By Steve Davidson


The Montréal Review, January 2024


A second century BC marble sculpture of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. Displayed at the top of a staircase in the Louvre museum in Paris.


No one would ever write in a clinical chart note, “This patient is losing their mind”.  However, soundness of mind is a fundamental clinical, as well as a legal and financial, and perhaps cultural and social, issue.  Why? 

Because . . . the life is guided by the mind.  Therefore, individual and group survival depends on having a sound mind

A sound mind could be defined as a system of personal governance which results in people reliably meeting their needs.  This is sometimes characterized as being functional—thinking, reacting, and behaving in such a way as to attain a reasonably healthy lifestyle.  This is also sometimes termed a well-ordered mind.  Many, many accomplishments in life, such as starting a car, or making a dinner, are achieved by following a designated sequence of activities—carrying out behaviors in a specific order, according to an orderly arrangement of knowledge. Someone whose thinking is disordered, such as by addictions, or delusions, has trouble accomplishing necessary tasks. 

This is the issue which arises in courtroom competency hearings— “Is this person taking care of themselves adequately?”  That answer is informed by observation, and is, to a degree, a matter of common sense, that is, society’s common experience.  If people habitually are not taking care of themselves, to the point of danger, an inference can be drawn, such as by a court, that those people’s minds are disordered.  That mental disorder then appears to be resulting in serious problems in living, in signs and symptoms of dysfunction.

Signs and Symptoms of Individual Disorder

Unfortunately, most everyone is too familiar with the modal picture of the moderately disordered individual.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Dicey emotional regulation.  Interpersonal conflicts.  Problems with authority.  Dropping out of school.  Marginal cognitive skills.  Low self-esteem.  Drugs and alcohol.  Insufficient work skills.  Transient residences and employment.  Spoiled resume.  Money problems.  Marital and parenting failures.  A painful, chronically crisis-ridden lifestyle.  A pervasive sense of hopelessness and ennui.  And, all too often, an early death. 

Sources of Individual Disorder

People sometimes wonder, when faced with a sad picture such as the above—what was the source of all that misery?  There may be two main sources. 

The first source is probably parenting.  The psychiatrist Robert Beavers once studied unhappy families, characterized by numerous problems, and happy families, characterized by few problems.

He found that the parents in unhappy families created a sort of family culture of misery, a belief system of self-defeat.  Self-absorption.  Sadness.  Insufficient parental responsibility.  Excessive parental authority.  An atmosphere of neglect and abuse.  Indecisiveness.  Lack of direction. 

Hopelessness.  Minimal ambition, and minimal effort.  Consequent chronic money problems and, really, survival problems.  And pervasive indifference to children’s moods, interests, opinions, and progress in life.  The children were left to unhappily . . . drift

The parents in happy families were the reverse.  They created a family culture of energetic, cooperative, cheerful optimism.  The parents themselves were confident, well-organized, and responsible.  They attended closely to their children’s welfare and progress through life.  They cared deeply about their children’s opinions, and solicited them consistently, though the parents—critically—reserved the right to make final decisions.  Meanwhile, the parents conscientiously developed their children’s characters, ensuring that their children were honest, responsible, thoughtful, knowledgeable, active, competent, successful, and, consequently . . . happy.

The second source of individual misery may be, ironically, an element of culture—quasi-pathological entertainment media.  Here’s an analogy: if children are given the choice of a sugary treat, or a piece of fresh fruit, they typically will choose a sugary treat.  That input will please their palates, but, in excess, will eventually destroy their teeth, their bodies, and their lives.

Similarly, entertainment aimed at the YA crowd (about twelve to eighteen years of age) is shrewdly crafted to captivate the adolescent psyche.  Sex.  Guns.  Money.  Drugs.  Fast cars.  Beautiful homes.  Cool sunglasses.  Fashionable outfits.  Antisocial attitudes.  Assaults.  Explosions.  And an electrifying aura of successful criminality, if not outright, transporting madness.

No Aristotle.  No Shakespeare.  No Tolstoy.  No Dickens.  No fresh fruit.  No, no; too boooorrrriinngg.

