Blog Archives

The Dark Charisma of Donald Trump

FARIAS ON CRUZWhat follows below is a slightly truncated & edited email I sent to Rev. Bert M. Farias in response to a 5-4-16 article of his concerning the ever-growing embrace of Donald Trump by many Republicans, evangelical Christians and others.   

Good Thursday (May 5, 2016), Rev. Farias!

I perused your 5-4-2016 Flaming Herald entry titled How Cruz’s Dropout Exposes the Corruption of the American Soul and thought you might welcome some feedback on it.

First off, I have no doubt but that some of your readers and even supporters (especially any diehard Trump supporters) will take exception with your article and make an exit, stage far right (of course). As you yourself stated, “I know I may lose followers, readers and even friends over this article, but that’s OK”.

I am not a Trump supporter or fellow traveler — quite the opposite actually (I’ve been a democratic socialist since 1986). But even if I were, I would not head for the door after reading your article. One of the things I discovered early on in my work as a theorist is that truth, not only in science but in most other areas of life, is arrived at haltingly in the form of what famed astronomer Edwin Hubble characterized as “successive approximations”.

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Is the Shemitah upon us? (Divine judgment in the form of economic collapse)

By

Anthony G. Payne

Lightning from Blue Cloud

Reports are beginning to surface indicating that retail sources for emergency preparedness or survival gear, dehydrated foods, seeds and such cannot keep up with demand. It isn’t hard to figure out why with articles and tweets and such appearing almost every few minutes on what is happening or lies ahead in term of climate spawned global upheaval, tectonic activity that is triggering volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and other calamities, fracking induced quakes, super droughts and massive wildfires, epidemics, increasing social conflict & unrest and gun violence, economic instability in nations great and small, the unrestrained barbarity of ISIS, not to mention terrorist acts taking place worldwide by people of every extremist stripe, and a seemingly endless litany of calamities both human-made and natural that are sending millions of refugees streaming into Italy, Hungary, and elsewhere. And this hardly begins to scratch the surface of how many ways life is now making various doomsday movies, books and such that appeared in the 1950s,  1960s and beyond almost prophetic.

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What begins with the Confederate battle flag ends where?

By

. Dr. Anthony G. Payne

Battle_flag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America_svg

Judging from articles such as this, this and this, there is now almost a mania sweeping the land to remove every vestige of the Confederacy (Even TV Land got swept up in this by cancelling airing of old “Dukes of Hazzard” episodes) . Don’t get me wrong, I understand why so many people are incensed by Confederate flags and monuments on public lands. And although my ancestors on both the European (paternal) and American Indian (maternal) sides of my family tree lived in the CSA and in some instances served in its armed forces, I have never displayed a Confederate flag in any form anywhere at any time. Nor was the N-word ever uttered by my parents or any expression of religious, ethnic or racial bigotry or elitism. And as for my Civil War era forbearers, most were simple farmers and none owned slaves. As a boy I was told by various relatives that those who donned the grey in our family did so to repel Northern aggression and preserve the rights of individual states to chart their own destiny.

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The road to hell is paved with appeasing evil

If you stayed awake though your high school or college history of western (or world) civilization courses, you may recall lessons concerning the many instances in which ambitious, sometimes wantonly evil leaders probed for weakness in those they opposed and acted decisively when they found it. In light of these dark chapters in the human experiment, what do you think of our administration’s penchant for striking deals with regimes and groups whose expressed political and territorial ambitions are nothing short of one day obliterating those they consider their nemeses?

I am a political liberal, a democratic socialist since 1985, and am perplexed and distressed to see many of this country’s leaders working frantically to appease evil at almost every turn. No, I am no fan of war but I’d be pretty stupid not to realize that evil men tend to sit tight or retreat when confronted by armed opponents who will not back down. Don’t think this is so?  Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine for a moment and set the dial to early 1936:

Nazi Germany’s leader (Fuehrer) Adolf Hitler ordered his army to remilitarize the Rhineland but later remarked that “The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance”.  No one stood up to Hitler. Afterwards he made territorial demands on one country after another, always threatening war but confident that his enemies would do little or nothing to stop him beyond saber-rattling talk while frantically appeasing him in order to avoid war.

