk 18, 18-26)

20. Let go of your anxieties about material security and wealth. Do your very best today, and tomorrow will take care of itself. (Mt 6, 28-34; Mt 10, 8-14; Lk 12, 13-33)

21. Service to others without personal benefit is a path to gaining people’s real respect, and even to becoming a great soul. (Mt 10, 42-44; Lk 10, 25-37)

22. Be most generous to those who are in greatest need. (Mt 8, 23-25; Mt 14, 3-9; Mt 12, 41-44; Mt 20, 1-14)

23. Your actions speak for themselves. Do not boast about or show off what you have done. (Mt 6, 1-5, 16)

24. Avoid seeking honors and others’ admiration. (Lk 14, 2-11)

25. Avoid all hypocrisy, in which you pretend to be virtuous and selfless but are really looking for other people’s adulation. (Mt 6, 1-5, 16; Mt 23, 1-7, 23-35; Lk 11, 44-52; Lk 20, 45-7; Jn 7-53)

26. Humility is one of the most important virtues. Do not imagine that you are better than anyone else, whatever your station in life and their station in life may be. (Mt 18, 2-7; Lk 14, 2-11)

27. Spiritual knowledge emerges from an inward search, not from rules and laws. (Mt 23, 1-7 & 23-35; Mk 2, 23-27; Lk 11, 44-32)

28. If the spirit and the letter of the law conflict, observe the spirit. Laws are made for people, not people for the law. (Mk 2, 23-27; Lk 13, 15-16)

29. Honest people avoid secrecy and are transparent in their actions, while the dishonest try to hide and conceal what they do. (Jn 3, 20-21; Lk 6, 41-2; Lk 11, 33-6)

 30. Most people often cover their ears because they don’t want to hear and close their eyes because they don’t want to see. Teaching through parables can bypass their ways of distracting themselves and avoiding truths they do not wish to see or hear, and makes it easier for them to understand. (Mt 13, 10-15; Lk 10, 25-37))

“Keep me and my teachings in your mind and heart,” Jesus reminded those who heard him. “Peace is my parting gift to you. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears.” Jn 14, 20-27)

*   *   *

Now my own brief comment. It appears to me that anyone who follows these thirty teachings is living a genuinely Christian life. By contrast, someone who is baptized fifteen times or says a thousand “Hail Marys” or goes all over town telling everyone “Jesus saved me and will save you” but who ignores a good share of these teachings is not. What you believe about Jesus–whether we call him the “son of God” in a literal or semi-literal way or simply one of history’s most enlightened spiritual teachers—counts does not count for nearly as much as whether we act in the ways that he advised us to.

Victor Daniels
6-27-14

  

Cognitive Maps and Edward Chace Tolman

Edward Chace Tolman

Edward Chace Tolman

Who would have thought that studying white rats in mazes could really tell us much about human behavior? For decades in the mid-twentieth century it was all the rage, and a lot of that work turned out to be up blind alleys. But one of those investigators came to some keen insights.  Today, however, few even know his name. That’s rather odd, because in todays “cognitive behavioral psychology,” which is highly influential in the USA, we find the strange phenomenon that Edward Chace Tolman (1886-1959) is seldom mentioned, even though the whole cognitive-behavioral approach has been built largely on the foundation of his ideas. When the classical behaviorism of the mid-20th century ran out of new ideas, blending it with Tolman’s insights about cognition added a new dimension.

        Tolman said essentially, “rats think, just as people think.” But in his behaviorism-dominated era, he went on to say, “And to ensure that we are objective scientists, we will discover what and how they think by studying their observable behavior.”

         Rats and people, he said, live in worlds of paths and tools, obstacles and by-paths. In most matters both rats and people prefer short or easy means to a goal over long or difficult ones. And any description of goal-directed behavior is always about getting toward something or getting away from something. That includes what the person or rat is doing, what he, she, or it is trying to do, and where it is going.

But to me, none of that was as intriguing as his statement that rats, people, and other creatures form what he called cognitive maps of the physical and social environments within which they live, think, and navigate. A cognitive map describes the mental and physical routes a person takes, and what rewards and punishments exist along various physical or mental corridors. In retrospect, it’s obvious. Sitting here at my computer, there are some routes (sets of procedures to make the computer behave in specified ways) that I kinow very well, some that I sort of know, and many others that I don’t know at all. This desktop computer has the capacity  to do thousands of things that I don’t know how to tell it to do. It does only what falls within the compass of my cognitive map of it.

