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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crushed Graham & Amendment One

Let me clear, Billy Graham and I would almost never agree.

Rev. Graham is an right wing evangelical Christian and I am a Buddhist/ Christian skeptic needs science and reason to be at the center of my spirituality. I am a gay man who believes the LGBT people must have the same rights as all people before the law. Rev. Graham's relationship with US presidents, especially Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon made me very uncomfortable, bringing giving the right wing more access to the president then I like to see.

At the same time, I always found Billy Graham someone I could imagine talking across differences. He was never as hateful or divisive as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, though his son and heir Franklin Graham talks MUCH more like those other two figures. For decades, Billy Graham has appealed to a broad spectrum of Americans with some positive things to say about being a good person and preaching a Christianity of service to others and trying to make the world a better place. He has been a person I had respect for until now.

I am very very disheartened at his vocal support of the anti-equal marriage Amendment One in North Carolina that is being voted on today. If you want to know about this evil law, the internet is fully of information. Basically, this law is designed to stop same sex couples from ever getting all of the rights and privileges that straight married people get. It would even ban domestic partnership/civil unions.

The idea that Rev. Graham would be against same sex marriage on the grounds of his faith is no surprise. While I know countless Christian theologians who would disagree with Rev. Graham's stand, he has a right to it. I think Billy Grahams has every right to preach against gay marriage, he has every right to not allow ministers in his faith to perform same sex blessings.

The problem is we are talking about civil law. The founders of this country were mainly  deists, who believed that a creator God brought the world into being then left it alone. They were very distrustful of organized religion being involved in politics and developed our government and laws to be separate and secular, to keep religious concerns at a distance.

As strongly as I support same sex couples having the same rights and privileges before the law as heterosexual couples, I equally support the right of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. to say what they want about human sexuality (even if, on spiritual grounds I personally believe they are dead wrong) and to refuse to marry same sex couples.

Rev. Graham is violating that most treasured American value of keeping religious concerns out of government. A secular government has to treat all people with respect and dignity and has support some things (like racist clan marches, anti-choice protests, the refusal to ordain female clergy) that are against many of our values.

I used to respect Billy Graham as a reasonably intelligent man I disagreed with, but for whom who I had some respect. Now that respect for Billy Graham and his legacy is crushed. I now think of him as bigot who doesn't respect the fundamental separation of church and state and is so blinded by hatred for LGBT people that he won't allow the state to give us full and equal rights. If Billy really "loved the sinner and hated the sin" he would stay out of the legal process and preach against gay marriage in his churches and to his followers. Trying to stop the secular legal rights of a group of Americans is shameful. If I as an American must support the right of the KKK to exist, to parade, to write hateful anti-racist tomes, then Billy Graham can let the state give me and mine equal rights before the law and still preach and teach against who I am. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Occupy Narcissism!

At this moment in history, there many people looking at the economic issues impacting the US and the world. Many scholars and activists are seeing that the economic systems we live under are unjust, and destruction or reform. The “haves” have more than ever and the “have-nots” have less ever. Wall Street, big corporations, big government, etc. have let the 99% down and made the 1% richer.  In this country, people are jobless, broke and their houses have negative value.

In this crisis, when we want immediate solutions and a rapid an end to our severe anxiety, the narcissist leader or savior has taken a pivotal role.

What is narcissism? That is a complex question. In psychoanalytic thinking, narcissism is a fact of human existence. Narcissism is on spectrum from healthy self-love to a pathological condition where people’s relationships with themselves and others are rooted in egoism, conceit, vanity or plain old selfishness.
We are all narcissistic to one degree or another. Healthy narcissism is the origin of self esteem and the source of confidence that allows us to achieve our goals. At the level of pathology, narcissism leads to selfishness, greed, and grasping for power.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World Video

As we look at the economic situation in the US and globally, much has been written about the unjust economic systems, but we often ignore the psychology of these systems and those who drive these systems. We ignore these important factors at our own peril.
I want to reflect on two important psychology factors in power structures of these economic and corporate systems. The first involves people with pathological levels of narcissism who are in power and the second about the psychology those of us who put them in power.
To the first point, is it no surprise that some of the most powerful people in the history of the world have had very high levels of narcissism. When we think empire building and genocide names like Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Nicolae CeauČ™escu, Kim Jong-il, surface and their narcissism is very apparent. If you read books about such successful business leaders at Donald Trump, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, the narcissist issues don’t require and explicit explanation, the concepts seem jump off the page.