Now, as much fun as this YA sugared arsenic is, the problem is that unhappy, drifting children find this sort of entertainment hypnotically, addictively appealing.  And, because they are often essentially immersed in this sort of media, and have no healthy parental culture to competently direct them, they often end up imitating what amount to toxic role models.  Shockingly, most criminals are not those whiskey-drinking, wise-cracking, middle-aged guys in gray suits driving dumpy old cars in noir movies.  They’re kids.  Our kids. 

The saddest thing about all this is that spectacular, infectious media create in the minds of young people the illusion that self-destructive impulsiveness, and unrepentant aggression, will somehow lead to superhero powers and dream-like payoffs.  That’s what happens in the stories!  Why wouldn’t it happen in real life?  Journalists themselves—bless their hearts—often contribute to the illusion by treating anti-social, drug-fueled, fantastical movies, novels, songs, and comic books as if they were canon certified by The Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge, rather than as market-targeted fiction.  Which is a little confusing.  More than a few young people, aficionados of electrifying YA media, have been surprised to find themselves, at eighteen or twenty, not in a swimming pool behind a large house in Beverly Hills, but in a jail.

Culture as Mind

Culture can be seen as that pattern of qualities, processes, and goals which, foremost, provides a unified identity to an individual or society; but which, more fundamentally, initiates and guides the pragmatic success of the whole.  In other words, culture functions as a kind of mind for the public, a support system, a philosophical frame of reference, which provides principles for living, standards for decision-making, and probable best means for reaching desirable community ends. 

Parents create a culture for their families, for good or ill, and the children carry that culture with them into the larger world, reproducing it to guide future generations, poorly or well.  In similar fashion, societies forge, by trial and error, a culture which gives them a sense of identity, a set of ideals and values, preferred social goals, and a preferred style of achieving those goals.  When they work, positive cultures provide citizens with energy and focus, and a sense of unity and pride—a means to succeed, together.

Just as an individual mind which is doing a good job of providing for individual needs and keeping energy up is called a sound mind, a culture which is doing a good job of honoring, providing for, and protecting its citizens is called healthy, or thriving, or viable.  A culture which is not doing a good job of honoring, providing for, and protecting, its citizens might be called degenerate (not generating health), and eventually, potentially, arriving at that disastrous category dreaded by all politicians . . . a failed state.  (England, at the moment, appears to be shadow boxing with this cultural identity.  Where now is their Churchill?  Where now is the captain of their souls?)

Western Culture: Know Thyself

The fondest identity of “Western Culture” probably lies in ancient Athens, and radiates from its patron saint, Athena.  Helen of Troy, Odysseus, Thales, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Solon, Pericles, the Parthenon, the Olympics . . . the roll call of great Greek names is splendid and inspiring, echoing down the golden corridors of history.  Nonetheless, exactly what “Western” refers to is a little vague.  Perhaps a few (possibly daring) indices of “Western culture” are in order:

