Archive for June, 2009

First Post from “Boiling The American Frog”

June 30, 2009

“Boiling The American Frog”.

I have studied the decline of our American society and culture for nearly 30 years. I have long wanted to share my findings with the general public and now the time has come.

In all that follows, I will promise you–as I promise my therapy clients– “I will never lie to you:  I will always tell you the truth, as best I can know it”.  It is the truth, and what is done with it, that provides the only hope for a good life with individuals and families. The truth, and what is done with it, also determines the  survival of nations and their cultures.

My dear brother, Mark, once told me that an author should make his or her biases clear at the start of their book. He thought it was appropriate to warn the reader of my biases straightforwardly, so the reader could guard against manipulation. This was great advice and in the interest of honest communication, I will follow it.

As a behavioral psychologist I naturally value good behavior. Race, color, creed, and age, etc., are irrelevant to this bedrock value. By “good behavior”,  I mean behavior patterns within the individuals of a population that help the population and its culture to survive long and to prosper. Except in rare instances of self-defense against lethal or damaging attack, I despise violence.  I also despise hostility, intimidation, lying, cheating, stealing, aggression, rape, child abuse, child sexual molestation/exploitation, and murder, etc. In short, I despise those things that have always destroyed the lives of people who wish to live long together in peace and harmony. I despise those things that are destroying our historically marvelous society and culture.

I will not be inhibited about addressing other issues involved in my value system. It is now common for almost any identifiable organized group to accuse others of some sort of “ism” (racism, sexism, ageism, or hate against someone’s lifestyle). This dirty and stigmatizing accusation is increasingly used when someone says something that is not in support of the accuser’s political agenda. I vow to myself and to everything that I know to be right and good, that I will not be intimidated by such brutal forces of self-interest.  I will not withdraw ideas that must live, if we are to live.

In 1984 the phone rang and my physician informed me, “we have a problem”.  At 45 years of age, I was told that I had cancer of the colon. Of course, this was very bad news! But this bad news, along with immediate effective action,  saved my life.

What I will now tell you about our beloved American culture is no more “fun” than having to tell someone that they suffer a cancer. Or, as in my own field of psychology, having to tell one of my clients that they have debilitating emotional and behavioral problems that will destroy their lives without swift and effective corrective action on their part.

What I must tell you in this book is that our culture’s sad fate will be sealed if we continue to imbue our children and young adults with troubled and destructive beliefs, thoughts  and behavior patterns.  We have been doing this, with increasing power,  without most of our citizens and politicians even knowing it.  It is particularly ironic that our hard-earned tax resources have supported very productive scientific research into how to avoid such outcomes, but this information is ignored and buried in the remote bowels of our libraries. All the while, each generation produces a next generation which is more psychologically disturbed and self-damaging than it was. The only possible salvation from this relentless self-destructive course is to educate ourselves about the basic laws of human behavior and to conduct significant emergency American Culture redesign changes accordingly.

It is symptomatic of our huge cultural blind-spot that a common exclamation of considered wisdom is: “it’s the economy, stupid!” Of course the economy is important. But, to secure and maintain our rightful goals of cultural health and longevity, the exclamation should also be: “it’s our behavior, stupid!”

The economy, alone,  is likely to be a relatively late indicator in such matters of cultural health. For a strong economy to emerge and endure, a population’s behavior must also be strong. Among other things, the individuals in a population must learn to invent, to cooperate, to work diligently, to follow certain rules of law, and to forgo certain immediate personal gratifications in order to secure future benefits. They must also raise a sufficient number of competent and similarly endowed children to replace themselves. If these things are not accomplished, eventually, the economy will suffer and so will the whole culture. Of course, these influences are circular: the rewards of a free market economy strengthen a populations productive behavior patterns and these productive behavior patterns strengthen the free market economy. However, I will argue that the predominance of healthy and effective population behavior (among other environmental factors) is an essential ingredient leading to the success of our free market economy within our free society.

