Ian I Mitroff
NOC Featured Blogger
Published: Thursday 5 December 2013

On October 22, 2013, a 13-year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus in Santa Rosa, California after he was warned repeatedly to put down what looked like a real automatic rifle. When Lopez turned around with the fake gun pointing directly at Gelhaus and his partner, fearing for their lives, Deputy Gelhaus fired eight times killing Lopez instantly.Because of the tragic loss of a young life and the understandable outrage that naturally followed, I am afraid that the full lessons have not been drawn from the episode. Unless we understand and learn from them, we will only see future such tragedies. While there are few if any excuses for the taking of any life, because I have worked with the police over my career, I want to put forward a different understanding of the tragedy.  To do so, let me take a step back and indulge in a bit of theory.Melanie Klein is one of the most influential child psychoanalysts who ever lived. It is contended that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. Working with children as young as newborns up to pre-teens, Klein pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior. One of Klein’s earliest discoveries was what she termed the “paranoid-schizoid position.” The child’s earliest state was “paranoid” because of its incessant fears that it would be abandoned or hurt by its first caregivers, typically the mother when Klein worked early in the 20th century. It was also “schizoid” because the young child’s mind was not sufficiently developed to understand and accept that the “good mother,” that one that fed, cared for, and met the child’s every demand, was also the ...

Published: Tuesday 1 October 2013

Concluding RemarksIn the end, I would be naïve beyond belief if I thought that an analysis of arguments alone would be enough to prompt deep changes in how we view the vital issues of our times. An analysis of arguments is necessary, but it’s hardly sufficient.One’s attitudes towards guns, President Obama, gays, and responsibility are more than a matter of arguments, logical or otherwise. They are a matter of lived, core beliefs.The Backings that move men and women reside in their souls, not just in their minds alone. But then this is a fitting argument on which to close a serialized series of blogs about the power of arguments.

Published: Tuesday 24 September 2013

Blog Seven: The Tyranny of Either/Or—Extreme ModerationTable 7.1 and Figures 7.1 through 7.3 represent the arguments of three positions along the political spectrum with regard to the issues we’ve examined in previous blogs. In terms of the table and figures, I am clearly a moderate but with a tilt somewhat to the left. Hence, the term “extreme moderate” best represents my views.The point of the table and figures is not to argue that moderate positions are always better. Nor are they always “moderate.”As we have before in our tumultuous history as a nation, we need to move beyond the tyranny of either/or thinking to both/and. I have no illusions whatsoever that at this time in our history, that this is easy. Indeed, given the current political climate, it’s as difficult as any time we have ever faced as a nation.In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Thomas Mann, a liberal, and Norman Ornstein, a conservative, both place more blame on the Republican Party than they do on Democrats, although there is more than enough blame to go around for the breakdown in our inability to get along, let alone govern with any degree of respect and civility.[i] Mann and Ornstein essentially see the House dominated by right-wing insurgents who are scornful of compromise, which of course is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. The current crop of Republicans put fealty to their party ahead of problem solving, which again is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. For this and other reasons, Mann and Ornstein view the current Republican Party more like an apocalyptic cult than a political party.What suggestions then do Mann and Ornstein offer for ways out of the impasse? In a word, expand moderate thinking by expanding the ...

Published: Monday 16 September 2013

The Processed-Food IndustryIn the Sunday, February 24, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine, an important article by Michael Moss appeared on how the processed-food industry deliberately employs scientists whose specific job it is to design junk food products that are effectively impossible to resist. If there were any doubts before the article was published regarding how the industry intentionally designs products that appeal directly to our cravings for fast food, the article dispelled them entirely. The products were so successful that they not only “appealed” to our natural, built-in cravings for junk food, but they actually “heightened” those cravings.In addition to the “distasteful” (pun intended!) disclosures about the practices of the processed-food industry, just as important were the revelations about the arguments that the industry used regularly to justify its behavior. The arguments are particularly important because with very little modification, they apply to other industries. They are used over and over again to promote dangerous, unethical, and unhealthy products, e.g., violent movies, pornography, TV shows, and video games, etc.The major arguments are variants of: “We only give consumers what they want; if there weren’t a market for what we make—if they didn’t demand it--then we wouldn’t make it because we couldn’t sell it.” Just as frequent, “If we don’t do it, somebody else will. Better us than them.”Stephen Sanger, head of General Mills, put it as follows. He noted that consumers were “fickle.” “People bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good.” “Don’t talk to me about nutrition. Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste ...

Published: Tuesday 10 September 2013

Blog Six: Who’s Responsible?Recently over 1000 people died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh.It raised anew questions of the ultimate responsibility of retailers who employ thousands of poor workers to make garments for well-off consumers in Europe and the U.S.The very same issue was raised when a fertilizer plant exploded in the town of West, Texas.Figures 6.1 and 6.2 (http://mitroffblog.net/) present two typical arguments with respect to the issue of responsibility. Once again, the figures are mainly self-explanatory.However, Figure 6.2 (http://mitroffblog.net/) warrants further commentary.

Published: Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Metaphysics of ScienceThe British physicist Stephen Hawking once posed the following question, which I paraphrase, “Suppose some day we physicists are able to write down the grand equation of Everything. That would still leave unanswered, what breathed life into the equation?” In more prosaic terms, what designed the equation in the first place and implemented it in the second?I have no doubt that we live in a universe that is governed by the laws of Evolution and Physics, to mention only two of the many sciences that are involved. But what created the kind of a universe that is governed by such laws? To answer “God” is to replace one mystery with another. But that’s precisely what Religion does. Religion does what Science is loath to do because humans cannot live with unfathomable mysteries. But then many scientists cannot live with mysteries as well. They persist in hanging onto the metaphysical belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws.”The belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws” is not a scientific statement that can be proved or disproved empirically. It is a metaphysical belief. It asserts something about the totality of reality that cannot be proved. We cannot wait until the end of time to check on its validity. The ability to “wait until the end of time” requires an ability far beyond humans.To be sure, Science has continually expanded our knowledge of the world, but to assert that it will continue to do indefinitely and thus ultimately be able to explain everything is a belief that scientists cannot go out and test as they can other hypotheses.The trouble is that the vast majority of scientists grow up with a deep distaste for Philosophy in general and Metaphysics in particular. Understandingly, both seem to limit the ...

