Monthly Archives: August 2017

a Horror Show – for Two Thousand Centuries!

We come into this world programmed for language acquisition. By six, we speak fluently, having accumulated a sufficient vocabulary and, unaware, having mastered a huge “book” spelling out its grammatical rules.

Symbolic language defines us, making us “infinite in faculty.” Yet in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban tells his master, Prospero, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/ Is, I know how to curse. Damn you for teaching me your language.”

It’s not Prospero’s curriculum that’s the problem. Rather, as with language acquisition, we arrive on the planet neuro-anatomically programmed with The Moral Sense and have for, at least, two thousand centuries. The Moral Sense presents a profound conundrum.

One of my beautiful granddaughters got married last month in St. Paul’s, London. Some twenty family members attended, drinking in the sublimity of the back-lit Cathedral, evenings. At the hour-long ceremony, the splendid St.Paul’s chorus and trumpeter bedewed the wedding with Bach and Handel.

A twenty minute walk from St. Paul’s brings you to Charing Cross, where in 1660, Samuel Pepys watched a man hanged, drawn and quartered, “looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.” That condition included being partly strangled, disemboweled, castrated and shown his organs being burned before being decapitated. After the execution, Pepys moseyed on, joining friends at a tavern with whom he shared oysters. Bach and Handel were both born in 1685, a mere twenty five years after Pepys’s stroll through Charing Cross.

Pepys was a man of his time, which, unfortunately, had spanned several hundred thousand years. During these numberless, mostly unrecorded centuries, we behaved as dictated by our group, which in turn was under the unopposed hegemony of The Moral Sense.

In “The Emotional Brain,” Joseph Ledoux notes that the emotional behavior of decorticate animals – the cortex surgically removed – lacked any regulation of their rage, which suggested that cortical areas normally rein in these wild emotional reactions and prevent their expression in inappropriate situations. I submit that throughout history, The Moral Sense called the shots, no counter-force available to modify it. We were decorticate.

Since we became fully evolved as Homo sapiens sapiens, the year, 1660, was probably average for “wild emotional reactions.” Torture has always been practiced world-wide. In Pepys’s day, The Judas Cradle lowered a naked victim, bound hand and foot, onto a sharp wedge that penetrated the anus or vagina. Victims were hung upside down and sawed in half from the crotch down. Hundreds of devices were invented to maximize agony. “Codified laws prescribed blinding, branding, amputation of hands, ears, noses and tongues. Executions were orgies of sadism, with prolonged killing such as burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, pulling apart by horses, impalement through the rectum, disembowelment by winding a man’s intestines around a spool.” Inquisitions were in full swing. Europe was burning witches by the thousands. The Religious Wars halved populations. Slavery was everywhere. From what we can glean from our hunter-gatherer millenia, death by violence was 500 times more likely than now. The Aztecs carried out 40 human sacrifices a day, 1.2 million total.

And so on.

And then came the Age of Enlightenment. Pinker calls it The Humanitarian Revolution. Mankind’s on-going Horror Show went from “the unexceptional to the unthinkable.” Historians are so baffled by the turn-about they are tempted to invoke a Higher Power.

The same century Pepys consulted his private GPS for directions to Charing Cross began The Age of Reason, culminating in The Enlightenment. From these two miraculous centuries, the 17th and 18th, two great documents emerged – the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789, and The American Bill of Rights in 1791.

Decorticate no longer, we finally were a match for The Moral Sense – take THAT! and THAT!! and THAT!!!

(to be continued)

The Right and The Left

Physicist Albert Einstein is a world-class member of The Left, Poet John Milton, a world-class member of The Right. The Left concerns itself with the physical universe, The Right with metaphysics.

Here’s Milton, from the opening of “Paradise Lost” –

And chiefly Thou O Spirit,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: WHAT IN ME IS DARK
ILLUMINE, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Here’s Einstein,

“I prefer to stay in the dark.”

The poet invokes the Spirit for instruction that he may justify the ways of God to man. The physical universe fills the physicist with wonder. It exists without moral justification on his part.

How many Democratic commentators have you heard denounce angrily their Party for not filing impeachment proceedings against Trump? “If Hillary were President, Republicans would have done so ten times over.” No doubt. When they weren’t locking her up! 2,400 pages of Obamacare spell out actual visits to real doctors and the economics to make it possible. The eight pages of Trumpcare is a metaphysical document, with no relevance to the care of sick folks. Pick a card – Obamacare or Trumpcare? You can’t have both.