If we fail to raise and train –to acculturate– our own children effectively, our economy can be fueled by the “behavioral capital” from past generations (senior citizens) for some period of time.  But as that reservoir of quality human behavioral energy is being used up, we must create and train more, or, we must import behavioral energy from other cultures. We now appear to be embracing the later strategy at the expense of the former one. The question is: how long can a culture exist if it fails to raise and acculturate its own competent future generations to support a growing and increasingly complex technology and information-based economy? No one knows the answer. However, I am convinced that we already know enough about creating strong and healthy human behavior to avoid learning the answer to this question the hard and tragic way.

The issues and concerns identified in the preceding paragraphs will take many pages to make clear and, for some, believable. This will be done in the following ways:

I will tell true stories and use anecdotes as a way to introduce and summarize the findings of hard science—these findings relate to what is happening in our increasingly self-destructive culture. The values of an Applied Science of Cultural Analysis will guide this process and they will be explained as they become relevant.

I will first tell you what I think I see happening to our culture and the catastrophic future that it implies. Perhaps I am wrong about some of these observations and concerns–but I genuinely fear that I am not. You can decide this matter for yourself.  If I am wrong in my assessment, I have faith that with time and careful study, the truth will eventually emerge and things will evolve as they will.

I will then explain the basics of psychology, sociology, and anthropology by explaining their most robust principles, and relating them to my observations of events in our own society that you can also see clearly. I will use these factual principles to help you see and understand how and why the quality of our collective social behavior has diminished to the point that it is now glaringly reflected in our obvious cultural decline. I can only hope that my efforts will benefit the American Culture that has produced me, and that I have served and loved so much.

There is a wise old joke about doing successful psychotherapy with individuals. The question is: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?”  The answer: ” Only one—but the light bulb has got to want to change”!  It is no great leap of faith for me to conclude that, like the individuals with whom I have done behavior therapy and counseling for over 30 years, we citizens of America,  must first also “feel a strong need to change” before successful cultural change becomes a possibility.

My intent in writing this book is to produce a felt-need-for-change, among ourselves,  which is based upon information that is honest, factual, clear, and powerful enough to motivate individuals and groups to work for desperately needed improvements. But at 67 years of age, and having observed the evolution of these United States for my entire life, sparking such a chain of events feels “a tad shy” of unlikely.  No problem.  I also write out of a sense of duty and for personal catharsis. Independent of the outcome, for me, doing this task will be its own reward.

New ways of seeing the world do not generally emerge because” minds” are changed. What happens is that entrenched ideas die with their thinkers and new, yet uncommitted, individuals are persuaded. However, this normally slow process can grind to a virtual halt if the new and uncommitted thinkers are taught to think only of their own immediate goods and pleasures. This culturally pervasive mode of personal arrogance, short-sighted thinking , and ignorance about long-term outcomes is our greatest danger.

My original training is in the psychological sub-field of Applied Behavior Analysis. Some may recognize one part of this sub-field as Behavior Modification. The discipline of Behavior Analysis has won its strong principles and techniques through the rigorous scientific analysis of human behavior, in nearly all of its forms, in almost all imaginable settings. More recently this field has turned its powers of analysis to the evaluation of cultural change and evolution. I have participated in this development and by doing so, I have come to believe that much of great practical value is now available— just when we need it the most.

I believe that someday, somewhere, cultures will finally learn how to extend their own life-span greatly by managing their own behavior effectively. Why can’t one of these cultures be us: The United States of America? To insure that we live long and well will require that we change our behavior substantially. I anticipate the reasonable concerns of many. I too worry about the exploitation of people through various behavior control methods.  Like you, I have watched the horrific bestialities of our time (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Ladin etc., all in quest of a “better culture”. Of course, our own culture has, for periods, been guilty of its own despotisms. Witness the genocidal treatment of the American Indians and our use of African slaves. These are the “ghosts of our cultures-past” whose barbarous actions towards our own, and other citizens of the world, haunt and frighten us. But these virulent and maladaptive strains of cultural behavior patterns, that long continue, tend to kill themselves just as they kill others. They cannot resemble the healthy, adaptive, and enduring species of cultures that may someday evolve to live very long and very well. Of course, there are no grantees that such healthy and adaptive cultures will ever appear: There is only an educated hope and the certainty that the pursuit of a better cultural future is not for the faint-of-heart.

