Monday, October 3, 2016

Hear Little Man

Hear Little Man
RJ Robertson

                        Being a person of small stature gives me a perspective that differs from the conventional view of things from time to time. There might be some assets too, but I can’t think of any. It has occasionally brought me some disagreeable experiences, like needing to ask a taller person to retrieve a beer mug from the top shelf, especially if that person is of the female persuasion. More significant have been disagreeable events like I often had at conventions when I was a professor. During breaks in the meetings I would sometimes be talking with a colleague when someone else would walk up and begin talking over my head to my interlocutor as if I weren’t there. I found this annoying, frustrating and humiliating and for many years did not know what to do other than rage inwardly and wait impatiently for the interloper to finish his business, or slink sheepishly away. I don’t recall ever receiving any help from the person with whom I had been talking. He might have assumed that, if I did not take any corrective action, it must have been O K with me.
            The truth is: I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes I could pick up where we had left off; otherwise I would look at my watch, make some excuse about having to be somewhere else, and shuffle miserably away. This began to change after my personal reorganization in my psychotherapy self-training group. It was to become the more assertive person I had fervently denied until the members of the training group would no longer tolerate the denial that they could see and I couldn’t. It was the last and most important phase in my personal therapy, even though that was not the intended purpose of the “family” training group.  (I described this transformation in my memoir: All My Life I’ve been Somebody Else.)
            The way it showed up in the experience at conventions was that when the interloper would appear and begin to do his thing I would say, “Were you born so rude, or did you have to learn it?” I had to speak this so loudly that it would penetrate his otherwise oblivion to my existence. The interloper would then look down and notice there was another person in the triangle, often apologize, and then he was the one to slink off. I found it quite satisfying. My original partner in the conversation would often grin and chuckle. At other times—when I felt he/she could have given me some support with a discussion as important to him as to me—I would simply turn and walk away. Often he would abandon the interloper and run to catch up with me. I found that alternative quite agreeable too.
            All the above is simply preamble to the subject I really mean to discuss. It was the background in my personal development that fired my interest in the lives of “ordinary,” or “common” people—the ones whom Wilhelm Reich was addressing in his book, Listen Little Man.  Reich, unlike Freud—who believed only wealthy people could afford psychoanalysis—opened his clinic in a working class area of town and engaged in the treatment of ordinary, or common, people. In the course of that work he believed he discovered some things about ordinary people that accounted for why they were ordinary: they perpetuated their condition themselves. Among “little people” there are invariably many who are as smart, as gifted, as advantaged (to begin with) as those who rage out of mediocrity to become part of the ruling class. What distinguishes them is singleness of mind to become “somebody.”
            I have wondered why a population of a country would send their young people off to fight a war in which they had no stake—as has happened over and over in history. Reich provides a plausible explanation: they didn’t know, or hadn’t recognized, that the people who told them what to do were no more qualified than they, themselves, to decide how to live their lives.
            Now and then some writer or pundit points this fact out at least indirectly. I remember an incident in an early scene in the first Star Wars movie. It is the only one that has stuck in my mind ever since I first saw it: Obi-wan Kenobi is leading his apprentice, Luke Skywalker, into an area controlled by the empire. I can’t remember why they were going there, but that does not matter to this point. Luke raises the objection that they don’t have the proper I D, so how will they persuade the border guards to let them in. Obi-wan replies that they will tell the guards what they, the guards, think they should do. You have to tell people like this what they think, he explains.
            Another glimpse of the kind of phenomenon Reich was aiming at in his book is in A Nation of Sheep, published in 1961 by William J. Lederer—co-author of The Ugly American. He summarizes his analysis with these statements: “the Preface of this book pointed out that in response to The Ugly American we received over 8,000 querying letters… from every corner of our country [that asked] ‘What can the average American do about the frightful posture of the United States in foreign affairs?... All of us instinctively sense that foolish errors are the cause of our failures. However, few people angrily demand that action be taken to correct matters… Instead they wring their hands pitiably and bleat, ‘what can I do?’”
            I must confess that I am myself an example of this, not just in regard to foreign affairs—that does require intense knowledge of what is happening world-wide, and why, but in regard to the kinds of facts that almost everyone knows, like the ever increasing evidence of global warming and its dire consequences, world hunger while tons of food go into garbage dumps in our country every day, other bad effects of world over population, and so on.
            I feel guilty every time I go somewhere in my car, because I know I am contributing to air pollution and global warming. But if I gave up going to all the places I need to drive to, it would be a huge change to my lifestyle. I could no longer visit relatives, including our own sons and their families, or go to other favorite activities like writing workshops or my old guys Thursday night “Beer Night” group. Yes, I could get public transportation to some of these venues, but it would take enormous amounts of time waiting at pick up locations, and to many I could not even get public transportation. In theory I could have done what a few friends have done—pioneering a self -sufficient farm in an out of the way corner of Kentucky or southern Indiana to escape the feeling of always having to depend on someone else for assistance or to tell me the rules about how to act. It abandons all hope of having any influence on the direction of our nation’s affairs by speaking up on the little I can allow myself to have an opinion on.
            So, indeed, what is to do, beyond continuing in this funk? I need to give myself a new insight like I recounted at the beginning of this story.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Georgia Guidestones

