Sunday, November 17, 2019


Robert Jay Lifton was one of the most respected voices of my young adulthood during the first Cold War.  (The men of my cohort were drafted to go to Korea -- they were REALLY cold!)  He was not one of those big voices who can be brushed off in a few years.  In fact, he may be more relevant now than ever.

These quotes are from a recent interview that shows how helpful he is in thinking about today.  They are so relevant that I didn't think italics were enough to emphasize what he said.  Underlining also added.

"He explains the similarities between our current ideological polarization and efforts like Chinese communist thought reform in the early 1950s. The one thing that makes today different, he says, is Trump’s lack of ideology; instead, the president lives in a self-created “solipsistic reality.”
Lifton attributes Trump’s appeal, in part, to something he calls “psychological apocalypticism,” a pull toward “a new collective mindset that is pure, perfect, and eternal.” This combines a desire to be part of something bigger than oneself with a call to share in the effort of destroying reality in order to save the world."

I take it that this is now much intensified by two forces.  One is science showing us how eternal, infinite, and irrefutable is the universe and how fragile, brief, and redundant we ourselves are in it.  The other is a Christian paradigm struggling to re-assert visions of specialness, eternal life, and the image of "Heaven" as a reward for alignment with them.  Thus science drives naive people into the arms of unity warriors.

"Well, I talk about the concept of claiming to own reality. All of these groups move toward a form of totalism or, as I call it, cultism, which seeks to own reality. . . . And key here is the idea that if one questions that imposed reality, it is always looked upon as a personal problem.  . . .As to the ultimate source, it’s very hard to say, but I see it as relating to the entire human dependency period. It takes out of children quite a long time to become independent, much more so than with most other animals and in the process we can, our children can, develop considerable dependency needs, which may later make them vulnerable to gurus who claim absolute truth. That dependency can be lived out and exaggerated in these cultic groups."

Lifton's next step of logic is that Trump is not like other cultic movements (Maoism or even Fascism) because the only center is the person: what the person wants and needs and could control.  His cult is only about himself, not about society at all..His only reality is solipsistic, which has been a trend in America for some time.

Lifton says that in order for Trump to be persuasive with his view of the world limited to his own self there has to be preexisting confusion and uncertainty.  Between globalization and economic polarization that has sent populations in great waves across national lines, this is definitely present.  

Next he suggests de-legitimation of opposition.  He says, :"If you have a country that is functioning according to the rules of law in general -- which include the pattern for legitimate change and growth, and then some group or party "de-legitimates the other side or opposition of any kind, considers it not to have the right to contest their own realities, then you are creating the seeds and the context for what I call malignant normality.  Malignant normality, where you impose destructive versions of reality and insist that they are the routine and the norm."

This example has nothing to do with Trump, but it doesn't just explain a conversion from Druidism to Christianity, but also accounts for Northern Ireland in particular a malignant normality, a severe, ascetic, terrifying structure of the world and what is necessary to survive in it.  In any case the little island is dished and wet with the accumulation of organic material turning to acid, mirrored in the disposition of people preoccupied with control and propriety, but then interrupted by nearly manic festivals and semi-secret outlets like drunkenness.

This link is to a New York Times account of China's intolerance of any dissension, divergence or difference.  The leaders target ethnic or religious sub-populations that are large and historic in the belief that this will make them stronger and easier to manage.  Russia has that impulse as well.  The evidence is against both countries.  The attitude stifles innovation and encourages corruption, as well as planting the seeds of rebellion.

These patterns are old and recurring, probably with some basis in biology though not inescapable.  It will be interesting to see what difference the Internet makes and it's obvious that the status quo does not like media platforms.  Nations are based on enforceable borders as a way of suppressing dissent, but the result is frozen starvation, a "malignant normality".

Rolling dissent and divergence among the young is a force for renewing change that IS biological.  Old dictators fail to keep up with a changing world and become isolated in the same way as a bodily infection, or just die.  It's sometimes maddening that it doesn't happy more quickly.

In the US there are many people working on healthy sustaining issues.  They are invisible to the wannabe dictators who know nothing about things that are outside their experience.  In fact, they don't know there IS anything beyond their bubble, malignant normality is the same thing as malignant narcissism.  The added element is the desire to force others to be like oneself.

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