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As Australia is my haven, I worry that some signs of cultural disintegration are occurring here.  I have had faith in the kindness and world view of most Australians, but recently my faith has been shaken. So I post this blog as a warning to those who will read: lack of compassion, hate, and incent to violence is not limited to the U.S. It is a global phenomenon, no matter the name attached to it. Thus I feel the need to write.

 

Since my last post, some 60,000 professionals in my industry have come to the fore, commenting and worrying about the state of the U.S. presidency. Many going so far as to recommend impeachment of the 45th president of the U.S. Many are psychiatrists, which I am not. But many are in the field of behavioral science and leadership, which I am. My Ph.D. dissertation focused upon leadership, behavior and culture in Silicon Valley and today’s blog will assess the culture within the widening arena of politics and business and how people at the top – president or CEO can affect a nation, a culture. There is a close similarity. But first, let’s clarify the dilemma of the U.S. medical profession – speaking about the state of mental health of an individual who is not in their care. A rule, the Goldwater Rule was established in 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association and is still in force today. Recently, many in the profession feel the necessity to speak out.

From hillReporter.com: (Walker, 2019) in an interview with Dr. Brandy Lee (Dr. Bandy X. Lee) a forensic psychiatrist and professor based out of Yale University. Her background in the study of psychiatric violence have been recognized with accolades from around the world.)

“. . . we are not talking about personal mental health here but a public health issue. What really needs to be the focus is medical judgment and medical need when there is a clear and present danger to the public. There is a primary responsibility on the part of medical professionals to protect patients and society — not public figures, not political interests, not even the reputation of the profession. All these come after our primary duties. So if we think about society and the risks to society, then I believe it is important to speak up.”

 

She goes on to argue that the danger is not just at the top leadership but at lies with all of us.

With the rise of social media platforms, we are “marketed to,” cajoled and convinced of an idea, a belief or a policy not in our best interest, 24/7. Spin, the buzz word of advertising, shows up in Ted Talks, appearances in front of the U.S. Congress or political rallies. Our leaders deliver their message to us through entertainment. We are fooled—products are labelled as a force for social good, but our leaders overlook that hate speech, bullying and toxic content have grown rapidly, onstage in the 2016 election cycle. Unwise and emotionally driven choices best described by behavioral economics are the result—the impact of poor leadership and our irrational choices.

Compounding the “spin arena” is the rise of constant gratification, mood swings, visceral factors, attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder and aggression—our adolescent needs are a constant source of immature behaviors. The behavior is not unnoticed by executives or our political representatives. They spur us through inflamed rhetoric and untruths. As Daniel Dale [the Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star] often says, the lying is the story. These in turn drive economic decisions and tax policies on tariffs, climate disasters, military spending—the cost to us is staggering.

Diversion is the primary tactic, and we follow the diverted path easily as our attention is short, captured by the “spin” and no longer rational.  The theme, be it corporate policy or immigration policy, is like a shiny object and changes rapidly, dependent upon context or the unstable mood of leadership. Technology and political leaders, finding themselves under attack, play a bait-and-switch game. Relying upon opposition-research, leaders discredit or demean all who would challenge or harm them, opening the door to a rise in unresolved globally destructive problems and threats to our democratic institutions. The goal is to protect their interest at all costs, to divert the public’s attention to a perceived enemy.

   

Following scandal after scandal and with each news cycle, we dance across this stage without resolution or solution. Today leaders do not act in our best interests, nationally or globally. Bent on growth or maintaining his or her position, commercially or politically, short-sighted behaviors satisfy the economic or political interests only of the leader and bleed into strange policy decisions.  

But we too are on center stage—our need for a quick and simple solution to complex issues no longer works in a complex world. We must look behind the constantly changing headlines where reality is distorted, lying is the norm and solutions are not offered. Our moods collectively experienced are a causal economic factor and a powerful driver in our investments, our political choices and our personal choices. What can social mood tell us? But we are susceptible to chaos and confusion, even an invented chaos like that of the two neighboring fathers in The Fantasticks, who built a wall while feuding.

And the solution? Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, offers what most of us ignore: the “last line of defense will always be citizens who are willing to question what they see and hear, even when it means questioning our own beliefs.”

   

Dear Readers

I recently returned from an unplanned and overly-long stay in the U.S. where I had the opportunity to witness an overly-long campaign for public office begin some two years before the actual election.

 

 

Nightly, on television and daily in the print press, each side of the ideological line drawn in the sand, carried on until I was exhausted, as were all my American colleagues and friends -- exhausted from the nightly battles of Washington, D.C. and those of state capitals and legislative bodies. On the North Carolina coast, the September hurricanes I lived through felt like minimal devastation.

 

 

This daily news-grind brought to mind my musical past in theatre: symptoms of problematic adolescence are performed and viewed daily—an ongoing recurring performance within the long running musical, The Fantasticks. On stage a chaos (similar to the political scene) is created by two culturally different fathers, neighbors at odds disagreeing about their property boundaries. Lurking in the background: a disaster should their young-adult daughter and son fall in love. And the fathers' solution: build a wall.

 

But back to the current day and the drama on the political and economic stage.  We learn that in business and in politics today, chaos is preferred over order and the reach of actors on this stage extends far beyond Washington and Silicon Valley. The press reports every move, every expression and every reaction, stirring the chaos and the public to a frenzy.  We, the audience, are trapped in an out-of-kilter performance, a daily song-and-dance routine of immature, selfish and harmful behaviors from political and corporate leaders.

 

 

With the manifestation of the 2016 presidential campaign, American psychologists and mental health professionals have insisted that the press and the public resist analyzing any person or persons not in our care, either in our lab or our counseling office. Consequently, we must observe and critique the chaos of today’s political and economic scene through a third party -- a musical.

 

InThe Fantastics, we watch a performance of overarching human development rather than behavior of a single elected official or a corporate CEO. We see the performance daily through the news media and it is chaos.

 

 

Writ large, political drama is theater, yet frighteningly a model of human behavior  (gaslighting) where Ariel Leve (2018), says that “ Nothing means anything, and reality is being canceled”. He describes pointedly the scene in politics and corporate behaviour in the U.S.

 

So, Why can't I talk about This?

 

 

Leve reports: "One of the most insidious things about gaslighting is the denial of reality. Being denied what you have seen. Being denied what you have experienced and know to be true. It can make you feel like you are crazy. But you are not crazy."  

 

 

Well, I can talk about the problem, if you are willing to read. I will explore what felt to this expat like mental illness among the American public, my American friends and myself! My story is a three-parter. And if you feel you are a captive audience, please avoid this blog for a week or so!