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Does the Goldwater Rule Apply to Governments?

Perhaps you heard of the Goldwater Rule, which the American Psychiatric Association promulgated in 1973. It prohibits members (I am not one, though I am a psychiatrist) from diagnosing public figures whom they have not examined. However, it does not prohibit shrinks from diagnosing the psychopathology of governments, which I do below.

But first a related anecdote. During the initial months of my psychiatric residency, I attempted to treat one of the most frightening patients I have encountered. When police apprehended him, they discovered that this obviously disturbed man with a past history of violent crime was driving about the city with a huge arsenal of loaded firearms. He smiled as he confided to me in the hospital that he wanted to kill people and saw nothing wrong with that. He appeared neither angry nor agitated, and conversed with me as agreeably as if we were long-time members of the same bowling team sharing a beer. However, he revealed paranoid delusions about feds bugging him and poisoning his water—revealed, that is, when his sentences sufficiently followed one another so that I could discern their meaning. The antipsychotic drugs that I prescribed changed his thinking to the degree that an ant changes the path of a speeding Lamborghini.

Baffled about how to treat this man, I consulted a supervisor, a world-renowned specialist in the psychotherapy of people so severely ill that no one else would dream of offering them talk therapy. I expected brilliant counsel about psychotherapeutic tactics. Instead what he recommended was, “Lock him up and throw away the key.”

Why did he conclude that? Because this patient expressed a particularly explosive mixture of psychotic paranoia and violent psychopathy. If you are paranoid, you fear harm from others. Many paranoids do not act upon those fears in an aggressive manner because they appreciate the consequences of their actions. That is, they could harm others and/or be hospitalized, jailed, or physically harmed themselves. However, if they are also psychopathic, they don’t care about the consequences; they lack the capacity for empathy and view others as mere instruments for gratifying their own needs. So if a paranoid psychopath fears harm from others, s/he is more likely to harm them proactively, no problem.

That brings us to the United States government in 2017. (I will refer to it as the USG to distinguish it from the general U.S. citizenry.) In my psychiatric practice, I minimize drugs in favor of talk therapy and other natural treatments for mental health problems (www.greenpsychiatrist.com). I believe that people are most likely to get well when treatment is collaborative and when it emphasizes the strengthening of their inner self-healing resources. However, if the USG were my patient, I would immediately hospitalize it on a locked unit, isolate it in a padded seclusion room, and order shock treatment. I would do this for the same reasons that my supervisor voiced his recommendation.

As one of many examples, the USG continues to demonize, threaten, and sanction Russia for its supposed meddling in our 2016 election. This despite the lack of any evidence available to the public to support these claims. True, some intelligence officials have alleged such Russian misconduct, but if you are gullible enough to trust these professional liars without supportive evidence, you may want to visit Bernie Madoff in prison to ask him to recommend investments.

But suppose Russians did try to influence our elections? The nerve of them. Who do they think they are, Israel? Besides, election-meddling is the least of their sins. Twenty-eight pages of a congressional report implicate Russia in the 911 attacks. Oh, sorry, that was Saudi Arabia, whereas Russia offered to help us. Thank God we can tell our friends from our enemies. Anyway, it’s not only in our elections that Russia interfered. In recent decades, Russia has tried to influence every national election on earth, haven’t they. And what about all the governments they overthrew or tried to overthrow in their quest for world domination: the Phillipines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Chile, Haiti, Indonesia, Honduras, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Syria, to name just a few … What? That wasn’t Russia? Never mind. In fact, wasn’t it the USG that actively intervened in Russian elections in 1996 to ensure the Presidency of Boris Yeltsin? But that’s all right because the U.S. is the exceptional country and can do what it wants.

You see where I am going with this. The USG is deranged. It justifies its aggressions by claiming an exceptional status and by citing external threats, most of which it invents, provokes, or aggravates. Then it attacks what it has created in others. This circular process resembles the psychological projection that paranoid individuals favor (i.e. I am good and you are bad because you represent those bad attributes that I cannot acknowledge in myself). Homophobia and racism are other examples of projection.

The projections of paranoid people can intensify when stressors overwhelm them and threaten mental breakdown. We find such breakdown in the U.S. in the inability of its government to solve any of the problems—financial, medical, environmental, educational, racial, etc.—that bedevil 99 percent of its populace. Because of its abdication of responsibility toward Americans, the USG senses the growing threat to it from within. How long before citizen armies storm its gates with pitchforks and AK-47s and cell phone cameras?

Accordingly, faced with this gathering internal threat that it neither cares to resolve nor knows how, the USG projects onto the external world the specter of seemingly ubiquitous existential threat with an escalating sense of urgency. Be afraid, it proclaims, of evil Iran, Satanic Russia, crazy North Korea, greedy China, Kremlin apologists lurking under every bed, and airline terrorists hiding explosives in their jock straps. In this manner the USG excuses its invasions, bombings, and plunder.

(By the way, some, possibly most of the USG’s proclaimed projections are shams. It fear-mongers its citizens not only to justify its aggressions abroad, but to expedite its unconstitutional domestic transgressions and financial rape of the common folks at home. The USG is more psychopath than true paranoid. It admonishes us to look over there at that shiny alien object, the demon Putin, and not here at our incompetent and venal government officials, our financial woes, the desecration of our environment, and the general decline in the quality of our lives. After all, fear mongering is a tactic deployed by untold aggressors throughout history. Hitler, for one, expressed alarm about non-existent threats to Germany from Poland, Russia, and others in order to justify his subsequent invasions.)

But true paranoia, though usually counterproductive, is not entirely bad. If you suddenly deprive paranoids of their crazy projections without strengthening their ability to handle reality, their minds may disintegrate further. Paranoia is both a problem and a defense against deeper problems. Accordingly, if you directly challenge a paranoid’s delusions, s/he will defend them and likely become more paranoid toward you. So I expect this post to elicit hostile and irrational responses from those who cannot acknowledge the reality of what the U.S has become.

But there is potential good news. Given all the revelations about the USG’s misdeeds, it may be a sign of mental health if Americans become more paranoid about those who claim to govern them.

Steven Goldsmith, MD is the author of The Healing Paradox and can be found at www.steven-goldsmith.com and on Facebook.

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