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The Enlightened Few

As western civilization struggled during the post-renaissance era between choosing art, science and discovery over the church’s attempts to re-impose its authority in the form of the “Christian Reformation”, there were a few lesser known historical figures who helped shape western culture for the next few centuries. Faced with the prospective of having their imagination stymied, their curiosity arrested and their expression proscribed, the choice of socio/political direction was clear for a generation who defined themselves by their intellect. Christian rule? Hell no.

The church had their chance to govern, and for a thousand years humanity suffered needlessly, died young, and lived in fear, poverty and squalor. Today we refer to that period of history as “the Dark Ages.” Choosing to revert back to that after western civilization had the chance to experience progress would have been somewhat equivalent to returning to prison for a crime one never committed once they’d already experienced freedom. Thanks, but no thanks.

In what’s known today as the “Age of Enlightenment” –or the “Age of Reason”– there was a cultural movement of intellectuals whose purpose was to reform society using reason, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. Intellectuals such as Isaac Newton, Voltaire, and John Locke built upon the genius level contributions to humanity of the renaissance, and challenged ideas grounded in tradition, mythology and faith. They determined that societal precepts should be able to survive the test of scrutiny. To put it simply, truth should supersede superstition.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Enlightenment was a movement that hoped to undo the abuses of power by the church-run state by promoting factualism as arrived at through peer reviewed evidence. Folklore and unfounded beliefs promoted by the church were assaulted with skepticism, and as such were exposed as blatant falsehoods. It wasn’t enough to believe that demons caused illnesses when there were cures that needed to be found.

It was in the eighteenth century that the Enlightenment had reached the American colonies, and which eventually led to the founding of the United States of America. Men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and James Madison –intellectuals all– recognized that when the church and state become one, the people suffer. Hence, they wrote the single greatest document in the history of civilization specifically disassociated from church authority… The United States Constitution.

The founders of our nation were men of the enlightenment.

Which leads us to today, and the rules of socio/economics mirroring those of physics, leading to the equal and opposite reaction to the force of enlightened reason. There is a concerted political effort at a re-imposition of church authority, and it goes by the name of Christian Dominionism. And it is as rooted in ignorance, greed, and lust for power at the expense of the populace as their medieval predecessors.

For the twenty first century Dominionist Christian, they hope to transform our nation back to a time when fear, intolerance and superstition governed our choices, and science was viewed as heresy. We see it today, with Dominionist politicians denying genetic biology (evolution), the origin of our species, the age of our planet, and even climate change. Dominionist Christians are replete within our legislative body (they help write our laws) and in the 2012 presidential election, ran several Dominionist candidates. One almost got the Republican nomination.

The thing is, it really takes a malevolent, psychotic derangement –at this point in history– to deny peer reviewed, scientific facts and evidence in favor of promoting superstition and fairy tales. However political Dominionists need to do this in order to create a fearful, ignorant –albeit fervent– voting base. The main difference between twelfth, and twenty-first century Christian fundamentalists is that the former had the luxury of scientific incomprehension, while the latter is burdened with contradictory scientific confirmation. Which means that the contemporary Dominionist has to outright lie to his or her constituency.

For example, the Dominionist conceptions for our nation needing to “return to” mosaic (biblical) law are based on the fundamental lie that is that our nation was founded on “Christian principles”. As if they –in the name of Christianity– claim ownership of basic morality (while simultaneously ignoring the founder’s departure from the church when forming the precepts of our nation). The truth is that the United States citizenry were never subject to mosaic law, or church authority in the first place.

The most glaring example of the founder’s intentions regarding the church place within our legislative process, is that there is no mention of God, Jesus, or Christianity anywhere in our constitution. So either our founders simply forgot –which is an absurd assumption– or they did not define their moral principles under Christian terms. Which might also explain why seven of the ten commandments are unconstitutional to enforce, while the three that remain –killing, stealing, lying under oath (bearing false witness)– are laws that have spanned millennia, culture, and religion.

These basic moral precepts are not Christian-only principles. In fact, virtually every civilized culture in history has had these very same laws. Still, Dominionist politicians blur the concept of “morality”, as they do science and history, to coincide with their socio/economic agenda. This might come as a shock to good Christian folks, but Jesus wasn’t the first character in literature to have determined that we should try not to be jerks to one another.