  1. Democracy.  No one knows precisely when and how “democracy” started . . . but it’s tempting to think that it began with the Minoans (those mysterious, marvelous Anatolian forerunners of the classical Greeks), when they stepped off their boats onto the Greek islands for the first time, looked around, saw no one else, and said to each other, “Okay, people, what shall we do?”  Everybody shared their opinions, and talked it over, then the chosen leaders made their decisions, and everyone went along with the collective wisdom.  Thereby, they built a cooperative community, a kind of happy family . . . which lasted thousands of years . . . in prosperity . . . and in peace.   
  2. Leadership.  The archetypal leader of the Greeks (and probably of the Minoans), was an intelligent, successful individual who, at a certain mature point in life, became dedicated to the welfare of the polis, the community.  Endorsed by the public, these were public-spirited visionaries who had a good sense of how to accomplish things (operational savvy), as well as of how to manage those persnickety, self-interested sophists, hysterics, and mad gamblers maneuvering in the shadows of society (political savvy). 
  3. Rationality.  The western shore of Anatolia, home of noble Troy, and majestic Miletus, is a sunny oasis of water, woods, and fields, partially shielded from the rest of the Middle East by mountains on one side, and turquoise seas on the other.  It was here that rationality per se was born—that brave and bold turn of mind which set aside myths to concentrate on tangible evidence and plausible causality.  
  4. Mathematics.  It’s a commonplace now, but at one time the idea that reality could be described with numbers was revolutionary.  Geometry (as that of Pythagoras and Euclid) is the archetypal quantification of forms.  The technical and artistic progress the Greeks made once they started systematically applying logic and mathematics to their world was utterly phenomenal.  Unmatched.  (As Nia Vardalos’s father repeatedly pointed out in My Big Fat Greek Wedding—whatever it is, the Greeks did it first, and better!)
  5. Discussion.  Young friends sitting around in a pub on the Strand, a bistro on the Left Bank, a trattoria by the Spanish Steps, a café on Las Ramblas, or a taverna by the Acropolis, talking about the best way to get rich, is a discussion.   No one has a dog in the fight.  And no specter of dogma distorts the reasoning.   This unbiased verbal search for truth is an ideal, of course.  But probably a useful one, as well as a pillar of democracy.  (The fearsomely intelligent RAND Corporation calls this the Delphi Method.)
  6. Knowledge.  Ephesus, in Anatolia, and Alexandria, in Egypt, amongst others, are famous for their libraries.  As The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Psychology mentions, conceptualization starts with memory.  That is, thinking is grounded on information. No information, no thoughts.  Not useful ones, anyway.  The West has always placed a high premium on collecting, and organizing, top-quality knowledge.  Wisdom as cultural keystone.
  7. Lifestyle.  Fountains and flowers.  Reflecting pools and trees.  Sculptures and beautiful buildings.  Candles and lamps flickering in the twilight, under an incandescent Milky Way, as the sea slowly shades from turquoise to indigo.  Wine, bread, and fresh fish grilled with olive oil and herbs.  Stone walkways along which to stroll, to see and be seen, on the ritual passeggiata.  Love, and music, in the air.  As the Iliad remarks (with Helen the preeminent representative), perhaps the greatest discovery of the West is . . . the beauty of life

Life as a Garden

Here’s an intriguing thought: the Garden of Eden was the world’s Mother Culture!  Maybe.  Maybe not.  (See McGregor’s Back to the Garden, and Epicurus’s The Art of Happiness to review the garden as philosophical archetype.)

But this is the irony: legend has it that in the Garden of Eden all were happy, got along, had plenty to eat, and life was good.  No one knows exactly where the Garden of Eden might have been, but the general agreement seems to be that it likely was in southeast Anatolia.  Well, by coincidence (or more than that), the world’s first substantial town, a proto-city, now called Çatalhöyük, is in southeast Anatolia. 

Çatalhöyük, in its prime, about 10,000 years ago, was located on a hill, by a river and wetlands, near fields and forests.  An ideal location, nicely positioned on trade routes.  Water, birds, animals, and fish, clay for bricks, wood for cooking, reasonable climate—everything needed to survive and thrive.

The residents (about 5,000) lived in what amounts to a giant condominium, where all the homes were contiguous.  Archaeological research (e.g., Professor Ian Hodder, The Leopard’s Tale) says that the homes were beautifully designed, though primitive, scrupulously neat and clean, and decorated with art.  The entry to each home was through the roof.  That means that the town had a huge, long, communal roof, something like the plazas so common in European towns and cities.  At night the town’s citizens, likely, would have been cooking, eating and drinking, then walking about their large roof, and socializing, much as people do today in public areas of Bodrum, Santorini, Amalfi, Capri, Barcelona, and Paris.

There seems to have been no war or civil unrest in Çatalhöyük—for thousands of years!  Everyone, it seems, was relatively healthy, and all appeared equally well-fed.  There is no evidence of a totalitarian government, or violent exploitation.  Extensive trade networks ran west to the Danube, south to the Red Sea, probably east to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and, conceivably, north to the Russian steppes, just on the other side of the Black Sea.  A thriving, peaceful garden, as it were.

A Meta-Culture

Now, here’s what’s really curious about all this.  The climate and geography may have changed for the worse, or environmental degradation could have occurred, but in any event, in approximately 5,000 BCE, the residents of the heretofore bucolic riverine wetlands of southeastern Anatolia dispersed; in effect, got evicted.  Where did they go? 

Shortly thereafter (depending on how epochal time is calculated), civilizations sprang up on wetlands to the southwest (Cyprus, then Santorini and Crete), to the south (the Nile), to the southeast (the Tigris and Euphrates, at the head of the Persian Gulf), and further southeast (the Indus, at the foot of the Persian Gulf).  The origin of these high points of human history remains a bit mysterious.  Were the great civilizations of the ancient Western world all children of Çatalhöyük, all fruit of a primeval garden?

