Alan Glick, my old childhood friend and a great bass player, regularly chides me for pathologizing the right wing in my “lost heart theory.” Alan, I have hesitated to respond to you, because I fear that we will just end up in an endless argument with no growth or transformation on either side. However, I believe that authentic dialogue is one of the six ways that we self-cultivate, or grow toward the realization or fulfillment of our human potential. So despite the risk of failure, I am willing to try. I hope that you can listen in good faith and be open-minded as I have, and will. try to do.

Authentic communication begins not with asserting a viewpoint, but with the intention of understanding the view of the other side. So let me begin with seeing if I can understand where you are coming from. If I am hearing you correctly, what you are saying is the following. When I say that people’s denial of global warming is a sign of having a lost heart, you hear that as me saying that someone who does not believe in global warming has a pathology. As a result of this, my entire argument is put into question, because it appears that I am defining anyone who does not agree with my politics as pathological. You feel angry when I say that because to you it means that I am saying, in essence, that you have an emotional problem for believing what you do. Am I getting that right?

If I have heard you right, let me see if I can make myself clearer, because that is certainly not my intention. First of all, my “lost-heart theory” is an attempt to step out of the language both of moralizing and pathologizing. I don’t like speaking in terms of “personality disorders” and “axis I diagnoses,” and someone “having” ADD, because I do not believe this kind of language captures the truth of the human experience. Nor do I believe that humans act foolishly or destructively because of some intrinsic moral failing. I believe that goodness is our essential nature. Rather than pathology or sin, I see that all humans, of every political stripe, creed, or ethnicity, struggle with a distance between their inherent potential and the limits of their development. This is a universal human struggle. It is not that there is something “wrong” (pathology) or “bad” (religious morality) about us. Rather, we are estranged from our essential nature (we have not realized our virtues in the classical sense). Now that is my bias, admittedly so. This is an argument I can make, but cannot ultimately prove. You don’t have to agree with me but you can at least accept that I am not pathologizing. Quite the contrary, I am searching for a language about human suffering that transcends the limits of the medical pathology paradigm.

As I see this as a universal human problem, I do not believe that any group has a corner on having a lost heart. Certainly, as a Jew, I have to admit that there have been plenty of Jews who demonstrate, at least by my definition, extreme lost-heartedness. Bernie Madoff and Eliot Spitzer are just two infamous recent examples that come to mind. Straight, Gay, Jewish, Christian, Black, White, English, or Native American, we are lost hearted all. Right wingers may have lost hearts, but so do the lefties. I have ample experience of the fallibility of the left as a loyal member of the Park Slope Food Coop, a faithful alum of progressive Goddard College, and as a fired employee at a social work agency. People do not deserve our condemnation for their imperfections but rather our tragic empathy and compassion. This is a hard place to remain spiritually, especially in the face of those who have caused so much pain and destruction, but, like with all the aspects of heart, it is a worthy goal.

Now it is true that inherent in my definition of heart, those who are “more realized” — whatever that means — come closer to an apprehension of the true and the good — whatever those things mean — and come closer to living in harmony with their human nature and universal nature. Though I do not have the arrogance to assert that I know what these absolutes mean, I do assume that some things are true and others are not. Many things are beyond our capacity to know with certainty, but I am no relativist, and in this sense, barely a post-modernist. I do believe in the Truth. Coming closer to a perception of the truth is a sign of being in touch with our intrinsic nature, which is meant to ascertain and act on truth. Using my metaphor, that’s what it means to find your heart.

Now let us use the issue of global warming to see if we can come to understand one another across this great ideological divide. If I hear you right, you are skeptical of the scientists who assert the validity of global warming. You may be skeptical of the scientific enterprise in general, but more specifically I am going to assume (and correct me if I’m wrong) that you are most skeptical of these scientists because you believe they have a political agenda that biases their view. I’m going to guess that you believe their agenda is one of the left-wing environmentalists, who have an investment in promoting their cause for their own gain. Is this right?

Now there is much in this argument that I can agree with! First of all, I believe that a part of being a truth-seeker is having a healthy skepticism. I am no scientist, but any good researcher would tell you that the heart of science is skepticism. All hypotheses are assumed to be false until proven otherwise. In my own field of mental-health I have seen scientific research misused to sell medications of dubious value. Recent research that questions the efficacy of anti-depression medication is a good case in point. Certainly, pharmaceuticals have greatly enhanced our lives; but scientists and those that run pharmaceutical corporations are just as susceptible to the distortions of human motivation as anyone; they too, have lost hearts. I have known people who work in scientific laboratories and have heard first-hand about the bad practices utilized there. Good scientists are well aware of this problem and are continuously attempting to come up with better and better methods of making science ever more rigorous, but we can see that this is an ongoing struggle. In my field, the latest anti-psychotic medications have their faults, but they are far better than lobotomies, old style electro-convulsive treatments, and the snake pit. We hope that we are making progress in some ways.

Healthy skepticism is an important quality to have but not when it ends in an absolute nihilism, or Taoism. In these views, the belief is that we are not capable of knowing anything and we should not trust in any knowledge or action. As a result, nihilists believe we should give up on any positive outcome in life.  In pure Taoism we retire to an existence of non-action. I don’t agree with either approach. Life demands that we choose, for even not choosing is a choice. We now know that science cannot give us all the answers to life. In addition, science itself has proven that absolute proof is impossible. Nevertheless, we have to work to find the best possible answers that we can find in any given moment using our reason and emotions. Just because something cannot be proved with certainty is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Just like you are doing, we must use all of the ways of knowing, including but not limited to science, to make our best judgments. This requires weighing all the available evidence in as open-minded way as possible.