        In almost every area of life the same is true. We live within the confines of our cognitive maps (a concept that has much in common with what gestalt psychologist and field theorist Kurt Lewin called the “Life space.”)

       When the expectations that are defined by our cognitive maps are not fulfilled, we can get quite upset.  A psychologist named Tinklepaugh hid a piece of banana under a cup, allowing a monkey to see him do it.  At that point the monkey’s cognitive map included “there is banana under that cup.” But Tinklepaugh, the sly devil, secretly substituted a piece of lettuce, a less–preferred item. When the monkey lifted the cup and found the lettuce, it threw a tantrum.

       Human beings often do likewise. We expect things to be a certain way and blow our cool when they’re not.  I like to use the terms “inquirers” and “deniers”  for two different kinds of responses when something is not as we expect it to be. An inquirer responds to new evidence that shows that his or her belief or attitude about something is wrong by exploring other possibilities and trying to find out what’s really so.  A denier redoubles his or her attachment to the mistaken belief or attude or habit and seeks to get others to confirm that the wrong is right.  That’s where a lot of our problems come from.

       “Very interesting,” you may say. “But what’s the practical payoff of all this?”

       Very simply, You can become an observer of  your own cognitive maps. Notice where your mind goes and what it does, and where and what it does not go and do. This is an kind everyday awareness practice that is related to meditation.  As you try it, you are likely to start making fewer dumb mistakes, and to more often act in ways that are helpful both to you and to others.  In a sense, this is ongoing mindfulness (Buddhist term) or witness consciousness (Yogic term) carried on in the midst of everyday life.

       And you can also begin to see other people’s cognitive maps.  A few questions can tell you a lot about where a person’s mental and emotional energy flows and where it doesn’t.

       As a result of seeing or hearing where your cognitive maps fit reality and where they don’t, you’ll see when and where and how you need to change them. This is important in our daily lives and our larger cultural narratives. If you don’t ever stand back and look at your own cognitive map, you probably end up imprisoned in the “dominant narrative” of your culture, which is the story that the power elite who controls much of what happens wants you to believe.

       If all this intrigues you and you’d like to know more about some very contemporary ancient history in psychology, read Tolman’s Behavior and Psychological Man. If you and want just  a little more, you can look at my old lecture notes on Tolman at:

<https://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/tolman_lecture.htm>.

         En el espanol puede mirar la biografia Edward C. Tolman por Jaime Ernesto Vargas Mendoza, publicado por la Asociación Oxaquena de Psychología en 2008.

          Doing any  of those three things will enlarge your own cognitive map at least a bit.

Employment & Jobs — What’s Going On?

Crowd in Times Square

Employed and Unemployed in New York City

“Half a truth is often a great lie,” said Benjamin Franklin. In the U.S. we hear both the Republicans and the Democrats promising that their employment solutions will put people back to work, bring full employment, and ensure prosperity for all. Really? I have yet to hear any party or any business person or organization who has a real solution. S

Some policies make the job picture worse. For example, when they think no one is looking, Republicans sometimes actually say they want to give the country a good zap of unemployment from time to time to keep wages down and help break the backs of those unions that remain. When he was President Richard Nixon said it very explicitly. Party members since his time have acted in ways which show that they want just enough of a rise in employment to get elected.  If they’re already in office, they want employment just  high enough level to keep them elected. They certainly don’t want a rise in employment in West Virginia, where it might interfere with coal company practices of turning beautiful mountains into wastelands by blowing the tops off mountains to expose  coals seams. Mining employment in West Virginia is one-tenth what it used to be when miners brought out coal from underground and God’s Own Country was not being turned into the Devil’s Wasteland. Also, all across the country in both public and private sectors  full-time jobs are getting pulled apart into pieces that can be filled by part-time employees.

In regard to jobs, the Democrats are less hypocitical, more idealistic, and also pathetically naive if they actually believe their own rhetoric.  Yes, they do want less unemployment, jobs for more people, more job training, better jobs for the folks who have slipped from manufacturing into making fast food burgers for a fraction of their former pay. They would like to change that, and have less offshoring of jobs, and on.