The human genome comes with The Moral Sense. How we integrate it into our inner world determines our political destiny, an action that makes us a Democrat or Republican. Phylogenetically, the Moral Sense is similar to the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) described by Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky observed that children are born with an ability to learn linguistic structures so accurately they must be imprinted on the new-born’s mind. Every child has a Language Acquisition Device which encodes the major principles of a language and its grammatical structures. All children, regardless of their intellectual ability, become fluent in their native language by five or six years of age.

The same imprinting is true for The Moral Sense, with a different time scale, as we’ll see.

In The Descent of Man, Darwin states that “…any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a MORAL SENSE or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well, developed as in man.”

Pascal Boyer reports, “Experimental studies show a specialized MORAL SENSE underlies ethical intuitions in all children the world over. Neglected or abused children have similar intuitions. The MORAL SENSE functions as a congenital invariant. It is not affected by early experience. The MORAL SENSE simply IS!

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul observes, “The truth about God is known to mankind instinctively. Since earliest times men have known of God’s existence and great eternal power. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. They have no excuse for saying there is no God.”

Neuro-anatomically, “knowledge in their hearts” refers to a system hard-wired in the brain, built in. It is not a product of learning, ontogenetically evolved through personal instruction. By any other name – MORAL SENSE, Moral Intuition, Natural Law, Super-Ego, Conscience – the truth about God, claims St. Paul, is known to mankind instinctively.

Like all animals, we come into this world equipped to register fear and pursue Sex, but we’re the only animal that arrives with a MORAL SENSE.

(to be continued)

Einstein and Reagan

Three times I watched “Genius” in its entirety, a ten part TV series on the life and work of Albert Einstein. Every good story needs a spine. I can’t imagine a better one than that provided by Albert. Each episode is available on Amazon for $1.91, second and third viewings free.

Steve Schmidt, a brilliant Republican strategist, states that 47% of the electorate is Republican, 47% Democratic. Presidential elections during the 20th century were mostly decided by around 52-48 margins. The biggest winner was Nixon in 1972 in the midst of the Vietnam war, with 66% of the popular vote. FDR won 60% in 1936 during The Great Depression, LBJ 60% in 1964, after the assassination of Kennedy. 51-49 is thought a solid win, 55-45 a landslide.

Why the 50-50 split? For the same reason the race is half female, half male – it’s genetics. I submit, whether we are politically on The Left or on The Right is written in our genes. It’s an ontologic phenomenon.

Politically, Albert belonged to The Left, his mind tirelessly fixed on physical reality and the responsibilities we share as members of a community. Democrats think like him, that is, they are fixed on problems in the real world and our responsibilities towards one another, such as with Social Security and Medicare.

In his first Inaugural, President Reagan said,

Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the
problem. We’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too
complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group
is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one
among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the
capacity to govern someone else?

Republicans think like Reagan. The Right focuses on metaphysics and responsibilities shaped by The Moral Sense.

Republicans have three metaphysical principles: No new taxes, little or no regulation, a balanced budget. 95% of all Republican candidates for federal and state office signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes. For all eternity, presumably. Metaphysics is timeless, minimum wage needs constant adjustment.

I watched Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Al Franken, Democrats all, skewer Tom Price at his confirmation for HHS Secretary. The Republican administration intends to take one TRILLION dollars from Medicaid. The good doctor was unflappable. Government was the problem, a deficient purveyor of medical care. Metaphysics took precedence over parameters of illness.

In 1905, at age 26, Einstein proved molecules exist; they are for real, a fundamental fact in the physical universe. So are the 2,400 pages of The Affordable Care Act for Democrats. The eight page replacement bill Mitch McConnell brought to the Senate floor for a vote was a metaphysical document. 49 Republicans voted for the bill.

William Blake claimed that if the doors of perception were cleansed, reality would appear to man as it is, infinite. I get at least a thousand political emails a month wanting my support for this and that, Democrats biting off more real problems than they can chew. Republicans have it easy, united by metaphysical presuppositions, a piece of cake.

I had a patient who had worked as a Fellow at The Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. His son became seriously depressed, so he had him talk with his colleague, Albert Einstein. Albert took the young man outside and exclaimed, “Look at the light! How can you be depressed with such a wonder in the world.”

