Out of the Same Mold as the Great Crash of 2008

 

 

 

 

“I was aware that the loosening of mortgage credit terms for subprime borrowers increased financial risk, and that subsidized home ownership initiatives distort market outcomes.  But I believed then, as now, that the benefits of broadened home ownership are worth the risk.  Protection of property rights, so critical to a market economy, requires a critical mass of owners to sustain political support.”Alan Greenspan, 2007, The Age of Turbulence

“After considerable soul-searching and many Congressional hearings, the current CEO-dominated paradigm, with all its faults, will likely continue to be viewed as the most viable form of governance for today’s world.”Alan Greenspan, early March 2002

“We are not fools.  We bank on the self-interest of our counterparties with whom we trade to foster and protect their reputation for producing quality goods and services.  Just contemplate how little division of labor and wealth creation would be engendered if that were not the prevailing culture in which we lived.”Alan Greenspan, speech before Georgetown, October 1, 2008

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”1 Corinthians 6:12
 

“Perhaps there is a better way, we think so.  For we are now on a different basis of trusting and relying upon God.  We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves.  We are in the world to play the role He assigns.  Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.”AA’s Big Book, Chapter 5,“How It Works,” soon after the model searching and fearless moral inventory, in which what’s really confessed is the resentment that one feels, as if perturbed feelings are what’s the problem.

 


 

 

“I do not want the peace that passeth understanding.  I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”—Helen Keller

 




Table of Contents
 
 

Very likely, you could very consistently see victim correction as a panacea, being used as a panacea.  Time after time, you could see people who are clearly beleaguered by others, being treated as if, if they only took care of their own problems, that would be the most reliable self-reliant and forgiving way to solve their problems.  You can see an unanimity among those around you, that the average Westerner would associate with authoritarianism.
 
 

Such coping skills that must work in all circumstances, could lead to some strange distortions in our thinking.  What in other circumstances would have to be taken seriously, might have to be trivialized, and the victim’s responsibility magnified.  Right now we can’t believe that those on Wall Street were that irresponsible, but as it was happening, it seemed only natural both for them, and for their cheerleaders who fought for deregulation.
 
 

My own experience started just after I got my engineering degree, and discovered that in any given year 20,000,000 Americans suffer a serious depressive disorder.  In college I’d known a bunch of chronically depressed guys, so I knew just how serious this is, along the lines of, “One depression is a tragedy; twenty million depressions is a statistic.”
 
 

  Usually, my kind of people are fiery but impulsive, so I’ve seemed to have a codependent attraction to irresponsible people.  This got me involved with a codependency group, etc., where I saw exactly this absolutist victim-blaming.  I saw largely the same victim-blaming that Susan Faludi wrote of in Backlash.
 
 

The big difference between Faludi’s group and mine, was that hers stressed acceptance and mine stressed fighting back.  Yet the fighting back was as purely defensive as is the fight or flight of a prey animal being attacked.  Yet the main thrust of this group’s discussions was how to get self-determination through fight or flight.  After all, if you live with a butthead, fight or flight is self-empowering. Whether you’re a winner or a loser, you’re a success or a failure, you’re adequate or inadequate, etc., would depend on whether your fight-or-flight wins or loses, succeeds or fails, is adequate or inadequate in handling whatever the butthead bring about.  That was Out of the Same Mold as the Great Crash of 2008, since both focused on self-responsibility.
 
 

This reminded me of the irrational self-blame that I saw among the chronically depressed guys I knew.  If one who unambiguously is being victimized, assesses the situation in terms of how well he’s emotionally and physically dealing with it, then if he’s devastated, he’ll figure that he must be devastatingly flawed.  And sure enough, soon after I read that the cognitive distortions of depression that are unique for Western and Westernized people, can be boiled down to, “In dealing with my own problem, there’s no room for error, and there’s always room for improvement.”

 

About a year after this, a sincere guy but someone of the type I’m most compatible with, claimed that he’d hire me, though this didn’t have much basis in reality.  People responded to this in a way very similar to the way that that codependency group assigned personal response-ability, that the active one has the rights, the passive one has the response-abilities, and all sorts of destructive behavior could seem like slightly excessively normal human imperfection which is naturally the sinner’s right and the victim’s response-ability.
 

Those people had a conception of what it means not to take a statement literally, as hypocritical and duplicitous as the attitude shown in the old Victorian joke, “If a lady says ‘No,’ she means ‘Maybe.’ If she says ‘Maybe,’ she means ‘Yes.’ And if she says ‘Yes,’ she’s not a lady.”  What I kept hearing was, in essence, “If an assured businessman says ‘Yes,’ he means ‘Maybe.’ If he says ‘Maybe,’ he means ‘No.’ And if he says ‘No,’ he’s not an assured businessman.” 
 
 

During my wait for that boss, more of the same.
 
 

Everything that I heard throughout, was the same as what I heard in that codependency group, the same attitude that if it’s your problem, it’s your problem.  This was also the attitude of Enron, that it’s good to determine what one deserves according to what he wins, bad to determine it according to what Reaganomics would call “victimology.” 
 
 

These are basically the same as the presumptions behind self-help in general, which also arose out of the Reaganomics mold.  Some of those who worked for Enron said that it had a very exciting atmosphere, well, that was also the appeal of Reaganomics and that sort of self-empowerment.
 
 

Here are pertinent excerpts from other notes I took at around that time.
 
 

So here’s a part of those notes, and a brief explanation of some of the terms I used.
 
 

The handwritten notes.
 
 

The notes I electronically saved.
 
 

 

(a barbecue apron from Lehman Brothers, in which high yield is a euphemism for high risk, but that means high excitement)



 

hen those around you, trendy advice books that discuss who’s personally responsible for what, etc., all express the same absolutist criteria that remind you of the distorted ways in which you’ve heard depressed people blame and hate themselves, and then you read that intercultural studies have found that depressed people having these cognitive distortions is unique to your sort of culture, that really tells you something.  As The Speed Culture by Lester Grinspoon, MD and Peter Hedbloom, from 1975 and about how many mainstream Americans of that era felt that readily prescribing amphetamines didn’t deserve the stigma that street drugs got since prescribed doses of amphetamines made people more productive, says, “...what a society regards as reasonable is unavoidably (and not irrationally) inseparable from its traditions and self-image.”  Our society is very concerned with people living up to their own personal responsibility.  Since nothing in our lives occurs in a vacuum, who’s responsible for what can often be subjective, especially when you consider all the mitigating factors it would involve.  The entire unredacted Serenity Prayer as originally written by Reinhold Niebuhr, one of America’s most beloved, says, “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it; Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next—Amen.”

 

 

 

 

It’s obviously impossible to have a reductio ad absurdum of this, since all hardship sinfulness and surrender qualifies.

The sort of of expectations that our culture tends to make regarding who is personally responsible for what, can get pretty unbalanced.  If you’re strong then naturally you’d courageously change reality, and if you’re weak then naturally you’d serenely accept reality.  I have a whole webpage full of examples of guides to how we’re to treat our rampant depression, as if personal responsibility tends to go to the untermenschen.

For example, the homepage of the Mental Illness—What a Difference a Friend Makes website, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, says, “An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older—about one in four adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”  As the title suggests, this website is about getting the friends of the 26.2% of the American adult population, to support these people rather than stigmatizing them.  The ways in which one friend treats another, is one of the few sociological factors of this huge social problem, that we could honorably take seriously.  If we take the other sociological factors seriously, we could seem to be trying to manipulate like untermenschen, and/or to restrict the übermenschen.

Also, the Learning About Depression webpage on the Zoloft website, says, “If you have depression, this sad mood along with other symptoms can last weeks, months, or even years if not treated.  Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw.  It’s a real medical condition, but there are ways to successfully treat depression....  Depressive disorders affect about 34 million American adults.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’ve seen ads and other guides that say things like this, you may have thought, “So how am I supposed to fit in with all this?  It seems only natural to deal with this social problem, as if it’s just another biological disease that’s a part of the natural order.  It seems that the question to ask is whether this consists of 34,000,000 rather severe character flaws, or 34,000,000 rather severe medical conditions.  And of course, “character flaw” means the untermensch character flaws that depressed people could seem to have, not the übermensch character flaws of those who traumatize others.  We don’t pass judgment on the übermenschen, only the untermenschen who don’t seem to be taking care of their own problems well enough.  It’s no wonder that what seems only natural under these norms, causes such an unnaturally high rate of depression!  Yet under these norms, the expectations made of you will be based on the presumption that of course the vicissitudes that contribute to the rampant depression are only natural, so of course if you don’t deal with them then you’re the one who has the bad character that people won’t accept as one of life’s inevitable imperfections!  Apropos of that norm, how much lowering of that unnaturally high rate of depression would seem centrist, and how much would seem radical?”

In fact, if an American did care, to a degree and with a persistence that would be worthy of this social problem, that depressive disorders affect about 34,000,000 American adults, you could bet that he’d be treated as if what he’s supposed to do is NOT CARE.  If he does, plenty of untermensch attributes would be attributed to him, such as: weak, passive, whiny, bitter, resentful, manipulative, insidiously self-interested, counterproductive, troublemaking, controlling, restrictive, blaming, excuse-making, anti-freedom, intellectualist, self-righteous, self-pitying, subjective, unrealistic, immature, negativist, defeatist, melodramatic, emotionalist, and judgmental.  It’s pretty safe to say that there’s always an out, in that if the person who has the problem wants to be well-adjusted and non-passive, then she’ll see how what caused the problem is at least excusable, and how much she plays an active role.  Everyone knows that what’s at fault, is inside the millions of victims.

 

 

What contributes to our rates of depression, anxiety, etc., has to be out of the same mold as what caused the Great Crash of 2008, that is, the same sort of cultural norms that are reflected in the cognitive distortions of modern Western depression, anxiety disorders, etc.    Intercultural studies have consistently shown that depressed people who’ve lived in developed areas outside of the modern West have tended to feel paranoid, but modern Westerners, whether depressed or not, tend to figure that even if someone did “get you,” that would mean only that you lost the battle so you’re a loser.  Taming the Tyrant, Treating Depressed Adults, by Dr. Dean Schuyler, says, “In the 1970s, Roth, et al. found ‘inappropriate guilt’ associated as often with anxiety syndromes as with depression, raising questions about its specificity.”

 

 

David D. Burns, MD wrote in his self-help book on cognitive therapy for depression, Feeling Good [and, of course, self-help cognitive therapy for depression would have to mean correcting the victims’ thoughts], that the “Cognitive Distortions” of modern Western depression are: All-or-Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filter, Disqualifying the Positive, Jumping to Conclusions, Magnification [of what’s wrong with the depressed or right with others] or Minimization [of what’s right with the depressed or wrong with others], Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements [Dr. Burns says, “‘Musts’ and ‘oughts’ are also offenders.”], Labeling and Mislabeling, and Personalization [which Dr. Burns defines as, “You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.”]  The social problems of our rampant depression, anxiety, etc., would have to be fostered through All-or-Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filter, and Disqualifying the Positive, since in the real world either the victims of anything deal with their own problems adequately or they don’t, no specifics besides pragmatism matter, they must focus their attention on correcting what they can (themselves), and partial successes aren’t good but bad.  The gutsy thinking that led to the Crash would also have to fit this pattern, since the pragmatism of what works was in control, as well as the emotional norms that admire self-reliant strength and feel contempt for victimhood aren’t relative partial, or conditional.  The pragmatism of both of these, as well as cleaning up the messes that result from both of these, would have to involve jumping to conclusions, both because the victims are in panic states, and also because they probably don’t have complete information.  Both would have to involve magnification of what each person could courageously change (what’s tactically wrong with his own reactions), and minimization of what he must serenely accept (what’s morally wrong with others’ actions).  Both would have to involve emotional reasoning, both because after the problems happen the victims would be in panic states, and also because, both before and after the problems happen, those involved would tend to get  emotionalistic labels, such as the people who caused the problems being dynamic and pro-freedom (or at least forgivable), and the victims being pathetic and controlling (and not forgivable, since if everyone were forgiven, who’d clean up the messes?).  The whole idea of both would be Should Statements, that the victims should courageously change what they could (themselves) and serenely accept what they can’t (others), even when this means, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” since that’s reality.  Labeling and Mislabeling are also necessary for both, since both must label each person involved, according to a form of pragmatism and standard for what is and isn’t honorable, that would otherwise be pretty indefensible.  And Personalization is the whole idea, since if you ever responded to a believer in The Serenity Prayer, by saying, “But just because I could courageously change that doesn’t mean that I’m primarily responsible for it, so don’t correct my inadequacies in changing it!” he’d probably get

 

That is, treated as Ayn Rand would have treated someone who’s refusing to take responsibility for his own problems well enough.  As any cognitive therapist could tell you, no matter what is the rate of depression, anxiety, etc. in the society of a depressed, anxious, etc., person, if his thinking becomes well-trained, he’ll become well-adjusted, and from this sort of pragmatism, one’s outlook about such situations must follow.  Victimhood doesn’t produce anything, so why should we give it any credit?  The ends justify the means, since as the ends, functionability and good coping skills, are necessary.  If the ends didn’t seem to justify the means, then what needed to get done, might not get done.  There is no alternative to self-motivated productivity, so you won’t see any cognitive therapy books that teach people how to think in ways that would keep them from contributing to our rampant depression and anxiety, other than books for the management of anger, etc., that undoubtedly goes too far.  No cognitive therapy book would ever be titled, “Others Feeling Safe.”  If those who caused the big problems on Wall Street were to write self-help books for people in trouble, then as long as they kept their language diplomatic, their expectations that these victims fight for themselves along the lines of Financial Darwinism, would probably benefit them by making them more likely to succeed, rather than whining about what’s right and wrong, fair and unfair.

In fact, the problems resulting from the Great Crash are basically the same as are many of the problems that contribute to our rampant depression, anxiety disorders, etc.  As Larry Beinhart, in his book Fog Facts, described how Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” really works, “If lots of people are making lots of different choices, some of them are bound to be right sometimes.  Many people are still making stupid choices, but when they fail, not everybody fails with them.”  Also, some of the self-interested choices would hurt others more than help them, but enough choices help others more than hurt them, that we could still have reason to believe.  What led to the Crash is that the stupid and destructive choices were relatively greater than usual.  But usually, enough people are devastated by others’ stupid and/or destructive choices, to cause our rampant depression, anxiety, etc., and to require that everyone’s rights and responsibilities be seen along the lines of the pragmatism that holding the victims responsible is what works.  It really isn’t a coincidence that the history of Enron, and the history of the Great Crash, were very similar, starting out with the public treating those who caused the problems as if they were gutsy and creative-destructive in a way that the economy requires, and then when the problems are discovered, everyone is shocked and “whiny.”

Some years ago, I had an experience with “business as usual,” that involved many, many people responding to it in a way that’s very similar to the sort of logic that, for decades, has fostered what has now caused the financial meltdown.  Sure, in my own experience, I was a potential employee.  When most potential employees who are harmed by business as usual try to get fairness, the current cultural norms are far more likely to tell them that they’d better just deal with their own problems, than our norms are to tell cheated investors that they’d better just deal with their own problems.

Also, both in my case and regarding the financial crisis, this acceptance wasn’t a proud advocating of sacred principles regarding individual rights and responsibilities, but a headgame in which the expectations are implied, and if anyone explicitly states what they are, he’d be giving the game away.  In essence, the principles that I kept hearing, time and time again, was that what the boss did to me involved his rights and my responsibilities to take care of myself by protecting myself better, and that this was because what he did was just slightly excessively normal human imperfection, private property rights involve the right to be imperfect, and everyone knows that normal people deal with imperfection.  Of course, there’s no way to measure how much recklessness is too much, and even if there were, there’d be no way to stop too much recklessness in situations like mine, so there’d be pretty much no limits to this, unless it’s done in a way for which the law holds people accountable, and the victim has the financial resources to hold him accountable.

This headgame is similar to the fact that the entire unredacted Serenity Prayer as originally written by Reinhold Niebuhr, includes, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it.”  If one said explicitly that “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” could imply, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” if the circumstances were bad enough, he’d be giving the game away.  Yet if your realities did involve hardship and/or others’ sinfulness, then “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” would have to mean, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,” and/or, “Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” and if you didn’t adjust to, adapt to, function with, fit in with, and feel content with, your realities like this, you’d seem to be a maladjusted maladaptive and dysfunctional, misfit and malcontent.  There is no alternative.

An editorial in the Financial Times of October 13, 2008 said,

So, does this rescue mean the end of private financial capitalism?  Of course not.  Although the size of the crisis requires an exceptional response, this is but the latest in a long line of banking crises and state rescues.  Nationally owned banks seem likely to be a reality in many countries for a decade.  In the next great financial crisis – rest assured, there will be others – bank rescues with equity purchases may be a first step rather than a last resort.  But stakes in banks will, eventually, be sold back to private investors.  Governments – rightly – will regulate to avoid further crises.  They will fail, and then be forced to act to pick up the pieces.  There is no alternative.

Of course, each time that this happens, risks total disaster.  On October 17, 2008, during the crisis meeting between the White House and Congressional representatives about the financial meltdown, Ben Bernanke said about the bailout they already had planned, “If we don’t do this, we may not have an economy on Monday.”