Published: Tuesday 27 August 2013

Blog Five: Creationism Versus Evolution—Science And ReligionNowhere is the battle between Science and Religion more bitter and contentious than in the contemporary war between Creationism and Science. Figures 5.1 and 5.2 (http://mitroffblog.net/) lay out some of the major issues that are involved.Although there are many varieties of Creationism, the basic overriding idea is that Evolution in particular and Science in general are wrong in supposing that they can account for something so complicated as the existence of human beings. To take but just one example, according to Creationism, the human eye is too complex to ever have evolved from primitive organisms or cells. Thus, at a specific moment in time, God must have created humans intact.To say that Science does not agree with Creationism is putting it mildly. Evolution is able to account for the features we see in animals and humans.Nonetheless, there is a more significant issue that Science and Religion generally avoid, if not duck altogether. This is the generally unacknowledged “fact” that there is a deep metaphysical side of Science and that this side is not incompatible with Religion. Indeed, it is deeply compatible with Religion. At the same time, Religion has to acknowledge its compatibility and deep dependence on Science.

Published: Wednesday 21 August 2013

Truths About Gay MarriagesFor another, recently, The Atlantic Monthly ran an eye-opening article entitled, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples.”[i] The article dispelled one of the central myths about gay marriage.One of the chief arguments of those who are opposed to gay marriage is that it threatens the sanctity of marriage. That is, supposedly if gays are allowed to marry then the institution of marriage, which is already under siege, will be further threatened. The article certainly affirmed that marriage is clearly threatened, but not by gays. If anything is at fault, it is the changing economic conditions that make it harder for young people to get married.In particular, the article pointed out the areas where gay marriages are clearly superior to traditional ones. Freed from traditional gender roles where the man works primarily outside the home and does little housework and the women does most of the housework in addition to working, gay couple are more able to share chores and responsibilities equally. Gay couples are also more able to share emotions and feelings more easily.Instead of gays threatening the institution of marriage, gays are helping to redefine it.[i] Munday, Liza, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples: Why Gay Marriages Tend To Be Happier And More Intimate,” The Atlantic Monthly, June 2013, pp. 56-70.  

Published: Wednesday 14 August 2013

Postscript: The Boy Scouts of AmericaRecently, The Boy Scouts of America reversed a long-standing policy by voting to admit gays as members. Previously, gays were not allowed to become scouts. At the same time, the decision not to allow adults to be scout leaders was reaffirmed. Both decisions set off howls of protest.Conservatives not only expressed their strong disapproval of the decision to allow gays to become scouts, but a number indicated that they would immediately pull their children out of The Boy Scouts. But they went even further. They expressed their desire to found a new organization that would affirm their basic values. In their view, one of the prime attributes of The Boy Scouts was that it inculcated and reaffirmed a sense of “manliness,” a “virtue” that would be lost if gays were admitted as members.At the same time, gays were offended—“incensed” is a more accurate description--that adults would not be allowed to be leaders of scout troops. There is little if any evidence that gays are more inclined to be pedophiles and thus pose a greater danger to “straight” children under their supervision. But then, Evidence always faces an uphill battle against deeply entrenched views.

Published: Wednesday 7 August 2013

Blog Four: Gay RightsFigures 4.1 through 4.5 (http://mitroffblog.net/) represent five key aspects of the debate regarding whether gays should be allowed to marry or not. I consider whether: 1. Allowing gays to marry violates the centuries old traditional definition of marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman; 2. Marriage is primarily for procreation; 3. Being gay is an abnormality or leads to abnormalities; 4. The Bible forbids homosexuality; and finally, 5. Prohibiting gays from marrying denies them of their basic civil and legal rights.For the most part, the figures are self-explanatory and thus require little comment. As in earlier blogs, one thing in particular stands out. In Figures 4.1, 4.4, and 4.5 (http://mitroffblog.net/), the Claims, Warrants, and Backings are relatively independent of the Evidence.More importantly, as one scans all of the figures, there is a definite pattern. Those who support gay marriage are for substantial, if not radical, change and for a clear expansion of human and legal rights. Those who oppose gay marriage are not only in firm opposition to change, but for preserving the traditional definition of marriage. Indeed, those who oppose gay marriage do not see the issue in terms of civil rights at all. They see it as a grave threat to the very foundations of society. In this sense, “They want their world to carry on as it is!”As with all of the issues in the previous blogs, there are huge age differences in how one feels about the issue of gay marriage. Those who are under the age of 65—especially those of the Millennial Generation—are much more strongly in favor of gay marriage than those over 65.A famous quote by the distinguished historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is relevant here: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing ...

Published: Saturday 3 August 2013

I want to take a contrarian position with regard to Juian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. In short, they are not heroes to me. In doing so, I am well aware that to many it will appear that I have betrayed my Liberal and Progressive leanings. In the spirit of Liberal thought, I want to speak freely even if it annoys many. At best, I am deeply ambivalent. Of course I support Bradley Manning’s expose of the U.S. government’s reprehensible acts in the massacre of innocent women and children. Who wouldn’t? I am also aghast at the government’s spying on law-abiding citizens. If Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden had only exposed these things, I would have no problem. My support waned with the indiscriminate release of thousands of documents that potentially put soldiers and other members of our government in harm’s way. I am also bothered by the fact that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden both reneged on the oaths they took as a condition of their employment to protect national security. The taking of an oath does not mean that one should never feel free to violate it in the service of a higher ethical calling and principle. But, it does mean that one should attempt to honor our oaths as much as possible. Indeed, isn’t this what we find so lacking in our public officials? What bothers me most is the general contempt of government by both the Left and the Right. The extreme Right makes no bone about the fact that it literally wants to kill government altogether because it gets in the way of the unfettered desire of the rich to make money, whom they conveniently label “job creators” when they are anything but. On the other hand, the Left is often so paranoid and suspicious of government that it can’t wait to seize on anything that smacks of a “police ...

