The “Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!” Procession of the Emperor

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.

“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all. (Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes)


 Breaking the Fourth Wall

 In theater the imaginary fourth wall serves to separate the world of the fictional characters on stage from the world of reality where the audience lives.

In the theater, “breaking the fourth wall” means having a character become aware of his/her own fictional nature and in so doing the audience becomes aware that they had temporarily suspended disbelief and been temporarily experiencing a fictional world “as if” it were real.

Maintaining the fourth wall requires the active collaboration of the actors and the audience to maintain its fragile existence. In these circumstances there is rarely any danger of harm – the actors and audience rarely lose touch to the point of completely forgetting the difference between what is real and imagined and participate temporarily for entertainment’s sake.

When a similar process happens outside of the theater, in “real life”, the process is sometimes referred to as folie à deux – a shared delusion. It can happen when an individual so believes something to be true that those close to him/her begin to believe it as well. The “secondary victim” is more vulnerable when s/he has limited contact with the outside world or relatively few healthy outside relationships where s/he may be exposed to information that would contradict, challenge or invalidate the veracity of the delusional idea(s). The “secondary victim” is also more likely to be in a passive or subservient status with respect to the person with the primary delusion.

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christen Andersen, a couple of swindlers pretending to be weavers make a special suit for the emperor. They tell the emperor and his followers that the clothes are invisible to people who are too stupid for their jobs. None of his advisors or subjects can see the clothing, but no one wanted to admit this fact because they do not want to be identified as foolish.

When you read this story, who do you aspire to be?


I Believe

What happened – really happened
What happened – really happened
What happened – really happened
I believe with perfect faith
That I will have the strength to believe that
What happened – really happened

– Carmi, Anatomy of a War, 1977


“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

— George Orwell, “1984”


“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”

― Czesław Miłosz


 

Witch Hunt

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

― Edmund Burke

Witch Hunt

by Carl Josehart

The court was hushed as he walked in. It was a silence that came from a respect for the place in which the people sat. A court of law equipped with all of the symbols that had given the defendant a feeling of security, patriotism and pride in his country as he was growing up. He looked at the flag and thought of the years in school when he had pledged his allegiance to his flag and his country never once thinking to ask for the country’s pledge in return – thinking that the pledge was implicitly there.

Looking at the deeply lined face and graying hair of the judge in his black robe he saw the face of a solemn and serious man but grown hard from years of seeing and hearing what a judge sees and hears from the bench. The cold indifference belied that he had long since relinquished seeing the defendants who came before him as individuals. He had surrendered his struggle with the law, its intent, and his youthful yearning to play a role in creating a fair and just society. Now he presided over his court with a comfort that came with years of practice and an efficiency born of a verbatim knowledge of enough precedents to mete out sentences that always held to the letter of the law but rarely its spirit.

The prosecuting attorney by contrast looked nervous. Repeatedly wiping sweat off his young brow with a handkerchief in a courtroom that was not hot. The defendant thought to himself that this must be his first witch-hunt almost felt sorry for him. Then, remembering the seriousness of the consequences if he were found guilty, decided he had no reason to feel sorry for him. Still, there was something about the way he kept looking at the defendant. Something about the way he carried himself that almost suggested…no, it couldn’t be, surely a witch, even in disguise, would never be a part of a with-hunt.

Time seemed almost frozen in the courtroom as men in crisply pressed three piece suits, starched shirts and expensive silk ties argued with each other in a language and style that was unusual and almost incomprehensible to the defendant. One thing was clear, his life, career, and happiness somehow hung in the balance to be decided by this ritualistic ceremony.

When it was his turn to be questioned, he took the stand, placed his shaking hand on a well-worn bible and swore by a god that he did not believe in that he would tell the truth and was seated. The nervous prosecuting attorney approached him in an almost apologetic manner and began to ask questions. The prosecuting attorney had the practiced style and incisive mind of one who had gone to the finest schools and had had all the right jobs and certainly had made law review. The defendant answered the questions quickly and honestly. Because he did not believe that his “crime” was a crime, he could not conceive of a defense. As the prosecuting attorney piled evidence upon evidence, substantiated fact upon substantiated fact he simultaneously became more and more nervous needing to wipe sweat off his brow at an ever-increasing rate. Coughing and clearing his throat, his gaze returned again and again to the defendant’s eyes burning with a rage that seemed to cry out to him, “Don’t make this so easy…fight me…fight for yourself, why won’t you defend yourself?”

It was then that the defendant realized that he had been right; the prosecuting attorney was a witch in disguise – hiding in plane sight. His brother was burning him at the stake to buy a false sense of security that comes from “passing” – a ransom paid to live another day.