What we’d be forced to do over and over isn’t a matter of, “picking up the pieces,” though that’s what it might look like to the private bankers who screw everything up and then, a decade later, are once again given the opportunity to invest in the re-built banks.  As a Washington Post article of February 17, 2009, Swift, Steep Downturn Crosses Globe, begins, “Markets around the world plunged Tuesday as evidence mounted that the global economic crisis is worsening....  The sharpness of the global slowdown has alarmed economists, who see no obvious engine for recovery.”  The next day the Federal Reserve made its predictions about the economy considerably more pessimistic.  The day after that, the Dow Jones industrial average hit a more than 6-year low, and Gary Hager, president of Integrated Wealth Management, said, “The government is doing everything and anything to right this ship, but the big liquidity players, the hedge funds and the mutual funds, are hoarding cash.”  Yet if there’s no alternative, then that’s reality.  If the hedge funds and the mutual funds hoard cash, then everyone simply must accept that there is no alternative to all the participants acting in their own self-interests.

Also, though this accepts regulation, you could bet that before each disaster the financial companies would have lobbied to minimize regulation, and that plenty of high-status people would have cheered this as pro-freedom, pro-innovation, pro-efficiency, etc.  You could also bet that, since it’s pretty much impossible to define legally, let alone recognize, every form of risky greed, plenty of it would have gone on, and, at the time, would have been cheered as pro-freedom.  It would seem that there is no alternative to this, since that’s human nature.  Our society certainly produces more-than-natural rates of depression, anxiety disorders, etc.; as that Zoloft webpage says, “Depressive disorders affect about 34 million American adults.”  Yet the causes of that could still seem to be life’s inevitable vicissitudes, and there is no alternative to that.

 

 

Even back when I had my bad experience with business as usual, I realized that the whole idea of victim correction as a panacea is that since the people who have the problems are always the ones who are the most motivated to solve them, unconditionally holding them personally response-able until they succeed, which would include, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” is

Pat Buchanan, in a syndicated column in 1977, wrote, “...despite Hitler’s anti-Semitic and genocidal tendencies, he was an individual of great courage...  Hitler’s success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone.  His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path.”  The “defects of character” stressed by AA’s Big Book, resentment anger and fear in general, are the same as what Buchanan and Hitler meant by “character flaws,” i.e. not handling one’s own problems (whatever they may be) with enough stolid and self-reliant backbone.  “Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” as well as, “Whatever your problem is, courageously change what you can and serenely accept what you can’t,” also define “character flaws” as supposed weakness masquerading as morality.

Niebuhr was a hell-raiser, before Stalinism made him fatalistic about human nature.  Yet if any organization preaches the Serenity Prayer at people, the final result would be the same, that self-reliant STRENGTH seems good, and weakness that tries to get persuasive strength from emotion and/or abstractions seems intolerably bad.  As the history of The AA School of Self-Help Psychology shows, Nazism, minus anti-Semitism and committing outrageous aggression, equals taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as you’d have it.

Manic-Depressive Illness, Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression, by Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin and Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, says, in its chapter on personality differences, “Character has been defined as ‘personality evaluated’—that aspect of an individual which bears a moral stamp and reflects the person’s integrative and organizing functions.  The concept of character is employed less frequently in the United States than in Europe, although it is often used interchangeably with that of personality.”  Actually, the word character is used plenty in the United States, whether it be in comments on depression or from the likes of Pat Buchanan and Frank Buchman, to pass judgment on how integrated and organized are traumatized people.  After all, such judgments aren’t moralisticSomeone absolutely has to provide our society’s homeostasis, since things simply have to remain integrated and organized.

Following are discussions that I had about my own previous experience with this sort of self-righteousness, with many diverse people in Tucson.

My discussions were with enough people, yet showed such consistency, that they could be called an informal anthropological survey, reflecting what sort of helplessness our culture normalizes.  If you had the same sort of discussions with those around you, you could clearly see personal responsibility for a problem being given to whoever’s welfare is at stake irrespective of any particularities of the situation, even those that could be called morally and/or materially grievous.

 

 

 he Tragedy of Victim Correction as a Panacea~

 

 

  As the above says, this is Al-Anon approved literature, for Alateen.  You couldn’t make this stuff up!  Persuading people to think like this works best with Groupthink, but if you, on your own, must deal with a devastating reality in order to fit in and function, then you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and our self-responsible cultural norms (“Everybody knows that The Serenity Prayer is good.”) would provide the Groupthink.  As Addiction: Why Can’t They Just Stop?, by John Hoffman and Susan Froemke, says, in a survey of addicts’ family members, “...the words that everyone used were powerfully negative: ‘devastating,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘horrible’.”  Yet no concerns that would interfere with the victims’ self-responsibility could matter, since in the long run, caring about them would only mollycoddle and weaken the people who’d have to take care of themselves optimally.  Victim-blaming is incentives-based.  George Vincent wrote, “To survive growing up in an alcoholic family is second only to surviving the Holocaust,” but the big difference is that despite the fears that addicts’ kids feel, they aren’t really in mortal danger, so Buddhists, etc., could say that these fears are only illusions.  Victim correction as a panacea could be called chicken soup for the soul, unconditional serenity and courage.  If that’s stooping to the lowest of the low, then sometimes we’ve got to stoop to the lowest of the low in order to make sure that problems get solved by those who have the most reliable motivation to solve them.  Moral relativism becomes amoral absolutism; “Your righteous objections are only your opinion!” becomes, “Your righteous objections are only your self-righteous, resentful, manipulative, controlling, unpragmatic, whiny, judgmental... opinion, and you simply can’t afford those disgraceful victim attitudes!”

Yet though it might seem only natural to want to feel better by practicing Buddhistic self-discipline and self-re-education, and this doesn’t involve any medication, this is hardly natural.  In the words of Ayn Rand, “We the Living” could very much object to this sort of de rigueur coping with helplessness, Stoically!  Yet though a Marxist mentality of, “Love your brother,” is supposed to degrade the natural human spirit, a requisite mentality of, “As long as it’s your problem, ‘self-responsibility’ means courageously changing whatever you can and serenely accepting whatever you can’t,” mustn’t, or you might have problems coping with reality.  (Everybody loves The Serenity Prayer, right?)  In general, we do revere self-responsibility for one’s own welfare, and don’t revere self-responsibility for how one’s own choices affect others.  Victim-power seems to be the tyranny of helplessness, though, “But look at how helpless I am about what I did!” is the ultimate tyranny of helplessness.

In general, this sort of self-help is cognitive therapy, the modern version of behaviorist psychology, so this can be given the title of behaviorist B. F. Skinner’s classic book, Beyond Freedom & Dignity, pragmatic in such a way that’s far more important than such abstract niceties.  This represents what is good, what most motivates people to do what must get done, which is what those who have the problems should want.  If, instead, the advisee insisted on drawing his own honest well-founded conclusions about what was happening to him, he’d be told that he’d better realize how important it is that he think in whatever ways would maximize his chances of self-reliant success in solving such big problems.  What else could Alateen members, etc., be told, “Go right ahead and fail to deal with your problems adequately.”?

This self-help logic could be used interchangeably for all sorts of problems, including exploitative lovers of every variety, unemployment, and literally even cancer and getting up the mettle to fight it.  Responsibility for one’s own choices means blame, naiveté, and controlling (As Niebuhr wrote in Moral Man and Immoral Society, “The power necessary to control the wicked is the danger, not the wicked,” and chances are that most of what contributes to our very unnaturally high rate of depression, isn’t even truly malicious.), while response-ability for one’s own problems means self-reliance, realism, and freedom.  Claiming, “You caused your own problem,” makes Victim Correction as a Panacea sound the most justifiable, while, “You’ve simply got to take response-ability for your own welfare, your own problem,” is the fallback position, since all problems must get taken care of.  The self-help formula for conflict resolution is for general public consumption, and it works.  If such sophistry weren’t so predictable and absolutist, just think of how often people could: lose faith, play the victim role, not do what needs to get done (by those most motivated to do it), etc.  Like Sarah Palin, this has both the appeal of going rogue, and the appeal of conformity.  America’s latest, most trendy, patriotic song begins, “If tomorrow all the things were gone, I’d worked for all my life.  And I had to start again, with just my children and my wife.”

In theory this means self-responsibility, self-reliance, gutsiness, anti-controlling, good coping skills, realism, conventionality, respectability, etc., but in practice this means that nothing except, “Can I change this?” including the most basic morality and concern for the weak, can really seem to matter.  Sure, you could recognize that destructive sinfulness is destructive sinfulness, but in the end you’d have to forgive it, or you’d be maladjusted and suffer the consequences of this weakness.  (“YOU VILL ENJOY!”)  Frank Buchman, leader of the Oxford Groups, the club on which AA and then Al-Anon was based and until recently was called “Moral Re-Armament,” (Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here, from 1935, includes Buchman in its list of currently trendy “Messiahs.”) said, “D’you know Heinrich Himmler?...  Say, you ought to know Heinrich.  He’s a great lad....  [Hitler] lets us have house-parties whenever we like.”  Anti-Nazi British travel-writer and journalist Robert Byron, who got a chance to observe Nazism up close, wrote in his diary, “Himmler apparently dotes on the Oxford Group [How cute.] and writes to its English members discussing their troubles with them,” so he was their Dear Abby.  This was the same Himmler who said, in his speech on October 4, 1943 to the SS Group Leaders in Poznan, “Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand.  To have stuck it out and at the same time—apart from exceptions caused by human weakness—to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard,” but that personal strength concerned one of the Nazi practices that Buchman didn’t like.  It’s pretty obvious what the “Dear Abby” version of that would advise those in trouble, who are members of an honored group of people who are working on their own resolute and impassively accepting attitudes.  Anything less than, “Happiness is an inside job,” (in general), or, “Things happen.  It’s what we do when they happen that’s key,” (in general), would have been too weak-spirited and blaming for Himmler, so he was their perfect “Dear Abby.”  The only suggestions that Himmler would have made in a Dear Abby letter, including one to an addict’s family member, would have been, (1) courageously change what you can, and, (2) serenely accept what you can’t, since anything else would have mollycoddled WEAKNESS.

Himmler Logic, after all, would focus on whether the person with the problem seems to have a weak (as in literally WEAK) character, and would be quick to interpret inadequacies in problem-solving as weaknesses of character, so the weak seem contemptible, blameworthy, and, possibly, insidiously dangerous.  This self-responsible self-help approach is also like the “exemplary dualism” of the Militia Movement, like classifying people as redbloods or mollycoddles, or as übermenschen or untermenschen; this preaches that those who seem to have (literally) strong characters are the allies of decent people so are at least forgiven, and those who seem to have (literally) weak characters are the enemies of decent people.  This leads to some predictable distortions in our conceptions of right, wrong, shame, etc.  Take the Nazi might-makes-right ethos, remove the racism and war crimes, and you’d have what Western culture considers to be the only conception of personal responsibility that works, which is what Hitler’s Wagner’s and Nietzsche’s main inspiration, Schopenhauer, actually wrote about.

This was the original middle-class going rogue with conformity.  As It Can’t Happen Here says, “Why, there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical—yes, or more obsequious—than America,” and devotion to anything that would imply, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” would require obsequiousness of Biblical proportions.  The question of whether “it” can happen here, all depends on whether or not “it” includes the aspects of Nazism and Himmler that Buchman’s formula for living didn’t include; if not, “it” happens every day.  The “it” in It Can’t Happen Here included merely an ambiguous, covert, attitude-of-gratitude racism (“It was understood... that all Jews of all conditions were frequently to sound their ecstasy at having found in America a sanctuary, after their deplorable experiences among the prejudices of Europe....  The allegiance of all such Negroes as had the sense to be content with safety and good pay instead of ridiculous yearnings for personal integrity Sarason got by being photographed shaking hands with the celebrated Negro Fundamentalist clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Alexander Nibbs, and through the highly publicized Sarason Prizes for the Negroes with the largest families, the fastest time in floor-scrubbing, and the longest periods of work without taking a vacation.”), so the “it” in modern America could include merely an ambiguous, covert, attitude-of-gratitude form of the strong horrifying the weak.  A classic cliché expression is, “There is no alternative,” to the power dynamics of our economy, and another way to say this is that there is no alternative besides dictatorship and/or Zimbabwe-style economic failures, so every time that these power dynamics horrify us, we should be grateful that we’re not instead dealing with dictators’ outrages, and/or economic failures including massive unemployment, irrespective of any indefinable abstractions such as integrity.  If you’re in a Wagnerian conflict, and you simply must deal with your realities, then you simply must deal with them as Schopenhauer prescribed.  The psychology of, “You don’t want to think/act like a weak person, do you?” could be called a form of neo-Nazism.

 

 

Yet, in a society with rampant depression, one could just as easily call that “pragmatic logic”: the weak courageously change what they can (themselves) and serenely accept what they can’t (everyone else), and what one deserves is completely irrelevant.  You can’t change your enemies, except for one.  Yet the limits of the threshold of human endurance are a fact, and if we don’t deal with it, it will deal with us.

“Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it,” is all about what the weak should do, believe, and take responsibility for.  Even sophisticated psychology tends to classify people, aspects of human nature, desires, etc., into categories that are very German, Freudian: übermensch means ineradicable so at least forgivable, while untermensch means true shamefulness, suspiciousness.  (And, of course, treating this moral bankruptcy as necessary for realism seems a lot better than does treating this as admirably open-minded and gutsy.)  These Oxford members no doubt tended to take his ideas about coping skills, to heart, since they wanted self-improvement that would build fiber.  After all, we must accept that if you win, you win, and if you lose, you lose.  That self-responsible self-motivation is also how, and why, market discipline works; we must discipline even perfectly innocent failures.  The more that the weakness of the weak is blamed (What exactly is to blame when someone doesn’t protect himself well enough to succeed?): the more that they’d be motivated to take responsibility for taking care of themselves, the more hope that they’d have that they could change what causes their problems (themselves), and the more that we could all have faith in this red-blooded worldview.   Prejudice against the weak means an optimistic and patriotic faith in The System, and focusing on how the weak could hopefully solve their own problems if only they made themselves worthy, changed what they can.   Übermensch imperfection such as sinfulness would have to seem at least forgivable, while untermensch supposed imperfection would have to seem to be an insidious (as in “the hidden lie,” and, “We are all victims of victims.”) expression of weak people’s SELF-WILLS.  Dictator or no dictator, just about all of those in any society must define “personal responsibility” in basically the same predictable way and truly believe it, or different people would play by different rules, and plenty of people wouldn’t take the rules to heart when fortitude would be most necessary.  No doubt plenty of Oxford members who weren’t Himmler’s advisees, could have been just as easily, since they were just as free of whiny resentment; all “good” members followed the same school of psychology.

 

 

As far as self-help is concerned, the bottom line is that you’re simply going to have to deal with your own problem whatever it may be, and expectations that one simply deal with normal problems are interchangeable with expectations that one simply deal with an addict in the family.  “Personal strength,” “strength of character,” etc., tend to mean literally strength, transcending “weak” but natural and warranted feelings.  As Langdon Gilkey’s On Niebuhr says, “Thus transcendence is perhaps the key word in Niebuhr...”  For anyone in trouble, this would be: self-help, self-responsibility, self-care, self-protection, self-actualization, self-empowerment, etc.  As any conservative social analysis would say, you, that teen who looks like Archie, etc. could think productively, or think counterproductively (though if you’re the problem person, then probably we’ll just have to accept your counterproductive thinking, since people aren’t perfect and we mustn’t try to re-engineer human nature).  The effects of “Archie’s” dad’s actions are short-term (since others are motivated to resolve them), but the effects of Archie’s reactions are long-term (since others aren’t).  Twisting reality in “positive” ways is realistic, since it increases people’s chances of success.  Archie’s non-addicted parent (who’d really have to have a Gelassenheit “productive” attitude, what with all that she must do to make her family as normal as possible), has just as much autonomy as does the typical adult, since addicts’ power over others is physical, not authoritarian.

In general, motivation is everything; irrespective of moral responsibility, addiction or lack of it, etc., the only personal responsibility that we could count on is one in which those held responsible for problems are those motivated to take responsibility.  Charles P. Pierce’s Idiot America, How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, says, “The [conservative] movement swallowed whole the quack doctrine of supply-side economics, adopting it with almost comically ferocious zeal,” and self-help, also, must follow this pattern, since in a gutsy and as-uncompromising-as-reality fashion, it holds that no matter how much others are responsible for your problems: if you win you win and if you lose you lose, that’s what’s realistic (what most reliably works), and that stupidity is a virtue in the name of freedom.  (We all know where intellectualism leads.)  Idiot America also says about a Cuban-American refugee who worked with AIDS patients in the early 1980s, “The situation reminded her a little of the way things had worked in Cuba, where the government would tell you something that you knew from your own experience could not possibly be true, yet people seemed willing to believe that it was, and to act upon that belief, until the manufactured reality displaced the actual one [which is also the classic definition of brainwashing, washing the brain of “bad attitudes”].  She felt she was working in parallel worlds.  There was the world of the disease, and of the people who had it; and then there was another world, in which everything was a symbol and in which her patients stood for something,” and one could say the same thing about this sort of self-help, where there’s the world of what people like Archie must actually deal with, and then there’s the world of what they symbolize: our duties regarding the never-ending virtues and necessity of response-ability for one’s own welfare, which shape what we should believe irrespective of what we’ve learned from experience, e.g. that Archie looks at himself.  (Marxism applies how cultural conditioning works, to shaping “the ideal society,” right?)