Published: Saturday 27 July 2013

Extreme Either/Or Thinking: The Work of Melanie KleinThe path-breaking work of the child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein on splitting is crucial in achieving a deeper understanding why conspiracy groups in particular are highly prone to dividing the world into “good” versus “bad guys and evil forces.” Indeed, as we saw in the last blog, according to rabid gun proponents, supposedly there is a clear and sharp distinction between “good guys” and “bad guys.” In this simple-minded view of the world, one is either a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” but never both. Certainly, one cannot have aspects of both at the same time. In this view of the world, “good guys” can have all the guns they want without any dangers to society.Reference to Klein is all but absent in popular, and even academic, books on contemporary politics.  This is unfortunate indeed because Klein is indispensable in understanding some of the most important aspects of complex issues. But then, this is a consequence of the fact that despite all the talk of interdisciplinary cooperation, different fields of human knowledge still do not talk to and learn from one another as much as they need to do.Certainly a key factor inhibiting greater cooperation is the lack of understanding and acceptance that while psychoanalysis may have started with the analysis and understanding of discrete individuals, it is no longer confined to their study and treatment alone. One of the most important contributions psychoanalysis has to make is the analysis and understanding of group and societal behavior.Klein is without a doubt one of the early giants of psychoanalysis. Her work with children is invaluable in shedding light on the human condition. It has been said that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. In other words, she pushed back ...

Published: Friday 19 July 2013

Blog Three: Ugly Arguments—Savaging President ObamaBy any standard, some of the worst “arguments” one could ever hope to find—if they even deserve to be dignified by the term “argument”--are those with regard to President Obama. The arguments are not just plain ugly, but in their unmitigated fear, disgust, and loathing of the President, they cross over the line from reasoned dissent to pathology. They are nothing short of venomous.As Will Bunch makes abundantly clear in his book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, there are sizable numbers of Americans—primarily members of The Tea Party and fringe conspiracy groups—who are more than willing to impute the worst attributes and motives to the President, and as a result, thoroughly demonize him.[i]Figure 3.1 (http://mitroffblog.net/) represents my summary of Bunch’s analysis of anti-Obama sentiments. As we saw in my last blog, in terms of TAF, the arguments are for the most part pure assertions without any real Evidence to back them up. Indeed, as in the case of rabid gun proponents and their unbridled exaltation of the Second Amendment, Evidence is beside the point.Most of the items in Figure 3.1 (http://mitroffblog.net/) are self-explanatory, and thus require little comment. However, one in particular deserves discussion. This is the plaintive cry “I want my country back!” that Bunch heard time and again as he travelled across America, listening to and talking with various people, mainly those who were dispossessed. It represents the cry of those who are unable to accept that a Black man, however gifted, is not only qualified, but was legally elected to be President. It represents all those who ...

Published: Wednesday 10 July 2013

Concluding RemarksOnce again, there is no way that a single blog could cover all of the arguments pertaining to guns. This has obviously not been my intent. Instead, the basic intent has been to show the power and the utility of TAF. At a minimum, it is a compact and convenient way of summarizing and organizing the main arguments for and against a particular issue. At its best, it gets to the root of important arguments.For instance, the following TAF is a summary of many of the main themes of this blog.Lurking not far beneath the surface of all of the arguments for guns—and for most of the other issues we examine—are fear and varying degrees of paranoia. Indeed, fear and paranoia are some of the most powerful bits of “social glue” that ties most, if not all, of the various arguments together.In this regard, we would do well to reflect on the comments of one of the leaders of the NRA. He nailed the Backing:“’You would get a far better understanding if you approached us [the NRA] as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.’ This is not a frivolous comparison. There is an unquestionably religious fervour about the beliefs of many pro-gun partisans. It is grounded in various articles of faith that form the catechism of the NRA: that law-abiding citizens are under constant risk from attack by predatory criminals, that the safety of every person and family depends on the ability of individuals to defend themselves with firearms, that the democratic institutions cannot be counted on to protect our liberties…In the NRA’s world, these are eternal truths. They are not themselves proper subjects for empirical testing and debate, but are rather a priori verities according to which the world is interpreted and understood. [Note that this helps to account for why the arguments of pro-gun advocates are largely pure assertions devoid of ...

Published: Monday 1 July 2013

Technologies Are Not Morally NeutralThe argument in Figure 2.2 (http://mitroffblog.net/) is just as insidious as the one in Figure 2.1 (http://mitroffblog.net/). Nothing that humans do is ever ethically or morally neutral. All technologies are made with a primary purpose or set of purposes in mind. They are also made with a set of particular stakeholders in mind. For instance, Facebook may well have been used in responsible ways by Harvard undergraduates for whom the technology was first designed. (Even this is debatable.) But it has proved to be an unmitigated social disaster when it is used 24/7/365 for cyber bullying by young people who are not mature enough to use it responsibly.The overriding fact is that guns are primarily manufactured, marketed, and purchased for use as weapons, not for target shooting or collectors’ items.[i] Cars are not.Finally, I present Figure 2.3 (http://mitroffblog.net/) with little comment since it is mostly self-explanatory.In fact (E), gun laws are effective. To be sure, by definition criminals don’t obey laws, but that is not an effective argument (Claim) against having laws. We don’t abandon laws against murder because murderers don’t obey them.Laws reflect the basic will and values of the majority to have and live in a civilized society. As such, they derive their basic existence and day-to-day support from the will of the people. In other words, while not perfect by any stretch, it is the law-abiding members of society that work to make laws work by basically believing in them. Yes, this means that law-abiding citizens have to give up previous “rights” in order to secure a ...

