Saturday, June 27, 2015

At The MOMA when the Flag came Down

For reasons that I can hardly understand myself, I was sitting smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, NYC. It is a beautiful night and it has been a stimulating and fascinating day. Of course, it could not be anything else here in the Big Apple. Even thought we were in Brooklyn last December, checking in on a friend's new venture, it seems as if I have been away too long.

I have lived up in New England for the large majority of my years, and I must say my personality blends much better up there.  The quiet reserve and the self depreciation, even if it hides a smug sense of slight superiority, fits me well.  But I was born here, in Brooklyn, and NYC, is and will always be, the center of the universe. It is the place where things really begin, where it all happens, where everyone is.  There are enough people here who care about anything and everything. They make it happen, whatever it is. They come here from all over the world to make it happen. It is brash, noisy, nosey, loud, dirty and crowded. It is diverse, accepting, stimulating, provocative, and inspiring.It is expensive!

We only stayed a couple of days and we have did lots. We went to the MOMA, we went to,the Whitney.  We walked the Highline, we drank at the Carlyle for $20 a pop. We walked up Madison Ave past Gucci, Armani, Loren, Buccelatti, Coach, DKNY, and dozens of others. Rows of places selling watches for $1500, $15,000, $150,000. Handbags,handbags, handbags, I guess everyone needs a dozen, almost,as expensive as the watches. Keep your stuff in them. Your Botox, your Xanex, your iPhone, your make-up and your works.

We were there less than a week after some crazy kid went into a church and murdered Black people.  He acted alone, they say.  But at the MOMA we saw the paintings by  Jacob Lawrence, the Migration Series, that he did  about 80 years ago. In series of 60 pictures he explored how Black People were beaten, exploited, burned out and lynched. Mr. Roof did not act alone, he was part of a long tradition.

At the Whitney there are four floors of over a hundred years so American art.  For a hundred years ( I know it's much more) American artists have shown in many ways, how racism in America is pervasive, how bad times are worse for for poor people. Yet, there are so many rich people who sponsor these artists, and who endow the big new museums that are full of all kind of art that depicts how the rich exploit the poor.

We were there when Obama gave yet another speech about how our country seems to tolerate the senseless killing of innocents on almost a monthly basis.  But it also seemed as if the sun began to peek through the clouds. We were there two days before the Gay Pride parade.  We were there when the Supreme Court handed down the two decisions that seemed to move the world slightly in a different direction. We were in New York when the people in South Carolina began to take down the flag that had been flying for a hundred and fifty years after the war ended.

Does that mean the war is over?  Does that mean that artists can begin to paint more colorful pictures? Maybe not yet. But as all the gay couples stood up straighter, smiled and waved, and felt a bit more a part of our country, and some Balck people see that at least more people are realzing that somethings may have to change, it may mean that Dr. King might be right, and that the long arc of history is pointing a bit more toward freedom.

The sun was shining, people were smiling, and it seemed like everyone, from all over the world, was just hangin' out, enjoying the day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

We Will Do Better!

Last time I deviated from my new policy of being positive and upbeat.  I went back to being realistic, which is never a big seller. I believe everything I wrote, but my marketing department was upset.

By now, it should be obvious to me, if anyone, that blurting out ideas and strong opinions, and then trying to support those ideas with any kind of objective information is never going to convince anyone to change their mind.

If I could have started with the heartbreaking story of one of the victims, or showed a video of the families who have stated that they can forgive the killer, the piece may have been more effective. But I didn't do that. I just listed a bunch of negative historical trends.

So today, I will just say that I will try to go back to finding silver linings. I will try to remember that about 66% of Americans are living pretty decent lives, although at least half of them are pretty stressed out about it. Also, suffering and racism are not uniquely American.  They have been a major trend in the history of the world since before any humanoid creature walked on two legs, or since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, which ever story you want to use as a point of reference.

Please accept my apology for going off on such a rant.  It's not that i am not sincere, or don't believe in anything I said, it's just that I hope I didn't upset anyone.  If I am going to be persuasive I have to be trustworthy and likable. More the later than the former. So please push the "Like" button on my Facebook page (which you won't find because I don't have one).