On “Genius,” psychoanalyst Carl Jung, a friend, visits Einstein. Albert is anxious about a talk he is to give. Jung said his symptom offers an opportunity to “discover what is dark, here,” pointing to his heart. Einstein says, “Spare me your analysis. I prefer to stay in the dark.”

(to be continued)

Groupthink and The Bully

Simon Levy makes the heuristic observation, “Amazing how many people rally ’round a bully.”

The July 1st issue of The Economist reports on “The Power of Groupthink.” Its findings, after examining the thought process of Trump supporters, parallel those of my mentor, Wilfred Bion, who had studied group life earlier in his career.

According to The Economist, Trump supporters comprise about 40% of the electorate. Half of them support him no matter what. “Those who take him from a 20% approval rating to one closer to 40% are the ones he needs to stick by him.” So far they have – despite chaos, corruption, breath-taking mendacity, even the hint of treason. That’s Groupthink.

Wilfred is the only genius I knew personally. He was an inexhaustible creative force, endlessly surprising. Here’s an example. One Saturday, many years ago, I attended a splendid performance of “Waiting for Godot.” Afterwards I commented, “That play is pure Bion translated by another genius, Samuel Beckett.” By then I had undergone analysis with Wilford, had read all his many books, and so forth. I knew my Bion.

Years later, reading a review of his Collected Letters, I learned that Beckett, one of the great playwrights of the 20th century, was a complete basket case as a young man, afflicted with overwhelming anxiety and suicidal despair. What to do? Catholic Ireland had outlawed psychoanalysis, so the family moved Samuel to London for treatment with a young prodigy, a member of The British Psychoanalytic Institute. Dreadfully ill, overwhelmed by terrors, he stayed under Wilfred’s care, on the couch and by correspondence, for years. In our decade together, Wilfred never breathed a word. He had almost certainly saved Samuel Beckett for the ages.

Wilfred didn’t do Group Therapy the old-fashioned way, that is, patients receiving input from other members, with a grand summation by the leader. He had other fish to fry. He wanted to understand The Group!
How does a therapy Group organize itself without a guru, the designated therapist? How does leadership come to power? If one understands the dynamics of one group, they should be relevant to all groups. He was looking for invariants under transformations. “Transformations” is his largest, and perhaps most important, book.

So, sitting with a group, Wilfred just sat, saying nothing. By and by, members got restless, squirming, faces troubled. What the hell’s going on? Bion had come with a towering reputation, yet he hadn’t said a word. “What the fuck!” Hadn’t they signed up to get help with their lives? Hadn’t the word gone out, “An opportunity of a lifetime with the great Bion?”

They began to whisper among themselves. “This can’t go on. We can’t just
sit here all day.” They exchanged gestures and bodily signals of helplessness. “Somebody do something!”

And invariably, someone did! – the craziest, most omnipotent, maniacal bully in the group. The Group had its leader. Relief all ’round.

Consider that every elected official in our land chooses, on his/her own volition, to enter the political arena. What are the odds a preponderance of bullies will answer the call? Four of the last seven Illinois governors ended up in prison, 75 associates of Nixon likewise. McConnell bullied the Senate for seven years to destroy Obamacare, which would deprive some twenty million folks of medical insurance. He bullied for a Republican Supreme Court justice by simply ignoring The Constitution, skewing the direction of the Court for at least a generation.

The Group elected Trump, who now has the power to bully the planet.

Amazing how many people rally ’round a bully.

Our Journey to Richmond

Like Lincoln, Shakespeare graced our little planet with a millenial mind. And the publishers of No Fear Shakespeare have done a great service, translating Shakespeare’s glories into 21st century prose. My brother and I just finished reading every last one of the 154 sonnets, both versions, 16th century and, on the opposite page, the 21st.

It’s with the plays, however, that the fun is fully experienced. Suppose there’s a patch that baffles you. Just glance at 21st century Shakespeare on the opposite page: Poof! problem solved. No wasting time figuring out the line number in the text and then the footnote. I breezed through Antony and Cleopatra, this time in under 90 minutes, not the usual three or four hours.