When an intelligent, well spoken person is also a narcissist, they desire power and have the talents to achieve it. Narcissists can inspire people. They are charismatic. The problem is, for people with pathological levels of narcissism the good of others or an organization as whole is secondary, if it is even a priority at all. The pathologic narcissist uses the ideals of helping others and moving an organization forward as means to gather personal power. Yet, in a crisis situation, they are seen by others (and most certainly by themselves) as courageous and possessing strength to act. These are people who can cut budgets, jobs, and programs far more easily than others. Their self-focus means that the effect their decisions have on others or on the long term picture don't concern them as much as it might people with healthy levels of narcissism. They may be strong leaders, but they are very poor team builders. They are top down people who rarely listen to others and only value those who affirm them. This is because inside these are people who are frightened and insecure. They need constant affirmation and do not see dialogue or challenges are constructive, they see them as threats. Narcissistic leaders don’t work with or learn from those that might disagree with them, they eliminate them.
The second psychological factor is the motivation behind those who bring narcissists to power. In times of crisis, like the economic crisis we are all currently in, we want quick, comfortable solutions. At a very deep level, we want someone to take power and "fix" things right away. We want a stern powerful mommy or daddy to take control. We want our anxieties to go away, even if it means we will be punished. In a severe crisis, like the one we are in now, at some point, we want the anxieties to go away more that we want to look at long and hard at difficult issues. In our weakness and insecurity, the narcissistic leader attracts us. We can hand them power and believe that s/he can be our savior. As long as we accept and empower her/him, we are off the hook. We no longer have to be anxious and have the added bonus of not having to act. Our belief, our faith in the leader is enough, we have little to do, we empower them do the dirty work, and we stop caring how they do it.

This second factor is perhaps the most dangerous to our souls. In the extreme, we give up our power, and release our connections to our problems out of fear and anxiety. Charming, power-hungry narcissists have always existed, but they do not always become powerful leaders in organizations and societies. Our own primitive fears and insecurities lead us to invest in the wrong people in times of crisis.
We have to learn to deal with our fears and with our big and complex problems in realistic ways. Fast painful solutions seldom work in the long term. The narcissistic leaders we have put in power, be s/he the CEO of an organization or the dictator of a country, can make us feel better, yet all the while taking power for themselves and destroying soul of the organizations/countries they were empowered to save. All of these organizations who have hired these pit bulls to "save them" may or may not survive, but very often end up becoming organizations far different than they ever intended. How many alternative voices were silenced by the narcissistic leader in her/his rise to power? How much do people who remain in such organizations feel hopeless, silenced, and disempowered? How many programs have been eliminated so that the organization no longer lives up to its purpose, goals or mission?
During the 2008 election, Michelle Obama as heavily criticized for statements she made  implying that under the presidency of  George W. Bush it was hard to be proud to be an American. To me, the future first lady was reflecting the sentiments of many in this country who realized we had elected a narcissistic leader in W who greatly damaged this country because his own narcisstic issues. The same can be said of dictators around the world, capitalist, communist, etc. The economic systems of the world are in flux. We are entering a time when we realize that extreme forms of capitalism and communism have failed. We are entering a time when cheap petroleum-based energy sources can no longer give us the illusion of cheap endless energy. We are scared and panicked. One of the questions we have to ask ourselves is do we have the courage, maturity and strength to elect leaders who will have long term visions and solutions that won't fix things right away? Will we have courage make democracy and dialogue, which can be clunky, time consuming and just plain difficult, essential ingredients of our future leaders and power structures? Will continue to choose to empower pathological narcissists to be our leaders? Will we grow beyond the need to create leaders who will temporarily sooth our anxieties and bring us brief comfort all the while destroying our souls, taking our power, alienating us from one another and killing the heart of the good we want our companies, organizations and governments to do?