To end on a note that will make you smile I would have attached a video of my almost two year-old grandson doing his best dance moves in front of a street band last week.  Unfortunately, I don't have a signed release, but you can just imagine a really cute, round,  smiling kid shakin' and groovin'.

Have fun and expect the best!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bang, Bang, (9x) and Sorrow for Our National Memes

Tonight was a beautiful early summer evening.  I sat at the neighborhood park
and listened to a band of old men playing rock tunes from 1960.  The parents of young children danced with their kids.  The older children ran around, playing mixtures of baseball and soccer.  They wore jerseys that read Messi, James, Perdroia, and “Free Brady”. The older people sat on lawn chairs and nodded in time to the music. There were about two hundred people, of almost every race and age out together as a community.
It was the kind of evening I would have loved, but I was distracted by a pervasive feeling of sorrow. I was again, worried about what continually happens in my country. Land of the Free.  Home of the Brave.

I never have met or evaluated Dylann Roof, the adolescent who murdered nine people during their bible study, so it is unethical for me to diagnose him.  But i have known people like him, angry, lost, misguided, racist, violent, paranoid.  Also, given my age, of three score and ten, I can put him in the context of the America I have lived in and see how his actions, like so many before him, are so much a part of the contradictions and conflicts built into our culture.
This is not just a simple act of racism. Yes, it was racist, but he wasn’t a lone, deranged racist, he was part of the culture. Also, he was another in a long line of mass shooters, many of whom, as we have seen lately, are White people shooting Black people.  But it takes many other factors to even allow a disturbed person to have the idea that it is possible to walk into a church and start shooting. 
The most obvious, of course, is racism, which was written in to the Constitution. Black people were the basis of the energy and economic policy of several of the original colonies.  For this to be permitted by our ethical Founding Fathers, Black people could not be considered people. Even the Civil War did not erase this view. Clearly, it still haunts America.

But a confounding, and more complex factor, is the importance of individualism and individual freedom in America.  It is this idea that has exaggerated both America’s strengths and weaknesses.  Individualism has lead to some great new ideas, freedoms, creativity and entrepreneurship.  It is really what attracts people from all over the world to come here and make their own way. Part of the real attraction of America is that people can succeed based upon their own efforts.   In that way, there is no other country comes close.
However, now that the world has become more complex, individualism shows it’s frightening underbelly.  It easily promotes narcissism, which leads to greed and paranoia. Our society has become so complex, with all of us so intertwined that asserting one’s own individualism often invades the space of others. Usually, the rich and powerful invade the space of the poorer and weaker. Those who feel trampled, confused and left behind either become depressed or violent.
It is this distortion of individualism that is woven in with the longstanding American tradition of guns and violence.  The tradition holds that a person has a right to defend himself (him is the defining pronoun), and that he has the right to a gun to do it. That tradition began when the early Europeans drove the Native Americans away.  It has been revised and intensified with anti-government sentiments, since the election of a Black President.

Also, for the last hundred and fifty years America has almost always been at  war. This was viewed as a great strength when the U.S. was the saving force for Europe and Asia when tyrants threatened the world. But now has turned into a never ending, never winnable struggle with a undefined objectives.  The cost of this has been huge, in lives, money, and our views of morality.  We appear to the world, and ourselves also, as killing to make the world safe for big corporations, especially energy companies.  We easily justify killing by declaring we are always right.
Underlying all of this, and really the original and basic cause, is money.  Half of the country feels that the basic American freedom is to be able to make as much money as possible, and any means is acceptable.  That was the original basis of slavery. It is the reason we go to war.  It is what keeps the NRA going.  It is why corporations don’t like government regulation. Money is the way narcissists prove themselves. 

All of these factors have become tightly woven together and have created a society that becomes horrified but does nothing about the killing of dozens of elementary school children, of high school students, of college students, of Black people by White police, of families by their fathers, of wives and girlfriends by the hundreds, of people who may have parked in the wrong place, of kids riding their bicycles in their neighborhoods, or playing basketball, of shoppers in malls, of people sitting at a movie, of people sitting in beauty parlor, of people worshiping at a temple, and now at a church. Add to that the many veterans of those wars who come home and kill themselves. Also the unnoticed but huge amount of white men, usually in their fifties, who blow their own brains out with the guns they have had for years.

