The Psychopathology of The Republican
By Richard Greene
Fear, Domination, The Reptilian Brain and The Non-Goodness of Man
Republicans are different. We must understand them in order to reason with them.
As proud Republicans begin their convention in earnest in Minnesota today it might be a good time to reflect on why a dedicated, patriotic, intelligent adult would choose to be a Republican.
It was a question that always haunted me - until Dennis Prager, super dedicated, super patriotic and unbelievably intelligent Republican - answered it, ironically at the Democratic Convention last week in Denver.
Thank you, Dennis
The answer came at the beginning of a debate I moderated at the Seachange Ideas Forum at The Starz Green Room, a refreshingly deep and cordial debate between Dennis, famed right wing talk show host and Thom Hartmann, my colleague on Air America, one of the most brilliant Progressive minds in the country.
What I learned helps me understand why Republicans are hawks, why they still give George W. Bush a 67% approval rating compared to 29% from the public at large (USA Today/Gallup Poll, August 23, 2008) and why FEAR plays such a vast role in the lives of Republicans. Here is a summary and some analysis.
Basic Belief About Mankind
Underlying everything, Dennis Prager made this bold statement:
"I don't think we're basically good, as it happens/ And that is at least a theoretical political divide . . . It is so obvious to me that people are not basically good that I stand in awe of those who think that people are basically good. You have no evidence for it. . . . Babies are not good . . . What is so good about a baby . . . This notion that we are born good is nonsense . . . We don't start off good. This is fantasy . . . We aren't basically good. People stink as a rule. . . ."
Forever On Guard Against Evil
If Dennis Prager speaks for most or all Republicans and Conservatives, there are huge practical consequences to this life philosophy. As a result of this core, existential belief, Republicans/Conservatives must, above all, always be on guard against evil. Saddam Hussein, Hitler and others. then, are overwhelming evidence that, if not vigilant and fearful, the inherent non-goodness of mankind could erupt, like a bad case of herpes, the virus lying dormant, for ever, in the collective nervous system of mankind.
Dominate (Before You Are Dominated)
Having to be on guard, leads to another core belief, according to famed author Rianne Eisler. She writes, in "The Power of Partnership" that fear leads to a life philosophy and political philosophy of "Domination" rather than the less fear based and more evolved "Partnership" model. Dominate before you are dominated. Fear partnership because, as Dennis explained, individuals are NOT good and, ultimately, can not be trusted, no matter what "agreements" you might negotiate.
The Party of Domination
The Republican Party is a party of domination, not partnership. Dominate the earth - drill, excavate and justify all and any penetration and exercise of control by denying that we humans could even contribute to climate change. Dominate Iraq, because they and their evil leader could someday dominate us. Dominate/attack Iran for the same reason. Fight for your interpretation of The 2nd Amendment because only by having unlimited access to guns can we dominate if and when necessary to suppress those that want to hurt us. Use Lee Atwater tactics and, now, Karl Rove tactics to try to control all branches of government. And, for some who may be even more desperate, use corrupted electronic voting machines and steal elections (on the ground or from The Supreme Court) because it is necessary. All is justified because only "we" are strong enough and understand the true threat of domination that others present. Being dominated is not an option.
It is Republicans, Not Democrats, Who Are Inherently Weak and Need A Strong Protector to Feel Safe
And that leads us to the ultimate irony about Republicans. They are hawks, they are tough, they go nuts about the concept of negotiating (unless there are preconditions that can preserve the domination and superiority) and appeasement . . . precisely because they are afraid. They are afraid and Democrats, those "weak," "Neville Chamberlain loving", "pacifist tree huggers" are actually LESS afraid.
But isn't it always the case. Rush Limbaugh, the bombastic hawk, got a deferment from service in Vietnam. So did Dick Cheney, five times and we all know that Bush, the cowboy who is genuinely afraid of horses, did not choose to go into battle when he had the chance. And just like the many gay Republicans who lashed out against homosexuality over the years, it is this unwillingness to face one's own nature and one's own demons that threatens our country. It is always the case that the bully is more insecure than those he bullies.
Sincere, win-win negotiation and partnership with our enemies and the world is, without question, the least fearful and most effective way to eliminate war and to make our country and the world safer. Yet, the specter of putting down the implements of warfare and adopting a softer approach so ignites the "Oh Daddy, protect me from the bogeyman in the closet" fears of those who are fearful and weak, that they must lash out against it. One would think that Neville Chamberlain was even more evil than Hitler - that is how scary it is for Republicans to not have a strong father running the show to protect them. Dr. George Lakoff brilliantly discusses this in his fine work yet the perception of Republicans as "tough" still remains.
Bush, Thompson, Guiliani, Palin, McCain Speeches
Watch for this recurring theme in all of the Republican speeches and even Joe Lieberman who has adopted the fear of his Republican brothers and sisters. You will hear three major things that come from this underlying philosophy of "mankind is not good", "we must dominate so as not to be dominated".