I would like to think that a new breed of adaptive cultures are now being selected by the natural forces of survival. Such cultures would be especially good at teaching their children to live in an extraordinarily complex and threatening world. Their children would learn to work to preserve countless good things for themselves, as well as  good things for others who live, and those who are yet to live. Their citizens would therefore learn a rare mature value system that strikes a balance between self-interest and dedication to the long-term collective good of their fellow citizens—and of all people who mean them no harm. Such cultures would probably blend the best aspects of democracy, socialism and free-market capitalism into unique and effective hybrid of these adaptations . To the greatest degree possible, the citizens of these cultures would be dedicated to the preservation of life (in all of its forms) and yet they would have the skills, technology, and courage to defend themselves from the barbaric and predatory forces that will apparently exist for all time.

Such adaptive cultures would motivate their populations to propagate with a rate sufficient to maintain the proportions of age, skill, and intellectual resource groups necessary for survival. In doing so they would provide the quality and quantity of human energy necessary to build and maintain their own health and developmental vigor.  Such cultures may also use carefully controlled and specifically targeted immigration policies and rigorous acculturation standards in order to achieve these goals. They would strongly defend themselves against unregulated or illegal immigration, knowing that for all times this has been a destroyer of cultures.

These cultures would develop forms of government which strive to govern rates of cultural change such that, except in times of crisis, change remains slow and deliberate enough to avoid the damaging and misguided explosions of change that now threaten the United States. Of course there will always be threats to survival over which there is little or no control. But, the adaptive cultures will be able to respond to external or internal threats to their welfare in timely and effective ways that reflect the motivated, informed and intelligent problem solving efforts of their populations and political systems.

These adaptive cultures will also seek to preserve and maximize all of their natural resources, be they human-animal, vegetable, or mineral, and they will be amazingly adaptive to their changing environments. Their shared values and mutual interests will naturally lead them to avoid war with one another and they will seek to provide mutual support. By contemporary standards, such cultures will live for a very very long time. The main reason for these culture’s long-term success will be their learned ability to predict the occurrence of nearly all of the possible short and long-term astronomical, gelological, biological, psychological, social, and political problems that are known to have damaged and destroyed other cultures. More importantly, these cultures will have learned to implement effective preventive strategies as well as timely remedial adjustements in order to survive long and well.

If you see flashes of America’s history within my description of adaptive cultural designs, it is because we have actually achieved and reflected many of these values and actions at times in our own past. And if you see, during our present decline, the loss of these characteristics, you will begin to understand the general truths that I will now attempt to demonstrate in this book. To a significant degree, our cultural successes and failures relate to our evolution toward, and away from, these previously stated ideals.

It has become “politically incorrect” to say that an increasing number of the things that people do are “good” or “bad”. However, as with any social problems (past, present, or future), there are  many possible helpful or destructive cultural adaptations that can be made. I call those adaptations that are helpful, good changes because they will improve the culture’s health and viability. I call changes that are destructive or damaging to the culture’s health and viability, bad changes. I recommend this value to you and invite you to consider that extending the life of your culture is a good thing to do and destroying it is a bad thing to do.

But, it is often difficult to know, in advance, what the good and bad changes might be for any culture, under any particular set of circumstances. To some degree, cultural evolution is a series of adaptations similar to gambles at a “comic crap table”. The “winners” may take all, but seldom do they keep it for long. And simply trying ideas that are intuitively, philosophically, or politically popular  (as we do now) is to court disaster in this deadly game of cultural “Russian Roulette”. Fortunately, there are ways to increase the odds of winning at this profoundly important game.