(Another mystery, for those of an Agatha Christie bent, is why languages from Iceland to India are so similar.  But if the origin of Indo-European languages was a single, central, heavily-populated, prototype of outstanding civic brilliance—Çatalhöyük, strangely abandoned long ago—that might help explain the mystery.)

These civilizations—the Minoans of the Mediterranean, the Egyptians of the Nile, the Sumerians of the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Harappans of the Indus (and possibly the Old Europeans of the Danube)—are all remarkably similar, each to each, as well as to Çatalhöyük.  They were sited, at least initially, on riverine wetlands, were physically large, architecturally advanced, intelligently organized, hydraulically sophisticated, agriculturally and technologically productive, extensively involved in trade, artistic, hygienic, prosperous and thriving, and largely peaceful unless attacked from the outside.  (The Minoans, for example, had the world’s first navy, to patrol the Mediterranean and protect against pirates.)  In addition, these cultures showed relatively flat hierarchical organization (equality), pervasive and competent attention to the wellbeing (food, shelter, and safety) of the citizenry, and respect for the perennial survival issue of blooming fertility (e.g., see Adams’s Cultural Identity in Minoan Crete, Grimal’s A History of Ancient Egypt, and Lahiri’s Finding Forgotten Cities).

In sum, they appear to have been cheerful, splendid, well-run communities.  These pleasant, prosperous, well-organized societies appear to be a manifestation of a healthy cultural template.  And that cultural template perhaps can be characterized as not so much a specifically Western culture, as much as an admirable universal meta-culture, or, perhaps, a eu-culture.

Oceania Eu-Culture

Polynesians, islanders like the Minoans and Greeks, are probably contenders for the honor of consciously recognizing, and celebrating, the glory of love and beauty, of life itself.  (An insight sharpened by frequently sailing away from home, then sailing back again?)  European explorers of the Enlightenment who landed in Tahiti thought they had stumbled on the legendary, dream-like island of Cythera (e.g., see Salmond’s Aphrodite’s Island).  The Oceania culture is famed, and admired, the world over—for its palm trees, bougainvilleas, Tahitian gardenias, music, sensuous dancing, fresh fish, fresh fruit, and lūʻaus by the sea under torchlight, all suffused with the inclusive family tradition of ohana, and the welcoming spirit of aloha.  Good people, living a good life, based on a culture created in paradise (e.g., see also Say’s Managing with Aloha).

Asian Eu-Culture

Consider, as another eu-culture candidate from outside the Western canon, Japan.  Tokyo is neat, clean, attractive, well-run, and safe.  To boot, the people are well-mannered, well-dressed, and friendly.  The Japanese are studious students, meticulous technicians, dedicated workers, and honest brokers of commercial quality; consequently, these emerald islands off the east coast of Asia are immensely prosperous (e.g., see Ouchi’s Theory Z for a discussion of what amounts to an economically viable eu-culture). 

Japanese society clearly bears the stamp of Japanese culture—intelligent, calm, cooperative, literate, pervasively aware of the value of order, technologically sophisticated while deeply respectful of nature, hygienic, and aesthetically refined to the nth degree.  Who else in the world would bus thousands of people every year to view pink and white cherry blossoms in the spring, and scarlet and gold maple leaves in the fall? 

(For those of you who despair over the chaotic, vitriolic, combative, tabloid flavor of disorienting Western media, read the measured rationality of Japanese media.  And weep.)

The Japanese are not only quite aware that they have a well-articulated culture which harmoniously shapes their society (minds their store, so to speak), but they are careful to preserve their sociocultural ideals.  Their culture, and its traditions, provide them with a social unity and identity of which they can be proud, and energize them, and organize them, generation after generation.  They are scrupulous in passing on their prized principles of living, their cultural protocol, to their children.

Would that the same could be said of the West.