But neither party says much about basic changes in society, technology, and economic organization that are responsible for today’s trends: automation, robotization, and the massive transfer of productive activity from labor to capital.  That’s part of why the economic gap between rich and poor keeps growing. To be sure, the sledgehammers with which Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush smashed into little pieces much of the equalizing effect of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s graduated income tax and other measures to help the less fortunate did their part. But take all that out of the equation and there would still be Trouble in River City. It used to be that when you picked up your phone to call someone you got a human being on the other end.  Now a few people with nice voices are hired to created digital recordings that allow one person to do the work a thousand used to do.  It used to be that rapid transit cars had a human being sitting up front running them. Now a few people in a control room run enormous systems by remote control.  It used to be that longshoremen actually loaded cargo into ships. Now a tiny fraction of their number run giant cranes that move containers from trucks and trains onto and off of ships. And so on. Some of this is great. Robot welders on auto assembly lines tend to do a better job than people, and so too with numerous other functions. But not all.  When I go to the supermarket or drugstore I prefer to wait my turn in line than walk right up to the self-checkout machine. I’d rather not contribute to throwing another person out of work. And I certainly wish the Golden Gate Bridge District directors had seen fit to keep at least one lane operated by a human being who can accept cash instead of automating them all.  You can surely think of your own examples  where work that used to be done by people is now done by machines.  That eliminates such matters as setting up pension funds and paying medical benefits and overtime. Most of all, machines do not organize themselves to demand that an enterprise be run in a more decent, humane, environmentally sound manner. They just do what they’re programmed to do.

One more detail.  Every time a machine replaces a person, it is a transfer of productive capacity from Labor to Capital. Somebody owns that capital, and it’s probably not a worker.  It’s a private equity company, or a corporation (or sometimes even a government agency.)  That means more money in the pockets of capitalists and less in the pockets and purses of working men and women who lose their jobs.  Meanwhile, immigration brings in more competition for the jobs that remain.  In some regions, that’s sensible, because needed skilled workers are not available and can’t be trained rapidly enough, but can be hired from elsewhere. But in many cases,  immigration that pushes up population makes it harder for people who lose their jobs to find new ones.

If you read Adam Smith, who is widely cited as the High Priest of Capitalism, you’ll find that his views were nothing like those of todays ultra right-wing extremists.  He was concerned about working people and jobs.  He disliked the nasty tactics and conspiracies  of some companies’ owners or executives. Today’s capitalism differs radically from  his views. Its essence is the ideological principle that making the most money possible is the goal to be pursued above all others, and that the few at the top of the ladder are entitled to everything they can get – no matter how many are harmed by their actions or how severe the environmental destruction.  In many places even the law requires profit maximization.  And if quarterly profits drop, “the market” –i.e. investors who want maximum profits, punish the company and may even try to take it over. So what’s the so-called “bottom line” here?  It is that contemporary capitalism, with its imperialistic and monopolistic tendencies, will never provide as many good jobs as are needed regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are running things. Indeed, “unlikely” is an understatement.  As long as automation and robotization continue on anything like their present course, unwanted unemployment is guaranteed and will probably rise.  Is there a solution? Will anything work?

  • The one thing I see that appears likely to work, and that is working in some places already, is a variety of economic forms and solutions working cooperatively together.
  • Capitalism will have to return to its roots. (When the U.S. was young, to be chartered as a company the owners-to-be had to demonstrate that it would serve some public good. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were so afraid that the economy would develop much as it has done that they tried to add an eleventh amendment to the Bill of Rights that would keep corporations from going out of control, telling lies and damaging the public interest as many do today. It was voted down by a group of prosperous and powerful members of the Constitutional Convention.)
  • Cooperative ownership and endeavor will play a much large part in the world’s economies. Experiments in this direction are already underway.
  • All portions of international trade agreements that are injurious to workers or other people or that prohibit any nation or region from protecting its environment will automatically be null and void.
  • All international trade agreements will have to be made in the light of day, with citizens of the concerned countries and reporters of diverse viewpoints able to be present and report what is happening. No more secret, closed-door negotiations by corporate leaders appointed by their governments as “trade representatives.”
  • The discipline of economics will have to be transformed from figuring out how the few can make the most to figuring out how to configure economies at every level into forms that will be beneficial for most citizens and protect ecosystems.
  • Everywhere, people in local communities will begin meeting together to develop new forms of production, exchange, and consumption that will bring the communities together. (This is quite different from the present system in which a few wealthy and powerful citizens put up the money to get candidates who will favor their interests elected, so that the city of county is governed with the intent of enriching them even more.