B.F. Skinner would reminded us that, although we will frequently not know what we should do about a cultural problem;  we can learn an ever increasing number of things that we should not do. Make no mistake about it, “learning more and more what not to do” is significant progress. Individuals who are knowledgeable about the basic laws of human behavior already know many possible adaptations that are clearly wrong and therefore, bad. They will also know which old and new possible adaptations accord with these laws and are, therefore, worthy of further consideration and experimentation. It is past time that our culture reap the benefits of its financial investments in over 100 years of its own behavioral science research findings. To do this only requires that the real cultural planners learn these laws and principles of behavior and then support those cultural practices that conform to them. It is essential that our cultural planners learn enough about the basic laws of human behavior to understand why they must attack and change, through existing political processes, our own cultural practices that do not conform to these laws and principles

You may ask, who are these cultural planners who must learn principles of human behavior and change our culture’s design to accord with them? Indeed, this is a huge task. But there is a huge number of cultural planners who are equal to the task. Who, in the final analysis, are the real cultural planners in a republic such as ours? It is certainly not our politicians, who increasingly war within between the two parties that have failed to stem our decline; who milk dollars from tax payers to benefit their own regional interests; and who pander to various rich lobbies and other donors to shore-up their own short-term political viability. The real cultural planners are the hundreds of millions of citizens like you and I, the voting citizens of America.

I believe that a vitally interested voting citizenry in free economic and social markets, under the guidance of basic Judeo-Christian values and  Basic Pyschological Principles of Human Behavior, will tend to strengthen its own health and longevity and that of other similar cultures. It will also secure the greatest good for the greatest number of  people.

In stark contrast, if there is anything to learn about the societies that designed themselves according to the Marxist/Leninist principles of central government control and planning, it is that they have failed repeatedly. Similarly, it is foolish to hope that our own central government will ever singularly fix this culture’s increasing woes, because “it”, in large part, has done more than fail to do so. “It” is what has caused most of our devastating sociocultural problems in the first place.

Just as our Founding Fathers understood, the informed individual citizen is the appropriate cultural planner in a republic such as ours. I therefore urge you to learn the things that we know cause good and bad human behavior. Having done that, there are hard and frightening realities to contemplate and it is our responsibility to do so. If our society, as now designed, produces ever-increasing numbers of barbarians of its precious children (and we are doing just that). We must accept that reality, study the problem,  and make our cultural changes accordingly.  As B. F. Skinner has said,  the idea that “the government that governs best,  is the one that governs least, only works when something else governs.” I will suggest that we move to a design where “that something else” is a newly educated voting public re-motivated with a combination of clearly understood principles/laws of human behavior, traditional values and ethics, and a clear perception of our own failing culture.

In the final analysis, I have a passion for truth and reality even if it disappoints or frightens me. As an emeritus professor of psychology, I deal with research findings and theory; as a therapist, I do “acid tests” upon this academically derived knowledge. I am not isolated in the theoretical traps of academe, nor have I become addicted to the trendy treatments of the therapist’s world. I am a pragmatist. If certain techniques and methods solve real problems, I value them: If not, I do not. I also believe that the interplay between scholarship and the demands of practical therapeutic applications in my life have earned me a measure of useful wisdom unavailable to those who do not work in both of these worlds.

Of course, experts frequently argue among themselves about the nature of things.  I could be wrong in my assessment of the state of our culture and its worsening condition,  about the reasons why this is so, and about the suggestions for change that I will give in the last two chapters of this book. It is for you to look at the facts that I will provide and to decide for yourself.

A good scientist/therapist will know the prognosis of their client and do their best to help; even when the prognosis is not good. I will do my best to help my socioculture to perceive itself accurately, to rationally evaluate and caringly confront its own self-destructive beliefs and behaviors. I will do my best to provide the general information and motivation necessary to help all of us to work for adaptive cultural changes that are now so urgently needed.

This is what I will now attempt to do.  And now the rest is up to you.


The Greatest Nation Ever

June 26, 2009

The greatest nation ever to exist on planet earth expends its wealth of human and natural energy like a firework that spins brightly and madly in one place–only to finally wobble weakly off course and smolder to its disappointing end.

V. T. Mawhinney


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