Category Archives: Ethics

KAFKA TRAPS and How to Avoid Them

An increasing number of people are being trained to believe that rituals of shame, confession and psychological breakdown sessions are effective tools for rooting out the secret evils of this or that “sin”, “ism” or “phobia” that are said to be in our hearts and minds. Religious cults use this technique and so do political cults.

In such an atmosphere, one is always subject to the ever-watchful eye of those who hunt feverishly for your secret immoral thoughts. And when you look inside and find nothing of the kind, you are accused of “projecting”, of “being defensive” or of having sinful thoughts or biases and hatreds that are “unconscious” to you, but claimed to be fully on display to the “clairvoyant” ever watchful eye of the probing inquisitioners.

Regardless of your level of personal development and wisdom, the good you have done in your life without an audience, or the self-awareness that has evolved in your consciousness, the mind reader who studies you, the workshop facilitator who shames you, and the educator who grades you… the ever watchful eye who beholds you… knows who you REALLY are.

Except, they don’t.

This assault on your dignity, and invasion of your sense of self is a form of emotional abuse. Because the nature of this kind of probing is a kind of non-consensual  mind rape, it will be difficult for you to resist, especially if the probing inquisitor has authority over you in some way. But resistance is necessary for your well-being. When people try to tell you that you hate when you know deeply in your heart that you do not hate, they are imposing a non-consensual belief system onto you, and you have the right to resist.

When people tell you that your resistance or intellectual arguments are a smokescreen to hide your “discomfort” with hearing the truth about your supposed “sin”, you are the target of what is called a Kafka trap, a game of psychological “capture the flag” that can be resisted if you know what to do.

As in Kafka’s book “The Trial”, the Kafka Trap is a game that is played by power-seekers (or in the best of circumstances just a True Believer who blindly follows a dogmatic moral paradigm) where you are always “guilty” of some crime or sin that you cannot locate but that others who stand to gain moral power over you insist are inside you. And the more you deny it, the more it is “proven” that you are guilty.

Let me repeat that. The more you deny your hatred, your desire to protect some form of status or privilege, or the belief that others have the right to put their thoughts into you, you are “proving” that you are guilty by the very act of your resisting.

The Kafka Trap and similar rituals are the primary weapons used by religious cults that want to control adherents by shaming them for their selfish drives or sexual feelings.

More insidiously because of the difficulty in detecting it, this trap is also used followers various anti-oppression ideologies who believe they can solve racism and other forms of bigotry with blanket accusations, categorization schemes, rankism, cult mind control tactics and emotional abuse.

It is not necessary to take on this stuff to make the world a more fair and equitable place. There are other ways to promote love and fairness that do not rely on mental beatings, head games and power plays, so it’s important to resist this recruitment style ghost-hunting technique to avoid getting pulled into world views that create hardened categories of “us” and “them”, force us to think thoughts we didn’t think before, and distract us from doing real work.

When this happens, the best way to handle it is to name it.

Because of the cult-like style of the attack, the best mode to use in your communication is the leveling mode. In the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work, linguist Dr. Suzette Elgin suggests leveler mode when you are in a mentally abusive situation. Level with your abuser by straight out saying, “this is emotional abuse, and you’re not going to succeed in putting thoughts in my head.”

If the person persists, just say, “you repeating that you think I [fill in the blank] doesn’t make it true and is just a manipulative power play to win moral superiority over a ghost that isn’t there. I’m not standing for it, so let’s move on to another topic.”

There are other gentler methods, and these sentences can be altered to suit your style and unique situation. But, the key is to deliver the following three messages:

1) You are engaging in emotional abuse

2) It is a play for moral power over others based on nothing real, and

3) I won’t stand for it.

Stay true to your path towards wholeness, practice the life of compassion and fairness, and do what you can to protect yourself from individuals and groups who try to brainwash you into believing that your nature or essence is intrinsically evil in some way and that you do not have the capacity to treat others with respect and love.

You know who you are.

Bettering in Our Own Time

*NOTE: My friend gave me permission to re-post something  he wrote onto my own social media page. At the time of this posting, I have not yet gotten his permission to post it here. But, I love this and it speaks for me, so I want to share it.

Our country was founded on the radical proposition that everyone is born equal, and should receive equal treatment under the law. Even from the very beginning we did not live up to that ideal in practice and actual governance, but our history has been one of slow, stepwise, painful movement toward it.

Too slow, and too many moments of backsliding, for far too many people who deserve better. But we cannot give up, unless we want to give up on what being America really means.

Certainly the founders had many notions of the limits of equality and citizenship that no longer apply, nor should they. They lived, as we all do, in a particular moment in time, and could no more escape history than a fish can escape the ocean. And the effects of those mental and political blinders were very, very real for the people left out of their limited concept of what equality should mean.

But there was, I think, an entelechy to the ideas worked out in the Constitution and other founding documents, that goes beyond that moment in time and its limitations. It was an idea too radical for a bunch of white, male, very well-to-do property owners, whose only model of governance was the divine rule of kings, and whose implicit idea of society was deeply hierarchical in nature, to bring to full fruition. But they wrote something down, and whatever it meant to them, it continued to resonate down through the generations and inspire not only the powerful but also the rest of us to do better.