Last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” began with a story about how the epidemic of heroin addiction, that is sweeping our country, is playing out in the state of Ohio. It featured a judge who adopted a rehabilitation approach instead of prison time for heroin felonies. A high proportion of people report to the court after saying clean for a year and have their records cleared. Several other judges are beginning this approach. In contrast, a hard-nosed district attorney opposes this, “they have broken the law and they need to be punished.” The last story was of a young man who returned home clean after prison and overdosed on the first night in his parents’ house. 

What lies behind these stories and other types of societal failure? For just one example—many young muslins return, disillusioned, from ISIS, telling how they went in the first place because they felt isolated, marginalized, had nothing to do in the European countries they grew up in. Other cases of war around the world stem from religious conflicts, starvation, or squeezed for land to cultivate because of rising seas, droughts and unusually strong wind storms. Behind all these factors is global warming and all its dread effects.

Far back behind all these problems is the problem of world overpopulation. Why do I put that as the ultimate cause of all these calamities? Global heating, religious wars, spreading starvation, untreated diseases, the threat of nuclear war—result basically from overpopulation.

How so? Start with global warming, the biggest immediate threat to the survival of the human race. Over the last century world population has grown from under to two billion to over seven billion and growing. That means five billion more people driving cars, demanding electricity and wanted air conditioning in summer, as well as needing more food produced from the world’s shrinking farms. 

Think how many fewer people would be driving cars, using electricity (for all its various reasons), needing to be fed, less prone to disease epidemics, if world population were still around two billion instead of the present seven billion? 

In this connection I want to draw attention to the Georgia Guidestones. It seems that some group of (apparently) powerful and intellectual people saw all of this coming and began to prepare for the survival of a sustainable world population. They subsidized a set of six pillars, 19 feet high, giving, in six of the world’s main languages a table of ten commandments for a future world civilization. First, they stipulated that world population should be maintained at about half a billion people. 

How would this reduction in world population take place? The people who created the guide-stones don’t say, but I think it is becoming clear that they had concluded that the people on earth will do it to themselves. Consider the horrendous losses of life from the wars taking place around the globe. Add to that the billions who will die of heat and billions who will starve to death because the powers currently running the world will not take the needed remedial steps. Maybe they too are overwhelmed.

 If you know more about the Georgia Guidestones I’d like to hear about it. In general, what do you think about the populations problem?

Friday, May 1, 2015


Every time some corner of the world suffers a new catastrophe the media reviews all the major ones of recent years: Katrina, Sandy, Sandyhook, now the latest-Nepal. Meantime there are the chronic ones, like the wars in Africa and the Middle East that go on and on, assorted hurricanes and typhoons, droughts like the one devastating the food growing farms of California. 

Something that strikes me about the responses to such catastrophes is how the survivors immediately rebuild the same buildings, the same infrastructure – as what was just destroyed. Why not build multi-family buildings of concrete and steel that can withstand 200 mile per hour winds? To make that affordable, of course, many families would have to agree to occupy condos, and thus get the benefit of group solutions. They would have to learn to debate and cooperate with neighbors in group management.