This blog entry  is obviously not a comprehensive answer to the problems of jobs, employment, and economic organization. Today, no one and no party has such an answer.  Rather, it offers my reflections and seeks to provoke your own reflections.  Collectively we need a transformed sense of purpose and direction in our economic endeavors so that they will serve both the material and the deeper psychospiritual interests of all the people. To provide those “good jobs” the politicians talk about, we need to start deeply rethinking and transforming the very structure of our economy.

MEDITATION: THE ESSENCE II – Concentration & Focus


MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part II

  FREE: Right here, right now, no charge.

 Shiva

CONCENTRATIVE MEDITATION

Concentrative meditation develops your ability to know what you are doing with your attention at any given moment and to focus your attention (and often that of others with whom you are conversing) where you wish.  This ability has been shown to be useful in diverse areas of life.  It is also essential to witness consciousness or mindfulness meditation, which will be described in Part III. Two different forms are described here, and you can choose the one you prefer or use them both at different times.

Counting style.  Choose any object to focus your eyes on. As you did just above, count from one to ten.  This time silently count one number on each incoming breath, from one to ten. Then count the same number ten times on each outgoing breath.  Like this: 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc. up to 10-1.  Then take a single  breath in which you do not count.  Then count a second sequence of ten, like this:  1-2, 2-2, 3-2, etc. up to 10-2.  Another empty breath, then ten breaths with the number 3 on your exhalation, etc.  Ideally you will do this for 110 breaths, up to 10-10.  Then do ten more snapshot breaths to end your session.  Whenever you lose count, continue from the last pair of numbers you can remember clearly. If you don’t have time or don’t want to count up to 10-10, stop whenever you wish and end your session with ten snapshot breaths.

On each outbreath, notice all the chatter and images that have formed themselves in your mind and imagine them flowing out of you and away as you exhale, leaving your mind calmer and clearer. Whenever you notice that you have forgotten your counting or you are no longer looking at the object you chose for your visual focus, first notice where your mind has gone in case it’s to something important you need to remember (you might want to keep a pad and pen to jot down a word or two as a reminder when things occur to you.) Then gently move your mind back to your counting. Don’t try to keep things out of your mind – just bring your mind back to your counting, again and again if needed.

Mantra style.  Select a mantra that feels agreeable and useful to you.  You can find one by looking at the index at this link, or by doing a web search for “Sanskrit words” or “mantras.” Or even choose a word or phrase in your native language that refers to a quality you want to cultivate. Just as with the counting above, choose an object for your visual focus. On each inhalation, silently repeat your mantra to yourself.  On each exhalation, you can either (1) count the same number for ten numbers as described just above, and then move to a second number for the next set of ten breaths,  or (2) just repeat the mantra on your inhalation and let your mind go silent on the exhalation, allowing the thoughts that have formed themselves to flow away.  When you notice that you are no longer repeating your mantra, return your thoughts to it. DO NOT, however, use repetition of the mantra to try to “push” other thoughts, feelings, or sensations out of your mind. You could end up pushing out things you very much need to notice or hear. Just notice where your mind has gone, jot down a reminder of that if it’s important and you wish to, then bring your attention back to your mantra. Here too, ten snapshot breaths are a good way to end your session.

 

OR, you can regard the starting sequence and a period of concentrative meditation as the first two stages of your sitting, and then go on to mindfulness / witness consciousness meditation or to a contemplative meditation.

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

Part II describes concentrative meditation.

 Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

All this is just “the essence.” If you’d like this and many advanced practices all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart - Mind Connection

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart – Mind Connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDITATION – THE ESSENCE: Basic Meditation Instructions I

 

 

MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part I

 

FREE: Right here right now, no charge

 

 

woman meditating by Ganges River

 

INTRODUCTION, & STARTING YOUR SESSION

 

 

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Reduce your stress, feel more relaxed, become more focused, centered, and probably more successful, and clean up problem areas in your life. Seldom be bored, as you can almost always find something interesting around you or inside you to notice.

 

If you have never meditated, have tried and been unsuccessful, or are unsatisfied with your method, try this. (If you are an experienced and expert meditator and are looking for new depths and horizons in your practice, you’ll find them in other blogs soon to be posted and at this link.)

 

FOUR FORMS OF MEDITATION

The four kinds of meditation described here are suitable for ordinary people in their everyday lives. You do not have to sit in a cave in the mountains or go to a retreat center. The four are:

 

Concentrative meditation.  You become able to focus your mind where you want it. (Research has shown that this skill improves life-effectiveness of diverse kinds.) Developing this capacity, and your mindfulness or witness consciousness, occur at the same time in the method described here.

