Desperately Needed: A Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion

wizardofozThere are so many instructive comparisons between the film classic The Wizard of Oz and the presidency of George W Bush that it’s hard to settle on just one. Here’s a particular angle that I think deserves more attention.

Through memorable characters and adventures, The Wizard of Oz reminds us that too often we underestimate ourselves and fail to realize that we already possess the very qualities and virtues to which we aspire. The Scarecrow travels the Yellow Brick Road in the hope of obtaining a brain; at journey’s end he comes to realize that he had one all along. Similarly, the Tin Man wishes for a heart but ultimately learns that he was a compassionate woodsman from the start. And the Cowardly Lion heads to the Emerald City in pursuit of courage–yet he demonstrates his considerable valor along the way. All told, it’s an uplifting tale of unpresumptuous, accidental heroes who rise to the occasion in the face of adversity.

But now try to imagine an altered script, an upside-down Oz where the key players, rather than underestimating themselves, instead make outrageous and false claims (to themselves and to others) about their intelligence, compassion, and courage. And also try to imagine that over the course of their own harrowing journey these travelers learn…well, absolutely nothing. Of course, sadly this re-write doesn’t require much of an imagination at all. This is the Oz rendition that’s been playing in Washington and around the world since Bush, Cheney, and their neocon entourage took center stage. Although many examples are available, let’s focus on the Iraq War alone.

Continue reading “Desperately Needed: A Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion”

Public-Servant-in-Chief: In the President’s Own Words

bushIt’s not Baghdad alone where we’re witnessing a Bush-inspired surge. The President holds ultimate responsibility for an escalation unfolding in Washington as well: namely, the rapid proliferation of administration scandals and outrages now finally finding the light of day (deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; politically-driven purges of U.S. attorneys; FBI abuses of National Security Letters, and the list goes on and on).

Not surprisingly, today President Bush resists reasonable calls for meaningful accountability and benchmarks on both fronts. But back in his headier days of sky-high approval ratings–late 2001 to be exact–he spoke to an audience of government employees and enumerated the standards by which public servants should be measured. From the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011015-8.html):

Continue reading “Public-Servant-in-Chief: In the President’s Own Words”

Resisting the Drums of War: VIDEO

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRxvOBG-5DM]

The Bush administration promoted the misguided and destructive war in Iraq by targeting five core concerns that often govern our lives—concerns about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Looking ahead, the continued occupation of Iraq—-or an attack on Iran—-will likely be sold to us in much the same way. I examine these warmongering appeals—-and how to counter them-—in the new video above, entitled Resisting the Drums of War.

The Perfect Storm: Our Wounded Soldiers and the Flood of Public Outrage

walter-reed-general-hospitalWe have now learned that the outpatient conditions faced by some of our wounded returning soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are truly shocking—rodent and roach infested rooms, mold and leaky plumbing, no heat and water, inadequate and unqualified staffing, and seemingly interminable bureaucratic delays in their treatment. But equally stunning is the fact that several high-level officials have actually lost their jobs as a result of this news—despite initial efforts to downplay and discount the reported negligence. After all, considering the Bush administration’s lengthy record of action and inaction worthy of public outrage and condemnation, we might wonder why this particular instance of wrongdoing and mismanagement has drawn such a strong, unified, and seemingly effective response from the American people. From a psychological perspective, one reason is clear: the discoveries at Walter Reed represent a near “perfect storm,” triggering all five core concerns—about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness—that often govern the way we understand the world around us.

Continue reading “The Perfect Storm: Our Wounded Soldiers and the Flood of Public Outrage”

Beware the Wounded Bear

woundedbearWhen respondents in a mid-February Pew poll were asked to use one word to describe President Bush, the single adjective offered most often was “incompetent.” Meanwhile, a recent Newsweek poll revealed not only that Bush’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low, but also that a majority of respondents simply wish his presidency was already over. These rebukes cannot sit well with someone who has proclaimed himself “The Decider,” who has become infatuated with the title “Commander-in-Chief,” and who once told Bob Woodward “That’s the interesting thing about being the President…I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”

In short, the president and his conservative allies find themselves on very uncomfortable and increasingly shaky ground. They are beleaguered by transparent policy failures and by growing public and media scrutiny of their actions and motives. There is much irony to this current state of affairs. As I have described elsewhere, the Bush administration has thrived on manipulative appeals to our collective core concerns about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness (an online video discussing this topic can be viewed HERE.). To promote their narrow agenda, they have sought to persuade the country that we should feel constantly fearful for our safety, aggrieved for injustices perpetrated against us, distrustful of outsiders, superior to others in our values and character, and powerful enough to accomplish anything we desire. This worked for a long time. However, as the polls noted above clearly indicate, for most of us these appeals have lost much of their persuasive power (perhaps because we’ve been fooled once too often). As a result, the White House and its propagandists are now most successful at persuading themselves. This is indeed a peculiar and limited form of success—but it still makes for a very dangerous brew. Consider the five ingredients:

Continue reading “Beware the Wounded Bear”

Five Questions and Their “Yes, BUT” Answers

saddam-statue-w-flagMy work as a psychologist suggests that five core concerns often dominate our individual and collective lives. These concerns revolve around issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Briefly, for most of us nothing is more powerful than the desire to protect and provide security for the people and things we care about (vulnerability). We often react to perceived mistreatment with anger and resentment, and an urge to right wrongs and punish those we hold responsible (injustice). We tend to divide the world into those who are trustworthy and those unworthy of our trust, in an effort to avoid harm from people with hostile intentions (distrust). We frequently aspire to be better than others in some important way—perhaps in our accomplishments, or our morality, or our destiny (superiority). Finally, we strive to avoid the experience of helplessness, and instead do our best to control the important events in our lives (helplessness).

Political leaders should be responsive to these five core concerns in identifying broadly shared goals and pursuing positive social change. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and its supporters have instead chosen to exploit these concerns in an effort to promote their own narrow ideological agenda. Perhaps the most tragic example is the profoundly ill-advised and costly war in Iraq.

Continue reading “Five Questions and Their “Yes, BUT” Answers”

Dangerous Ideas

My research, writing, and consulting focus on how five key issues—and the beliefs we hold about them—profoundly influence our personal and collective lives. I believe that concerns revolving around vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness are crucial contributors to how we experience and make sense of the world, and that they are also the key lenses through which we evaluate information and form judgments about appropriate priorities, policies, and actions. Here’s a very brief description of each domain:

Concerns over personal and collective vulnerability are central to our lives. For most of us, nothing is more immediate than the desire to protect and provide security for the people and things we care about, including ourselves.

We are strongly affected by perceptions of injustice, both in our personal lives and in our group attachments. Most of us react to perceived mistreatment with a combination of anger and resentment, and often an urge to right wrongs and punish those we hold responsible.

We tend to divide the world into those who are untrustworthy and those worthy of our trust. If our judgments are accurate, we can select our associates and allies wisely, and we can try to avoid harm from those who have hostile intent or are merely unreliable.

We frequently compare ourselves to other individuals and groups, and conclude that we’re better than they are in some important way—perhaps in our accomplishments, or our morality, or our destiny. At times we focus on what we consider worst about others, which serves to further persuade us of their inferiority.

We strive to avoid the experience of helplessness, and instead do our best to control the important events in our lives. And when we’re overcome by despair and resignation we usually fail to achieve our goals.

With this blog I hope to offer my personal observations applying this framework to current events. Please do check back again, and I look forward to your comments.