 

 

It’s amazing which moral norms could (i.e. must) seem less important than whether or not the person with the problem is doing what’s necessary for him to overcome it successfully.  That seems good; “whining” seems bad.  What’s most important in practical terms, might go very much against what we’d like to believe is important.  Banalities get things done.  Realism is the ultimate mandate.  This is the sort of Populism that H. G. Wells called “magnificent stupid honesty,” adamantly anti-manipulative-morality, so this sort of supposed populism would adamantly accept what causes 15% of the adult population to suffer serious depressive disorders in any given year.  (This “honesty” often has big unintended consequences, but could seem all-important.)  “Stop doing that, since it’s judgmental and controlling!” would probably make you at least hesitant, but, “Stop doing that, since that sort of thing has been proven to contribute to our very unnaturally high rates of depression and anxiety disorders!” would probably seem judgmental and controlling to you.  If this weakness-anathematizing conception of personal responsibility weren’t that absolutist, plenty of problems wouldn’t get resolved well enough, yet the fact that this is that absolutist, is pretty scary.  (Yet, the fact that so many stupid and reckless people got such important jobs on Wall Street, shows that even this very costly way of motivating winning could fail in very important ways, though they could always be excused as “inevitable human imperfection.”)  Sure, on Larry King Live on August 11, 2009, economist Ben Stein said, “Big government is a terrifying subject” (i.e. the kind that you could openly and proudly get terrified about), but you don’t dare say, “Big depression is a terrifying subject,” even if you’ve been there, or, “Big Wall Street greed is a terrifying subject.”  Also, on an interview on a Christian radio network, Stein said, “...science leads you to killing people.”  Magical thinking like this could seem more acceptable to economists, since they could always figure that consequences don’t really matter, since those who have the problems are always motivated to solve them; that “works.”  Self-help’s conception of which freedoms, self-determination, personal rights and responsibilities, etc., do, and which don’t, seem to matter, sounds like something right out of The Communist Manifesto (and certainly plenty of others in the 19th Century noticed this, too), “...in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade,” and since someone must take responsibility for the consequences of adversarialism, “self-responsibility” must mean that in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered forms of personal responsibility, we have set up that single, unconscionable personal responsibility—response-ability for one’s own problems.  (A better word than freedom might be right, i.e., “I have a right to expect something better!”  “No, the only right that you have is to become a winner by protecting yourself better, with proud self-reliance!”)

 

 

 

 

In fact, though we’re supposed to take addictive behavior as a given since addiction is a disease, the law certainly doesn’t treat addicts as not guilty by reason of insanity, one can’t be brought out of real legal insanity through “hitting bottom” or an intervention.  Addicts’ family members, who can’t change them, must minimize their responsibility and magnify the responsibility of their own reactions, but the law, which can change most addicts with whom it comes into conflict, doesn’t have to minimize and magnify.  As the publishers’ notes of Gene M. Heyman’s Addiction: A Disorder of Choice says, “He shows that the causes of addiction, its control, and its potential reduction are the same as the causes, control, and reduction of all voluntary behavior.”  (Certainly you could imagine what would result if someone said at an Al-Anon meeting, “But when he relapsed, it was because he got angry and chose to, not because he saw something that triggered a compulsion to drink!  That means that my objections are legitimate!” or even, “But the person who caused this problem, whom I can’t change, isn’t addicted!”)  Yet whether or not addiction is involved, you could always find some sophistry to make courageously changing what you can and serenely accepting what you can’t seem legitimate, and ignore any facts that would disrupt this pragmatism; form follows function.  This, also, could be called “pragmatic logic,” applicable to any realities that contribute to our rampant depression.  Both an acceptance of an addiction, and an acceptance of aggressive human nature, are fatalism about unrestrained desires, what the pleasure centers of our brains make us do, etc.  What works for AA is what works for addicts, i.e. for addictive personalities, which would single-mindedly insist on: excuses to do what one pleases, stopping righteous indignation and “controlling,” etc.  The more that we serenely accept übermensch, active, imperfections, the more that we can’t afford to accept the untermensch, passive, imperfections of those hurt by them, and who, therefore, must deal with them in order not to be maladjusted maladaptive and dysfunctional.  If this wasn’t as simplistic and resolute as Reagan, their awareness that they’re victims would leave them both too weak by feeling helplessness and making unrealistic expectations, and too strong in that they could insidiously get the benefits of victimhood.

 

 

Your realities are whatever they are, and either you deal with them or you suffer the consequences.  NOTHING CAN LIMIT HOW MUCH ALL THIS COULD AFFECT YOU.  To paraphrase a Catholic riddle: “What’s the difference between a victim corrector and a terrorist?  You can negotiate with a terrorist.”  As pioneering behaviorist John B. Watson wrote, “The raw fact that you, as a psychologist, if you are to remain scientific, must describe the behavior of man in no other terms than those you use in describing the behavior of the ox you slaughter, drove and still drives many timid souls away from behaviorism,” and the only real difference between behaviorism and cognitive therapy is that it credits humanity with self-control abilities that animals don’t have, such as the ability to choose to serenely accept hardship and sinfulness; training people who are motivated to be trained is a lot easier.  (This self-control would benefit the person who serenely accepts the hardship, sinfulness, etc. that he’s helpless to change, whether or not the person who caused the problem is addicted. )  As Paul Krugman wrote, “The truth is that good old-fashioned demand-side macroeconomics has a lot to offer in our current predicament—but its defenders lack all conviction, while its critics are filled with a passionate intensity,” and one could say the same for debates between those who stress personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s own choices, which could usually be called “blaming,” “guilt-based,” “controlling,” etc., and the gutsy people who stress red-blooded personal response-ability for one’s own welfare, which could always be called “self-help,” “self-empowerment,” “realism,” etc.  As the Great Crash of 2008 shows, some things will never change.

 

THE GREATEST RISK IS NOT TAKING ONE, AIG ad from 2001, so if you tried to restrain this you’d seem profoundly: weak, whiny, defeatist, controlling, unrealistic, counterproductive, opinionated, manipulative, negative, moralistic, etc.  Sure, post-scandal AIG CEO Edward M. Liddy said, “I have seen the good side of capitalism.  But over the past six months, since agreeing to take the reins of AIG and reviewing how it was run in prior years, I have also seen instances of the bad side of capitalism,” but one could also call the gutsiness of AIG in its PIG era, “character-building,” giving plenty of backbone and fortitude.

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Sure, Rush Limbaugh is more unpopular than Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright, and conservatives could be afraid that such aggressiveness looks “ugly” to the public.  Yet, especially if you’re in big trouble, if you thought like Limbaugh and the other attack politicians then you’d face up to your problems more serenely and courageously, and we dare not care how profoundly ugly is coaching Archie, etc., into having attitudes of, “I’ve stopped blaming others and I’m looking at myself!”  If Himmler had sent you some “Dear Abby” letters that didn’t mention the Nazi practices that Buchman didn’t like, the advice that the letters would have given would have helped you become more resilient, courageous, self-responsible, realistic, and abiding by Gelassenheit (a fatalism that teaches that willfulness leads to self-defeating frustration if you’re helpless to get what you want or need), so you would have ended up with a stronger character.  Victim Correction as a Panacea, is Gelassenheit and similar all-encompassing attitudes about physical response-ability for one’s own problems, exactly what a society with rampant depression, anxiety disorders, etc., would most need.

Sure, Niebuhr wrote that he was shocked about Buchman’s admiration of Hitler, though The Serenity Prayer summarizes the book that most shaped Hitler’s thinking, Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation:   As with a panacea, we must see the entire world in terms of the ineradicable SELF-WILLS of the sinful, the ignominious and surreptitious SELF-WILLS of victims who don’t represent their own bad experiences to themselves as being as innocuous as possible (“Those manipulative whiners want to believe that someone owes them something!”), and, therefore, our responsibility to do this.  Niebuhr wrote that Buchman’s faith that dictators, business tycoons, etc., should use their power to push Christianity, vapidly ignored how realpolitik would affect the outcome, “The slightest acquaintance with the history of Christian thought on the problem of the relation of the absolute demands of the gospel to the relativities of politics and economics would prove its childishness,” but the same could also be said about applying a simplistic sloganeering spirituality to the situations that contribute to our rampant depression.  It isn’t possible to get any more vapid than,“Serenely accept everything that happens to you in a society with rampant depression, that you’re helpless to change.”

The wave of the future, the “new economy” of self-responsibility, requires that we want to be responsible members of society, take response-ability for our own welfare.  With that approach you’d be more likely to succeed, and that’s good, maybe irreplaceable.  Your natural objections to this would be counterproductive (though you’re free not to hold others personally responsible by these standards, as long as you hold yourself responsible by them).  The same would go for minimizing any “whiny” lessons we might learn from the Great Crash of 2008.  If we can’t change wretched excesses on Wall Street but can change victims’ not fixing the consequences adequately, then either we correct the victims or we’ll have a dysfunctional society.  Since we simply must solve our problems, our perceptions must be distorted in order to fit in with this; there is no alternative.

 

 

 

(Cartoon generated by “Build Your Own Meat”)

 

Nothing can drive anyone away from this sort of cognitive therapy, just as nothing can drive Archie away from his unconditional and immoderate, contrived serenity and courage, though Gelassenheit is very unnatural social engineering.  In self-help books about codependency, stories in which the problem spouses are addicted are absolutely interchangeable with stories in which the problem spouses simply choose to act like buttheads, since in both cases the victims are equally unable to change the victimizers’ behavior.  Whatever you must do to take care of yourself, is whatever you must do to take care of yourself, so you must look at yourself when you’re looking for things that you could correct in order to solve your own problems.  Sure, the Financial Times on March 10, 2009 quoted Bernie Sucher, the head of Merrill Lynch operations in Moscow, as saying, “Our world is broken—and I honestly don’t know what is going to replace it.  The compass by which we steered as Americans has gone.  The last time I ever saw anything like this, in terms of the sense of disorientation and loss, was among my friends [in Russia] when the Soviet Union broke up,” but Americans have been culturally conditioned to serenely accept economic difficulties, and not to accept supposedly manipulative whining about them.  Those with plenty of “personal strength” would tolerate Wall Street Darwinism and its effects.  Archie could “get on with life” since folk wisdom, common sense, says that that’s what everyone must do; everyone could “stick it out.”  (On June 19, 2009 [just before the threatened bloodshed began, “On 9/11 we were all Americans, and tonight we’re all Iranians.”], when Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that they were going to crack down on the protests of the election fraud, he said, “If the political elite want to ignore the law or break the law then they are taking wrong measures...,” so dogmatists of all stripes excite their followers by condemning the supposed intellectual elite.)  Archie, and others who are powerless, couldn’t afford the dysfunctionality of feeling disoriented or lost.  Realism requires that this self-responsibility be the lynchpin, so any concern that would conflict with this must be shrugged off.  (Of course, this self-response-ability must include the same self-justifying, fatalistic, conformist, simplistic, “upbeat,” absolutist, unconditional, predictable, illusions that got our economy into such trouble.)  We all must adjust to and deal with reality, and others determine what is reality for you, which tends to mean that the strong (whether or not they’re addicted) determine what is reality for the weak.  Resiliency is everything.

 

 

 

Wall Street, August 23, 1929,  “As I wrote last March, those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself especially, are in a state of shocked disbelief….  That’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”—Alan Greenspan, testimony before Congress, October 23, 2008

 

 

That’s why self-help in general tends to admire Al-Anon, The Serenity Prayer, etc., and this self-reliant ethos.  The only thing that really matters is what you do and don’t have the power to change.  This is how the ideal American faces his own problems.  Since Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA who wrote much of their Big Book, was a stockbroker around the time of the Great Depression, one could call this The Great Depression Stockbroker’s Approach to Self-Responsibility; we’d have to be firm with those victims and whiners who object to productivity that involves strong character, such as “creative destruction,” and, “Your problem is your problem.”  The economist who, just after the Great Depression, came up with the concept of creative destruction, Joseph Schumpeter, also wrote during the Depression that recovery from it, “is sound only if it [comes] of itself.  For any revival which is merely due to artificial stimulus leaves part of the work of depressions undone and adds, to an undigested remnant of maladjustment, new maladjustment of its own which has to be liquidated in turn, thus threatening business with another [worse] crisis ahead.”  Daniel Gross’ Dumb Money says that Maestro Alan Greenspan, in an interview, “had an abstract fervor for the glories and potentials of creative destruction,” and, in the abstract, saying that alkies’ teens, etc., should have an attitude of, “I’ve stopped blaming others and I’m looking at myself!” sounds just as proudly productive.

 

 

 

For More On Correcting Archie,
Click Here

 

“Necessity is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”—William Pitt, Jr.

   

Quite literally, it can’t matter how much someone else is responsible for your problem,

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since if people’s response-ability for their own welfare weren’t unconditional, then those in situations for which others are clearly responsible, wouldn’t strive to become better happier people, which they’d probably need to do to deal adequately with their own problems.

This series of comics includes Jane’s husband getting violent at home,

and giving her a black eye.  After she sees their kids getting violent, she thinks, “I just can’t take anymore!”  When she goes to an Al-Anon meeting, one member tells her, “Welcome.  We were lonely and troubled, too.  We can understand as few can,” and another tells her, “You can be happy even if your husband doesn’t stop drinking.”  When she goes home, as she reads a pamphlet titled “Living with an Alcoholic,” and looks very beleaguered, she thinks, “Those women are so happy.  Maybe if I do what they say, I can be like them.”

So this “better, happier person” stuff was inculcated to her, by the heroes of self-help.  I’ve never heard anyone call this sort of inculcation “extremist,” and it really is literally the same as when those around us tell us that no matter what your problem is, you should courageously change what you can and serenely accept what you can’t.  According to the Serenity Prayer school of psychology, the fact that the person who has the problem, would simply be held response-able for dealing with it by courageously changing what he could and serenely accepting what he couldn’t, would be a fait accompli.

And many AA slogans ridicule those who don’t have what Niebuhr (disapprovingly) called “Buddhistic” spirituality like this.  (Yet I could make the following guarantee: The very same all-American types who’d be the first to condemn Buddhistic spirituality as alien, extinguishing people’s autonomy and selfhood, brainwashing, etc., would also be the first to practice what Buddhism calls “mindfulness” when they’re in situations that contribute to our rampant depression.  It isn’t possible to get any more vapid than,“Serenely accept everything that happens to you in a society with rampant depression, that you’re helpless to change.”  After all, their chances of coping with them would be a lot higher if they chose to contrive a serene acceptance of whatever they’re helpless to change, than if they drew their own honest conclusions about it.)

Ironically, Niebuhr wrote, in The Nature and Destiny of Man, in the subchapter, “The Sin of Pride,” wrote, “Descartes, Hegel, Kant, and Comte, to mention only a few moderns, were so certain of the finality of their thought that they have become fair sport for any wayfaring cynic.”  The ultimate fair sport for any wayfaring cynic, moral relativist, etc., has got to be our culture’s victim-blaming conception of “personal responsibility,” that so loves the expectation that no matter how much your problem involves hardship, others’ sinfulness, etc., of course you’ll take care of yourself, deal with your own problem, etc., by courageously changing what you can and serenely accepting what you can’t.  If you don’t, you’d seem to be having a “pity party,” playing ignominiously cunning manipulative tricks,

etc.  Our culture, in general, is very willing to treat anything that even looks as if it would qualify as just recklessness, as if, since no one could prove any malicious intent, it was just a mistake.  That means, of course, that anyone who treated it as more than a mistake would get The Ayn Rand Treatment, as if he’s trying to get some sort of power over others by playing the victim role.

 

The gravity of the moral bankruptcy that I saw, would come across even more strongly if you’ve just read, in Antidepressant Treatment—the Essentials, by John H. Greist, MD and Thomas H. Greist, MD, “According to National Institutes of Mental Health figures, 20,000,000 people or approximately 15% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a serious depressive disorder in any given year.  Of these, over 20,000 commit suicide every year.”  To say that as doctors treat the million of Americans who suffer a serious depressive disorder in any given year, they should know this rate since it would help the doctors treat each individual as if their depressions simply are their problems, completely ignores the fact that this involves an unnaturally high rate of helplessness, happening to millions of people, year in and year out.

 

 

 

Just after I read that, I figured that scientific studies as to why these aren’t simply among the diseases that are parts of the natural order, would do a lot of good.  I figured that these would try to define just what is the threshold of human endurance.  That way, people would know when they could and when they couldn’t reasonably chide and admonish someone to simply muster up enough backbone to deal with his own problem,  Paul Gilbert’s Depression, the Evolution of Powerlessness, says, “When [biological] differences are more clearly understood, debate will continue as to their etiological significance and most theorists now speak in terms of ‘threshold’ rather than some autonomous internal disease.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV says that affective disorders affect 20% of the American population, and anxiety disorders affect 25%.  According to that self-motivated and Stoic pragmatism, the causes of this obviously unnatural problem, would seem reasonable.