 

Mindfulness meditation, aka witness consciousness.  You learn to notice what your mind, emotions, and body are doing, moment by moment, rather than being completely caught up in your thoughts (as most people are most of the time.) This is called “mindfulness” in the Buddhist tradition and “witness consciousness” or “developing the witness” in the Yogic tradition. There are small differences between the two forms but they mostly overlap.

 

Everyday awareness practices.  These help you take a more meditative consciousness into your everyday life.  They are also ideal for people who have a hard time sitting still to meditate.

 

Contemplative meditation. Once you have mastered the two meditative forms just above, you will have the ability to meditate on specific aspects of your inner self or on outer concerns important to you. The resources of your large and creative unconscious mind will become available to supplement the conceptual thought, daydreams, and “monkey mind” that comprise most of most people’s ordinary waking consciousness.

 

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?

Sit for at least five minutes to get any value from this. Ten or fifteen is better—but if you think, “I don’t want to spare that much time,” then just commit yourself to five minutes. When that time is up, sometimes you will probably want to continue.  When you are starting out, don’t sit for more than half an hour. When you feel ready, you can allow yourself 45 minutes, or even an hour.  Once you are experienced, you might want to go to a retreat where you sit for a day, or several, or even longer. But unless you have the supervision of a capable meditation teacher, stop after no more than an hour.

 

BEGINNING YOUR MEDITATION SESSION: YOUR POSTURE

For most people, the best thing is to sit up straight with no support for your back if you can do that. (Just noticing when you lose this position and slump helps you maintain a present-centered consciousness.) If your back muscles won’t hold you straight up you can sit with your back against a wall or the back of a chair. If all else fails, I have had some students meditate successfully while lying down.

If you are sitting cross-legged on the floor or the ground, sit on the front edge of a doubled-over pillow or a meditation cushion to raise your butt a few inches off the ground. Outdoors, sitting on a slope with your butt a little higher than your  knees and feet will do. Or use any other object to raise your butt slightly. Otherwise you will have a hard time sitting up straight. You can sit in a full lotus posture with each foot upside down across the other thigh, a half lotus posture with just one leg above the other thigh, or a regular everyday cross-legged position.

If you are on a chair, choose one with no arms or low or wide arms so that both your elbows can extend outward comfortably. You can either put your feet facing forward just below your knees and about shoulder-width apart or you can cross them as if you were sitting cross-legged on the ground.

           In any other position, do what feels best. Just know that it will be somewhat harder to develop your mental focus than in one of the positions just above.

          Position your arms with your palms face up. Touch your thumb and forefinger  or middle finger of each hand together. This is a mudra. As you inhale, let them separate about a sixteenth of an inch.  As you exhale, let them touch each other. This is a moving mudra. (The moving mudra will help you focus and watch your mind. When you notice that they have stopped opening and closing as you breathe, it tells you that your attention has drifted off.)

 

A STARTING SEQUENCE

  1. 1.    Balance. Find a sitting position in which you are totally centered in relation to gravity, so that if you move even a little forward or backward or to either side you feel unbalanced. Try those movements, then return to your center.  I suggest that you also try this standing up. Imprint in your mind what that totally balanced position feels like. (Then later in the world, when you start feeling “off balance” or emotionally “pushed out of shape,” take a minute to physically balance as you just did. That’s your first “everyday awareness practice.)
  2. 2.    Breathe.  Sit (or lie down or whatever you do) in a position that opens your windpipe and lungs as fully as possible. If you are sitting or standing up, pushing your chin backward with one finger can help do this. . . .

 

  1. 3.    Notice and release tension. The first time you do this, use the method described by Edmund Jacobson in 1929. Starting at the top of your head and going down to the tips of your toes, do an internal body scan. Notice each place in your body where you are holding even a teeny weeny bit of tension, intensify it for several seconds – tighter, tighter – then let it go. Some places many people hold tension is in their forehead, around the eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, hands, arms, stomach, anal sphincter, thighs, and calves.   (You may have your own unusual tight spots.)

 

After the first time, you can skip the tightening. Just do an eyes-closed body scan in which you release the tension you find at every point, except for whatever tension you need to sit upright. When you’re done – probably just a minute or two – notice how good your body feels when you let go of the places you chronically hold tight.