I think I know part of the answer. We humans are creatures of habit, we get used to what we have had before and don’t feel comfortable with having to adapt to changed conditions. I can understand this concretely in my own experience of such a simple thing as having to learn the rules of a new Windows environment on my computer. I don’t want to spend time learning a new way to set up to write a blog or a book, even though they theoretically would lead to more efficiency. I just want to keep doing my work with the habits I have gotten used to. How much more important, then, to keep living in the same house, or one as similar to your old one as possible – in the same area, the same neighborhood.

We can see this principle at work too, I believe, in the recent wave of “conservative” political movement in many countries around the world, including our own. I remember reading an interview in which a reporter asked a young woman after an election—I believe it was in Turkey—why she had voted for the conservative party, even though they proposed things she did not favor,  “I just want things to go back to the way they were,” she had replied.  New ideas about many public policies that have come upon the globe in the last half century too fast for many people. They might appeal to intellectuals and entrepreneurs, but for many ordinary people the reaction is just like my reluctance to learn new Windows rules.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Need for Long-run Future Planning

There are many problems looming in the future that seem not to be considered by the people who run things. Why is that?

I saw a TV ad today of a car-building assembly line manned by a bunch of robots. I got the impression that the makers of the ad thought that we, the audience, would by impressed or filled with admiration for the efficiency of the robots. Well, I have news for them. The reaction it provoked in me was to wonder how are the people who used to do that supposed to make a living now? Should they cash in their pension to go back to school at the age of fifty or fifty five and learn computer programming? A programmer I know got laid off as her company shipped her job to Asia.

The owners of the car business think their job is to make the biggest profit they can for their shareholders (themselves, included). O K, that is the theory of capitalism. Competition inspires people to be continuously as efficient as possible. Anyone who loses his job in the process should either find a new one or create a new business to become a capitalist himself. Fine; but if a million people are thrown out of work, does anyone believe there would be a need for a million new businesses, even imagining for a moment that every one of those laid off workers could be that creative.

The attitude comes, I believe, from a perfectly natural way of thinking. Back in prehistory, when the population of the earth was small and scattered, people dropped their waste outside their usual precincts and the environment disposed of it. They did not have to deal with plastics that are unnatural in the sense that some of them never deteriorate.

So, humans can no longer trust the environment to return their waste to raw material. But no one has come up with a definitive solution for that problem. Instead different “interest groups” fight over who should take responsibility to get rid of such waste products and who should pay for it..  As the debate goes on the problems grow exponentially worse.

So now we see two growing problems—the accumulation of undigested waste around the world, and the accumulation of unemployment that will never by reduced as robots are employed to replace humans on a continually increasing pattern. There was an article in Sunday’s New York Times, “The Machines are Coming,” that described how the old solutions—where laid-off workers learn new, more complex skills—are no longer working. I believe we need something much more fundamental: a revolutionary attitude that getting more jobs is not the answer. The world simply does not need all the available workers, so why not agree that the machines should provide all the needs of living, and humans consume them freely and spend their (our) time on creative activities—art, science, song and dance. I read somewhere that the Polynesians lived like that. It required a couple hours a day to supply their needs—that were furnished by their lush natural environment—and spent most of their time adventuring or creating.

So why not?

Of course, there is a third issue—the one that might make the others irrelevant: global warming. If we are indeed approaching a deadline beyond which the earth will become uninhabitable it is fair to ask the legislators who are preventing doing anything about it WHY?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


There have been a number of articles lately about the promise of robots, but they have so far not benefited everyone, as they are owned by a few large corporations that have not shared. So how do we solve that?

Friday, December 5, 2014


Let's get started on the psychology of history. What do you think is the most important, most fundamental principle of our culture? Some would say it is the list of "Truths" that we hold as self evident. The first listed by Thomas Jefferson was, "All men are created equal." Right now our country is once more testing that proposition. It turns out quite a few Americans still think there are exceptions to Jefferson's words. (Along the lines that some might judge him, himself, a hypocrite.)

What do you think?