The danger of skepticism is that it turns into cynicism. In this view, the notion of anyone having a sincere motive is brought into question. Cynicism is marked by a general mistrust of the good. Good intentions are marked by wariness. It implies a Hobbesian view of the universe; since we live in a bad world, any presumed attempt to do good is not to be trusted, while any selfish act is real.

Worse, perhaps, than a consistent cynicism is selective skepticism. For example, we may ask, why your skepticism toward health care reform and global warming? By definition, it seems, someone on the right is against health care reform. Arguments against health care reform include that this will lead to a government take-over, a socialist future, a loss of choice and an explosion of debt.

On global warming, skeptics assert that the science is being manipulated to serve parochial interests. There is no such thing as climate change, or if there is, its not a problem, and it is simply the vicissitudes of nature anyway.

As the future cannot wholly be predicted, these all have to be considered a possibility.

That being said, the question really is, why the skepticism on these topics and not others? Where was the skepticism on the right to Iraq having weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be a fiction? Where was the skepticism to the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq which turned out to be a fiction? Where was the skepticism that we would be greeted in Iraq with open arms, which turned out not to be true, while Saddam Hussein’s prediction that there would be an ongoing insurgency turned out to be true? Where was the skepticism that massive tax cuts for the rich would cut the deficit and lead to prosperity for all, which turned out to be false when it was tried in the 80’s and turned out to be false again in the 2000’s? Where is the skepticism that those promoting a campaign against policies meant to mitigate climate change may also have an agenda? Scientists don’t profit from supporting environmentalists, but oil producers gain by burning as much unregulated fossil fuels as possible. Why no skepticism about the critics of health care reform? Don’t the critics have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo? Why the cherry-picking of skepticism? It almost seems churlish. If anybody wants to promote health, wellness, planetary survival and a more equitable society, the attitude is mistrust. If someone wants to bomb, kill, redistribute wealth from the middle-class to the wealthy, then that’s just reality. But maybe I’m just distorting information now. I’m open to that possibility and learning how.

However, from my point of view, such a selective skepticism at least appears unreasonable. A healthy skepticism as a mark of wisdom should be used in all cases. By weighing the evidence, it seemed quite obvious to me at the time that massive tax cuts for the rich and the dismantling of financial regulations would lead to redistribution of wealth to the wealthy from the middle class and financial instability. Such has turned out to be the case. It seemed quite obvious to me at the time that there was little chance of weapons of mass destruction and that if we invaded Iraq it would turn out to be a costly quagmire. Such turned out to be the case.

It seems quite obvious to me that Barack Obama being a communist, socialist, or fascist is completely absurd and health-care reform will not end the country as we know it. So far, it has been passed, and the jack-boots or hammer-and-sickle have yet to appear. On the other hand, health-care reform, though imperfect like everything else in life, may actually be an attempt to improve a dysfunctional system in a good way that will actually lead to greater choice for greater numbers of people, and a reduction of costs, as well as other goods. That may actually be the intention of those creating reform, and all my informed research indicates that such is primarily the case.

I am no expert or scientist, but I can trust the overwhelming consensus of scientists that the Earth revolves around the sun and we live in a universe that is billions of years old as determined by the distance of the stars. If we can agree that there is a truth, either global climate change is happening at least in part as a direct result of human behavior, or it is not. The consequences cannot be told with certainty, but either it will lead to a bad outcome, or it won’t. One of these things is true and the other is not. Every action, including inaction, will have its consequences.

When there is overwhelming scientific consensus on a subject, so much so that 100’s of nation’s leaders have agreed that this is a problem and are working to solve the problem, this suggests that it would be wise and prudent to do all we can to prevent a possible problem, which is a good, rather than ignoring a potential problem by saying we do not have perfect knowledge. This is like saying that it is fine to continue smoking cigarettes because no one can prove I will get cancer if I smoke. We are talking about probabilities, not certainties, and the decision to act on strong probability is the measure of prudence. To me, any reasonable person, while holding a grain of skepticism, would agree that the risks of ignoring human-made damage to the atmosphere is greater than acting with an abundance of caution. To my thinking and feeling heart, these conclusions do not appear left or right; but rather smart or beclouded. Why would any intelligent, thinking person be against a clean house? (I promise not to make any bass player jokes!) Help me understand.

Not wanting to judge, I would rather think that those who cannot come to such obvious conclusions are in some way prevented from developing and using some part of their human capacities – that is, they have what I call a lost heart. I admit that I could be wrong about the future. That kind of self-skepticism is the measure of wisdom. Maybe I am beclouded myself. Lord knows, I struggle with my own lost heart. I am open to hearing how that might be the case. Perhaps I only read research that validates my viewpoint and avoid the opposite view. Now the question to you, Alan Glick, is, are you willing to consider the same possibility? Are you and I, Alan Glick, both willing to examine ourselves and own our projections? Are we each willing to see the ways that we assign our own foibles to the other guy? Are we each willing to open our hearts and accept each other with love despite our differences? Are we each willing to grow and change? The fate of the world may depend on it.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Advertisements