 

  1. 4.    Take ten “snapshot” breaths. Count your breaths from one to ten. With each cycle of inhalation and exhalation, let your eyes rest on a different visual object. It can be anything from a statue to a smudge on the wall. Imagine that you’re taking a picture of it, and also that after you’re done you will have to draw it from memory, so scrutinize every detail of it as carefully as you can during that one breath. (You could also do this by listening to a different sound with each breath.) Why do these ten snapshot breaths? Because it is very nearly impossible to do them with a wandering mind. To do them successfully REQUIRES you to maintain mental focus. This gives you a hold on the reins of the wild horse of your attention, giving you enough mental focus that you can go on to other meditative practices.

 

CONGRATULATIONS! You are now meditating. You can stop now, or continue your session by simply continuing to count your breaths, or by repeating any mantra that has value for you on each breath for as long as you wish to continue.

 

 

When you are ready, you can go on by clicking on the links below.

 

 

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

 

Part II will describe concentrative meditation.

 

Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 

Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 

Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

 

Remember—all this is just “the essence.” If you’d like all this and many advanced practices too all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

[INSERT MM HERE]

 

2-12-14

 

 

 

Holistic gestalt therapy

HOLISTIC GESTALT THERAPY

Victor Daniels
Sonoma State University

Today’s blog is for psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and students in those areas—but a few others may be interested.

Why “holistic?” Perhaps you find the title surprising. You might think, “But the Gestalt approach is inherently holistic.”

Yes and no. Max Wertheimer, whose philosophical genius was the midwife for the birth of Gestalt Psychology, articulated a view of human experience and behavior that was more holistic than that of any other psychologist of his time. Kurt Lewin expanded that view into a perspective that provided a holistic grasp of the person in his or her lived environment. Lewin’s concept of the “life space” included both the immediate and extended social and physical environments, and also the vicarious environments that were part of a person’s thinking and feeling as a result of hearing stories, reading, and watching movies and videos. For example, I love Will and Ariel Durant’s monumental work The Story of Civilization because I can open a page and be instantly transported through Durant’s clear, engaging prose into the midst of the Italian Renaissance, or into any other place and time of which the Durants wrote. Thereby a skeletal sense of Renaissance Italy becomes part of my life-space. This embracing holistic view that is inherent in Lewin’s Field Theory is part of the ground of Gestalt Therapy.

Gestalt process work is inherently holistic in the sense of its attitude toward the client. The therapist or counselor takes a phenomenological stance of trying to comprehend the client’s lived world as it is, without interpretation or embroidery, and uses some variation of the phenomenological method of “bracketing” to set personal reactions aside in order to achieve that comprehension. Then the practitioner may (or may not) draw on his or her own bracketed reactions and mention them to the client to see whether this leads the client to fuller awareness and deeper understanding.

Methodologically, a holistic approach implies that the therapist or counselor (a) has a repertoire of approaches and methods; (b) can choose appropriately among them to find what best suits any given client in any given situation; while also (c) remaining true to his or her own preferred, most comfortable, and most skillful ways of working. This is analogous to a doctor who has a variety of medical tools and procedures available, and chooses that which best fits the patient’s needs. (With this analogy, I do not mean to imply that a medical model fits most psychological difficulties. It fits some but not most. I prefer Thomas Szasz’ description of psychological and relational issues as “problems in living.”

Finally, a holistic approach acknowledges the value of a spectrum of valid Gestalt approaches and methods used by others which may or may not be part of a given practitioner’s own repertoire. (“Valid” means a method that fits the criteria of being phenomenological, awareness-based, present-centered, existential, and field-define. And, we might add, competent, skillful, and fully cognizant of the need to provide both sufficient safety and sufficient opportunity for exploration and for adventurous growth.) In this sense, Gestalt work may or may not be holistic. Historically, as in so many psychotherapies, spiritual traditions, and other realms of life, some Gestalt practitioners have disapproved of approaches used by others even when those approaches fully met the criteria described just above. Such biases have sometimes been overt and sometimes subtle. In recent years, for example, in the English-speaking Gestalt world there has been a welcome development, most especially by those trained by Laura Perls and Isadore From, of methods that emphasize the relationship and the dialogue between client and therapist. Some practitioners of this approach have assumed that their “dialogical relational” approach is contemporary, and that the work of other practitioners is outdated. In reality, practitioners trained by Fritz Perls, Jim Simkin, and others at Esalen Institute, Lake Cowichan, and the old San Francisco Gestalt Institute, and second-generation practitioners trained by them, have also evolved and developed their methods and perspectives into new and more effective forms. Fortunately, the disapproval of some Gestalt approaches by practitioners of others has been far milder than, for example, in classical psychoanalysis, where Freud declared that such geniuses as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Wilhelm Reich were no longer psychoanalysts when their creative development of new ideas and practices diverged too far from Freud’s central orthodoxies—in particular from the Libido theory. Nonetheless, there is value in explicitly acknowledging a contemporary attitude of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness of method and perspective.