The truth is, that even the founders who did identify themselves as Christians understood the need for a separation of church and state. It was the oppression of the church in England which caused many of these intellectual giants to brave the Atlantic ocean and start life anew in the colonies in the first place. However despite these very researchable historical and scientific facts, there are many who revise history and science to coincide with their astigmatic, Dominionist Christian predispositions. After two hundred and fifty years of church/state separation, Christianity is being re-packaged as patriotism.

There is certainly a reason why we refer to the millennium of church rule as the dark ages, and the period of discovery from which this nation was born as the “Enlightenment”. One needs only to read a few history or science books. The struggle between Christian Dominionism and secularism is literally between willful ignorance and intellectual subjugation, versus sociological advancements in science, medicine, economics, and technology …Or as some might put it, Dark vs. Light.

Our great nation was founded by those who defied church authority, and chose the light.


Supply Side Story

I too, am guilty.

There is a current socio/political trend that is lending itself towards an irrational dynamic. Like many irrational behaviors, it is largely motivated by fear. This “trend” I speak of, is when American citizens begin with a subjective political assertion, and gather evidence –whether it be real, manufactured, or a little both– to support it. These declarations are often made without regard for acumen, rather the impetus is to affirm one’s blind allegiance to their chosen dogma… Or to put it more bluntly, paranoia caused by partisan hyperbole. And while toting a “party line” has been an establish practice for generations, the vitriol and adversarial approach to our fellow Americans has become a tragic part of the new Americana.

For instance, I have lifelong friends who reside on both sides of the political aisle who are the exemplification of this sociological paradigm. Almost without exception, they’ll depict a political landscape whereby good and evil are easily recognizable, dependent upon one’s political affiliation. Representatives from either party are often labeled as socialists, fascists, elitists or stupid… and while there are times when any of those labels might seem justified, it is the cavalier manner in which they are so casually tossed about which allows for bombast to have trumped reasonable objections to policy.

The reasons for this social malady are many, depending on who is making the assertion. The psychological payoff, it would appear, is to try to tether oneself to something both righteous and tangible in a world spinning out of control, socially, politically, and economically. It is simply how the culture of fear manifests itself. When one considers how media contributes to this dynamic, certainly it is understandable how we can vilify and canonize so recklessly. We behave more like Sharks and Jets than Democrats and Republicans, and as such our angst is able to seek its expression through our natural discourse.

But for the sources of the cultural divide –those who manufacture these extremes– the motives are not nearly as honorable. Those who profit from any given media platform have recognized the profitable forum in extremism, and thus prey upon the angst of those whom they purport to be enlightening. The laughably biased –albeit lyrical– affirmations of “truth” made by political televangelists on cable news have compromised the imaginative ability of the proletariat to which they preach, resulting in the regurgitation of fact challenged, wingnut propaganda by average citizens on blogs, and in social media. In the ideological turf war, the battle to win the hearts and minds of those not centrifugally pinned to either political extreme is being waged through those who are. In a nation fast losing its ability to employ critical thinking, reason is now viewed as weakness. The inability to rationally articulate one’s socio/political concerns in non-polarizing terms has been denounced, because the truth –as many of us see it– is not actually based on our own perceptions, but rather the perceptions of those on whom we place our misguided trust.

Which brings us to the point of this article, which is an observation about the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Regardless of our political leanings, I hope that we Americans can differentiate between condemning our entire financial system, and calling to task those who have undermined it for personal profit. I hope that we can understand the difference between capitalism, and corporatism. I trust that we recognize that when political influence is purchased though lobbying or when competition is artificially removed from the marketplace, that we no longer live in a democracy, nor do we live in a capitalist society. Something un-American is occurring where it concerns the collusive relationship between capital interests, and congress. The Tea Party saw it, and so do the OWS.