1. We must "Win" the "War on Terror"
2. Our opponents are "weak." This will be communicated in dozens of different ways.
3. Only we are strong enough to put "Country First" and protect America.
The Republican/Reptilian Brain
But the Republicans have to emphasize and re-emphasize these themes because, in reality, Barack Obama is, tougher than John McCain. Obama's foreign policy is not one that acts out of childish fear but one who is, himself, afraid, can never see this through their overriding screen of fear. The neurology of the human brain, as Dr. Drew Westin and so many neurologists teach us, is such that when you can make people afraid, nothing - not rational thought, nor any other emotion except fear - can be engaged in or experienced. The Hind Brain, popularly called "The Reptilian Brain" responds first and overwhelms the higher Limbic and Neo Cortex parts of the brain. And as long as the "Fight or Flight" response of our Reptilian Brain is triggered, we, as individuals and as a nation, can never escape the fear pattern. Abraham Maslow understood this many years ago with his Hierarchy of Human Needs which says, among other things, that human beings will be frozen in their development as long as they feel they do not have safety or security.
And having Osama bin Laden out there, un-captured, as the eternal bogeyman, is one way to keep that Reptilian brain activated.
A dear friend of mine, a very successful person in the media who is otherwise very socially liberal confirmed this for me. This very savvy man admitted to me that he is "obsessed with" and "petrified by" Osama bin Laden. He even did so publicly on my radio show.
I do not believe that babies or even adults are not good, Dennis. I believe that human beings are, indeed, inherently good and given the right soil, sunlight and water, will blossom into productive and caring members of society, participating and contributing in positive ways. It is the role of that other thing you are afraid of, "Government", nothing more than the collective of our individual assets and desires, to help cultivate that soil and provide the opportunities and the social justice to bring out the inherent good. Promulgate fear and prejudice and we lay the seeds for the weeds of the lesser qualities, of individuals and our country, to take root and grow.
The Republican psychology, or psychopathology, is borne of fear and weakness and, thus promulgates both. As one of our strongest Presidents, a Democrat who won a real war with a legitimate enemy said, "The only thing to fear is fear itself." Well, today, in light of the continual "boogeymaning" of the country, we might paraphrase President Roosevelt. "The only thing to fear is fear itself and those who stoke it and those who profit from it. In other words, the only thing to fear is . . . those who reject the basic goodness of man, those who huddle in St. Paul this week and many of those who call themselves "Republicans".
Our response to this dangerous psychopathology that will be on full display this week in St. Paul is, above all, to understand the dysfunction, not to attack it. Rejecting the dysfunction of another often causes one to retreat further into it, to justify with even more force that which is essential to their current identity. As a communication strategist who greatly appreciates the importance of human psychology I suggest that the communication of the Democratic cause and the future of our country depend on allowing those who are stuck in fear of mankind and stuck in the Reptilian part of their brain to know that we, at least, acknowledge that fear and their reality. No communication is ever possible without the sharing of some commonality, to be, in at least some small way, on the same "wavelength." So, while the dangerous Neo-con, domination based ideas, ironically, threaten the very safety of our great country, we must step back and, as if we were coaxing a scared third grader to get out of bed and open the closet door, treat our fellow Republican citizens with love and respect, listen to them and, gently, help them feel safe in ways that do not always involve guns or bombs.
Great post, Richard.
Since we all have inner reptiles, it comes down to what we feed. What a rush fear and anger are! So addictive!
There are some who listen to their higher angels and some who listen to their lower nature, and some who can go either way. If those who appeal to the lower nature have control of the dialogue, the susceptible will go that way.
That's why alternative voices need to speak up and out even if they get smacked down by the aggressive. I wouldn't waste too much time talking to the hard core, but spend plenty who haven't lost contact with their souls.
Thanks so much to Air America and you for providing an outlet for a kinder, gentler perspective.
By ConsideredSeptember 2, 2008 - 7:14pm
Republican Appeasement of Hitler
A lot of people forget that Neville Chamberlain was a member of Britain's Conservative Party, not its liberal Labor Party, and that the majority of Hitler appeasers in the the U.S. Congress were Republicans. While American conservatives try to pretend that they were always opposed to Hitler, this is not the case. Back in the 1930s, many American conservatives were closet Hitler supporters, including Prescott Bush, father of George Bush, who was busy making banking deals with the Nazis. American conservatives have always been about appeasing fascists. It was only during the Cold War, when Communism became the enemy, that America's conservatives jumped into their anti-appeasement mode.
By mtracy9September 2, 2008 - 8:07pm
This is brilliant!
I think it is the most intelligent explanation of the Republican culture of fear that has ever been written. When I do post something on my blog that is about politics I am astonished at the fear based posts that the conservatives cook up and write. They are just so incredibly fearful (full of fear). One woman just can't make a post without telling me that I am "one angry woman". I've chided her repeatedly that I think that is a compliment; she refuses to understand.
A thousand thanks to you for writing and posthing this. It is brilliant. And mtracy9: Your comment is exactly right. The Nazi's appeared to have perfected the "war so we can steal" concept and they rushed to embrace it. All hoping that it would be swept under the rug.
We must be grateful to live in the www era when this type of rewriting of history is harder and harder for the conservatives to do. I mean, look at Ms. Palin? Did she think that her true story just wasn't going to be discovered????
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Dwight Eisenhower