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I’m Having Trouble

January 24, 2011

“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”—FDR, 1933


I’m having trouble finding my compassion towards  angry, frightened people who appear to have no conscience about lying.

Intellectually I know that behind the right-wing rage and paranoia and the nonstop avalanche of transparent denial and outrageous  lying is  fear.  They act that way because they are literally sick with fear. I know they lie because their emotions have overwhelmed them to the point where their  pervasive,  engulfing fears dictate their perceptions.  Many of them are not cold, calculating  psychopathic liars. They are hysterical liars–that is,  their wild fears, frustrations and rage have  overwhelmed their ability to perceive reality accurately.  You could say they are drunk  on their own emotions,  no more reasonable than any other heavily intoxicated person.  What they think, see, and say are determined by their agitated emotional state, not what is actually happening.  The world they see is a projection of their fears and is not reality.  “If I fear it is true, then that means  it must be true.”  Paranoia often feeds on itself.  The severely paranoid person feels surrounded by enemies, by  a sea of hostility, rage, turmoil, threats, hatred, but he doesn’t realize the source of those is inside himself. It’s not coming from the outside. It’s  her own hate, rage, hostility she is  feeling and perceiving. They misperceive the source  of their distress. I know the paranoid system can even  become entirely self-contained,  a neatly dovetailing set of interlocking components forming  a seamless, closed system with a remarkable logic to it all. In my work as a psychotherapist, it was hard to win a paranoid person’s trust without confirming their delusions. I had to walk a fine line.  If  I tried to suggest they question the accuracy of their perceptions, entertain the idea that self-reflection might be useful, asked them to think about where this belief system was leading them,  often they would  immediately fit me into their system: “So, you’re one of them too! You’re in cahoots with them!I should’ve known!”  They’d drop out of therapy because, obviously, other people have the problem, not  them.

I know all this, have known it for several decades. I also remind myself  that their paranoia has become the psychic “glue” that is holding them together, that they believe, even if only half-consciously, that if they let go of their paranoid beliefs, they would fly apart in a million pieces, “go insane,”  descend into complete  confusion, chaos and meaninglessness. Their paranoia is an organizing system that helps them make sense out of their world and their experiences. We all need those.  It gives them a focus,  motivation, meaning, and direction. We can only let go of those systems when we adopt a better system, one more adaptive, more reality-based, one that allows us a richer experience than the old one did.

But outside of the therapy room, with people who are not clients, I  am having a very hard time  feeling compassion for  the ugliness, hatred, rage, and, most especially, the shameless, self-righteous lying and falsehoods the right-wingers are choosing to indulge in.

Even a woman as shallow,  self-absorbed, ignorant, and dishonest as Sarah Palin is  (or do you really not see that?) must know  she is lying when invents “death panels” that do not exist and never did exist.  What brutal, shameless cynicism allows this supposedly pious “Christian” and “true-blue American Patriot”  to lie so shamelessly, over and over again, while giving no evidence of a conscience? Why does she have no shame? Why does she  never show any evidence of a normal human capacity to experience appropriate  guilt,  shame, regret, or  remorse? Isn’t that a sign of  serious character defects?  What does that say about her character? Isn’t respect for truth a traditional American value? Wasn’t it Jesus who said “the truth shall set you free” while for 2,000 years Satan has been described by all Christians as “the Father of Lies”? Now….who  does she worship again? Hey, Christians! Who is she really serving by lying? Speak up! I can’t hear you. America can’t hear you.

I confess I have grown  impatient with raging, self-righteous  people whose “mind is made up and don’t want tobe confused with the facts, ” who smugly  reject and sneer at truth, facts, and evidence as irrelevant., annoying distractions they refuse to deal with.  Reality, truth,  facts, and evidence have now been labeled “elitist”  and dismissed by the American Right Wing Noise Machine. I have personally experienced this many , many times–people who don’t want to know the truth, the facts, the reality,  the evidence. Overwhelmingly  they are angry,  ultra-conservative right-wingers, demanding submission to their views while simultaneously and self-righteously  lying through their teeth.

It was a wise man who said, “You are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your own made-up set of facts.”

Truth matters, despite everything.  The speech of Dr. King’s that moved me most at the time  was the Montgomery speech at the end of the bloody 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery: ” I know that many of you are asking today,  how long? How long can a lie live? Not long! No, not long! ” he intoned.  Then quoting James Russell Lowell, ” Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne?… No! Not long!  Truth crushed to earth shall rise again. How Long? Not long! For the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. How long?Not long!” I have to believe that truth will out in the end. I guess that is my stubborn belief, my dogma: truth matters. And the difference between truth and a lie is not just a “matter of opinion” in a fantasy world where we pretend that  all “opinions” are equally valid. No, I reject that. I don’t believe that.

The paranoid fantasists are always doomed in the long run, just as the Nazis were doomed: they could not forcibly impose their falsehoods upon reality forever. But 50 million people had to die before their fantasies collapsed. 

 No wonder the paranoid right-wingers feel threatened: reality is always threatening to break in. Reality keeps pounding their (and our) illusions.  The initial response is to feel “victimized” and “persecuted” and seek to retreat further into fantasy. But you can only really live in a fantasy world if you have your own private island  on which to do it.

There’s an excellent article by Ron Robinson entitled “Right-Wing Vitriol, Threats, and Political Mental Health” on his Open Salon blog at I urge everyone to read it. His first essential point is:

There can be no civility without honesty.”

The Right Wing has to start being honest. Treating lies and truth as “equivalent” and equally worthy of respect has to stop. It’s not about “civility” or “being polite” or “playing nice”. It’s about respect for the truth, an end to demonizing your opponents and calling for their murder,  and starting to respect elementary honesty.  It’s about not inciting murder and then playing innocent. Sadistic lying needs to be recognized for what it is.  Demands for the assassination of legally elected officials needs to stop. We need to confront the perpetrators and ask them, “Why are you lying? What’s wrong with you?  Why don’t you have any conscience about lying? Do you want to be part of the human community–or a destructive,  contemptible thug?”

Ron Robinson goes on to note that  “vitriol, violence,, veiled threats, intimidation tactics, lack of remorse, regret, apology, inappropriate affect, and deceitfully playing the victim” while blaming prescient  critics is  are NOT indicators of sanity and normality.  They are symptomatic of psychopathy, narcissism,  and paranoia, all forms of  severe mental ill-health. We need to quit treating this behavior as if it were somehow  normal. It is not.  It needs to be called out as sick, evil, and destructive behavior.   And no false equivalences, either (“the liberals do it too!”). No, they don’t. You don’t hear liberal pundits  inciting murder.  Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart mock and lampoon their adversaries but you never hear them  advocate or incite their murders, or advocate  “reloading”  of firearms  or “Second Amendment remedies” to unwelcome outcomes of elections.  We must challenge the journalists and the media who treat truth and lies as equivalent and equally worthy of attention and respect in some twisted version of “balanced” reporting.   In the end, we must, as Freud said almost a century ago, take our stand on the  Reality Principle: that no matter how much compassion and empathy we engage in an effort to deeply comprehend a person’s false beliefs, we must ultimately reject those beliefs as false.

This is the problem.  The rubber meets the road where sane meets crazy–and they are not equal. We must have compassion for them but at the same time  delegitimize their evil, their lies, and their craziness.  that is the challenge–to integrate compassion with insistence on integrity.

 It was another anonymous wise man who noted:

“If you have to lie to make your point, you don’t have a point.”

































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