My situation was a good illustration of how much our conceptions of realism and rationality, tend toward a socially-sanctioned moral bankruptcy.  Particularly, this shows a theme typical of our much-beloved moral bankruptcy, which would apply to any situation in which the opportunity for convenient moral responsibility, comes before the consequences happen.  When they do happen, those who caused them could try to evade moral responsibility, by holding that now they’re absolutely helpless to undo the past, and that it would be unreasonable to expect them to take moral responsibility now that this would require real effort and sacrifice.  I’ve gotten to think of this as “The Chronological Problem,” since as long as this chronology exists, the morally responsible party could evade responsibility by acting helpless and as if one dare not make unreasonable demands of him. It then seems even more natural than usual, to minimize moral responsibility and magnify the victims’ response-ability for their own problems, see the active party as having rights and the passive party as having responsibilities, and see the advantages and ignoring the disadvantages of Christian forgiveness.

All this has the same absolutist tone as do the cognitive distortions of modern Western depression, which Dr. David Burns listed as: all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions, magnification or minimization, emotional reasoning, should statements, labeling and mislabeling, and personalization, which Dr. Burns defines as, “You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.”  There’s no room for error, and there’s always room for improvement.  And such a perspective of devastation really is unique to modern Western culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 


     

 

 

Just before the following happened to me, I knew a bunch of chronically depressed guys, and what struck me as really puzzling about them was their self-hatred and self-blame.  That made as much sense to me as self-hatred being incorporated into fear.

Dealing with reality, means dealing with reality, whatever it is for you.  As I discussed my experience with people, I kept hearing basically the same ideas over and over again:

  1. When potential employers make commitments they can’t keep, we’ll just have to understand that people aren’t perfect, that people have a right to be imperfect

  2. When this happens, of course those with whom they make the commitments are responsible for protecting themselves by leaving, even if they have a lot invested in the commitments.

  3. This is just slightly excessively normal human imperfection, and everyone has a right to be imperfect, and the response-ability to deal with life’s inevitable imperfections.

Since there is no alternative to giving each right and each responsibility to the person who’s the most self-motivated to do what needs to get done in connection with it, all three of these ideas are basically inevitable parts of why we’d accept what led to the financial meltdown:

Sure, now that the economy has melted down, it would be pretty hard to say explicitly that the excessive behavior that led to it was the sort of mistake that everyone has a right to make.  Yet as it was happening, this looked like the sort of greed that, ever since the Reagan era, seemed to be an inevitable part of life.  Also, we often hear the blame for the financial meltdown going equally to those who took out mortgages they knew they couldn’t afford (though the bank accepted them as lenders, which could have let them assume that the experts found them to be acceptable lenders), as if what led to the meltdown was human selfishness in general, nothing that could really be pinned on Wall Street.

As a CNN/Fortune article, The $55 trillion question, says,

There is at least one key difference between casino gambling and [Credit Default Swap] trading: Gambling has strict government regulation.  The federal government has long shied away from any oversight of CDS.  The [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] floated the idea of taking an oversight role in the late ’90s, only to find itself opposed by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and others.  Then, in 2000, Congress, with the support of Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, passed a bill prohibiting all federal and most state regulation of CDS and other derivatives.  In a press release at the time, co-sponsor Senator Phil Gramm - most recently in the news when he stepped down as John McCain’s campaign co-chair this summer after calling people who talk about a recession “whiners” - crowed that the new law “protects financial institutions from over-regulation ... and it guarantees that the United States will maintain its global dominance of financial markets.”  (The authors of the legislation were so bent on warding off regulation that they had the bill specify that it would “supersede and preempt the application of any state or local law that prohibits gaming ...”) Not everyone was as sanguine as Gramm.  In 2003 Warren Buffett famously called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction.”

Sure, this didn’t say in so many words that if those on Wall Street have a cowboy attitude toward this gambling (which doesn’t have to provide the economy with any financing), then that’s just the way that human nature is.  Alan Greenspan tended to have a rather naïve attitude toward the trustworthiness that market discipline supposedly enforces.  Yet it should have been obvious to anyone, especially those with connections to Wall Street, that the risk of enough people doing reckless things, was great enough that deregulation meant real risk.

Also, right now, since so many people are sharing the same problem that was obviously caused by others, it would sound pretty strange to talk about how the victims should have taken care of themselves better.  Yet we still do have to hear enough of it, since there is no alternative to self-motivated self-responsibility.  As Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Brother, Rich Sister, Two Paths to God Money and Happiness, said on Larry King Live, on February 4, 2009, in a discussion about the financial meltdown, “It was the worst five years of my life [when I was homeless]. And—but it was also the best, because I actually had to fight back. My wife and I just really fought back hard. Donald Trump is my friend.  He’s never been homeless, but he’s lost a billion dollars.  And what Donald and I say really is the time to self-assess, to learn, to come forward, you know, to get stronger, get smarter. I don’t want Obama to save me. I don’t want hope.

“I think it’s time for us to get smarter and wiser and not expect the government to take care of us.”

As time goes on, especially as helpful people are looking at each person’s situation to give him self-empowerment, the only things that would seem to matter would be how he could courageously change what he could.  Even when the unemployment rate was 25%, holding the unemployed people responsible for their unemployment, or, at the very least, their states of mind, would have, at the very least, increased their efforts to get jobs or feel serene anyway, and this is always good.  The 75% of the people who were employed could always figure that they themselves are decent, hardworking people, and there’s really no way of knowing for sure if any of the unemployed chose, at the very least, not to try hard enough, since naturally people would want to get what they wanted by playing the victim role without worrying who had to provide it.  There is no alternative to basing as much as possible on self-interest.

And while, looking back at the magnitude of the financial meltdown, it would be pretty hard to dismiss what caused it as just slightly excessively normal human imperfection, the meltdown couldn’t have happened if the behavior weren’t accepted to that degree.  We kept hearing over and over again that deregulation to the point of creating the “shadow” banking system, was necessary for our economy to be efficient.  As Representative Davis said during the Congressional hearings of October 23, 2008, in which Greenspan admitted that trusting his laissez faire ideology was a mistake, “The bípartisan Band-Aid approach to oversight and regulation continued.  In the past few years, the market, as it tends to do, changed again.”  On February 18, 2009, Greenspan said in a Financial Times interview, “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.  I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.”  While this suggests that regulation should have been more effective, it also implies both that we must take as a given that financial companies will keep coming up with new untested ideas that would still promise more efficiency and could be labeled as “innovation,” and that government is too unsophisticated to keep up with this progress.

This suggests that the frequency in which that happens, has nothing to do with the level of deregulation.  According to the New York Times article Agency’s ’04 Rule Let Banks Pile Up New Debt, at a brief meeting of the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 28, 2004, five members listened to the urgent pleas of five large investment banks, that they be allowed to take on more debt.  This meeting gave them what they wanted, though some at it could see the dangers.  One said, provoking nervous laughter, “We’ve said these are the big guys, but that means if anything goes wrong, it’s going to be an awfully big mess.”  Another said, “I’m very happy to support it.  And I keep my fingers crossed for the future.”  The rule passed at that meeting allowed the SEC to monitor the companies, but the deregulators didn’t do this well enough.  An audio recording of this meeting is here.  Sure, Reagan’s Chief Economic Advisor in 1982-1984, Martin Feldstein, said in his Frontline interview about the meltdown, “[The regulators] were asleep at the switch.  They really did not adequately evaluate the quality of the assets.  They said: ‘Well, look, some rating agency has said this mortgage-backed security, this complicated synthetic thing that has been put together, is a AAA security.  Well, that’s good enough for us if it was good enough for Moody’s and S&P to put that Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on it,’” but according to the logic of Greenspan-style deregulation, that wouldn’t constitute sleeping at the switch, but rather, trusting freedom and self-responsibility.

Of course, one could say that those who believed in deregulation have learned their lesson, so it may be a hundred years before anything like the current financial meltdown happens again.  Yet since our culture takes so much to deregulation, that it could still be accepted in other guises, such as that, sure, the innovation that led to this crisis was obviously untrustworthy, but innovations that come up in the future could seem innocent until proven guilty, as well as sacrosanct because it’s innovation and innovation is what makes our economy great, and the dangerous ones wouldn’t be proven guilty until it’s too late.  Plus, one can’t even figure that without the deregulators doing reckless things, the rate at which inevitable financial meltdowns would happen would be once every hundred years, since no science has proven anything even close to this.

Rather, this is like when someone experiences the sort of helplessness that contributes to our rampant depression, anxiety disorders, and those who believe in the sort of unconditional coping skills that The Serenity Prayer describes, assures the victim that the sort of thing that happened to him, happens only rarely.  Of course, if a society has that level of moral bankruptcy, then there’s really no way of knowing that what happened is that rare.  Since our rates of depression, anxiety disorders, etc., are so unnaturally high, obviously such things do happen frequently enough.  The Great Crash of 1929 happened less than 100 years previous to 2008, and, as Greenspan wrote in his book The Age of Turbulence, we’ve had enough close calls since then.  And, of course, just as, if we have another crash in less that a hundred years then the rules wouldn’t change to our taking such massive devastation seriously, if a proponent of unconditional serenity assures you that what happened to you is unusual, and something like it happens to you again soon after (though the specifics of any two situations are never the same), you can’t then decide that the rules of unconditional serenity no longer apply.  No doubt those who attended the SEC meeting of April 28, 2004, were enthusiastic about the rights of the banks, would figure that those hurt by the crash should take response-ability for their own welfare, and would figure that what the banks did to cause this crash were just mistakes, and plenty of other people, such as those who overly-optimistically bought more home than they could afford, made the same mistakes.  Plenty of other people who aren’t that extremist, might as well be when they try to apply “realism” to this and similar helplessness, and figure that the powerful have to have the right to do what they think will be the most efficient and profitable, that the victims are motivated both to take response-ability for their own welfare and to get what they wanted by playing the victim role if they could, and that there really is no objective way to determine what goes too far other than by seeing who’s a winner and who’s a loser.  Taking response-ability for your own welfare would always benefit you.

 

 

This acceptance of what goes on on Wall Street is pretty inevitable, for reasons such as the following:

  1. No one can measure objectively how reckless is too reckless.  Even if measuring this were possible, enforcing responsibility would be possible only in some situations.

  2. Wall Street, conservative pundits, etc., will campaign for lax regulation.  This could very easily take the form of The Ayn Rand Treatment, wherein those who’d want adequate regulation would be treated as anti-freedom, anti-efficiency, anti-innovation, etc.

  3. Those who are in denial about the problems, would be most likely to succeed since they’d have the benefits of confidence, unless of course their states of denial are extreme enough to make them do dangerous things.

  4. When conservatives say that government shouldn’t try to fine-tune the economy, that would seem pro-freedom.  Sure, economics is an inexact social science and makes use of models which must leave out certain realities, so computer programs based on these models, very easily couldn’t work out as expected.  If skeptics bring up the fact that since economics is an inexact social science and uses models, the attempts that private financial firms use to predict risk very easily couldn’t work as expected, that could get The Ayn Rand Treatment as being anti-freedom.  Each situation is unique, and each would involve proposals that would seem innocent until proven guilty, and once they’re proven guilty, it would be too late.  You could certainly imagine how someone who’s giving a skeptic The Ayn Rand Treatment, would sardonically sneer and/or patronizingly smile as he tried to defend the next version of the sort of computer program that was so responsible for the meltdown, by saying, “But this is different!  Now we know what to watch out for!  In life, we have to take risks!”  In general, those who think like this tend to be rewarded economically.

Greenspan admitted during his congressional testimony on October 23, 2008, that his ideology shaped his decisions.  Chairman Waxman asked him, “The question I had for you is you had an ideology.  You had a belief that free, competitive—and this is shown—your statement, ‘I do have an ideology.  My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrívaled way to organize economies.  We have tried regulation, none meaningfully worked.’

That was your quote.  You have the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis.  You were advised to do so by many others.  Now, our whole economy is paying its price.  You feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

He responded, “Well, remember, though, whether or not ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality.  Everyone has one.  You have to.  To exist you need an ideology.

“The question is, whether it exists is accurate or not.  What I am saying to you is, yes, I found a f1aw.  I don’t know
how significant or permanent it is, but I have been very distressed by that fact.”

In some of his contributions to Ayn Rand’s book, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, which he wrote in 1962, he made clear that a big part of his ideology is a trust that market discipline enforces honesty, especially in situations where the businessman is at the mercy of the person who needs to trust him.  Greenspan wrote, “The market value of a brokerage firm is even more closely tied to its good-will assets.  Securities worth hundreds of millions of dollars are traded every day over the telephone.  The slightest doubt as to the trustworthiness of a broker’s word or commitment would put him out of business overnight....  The hallmark of collectivists is their deep-rooted distrust of freedom and of the free-market processes; but it is their advocacy of so-called ‘consumer protection’ that exposes the nature of their basic premises with particular clarity.  By preferring force and fear to incentive and reward as a means of human motivation, they confess their view of man as a mindless brute functioning on the range of the moment, whose actual self-interest lies in ‘flying-by-night’ and making ‘quick kills.’”  Of course, plenty of people now are very skeptical of Greenspan’s reasoning, but previously he was known as the “Oracle” and the “Maestro.”  And even just after the Great Crash, on October 2, 2008, in a speech before Georgetown, he said, “We bank on the self-interest of our counterparties with whom we trade to foster and protect their reputation for producing quality goods and services.  Just contemplate how little division of labor and wealth creation would be engendered if that were not the prevailing culture in which we lived....  In a market system based on trust, reputation has a significant economic value.  I am therefore distressed at how far we have let concerns for reputation slip in recent years.”  (Of course, potential customers are able to care a lot more about the reputations of businesses they buy from, than potential employees can care about the reputations of the companies they try to work for.)

 

 

Regarding the division of labor and wealth creation that depends on trust, the book Influence, Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini says that one way to influence (i.e. manipulate) people is by giving them something that they didn’t ask for, and then they’d naturally feel obliged to reciprocate by giving you what you ask for, since the functioning of even the most primitive society requires that people be able to count on others to reciprocate. “Cultural anthropologists Lionel Tiger [The fact that this is his pseudonym should let you know just how utopian he is.] and Robin Fox (1971) view this ‘web of indebtedness’ as a unique adaptive mechanism of human beings, allowing for the division of labor, the exchange of diverse forms of goods and different services (making possible the development of experts), and the creation of interdependencies that bind individuals together into highly efficient units.”

This was the sort of reasoning that I used when I trusted that boss.  In traditional reciprocity, it doesn’t matter who can and who can’t mete out market discipline.  Sure a customer can met it out, but a potential employee, unless he’s very much in demand, can’t.  Yet I still figured that, especially since this boss didn’t really stand to benefit from what he did to me other than whatever benefits he expected to get from over-optimistic “positive thinking,” he’d still have more of a sense of responsibility toward this, than would a fly-by-night artist.  Yet very typical for victim correction as a panacea, is that suspecting, criticizing, etc., unethical behavior would seem to be passing

 

while taking seriously the destructiveness of the behavior when talking with the victim about how he should have protected himself better, would benefit him by making him more self-empowered.  Sure, a Fortune Magazine webpage on  someone who conned businesses says, “Free markets wither when trust is broken,” but this is only where those whose trust is broken, have other options.  If they’re workers and the supply of their sort of worker is considerably greater than the demand, they must choose to trust no matter what, just as they must choose to serenely accept whatever they can’t change, no matter what.  Free markets can live without that sort of trust, but would wither if the victims of any helplessness don’t courageously change what they can and serenely accept whatever they can’t.

The whole question of Madoff’s feeder funds, also, involves questions of what trust is reasonable, and how negligent someone must be before his responsibility is really taken seriously.  Though it’s very easy to imply that “trust” means a naïve faith in goodness, in the business world you have to trust under many circumstances.  As Erin Arvedlund’s book about him, Too Good to Be True, says, before electronic trading of stocks got started with the help of Madoff, for stock traders “every word you said on the telephone was a contract—you had to deliver on that.  You learned very quickly that you have to be careful when you open your mouth, when you make promises, when you do business, because you have to deliver,” but now that Madoff and others pioneered electronic trading, those on Wall Street don’t have to trust nearly as much.  As Jerry Oppenheimer’s book Madoff with the Money said, “…Madoff [was] nearing 10 percent of the volume of the NYSE in the 1990s.  Madoff had become Wall Street‘s 70th largest firm during the Clinton years, doing 25,000 trades daily.”  Frontline of May 12, 2009, The Madoff Affair, said that in 1992, just after the SEC investigated and stopped Avellino and Bienes, the first big firm that was selling for him because the SEC thought that they were the Ponzi schemers though Madoff paid them even more excessive pseudo-profits than they were paying their customers, that  the SEC didn’t then go after Madoff because, “His market-making operation was handling trades equaling 9% of all trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and he had recently been named chairman of NASDAQ.”  On December 15, 2008, Madoff’s website said, “With more than $700 million in firm capital, Madoff currently ranks among the top %1 of US Securities firms.”

One really could argue that since Madoff was such a big name on Wall Street, and since, as Too Good to Be True says,  his fraud was “by far the largest financial scam in history,” for those in Madoff’s feeder funds to ignore all the red flags they saw, wasn’t really that unreasonable.  Harry Markopolos, in his famous letter to the SEC, said that the feeder funds that trusted Madoff were “naïve” rather than criminal.  Yet as Too Good to be True says, “Markopolos came to view Madoff as a domestic enemy, an antipatriot who would unravel the very fabric of America‘s market system,” and the only way in which he could do that would be to make traders distrust each other too much, yet the only way in which his feeder funds wouldn’t have seemed naïve would have been if they didn’t trust that such a pillar of Wall Street wasn’t pulling the biggest financial fraud in history.  They would have had to distrust so much that even though of course those in the business world must take risks, the risk that such a pillar of Wall Street was pulling the biggest financial fraud in history, would have seemed too great.