Therefore, use of the term ”holistic” in the title explicitly implies a “large tent” definition of Gestalt process that welcomes diverse ways of working and recognizing that we can all learn from the “otherness” of practitioners who have evolved their work in directions different from our own. It allows those who have felt that their working approach has been marginalized by the biases of some colleagues to come in from the shadows. And it highlights the interesting reality that the dominant views about which approaches are central and which are peripheral differs from one country and linguistic region to another. I welcome the large tent that makes space for diverse working processes and welcomes all who legitimately think of themselves as part of the Gestalt community. This includes dialogical-relational approaches, two-chair and sometime even multiple-chair work, dreamwork, use of diverse artistic media, movement and body-oriented work, and Gestalt group process work, to name some but not all of the orientations that can be found within this large tent.

In so saying, I am keenly aware of the danger becoming too diffuse, and of the need to keep a sharp focus. For me personally, the central focus is onprocess work within a working session—that is, within the therapeutic or counseling hour, or within one person’s working session when individual work is done in a group context. Of course that exists within the larger context of concerns that may take weeks or months, and multiple sessions to work through.

A phenomenon that has become more widespread in recent years is the inclusion and integration of methods from Gestalt therapy into other working modalities, such as alchemical hypnotherapy. I find that I am beginning to turn the tables on that process, and integrate perspective and methods from other approaches into my Gestalt work. Most notably these include humanistic and existential approaches, assertiveness training, and Yogic and Buddhist meditative disciplines. Such integration is highly selective, with close attention to maintaining a sharp focus on the client, the moment, and the way of working that is most appropriate now.

Already I hear the objection, “Gestalt therapy is a depth psychology, a process of exploration. How can you include something from a programmatic approach like assertiveness training?” There are two answers. First, good assertiveness training is also exploratory and based on the expansion of awareness as well as being programmatic. The “program” arises out of the exploration and awareness. Second, I find it appropriate only occasionally, and only when “pure” gestalt work has led to clear awareness of maladaptive behavior but the client keeps falling back into the old patterns and fails to behave differently. In this context, “assertiveness” can be a misnomer, for the methodological approach can be used with someone who needs to become more respectful and courteous toward others just as well as with someone who needs to learn to stand his or her ground.

With existential and phenomenological approaches, what I borrow is less often methods than attention to particular phenomena, or classes of phenomena, that have had a tendency to be overlooked in Gestalt therapy. These too are appropriately part of a holistic gestalt perspective, even though some gestalt training institutes do not emphasize them. In the present brief overview, I merely mention this outlook and not to delve into it in depth, which would require extended discussion of the work of such figures as Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Abraham Maslow, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, James Bugenthal, Sidney Jourard, and others. That is a project for another day.

2-4-14

Inquirers and Denyers -Two Attitudes of Mind

Mental flexibility and rigidity is a crucial matter. Either one is usually both an attitude and a habit. Yesterday as I was reading posts about the polar vortex’s possible contributions to the January 2014 extreme colds and storms in the Eastern U.S., (and much less publicized, climate scientists’ opinions that it may also be causing the blocking high pressure area off northern California that has given the usually rainy and foggy winters of the redwood country less rain in the last year than the desert cities of San Diego and Phoenix, which has caused my spring to stop running), I noticed something interesting. The intelligent and thoughtful comments tended to include a lot of detail and information about diverse phenomena related to climate change, whereas the boorish comments that insulted previous posters, primarily by people who denied that any changes in climate are actually occurring, were for the most part devoid of any knowledge or details about real phenomena. They just parroted opinions of others who thought similarly.