Published: Monday 24 June 2013

“Guns Don’t Kill People”: The Granddaddy of All Gun ArgumentsFigures 2.1 and 2.2 (http://mitroffblog.net/) are Toulmin analyses of the most basic of all the arguments for the unrestricted ownership of guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Taken to their illogical conclusion, they justify the unlimited possession of any and all types of guns.Many have noted[i] that as far as it goes, the second part of the Claim, “People kill people,” is obviously, if not trivially, true. Of course people do in fact kill people. Nonetheless, the true function of the second part is to serve as a Warrant to support the first, “Guns don’t kill people.”One of the sure signs of an invalid or disingenuous argument is that the Claim functions simultaneously as its own Evidence and Warrant. In other words, the argument is essentially pure assertion. We are supposed to accept the Claim because it’s its own proof or self-justification. True, other paltry Claims are offered as supposedly independent bits of Evidence and Warrant, but they are really thinly disguised versions of the primary Claim. Needless to say, over the centuries, philosophers have not been partial to such arguments. They have found the number of arguments that are self-justifying to be zero!The essence of Figures 2.1 and 2.2 (http://mitroffblog.net/) is contained in the Rebuttals. One of the very first things to note is that the number of items in the Rebuttals is far greater than the two main Claims. To be sure, this obviously reflects the fact that the author is not especially partial to guns. As a result, it also reflects the two main sources that I have used as references for the Rebuttals: the Brady Handgun ...

Published: Wednesday 19 June 2013

Blog Two: Deadly Arguments--The Role of GunsThere are few issues in U.S. society that are as contentious as guns. This is in spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are for greater gun controls. For this reason alone, I need to make it as clear as possible that at the outset I am not for the complete abolition of guns. Hunters, sportsmen, and ordinary citizens have a legitimate right to own and to use certain restricted types of guns but only under special restricted conditions. For instance, the average citizen cannot own machine guns. Furthermore, I am strongly in favor of having all guns stored safely in clubs, as they are in most other Western industrialized societies. Thus for myself, and apparently a majority of fellow citizens, gun owners have a great accompanying responsibility to use and to store guns safely. They also have in my view a serious responsibility to lead the fight for greater gun safety and gun control laws.The preceding paragraph is the “both/and” part of my argument. The rest of this blog is unequivocally and unapologetically in the “either/or camp.” There is no getting around the fact that I am in strong if not total opposition to the “gun lobby,” specifically the NRA. There are very few points on which we agree.I believe in the Second Amendment, but I don’t believe for one moment that it’s absolute or that it was ever intended to be. For instance, I don’t believe that there are valid reasons for the possession of automatic assault weapons—weapons of war-- in civilized societies. To the extent that any society allows such types of weapons, it is not in my view “civilized.”I also need to make it clear that there is no way in a single blog that one could--assuming that it was even desirable--to cover all of the weighty arguments pertaining to guns. I also acknowledge that readers will not ...

Published: Saturday 15 June 2013

Concluding RemarksThis blog has introduced the major tool that underlies all of the arguments we examine. In effect, the argument is that the situations facing individuals, organizations, and societies are so complex, dynamic, important, and thorny such that whether they know it or not, they need ways of examining the major arguments on which their key decisions depend.Of course, historians periodically review and assess the arguments of the past; special interest groups, social scientists, etc., review and assess the arguments of the past and present as well. But they do not necessarily do it formally in terms of TAF.It is of course nothing but a truism to say that arguments are seldom coldly rational and perfectly well organized. More often than not, the clash between Claims, Warrants, Backing, and Rebuttals is better described as a war than a debate. It is anything but a “disinterested inquiry.” But this fact in itself doesn’t obviate the need for better analyses of arguments. It only heightens their necessity. My use of TAF is intended to aid our examination of important arguments, not to imply that all arguments need to be structured strictly in terms of TAF.Finally, we need to note that arguments do not exist by solely by themselves suspended in some kind of “disembodied space.” Arguments are parts of living, breathing, life stories. All arguments not only exist but function within the larger life-space of a person, organization, society, etc. While I do not necessarily examine these larger surrounding “spaces,” I am nevertheless acutely conscious that they are always there.[i]Examining key arguments is no longer a luxury. It’s literally a matter of life and death.[i] See Walton, ...

Published: Tuesday 11 June 2013

Blog One: TAF--The Toulmin Argumentation FrameworkIn 1958, the distinguished historian and philosopher of science, Stephen Toulmin, published a remarkable little book, The Uses of Argument.[i] In it, he laid out the general structure of all arguments. It quickly became an academic bestseller. It was adopted widely in courses on Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. Strangely enough, it was not widely adopted in Philosophy. Such is the fate of all innovators. They are not necessarily prophets in their own lands.Although a colleague, Vince Barabba, and I first applied The Toulmin Argumentation Framework (TAF) to the analyses of complex business and governmental problems over 30 years ago, to the best of our knowledge, it has still not been widely adopted in schools of business and government, not to mention practice. Few outside of Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. even seem aware of it.TAF, which is shown in Figure 1.1 (http://mitroffblog.net/), is deceptively simple. It posits that all arguments (including this one!) consist of a Claim (C), a set of Evidence (E), a Warrant (W), Backing (B), and Rebuttal (R). Since none of the parts of an argument are independent of one another, taken together, they constitute a highly interdependent system.All arguments, logical or otherwise, terminate in a Claim or a set of Claims. The Claim is the end result or conclusion of an argument. For instance, two very important and currently opposing Claims are: “The huge federal deficits are completely out of control and leading us straight to ruin. Therefore, government programs, and thereby spending, must be sharply curtailed. In short, we must practice austerity.” In contrast, an opposing Claim is: “Yes, the deficits are ...

Published: Sunday 9 June 2013

Breaking the Tyranny of “Either/Or Thinking”While I certainly do not believe that all situations have two equally compelling positions that are worthy of equal consideration, I do believe that there is always more than one position on every important issue that needs to be considered. Indeed, many demand it. In this sense, I am for breaking the tyranny of so much of the “either/or thinking” that exercises a stranglehold on our nation’s mind. If anything, I am outraged at many of the positions of both parties. To take just one example, far too many Republicans and Democrats caved in to the gun lobby in voting to disallow greater background checks before anyone would be permitted to purchase a gun. I am particularly incensed at recent Republican efforts to pass onerous voting requirements that effectively potentially block higher percentages of Blacks and other minorities from voting. Many life-long Republicans are just as outraged.This does not mean that on every key issue, all positions are of equal value and therefore deserve equal consideration. It also doesn’t mean that on some issues, there isn’t a single, dominant position that trumps all of the others. For instance, I don’t believe for one moment that there are cases of “legitimate rape.” To think otherwise is to pile additional insult onto injury. Indeed, it is nothing less than additional injury. If anything, the phrase “legitimate rape” is obscene, if not out and out evil. Its obscenity should be enough to stop all discussion dead in its tracks.As much as anytime in our history, we need to move from the tyranny of “either/or” to the thoughtfulness of “both/and.”Nonetheless, as the reader will quickly see, on most issues, I am generally left of centre. Thus, I am a harsh, unrelenting critic of the gun lobby. I am also extremely critical of those who are opposed to gay ...