The loveliest line in Macbeth for me has always been just two words. Imagine it’s twilight, the gloaming, evening coming on, and Shakespeare pulls out this staggering beauty:

“Light thickens”

He uses the same metaphor in Antony and Cleopatra:

“Thy luster thickens”

For the sublime peroration of his First Inaugural, whether Lincoln got the “The better angels of our nature” from sonnet 144 or the play, Antony and Cleopatra, or both, remains a mystery. We do know he read Macbeth aloud on his day trip to Richmond on the 4th of April, 1865, five days before Appomattox. He intended his journey to begin demonstrably the work of reconciliation between The North and The South. Why did Lincoln choose Macbeth? Sure, he had read it time and again. It was his favorite Shakespeare play. But why now?

When King Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s estate, he notes,

This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.

A few hours later, Macbeth assassinates him. As the horror registers, Macbeth recalls the good times, his forested land alive with birds settling in at eventide. Now he has become a killer, a black agent of the night.

Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.

The horrors multiply. By and by, now king, Macbeth keeps his subjects sleepless, so terrified of their ruler. He had transmogrified into a murdering fascist. As the boat continues to Richmond, Lincoln stops reading aloud from the play, lost in thought. Will that be the destiny of The South and the North – conflict and continuing horrors? the Union, that grand experiment in government of the people, by the people and for the people, reduced to warring factions? Or will the mystic chords of memory renew the bond that made America beautiful?

Macbeth tells an imperishable truth: Politics matter.

A few hours before his assassination, Lincoln addressed his cabinet, “We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union. I cannot sympathize or participate in feelings of hate and vindictiveness.”

Lincoln also tells an imperishable truth: Politics is action. That’s why he went to Richmond.

The collaboration between Lincoln and Shakespeare is one of the great gifts of our history. In these days of Trump, The Foul Fiend, that matters.

I never think of the assassination of Lincoln, forever contemporaneous, forever unbearable, without the millenial mind of Shakespeare easing the remembrance of that unspeakable tragedy.

“Incomparable 16th President of the United States of our America, flights of angels sing thee forever to thy rest.”

Lincoln is not confined to a single century. Like Shakespeare, he belongs to the ages. 152 years after his catastrophic murder, he remains a living presence. He belongs to us, helping to stave off the garbage man, the 45th President, from trashing the Republic.

It’s our journey to Richmond.

Our Demon Political Spirit

21st century Shakespeare –

Antony, one of the three pillars of the world, consults a fortune teller:

Antony: Tell me who shall have the better luck, Caesar or me?

Fortune teller: Caesar. So you’d better not stay with him, Antony.
Your guardian angel is noble, courageous, significant, and unmatched
when Caesar’s not around. But when you are with him, your angel is
weakened and easily frightened. That’s why there must be
space between you.

Antony: Don’t speak of this again.

Fortune teller: To none but you, only to you. You will surely lose any
game you play with Caesar. With his natural luck, he will beat you
even against the odds. Your light dulls when he is near. I repeat:
your angel is afraid to inspire you when you’re around him, but when
he goes away it becomes brilliant again.

16th century Shakespeare –

Antony, one of the three pillars of the world, consults a soothsayer:

Antony: Say to me, whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar’s or

Soothsayer: O Antony, stay not by Caesar’s side.
Thy demon, that thy spirit which keeps thee, is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar’s is not. But near him thy angel
Becomes a fear, as being oérpowered.

Antony: Speak this no more.

Soothsayer: To none but thee, no more but when to thee.
If thou dost play with him at any game
Thou art sure to lose, and of that natural luck
He beats thee ‘gainst the odds. Thy luster thickens
When he shines by: I say again, thy spirit
Is all afraid to govern thee near him.

The news electrified Washington, none more so than The President. Richmond had fallen! The very next day, April 4th, 1865, Lincoln traveled the 100 miles to the rebel capital by boat, on the journey reading aloud from his favorite play, Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Lincoln had steadfastly clung to mercy for the South as the north star for his postwar agenda. The trip to Richmond offered The President his first chance to set his guiding principle into action. With the approach of peace, the daunting task of reconstruction weighed on Lincoln’s mind more than ever.

On that fateful day, a bystander in Richmond reported, “I saw a crowd coming, headed by President Lincoln, who was walking with his usual long, careless stride, and looking about with an interested air and taking in everything. Upon my saluting he said: ‘Is it far to President Davis’s house?’ I accompanied him to the house.”