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What to do with militant extremists in our midst? It’s a question Americans have faced before

cropped-choices-ms-photo.jpgA lot of people are wrestling with how this country should deal with militant Muslims in our midst. I think most of us have no issue with American Muslims who do not advocate for anything at odds with our US civic virtues and democratic traditions and practices. Concerns naturally arise with US-based Muslims who post, preach and otherwise advocate for the things we hear being said by members of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) and other radical Muslim groups. Many advocate deporting anyone who engages in this sort of thing. Of course, we have homegrown militants in our midst, among them neo-Nazis and Klansmen who preach things that inspire hatred and sometimes violence on the part of their members and sympathizers. One could argue are they are citizens and enjoy certain legal and constitutional protections which renders deportation or “quarantine” a nonissue, but then some extremist Muslims in the US also are citizens (Some born here). Deporting a US citizen to the country their ancestors came from might be emotionally satisfying to some folks but it would open a door that could quickly be abused by the state.

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“Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!”

At the tail end of Stanley Kubrick’s satirical and brilliant 1964 anti-Cold War movie “Dr. Strangelove” the wheelchair bound German scientist (played by Peter Sellers) manages to stand up and take a step or two forward and then excitedly proclaim, “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!” (This was reportedly an unscripted improvisation on the part of actor Peter Sellers) People in the throes of extreme excitement, passion or even religious ecstasy sometimes yell out to God, their mate or, in the case of Dr. Strangelove, to his leader (The American President whom he not infrequently calls “Mein Fuhrer” during the course of Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece).

I suspect Sellers added the dramatic final touch not as an expression of the neurologic malady which landed his character in a wheelchair but, rather, as an upwelling of Dr. Strangelove’s impossible to suppress fascist sentiments and loyalty to Hitler.

In addition, I would offer a slightly different take on Dr. Strangelove’s outburst: I believe it was meant to represent the transcendent march of evil across time. That is, Seller’s was acting out the fact that evil, like death, haunts humankind and is impossible to totally suppress, manage or banish. Of course, we all know that those who do not resist and oppose evil not infrequently find their lives overshadowed by it.

The late writer-director-producer Rod Serling actually captured this theme very adroitly in a 1963 episode of the Twilight Zone titled “He’s Alive” (“He” being Hitler) that focuses on a “bush league Fuhrer” named Peter Vollmer.  

Of course, we all are cognizant of the fact that evil permeates the human experience and has countless modern day incarnations. It is certainly one wheel that gets reinvented without ever showing much wear or loss of perpetrators and victims.  Sometimes, though, the expressions are so continuous across time they appear to come out of some kind of historical-cosmic Xerox® machine. Click these links and reflect for a moment:

 http://weirdthings.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/skitched-20120111-150835.jpg

http://theheartthrills.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/north-korean-soldiers-drilling-2.jpg

OK, so evil is perennial. What we can do about it? Laugh at and ponder comic portrayals such as Seller’s, yes, but never make the mistake of viewing evil people as clowns or easy to control (A mistake many German pre-Nazi leaders made with respect to Hitler and his cronies). But above all learn everything we can about the nature of evil and its subtlest expressions and then work to expose and oppose them.

How do you kill 12 million people? Evil then and now: Recognizing & containing it by Choctaw Doc

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

How do you kill 12 million people? Evil then and now: Recognizing & containing it

Color photo from TIME, Inc.

Color photo from TIME, Inc.

Dr. Anthony G. PayneMy good friend Jim Haverlock recently asked, “How do you kill 12 million people?” He was,  of course,  referring to the Shoah or Holocaust. He wasn’t asking about the nuts & bolts of pulling off mass executions but, rather, how did so many ordinary and even extraordinary men and women willingly take part in Hitler’s Endlösung (Final Solution). This is a question that has intrigued and haunted me since early boyhood actually. In fact, as part of my quest for answers I read all of Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels diaries as a young man plus vol. 1 of “Mein Kampf” (Vol. 2 was unknown when I was a youngster), watched archival film of the Nuremberg & Doctor’s trials, and read just about every substantive book on Hitler, the Nazis and fascism that existed at the time (And everything worth reading on the subject since as well). As anyone reading this who ever took a course in World History knows, both Hitler and Goebbels stressed the use of propaganda and the “big lie” as integral to the creating and sustainment of the Greater Germania they envisioned. And both were extraordinary in their zeal and abilities to forge a monolithic state predicated on a shared national myth, and induce the German people to embrace it via lies, artful use of imagery and symbols, fear, rewards and appeals to entrenched biases that went back not just decades but centuries (Particularly in the case of antisemitism which sadly had its roots in early Christian teachings especially the Hellenized spin on Jesus and his message crafted & promulgated by Saul of Tarsus aka St. Paul. Learn more by reading Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity  by scholar & historian Dr. James D. Tabor).

One place to turn for insight is historian Dr. Daniel Goldhagen’s books plus those of psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo. They do a smashing good job of laying out the historic, sociological, psychological and economic forces, currents and mechanisms that set the stage for the rise of the Nazis and then sustained them once they were in power.