Published: Wednesday 5 June 2013

A Native American boy asked his grandfather, “What do you think about the world today?”The grandfather replied, “I feel like two wolves are fighting--one with hate and fear, the other with love and acceptance.”“But grandfather,” asked the boy, “which one will win?”The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”Introduction:Arguments big and small envelop us every waking moment of our lives.From the time we wake in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we are literally bombarded with hundreds of arguments. The vast majority of arguments are of course mundane and thus of little concern or consequence: what to have for breakfast, what to wear around the house, etc. (Given the fact that we are struggling with a nation-wide epidemic of obesity and health related problems, many issues that were once considered ordinary such as what to have for breakfast are no longer mundane.) Nonetheless, increasingly, many are about matters of extreme importance, for instance, whether to go to war, whether gays should be allowed to marry, etc.It is thus no exaggeration to say—argue—that arguments big and small make the world go around. For this reason alone, in a series of blogs, I want to examine critical arguments with regard to some of the most important issues of our time.Arguments With Ourselves is an incisive, hard-hitting examination of some of the most important issues and problems we face as a nation; for example: the persistent battles, if not out-and-out wars, between Science and Religion, more specifically between Creationism and Evolution; the frequent and bitter skirmishes between those who defend a traditional conception of marriage and those who are in favor of allowing gays to marry; those who are strongly in favor of greater gun controls and those who strongly oppose them; those who believe in the power of the ...

Published: Sunday 28 April 2013

On the night of December 2-3, 1984, Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal India exploded. Approximately 3800 people were immediately killed. At least another 8000 died in the days and weeks following. It was and remains one of the worst industrial disasters on record.Union Carbide bore the brunt of the blame since it owned 50.9% of the plant. The remainder was owned by an Indian subsidiary.The causes of Bhopal have been well documented. Basically, the efforts to stem a financial crisis led to an even worse one.In order to stop the plant from losing money, the decision was made to cut costs. Unfortunately, this resulted in letting go some of the most experienced operators. Other experienced operators who were demoralized left of their own accord. As a result, mainly inexperienced personnel were left to operate the plant. Furthermore, those who remained suffered from increased job pressures. This further lowered morale that was already dangerously low to begin with.In addition, the plant was initially poorly designed. It was also poorly maintained. All of these factors combined to produce a gas explosion when an inexperienced operator opened the wrong valve allowing water into a tank. The resulting chemical reaction produced a dangerous gas, methyl isocynate, which spewed into the surrounding slums that had been allowed by the Indian government to crowd up next to the plant.The surrounding community had not been prepared in any way for a disaster of this kind. All they knew was that the plant produced a kind of fertilizer. If they had been warned of the potential danger, they would have known that since methyl isocynate is heavier than air, the best thing to do was to lie down on the ground with a wet rag covering one’s eyes, nose, and mouth.The explosion that occurred last week in the town of West, Texas does not even begin to approach the enormity of Bhopal. Nonetheless, while the numbers of people ...

Published: Saturday 20 April 2013

 On Thursday April 11, 2013, The Nation of Change published my blog, “The Banality of Evil Arguments.”  In effect, I argued that evil arguments against reasonable laws for gun control are the last refuge of the scoundrel. Unfortunately, one is never finished in beating back evil arguments. Immediately after the parents of the children who were killed in Newtown met with President Obama and Senators in Washington DC in an attempt to win support for new gun control legislation, the Right-wing began its scurrilous attacks. In the most despicable manner possible, the parents were roundly accused of “politicizing a tragedy.” Listening to the sickening “arguments”—if they can be called that--the following question immediately crossed my mind, “How should the Newtown parents have responded such that they would have satisfied the Right?” The “answers” I came up with constitutes in effect an evil argument. First of all, according to the Right, the parents should have suffered in complete silence! They should not have in any way made a public spectacle of their tragedy. Second, they should have totally accepted the premises and the arguments of the NRA. Thus, Newtown was the act of a single, isolated, deranged individual. In short, there are no such things as “systems effects.” One can have a nation with an average of one gun per a population of 315,000,000 and there will be no spill over effects on violence and public safety in general. In other words, a highly armed society poses no threats. Indeed, it’s safer than one that is not highly armed. The argument continues: background checks and limits on the types of ...

Published: Thursday 11 April 2013

In April 17,1775, Boswell recorded one of Samuel Johnson’s most famous lines, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” If he were alive today, I believe that Johnson might well say, “Evil arguments are the first and last refuge of scoundrels.” On the April 9, 2013 edition of the PBS NewsHour, there was a mild debate of sorts between Jim Johnson, Police Chief of Baltimore County, and Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The topic was of course background checks for gun owners. Predictably, Johnson was for checks and Keane was against them. Although I’ve heard it many times before, I was particularly shocked by Keane’s use of a particularly insidious argument against background checks. Given that painful interviews with some of the family members who lost loved ones in the tragic Newtown shootings had aired recently on the CBS program 60 Minutes and were thus still fresh, the more I listened to Keane, the more that the phrase “the banality of evil arguments” flashed through my mind. Time and again, Keane argued that if background checks were required before someone could purchase a gun, then it would place an inordinate burden on “small mom and pop gun dealers.” The particular word that Keane used repeatedly to signify the burden that small dealers would face was “inconvenience.” That is, they would be “greatly inconvenienced” by having to fill out all the forms that background checks would require. After all, why should they be required to do the work of the government? If this is not a prime example of an argument that is both evil and banal, then I don’t know what is! As a parent, spouse, relative, or friend of someone that ...