Dylann Roof was not one lone deranged person, acting on his own. The was a member of our conflicted society.

This leads to the last point, which is something I am very aware of after forty years as a Psychologist. This type of tragedy is usually labelled the act of someone who is mentally disturbed.Somehow, that seems to end the discussion.  But we know that the mental health treatments available in America range from inadequate to nonexistent. During the forty years that I have been practicing their have been very few innovations in treatment that could have prevented these awful events, and even those are rarely funded or implemented. 
Part of this is because, even more than other complex diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and even ALS or cancer, the causes of emotional and psychological disturbances are complex.  Mental health issues are the result not only of biological factors, which include genetics and brain disorders, but are also affected by family dynamics, cultures and subcultures. Also there are other physical causes such as toxins in the body, physical pain, and traumas both mental and physical. I would guess all of those factors played a role in shaping that Dylann Roof’s ability to kill.  Real treatments need to be more comprehensive and to include input from many professions. 

That would cost money. Money that many individuals are not yet willing to part with for the good of the whole society, a very diverse society.

Can three hundred and fifty years of the shaping of a culture be changed? Yes, it will finally happen when enough people feel that we have all suffered enough.  But tonight, in the friendly park in a prosperous New England suburb, not enough people were suffering. We have learned to let life roll on unless the bullet ripped through our own family. The people we see crying on the news will fade away until next time, which is usually only a week or two away.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Let's Get Happy

I’ve been reading the Sunday papers, and mostly that upsets me, especially when I see that so much really is about issues relating to mental health.  I was going to write, again, about how these issues are handled badly, inefficiently, or mishandled, if they are handled at all.  For many mental health issues the police are the first responders., Some police are very skilled and sensitive, while there are others, who we see of the news, who beat people, humiliate them, or shoot them.

I also question both the motives and the sanity of many of the people who have managed to push themselves into a position of power, either economically or politically. These days, with money being such a factor in how our country is run, it seems as if business owners, the heads of big corporations and just your regular very, very rich people, have all become intertwined.  They then anoint themselves as the “ruling elite,” and set out to inflict their values and views upon the rest of us. Meanwhile most of “the rest of us” is too busy scratching out a living and struggling to find a few moments of peace and relaxation to pay too much attention to how many of the decisions made by those “ruling elites” is making it much more difficult for “the rest of us” to scratch out a living and find a few moments of peace and relaxation.

Then I read a article about the secrets of success and going viral on the Internet.  It turns out that complaining about how things are bad is not one of them.  Everyone knows things are bad; everyone is complaining. What most people are looking for is a brief respite from all of the complaints that I listed above. It's enough already.

But, if I can come up with an enticing heading, with the emotional promise of a short-cut to happiness, and include a cute, heartwarming picture, that will make them happy, everyone will flock to my site.

How misguided I've been to complain, to talk about the deficiencies of mental heath treatment, or how difficult it may be to make big changes in your life, even if it may be helpful to know that.

So, let's skip that and have a good time.

Here's some good advice to make you happy:

Sing, dance and fall in love!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Crazy? or part of the culture?

It summer and time for dancin' in the street.

But, as we can already see, the summer not only rots my brain but it begins to bring out the best and worst in people. Lots of people are out in the streets and lots of things happen. Some of the heat seems to get into the brains of some folks and drives them over the line.

Here is a list of some people who have made the news for shooting people.  You task is determine who among these folks are crazy, who are just part of the culture, and who is just bad guys:

James Holmes, who killed 12 and shot 70 in Aurora CO movie theater.

Michale Slager, who shot a man who was running away from him after a traffic stop in South Carolina

Whoever it was who shot and killed a 16 year-old boy who was riding his bike on a Boston Street yesterday.

Jihad John, the ISIL guy who is in the video executing people.

George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Travon Martin while "standing his ground," but who was NOT arrested in Ferguson,Mo.

Are they crazy? Some and not others?
Are we all crazy?
or is it only me?

Anyway, summer is here.  Use sunscreen. Have fun.