Signs and Symptoms of Sociocultural Disorder

Bullying.  School dropouts.  Obsession with distracting trivia.  Decreasing financial support for education.  Sinking academic performance on world-wide tests.  Drug addiction. Homelessness.  Suicide.  Casual death threats.  Wonton homicides—really, cold-blooded murder, ideology aside, in schools, churches, temples, synagogues, stores, theaters, on the streets, and in homes.  Self-serving and socially destructive leaders sliding into positions of power.  Ineffectual governments.  Corrupt professionals and scholars.  Disorganized, dispirited communities.

The signs and symptoms of social abuse surround us. 

Sources of Social Disorder

As everyone knows, abuse is destructive.  When coming from parents to children it can result in children who are tense, touchy, dispirited, underachieving, and carry with them, wherever they go, a painful sense of spoiled identity. 

Is that happening to Western societies?

There’s a spooky old movie about a teenage baby-sitter who starts getting threatening phone calls from someone who seems to know too much about her.  She calls the police.  After a suitable period of mounting tension, the authorities let her know that they finally have traced the calls . . . and the calls are coming from inside the house

Is that happening to Western societies?

Now, why might a society attack its own culture?  Why would people abuse the image in their mirror? 

Well, it’s complicated.

Media.   What the media could do is endorse a generally accepted, healthy cultural standard, and then interpret events and personnel in relation to the standard.  That way, news reports, magazine articles, novels, comic books, songs, and movies would direct audiences’ attention to problems constructively: (1) here’s what is going on; (2) here’s what should be going on; and (3) here's what could be done to close the gap, to solve the problem. 

Consider, for example, the charming song titled “I Hope You Dance”, which was performed at a Nobel Prize ceremony, and which carries a constructive message.  It says: (1) life is like a dance; (2) everyone has the option of either hanging back, or participating; (3) participating is likely the better choice, isn’t it? 

(For those of you who were just checking the Financial Times—that compassionate, optimistic “Dance” song made a ton of money.  Therefore, the sociocultural situation is not really a forced choice of either doing the right thing or turning a profit.  So, there’s hope for all of us—to prosper, as well as to cooperate.) 

As another example (of lucrative, but decent, media), the character Wonder Woman was created by a psychologist to boost females’ self-image, self-confidence, and sense of possibility.  Wonder Woman then appeared on the cover of the first edition of Ms. Magazine, and, of course, has been in numerous comic books, on television, and in movies.  The lives of many girls and women have been enhanced by the stories of this courageous and gracious, idealistic and generous role model hailing from the Black Sea.

Unfortunately, however . . . many people love scandal and catastrophe, and it’s convenient, and profitable, for the media to pass on a cavalcade of stories, true or otherwise, relevant or not, of misery and disaster, of terror and conflict.  But there is a serious downside to such “entertainment”.

First, as indicated previously, unbalanced members of the audience are prone to imitating toxic role models.  That adds fuel to the social fire.

Second, a parade of bad examples and intractable catastrophes creates the impression that something has gone radically wrong with society and its guiding culture.  That’s destructive to everyone’s self-image, self-confidence, energy level, and mood.  A barrage of negativity, with no indication of how to correct problems, is irritating.  And depressing.  And scary.  Not healthy.

Dialectical Thinking.  Not too many folks, likely, would blame the opaque philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel for current social chaos, for our vaguely Weimar-Republic/pre-Nazi version of civic disorder—aggressively fragmenting culture and society, alarming noir entertainment, fashionable anarchy, compensatory fascism, incendiary street fighting between true-believing factions, unrepentant kidnappings and assassinations, blithely violating public and private boundaries, and collapsing government.  But maybe they should.  

It was Hegel (e.g., in his Logic, of 1817) who powerfully articulated the dialectical idea of destroying whatever society was in place, called antithesis, in hopes of replacing it, someday, with something better, called synthesis.  Merely an academic issue, to chew on over lunch in the faculty lounge?  More than that.  Much more.

An enthusiastic student of Hegel was a bright young lad named . . . Karl Marx.  It was Marx who had the happy notion of mobilizing the dialectic so that it would steamroll over any contrary views (e.g., see Ollman’s Dialectical Investigations, and Sperber’s Karl Marx).  The dialectic provided the conceptual justification for a violent, angry, scorched-earth, us-against-them, black-and-white, all-or-nothing political ideology, all too popular today, with that galvanizing, take-no-prisoners drama.  A crucible of anarchy, and its shadow, totalitarianism.  (That dialectical, extremist pendulum swing is echoed in the psychoanalytic conflict between Id and Superego.) 