After a quick tour of the mansion, Lincoln at last entered the office of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, sinking down into Davis’s chair. It was the “supreme moment,” one spectator remembered. The President simply asked for a glass of water. After an informal meeting with local Confederate leaders, Lincoln took a carriage ride through the city.

In a discussion of reconstruction with his cabinet officers ten days later, April 14, Lincoln asserted, “Enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union. I cannot sympathize or participate in feelings of hate and vindictiveness.”

That evening, he was assassinated.

Our demon, the spirit which keeps our political destiny must be noble, courageous, unmatchable. Consider:

Caesar ended the Roman republic.

Macbeth created a terrifying fascist state.

The murder of Lincoln opened the door to a century of Jim Crow.

Trump threatens all three political disasters. We will not survive by luck, but by the better angels of our nature.


the better angels of our nature

Trump spent his life with Roy Cohn, Con men, the Mafia and 4,000 lawsuits. Lincoln kept company with Shakespeare, sonnet 144 giving us the sublime peroration of Lincoln’s First Inaugural.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

“No Fear” Shakespeare is a splendid publishing venture. On one side of the page there’s 16th century Shakespeare, on the opposite page, 21st century Shakespeare. Sonnet 144 gives us President Lincoln and Shakespeare putting their heads together.

First the sonnet, 21st century:

I love two people. One comforts me and the other makes me despair. Like two spirits both point me in opposite directions. The better angel is a beautiful, fair-haired man. The bad one is an evil-looking woman. To help put me in hell sooner, my evil female tempts my angel away from my side. She hopes to make my saint into a devil, seducing him to impure acts in her foul and self-assured way. And though I can suspect him, there’s no way I can tell whether my angel has turned into a fiend. But since the two of them are away from me and friendly with each other, I’m guessing that one angel is inside the other – and in hell with her. Yet I’ll never know this for sure, instead living in doubt until my bad angel fires the good one out of hell.

Now the 16th century sonnet:

Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
Which, like two spirits, do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colored ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil.
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me both to each other friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell.
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

No, Shakespeare is not dissing women. The women of Shakespeare’s plays are a magnificent group. The problem is he lives in a world without Planned Parenthood. Contracting gonorrhea or syphilis is a horror. Treatment for venereal disease dreadfully painful and ineffective. No contraceptives. No condoms. No pill. In the 21st century, Planned Parenthood provides three million women care and protection. Without such support, sexual life becomes a civil war, a woman at the mercy of venereal disease, unwanted pregnancies, gynecological vulnerabilities, her man an enemy.

Three hundred years before Freud discovered bisexuality in his work with Fliess, Shakespeare recognized “both from me both to each other friend.” Our inner world is a mixture of masculine and feminine. The problem Shakespeare focused on was venereal disease. Even when the relationship was friendly, either sex could infect the other, driving them both to the fires of hell.

Shakespeare would write a series of world-class sonnets that the better angels of our nature have made Planned Parenthood a reality for millions of women.

“Destroy it!” bellows The Trump Fiend.

Rescuing Our Country

I have been mute for three months, hammered into silence by the evil stalking our land. I have found my voice these last days, because I know what our task is. We have to do two things.

First, we must listen to Hamlet’s ghost. “Taint not thy mind.” We have to maintain decency and mindfulness in a criminal environment. Later in the play, Hamlet spells out the responsibility in brilliant detail.

But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.

Trump, even with the glories and powers of the Presidency, will always prey on garbage. Our task is to respect and preserve civilized life, especially the institutions that make us a beacon to the world. We must remain virtuous.

Our second deliverance from the present evil engulfing Washington requires us to find a leader. There is one.

Joe Biden.

He is a politician, the most important job in any society. He has come through the fires. He is a good man.

He is 74 years old. Throughout the campaign and on election day, 2020, Joe will be 77.

The AVERAGE life expectancy in Japan is 84. Der Alte, Konrad Adenauer, came to power at age 83. Several supreme court justices are in their 80s. The list goes on and on.

The choice is so obvious I am dumbfounded it didn’t occur to me sooner. But it did to others.

Most importantly. Biden wants to become President. The death of his son stripped the energies to campaign in 2016. That death now fuels his intent.

Hitler and FDR were both politicians. The one left his country in ruins, the other his country a superpower.

That’s how important the political life of a country!