When the jury shuffled back into the court with their verdict it was no surprise that they found the defendant guilty. The prosecuting attorney had done a thorough job and with an insider’s knowledge had known all the right questions to ask. When the prisoner was escorted out of the courtroom there was no family or friends to weep for him; they had long since abandoned him in shame. Out of the corner of his eye though he saw the prosecuting attorney, his face pale, and with the expression of one that is seeing a ghost, look over to him with eyes that pleaded to know why he had not fought.

As the guards led the prisoner away he jerked himself to a halt in front of the prosecuting attorney, locked eyes and calmly addressed the unspoken question, “The question you should be asking yourself is not why I did not fight, but rather why you did not fight.”

With that, the guards hurried the prisoner away and the prosecuting attorney ran to the restroom to become violently ill. Retching over the toilet, the cold porcelain toilet bowl did nothing to stop the throbbing in his head as the prisoner’s words echoed over and over on an infinite loop.

I Choose Words

I Choose Words

by Carl Josehart

A few days ago while checking the news online I saw CNN run the headline “Alt-right leader questions if Jews are people.” Later I watched a clip of Richard Spencer shouting, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” while saluting more than 200 attendees gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., for the annual conference of the National Policy Institute; a group that describes itself as “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”

As I started to take in what was happening I found myself gripped with nausea while my chest constricted to the point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. These images touched a dark place deep within me – a place created by growing up hearing the stories of Holocaust survivors, watching movies taken by the Nazis to document with pride what they had done and being taught to, “Never Forget” and to keep my passport close at hand at all times.

Since the election I have found myself often feeling vulnerable and afraid. Every day it seems there are more and more examples of violence and intimidation against Muslims, Jews, lgbtq and people of color being perpetrated in the name of patriotism and national pride. But these recent events brought the anxiety and fear to a new level. It triggered a primal fear so intense that I began considering buying a gun for protection.

Living in Texas having access to a gun purchase would be relatively easy and I have many friends who are responsible gun owners so in my new state of mind it seemed within the realm of possibility. As I started to think about it seriously, I began to think about what type of gun I would want. I soon realized that I didn’t know anything about guns and that I would have to start researching what would be the best type for me. Not knowing how to fire a gun, I realized I would need to take lessons to learn how to safely handle a gun. I would need to invest time in cleaning it and going to the range for practice. Then I started to think about where I would keep it so that it would be near enough to be of use in an emergency but stowed safely away so that no one could be inured accidentally. An internet search for, “safest gun” led to an interesting mix of articles from the NRA about the virtues of owning a gun for personal protection and a series of articles about stun guns and tasers – what the difference was – and the relative values and downsides of each. My internet search continued with inquiries about gun safes for the home and secure compartments for my car.

Then I started to begin to imagine various violent and threatening scenarios I could find myself in and how I would react – would I fire my gun, would I shoot to kill and how would cope with the emotional aftermath. Under what circumstances would I consider shooing in self-defense to be a reasonable and ethical choice?

From there I started to think about how much time and energy this potential purchase was beginning to take up in my life and realized that the thoughts of owning this powerful weapon weren’t making me feel safer – in fact, quite the opposite, I was feeling more anxious.

Taking a few deep breaths to calm myself down I settled into a comfortable seated position for a few minutes of calming meditation. Gently shrugging my shoulders to release some of the tension my gaze landed on my college diplomas – a Bachelors degree in psychology and a Masters Degree in Social Work and suddenly I realized that I had made my choice long ago – words would be my weapons.

So, I choose to arm myself with the skill to communicate, I choose to invest in finding a writing coach, I choose to start a blog to foster dialogue, I choose to seek out and amplify the voices of those who are not being heard and for those that are vulnerable, I choose to invest my money in organizations that advance the causes I care about – I choose words.


If you appreciated this post, you may also want to read, I Held Death

Unsafe

America – We are in an Abusive Relationship: Time to Make a Safety Plan

– Carl Josehart

I’ve never been afraid to be an American – until now.

I have been angry, disappointed and disgusted but never afraid. But now, every day there are dangerous signals and as much as I want to be comforted and reassured I have learned that it is important not to deny reality.

Earlier in my career I worked as a psychotherapist and counseled individuals who were victims of domestic violence. Not everyone I counseled in an abusive relationship was ready to leave; many felt that their partner would change and were reluctant to give up on the relationship. It was not my role to make a judgment about whether this choice was right or wrong but it was my role to help each person be safe. I would help the victim develop a safety plan – we would talk about what defined unsafe behavior, we planned ahead where s/he would go and how they would get there. We would make sure that they packed essentials – medications, money – anything that would cause them to delay or be reluctant to leave because of fear of leaving it behind and get those items to a safe location. If there were children, minors or others under their care we would talk about how they would be taken to safety and who could be trusted to help accomplish this in an emergency. The clinical approach to working with clients who were still hoping for the best i.e., change – was to also prepare for the worst.