But with few exceptions, both the liberal and conservative media –which provides many with their philosophical rudder– ignores these facts. Rather they fan flames of partisanship because profit lies in our contention with one another. Actuality has given way to the portrait they want us to see. And while I have little doubt that this movement –like the Tea Party before it– will be co-opted by special interests, it does not deter from the evidence, or the larger picture. Regardless of whether one is able to channel their inner hippie and support these protestors, or whether they are the re-incarnation of William F Buckley and denounce them as whiney, entitled, and without a work ethic… it should not dissuade us from recognizing that there are those in both the private and public sectors who are escaping incarceration because we Americans have allowed ourselves to become distracted by political theater.

Neutered Intellect

Dr. Keith Ablow is making some wild statements these days on FOX News. Does he really believe them?

As one who champions reason above all else, it can be a little painful when someone I admire behaves irrationally. It brings me no joy to “call out” someone who shares many of my own sensibilities, and whom I would much rather agree with.

I remember the first time I had ever seen Dr. Ablow. My wife and I were watching an episode of the now defunct Tyra Banks show, which, on that day centered around the merits of relationships which negotiated non monogamy. As swingers, we fully expected yet another biased, fact challenged representation of “the lifestyle” based on society’s pre-disposed affinity for ill-fated monogamy, and a condemnation of all things secular. Indeed, that is how the show was shaping up. That is, until Dr. Ablow arrived.

On the stage were two couples. One, a swinger couple clearly in love and sitting comfortable and relaxed, while their “Vanilla” counterparts sat angry and emotionally disconnected. As the audience predictably denounced the swingers, Banks –an intellectual windsock– acquiesced to their disapproval despite the obvious example of who the happier couple was. It was Ablow who took the stage and pointed out everyone’s hypocrisy. It was Ablow, who, to my knowledge, became the first person in a televised network venue to defend libertine sensibilities, and favor relationship truth over irrational hyperbole. It was Ablow who braved contradicting conventional thought, even though it was the more difficult path.

He made a fan that day.

Eventually, Dr. Keith Ablow would get his own daytime talk show, which did not last very long. Not one to engage in the circus atmosphere that drives that genre, Dr. Keith’s brand of lucid thought and his empathetic approach to people’s travails could not compete with his competition’s boorish sensationalism in a commercial environment. To his credit, Ablow seemed, unwilling to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable people for profit. It bothered me that Ablow, a *REAL* forensic psychiatrist, an intellectual, and someone who seemed to reject tabloid over-simplification was languishing in obscurity when bigoted, self indulgent dullards like “Dr.” Phil McGraw had achieved international fame and fortune based on ignominious precepts, and who feigned expertise by dispensing warmed over platitudes.

Later, I joined Dr. Keith’s website, “Living the Truth”, based on his book, and moreover, his approach to healing through empathy. “Doc”, as we affectionately referred to him would host semi regular chat sessions, which often had less than a dozen people in them. It was intimate, especially for a medium as vast as the internet. But he was gracious, funny, charming, and brilliant. It was there that he and I interacted. Sometimes we’d agree, and sometimes not. But it was always amicable. And it was in one of these chats where Dr. Keith offered an unsolicited act of kindness to me. I will never forget that, which is why I feel compelled to do the same for him, now. So…

Dear Dr. Keith,
As someone who both respects and admires you, I feel compelled to tell you that you’re behaving like an asshole.

I understand the frustration you must have felt watching your dim witted contemporaries like “Dr.” Laura achieve financial prosperity when you outranked them by a significant amount of I.Q. points, if not, more than just a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder. I understand what it feels like to be passed over in favor of people less qualified. So with that, I also understand that even when someone as psychotically delusional as your friend Glenn Beck came with an offer to rescue you from obscurity, you had to jump at it. But the character you’ve been playing on FOX News has gotten out of hand.

Wasn’t there a way for you to suggest that an ad featuring a Mom painting her sons toenails pink — while is in itself no big deal– might be a small part of a larger sociological dynamic which may be hurtful. Was it not possible to rationally discuss the societal benefits of more defined gender roles without the hyperbolic blather? Is this how you would truly address a patient if they were to come to you with this? I suspect not. But is this how your employers at FOX directed you to respond? I suspect so.