Psychoanalysis.   One wishes to believe that Sigmund Freud was sincerely trying to help people straighten out their lives.  However, his methodology so flew in the face of active Western reasoning, science, and even of common sense, as to be a little disquieting (e.g., Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria; Fromm-Reichmann’s Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy; Greenson’s The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis). 

From the perspective of the patient: (1) lie down; (2) don’t try to think; (3) just say whatever comes to mind, however bizarre; (4) don’t try to consciously fix your life, just experience it; (5) wait for the analyst to correct your problems; (6) don’t expect any major improvement for years, if ever.

From the perspective of the analyst: (1) realize that nothing is as it seems, often is the reverse; (2) largely ignore the evident reality; interpret symbolically; (3) attend to tiny, obscure facts, then generalize from those to the patient’s entire life; (4) assume the worst about the patient (the vile Id is primary); (5) search, past the slippery defenses, for the secret emotions, the hidden scandal that drives the problems in living; (6) assume the patient is essentially doomed—there’s a good chance that whatever went wrong with the mother in childhood may go on forever. 

Well, what can one say about all that?  A little passive-dependent.  A little hopeless.  A lot irrational.  And quite obscure.  Mystical, even.  And profoundly negative.

Perhaps, as Gertrude Stein said about her distant hometown, “There’s no there there”.  Yet, a pervasive leitmotif of social science, journalism, literature, entertainment.

Deconstruction.  Paris has been the cradle of numerous interesting ideas.  One of them was New Wave film, and one of the most creative of the New Wave directors was Jean-Luc Godard.  Perhaps Godard’s most evocative film was Breathless, a rambling, visually bewitching chronicle of a small-time crook who ended up dead . . . breathless. 

Jacques Derrida was a Sorbonne philosophy professor who, from one perspective, in a strange parallel to Godard, was interested in killing, so to speak, not quite criminals, but cultures (e.g., explore, should you feel yourself to be of sufficiently sound mind and body, Of Grammatology, Derrida’s signature work of notoriously fiendish obscurity).  Derrida didn’t want to construct healthy cultures, he wanted to deconstruct—tear down—cultures which he viewed with disdain and alarm.  Not too far from the dialectical concept of antithesis.  Deconstruction of Western culture in various media, with hardly a passing glance as to actual utility, seems to have become something of a cottage industry.

Viennese Economics.  Who doesn’t like Vienna?  Their pastries are to die for.  And Vienna routinely shows up at the top of those lists that tell you where to live, if you had enough sense and money.  Sane people waltzing through life, are the Viennese.   

However, Vienna, seemingly against all odds (unless it goes back to those heady days of the Habsburg Monarchy), is the origin of perhaps the most pernicious principle in all of economics:


Amazing.  This principle justifies anything—cocaine, gasoline, coal, plastic, guns, warfare, and snake oil, for a start.  To be fair, the Vienna/Chicago school of economics takes the position that a thriving economy, driven by sales, benefits everyone which, naturally, is partly true (though it doesn’t necessarily benefit everyone equally).  The pernicious fallacy is that salability is only one criterion by which to evaluate a product or service.  For example, something could be selling well, but be uselessly draining people’s budgets, leaving them financially adrift.  Or, something could be selling well, but be poisoning drinking water, or the oceans themselves.  

As the distinguished legal scholar Cass Sunstein indicated (Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict), reasoning based on a single principle is poor reasoning.  Dangerous.

Emotional Exploitation.  Make yourself a glass of Irish coffee, grab a plate of Godiva chocolates, and dig into a contemporary review of marketing, public relations, political action, trial techniques, journalism, novels, screenplays, acting, or public speaking, and you will find this truism trumpeted: 


Now, on the face of it, this doesn’t seem too unreasonable.  No alarm bells go off.  But maybe they should. 

Because what they are talking about is communication which does an end run around rationality, and tries to make a direct connection with the Id, as Freud put it—primitive fears and desires which, if sufficiently pumped up, could generate some sort of immediate “decision”, political or financial, if that is even the right word for impulsive, unreflective choices.  That puts audiences, whether they are aware of it or not, in the position, not of independent thinkers, but of puppets. 