Published: Friday 8 February 2013

 One of the reasons why the NRA and rabid gun “enthusiasts” are so effective in getting their ideas across is that they’ve perfected the art of writing bumper stickers. They’ve taken extremely complex ideas and reduced them to half-truths and pithy, easy-to-remember slogans.Why shouldn’t liberals and progressives fight back? Or are we “too pure to sink to the level of communicating effectively with a wider public?”I think the attitude that liberals and progressives are somehow “above” such forms of expression is not only wrong, but “dead wrong!” Pun intended!We do ourselves a great disservice by not communicating our ideas as simply and as forcefully as we can. To do so is not necessarily to debase them. It is to sharpen them.Sadly, I have been unable to find any sites on the Internet that have “bumper stickers for gun control advocates.” They may well be there, but I haven’t found them.In the spirit of countering the NRA and other organizations, I offer the following as merely one attempt to come up with bumper stickers for those like myself who want tougher gun control laws. Since they merely represent a first attempt, they are a work in progress. This also accounts for the fact that there is a considerable overlap and repetition between the items.One last thought. If you have to explain it, then it isn’t working. Baseball Bats and Cars Can Kill, But They’re Not Made for Killing. Guns Are! We Don’t Abandon Laws Against Murder Because Murderers Don’tObey Them! Why Are Gun Laws Any Different?How Many Mass Drive-by Knifings Have You Heard Of?Automatic Weapons Kill More People Faster Than All ...

Published: Wednesday 30 January 2013

 There is something seriously wrong with a society that even has to debate whether it needs to control the most lethal types of weapons in the hands of civilians.I want to propose what is to my knowledge a novel way of thinking about and thereby treating gun violence. If as I believe that an obsessive need for guns is akin to an addiction and therefore cannot be dealt with by means of conventional arguments (after all, many alcoholics know “rationally” that alcohol is killing them but they are still unable to resist its near total control over their lives), then I believe that we need to stop beating around the bush and treat the obsessive need for guns as a major form of addiction. Accordingly, I have taken the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reworded them to apply to our society’s deadly obsession with guns. In proposing this, I have no illusion whatsoever that in and of itself this will help us to better manage what I believe is our society’s completely out-of-control proliferation of guns. What I do hope is this it will encourage us to explore new ways of thinking about guns.I strongly urge the reader to note that in the second paragraph above I have deliberately stressed the word “obsessive” for I don’t believe that everyone who possesses guns or has the desire to have them is therefore suffering from a major form of addiction. Quite to the contrary. I also don’t believe that all guns ought to be banned. I believe that only those guns that are extremely lethal ought to be strictly controlled. That is, contrary to the NRA, some guns are more lethal than others. All guns are not equal. As a result, I believe that there is no place whatsoever for military-assault type weapons in the hands of civilians. Apparently, neither do many responsible and sensible gun owners.Here then is my version of a twelve-step program for rabid ...

Published: Wednesday 19 December 2012

 There are at least two widely differing positions in treating gun violence that surface every time there is a horrendous tragedy like that which happened in Newtown, Connecticut. Indeed, they are always just beneath the surface of any argument pertaining to gun control.The first is represented by the movie/TV and video game industries; the second, by cardiologists of all people. The first position argues that there is no firm causal relationship between (1) the prolonged exposure of children and young adults to violent movies/TV/video games and (2) their engagement in actual violent behavior. Correlations are all there are, and correlations are not hard definitive proof of causality. Therefore, lacking such proof, there is no valid reason for the producers/writers of violent movies/TV/video games to tone down their creations. Besides, aren’t they protected by the First Amendment? The second position argues that no cardiologist would ever say that because a certain set of factors are low in their overall contribution to heart disease that one should therefore ignore them. Instead, no matter what their level of contribution, one should treat any and all factors as aggressively as one can. To draw out the differences between these two positions even more starkly, let me put them in the form of two opposing ethical principles because that’s what they really are. The first says in effect that, “Whenever the correlation between what we do/produce as an industry and some important problem in society is low or beneath a certain ‘threshold,’ then we are warranted ethically in not doing anything; we are absolved as it were.” The question of course is, “How high would the correlation have to be before one accepted ‘ethical responsibility’?”

Published: Wednesday 19 December 2012

 There are at least two widely differing positions in treating gun violence that surface every time there is a horrendous tragedy like that which happened in Newtown, Connecticut. Indeed, they are always just beneath the surface of any argument pertaining to gun control.The first is represented by the movie/TV and video game industries; the second, by cardiologists of all people. The first position argues that there is no firm causal relationship between (1) the prolonged exposure of children and young adults to violent movies/TV/video games and (2) their engagement in actual violent behavior. Correlations are all there are, and correlations are not hard definitive proof of causality. Therefore, lacking such proof, there is no valid reason for the producers/writers of violent movies/TV/video games to tone down their creations. Besides, aren’t they protected by the First Amendment? The second position argues that no cardiologist would ever say that because a certain set of factors are low in their overall contribution to heart disease that one should therefore ignore them. Instead, no matter what their level of contribution, one should treat any and all factors as aggressively as one can. To draw out the differences between these two positions even more starkly, let me put them in the form of two opposing ethical principles because that’s what they really are. The first says in effect that, “Whenever the correlation between what we do/produce as an industry and some important problem in society is low or beneath a certain ‘threshold,’ then we are warranted ethically in not doing anything; we are absolved as it were.” The question of course is, “How high would the correlation have to be before one accepted ‘ethical responsibility’?”

Published: Thursday 27 September 2012
“If we really want to understand conservatism and liberalism—indeed, anything human--we have to give up simplistic consistency.”