(Equality is still a radical idea: each time we expand the circle of equality and fairness, we realize there is another circle beyond that. Our grandchildren will probably have difficulty understanding our own mental and societal limits on true equality.)

So, I understand [people’s] objection [to having pride in American heritage], and I think it’s well worth raising. I won’t try to convince [them that they’re] wrong and I’m right. I’ll just say that I believe it’s possible to be both critical of the history of our nation and at the same time see it as something worthy of inheriting and bettering in our own time.

 

Peace for Self, Not The Only Path

Recently I’ve been reading spiritual posts and commentary in various online social media groups.  In these kinds of threads, I am frequently reminded of the conflict between “man of the world” and “man of the spirit” and find myself puzzled about how to integrate the two. Many people who consider themselves to be on the spiritual path will suggest that we learn to allow space for violence, cruelty, social unrest, systems of inequality and preventable suffering. The idea goes that individuals must become enlightened  to the true nature of Existence if they are to have any genuine impact.

Three years ago, I was in dialogue on a social media site about the issue of police brutality (which at the time was an issue I was strongly interested in). The commenter I was speaking with suggested that people stop reading the media stories about police brutality and learn to be peaceful within themselves, instead of getting too preoccupied with injustice. The commenter when on to state that withdrawal and meditation was the way towards peace and “raising the collective consciousness of humanity.”

The idea that personal peace and enlightenment must be reached before we seek any meaningful change in society is an old and stubborn one. Looking within and not getting involved in the outer world is said to be compassionate because it can be transformative for the individual. I can appreciate this view and to some degree I think it’s useful to become aware of our patterns and not to react automatically to outer circumstances or events. Even more, I appreciate the healing and insight that comes from meditation and learning to be open-heartedly present to our immediate experience.

But, I think the form of “transcendental stewardship” where we disengage from the world’s problems and go deeper into the impersonal, spiritual realms of consciousness is only one of the ways in which we can contribute to healing, wholeness and the relief of suffering. Without recognizing, addressing, and alleviating the traumatic conditions we have the power to influence, it seems to me that we abandon fellow sentient beings to conditions that are not favorable to the “awakening” of consciousness or spirit. Traumatizing events can hold people back from the luxury of even considering the possibility of a benevolent underlying spiritual force. This is especially true for people who experience the ongoing traumatization of being held in captivity in abusive situations such as tyrannical governments, relationships with violent intimate partners, and the slow inner death of working in a toxic workplace environment.

Trauma in all its forms keeps people far away from the spiritual aspect of things. Being peaceful, watching one’s thoughts, and merging with the lovely one-ness of it all is a far-away fantasy for victims of violence and cruelty, and it’s fair to keep that in perspective when we want to remind people of the ultimate and fundamental goodness of reality and the illusion of the life of ego.

I think if we are serious about the project of raising the “collective consciousness”, we would want to do our part to relieve the traumatizing circumstances experienced by other people, so that they might be able to sit down and be with themselves and allow their minds to let go into the present moment. We would want to participate in changing systems that systematically cause harm to people. We would want to at the very least acknowledge the circumstances people are in and hold back from criticizing people for not being spiritual enough.

A question arises. Should we expect ourselves to not have emotional reactions to external phenomena? Is that somehow an indicator of the level of a person’s enlightenment? If I can watch the graphic depiction of police brutality in the video below with non-reactive awareness, I can imagine that my actions in the real world will be more proportionate, efficient and unclouded by messy emotions. Perhaps, my actions might be objective and not volatile.  Then again, there may be a place in within transcendental awareness for experiencing -and not rejecting or judging- outrage, anger, anguish, grief, and interpersonal empathy when darkness and violence arises in our experience.

Not to participate in necessary change may be the right choice for spiritually enlightened individuals who have come to transcend human worldly concerns, having come to identify completely with Spirit, or Consciousness, etc. But, for those of us still hanging on at the sides of the mountain, the choice to participate in alleviating the dark circumstances of other sentient beings is a choice that is as right as rain.

Warning: The video below depicts NYPD officers throwing a pregnant woman onto her belly and shoving another woman hard enough to hurl her across the concrete, breaking her arm. As an exercise, I watched the video, breathed calmly and took note of emotional reactions as they arise in different parts of my body.

The Postmodern Fallacy of Dominance

I wrote this on a social media thread, and chose to use ALL CAPS as a metaphor for the theme of domination and power that I was exploring. I have been influenced to use ALL CAPS in a non-angry way by another writer whose writing on philosophy and spirituality is superb. Somehow his capitalized expressions do not come across as yelling but as emphasizing (as if italicized).

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So, this philosopher Derrida is very popular with the young activist crowd (and some old ones, too). He’s the guy who made an IDEA extremely popular… the idea that all systems, relationships and momentary exchanges are hierarchical in nature and are rooted entirely in POWER dynamics and the drive to DOMINATE.