Would FOX News allow you to point your high powered perception at a Conservative Republican? Surely Dr. Ablow, you recognize the irresponsible –if not the overtly bigoted– psychological practices exhibited by Marcus and Michelle Bachman… and how destructive “reparative” therapy (a practice the American Psychological Association has deemed ineffective and unsafe) is to young gay people. Surely they are due scrutiny from someone with your background. Clearly, some of Marcus Bachman’s effeminate characteristics might lead someone to rationally conclude that his hatred of Gays is nothing short of self-loathing brought on by denial of his true sexual orientation. Dr. Ablow, you’ve made more irresponsible diagnoses about liberals from more casual observations. But would FOX News permit you to publically speak the truth regarding the Bachman’s? It’s doubtful.

Then there was your recent feud with HBO’s Bill Maher over comments he made about abstinence spokesperson Bristol Palin, and her assertions about how she lost her virginity. She claims in her book to not remember the drunken sex had with her fiancée the previous night, and that she was taken advantage of while passed out. There is a word for that, and it’s called rape. Realizing that her statements have legal repercussions, she has backed off the severity of her claims and tried to downplay them. Apparently, Bristol never knew that wine coolers had alcohol in them. Maher, a comic (whether you find him funny or not) made fun of her, and the vapid Palin intellect.

Which in turn led to your hackneyed diagnosis about Bill Maher’s hatred of all women based on his liberal lampooning of the estrogenic psychosis that accords some conservative women like Palin and Bachman. It was apparent to anyone who can do basic algebra that FOX News directed you to defend the honor of the Palin’s, as Bristol’s Mom Sarah is a fellow FOX employee. Did you offer a similar diagnosis when your financial benefactor Glenn Beck made personal jokes about Meghan McCain? Did you take your pal to task when he pretended to throw up into a trash at her expense? Really? Bill Maher’s comment about Bristol Palin were “vile”… and Glenn Beck’s comments about Meghan McCain were perfectly acceptable? Weren’t you the same guy who used to laugh it up on the Howard Stern Show? So when a friend makes misogynistic jokes about women, it’s all in good fun, but when a liberal does it, it compels you to channel your inner Gloria Steinem?

I have, in the past, also chastised Bill Maher for such partisan indulgences. It was not very long ago when I publically bashed Mr. Maher for placing the blame on the Arizona shooting squarely on the shoulders of the Republican party, while sitting next to his friend, Russell Simmons, who directly profits from the imagery created by urban gun violence. As I do with you, I like Bill Maher. But like you, he too can be an asshole.

But the assertion you made about Maher on the “Fox & Friends” show were ridiculous. You claim that Bill Maher has no affiliation with life? This coming from a guy who supports the Republican position on War and Health care? You connect hatred of women with his “anti-religion” stance, when the reality is –as you are well aware– there is nothing more patriarchal and women hating than religious scripture. Then you had the nerve to misquote Maher’s comments after 9-11. While comedians can always hide behind their “art”, as a Psychiatrist, your credibility is dependent on your integrity. Perhaps it’s time that you employ some. I know you’re capable.

Speaking of your friend and co-author Glenn Beck, are he and his outlandish statements also beyond psychological criticism? Are all those Nazi dots he connects in his paranoid mind the determinations of someone rational? Are his revisionist, inaccurate history lessons not worthy of being tempered with a psychological intervention from a friend? Are his assertions about God sending messages through natural disasters not in need of a little rational perspective?

At the risk of appearing immodest, Doc, I also have a decent following of my own. As such, I’ve received more than a few E-mails from former “Living the Truth” regulars who were wondering what has become of the man we knew? What happened to the luminous, empathetic soul who we knew from LTT and replaced him with a fear mongering FOX News doppelganger? As that woman told President Obama at the Town Hall meeting not too long ago, “Frankly, I’m tired of defending you”.

Dr. Keith, there are two types of people who can tell someone when they’re being an asshole… Enemies, and Friends. I hope you understand that I am the latter. I’m not sure if you realize how silly you sound to rational people. I believe that Fox News has hired you to give them some much needed credibility, but I’m afraid that it has come at the expense of your own. I hope the paycheck is worth it. In the meantime, the folks who know you from before you drank the FOX Kool-Aid will try to remember the man we knew.