In a previous op-ed, “When Liberals Deny Reality: Demonizing Conservatives While Idealizing Liberals.” (Nation of Change, Saturday, September 22, 2012), I praised a recent book by Chris Mooney (The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, Wiley, 2012). In spite of this, I was nonetheless highly critical of it.There is no question whatsoever that I basically agreed with Mooney’s characterization of conservatives and liberals. Conservatives are generally fearful of and highly resistant to change, have an obsessive need for order and predictability, prize individual differences (money, status, etc.), and believe in hierarchy over community and egalitarianism. In short, they are closed-minded and don’t believe in science, especially if it conflicts with their deep-seated religious and social beliefs.In sharp contrast, liberals generally believe strongly in reasoned argument, logic, and science. They are not only extremely open to change, but to learning from their own errors, and from the views of others.Nonetheless, as much as I agreed with Mooney on the key differences between conservatives and liberals, I parted sharp company with him with regard to his overly simplistic and highly idealized characterizations of academics and scientists. While academics and scientists may be liberals politically, they are not necessarily when it comes to their day-to-day work. Indeed, they are generally very conservative. Having been a university professor for over 45 years, I know this for a fact!In short, Mooney was seriously wrong if he thought that academics and scientists were “the shinning model for liberal thought.”None of this meant that I didn’t regard science as one of the best ways of ferreting out error that humankind has ever invented. Science is! Indeed, I have no regard whatsoever for those who ...

Published: Saturday 22 September 2012
“If we are right to be critical of conservatives for their generally primitive worldviews, then we need to be equally critical of ourselves as liberals when we base our critiques on false notions and ideas.”

Chris Mooney has written a very important book on the enormous differences between Republicans and Democrats, or more generally, between conservatives and liberals (The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, Wiley, 2012). Despite its critical flaws, it deserves to be read widely, especially by everyone who is disturbed by the current breakdown of political discourse.Mooney has done nothing less than a masterful job in assembling, summarizing, and integrating the vast amount of studies from psychology and neuroscience on the differences between the minds of conservatives and liberals. The same, consistent portrait between the two emerges repeatedly. We really do inhabit different realities.In brief, conservatives are generally fearful of and highly resistant to change. They have an obsessive need for order and predictability. They prize individual differences (money, status, etc.) and believe in hierarchy over community and egalitarianism. In short, they are closed-minded and don’t believe in science, especially if it conflicts with their deep-seated religious and social beliefs.On the positive side, conservatives are loyal, decisive, and generally show “spine.”In sharp contrast, liberals generally believe strongly in reasoned argument, logic, and science. They are not only extremely open to change, but to learning from their own errors, and from the views of others.On the negative side, liberals are often divided by petty differences that they obsess over and literally talk to death. For this reason, they are often accurately viewed as indecisive and lacking in  “spine.”As much as I agree with Mooney on the key differences between conservatives and liberals—he hits the mark brilliantly--I part company with him with regard to his overly simplistic characterizations of academics and ...

Published: Thursday 20 September 2012
“In the highly toxic environment in which we find ourselves, politics has unfortunately become the art and science of coping with overpowering bullies.”

For years, I have taught courses in Interpersonal Dynamics to undergraduate and graduate business school students alike. The prime purpose of the courses has been to help people better understand themselves and others. To accomplish this, I have had people take countless personality tests to show them how and why they literally “see highly disparate realities,” experience and handle conflict very differently, have diverse learning styles, varied aims and aspirations, etc.One of most powerful ways of helping people learn about themselves and others is to put people into different groups based on their personalities. Thus, all the people with the same personality type are put into a common group. In this way, there are as many different groups as there are different types.Next, all of the groups are then given the same assignment to see how they respond. For instance, each group is given the same issue of a popular magazine. Each group is then asked to cut out images from the magazine that best represents their group’s idea of their “ideal organization.” Making a collage, giving it a name, and listing as many characteristics as they can of their ideal organization allows people to literally “see” and compare an internal disposition such as personality.A key component of the course is dealing with difficult people, whether at work, play, home, with family members, etc. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is not just to have people merely read about different kinds of difficult people and proven strategies for dealing with them, but to engage in actual role-plays. Thus, people take turns role-playing a certain type of difficult person while another person role-plays how best to cope effectively with that type.Without a doubt, one of the most stressful types of difficult people to role-play and with whom to cope effectively is the “Sherman ...

Published: Saturday 8 September 2012
“My prime recommendation to the Democrats is don’t waste your breath with the Republicans. Keep saying what you’re saying, but in the clearest, most succinct stories you can muster.”

Make no mistake about it. This election is about the choice between two worldviews that are as psychologically different and far apart as any two could possibly be. The choice is difficult not just because so much is riding on it—this much is obvious--but like most crucial things in life, much of it rests on factors that are largely unconscious. The later is far from obvious.On the one side is the Republican view of the world (the Dark Side) that is as mean and repressive as anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. On the other hand is the Democratic (the Light Side), which while far from perfect, shows real signs of humanity and maturity. With no apologies whatsoever for my clear bias and partisanship, let me explore the psychological differences between these two worldviews. Hopefully, this helps to illuminate the unconscious factors that play a major role in what people vote for and why. To do this, let me discuss very briefly: 1. Jungian psychological types; 2. ego psychology; and 3. American mythology. All three interact in powerful ways to produce the enormous, and unfortunately, unbridgeable differences between the current versions of Republicans and Democrats.As long ago as 1921, Jung identified, among many others, the psychological differences between: 1. Sensing and Intuitive, and 2. Thinking and Feeling personality types. Sensing types instinctively break all problems down into separate and independent parts for which they then proceed to gather “hard data” or “facts” that “measure precisely” the “exact status or performance” of each of the parts. In addition, they are anchored firmly in the “here-and-now.” In short, if you can’t see, feel, hear, smell, taste, or measure something in the here-and-now, then it’s not real, let alone important.In contrast, Intuitive types instinctively look at the ...