Let's keep protesting, keep occupying, keep trying to change or destroy broken institutions, but let's also look at our own fears and anxieties. Let's listen to each other and look at who we invest with our trust and our power. Let’s occupy narcissism and take its power away.   

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The enemy may be closer than you think...Think outside the group

The enemy may be closer than you think….

Human are social animals. We constantly organizing into different groups, it is part of our innate nature.

The idea of identity politics has helped groups like African-Americans, woman and LGBT people work together for civil rights for their group as a whole. We now live in a world where the internet has created almost infinite opportunities for people to connect. One of the ways this has changed our culture is that many people can now find others “like” themselves far more easily. We also can be far more specific about what our “likes” are.  We can now find others like us, in some may meaningful to us, from all around the world in the blink of an eye. If you knit, if you are vegan, if you ethnically half Irish/half Japanese or if you are a half Irish/half Japanese vegan knitter you can find others like you and be in regular touch with them. It can be an amazing source of support; you can now easily can reach out to people who can give you support and help you as you wrestle with your own sense of identity.
While this can be amazingly positive, it can also lull us into a false sense of trust, safety and security. As we form relationships in these kinds of groups we often assume that we have more in common with the people in these groups than we actually so. As I gay man, it can be wonderful, at times, to be with other LGBT people. I remember initially how amazing and affirming it felt to join gay groups, march in gay pride, etc., especially as I was first coming out. However, over time, I have come to realize that being queer not enough for me to decide to bring someone into my life in a meaningful way. Because I meet another gay person that doesn’t mean s/he is trustworthy, honest or would make a good friend or a good leader.  I am fairly certain that woman, black people, Episcopalians and vegans have all probably learned the same lesson.

The older I get more I realize that my membership in these kinds of groups, LGBT, religious, social, etc can be wonderful and affirming, but are not without risks. Meeting others with whom I have some one thing or set of things in common doesn’t at all mean I have anything else in common with them. One fact about someone says nothing about them beyond that specific issue.

Taking this point even a little further, that false sense of security might lead me to believe that others in my “group” are good and honorable people. I can put my trust in someone in my group; I can feel comfortable giving my power over to that person, and trusting that s/he can be a leader for me. On the other side, it can also lead those hungry for power to use their membership in an affinity group manipulate fellow group members, abuse power and bring advantage to themselves at the expense of others in their group.

How often do we think that the person know from church must be a good person because they attend the same church we do?  Do we think that someone in our own racial or ethnic group is a better person because they share an ethnic heritage with us? How many women might choose a woman lawyer and thinking she might be a better lawyer because she is a woman?  Gay men like Roy Kohn and J. Edgar Hoover greedily gathered power and were major players in the ruthless persecution of other gay people. Phyllis Schlafly is a woman who spent a large part of her adult life working against feminist causes. African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has ruled or argued against issues civil rights issues involving Black Americans over and over again. Your greatest enemy may someone who in some ways seems like your brother or a sister.

While I think the idea of affinity groups and identity politics have a place in our lives there are important cautions and real dangers. It is important watch ourselves in groups; to we make sure that our expectations of the types of relationships we form within our affinity groups are based in reality, not some fantasy of what SHOULD be true.  We have to be careful not turn too much power over to our fellow group members.  People who seek power and control come in all shapes and sizes. Your worse enemy may look like you, like the same things you like , may even have many of the same views as you and yet still may be using you and taking advantage of you.

Your greatest friends or allies people may be people very different from you. There amazing white anti-racists, loyal straight people hard working for LGBT justice causes and committed justice-seeking men who are ardent feminists.

Think outside the group…