But, even after you’ve read and mastered these works and others like them you likely find yourself still perplexed by the fact so many people down through the millennia and especially during the heyday of fascism could ignore and in many instances take an active hand in wanton cruelty. After nearly a lifetime of studying human cruelty and complicity in cruelty and evil I know there is no simple answer to “why”. Certainly lack of empathy or reduced or impaired empathy for targets/scapegoats is vital to evil and, yes, lies play a powerful role as well, but there is so much more that works to foster wickedness than lies and people’s failure to detect them or act on them or neglect to search them out and deal with them. However, with this said it certain behooves Americans to be vigilant and to call out wrongs and evil as soon as they come to light.

Things are complicated by the fact that evil and good rely on similar mechanisms and tools to govern (God, too, relies on these – see my op-ed piece on this subject titled “Hitler & HaShem at http://www.healingcare4u.org/hitler-hashem.pdf). Heaven knows our government has used lies of varying magnitude to govern across the years of our country’s existence. Probably Nixon and his “Imperial Presidency” took this to a whole new level and set certain wickedness in motion that has grown in scope to this day. In theory, yes, a super crisis or series of crises could lead to martial law and suspensions of Constitutional guarantees. During the Civil War (or as it is better known where I came from, “The War for Southern Independence”) Abraham Lincoln threw many folks who questioned his administration and policies into jail and kept them there, thanks to his having suspended the writ of habeas corpus. However, people rebelled, the press raised hell and the Supreme Court ultimately undid some of the more egregious acts of hegemony. I think any move to contain social disorder by imposition of a police or ultra-authoritarian state would, at the very least, result in the formation of tens of thousands of militias and resistance groups across the land that would make keeping the lid on the pot problematic if not impossible.

Naturally, best to act now and prevent a quasi-police or full-fledged police state then try to overthrow one that is in-place. Keeping our representatives working and honest is certainly part of that.

While no one has knows the full rhyme and reason behind human evil and its various incarnations, it helps to be aware of and reject ideas, movements, and acts that arise from and feed evil: Among them being intolerance, the marginalization and dehumanization of others especially minorities and other vulnerable groups, and unquestioned belief in authority figures and an unwillingness to call them out when they violate the very civil virtues and Constitutional guarantees they are charged with upholding.

I would add this: Although I’ve been a democratic socialist since 1985 I find some ideas and notions articulated by conservatives and even some right wingers of merit. As a Southerner whose ancestors go back to Revolutionary War times (and beyond) in South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi, and whose paternal and maternal forbearers lived under the Stars & Bars (Confederacy) and in some instances fought for the C.S.A., I inherited a mix of ideas and notions, some worthy of consideration if not embrace, others that had no substance when they were articulated long ago and never will.  Of those that I deemed worth hanging onto was the longstanding Southern distrust of a powerful central government running everything including many aspects of people’s everyday lives. Although you might think a democratic socialist would welcome an all powerful centralized government, I emphatically do not. History shows all too clearly that the concentration of power in the hands of strongmen leads to abuses and skullduggery of the worst sort. Actually there are at least a few liberal thinkers who would prefer to see a decentralization of power in the US and other countries, and even the break-up of powerhouse countries into small nation-states (Especially those that are unstable or might become so and with this attempt to retain order and stability by imposition of a police or authoritarian state). I’m sure a world comprised of small, less powerful nations, say, the size of Switzerland, would by no means avoid many of the ills that plague major powers today, but I can’t help think they would have less influence and thus less ability to work evil in the world. And for those that do, their neighbors could form temporary confederations and impose various kinds of sanctions or, when regrettably necessary, military containment (Hey, sometimes the only way to stop a thug is send in the police).

But until power shifts from Washington to the states (if it ever does), best to keep an eye on the politicians on Capital Hill and do everything possible to keep our representatives working, honest and limited in the evil they can do. The same applies to the press and other so-called sacred American institutions.

Dr. Anthony G. Payne (waxing philosophic from his porch swing)

RECOMMENDED ADDITIONAL READING

My spiritual watering hole website: http://summerclouds.weebly.com/

Why does God allow evil (Theodicy)? See Are you an atheist, religionist, deist, fideist or ???

CBN video presentation “God & Hitler”: http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/churchhistory/godandhitler/index.aspx

Restoring Abrahamic Faith by Dr. James D. Tabor

The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity by Dr. James D. Tabor

The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Rev. Jeffrey J. Bϋtz

How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson, Ph.D.

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D.

Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose by Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D.