Derrida went on to exhort us all to FLIP the hierarchy at every possible turn. In other words, we are called to reverse the power dynamics at all times… moment by moment… individuals and systems.

With this premise, it’s perfectly understandable why entire frameworks are created with a straight-out-of-the-gate adversarial stance against “the other” and the feverish drive to “dismantle” all things created and to win back the power that was stolen.

But, a question arises.

What if the original premise is incorrect? What if some -or perhaps many- people simply interacted with us out of the desire to connect? What if some -or perhaps many- people recognized differences in wealth, fortune and status between them and us and desired to share at least part of what they have with us? What if some -or perhaps many- people are simply not AWARE of these differences or how they fail to SEE us or our suffering and oppression?

What if the central premise of POWER and domination being at the root of all systems and relationships is not entirely accurate? What if this premise is just an INVENTED position based from painful personal experience and not a DISCOVERED pattern based on objective observations over time?

I ask this, because I have seen so many other premises (or operating PRINCIPLES) driving the behaviors and creations of individuals, communities and even entire systems…. lust, desire, longing, existential despair, desire for comfort, winning, striving for excellence, creating beauty, new discoveries, the seeking of justice, intentional ignorance of unpleasant realities, fear of death…. turning away from abuses…. and so forth.

Then there is the wondrous delight of building, innovating and creating….. and the ancient, universal and natural patterns of loving, belonging and nurturing…. so, so, so, so, SO much more to all of this than the Game of Thrones.

At least that has been my experience.

In recent years, I’ve seen relatives killed with bullets by law enforcement, dear friends lost forever to addiction, abuse and cruelty, students stabbed to death and shot outside their homes, liars getting away with lies, and the emergence of a culture of ridicule that demands that we diminish the all too real suffering of those whom we stand against.

And, yet I still cannot get behind the idea that life is all about domination, oppression and control. I believe in the goodness of people, even now.

What if re-designing and re-purposing lazily and selfishly designed systems for the betterment of all involved at least some degree of kinship with “them”… if only in the secret chambers of our minds?

What if a person who writes out ideas and questions like these doesn’t have any answers or solutions at all?

What if the answers we find in writers and thinkers lead us further away from ourselves and from one another?

What if this is all just an addiction to “the fight” to escape ourselves?

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work

I want to review a very useful book today. It’s called The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work. To my great fortune, I was turned onto the works of author Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D about five years ago by a close friend. This is one of Elgin’s greatest works, and should be included among the greatest  contributions to the healthy workplace movement.

Elgin, a linguist, goes into great detail about the ways in which language can be strategically employed to both undermine and enhance the mission and culture of the workplace. She begins by examining the power of language and the importance of “cleaning up” the “language environment” in our workplaces, and goes on to explore the concepts of semantic features (the unique impact on different individuals of specific word choices) and recognizing and responding to what she calls Verbal Attack Patterns (VATs).

The most powerful chapter in the book is titled “Malpractice of the Mouth.” In this chapter, we are introduced to the importance of recognizing “verbal violence” and the responsibility we have to recognize and neutralize verbal violence whenever it surfaces in the workplace, especially if we find ourselves the target. The overarching goal in verbal self defense is to navigate the hostile mode of workplace aggressors towards the mode of “Leveling”. In Elgin’s description, Levelers are people who are straightforward and sincere, even if this sometimes involves a critique of the performance or views of a colleague.

The mode of Leveling does not involve aggression -especially covert aggression- and is the preferred communication mode for those who wish to make the workplace more productive and harmonious. Covert aggression, on the other hand, is the preferred mode of those who wish to “get under the skin” and undermine the confidence of their colleagues. In situations involving covertly aggressive verbal attacks, Elgin offers a way out. First, she instructs the reader in how to recognize the tactic of hiding “buried presuppositions” in verbal attacks. A crass example of this can be seen in the following sentence:

“When did you stop starving your parakeets?”

Three “facts” are presupposed in the previous sentence. 1. You have parakeets. 2. You began starving those parakeets at one point in time; 3. You ended the practice of starving the parakeets at another point in time.

If in fact you own parakeets (but have never starved them in the first place), according to Elgin’s strategies for verbal self defense, you will need to respond to the most important presupposition (that you began starving your parakeets) in order to neutralize the attack. She offers several strategies for accomplishing this task in ways that preserve the dignity of both the “verbal attacker” and the target.

I will be presenting hypothetical scenarios in future posts, in which I will explore the various strategies for handling covert aggression in workplaces, social communities, and group projects.

I want to end the post with a final thought.

It only takes a one or two individuals to compromise the mission of an entire organization, and this compromise is almost always built upon the consistent use of covertly aggressive tactics. Most of us care about the work we do, and it would be wise for us to hold these individuals in check. Whether we name the tactics workplace bullying, covert aggression, manipulation, or verbal violence, we need to learn to recognize them and de-fang them if we hope to do great work in a mission-driven atmosphere.

This excellent book will go a long way in that endeavor.

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The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work

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