It seems pretty acceptable for sophisticated financial professionals to trust certain authorities, i.e. the credit rating agencies.  Not once have I heard investment professionals who trusted the judgment of the rating agencies, blamed for not verifying what they said.  These agencies are paid by those they rate, so naturally they’re motivated to issue positive ratings.  It’s the norm for Wall Street businesses, including the ratings agencies, to base their predictions of the future on statistical computer programs, which means that plenty could go wrong.  Sure, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provided mortgages to people who were too risky since these mortgages were parts of securities that the ratings agencies gave AAA ratings, and while plenty of people are quick to blame the government meddling to help the poor, I haven’t yet heard anyone say that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should have used enough common sense to realize that they shouldn’t have so much faith in what the ratings agencies say.  As The Murder of Lehman Brothers, by Joseph Tibman, says, “Who in their right mind believes that a group of borrowers who do not qualify for conforming mortgages; who may in many cases live from paycheck to paycheck; who are victims of teaser rates and other predatory lending tactics; who borrow at floating rates, and who will have extremely limited capacity to service these obligations in a weak economy with rising interest rates; together possess low risk characteristics simply because there are lots of them?…  The question resonates louder when one considers that many subprime mortgages were financed at 100 percent or more of a property’s value; that, as noted, there was widespread fraud in mortgage loan documentation; and that this fraud was perpetrated not just by borrowers, but also by mortgage brokers and others whose compensation was tied to volume,” yet no one has said that investment professionals who trusted the ratings agencies should have recognized these red flags that the AAA ratings weren’t reliable.  Certainly no one could sue their investment professional for mistakenly trusting the AAA ratings of the ratings agencies, and win, with an argument of, “But either you knew or could have found out through investigation that the ratings agencies are motivated to give positive ratings and base their predictions on theoretical computer models of reality, and that many of the borrowers: didn’t have reliable enough incomes, had to pay unreliable interest rates, didn’t have any skin in the game, and got their mortgages through their own or someone else’s fraud!  You chose to trust those ratings agencies’ AAA ratings anyway!”

Paulson’s On the Brink says about the credit rating agencies, “To reduce investor and regulator laxness resulting from over-reliance on a few monopoly researchers, I would like to see a further review of how to increase competition among rating agencies.  In addition, banking and securities laws and regulations should be amended to remove any reference to credit ratings as criteria to be relied on by regulators or investors to assess risk and capital charges.”  Yet obviously those laws that say to rely on the credit ratings, aren’t telling people to be lax.  Rather, it seems good that private for-profit companies set the standard on who is and who is not creditworthy.  As Representative Yarmuth said during the Congressional hearings of Greenspan Cox and Snow on October 23, 2008, “And I want to refer to the credit rating agencies, because we knew beginning at least in 2001 when Enron was given a superior rating 4 days before it collapsed, and we knew it in subsequent events,” and Cox responded with, “As a Member of Congress, I strongly supported that legislation going back even before Enron, because I saw what happened in Orange County with the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.  There, just as with Enron, up until the event itself, the debt was rated top grade, AAA,” and if it weren’t for track records like that, the whole idea of private companies being the arbiters of credit ratings, would seem ideal.  If the guv’mint did credit ratings, that would seem to be an authoritarian mandate, and when those who’d devise complex financial instruments would intentionally make some of them seem deceptively safer than they really are, and the government is among those fooled, this would seem to prove that the government is incompetent.  So what we’d be left with is that if a pension fund must restrict itself to safe investments, it must figure out itself which are safe with its limited resources, and if it’s wrong, it would have seemed to have violated the rule on safety.  Sometimes it is necessary to trust, without seeming lax.

Markopolos, in his Congressional testimony, was asked why he thought Madoff’s feeder funds didn’t see the same dangers that the SEC should have seen, and he said, “They were paid so much to look the other way.  Those feeder funds were incentivized not to ask the questions, to be willfully blind if you will, and not get too intrusive into the Madoff scheme.”  “Willfully blind if you will,” could mean subconsciously willfully blind, what one could call “wishful thinking.”  For example, someone could truly believe that laissez faire is the ideal since it makes sure that those who deserve to win do win, that it keeps everyone motivated to do most efficiently what must get done, etc.  Such a believer wouldn’t consciously willfully choose to be blind about his business decisions being very unworthy and destructive, but he could very easily be subconsciously willfully blind, and truly believe that he deserves to be a winner.  And, of course, the likelihood that someone who was subconsciously willfully blind would be found liable in court for willful blindness, would be far greater if those he hurt were considerably above him in the economic food chain, than if they were considerably below.

Frontline for May 12, 2009 included an interview of feeder fund manager Sandra Manzke, “the founder of hedge fund Tremont and later Maxam Capital.”  She has also come out in support of hedge funds having more transparency; now they could keep what they buy secret since that’s their strategy for how they play the game.  Her explanation for why Madoff’s fake hedge fund mailed out printed financial statements but didn’t have the trading confirmations available on the Internet in real time, which allowed him to claim that he bought equities that had gone up in value, was, “Again, it was part of his not having the world know when he went into the market.”  Her explanation for why she accepted that Madoff had as his auditor a small CPA firm with one CPA on-site, another in Florida, and a secretary, was, “…part of that was his proprietary trading model, the black box that he used, that he wasn’t going to disclose what was in it.”  A lawyer in a lawsuit against another Madoff feeder fund, responded to this, “Well, that’s hogwash, and anyone with any sophistication should know that.  No one could have credibly believed that Bernard Madoff had to use a couple people in a little accounting firm because he was concerned that his ‘secret sauce,’ his secret investment philosophy, was going to get out.”  Yet Manzke, in her advocacy for hedge funds being more transparent, is no doubt used to hedge fund managers responding that what they’re doing was fine.  Their right to keep their trading decisions secret is based on their sacred private property rights, and that if they say that any of their business decisions are based on their need to keep this secret, then no one else is in any position to declare that they don’t have to do this in order to protect what’s sacred.  Therefore, she’s just using the same limitless excuse that they successfully use.  “Not having the world know when he went into the market.” sounds like something that a sardonic righteous-Libertarian-not-pig hedge fund manager, the sort of person who Manzke often comes up against, would have said to defend his own secrets, “Are you saying that I must let the world know my battle plans?”  All that she expects is the same level of blind faith that they expect.

Yes, it’s true that on a subconscious level those in the feeder funds could have made themselves believe that Madoff was legit, since he was paying millions of dollars to them.  Yet at the same time, it could be hard to sue people for their subconscious intent, even if it could be proven.  Both in the courts and regarding our day-to-day morality, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and this would require proving that their intent was malevolent or careless enough.  Otherwise, we‘d be violating individual rights, and that seems profoundly terrifying.  (As Niebuhr wrote in Moral Man and Immoral Society, “The power necessary to control the wicked is the danger, not the wicked,” and chances are that most of what contributes to our very unnaturally high rate of depression, isn’t even truly malicious.)  These were the two factors that I was up against, that in the business world one must sometimes rely on others which could be labeled as a childish trust, and that we must be very careful about anything that could be called an intrusion on individual rights.

As Erin Arvedlund’s book about Madoff, Too Good to Be True, says, “America’s original ‘hedged fund’ was  started by sociologist Alfred Winslow Jones in 1949.”  One could only imagine what a sociologist would now think of what’s become of hedge funds.  One big reason for the Great Crash of 2008 is that though formerly transparency in the financial markets seemed essential, with hedge funds it seemed to be the government forcing fund managers to let the world know what their proprietary trading strategy, their “secret sauce,” is.  According to our most basic cultural norms, this is very bad.  The same would go for other forms of regulation that could have stopped other factors that contributed to the Great Crash, such as the unsafe features of over-the-counter derivatives.  One could get very excited about what seems to be wrong with these supposedly anti-freedom tendencies.  One reason why Madoff was able to get away with his Ponzi scheme for so long, was that he was able to excuse away some of the suspicious things he did, i.e. his supposedly huge fund being audited by a very small-scale accounting firm, by saying that this was what he determined what would best keep secret his “secret sauce,” and of course real Americans would understand when businesses use their own discretion to determine how they’d manage their own proprietary secrets.

Of course, the big difference between my situation and that of those who invested in Madoff’s feeder funds, was that investors are above financial professionals in the economic food chain so holding them accountable seems necessary, while employees are below employers in the food chain so what seems necessary is that the employees deal with their own problems.  Sometimes being in business means taking risks, and when this has to mean the strong putting the weak at risk, then this is what that has to mean, especially if the risk was as infinitesimal as was the risk that such a pillar of Wall Street was pulling the biggest financial fraud in history.  Sure, the things in business that involve ethics, such as the guarantees one makes, aren’t supposed to be crapshoots.  At the same time, if, in practical terms, avoiding an infinitesimal risk would mean giving up a big opportunity, then realists would take the risk.  To say that the feeder funds believed that Madoff was a good bet because they wanted to, would make them seem intolerably selfish, whereas to say that the guy who claimed he hired me believed that he‘d have the financing to hire me because he wanted to, would make him seem tolerably “imperfect.”  (Then again, the SEC repeatedly investigating and clearing Madoff, also, happened because they wanted to have faith in him, since they wanted to have faith in Wall Street’s self-regulation, Bernie was “very helpful,” etc., and this, also, seems tolerably “imperfect.”)

After all, someone has to take responsibility for every problem, even when unreasonable care would be required.  This would have the greatest chance of success if this person was the person who has the problem, since he’d be the one who has the most reliable motivation to do whatever it takes.  Those I spoke with about my own situation, responded as if the word “trust,” meaning merely the trust behind a reciprocal business relationship, sounded utopian, so I began to say “rely” instead.  It’s not like I was relying on an untrustworthy person.  I didn’t even have to mention trust and that supposedly any economy that requires reciprocal exchanges would wither without it.  They brought it up as if it was basically utopian, the sort of thing that’s typical for Boy and Girl Scouts, but not many others.

On the other hand, there can be no limits to what the person with the problem is supposed to do in order to “take care of himself,” since it simply is necessary that someone do this successfully.  We must pass judgment on those who failed to do this successfully, even if this didn’t involve any malicious, reckless, or even negligent intent.  To expect someone to correct his own serenity courage and wisdom, when faced with hardship sinfulness and surrender in general, could very easily expect unreasonable care.  But, it seems, that’s life on life’s terms, and you’re negligent if you don’t deal with life on life’s terms, even when this requires unreasonable care.  You’d also likely hear all about the victims’ response-abilities:

Legitimate reciprocation isn’t manipulative, and is something that all societies must depend on.  We can’t have faith in deferred gratification, if we don’t have faith in the gratification.  Yet losers who expect gratification fit the definition of “mollycoddle,” perfectly.  Their relying on interdependencies to bind individuals, could very easily be labeled passive-aggressive, “Look at what I gave you [in the past, heaven forfend!], so you owe me!”  It should also go without saying that one can’t have faith in having a work ethic, without also having faith that others’ ethics are good enough that they won’t ruin what the work had created.  William Ryan’s Blaming the Victim says, “...one finds a perfect example in literature about the underdeveloped countries of the Third World, in which the lack of prosperity and technological progress is attributed to some aspect of the national character of the people, such as lack of ‘achievement motivation’,” without any thought given to the fact that those in a poor country can’t have achievement motivation if their efforts don’t achieve much for themselves.  As Criminal Law and Procedure for the Paralegal, by James W. H. and Sandra L. McCord, says about the high crime rate among the American poor, “Is crime so unattractive to those who know in forty years they will be no better off—just older?” and this would be a far more understandable reason for a lack of achievement motivation of the poor anywhere.  Yet if you talk with those who greatly believe in character strengths such as deferred gratification, the work ethic, and achievement motivation, about how in order to have faith in these one must also have faith in receiving the gratification, others having ethics, eventually achieving the goals, etc., you’d then start hearing that since what these character strengths are supposed to produce is merely material, if in your case they don’t lead to what you were counting on, no one would want to hear you whining about such banal material things.  This, too, shall pass.

Those webs of indebtedness require not only that people not fraudulently make commitments that they intended to break, but also that they not recklessly make commitments that they may or may not be able to keep.  (Before 1937, Federal food and drug law wouldn’t find someone guilty of quackery unless he was proven guilty of a fraudulent intent, a requirement that those who knew the dangers of this, called “the joker” in these laws.)  A society can’t have a web of indebtedness, if one could make a commitment where he’s the one who does his part of the bargain last, and when it’s his turn, would say, “But you must understand that right now I’m completely helpless to undo the commitment I made, and the sacrifices you made for it, in the past.  Now it would take an unreasonable effort for me to make good, and while expecting you to accept unreasonability would seem good since sometimes one must accept his unreasonable realities, expecting me to accept unreasonability would seem bad since this would expect me to do unreasonable things for you.  If you care about what I did and you sacrificed in the past, that would constitute resentment, and may be just your manipulatively playing the victim role.  What I did was just a mistake, and you must understand that everyone makes mistakes.  Sometimes things turn out as they’re supposed to, and sometimes they don’t.”

Therefore, it would seem only natural to see the victims’ role in such situations, along the lines of the cognitive distortions of modern Western depression.  Let’s say that you’re the one who must deal with your own problem through self-help.  All-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, and disqualifying the positive would be involved, since if your steadfastness is lacking in anything, the only particularities you’re allowed to care about would be, “Can I change this, and how could I best deal with it?” and confidence about what you did right would be smugness about partial protection.  If you expect not to jump to conclusions or use emotional reasoning, you’d seem to be too nerdy and intellectual for the real world.  You’d have to magnify your awareness of what you must change about yourself and why you should accept others, and minimize your awareness of what would make you complacent about yourself and what’s unacceptable about others.  Also, moral responsibility should be minimized since expecting someone to take moral responsibility, especially if what he’d have to do is unreasonable, would seem unpragmatic mollycoddle and unforgiving.  Your response-ability for your own welfare should be magnified, even if what you must do to take care of yourself is unreasonable, since this would be pragmatic red-blooded and forgiving, and sometimes dealing with the real world requires unreasonability.  The whole idea is what you should do better.  Everything should be labeled, even mislabeled, in a goal-oriented fashion, since your perceptions of everything and everyone must be oriented toward how they affect the goal of solving your problem.  If, for example, objecting to sinful behavior is labeled as unfairly self-serving, this would encourage people toward the modern Western ideal of self-help, dealing with one’s own problems in a stolid abstraction-free manner, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  And sure this is a negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for, but what difference does that make if the goal-oriented approach would size up everything according to, “Can I change this, and how could I best deal with it?”

In 1988 I’d just graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering (which let me get to know a lot of sophisticated achievement-oriented engineering students from Muslim countries, mainly Malaysia and in the Sahara).  Soon afterward, I got that copy of Antidepressant Treatment—the Essentials, which gave me a real epiphany.  In college I knew a bunch of chronically depressed guys, so I knew that this is damn serious.  That’s what really let me know that some of the problems that typical Americans would accept as just the way that life goes sometimes, could be scientifically proven to be outside of the threshold of human endurance, and that the realization of this fact could be called a “New Realism,” both of which I kept referring to in my electronic notes.

Ever since I was a teenager anyone who didn’t have a chronically manic personality, what science calls a “hyperthymic” personality, seemed half dead to me.  Hyperthymic people tend to be very attractive and talented.  They tend to have the same attractive personality traits as do celebrities who attract hordes of groupies, such as charisma intelligence creativity warmth and depth of insight.  Unfortunately, they also tend to have the artistic-temperament-style behavior problems that celebrities who attract hordes of groupies tend to have, such as boozing, doping, irascibility, and intractable eccentricities.  Since I have a hyperthymic personality myself, I have a great tendency to get involved with other hyperthymics, since our personalities and creative pursuits are so compatible.  This boss was one of them.  And because of those automatically victim-blaming tendencies, if, hypothetically, you surrounded yourself with every celebrity who attracts hordes of groupies, you sure would tend to associate with people who have artistic-temperament-style behavior problems, so you could very easily seem to have a subconscious codependent attraction to artistic-temperament-style behavior problems.  (This, of course, implies a subconscious constructive knowledge, or subconscious actual knowledge.)  Simply because I surrounded myself with my fellow hyperthymics, who really are that similar to celebrities who attract hordes of groupies, I seemed to have exactly that codependent attraction, though the behavior problems of those I’ve known have been limited to irresponsibility and recklessness, very non-malicious.  What codependents are supposed to be attracted to because they’re supposed to constitute martyrdom, sure do strike me as banal though martyrdom is supposed to be profound, and irresponsibility and recklessness are about as banal as you can get.

