(For Lisa Lew, who thought I could –and should– write something)
I have been wondering about how to psychologically explain the insanity – yes, insanity – of the last four years. Shortly after President Obama was elected, the world went nuts. The Tea Party came into existence and people began shouting in the streets. “Obama’s not from here”. “Obama’s not a Christian”. “Obama’s a Socialist – and a Nazi!” “Obama wants to destroy America and our freedom!”. Each of those things is patently untrue and yet millions of people believe some version of them. That’s a form of insanity known as “delusion” – believing and worrying about things that clearly aren’t true. So how do we explain how do we explain mass delusion?
This summer, shooting after shooting has made the world feel unsafe. Terrorists from outside our country are the least of our worries this summer – instead, militia people, gun nuts (as distinguished from gun owners) and just downright paranoid people have been running around shooting crowds for no particular reason. How do we explain irrational violence?
This summer, conservative men have said some of the stupidest, most untrue, and violent things imaginable about women that suggest returning to a time in which women were under the control of men for their decision-making capability. The screaming in their heads went something like this: “Want to have sex? OK, then you’ll have to get pregnant (we won’t pay for birth control) and need to have an abortion. If you need an abortion, we won’t pay for it either or – worse yet, we’ll stick a probe up your vagina and show you the baby you’re killing. Further, if you need this abortion because you were the victim of rape or incest, it’s your own damned fault and we won’t pay for it or we’ll rape you again in the above manner. Oh, and if you get raped, you can’t get pregnant, so – if you got pregnant – you must have wanted it. Say what?! This is craziness and –in their saner moments – the men saying these things know it. How do I know this? Their own arguments are internally inconsistent. So, let’s go over this in real terms. 1) Not being a woman myself, I have been told that women like sex – sometimes just for sex’s sake. 2) They don’t always want to get pregnant. 3) Rape is – by definition! – unwanted sex. You can’t want to be raped. You can want to have sex, but you can’t want to be raped. 4) Treating unwanted sex by sticking an unwanted ultrasound into the vagina and shaming the person again simply doesn’t make sense. It looks like rape and probably feels like rape. 5) If raped and molested children can’t get pregnant, how do you explain the girl who was kidnapped and held captive in the backyard for years – and had children by her captors? What? She wanted to be kidnapped? She wanted to be raped? She wanted to be kept in the backyard under a tarp? Those are the only conditions under which a woman – using their logic – could have gotten pregnant! — twice, I think. So, come on! Any man who knows about this case – and who doesn’t? – couldn’t possibly believe that. So why say something that they know is untrue and try to make it law? They’d have to have some form of temporary insanity.
So here’s the question – what causes symptoms like insanity, delusion, and violence? Anxiety and fear. As a therapist, when symptoms pop up, I’m trained to ask, “Why did this symptom come up now?”. Here’s the best answer I can come up with: demographics are changing in America and straight, White, Christian men are aware that things are never going to be the same ever again in America. Furthermore, we think you think you hate us and you’re going to call us “bad”. Why? Because you do already. Who are “you” in this case? Everybody who’s not straight, White, Christian, or male.
Years ago, my wife (then fiance’) discovered an organization in Rochester that had national roots. The organization was called National Coalition Builders Institute (NCBI) and its premise was this – all of the “isms” have a root in shame and guilt , often caused by what people say to us. In order to get by this, we have to not call each other things which reinforce the internalized shame we carry around with us. Virginia Satir, the sage at the heart of the therapy I do, says the same thing. She says the basic human need is self-esteem and the underlying yearning for all of humanity are 1) To be known for our whole self and 2) To be loved or accepted.
Straight, White, Christian men carry around a lot of guilt with us because – over the course of time – we’ve done some really heinous things. We have bullied and killed gay people who we knew to be human. We have kept African-American slaves who we either knew to be human or later discovered were. Christians have had war after war and killed thousands or millions – and who could forget the Spanish Inquisition, or the Salem Witch trials? Lastly, feminism tells us that we have enslaved women for all these years. How could you possibly like us under those circumstances? Maybe you want to kill us the way we killed you during all those years across the generations. That’s our shame talking and it’s re-inforced every time we’re called “homophobic” for not being gay, “racist” for not being Black, “intolerant, unintelligent unscientific” people for believing in Christianity, and sexist for not being female or for wanting sex. The anxiety and shame I mentioned? The shame we already have and the anxiety is over the fear that we’ll get what we deserve for being so bad.
How do people avoid anxiety and feelings of shame? They remember that their supposed “badness” isn’t all they are. Straight, White, Christian men – in addition to doing the things I just mentioned – created the Magna Carta in Europe and religious freedom in America. They brought acceptance and love and the words of “that Jesus guy” to their world because they found it in the Bible. We married women because we loved them. They gave women the right to vote, for goodness sake! There are a million good things that straight, White, Christian men have done throughout the ages.
Into this steps Barack Obama (a Black man) and he gets elected by a coalition of all those “others” – the “not us” who seem so angry and have brought about change so quickly it’s scary. It’s so scary that we can’t cope and we do all the stupid things that scared and ashamed people do – they deny reality, they yell a lot, they throw temper tantrums and get violent, they want to go back to the last time they felt safe. We White men probably last felt safe and as though we fit in before World War II – in the 1940’s, before we came home to find that women had changed. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Blacks were mad at us. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s gays were mad at us. In the new millennium, the atheists are on the rise but scientists have challenged our religious beliefs since Darwin.
I myself, in this blog, have called people “racist” and “homophobic” and “stupid”. For that, I apologize. I should have known better. Straight, White, Christian men, among which I count myself aren’t only bad. They are good and kind, and open, and friendly and decent and moral as well. In short, they’re just like everybody else. What we haven’t done really well at all is share. We haven’t shared the wealth and we haven’t shared the power and we haven’t shared the decisions. The thing about democracy is that – if you let enough people into it, it changes because we value people having one vote per one person. We have brought about the demise of our own power and now we’re scared and acting crazy. What if those “not us” people can’t govern or won’t share or give us what we gave them?
But here’s the simple truth: Obama loves America, Elizabeth Warren loves her husband, the poor don’t really hate the rich, they just want to eat and have a place to live and raise families, and gay folks’ marriage isn’t a threat to mine, and Christianity offers things that science can’t. We’re safe. We’re loved more often than not. Can we move on now?