Published: Sunday 26 August 2012
Todd Akin’s Remarks Are Not An Isolated Aberration But An Accurate Reflection of an Underlying Sick Philosophy

This is a rant. I make no apologies for it because sometimes that’s the only thing that can help cleanse one’s soul.Norman Mailer was once asked why no good literature ever came out of the Third Reich in WWII. He responded--I paraphrase--“The whole philosophy was so garbled such that if you tried to write it down, all you got was complete nonsense.”Mailer’s perceptive remark captures perfectly the essence of the whole Todd Akin fiasco. Even more, it captures the complete idiocy, if not deeply psychotic nature, of the current Republican belief system. Yes, I said “psychotic.”To view, as Akin would like us to do, his crazy remarks merely as a “poor choice of words,” is only to compound the original crime. Words don’t come out of thin air. They are always reflective of an underlying philosophy or world-view, in this case, a deeply distorted and sick one. This is also why we must not take Akin’s outburst as an “isolated aberration” as the Republican leadership would like us to do.Getting rid of Akin will not cause the basic illness to go away. Indeed, it only prolongs and makes it worse. To believe otherwise is merely to commit the latest form of what I call The Hazelwood Defense, the label I associate with Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the ill-fated Exxon Valdez that went aground and spilled thousands of gallons of oil in the Bay of Valdez many years ago. Exxon wanted us to believe that it was just the fault of “one bad apple,” i.e., Hazelwood, when it was a whole “bad system run amuck.”In a way, Akin has done us a public service—I wouldn’t dare call it “great” by any means--but not in the usual ways that Liberals and Progressives are calling it, i.e., his staying in the race almost ensures that Republicans will not take back the Senate.Not that we really need ...

Published: Monday 30 July 2012
“If ever we needed Secure types to come forward and to present good stories that can overcome the deep-seated fears of Conservatives and Liberal Progressives alike, that time is surely now.”

What does the behavior of British children in WWII possibly have to do with today’s fractious politics? More than one would ever imagine! Indeed, it explains the unconscious roots of much of the current dysfunctional behavior on both the Left and the Right.In WWII, by being placed or lodged either in hospitals or massive care facilities, an overwhelming number of children were separated from their parents for weeks, months, and even years on end. Worst of all were those who were permanently housed in orphanages.When they first arrived, the children cried for hours and days on end. When they eventually stopped, they became zombie-like in that they showed virtually no emotion whatsoever from that time on.To help understand the horrific damage done to children that he witnessed daily, the British psychiatrist John Bowlby created Attachment Theory. Bowlby and his colleagues found that two key dimensions were key to explaining the emotional state of a child: Avoidance and Anxiety. Both were directly traceable to and the direct result of the emotional state of a child’s primary caretakers. During Bowlby’s time, the primary caretaker was of course the mother, if not throughout most of history. Whether the primary caretaker was either high or low on Avoidance and Anxiety had a tremendous effect on the child’s emotional development.By means of the mother’s intense and frequent interactions—how she held, looked at, and attended to her child’s cries and general discomfort--the mother subtly and not so subtly communicated her emotional state to her child. In short, she communicated how comfortable versus how anxious she was in fulfilling her role as a caretaker.Since the interactions took place from the moment of birth, they were largely preverbal and hence unconscious. In this way, the mother not only passed on, but influenced significantly the child’s subsequent ...

Published: Tuesday 17 July 2012
“The great poets and playwrights understood implicitly that to understand politics—indeed, to truly understand anything human—one not only had to understand the intricacies of the human mind, but extreme states such as psychosis.”

Make no mistake about it. America is in an extreme state of mind. It is gripped by forces that can only be described as psychotic.The great poets and playwrights understood implicitly that to understand politics—indeed, to truly understand anything human—one not only had to understand the intricacies of the human mind, but extreme states such as psychosis.Much of what motivates humans is buried deep in the unconscious. As a result, most people are not unaware of some of the most powerful determinants of human behavior. This is why drama is so important. It is the art form par excellence that digs far below the surface of everyday life to bring up to the light and thus examine the “dark forces” that govern so much of human conduct.This was brought home recently when my wife and I had the opportunity to attend the play Medea, Macbeth, and Cinderella in Ashland. Despite its critical shortcomings—too often it seemed that three of the most disparate characters imaginable were merely thrown together as in a disjointed nightmare—it nevertheless managed to illuminate the dark side of politics even though this was not the prime intention of the play.Medea, Macbeth, Cinderella brings together three of the major forms of drama: Greek, Elizabethan, and the modern American Musical Comedy in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway production of Cinderella. But most of all, it serves as a prime vehicle to compare and examine the role of women at three critical stages of life: middle, Medea; late, Lady Macbeth; and early, Cinderella.One of the key interpretations of Medea is that she is driven to murder her children because of the uncontrollable rage she feels towards her husband who has deserted her for a younger woman. Lady Macbeth is complicit in her husband’s murder of the king as well as subsequent murders because of their ruthless ambition. And, Cinderella ...

Published: Friday 18 May 2012
“To make serious headway against our most pressing problems, we need to combine the best programs of logic with a deep understanding of human emotions.”

 What do the following possibly have in common?One, Woolrich, the venerable 182-year-old clothing company, recently brought out a new line of chinos with a second pocket that has been especially designed for carrying a concealed handgun. The clincher is that the pocket has been designed so that it wouldn’t destroy the “stylish look of the pants.”Two, Levi Johnston, former fiancé of Bristol Palin and father of their child, not only has another baby on the way, but he plans to name her "Breeze Beretta" after his favorite Italian-made pistol.Three, over the stringent objections of Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Florida Governor Rick Scott upheld the decision to ban water guns during the Republican National Convention, but not concealed handguns.If you said that these three items have nothing in common, you’re wrong! Dead wrong!Viewing each of them in isolation not only misses a key point, but a key pattern. Taken together, they show that controlling, if not eliminating altogether, handguns is more difficult than we ever imagined. Guns have insinuated themselves so deeply into our culture that they have literally taken over our minds. The outrage that I feel towards each of these “items” individually is dwarfed by the feelings I experience when I consider their combined effect and what they say about us as a culture.In an earlier op-ed, “Confronting Shame-Based Politics: The Biggest Challenge of All,” The Huffington Post, April 24, 2012, I made the point that shame underlies most, if not virtually all, of our major political issues and societal problems. If in addition, fear, a deep sense of powerlessness, and a growing contempt for public institutions are combined with shame, then we have a potent mixture indeed that not only underlies, but perpetuates an out-of-control gun culture.If we are to have any hope of breaking its ...

ABOUT Ian I Mitroff
Ian I. Mitroff is a crisis expert. He is an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley. His most recent book is Swans, Swine, and Swindlers: Coping with the Growing Threat of Mega Crises and Mega Messes, Stanford, 2011.
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