The underlying problem, again perhaps outside general awareness, is the pervasive contemporary cultural myth that rationality—fact-based reasoning—is old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy, and boooorrrriinngg . . . nowhere near the glamourous pizazz of triggered emotion!  Of course.  The people promoting that myth are the very people trying to manipulate the public for their own benefit. 


An Unholy Formulation

There we have it—six streams of internal destruction of Western culture (threatening calls coming from inside the house).  The media shower the public with dystopian stories that imply Western culture is bankrupt, and its society is evil.  Psychoanalysis knocks the pillars out from under optimistic, common-sense cognition.  Dialectical thinking and deconstruction justify a wholesale jettisoning of time-tested principles of living, substituting some kind of anarchic wonderland.  Sales-obsessed economics canonizes the exploitation, and weakening, of the public, and emotion-focused communication gives them a means to do so.

So, what to do?

A Healthy Sociocultural Protocol

McKinsey is the world’s leading organizational consulting firm.  The McKinsey Mind (by Rasiel and Friga) asserts that the firm itself is powerful for two primary reasons.  First, it embraces a “Corporate culture based on shared values”.  Second, it takes all members of the organization “Through the same rigorous training programs”.   Thereby, McKinsey’s culture, McKinsey’s mind, promotes social strength in itself, and in its clients.

Here, then, in the spirit of McKinsey, is a ten-point protocol for a strong culture and society—a sound mind and a functional life—emphasizing shared values and excellent training.  It employs sociocultural insights drawn from Western traditions, as well as from a more universal eu-culture: 

1. Leadership!  If there’s one thing that determines the success of a culture and its society, it’s excellent leadership.  (Check out John Hale’s Lords of the Sea to experience the serial heartbreaks of classical Greece at those dark, homicidal/suicidal moments when it suffered from poor leadership and disunity, dissolving in conquest by Rome.) 

And, apropos to Item #2 below, don’t just complain about bad captaincy, and don’t keep waiting for Godot.  After all, it’s the citizens who support the schools, the governments, and the businesses.  Citizens are completely justified in demanding that schools, governments, and businesses manifestly and reliably generate excellent leaders—intelligent, educated, energetic, and courageous men and women whose obvious first priority is the social good.  (“Social good” meaning something other than “good for one side”.) 

The Chinese say that an excellent leader carries a Mandate of Heaven.  But if a leader becomes obviously corrupt, or incompetent, that leader appears to have lost the Mandate of Heaven . . . so the citizens depose the bad leader. Should the citizens of democracies be less alert and responsible?

2. Shared Responsibility and Rational Discussion.  Embrace the principle of shared responsibility for constructing and maintaining a healthy culture and society.  The whole point of democracy, going all the way back to splendid classical Athens and, before that, likely, peaceful Knossos, is that the people have a right, and an obligation, to ensure that leaders are committed to public wellbeing

As that street-smart philosopher Lily Tomlin pointed out, “Somebody should do something about that”.  Then she realized—she was one of those “somebodies”.

Hey, if there’s a problem, talk it over.  Do a little research.  Kick around some ideas.  Work out a solution.  Choose a sensible leader.  Then set up a budget and a schedule.  Make it happen.

3. Practical Tradeoffs.  Accept that there are always tradeoffs in culture construction—no society is perfect; some goals will always be partially achieved while others are more fully achieved; some desirable goals will be achieved at the expense of others.  Failure by a society to achieve one or more admirable goals is not a warrant for tearing down that society.

4. Emphasize the Pragmatic and the Good.  Focus on the best of the culture, and on the best of society’s goals, not the worst.  Okay, this calls for a little discipline.  Why?  Because we are all geared to attend to danger.  Something bad grabs our attention right now!  Murder, kidnappings, fires, floods, things like that.  So, we all have to make a conscious effort to disengage from our colorful, entertaining paranoia, and focus on what works.

5. Showcase Winners.  Identify the heroes and the successes.  The most powerful means of behavior management is reinforcement, that is, rewards for jobs well-done.  Citizens, ultimately, hold the aces in the political poker game.  The average person can see which “influencers” are influencing culture and society in a healthy direction, and which ones are influencing culture and society in a toxic direction.  The public then can reward—payoff—accordingly.  (While being careful not to reward those marginal, seductive poisoners.)