As I look at the current situation in my country I have come to believe that the behaviors being exhibited by the incoming Administration can be understood in the context of an abusive relationship and this model can serve a useful way to objectively measure the amount of threat/danger that exists.

So what are the dangerous behaviors to look out for?

Isolation – abusers isolate their victims from friends, family and social support. This keeps the victim in a vulnerable state and increases dependence on the abuser. President Elect Trump’s “America First” philosophy is a political form of isolationism. Examples of this abound from the wall that he wants to build along the Mexico border to his declarations that he may not honor NATO treaties and intends to renegotiate established trade agreements.

Control of Information – abusers limit contact with the outside world and unbiased information. Threatening to sue the media or lock-up protestors is an attempt to limit any information that may run counter to the views of those in power is an example of controlling the information we receive.

Hyper criticality – Talking about the media as corrupt and incompetent and overstating the value of instinct and intuition over intelligence and education is a way of undermining the arguments of scientists, scholars and experts and encouraging people instead to act based on instinctual fears and urges as well as to discount rational arguments from traditionally respected sources of information. When you hear President Elect Trump say that he knows more than the generals or that judges are biased because of the national origin or their families or that the elections are rigged this is a tactic to undermine the impact of rational opposition from respected sources.

Hyper vigilance – Keeps track of what you are doing all the time and criticizes you for little things. Ask yourself, why would the President Elect of the free world care if an actor spoke his mind following a play – squelching even the smallest criticism eliminates environmental cues that the behavior of the abuser is not normal. This is why the founders of our country believed so strongly in the freedom of speech. Regularly being exposed to differing opinions makes us stronger, not weaker and forces us to regularly reexamine our belief system which is fundamental to healthy relationships and to a healthy democracies.

Insincere repentance/false apologies and promises of change – immediately after an abusive outburst the abuser will often promise to change, by gifts or show remorse and promise that it won’t happen again. Every time the media defines an action of Donald Trump as an offering to reach out or to change it is important to evaluate whether there is evidence that the underlying abusive behaviors are changing or is it part of a cycle of abuse.

Using violence as intimidation – victims of abuse often describe feeling like they are “walking on eggshells” afraid of the next outburst. Fear interferes with our ability to concentrate and weigh our options rationally and realistically and makes us more cautious and risk avoidant. This is part of the reason that victims are often stuck and unable to leave even during periods of relative calm.

Creating an enemy/ viewing others as a threat/Blaming others as the source of problems – abusers blame the abuse of the behavior of the victim to deflect responsibility for their abuse. “If you would only… then I wouldn’t have to…” Victims then become preoccupied with the faulty notion that their behavior causes the abuse rather than focusing on the abuser’s responsibility. Blaming Muslims or threatening to build a wall is simply a way of justifying abusive behavior. It is a false claim that the abuser wouldn’t have to behave this way if others weren’t at fault.

Belittling and demeaning the victim – Telling the victim that he or she is ugly or unintelligent undermines the victim’s sense of self-worth and impedes his/her ability to believe that others will be willing to help. We have seen President Elect Trump mock a disabled reporter and call women that accused him of sexual assault fat and ugly.

Use libel and sedition laws to squelch protest – President Elect Trump and his supporters have threatened to sue the media for criticizing him and to charge protestors with treason. His campaign rallies often included chants of ‘lock her up” referring to his rival in the election, Secretary Clinton.

Hypersensitivity: An abusive person is easily insulted and claims that his/her feelings are “hurt” when really s/he are very mad. The abusive person will “rant and rave” about the injustice of things that have happened – things that are really just part of living such as being asked to work overtime, getting a traffic ticket, being told some behavior is annoying or being asked to help with chores.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Many people are confused by their abuser’s “sudden” changes in mood – they may think the abuser has some special mental problem because one minute the abuser is nice but the next minute s/he is exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of people who abuse their partners and these behaviors are related to other characteristics such as hypersensitivity.

Just as we all have relationships with friends, family, and intimate partners we are also in relationship with our government and the society in which we live. Just as we develop norms of behavior in our personal relationships that help maintain a sense of order, security and comfort – society creates these norms to maintain order, security and comfort. Laws govern many of these societal norms; others are established by mutual assent. For example, we have laws against stealing and murder but things like how close we sit to a stranger, who enters a door first when we arrive at the same time, who gets the remaining seat on a crowded bus – are not controlled by law but by common assent to a generally accepted standard of behavior. Civil society depends on following both sets of laws and norms.

Another relevant piece of information I learned from my work as a psychotherapist is that denying or ignoring malignant behavior breeds psychopathology. If a family member is an abuser and others collude to normalize the behavior and pretend everything is OK then other dangerous symptoms often emerge – substance abuse or other self-injurious behaviors.