As I read, it occurred to me that those who posted almost all the comments could easily be labelled “INQUIRERS” or “DENYERS.” An Inquirer is somone who actively seeks out diverse best available information about something, usually from a variety of different kinds of sources and in considerable detail. A Denier is someone who forms opinions based on repeating what others have said and does not go looking for additional information in anything resembling an openminded way. They know what they believe and don’t want anyone to question it. Reminds me of a time many years ago when in the middle of a discussion a friend said, “Victor, you really don’t like to be contradicted, do you/” It hit me like a brick. I had viewed myself as SO OPENMINDED. But what she said was so true at that moment in that context that I had to admit it. It was the beginning of a long-term change in attitude. Now when I find myself stubbornly holding onto some belief or opinion despite what others say, my discipline is to NOTICE THAT I’M DOING SO and then say something like, “Of course, I may be mistaken.”

For all you denyers out there, please understand this: The main thing you are doing is defending your self-centered egos. You believe that you are not an OK person if your belief about something is wrong. The reality is that there is no dishonor in changing your mind, in acknowledging that you were mistaken about something. Dishonor lies in snotty, judgmental put-downs of others who disagree with you. THAT’s small minded. THAT closes down your ability to grow, to change, to discover. If that’s not the case with you, you can ask yourself: “What’s in it for you to hang on so tightly to you attitude, belief, opinion, or preconception?” What about it are you attached to? The approval of others who are parroting the same opinions? Or . . .? Doing the best you can to answer that question in an honest way could be an important step in your life.

Of course my classification of online commenters, and for that matter everybody else, into Inquirers and Denyers is urealistically dualistic. Actually people are not just one or the other, but hold attitudes along a continuum that runs from flexible openmindedness to rigid clinging to their preconceptions. Many people fall somewhere in the middle. It appears to me that fewer of those in the middle tend to make online comments than Inquirers and Denyers. And some Inquirers dig up a lot of information to support their views but are nonetheless rigid and judgmental. Little in the realm of the human psyche is totally cut-and-dried, either THIS or THAT. (Back to Venn Diagrams and mathematical set theory for the demonstration.) But in the clouds of bloggers, comment posters, and purveyors of editorial opinions (so labeled or disguised as so-called “news”), an great many of the aforementioned authors sound like either Inquirers or Denyers.

Note: I have used the spelling “denyers” instead of “deniers” because the dictionary defines the latter as “a unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured,” and “a French coin, equal to one twelfth of a sou, which was withdrawn from use in the 19th century.”

Fracking: “Trade Secrets” vs. Health — Fixing a Law that’s Upside Down

Some laws that regulate extractive mineral operations are just plain upside down. Take fracking. Companies that use the process don’t have to tell ANYONE what’s in the cocktails of chemicals they use because it’s a “trade secret” that the laws exempt from disclosure. Even when some of the substances in those cocktails are known carcinogens, or known to be otherwise poisonous or harmful to the health of humans and animals, and even though some of that fluid often ends up in the water supply for drinking or irrigation, the companies can keep it secret and keep on knowingly injecting poisons into the earth and the water. And with offshore wells, into the ocean, as has been done in the Santa Barbara channel.

I label that as criminal. The corporations doing it are criminal and the corporate employees who are doing it are criminals–all the way from the CEO and members of the Board of Directors who are in the know to the chemists who concoct the chemical brew to the workmen who are actually drilling the holes and pumping in the chemical brew. And the politicians who write the laws that let them do it and let them keep their formulas secret are criminals. Every one of them ought to be sent to jail or barred from political office.

The basic question is simple and the answer is obvious. What is more important–the good health of the people who live in the regions that are getting fracked, or the maximization of fracking companies’ profits? It is that simple. And the answer is obvious to any thinking person who is honest with himself or herself.

Personally I applaud the states that have banned the process of fracking completely, and I’d like to see it banned in coastal waters that are under federal authority. But I have no power to do that in states or countries where the fracking companies are paying off the politicians to let them keep on using the process. But even there, I think there may be a fairly straightforward solution. Establish an agency that oversees tracking and ban anyone who has been employed by the fracking industry from working in it. That agency will employ some bonded employees who are trained in both chemistry and toxicology. They and no one else will have access to the formulas of any substance used in tracking, and their job will be to make sure that no toxic substance is included, and to test batches of tracking fluid to make sure they are compliant. “Bonded” in this case means that they are sworn not to disclose the contents of these fluids to anyone except for informing the personnel in the agency who are empowered to stop the company from using them or to shut down the operation. Disclosure to a competitor would carry a penalty great enough to deter the bonded chemist-toxicologist from any temptation to so disclose. Such a procedure would probably provide adequate protection of the public’s health. If the politicians or tracking companies are unwilling to go along with that, then the people should rise up, stop the operations entirely, and toss the franking politicians.