What codependency is supposed to mean, is like Robert Blake.  His parents treated him badly when he was a kid.  Recently, he painted “The Mata Hari Ranch” on the outside of his house.  Mata Hari at least has a reputation for working as a spy who got her information by manipulating men.  And now he’s known for being attracted to Bonny Bakley, who, surprise surprise, had a career manipulating men.  If a woman whose parents treated her badly when she was a kid, grew up to paint “The Casanova Ranch” on the outside of her house, and ended up in a romantic relationship with a man who characterologically cons women, she’d be diagnosed as a codependent, since she’d seem to be subconsciously attracted to people who’d remind her of her first experience with love, with her parents.  The possible reasons for this attraction are pretty diverse, such as that this gives the opportunity to vaingloriously play the martyr role, to play a caretaking role, to live a melodrama, to feel like the righteous one like an angel on death row, and to emerge victorious this time.  But a woman wouldn’t have to do anything like painting “The Casanova Ranch” on the outside of her house, in order to seem to be subconsciously intentionally “letting herself in for” problem lovers.  She could have absolutely no conscious desires to play any of those roles.  As long as her lovers, or even other people in her life, have a greater than average tendency to have a certain destructive behavior pattern, it would seem that she must want this subconsciously.

The Code of Ethics of the American Psychological Association, in rule 2.04, Bases for Scientific and Professional Judgments, says, “Psychologists’ work is based upon established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline.”  By scientific standards, even soft science like psychology, conjectures about what’s going on in people’s subconscious would constitute jumping to conclusions.  Yet survival skills often require conjectural thinking.  If others kept causing problems for a friend of yours, and you got the impression that she’s “letting herself in for it,” you probably wouldn’t limit the firm warnings that you’d give her about this, to conclusions that would meet scientific standards.

James Gilligan’s Violence says that after a man “raped and murdered a fourteen-year-old girl who sang in the church choir, then buried her body in his backyard,” his wife, “who worked as the personnel director of an insurance company, was so dumbfounded when her husband’s behavior was exposed that she said she could never practice her profession again.  How could she imagine, she said, that she had even the slightest understanding of anyone, when she had been living, and having daughters, with a ‘monster’ without even realizing it?”  The main premise of the diagnosis of codependency is that we can safely assume that someone involved with a problem person, sensed intuitively beforehand that he meant trouble.  Yet destruction is all too easy, so one doesn’t have to come across as evil in order to do a lot of harm.

 

I’ve so consistently gotten involved in various ways with people who’ve had the irresponsible behavior problems that can come with hyperthymic personalities that, in late 1989, I was brought into a group of those labeled as codependents.  There, I heard the sort of victim-blaming which has been traced to Twelve-Step groups’ problem-solving approaches.  These basically save victims from themselves, under the assumption that any problem would be a temporary inconvenience if only, as much as possible, the victims would choose to solve them and to see them as innocuous.  Some of these Twelve-Step groups are for addicts’ family members.  The groups would therefore tell them to use such measures to deal with the problems that the addicts cause, as self-efficaciously and serenely as the family members could.  In love and marriage, it seems that “All’s fair,” and “Boys will be boys.”  This is treated as if it’s a form of pluralism, in that addicts’ spouses are free to choose who they marry or stay married to, and choosing not to interact with an addict seems no different from choosing not to interact with someone with whom you’re innocently incompatible.  Since these spouses tend to be women, the negative stereotypes of women can be placed on uncorrected victims, that they’re self-defeating little women who are trying to get something or other by suffering.  When my own problem, which was in the business world, happened, the same rules applied as to who seems responsible for a problem’s continuing existence, and under what conditions?

As Susan Faludi wrote in Backlash, The Undeclared War Against American Women, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, in the chapter titled “It’s All in Your Mind: Popular Psychology Joins the Backlash,” the idea of codependency, namely the premises of Robin Norwood’s book Women Who Love Too Much, was originally based on Twelve Step Groups’ approach for women married to addicts.  The original intent was to help women who married alcoholics due to subconscious desires to nurture or be vainglorious martyrs or make their lives into melodramas.  This evolved into addicts being basically the archetype for anyone, especially men, who have any behavior problem whatsoever that the spouses can’t change.  Conjecturing that one has subconscious masochistic tendencies seems only natural, maybe even necessary for her survival skills, while conjecturing that one has subconscious sadistic tendencies would seem paranoid and insanely judgmental.  Those in the land of the free and the home of the brave seem to have a lot more masochism than sadism, along with overabundances of other diverse personal weaknesses and inadequacies.  Also, Twelve Step groups’ handbooks tend to express a very victim-correcting conception of personal responsibility, which minimizes what seems wrong with destructive behavior, and magnifies what seems wrong with its victims’ allowing it to happen continue or bother them.  Rather than requiring that a woman have self-defeating goals before she’d be treated as codependent, she’d be treated as if, irrespective of anything else, whatever he brings into being is reality, so she’d benefit if she serenely accepted what she couldn’t change and courageously changed what she could, as if whether or not she was helpless to change something was the only “difference” that made a difference.  In essence, it used to be an insult to tell a beleaguered person that “It’s All in Your Mind,” but now it seems motivational to tell anyone, beleaguered or not, “Your mind defines your life!”  It used to be an insult to trivialize one’s problem but now trivializing one’s problem would seem to be fostering an optimistic outlook, etc.

The beleaguered members of my codependency group concentrated their attention on how they could better take response-ability for their own welfare.  This meant that the men’s actions are the women’s problems, and we all must accept that in the real world sometimes unreasonable care is required of us.  Though George Carlin joked, “How could there be a self-help group,” a group could be self-help if it tells its members that they’d better just take care of their own problems, even those unambiguously caused by others.  (It may have been Carlin who joked, “I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’  She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose,” though here too, as long as the person who has the problem is the one who provides the help to solve it, that would be self-help.)  The above link to the entire unredacted Serenity Prayer, is on a website of a group set up to treat codependency, founded in 1987, called “Constructive Love,” so a part of their idea of constructive love is, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as He did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it; Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will.”  You could see the same thing, always changing yet always consistent, on the newsgroup alt.recovery.codependency.  As one could see in the decades-long glamorization of Wall Street greed, and the attack-politician-style insistence that those hurt by such things not be whiners, our culture in general fosters this sort of self-responsibility.

 

 


 
 

                                                        

 

 

As I heard the women in my own codependency group, congratulating themselves on their self-empowering reactions to their husbands, I thought that the slogan of the group should be “Self-Determination Through Fight or Flight.”  These reactions boiled down to holding back each potential problem by either fighting back or getting out of the way.  One other evening at the time I realized that the logic that the group used, was basically whatever sophistry would most minimize others’ moral responsibility, and magnify each individual’s response-ability for her own welfare, her own problems.  And when I insisted on moral responsibility, the (male) therapist in charge said that if I saw a tree falling toward me, I’d figure that it’s my responsibility to run away, right?  Well, running away from others’ destructive choices would be the same.  Since then, I’ve read self-help books that treated others’ destructive choices as if they’re the moral equivalent of toxic addictive drugs that the victims chose to abuse, or severe weather, another “act of God,” and of course any act of God simply must be taken as a given but avoided.  If any of the women acted as if there was an alternative to, “If you don’t like it, leave at whatever cost,” they would have been treated as having two basic symptoms of codependency, attempts to control and fix the men, and self-defeatingly leaving themselves at the mercy of men who don’t want to change, and therefore, won’t.

As I heard this over and over again, it reminded me of the self-blame that I heard from all those chronically depressed guys I knew in college, which I thought made as much sense as self-blame being incorporated in fear.  While hearing these vigilant women congratulating each other on their self-determination, self-help, self-reliance, self-will, self-improvement, self-empowerment..., what crossed my mind is that because of such Western allocations of personal response-ability, the depressive self-blame must be a product of Western culture.  And soon after, I read about how a sometimes suicidal self-blame as a symptom of depression, is unique to Western and Westernized people.  Reaganomics would fall flat if innocent people didn’t routinely take response-ability for fixing the inherent problems.

And now, we all keep hearing similar logic concerning the financial meltdown.  You might think that the Great Bank Bailout is very much the opposite of Greenspan’s ideology.  Yet Greenspan said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York on February 17, 2009, this global recession will “surely be the longest and deepest” since the Great Depression, and, “To stabilize the American banking system and restore normal lending, additional TARP funds will be required.”  The pragmatic reasons why we’re to accept the bailout, are pretty much the same as the pragmatic reasons why women such as these are to serenely accept the men’s actions and courageously change their own reactions.  In any group or other discussion on codependency, the bottom line would have to be that the victims are motivated to solve the problems, and the victimizers aren’t.  Sure, this would lead to plenty of chaos just as the inescapable repeated bank bailouts would, but if there is no alternative, then there is no alternative.  And the reason why there’s no alternative to repeated bank bailouts, is that the bankers are motivated to get the money where it would be the most profitable.  The same went for that experience that I later had with that boss.  If I were a customer with enough money at stake, I could mete out market discipline, but since I was just a potential employee, I had to just figure that I’d benefit if I left but not if I stayed.

 

 

As I sat in that group for women diagnosed as codependent, about two-dozen of them, I heard none of them expressing any desire to do any of those self-defeating things that codependents are supposed to want to do.  If one is presumed innocent of negligence until proven guilty, a women wouldn’t seem negligent in her marrying a problem, unless it was evident and provable that she failed to take precautions which a reasonably prudent person would have taken.  If one marries an overt sleazebag, this would qualify as the doing of something that a reasonably prudent person would not do.  Yet no one there said anything about doing anything like this.  As they talked about taking their resolute protective action, they all clearly showed that they had gutsy dispositions, except for one, who was obviously chronically depressed.  Not only that, I didn’t hear one single member ever say that her husband or boyfriend has any sort of addiction, compulsive disorder, or even impulsive disorder.  The men simply acted disruptively selfish, and it was simply the women’s responsibility to deal with this since we’re all response-able for our own welfare.  The Gamblers Anonymous handbook says in its Gam-Anon chapter, at the head of their list of “suggestions for new members,” “Accept and learn to live with the fact that compulsive gambling is an illness.”  Since the problems that the husbands caused the women in my group weren’t from any addictive disorders, my group could have told its members, “Accept and learn to live with the fact that when he causes you a problem, it’s your problem, so what are you going to do about it?”.

What was most glaring was the absence of balance, exactly the same absence of balance that you see in the cognitive distortions of modern Western depression.  At the time, I wrote in my handwritten notes that the central tenet of Reagan/Thatcher era psychology was,

“Whoever doesn’t simply adjust to, adapt to, function with, fit in with, and feel content with, anything that happens to him, would seem to be just a maladjusted maladaptive and dysfunctional misfit and malcontent.”

One could also sum the central tenet up as, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  Very little is absolutely unmitigated, which is probably why Christianity regards even objections to what its own edicts unambiguously condemn, as absolutely “judgmental,” opinionated.  All things can escape mere mortals’ moral scrutiny, and morality is subjective.  On the other hand, not everything is pragmatic, expedient, and expediency is objectively provable.  Even if everyone around you acts with an attitude of, “Thou shalt not pass judgment on me!” you needn’t be brought under the power of any, as long as your survival skills are adequately expedient.

A Medieval rendition of Christian forgiveness is the Prayer of Saint Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace.  Where there is hatred, Let me sow Love.  Where there is injury, Pardon.  Where there is doubt, Faith.  Where there is despair, Hope.  Where there is darkness, Light.  Where there is sadness, Joy.”  If you achieve peace by acting as a mechanistic instrument which supplants even the most warranted hatred, awareness of injury, doubt, despair, and sadness; with love, pardon, faith, hope, and joy; then turning darkness into light would have to be taken very figuratively.  There can be no light put on why any hatred, awareness of injury, doubt, despair, or sadness, could be warranted.  An AA slogan, based on forgiving Christian spirituality, says, “The most important part of enlightenment is to ‘lighten’ up,” and that really would be the only “light” that would fit in with the most important task, of achieving a peace based on contrived indifference.  This was the original cognitive therapy for depression, the original drugless odyssey from despair to joy, which offers hope.

As Bernard D. Nossiter wrote in his book The Mythmakers, from even before the Reagan/Thatcher era, in 1963, “To be sure, the simple faith of the eighteenth century philosophes in a world of increasing rationality can hardly be supported in the last half of the twentieth century.  We are all children of a darker sophistication now.”  That historical period is called the Enlightenment, and its modern counterpart is, “The most important part of enlightenment is to ‘lighten’ up,” in any and every circumstance.

 

About a year after I attended that codependency group, a very sincere guy hired me for a job that he said he’d have ready once the building for his new subsidiary was built, even putting this in writing:

In my resume I told of my creative aptitudes, and that’s exactly the sort of pursuit that this boss wanted.  The only problem was that the building of this new building kept being delayed.  As I’d gotten my engineering degree, the professors kept mentioning that engineers who have little or no experience aren’t in much demand.  Employers “burn them out” as they “pay their dues,” but once they have experience, they could get more usual engineering jobs.  I figured that the time that I’d spent waiting for this job constituted my “paying my dues,” except that these “dues” would be good only if I worked at that particular company.  I figured that putting my life on hold was my part of the bargain with this particular employer, and my job was his part.  I certainly wasn’t doing this to suit him.  Therefore, since this is the way that our economy sometimes has to work, I waited for this job for a year, and then finally gave up.

Since he was sincere, he had the sort of care toward my interests that pathological gamblers have toward their families’ interests, the kind that’s very sincere and includes good intentions, but doesn’t include reality-testing.  While this wouldn’t seem acceptable among pathological gamblers, it could seem acceptable among entrepreneurs, since “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  Of course, in situations like mine, the person who takes the risks is different from the person who could gain from them.  Reaganists should be the first to say that when one person pays the price, for what another stands to gain, this is the sort of situation that would make a utopia unworkable.  Yet Reaganists would be the last to respond to such venturesomeness that’s oblivious of the costs, by reminding the venturesome one, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  Reaganists should also be the first to say that the validity of anything done in the economic sphere should be determined by a test of performance, by how productive or counterproductive the outcome is.

When I discussed with people that experience I had, I heard the same victim-correcting logic that I heard in the codependency group.  When discussing my experiences with that boss, all that I kept hearing is that he has the rights of a redblood, that I have the response-abilities of a mollycoddle, and that what he did to me was slightly excessively normal human imperfection so it’s his right to be imperfect and my response-ability to deal with imperfection.  It was very clear to anyone that what he did had big consequences, and that a reasonably prudent person wouldn’t think that it didn’t really matter.  Yet I was to proceed as if it was just slightly excessively normal human imperfection, and it doesn’t really matter how reasonable or unreasonable that is.  It was self-determination through fight or flight, all over again.

And what made my own experience very relevant was that, as Greenspan put it, the current CEO-dominated paradigm, with all its faults, is viewed as the most viable form of governance for today’s world.  That governance means not only when it comes to dealing with whatever CEOs do, but when it comes to any realistic morality.  It’s always based on what’s reality, and the actions of strong are far more likely to determine what’s reality for the weak, than vice versa.  Or, as Reinhold Niebuhr would have put it, the weak are far more likely to be unable to change the realities that the strong create, than the strong would be unable to change realities that the weak create.  Sure, Ann Jones satirically summarized the victim-blaming of battered wives as, “Without the wife-beater’s wife there would be no wife beating,” but any expert on domestic violence would tell you that the most viable solution for it, would be for each and every battered wife to solve her own problem along the lines of, “If I weren’t a wife-beater’s wife there would be no wife beating my life.”

No matter how much depression, anxiety, etc, this creates, we’re supposed to accept that this is the most viable form of governance.  In order to control might-makes-right, you’ve got to have control, so anything that we could count on to normalize the rates of depression, anxiety, etc., could seem idealistic, repressive, etc.  They’d have to be counted among the “all its faults” that are to be accepted automatically, since no matter how bad they get, measures to stop them could lead to rampant helplessness of a different kind.  “CEO-dominated” doesn’t seem to be real domination, since it would seem that that couldn’t truly dominate you if you were courageous and wise enough to succeed on your own.

 It seemed that I was taking what that businessman said too literally, though this standard for what constituted a figurative interpretation of requirements, would pretty much accept any interpretation that could seem tenable.  The whole rationale for moderation in religion is not to take one’s holy book literally, though none of the world’s holy books were written to be taken figuratively.  Also, though scientists and engineers are supposed to be literalists, engineers must have a very nuanced and non-simplistic, realistic sense for how much certainty, reliability, etc., would be necessary for each situation.  I certainly cared as much about the spirit of our agreement as I did about the letter of it, but that seemed to be too literalist, since the spirit of the agreement wasn’t that it was trivial or speculative.  Quite literally, those who have a mild case of pathological lying could use this as an excuse for their lying, “But I was just ‘Thinking out loud.’  I didn’t intend for that to be taken literally!”  “But sometimes I say things just to smooth things over.  I didn’t intend for that to be taken literally!”

Arthur Koestler, the main writer in The God that Failed, the classic book of ex-Stalinists saying why they left, wrote that the Stalinists condemned “thinking in mechanistic, not in dialectical, terms.”  This label mechanistic thinking, is a lot like the label literalistic thinking.  Both labels would allow those who believe what they’re supposed to believe, to condemn those who call things as they see them, by saying that this doesn’t involve the right interpretation of what might seem to be objective facts.  Even if one’s understanding of an agreement is based on the spirit rather than the words, this could still be called literalistic if it doesn’t involve the cultural norms that would say that this spirit isn’t really to be taken seriously.  And, of course, “dialectical thinking” would have to entail Stalinist norms.  Both allow for a rather mandatory and not really limited moral relativism that doesn’t look like moral relativism, only like “the right interpretation.”  He wrote, “Gradually I learned to distrust my mechanistic preoccupation with facts and to regard the world around me in the light of dialectic interpretation.  It was a satisfactory and indeed blissful state; once you had assimilated the technique you were no longer disturbed by facts; they automatically took on the proper color and fell into their proper place,” and a capitalist version of this is that if someone in the business world breaks a commitment with you that you’re not powerful enough to enforce, then if you choose not to take it literally, you’d feel that you live in a system that would give you a fair chance to succeed, so you’d be in a blissful state in which things automatically take on the proper color and fall into their proper place.