A common question that comes up as we look back in history at instances where segments of populations have been targeted for discrimination is why didn’t people see the signs, why didn’t they leave? Part of the answer lies in the psychological state caused by the abuse.

Severe abuse can often foster a sense of helplessness in the victim. The victim is at risk of eventually becoming psychologically paralyzed; failing to seek help and becoming more passive as they begin to believe they are powerless to change the circumstances in which they find themselves. When the victim does contact a help source, they often are very tentative about receiving help and are likely to return to the batterer despite advice or opportunity to leave. The vulnerability and indecisiveness prolongs the violence and may contribute to its intensification. At its most severe, a victim may come to believe that s/he deserves the abuse.

There is also the reality of the fact that moving to a new place, even under the best of circumstances, is just plain hard – economically and emotionally. Ten years ago, my husband and I decided to relocate from Chicago to Houston to accept a career opportunity. We moved of our own free will, with an exceptional career opportunity waiting for us, we had financial resources, spoke the language, understood the currency and were welcomed by the community on arrival. We were also able to bring all of our belongings with us – not only the essentials of daily living but also all of the items that held sentimental and emotional value. It was still the hardest thing I have ever done. When I think about refugees fleeing persecution, I cannot even begin to understand the emotional toll they face. Leaving behind family, friends, careers and communities. Moving to places where the language and customs may be unfamiliar and facing economic uncertainty – literally having to start all over.

The other piece of the puzzle has to do with a common predisposition to underestimate danger and overestimate our ability to control the outcome of events. Americans, as a society at large, generally place a higher value on individualism, and the belief that hard work leads to success. Stated another way, we tend as a group to have a higher sense of our own personal agency (or sense of ability to control the world and the events around us) compared to some cultures that have a more fatalistic or external sense of control. In addition, all groups see the world through an ethnocentric point of view. Ethnocentrism is the evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of are own culture. Simply put it means that we believe that what seems normal to us we assume to be right and we over-estimate the extent to which others see the world our way. This leads to a sense of over-confidence that we will be welcome in other countries and can lead to a miscalculation about the how much time we have to get away safely. But history and current behavior teaches us that when refugees flee – countries around the world put caps on immigration and even turn refugees around and send them back into harm’s way.

I have come to the conclusion after watching and assessing the signs and symptoms of behavior that have been present and escalating throughout the Presidential campaign and election that it is rational and reasonable to develop a safety plan for myself and my family. While I plan to stay and fight for the country I love, I also feel it is reasonable to determine under what circumstances it would be better to leave and to know how and where I would go, how I would get there, and how I would help the ones I love and care for get to safety as well.

Likely, many of you are thinking that I am over-reacting and that I am behaving irrationally. I will leave you with the words R.D. Laing, a famous Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively about mental illness. Dr. Laing famously said “Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”

Reaction to the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando

This letter was originally published on June 18, 20016 but seems just as relevant today as it was then.

An Open Letter to My Friends and Family

June 18, 2016

Since that horrible morning on June 12th when we all woke up to a changed world I have been hearing from friends and family wanting to know if I am OK. Well the answer is “yes” and “no”.

“Yes” – I am fortunate that I have the social, economic and emotional resources that I will find a way to manage though my feelings of grief, anger and helplessness. I was not in physical proximity to Orlando so I was never in any immediate physical jeopardy. I am also grateful that no one I personally knew was killed or injured. So yes, in some ways I am OK.

“NO” – I am not OK and don’t know when and if I ever will be again. After struggling to be accepted by society, my religious faith, facing employment discrimination, fighting for the right to marry my husband legally and have it be recognized across the country I love and call home – after my community struggled to learn to live with HIV and AIDS and the devastation it caused while saying goodbye to so many loved ones – after all that, I thought we had turned a corner – and now this. So no, in a very fundamental way, I am not OK and am not sure I will ever be again.

So if you love me and care about me here is what I need you to do:

  • Use your voice – speak up against hate speech whenever and wherever it happens – no matter who it is directed to
  • Use your influence – at work, at your church, synagogue, mosque or in social clubs you belong to make sure that you use your influence to advocate for change
  • Use your mind – be open to new ideas and experience, reach out to someone who is different from you and learn what it is like to experience the world through their eyes
  • Use your resources – to support organizations that foster an open, safe and caring community.
  • Use your vote – to support candidates that stand up for inclusion, diversity, equal rights and shun hate speech.
  • Use your hands – to reach out and lift up those in need of assistance and comfort those in need of healing
  • Use your network – to share this message with anyone that will listen and perhaps some that won’t in the hope that you will help plant the seeds of change that may someday blossom into greater understanding and acceptance.Thank you for your thoughts and prayers but what I need even more than that is your actions.

With great affection,

Carl


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