6. Bandits and Marshals.  Recognize that there are always small groups which wish to twist the culture, and take control of the society to their benefit and society’s detriment.  Those small, bandit groups have to be identified and corralled, as by the marshal in an old-time television show: “I hate to bother you boys in your drinkin’, an’ shootin’, but I’ve reserved a special paid-up room that I want to show you, uh, gentlemen.”

7. Reliable Production vs. Nothing.  Realize that some kind of functional society is necessary for the day-to-day sustenance of all.  Despite what all those glamorous, snake-oil-selling, easy-solution anarchists, and dialecticians, and deconstructionists might say . . . a flawed social system that reliably delivers food, medicine, and fuel is much, much more useful than a social system that doesn’t exist.

8. Responsible Media.  Demand, and support, media which habitually address healthy social goals and the means to achieve them, and which address substantial problems and realistic means to correct them (not just dramatic trivia and frustrating conundra).  Assert the principle that media’s primary goals should be valid, relevant information, inspiration, and healthy guidance and teaching.  Rational discussion!  Insist that sheer attraction and entertainment, however riveting, are secondary media objectives—not necessarily useful or healthy.  (No great civilization has yet attributed its brilliance to a tabloid.)

9. Top-Quality Education.  Demand, and support, first-class, rigorous public education emphasizing economics, logic, mathematics, and scientific thinking.  Every year, social reality becomes more and more technological (can you spell AI?), and if citizens are going to be the masters of these technical systems, rather than the pawns, a sound intellectual foundation is a necessity.  Creativity is fine, but how many jobs call for creativity?  

(If you’re in the mood for a panic attack, just take a look at where the West stands on those pesky world-wide PESI ratings of fifteen-year-olds in math, science, and language.) 

10. Sterling Character.  Expect, from yourself and others, from families and schools, from businesses, governments, and media, high character—honesty, hard work, willingness to adjust to difficult circumstances (“Keep Calm, and Carry On”), cheerful optimism, friendliness and genuine interest in others, peacefulness, respect for legitimate authority and for task competence, and financial prudence as well as generosity. 

Firey conflict may be exciting in drama, but not that good of an idea in a family or neighborhood.  Cutting corners and cool-handed exploitation may seem like a shrewd maneuver on an individual basis, but too much clever corner-cutting by too many shrewd folks (as the Harvard psychologist Kohlberg pointed out) . . . and pretty soon there’s nothing left for anyone. 

The Disney Touch

Walt Disney, with his Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty Castle, is a world-wide icon of cheerful energy, affection, and happiness.  What is less obvious is that Disney was a cultural visionary, and a brilliant organizational designer (e.g., see Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney).

Disney very consciously wanted to create, in his studio, and in the larger world, a culture, and society, of happy people working hard, cooperatively, to realize dreams of beauty and joy, of prosperity, and of gentle wisdom.  He forged a culture which shaped a society characterized by productive harmony.  (Not too far, really, from Buddha or Confucius.)

Disney selected highly talented people, inspired them with visions of a better world, trained them rigorously, and paid them well, with frequent bonuses for great achievements.  He built beautiful offices for his staff to work in, within a park-like setting.  He talked to his loyal and enthusiastic staff in a firm, but motivating way, in an atmosphere of friendliness and honesty.  He played ping-pong and baseball with them, joked and laughed with them, and hosted their lunches and dinners.  A large, happy, organizational family. 

Disney became synonymous with wholesome values, splendid standards, immense effort, huge achievements, elegance, wealth, inspiring stories, and justifiably high self-esteem.  Once, Walt, flying across South America, chanced to stop and refuel at a small, jungle town in Brazil. To everyone’s amazement, “Hundreds and hundreds of school children” turned out to greet him—this magical messiah of love and joy.

Do all people not carry, deep within them, the Disney Touch?

At Last . . .

Perhaps, it’s just as we’ve been told all along about intelligence, cooperation, and strength:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”.


Dr. Steve Davidson is a clinical psychologist in Laguna Beach, California, with many years of experience. He has developed a new theory of personality and psychotherapy called human operations. It conceives of people as goal-oriented systems aimed at surviving and thriving, as described in his book An Introduction to Human Operations Psychotherapy.



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