When, on January 25, 2006, on Larry King Live, William Bastone, editor of The Smoking Gun Web site, was telling of their exposing the lies in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, and Vanity Fair media columnist Michael Wolff, who had a very tolerant attitude toward Frey, and said to Bastone, “You know you’re a literalist and that may be part of the issue here.”  Some of the other things that Wolff said were, “I think [Oprah] did a great job whatever it is that she had to do.  I mean I think that she saw this as a brand issue,” “The author sat there looking like a condemned man and everyone piled on,” “You know, the one thing I want to say is that I may be the only realistic person here who thinks that if you read a book by a junkie it probably won’t be entirely true,” and, “You know it’s the idea of the story.  Everybody has to have a story.  When you go to Wall Street to try to get investors to give you money they say ‘What’s your story?’.”

So well-adjusted pragmatists in the business world figure that: you should do a great job taking care of brand issues, when morally responsible people are held morally responsible they become victims of this judgmentalism, potential victims of con jobs are responsible for their own survival skills, and even when you sell to Wall Street you have to have a “story.”  And who’s to say that disagreeing with that moral-relativism-becomes-amoral-absolutism, isn’t being too literalist?  If this pragmatic attitude makes one most likely to succeed, and none can prove objectively that it’s ethically wrong, you’ll seem more respectable if you have it than if you don’t.

Formerly, “You shouldn’t take this literally,” would mean that you should care about its spirit rather than the letter of what was agreed to.  Now, that could mean that you should be unduly permissive and tolerant toward it.  In practical terms, whatever anyone can get away with without unambiguously violating the rules, could be called “not taking things literally,” which means that if your opinion is that he did violate the rules, you’d seem to be a shameful literalist.

On October 6, 2008, during the Congressional hearings in which Dick “There’s a Reason Why I’m Not Called Richard” Fuld,
CEO of Lehman Brothers, testified, Representative Betty McCollum said to him,

My constituents in Minnesota understand that you don’t have to do something illegal to do something wrong.  Imperfect Federal regulation isn’t a license for unethical behavior, especially when it puts taxpayers at risk.  In our current regulatory framework, there is a gray space between legal activity and illegal activity. And in that space, financial firms can make a choice to either obey the letter of the law but not to honor the spirit of the law [sic].

So, according to this, literalism would allow more than would non-literalism.  In this case, any statements against literalism could seem judgmental, anti-freedom, wussy, etc., especially before the disaster happened.

 

 

But, of course, here we’re talking about literal interpretations of what the law says, not literal interpretations of what could be called off-handed statements by a businessman (though their intent was to have a lot riding on them).  What’s very much of note about this is that the dangers that the literalists are unjustly ignoring, are to taxpayers, those who lose what they lose because of guv’mint action.  Those who’d suffer effects of the meltdown that didn’t come from guv’mint commands, such as unemployment and falling values of their investments, wouldn’t seem to have been as victimized, since “That’s life.”  Probably that gray area at least wouldn’t have been so big, if those who wrote the law weren’t afraid of the guv’mint interfering.

One form of off-handed statement made by a businessman, the sort that I heard, is of the overly-optimistic variety.  As the old Victorian joke says, “If a lady says ‘No,’ she means ‘Maybe.’  If she says ‘Maybe,’ she means ‘Yes.’  And if she says ‘Yes,’ she’s not a lady.”  What I kept hearing from my friends was, in essence, “If an assured businessman says ‘Yes,’ he means ‘Maybe.’  If he says ‘Maybe,’ he means ‘No.’  And if he says ‘No,’ he’s not an assured businessman.”  This is basically the same thing as Ken Lay’s main defense, that when he was making all those guarantees that everything was fine, he was just  cheerleading , not really making guarantees.  Only literalists would have considered them to be guarantees.  Sure, when Condé Nast’s Portfolio, in consultation with a panel of business-school professors, decided on a list of “the 20 Worst CEOs of All Time,” Kenny Boy was in third place.  Yet before Enron’s problems came to light, it, and he, seemed to be heroes of the pro-freedom “new economy.”  This assessment begins, “When it comes to bad CEOs, Lay was the complete package.  He was not only dishonest but dangerously inept as a manager as well,” but it really would fit the norms of the “new economy” to say that you can’t really say as an objective fact that his guarantees of safety weren’t just  cheerleading , or that his trust in Skilling and Fastow weren’t the sort of anti-authoritarianism that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t depending on what the trusted people choose to do, or that if you think that any bookkeeping is creative then that’s fact rather than just your anti-freedom, anti-innovation opinion.

Ripped-Off: Madoff and the Scamming of America, shown on the History Channel, included Steve Fraser, who wrote Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, saying that some times the American public shows for Wall Street a “hatred for an institution of people who take advantage of other people, who become themselves super-rich, who scheme and defraud and live off the hard work of others.”  One of those fraudsters whose pictures they showed during this, was Ken Lay.  Yet, at the very least, the frauds that he’s most known for, was his saying, as Enron was falling apart, that everything was doing fine.  This was hardly a “scheme.”  It could be called simply “being optimistic.”  Sure, since he was trying to get investors to believe something, he did have a responsibility to make sure that it reflected reality.  What he chose to say certainly wasn’t just a mistake.  Yet it comes a lot closer to “the sort of thing that anyone might do, if he were desperate enough,” than a scheme.

Strangely, when literalism suited Enron, they loved it.  Their risk management manual actually said, “Reported earnings follow the rules and principles of accounting.  The results do not always create measures consistent with underlying economics.  However, corporate management’s performance is generally measured by accounting income, not underlying economics.  Risk management strategies are therefore directed at accounting rather than economic performance.”  As long as the numbers were technically right, the spirit of what they were supposed to be saying didn’t seem to matter.

Yet one really would have to ask what was the difference between Ken Lay’s statements for which he was originally found guilty, and overly-optimistic statements that Bush and his allies made just before, or even during, the Great Crash of 2008:

“What we have found over the years in the marketplace is that derivatives have been an extraordinarily useful vehicle to transfer risk from those who shouldn’t be taking it to those who are willing to and are capable of doing so.”—Alan Greenspan, July 16, 2003

“Not only have individual financial institutions become less vulnerable to shocks from underlying risk factors, but also the financial system as a whole has become more resilient.”—Greenspan, October 5, 2004

“George W. Bush could well turn out to be the best president in recent history....  Supply-side pro-growth economics couldn’t ask for a better champion—nor could any American.”—Supply-Side Economist Arthur Laffer, February 14, 2005

“This economy is strong; it’s going to stay strong.”—Bush, October 26, 2005

“But I am still going to talk the facts, the facts are stubborn things, and the American people have got to know that this economy is strong and we’ve got a plan to keep it strong.”—Bush, May 7, 2006

“That’s [the global economy] as strong as I’ve seen it than at any time during my business career.”—Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, March 2, 2007

“He should be judged very, very well as far as the economy is concerned.  We’re in a long sustained period of economic growth.”—John McCain on George W. Bush, March 5, 2007

“We did not expect significant spillovers in the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system.”—Ben Bernanke, May 17, 2007

“This is happening against a backdrop in an economy in which in other respects is very solid.  So far, there’s very little evidence it’s bleeding over into other areas.”—Paulson, August 16, 2007

“Wages are rising, unemployment is low, exports are up, and steady job creation continues.”—Bush, August 31, 2007

“...this economy is strong and is setting all kinds of records.”—Bush, October 11, 2007

“The market knows what the economic worrywarts do not, which is that the housing sector is already making a comeback.”—Kenneth Fisher, Forbes columnist, October 26, 2007

“Message to all you worrywarts out there:  The U.S. remains strong.  There is no recession ahead.”—Lawrence Kudlow, Supply-Side Commentator, November 2, 2007

“There are definite storm clouds and concern, but the underpinning is good.  We’ll work our way through this period.”—President Bush, December 18, 2007

“In other words, this is a resilient economy, because we rely on the free enterprise system.  Our economy is flexible, it motivates people to take risks.”—Bush, January 7, 2008

“The U.S. economy is fundamentally strong and will continue to grow in the short term.”—Paulson, January 25, 2008

“The state of our economy is strong.”—Bush, January 31, 2008

“What did you say? You’re predicting $4 a gallon [for gas].  That’s interesting.  I hadn’t heard that.”—Bush, February 29, 2008

“We’re in challenging times and another thing is for certain, that we take strong and decisive action.”—Bush, March, 2008

“I have great, great confidence in our capital markets and in our financial institutions.  Our financial institutions, banks and investment banks, are strong.  Our capital markets are resilient.  They’re efficient.  They’re flexible.”—Paulson, March 16, 2008

“Our policy in this administration—laws shouldn’t bail out lenders, laws shouldn’t help speculators.”—Bush, May 19, 2008

“...most of the major institutions are profitable except for their write-offs on subprime.  If we can get through this period, I think we’ll see a quick recovery.”—Phil Gramm, July 9, 2008

“Our economy has continued growing, consumers are spending, business are investing, exports continue increasing and American productivity remains strong.  We can have confidence in the long-term foundation of our economy...  I think the system basically is sound. I truly do.”—President Bush, July 15, 2008

“Our economy, I think, still the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”—John McCain, September 15, 2008, two days before the run on the bank

“Some said [the government in the rescue plan] should just stick capital in the banks, take preferred stock in the banks.  That’s what you do when you have failure.  This is about success.”—Paulson, September 23, 2008

Just before the economy crashed, commentators kept referring to the recession that led to it as a

as if it seemed necessary that this recession is the sort of thing that realists would accept fatalistically.

A Treasury Department press release of October 14, 2008, Statement by Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. on Actions to Protect the U.S. Economy, begins, “America is a strong nation.  We are a confident and optimistic people.  Our confidence is born out of our long history of meeting every challenge we face.  Time and time again our nation has faced adversity and time and time again we have overcome it and risen to new heights.  This time will be no different.”  In other words, we should be resilient about whatever might result, completely ignoring how his risky policies caused it.

One really would have to ask what is the difference between that, and the overly-optimistic guarantees that Kenny boy was convicted for.  For example, Joseph J. Cassano, a recent former A.I.G. executive and onetime executive of Drexel Burnham Lambert, said in August, 2007, “It is hard for us, without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing one dollar in any of those transactions.”  Since this was a company that was trying to have a positive attitude about its own chances of success, statements such as this could be called comparable to Lay’s.  Yet one probably couldn’t say that Lay’s over-optimism was unambiguously cynical.  Maybe, to some degree, he wanted to believe what he said so much that, to some degree, he didn’t really know that what he was saying was more questionable than the usual positive thinking would be.  Obviously, when an executive makes guarantees that others are supposed to count on, he’d have to be more careful than would be just believing what one wants to.  The same would go for the above politicians’ guarantees about the economy, that even if they sincerely believed the optimism that they chose to have, since the public is counting on their guarantees, that wouldn’t mean that they didn’t have to make sure.  As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in The Power of Negative Thinking, a September 23, 2008 Op-Ed for the New York Times, the optimism that our culture encourages could make one believe, “You will be able to pay that adjustable-rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits if only you believe that you can.”  Also, “Everyone knows that you won’t get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you’re a ‘positive person,’ and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster.”  And in the business world, contrived optimism could serve another purpose, since as long as one sincerely believes that his risk would turn out well, then he couldn’t be found guilty of doing anything malicious.

 

 

A CNN Vital Signs webpage about the financial meltdown, Is brain glitch to blame for financial crisis?, tells of a study that found, through functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, that when people hear the advice of financial professionals, these people’s brains become a lot less active, as if they’re trusting the advice.  “The results reflect our natural tendency to defer to experts, that Berns argues is a product of our evolution as social animals.

“‘We are hardwired to care deeply about what other people think, and we will often suppress or change our own individual judgments when someone else offers an opinion.

“Our brains will make the assumption that other people know more than we do,’ he said.”

So a certain amount of trust is just as natural as is reciprocity and a respect for it, which are vital in a normal society.  Those who talk about free trade in terms of how essential it is for a free society, would also probably be the first to say that we mustn’t be so idealistic and naïve that we’d trust people as many had naïvely trusted the Wall Street con men.  Yet it really is only natural to trust people.  In order for this to be so natural, the natural level of trustworthiness must also be a lot higher than our norms assume.  Yet as long as business as usual is what it is, natural trust is a brain glitch, just as, since our social norms produce unnaturally high levels of depression and anxiety disorders that wouldn’t have existed if we had social norms that were close to what’s natural, these seem to be brain glitches.


 

During my entire wait with that particular businessman, I actively telephoned the boss every few weeks to few months, assertively.  He kept saying the commitment was fine.  Therefore, he actively perpetuated it.  He was clearly sincere and good-natured, not the type who’d engage in stab-in-the-back business tactics.  His customers rely on him for his ability to reality-test, so it’s not like I was trusting a Hell’s Angel or a spaced-out starving artist.

Yet by the end of that first year, I started to see what I’d later recognize to be signs of a hyperthymic personality.  Since these came across as bizarre, people didn’t have the same acceptance of them that they had toward his destructive behavior.  Like someone disinhibited by booze, he was oblivious both to how this was hurting others, and how this was hurting himself.  Those in my informal anthropological survey could see what was wrong with that.

Everything that I heard about how I should handle the boss was along the same lines as what I heard in the codependency group.  While hearing diverse people’s responses to my experience with the boss, I kept hearing that when one person causes a problem for another, it’s time to save the victim from himself, from any inadequacy in his serenity courage or tactical wisdom.  Of course, “inadequacy” always means inadequate to deal with whatever his reality is, not inadequate to meet reasonable expectations.  “Inadequacies” in serenity would seem to mean that he’s choosing to let the problem bother him, choosing to be more discouraged than he has to be, etc, as in the AA slogan, “To be wronged is nothing, unless you insist on remembering it.”  “Inadequacies” in courage would seem to mean that he chose not to do whatever it takes to deal physically with his reality, as in the AA slogan, “Life is like wrestling a gorilla.  You don’t stop when you get tried, you stop when the gorilla gets tired.”  “Inadequacies” in tactical wisdom would seem to mean, among other things, caring about who caused the problem or how immoral this might have been, since this would make no difference in answering The Only Legitimate Question, which is, “Am I or am I not helpless to change this?”.

As an AA slogan says, “Put aside the idea of fairness or unfairness.”  All this would probably come with sophistry to prove that what caused the problem wasn’t absolutely evil and that the victim isn’t absolutely hopeless.  No matter what happens, the victim always has some control over how he perceives it, so he could always be characterized as dealing with life on life’s terms as we all must.  The fact that this is sophistry would be very obvious to those who dare to break the rule given by the AA slogans, “The only requirement for serenity is a desire to stop thinking,” and, “There’s no one too dumb for this program, but it’s possible to be too smart.”  Those who choose not to meet the only requirement for serenity, would therefore be labeled self-defeating.  From these, follow all of the other presumptions of victim correction as a panacea, and the adamancy of them, as being absolutely vital for one’s survival skills, self-reliant honorability, and forgiveness.  Before I attended that group, I became familiar with such ideas of Reaganomics, such as that the theme song that was emblematic of the Reagan era, Lee Greenwood’s God Bless The USA, proudly begins, “If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,” whether this was my fault or not I’d simply take responsibility for my own welfare by rebuilding.