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

Frankl & Custer: We are all headed to the Little Big Horn

MONTANA VALLEY TOO - Free MorguefileOne of the most beloved verses in the Hebrew Scriptures comes from the 23rd Psalms:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For you are with me”

In Japan, where I lived and taught for many years, a general sense of “gloom & doom” pessimism pervaded the lives of many folks. This was especially evident among my university students. Japan’s protracted economic woes had apparently sapped the vision and vitality out of many of these otherwise industrious, tenacious souls. A great many kids spoke of there being “no real future” for them. Needless to say, depression and despair reared its ugly head fairly often. 

Now reactive depression is a wholly expected and understandable response to intractable adversity or woe. We all have a tendency to get sorely vexed when our lives are turned upside down and held there by trials and tribulations. In such a situation, one tries to console and counsel the suffering as best one can. (A touch of satire and self-deprecating humor sometimes doesn’t hurt either). And this I ably extended to my angst-ridden student charges with varying degrees of success. But more was needed.

The “more”, I reasoned, had to lie in something that would get these kids to change their outlook or perspective on certain aspects of life. To do this I looked to a tried-and-true source for generating insight and encouraging change: history. Specifically, I had my students tackle and examine two notable chapters: Famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s account of his years of struggle in various Nazi concentration camps (as recounted in his timeless classic, “Man’s Search For Meaning”), and the saga of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Dr. Frankl and his imprisoned compatriots suffered cruelly at the hands of sadistic SS guards, all the while struggling with scarcity and living conditions so calculatingly appalling as to beggar the imagination. Mindful that he could not change his circumstances and that his Nazi tormenters could snuff out his life at any minute, Frankl nonetheless felt empowered by a single fact: They could take everything from him but his power to choose how he would react to their brutal actions! And it was this realization that essentially helped buoy up Dr. Frankl during his agonizing walk through the “valley of the shadow of death”!

Frankl emerged from Hitler’s reign of terror intact and went on to establish an influential school of psychotherapy called logotherapy (http://logotherapy.univie.ac.at/). He died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 92, having survived the Third Reich by 52 years.

While Dr. Viktor Frankl was the victim of totalitarian oppression and a state-sanctioned policy of malignant racism and genocide, Brevet Major Gen. George Armstrong Custer stood on the other side of the divide, so to speak. Custer played a somewhat pivotal role in the United State’s 19th century pursuit of lebensraum (“living space”) and its calculated program of conquering and containing indigenous peoples (American Indians). It was not Custer’s successes in the so-called Indian War that helped advance the narrow social and political agenda of his time, but rather his death along with that of over 200 of his soldiers at the Little Big Horn (June 26, 1876). The “massacre” of then Lt. Col. Custer and his troops elicited a massive military response that ultimately led to the total subjugation of American Indians during the early years of the 20th century.   

After my students had fully acquainted themselves with the lives and feats of Dr. Frankl and Lt. Col. Custer, I had them conduct an open comparative analysis of the two (men) for the purpose of extracting principles they felt to be especially insightful and personally meaningful.

Of course, these bright, eager young people came up with an illustrious roster of “goodies”. Among them: The power of choice; how evil seduces people by playing up to their basic desires and egos; the futility of life spent focused on narrow, self-serving and self-aggrandizing goals; the nobility of service to others informed by prior suffering; etc.

After we had reviewed their litany of ideas and comments, I asked them to sum up what we had learned from the lives of Frankl and Custer. The general consensus was that we must all have the power to make choices that will steer us through life; choices that may decide whether we end our days with a tally sheet that favors having achieved something worthwhile,…..or its opposite.

I had only one thing to add to what their conclusion, which was this:

“Each of us is headed into the valley…to our own “last stand”. Whether you get there as a young person or during middle-age or as a very old man or woman,….we all have to the enter the valley and depart this world. No one escapes this fate. But as you correctly surmised, it isn’t that final battle alone that determines the meaning and value of the life you have lived, but what you do in the days, weeks, and years leading up to it. And yes, the impact of your life and the ripples it sets in motion are determined by the choices and subsequent actions you take while en route to the valley.

“Now I have but one final point to make – an admonition, really – which is this:

“If Dr. Frankl could exercise choice in his dire circumstances and by so doing not only survive the fiendish horror that was Nazi Germany, but set in motion ideas that have transformed countless lives ever since,….then certainly you can lay hold of the promise that lies in the abundant choices and options you have in life.”

Of those students who have stayed in contact with me in the intervening years, most appear to have made prudent choices that have helped them forge personally meaningful, productive and fulfilling lives. 

How goes your journey to the valley? 

 http://www.examiner.com/article/frankl-custer

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