I recently gave this presentation at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, in Toronto, and here is a pdf of the slide show. It’s bound to be somewhat bumpy, because the slide show is meant to support an ongoing lecture/commentary, but it contains a lot of good information that may be useful. Another bump: as a pdf, it doesn’t have the built-in animations that synched with the lecture/commentary and helped the flow.
Tag Archives: psychology of social movements
Psychological Reflection on the 2016 Presidential Campaign
As President of the Chicago Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology, I send occasional e-letters to the membership. Here is May’s:
At its best, psychodynamic therapy supports high stakes metacognition—reflection on how we are thinking, feeling, and responding, when making sense of what’s happening matters a lot. The national presidential campaign makes me wish that there was a similar process on a national scale.
The rules under which APA operates prohibit partisan politics on APA listserves, but we are not prohibited from applying psychological concepts and insights to current events, including presidential campaigns. “Ethical intelligence,” the term Kenneth Pope and Melba Vasquez use in their “Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling, 5th Edition,” applies here. It is one thing to advocate for or against a candidate, another to reflect on the psychological implications of campaign tactics, media coverage, and public response.
Psychologist Hadley Cantril, in his “Psychology of Social Movements,” found common dynamics in the rise of Nazism in Germany after World War I, and the lynchings of African Americans in the South after the Civil War. In both cases, substantial parts of large disenfranchised middle classes, in societies devastated by lost wars, turned toward authoritarian leadership and terrorized scapegoat groups in order to vent their rage and restore or protect their socioeconomic position. The U.S.A. is not so devastated, but the insecurity of the middle class is widely observed, deeply felt, and increasing. All three presidential candidates still standing have made protecting and restoring the middle class a major theme of their campaigns, although they have different narratives about why the middle class is threatened and how to restore its viability.
The Trump campaign has employed the tactics of scapegoating immigrants, recruiting belief in the candidate, and validating the feeling of wanting to express anger in violence. Trump also uses gossip as a weapon: “I didn’t say it, but I heard…,” the structure of statements with which he attacks opponents, uses gossip as a tactic while disavowing it. Last Saturday, I co-presented in the CAPP Conversation on “Gossip: Telling Lies, Telling Truth, Telling the Difference,” and my co-presenters, psychologist, analyst, and former CAPP President Christine Kieffer, and Indiana University sociologist Timothy Hallett, spoke about how gossip can take on an insidious life of its own in a social group or organization—sociologists call it a “gossip cascade”—unless it is effectively challenged early on.
When news media report gossip without fact-checking it, they become vehicles for candidates’ tactical gossip, which supports gossip cascades. Gossip cascades, in turn, support what Peter Fonagy and colleagues call “psychic equivalence:” “I think, feel, and/or believe it, so it must be true.” Fact-checking is available, for example, from sources such as PolitiFact.com, with it’s “truth meter,” but the voter has to be motivated enough to look for it. Even then, the work of being an informed citizen is not done; we have to think about what the candidates’ tactical statements, how they are covered in the media, and how the electorate responds to them, might mean.
We learn metacognition in therapy from necessity; as patients we come to therapy with a painful impasse in our lives, as therapists we strive to facilitate a co-created reflective space for our patients. I wonder what might prompt a national awareness of the need for metacognition about how we learn about candidates for leadership?