The basic presumptions that self-help means solving our own problems by helping ourselves, we can see expressed unapologetically in the following, no matter what hardship sinfulness or calamity we’re up against:

 

In various places in my electronic notes from that era, I noted, "'Self-improvement' never means improvement of how one affects others. The more severe is one's situation, the more self-improvement one seems to need," The question that determines who has personal responsibility for a problem is, "'Who's left holding the bag?', which usually means, 'Who had the least control?'" (This I now describe as, “Whose problem is it?  Whose welfare is at stake?”), "You can't change others' destructive acts, but you can change how effective your reactions are," "This overrides everything else, and is to be routine, with no fear and trembling," "Even when this reaches the inherent limits of its logic, you're to have exactly the same acceptance of it," "Proverbs 21:13 says, 'Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall also cry himself, but shall not be heard,' but the attack politicians said, 'Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall refuse to encourage their negative outlook, passive self-concepts, and victim-posturing, so he will bolster their inner strength.'" not watching out for such passive attitudes in oneself would be, "the self-defeating choice not to get a grip," "The guiltier that something is, the more that it has to work and pressure to make people believe that it's innocent,"

"This is one-track-minded, which means that if you're not on that track, you'll seem off-course,"

"Glowing mental health would mean self-determination, self-help, self-reliance, self-will, self-improvement, self-empowerment, taking responsibility for one's own welfare, diligence, decisive action, dealing with reality, goal-direction, striving for success, creating success, pragmatism.  This would deal with the problem, and why wouldn't you want that?",

"No matter what problems you caused others, they could be seen as temporary since the victim could always fix them, so if they don't, they'd seem responsible for their continued existence,"

"'Realism' requires distortion, in that in order to think in a results-oriented fashion, you'd have to distort your perceptions as to what really is your responsibility, what really are your chances of success, etc.,"

"Saint Bernard wrote, 'Whence is all disturbance of mind, if not from following one's own desires?', and the modern version of this would be, 'Whence is all disturbance of mind, if not from following one's own conclusions he drew from his own experiences?'",

"If a macho man with children is suddenly widowed leaving him as the sole caretaker of the children, and it would then be pragmatic for him to give up the macho attitudes, it's very unlikely that a psychologist would try to get him to choose to give up the macho attitudes, which most men could live without.  Yet if a mother with children is suddenly widowed, any re-programming that would make her life more efficient, would be an option,"

"When I was in elementary school, my teacher told me that there are advantages and disadvantages of a society's culture having loose standards, in that sure, loose standards would mean more freedom, but it would also mean more insecurity in that you really don't know what someone else could do at your expense at any time. Ever since the Reagan era, the thinking went that no matter how dangerously loose the society's standards are, to be aware that you really don't know what someone else could do at your expense at any time, would be defeatist,"

"People are as unlikely to need or choose to feel unprovoked helplessness, as they are to need or choose to feel unprovoked anger, disgust, nervousness, impatience, repugnance, distress, humiliation, grieving, aggravation, annoyance, embarrassment, irritation, or dejection,"

"While the norms that cause all the depression may seem only natural to us, they don't seem only natural to the rest of the world," "Just imagine that you're an open-minded Easterner,"

Victims’ problems are dismissed because they seem to be, "nebulous banal seemingly inevitable personal problems that may have been allowed to happen by the victims' own personal weaknesses,"

"As Gunther S. Stent wrote in an essay included in Ashley Montague's Science and Creationism, 'Even cursory study of the Bible [as a major shaper of Western culture] would have made it clear to [sociobiologists] that in the Western culture to which they belong as whose values they share, the actions of persons are judged on the basis of intent and not, as generally assumed in sociobiological thought regarding morally relevant behavior, of the consequences,' when scrutinizing behavior on the redblood side of the dichotomy. When scrutinizing behavior on the mollycoddle side, not only do the consequences of what the victim allowed to happen, are what gets judged, but the victims are then told that they must have intended those consequences to happen,"

"If you can't adjust to, adapt to, function in, remain undisturbed by, compensate for, fit in with, feel contented with, your reality, then you're just a maladjusted maladaptive dysfunctional disturbed and decompensated misfit and malcontent. If you try to vindicate yourself you're vindictive, and if you use your best judgment as to whether it's wrong, you're judgmental."

So here’s the part of my notes, which recount exactly what victim correction as a panacea, I had recommended over and over to me.  As I looked back at these, I find it amazing that even then, long before I became as interested as I am now in how the Palestinian refugees are expected to adjust and adapt, I was looking at how people in an occupied country could find it pragmatic to adjust and adapt.

Also, at that time I used the word “intrusive” in a way that some people found unusual.  What I meant is that many of those around us, think of many actions that violate others’ rights, as “individualistic.”  Efforts to defend one’s own boundaries in ways that involve holding the violators morally responsible rather than simply using one’s own power to avoid them, would therefore seem “intrusive,” since they’re “controlling.”

In The Nature and Destiny of Man, Niebuhr wrote that his sort of transcendence preserves individualism, “It is this capacity of freedom which finally prompts great cultures and philosophies to transcend rationalism and to seek for the meaning of life in an unconditioned ground of existence....  But since mysticism leads to an undifferentiated ultimate reality, it is bound to regard particularity, including individuality, as essentially evil.”  Yet in practical terms, in a society that regards his “unconditioned” rationality-trumping transcendence as the paragon of being well-adjusted, people’s personal boundaries would we worth only as much as they have the power to change others’ encroachments on them.  If the boundaries of our land were similar, we’d expect only ourselves to take them seriously, and others may or may not violate them in ways that would harm us, so we’d just better have enough courage to remain ever vigilant and chase away any violators.  This would constitute our having the courage to change what we can, resiliently resourcefully and independently, while we can’t change the fact that some people are sinful enough to harmfully violate these boundaries if they could, so we must serenely accept that they are that way.  This is the sort of thing that those around me called “individualistic,” and I called “intrusive.”

As could clearly be seen in the effect that victim correction has had those self-blaming depressives I knew, the founding of the United States was not based on, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is not as I would have it; Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will,” but on intellect, philosophy, and principles.


 


Notes ~1989-1990

Before I got my first word processor, ’way back in the Eighties, I took some handwritten notes about this, which I don’t now have.  The only papers I have from then, are such things as a frontpage newspaper article about why women suffer more depression than men, dated December 6, 1990, and saying such things as that a psychologist chairing the investigative group said, “After working on our task-force report, I ’m amazed more women aren’t depressed, just given their economics and general second-class-citizen status.”

I glued this article just inside the back cover of the copy of the textbook Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing, Adaptation and Growth, edited by Barbara Schoen Johnson, which I’d just bought, which says, “Depression has been described as the number one mental health problem in the United States; an estimated 10% to 20% of the population experiences significant episodes of depression.  Data from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that one in five Americans has at least moderate symptomatology of depression.”

I do remember three of the topics I noted in my own notes.  The first is that it doesn’t matter whether objections are warranted or not, only whether they’re pragmatic or not.  The second is that harmful behavior doesn’t really seem to matter, since the consequences seem to be only surmountable obstacles, so the only salient issue is how self-efficacious the victim is in surmounting his obstacles.  The third was to collect words that suggest that something’s wrong with anyone who doesn’t simply adjust and adapt to whatever his reality is.  The list that I ended up with is: “Those who don’t adequately adjust to, adapt to, function in, remain undisturbed by, compensate for, fit in with, and feel contented with whatever happened to them; without forgiving, failing, losing the battles, trying to vindicate themselves, evaluating the morality of behaviors, using their best judgment as to whether or not they’re wrong, or acting like a muckraker; would seem to be just inadequate maladjusted maladaptive dysfunctional disturbed decompensated unforgiving vindictive moralistic and judgmental, misfits malcontents failures and losers, who love to rake through muck.”  All three of these, the categorical focusing attention on what would be most pragmatic self-reliant and forgiving for a given situation, the minimization of our concern for destructive behavior as causing only temporary destruction if only the victims took response-ability for their own welfare, and the unforgivingly negative labels that are put on victims who don’t fit in with this, pretty much sum up victim correction as a panacea.
 


Notes—1991:



When I talked with other people about this, they acted as if it wasn't outrageous, or even irregular. Chillingly void of any hesitation, qualifications, apologies, or expectations of anything better, people tried to enlighten me about lessons they learned from experience, the best gauge of the real world. As they did, I noticed three main themes to their responses, which I have heard so often in response to similar situations that these ideas had to have come from cultural conditioning rather than from independent reasoning.

The first is that intrusive adversarial interactions are a question of the individual rights of the perpetrator.  [I now think of this as, “The redbloods have rights.”] Fortunately they didn't see this situation in these terms to the degree that I had seen other Americans view similar situations in these terms [i.e., in the codependency groups, where it didn’t matter how malicious was the husbands’ behavior that caused the wives’ problems, only that the wives practice self-determination by solving their own problems]. These ideas include: You've got to think of his intrusive act in terms of how it served his interests. The consequences of irresponsibility aren't cynically planned so you can't call them evil, and who gave you the right to judge that someone else used insufficient caution? What he did was in the past, so getting angry about it will accomplish nothing. Freedom means that we all have the right to make some heedless mistakes and not be treated as evil.

The second theme was that the consequences of his actions are my responsibility, since if I see my role as passive victim rather than as a participant who could have taken responsibility, I surrender control of my life to my enemies.  [I now think of this as, “The mollycoddles have response-abilities.”] I have previously seen this lead to the self-hatred for being victimized that's unique to Western depression, and the problems that always occur when something that's the right of one person becomes the responsibility of another. These ideas include: If you don't do whatever necessary to adapt to whatever they may choose to do, you're maladaptive. If you effectively react by fight or flight when you're victimized, you have self-determination. If you chose not to protect yourself like this, then you chose to let him victimize you, you dug your own grave. If you do something out of fear, you voluntarily chose to do it, since you preferred it over the feared thing you chose to fight. The victim must regard what is done to him as his responsibility, or he won't fight as resolutely, and will suffer the consequences of this. Victims' unavoidable problems aren't legitimate issues, because if the victims treat them as meaningful, then these victims are pitying, dishonoring, disparaging, and disabling themselves by relying on weakness to get what they want, and by thinking of themselves as weak and vanquished. If you distrust respectable people to the degree that you would make huge sacrifices to protect yourself if there was any indication of possible sociopathy, all the problems caused by this would be your free choice. If you feel helpless, then you allowed him to make you feel helpless.

The third idea is that even an act as extreme as the boss's, is slightly excessively normal human imperfection. I have limits on what we must accept as simply the lack of perfection. [I now think of this as a combination of the first two.  If any destruction is just a slightly excessively normal example of “life on life’s terms,” then it would seem that naturally the person who did it has a right to at least toleration and understanding, and the victim has the response-ability to deal with life on life’s terms.] To set such limits would seem Utopian, because who ever said that human nature was reasonable? These ideas include: Whatever they do, you've just got to accept that some people are that way, or you can't accept humanity. While most people won't behave extremely harmfully most of the time, you must never count on anyone not to do something extremely harmful. It's inevitable human nature that the perpetrator feels his own needs far more than others'. Intrusive acts are nothing more than life's inevitable unfair situations. I've had bosses do things like this to me; this is just the extreme end of business as usual. On order to survive in the real world, you've got to recognize when bosses lead you on like this.

But when I spoke with people about what happened, I spoke with the same old monolith. They said:

You've got to think of his intrusive act in terms of how it served his interests. It's a shame that he stalled you like this. He may have forgotten that he made such a firm commitment, since high consequences for others aren't going to make human memory infallible. If he decides he doesn't want to keep the commitment, and you hold him obligated to this mistake, you are unfairly moralistic and exploitative. If you expect a person to take seriously a written commitment in which you invested a lot, even when the commitment encounters problems that he should have predicted, then you're taking the commitment too literally. [I always thought that taking something figuratively meant caring more about the intent than the exact wording, but as far as victim correctors are concerned, it doesn’t matter that the intent was obviously very consequential, only that any commitment that’s taken figuratively to the max, could seem to be a crapshoot that might work out or might not.] Whether the victim's role is within the threshold of human endurance is irrelevant to all but Utopians.

If you don't do whatever necessary to adapt to whatever they may choose to do, you're maladaptive. You're shamefully unassertive and lacking in self-respect if you don't accept that taking responsibility for yourself means sacrificing whatever necessary to fight for partial reprieves from others' intrusive acts, sometimes desperately, only because you're the person most vulnerable. Since I chose to let this happen, I'm as responsible for it as if my inborn perversions motivated me to live like a malingering degenerate. If you see an intrusive act in terms of how the perpetrator failed rather than in terms of how you failed to defend yourself, you're giving others control over your life by seeing it as determined by them rather than by you. If the victims don't have the patience of a saint and go on functioning as if these had never happened, they're losers who can't cope. If you must choose from a very limited selection of burdensome options determined by someone who got his power from private property laws, which exist because of governmental threats of lethal force, you have a free choice for which you must feel privileged and take responsibility, since the government isn't forcing you to do anything.  If you deserve success but others keep creating disasters for you, and you persevere diligently enough, you will someday succeed. (Scientists would call this an "unfalsifiable hypothesis", which means that even if it's false it still seems true, so it can't be trusted to distinguish.) [On one hand, expectations that we be as skeptical as science would say that we should be, would be skeptical of everything that, at the moment, we couldn’t prove, but on the other hand, a lack of this skepticism could lead to us believing in whatever has the most übermensch emotional force.] If someone does something that harms you, then you lost the battle, you failed, shame on you. Circumstances are what they are, and you have to accept these circumstances as a given, whether they were caused by the willful actions of another person or by immutable laws of physics. When someone does something at your expense, and you tell him that you're angry, this would give you strength, confidence, and self-determination (though it will accomplish absolutely nothing, and having to resort to something this impotent may make you feel even more desperate). If someone's imperfect but not outlandish behavior doesn't raise an alarm that he will do something extreme, because you believe normal people very rarely cause catastrophes whimsically, you are naively expecting perfection. Relying on my rights as victim to get what I want would be what Nietzsche called "slave morality". So, I must engage in slave-like behavior, having to enthusiastically work hard to hunt for a job to which a contract entitles me, at a time that I can't afford this degradation.

Whatever they do, you've just got to accept that some people are that way, or you can't accept humanity. Intrusive acts are nothing more than life's inevitable unfair situations. (repeated 20 times) Since we live in an "individualistic" society, people sometimes do intrusive things of this magnitude. You can't expect that anyone will be better than this. Most often people will be better, but if you expect that they will be, a substantial number of times you'll make a possibly dangerous mistake. If you don't adjust to whatever they choose to do or to whatever you must sacrifice to escape it, you're maladjusted. You're naive if you trust that a respectable person won't needlessly do something this dreadful at your expense. Don't trust bigger companies, since to them you are a very measly cog in their huge machine. Don't trust smaller companies, since they haven't proven their steadfastness by achieving great things. You have to get a job and otherwise live a normal life under these conditions, or you'll be living in a box on the street. You can cope with this, since all normal people must deal with it. (But can they all, really?  [What about all those statistics on depression, etc.?]) Every life has its peaks and valleys, so accept whatever befalls you. If you expect him to regard this as wrong, you expect everyone to share your values; certainly there exists some philosophy that would excuse it, and those are his values. When you're unlucky you get an overly exploitative boss, and when you're lucky, you don't. Some bosses commit themselves to giving you a job and then continually delay it, as if they don't realize that you have a life of your own.

When I would tell them that I couldn't continually actively clean up after something that someone did unto me, since this entire situation was abjectly illegitimate, they may give me a puzzled grimace. Often this was accompanied by a statement to the effect of "You know very well that illegitimacy isn't going to spare you anything. By treating legitimacy as something that matters, are you just trying to sabotage yourself?". Legitimacy is only an abstraction. If someone has the power to impose a burden on you, no matter how unjustifiable it is, its illegitimacy will mean nothing in this contest of power. Abstractions can't strengthen you as you fight for what you should have or engage in flight from what you shouldn't have, so they're worthless.

Their fatalism often made me feel as if I was a native of an occupied country, and every time I spoke with a well-meaning native about this, he would tell me, in a blase voice "The occupiers are brutal, but, oh, well, human nature sometimes is that way. They've got the guns, so they've got the power, and that's all that matters in the real world. Justice and legitimacy are only abstractions. The occupation is unfair, but, oh, well, you can't seriously expect life to be fair. Dismiss the occupation from your mind, and try to function as if it never happened. You'll be a lot happier, and if you don't, you chose to think in a way that made you flounder."

Their culturally-based uniformity sometimes made me feel as if I was talking with a Chinese woman of 500 years ago about foot-binding. She would have said: "Sure it's painful, but everyone has to endure it, so you can too. Everyone knows it's worth the pain, so your objections certainly seem odd. If you refuse to bind your daughters' feet, they likely won't be able to marry men who can support them and their children, so for the sake of their financial well-being, they and you must accept the practice. Think of foot-binding as self enhancement rather than as degradation, and you'll feel a lot happier.

"Parents bind their daughters' feet as an exercise in freedom. The government doesn't, force them to do it. They do it because if they don't, their daughters likely wouldn't be able to win husbands rich enough to keep them and their children alive even during years of poor harvests. These parents have the freedom to choose between binding their daughters' feet and having their daughters starve to death. Also, there have been times in which a big-footed woman was able to marry a respectable man. After all, there's no law prohibiting rich men from marrying women without bound feet. These women's inspiring stories of success give further weight to the argument that Chinese parents really do have the freedom to choose."

A steady diet of this can really make a person hopeless. My soul became paralyzed, so I had to fight myself to get myself to do just about anything. My demeanor was zombie-like. I felt very numb, so while bad things didn't bother me as much, expressions of good emotion seemed to be just a recounting of things I felt in the past.
 


 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

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  To The [Abuse] Survivors ♥♥♥♥♥

Men Dying for Love

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Oh, Yeah?” Upbeat Echoes from the First Great Stock Market Crash

Victim Correction as a Panacea, the Summary (Page 1)

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Cancer Victims Corrected Too

The Main Victim Correction as a Panacea

 Documentation On the Social Problem of Unnaturally Rampant Depression

 Standard Rationales for Victim Correction as a Panacea

 Schopenhauer on Predators

 Emphasis on Victim-Self-Blaming

Darwinist Lehman Brothers’ INSIDE Sales Tips

Darwinist Lehman Brothers’ INSIDE Introduction to Management Book

Top of Out of the Same Mold as the Great Crash of 2008

Message for Intellectuals in the Islamic World

Candace Newmaker’s Experience

Breaking Important Confidences for Your Own Good

A Glimpse Into the Soul of Victim Correction

Cigarette Industry and Victim Correction

Niebuhr’s Ideas on Our Nature and Destiny

Herbal Experiences for Women

Some Ideas for Rapport

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