Paris and Our Discontents

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

My anguish at the terrorist attacks last week in Paris has aroused some passionate intensity. Here is my response, which is more in the form of an op-ed piece than my usual expository postings.

As much as we despise the murderous maniacs of the Islamic State, they have, like us, a human psyche. The essential features of the psyche are remarkable similar across all races and national boundaries. Even the psyche of the mentally ill is similar to those in normal people, though, of course, the emotional dynamics of the former are more conflicted and intense. To some degree, everyone is challenged by inner conflict in the psyche, and most people are in the dark concerning these psychological dynamics that instigate emotional misery and behavioral self-defeat.

Before discussing those deeper dynamics, let’s consider a wider perspective on the human capacity for destruction. The mayhem produced by the Islamic State might be the leading edge of a growing disunity and disruption that is manifesting in the psyche of a great many people, producing a sweeping epidemic of destructive behaviors. Haven’t technology’s worst side-effects become the terrorism of nature? Isn’t capitalism, as it has mutated, terrorizing labor and the poor? Is it not fitting to suggest that America’s extremist politics have become the terrorism of democracy? Perhaps rank ignorance and widespread narcissism are terrorists of civic virtue.

This Age of Anxiety is convulsing now as terrorism and climate change magnify the stress. A new report finds that middle-aged white Americans are, in increasing numbers, dying from suicide and from drug and alcohol poisoning. Describing the report as a measure of our “existential despair,” Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman says “the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America.” [Read more…]

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The Double Barrels of Gun Mania

Psychological issues lurk in the psyche of staunch gun-rights defenders.

Psychological issues lurk in the psyche of many staunch gun-rights defenders.

We all agree about the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Perhaps we also need to look at some psychological issues influencing staunch defenders of gun rights. Many of these individuals are not paragons of mental health because two of their unrecognized emotional issues are triggering a double-barreled blast of self-defeat.

Before looking down these barrels, let us acknowledge our human temptation to become enthralled by objects such as guns. We love our playthings such as cars and boats. Collectors love their guns, coins, stamps, antiques, model trains, and so on. This interest or fascination can be harmless enough and a source of considerable enjoyment. Yet psychological development is impeded when we use a possession such as a luxury car or expensive painting to provide status or fill an inner emptiness. Our enthusiasm for possessions can rise to the level of a fixation or obsession, at which point our lack of self-development causes us to lose perspective and sell short the richness of our essential self.

Because guns are relatively inexpensive, they’re not usually purchased for status. Instead, they provide two psychological defenses—the double barrels of self-defeat—that make their ownership so desirable. One barrel discharges the illusion of safety and the other the illusion of power. Why do so many gun owners grasp at these illusions or inner defenses? [Read more…]

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