harmless is now meeting in parks, on the U campus, or at Westminster College. We’re too far along in the project to risk too much general public awareness or curiosity. We don’t want coffee shop – ‘regulars’ listening in. Today we’re on the U campus at one of the picnic tables outside the cafeteria.
“I’ve been thinking about the challenge ahead – the logistics,” I confided. “It would be most effective if we could treat all of our highest priority patients at once, thereby helping initiate an empathy tipping point.”
“You mean like over a very short period of time, so their individual experiences are roughly coherent?” Jay asked.
“And in a supportive, non-threatening environment – during a comfortable time,” Bill added. “We know that set and setting are critical to a good experience – to effective therapy.”
“It should be during a time of good press access,” Jay continued. “Perhaps when they’re giving speeches, being questioned, being interviewed.”
“What about college and high school graduations?” asked Bill. “They’d be accessible on campuses and in their local districts. Many would be giving graduation speeches – talking about futures, opportunities, careers – perhaps in a more open, compassionate mental state than normally.”
“It seems more doable – and less threatening – than at Congressional committee meetings in DC,” Jay said.
“And those speeches, receptions, interviews are covered by the press – especially in local papers and via social media,” I added. “That should work.”
“Do they get press!” Jay said. “Michelle Obama was blasted by the ideologue media for her Tuskegee University commencement speech, for saying to the largely black audience
… people might make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world. The racist-leaning press didn’t like that.”
“A limited notion of the world is exactly the pathology we want to treat,” I said.
“Think we could get her to be an advisor – even an active participant?” Bill asked.
“We will need ongoing action after the initial application of harmless’ therapy,” I agreed.
“And she’ll be unemployed in a less than a year,” continued Bill.
“Barack spoke at the Coast Guard Academy graduation and really focused on climate change, oceans, and coasts – and took on the deniers.” Jay said. “And while we’re on the news – why not Chelsea Clinton? She recently published her first book – for the youth market: It’s Your World – Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going!”
“Another idea for treatment venues – book signings and receptions,” Bill suggested. “We stand in line, buy the book, get it autographed, and give the ideologue, denier, author, patient our therapy gift.”
“A small box containing our special chocolate,” I said.
“Graduations and other local events mean more traveling for us, but then we’d be in groups and environments where we’d be unknown – unrecognized. I like that,” Jay added.
“We need to define our highest priorities and search our patients activities and whereabouts, especially during the May-June graduation season,” I said. “Let’s do the numbers.”
I pulled out a large pad and began: “There are six of us to be deployed over, say, two to six weeks. We should be able to perform one or two therapies per day – say roughly 25 therapies each, depending on scheduling, travel, etc. – times six harmless people gives us an upper bound of 150 individual, unique therapies. So we’ll come up with a general patient list of about 150, allocate 25 to each of us, and then prioritize each of the 25 based on their need for therapy, location, access, schedule, etc.”
Although the team generally agreed, Jay suggested: “Some of our very highest priorities are likely to be unresponsive to our therapy. Empathy enhancement seems to work best for those already somewhat open and responsive. We probably should not waste our time, or therapy, on those likely to be hopeless.”
I agreed. “We’ll define a very high priority but hopeless group to put on hold – to perhaps address later via stronger, more effective, um, therapy.”
“If we are very successful in engendering much more empathy and open mindedness among those we do treat, that may be sufficient. It doesn’t take many individual revelations to trigger a tipping point.” Bill counseled. “It’s even possible we can just ignore the hopeless.”
“I hope so,” I said. “But just in case we do need it, I’m working on an additional approach to the truly hopeless.”
“A second act?” Jay asked.
“Yes, Act II,”I said, “assuming I’m not in jail by then.”
I’ve read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape. He recently interviewed Graeme Wood, who had written a piece in the Atlantic Monthly on ISIS – and what they ‘want’. It was a fascinating interchange, and got me thinking again about John Morton and On Evil.
Rabid Islamists, like ISIS, wrap themselves in a distorted flag of Islam to help justify their egos, needs, and beliefs – and the evil they do to get attention, followers, and notoriety.
They’re not that different, philosophically, from rabid so-called ‘patriots’ who wrap themselves in the flag and the Constitution to justify their egos, their needs, and their simplistic, outdated moral certainties. Both the ISIS terrorists and the dogmatic, insecure, scared ‘patriots’ are acting for certainty, for simplicity, for personal worth and value. The evils they commit are, they believe, in the service of the greater good they desire.
ISIS’ evils are beheadings, genocide, rape, destruction, etc. The moral patriots’ evils are in repression of the disadvantaged, of women and children, of everything which doesn’t agree with their 18th century-based moral certainties. They are looking for certainty from fear and anxiety – and creating more in the process. ISIS looks 1,500 or so years back for its ‘principles’; the ‘patriots’ look back some 250 years for theirs. The world has changed for the better – though both groups do not understand, recognize, or accept such change, due to their ‘moral certainties.’ Hence their actions are, to them, fully justified.
In Harris’ words:
The truth is far more depressing: These are mostly normal people—fully capable of love, empathy, altruism, and so forth – who simply believe what they say they believe … Normal people, under the sway of bad ideas, are capable of anything.
But, of course, to most of us, they are indeed crazy and evil.
Tom Friedman discusses Ted Cruz in almost similar terms:
Ted Cruz does not have a good soul. He brims with hate … Cruz wraps himself in an American flag and spits on all the institutions that it represents. And so does Trump.
“Although we discussed ‘believers’ earlier, I forgot to mention Eric Hoffer,” I said. “He had believers, violence, and terrorism fairly well figured out in 1951. David Brooks, in a column following the San Bernardino massacre, recalled and quoted The True Believer, Hoffer’s seminal work on mass movements.”
“Guess I missed both the book and the column – fill me in,” Jay said.
“Brooks’ words and perspectives are based on Hoffer, but merit direct quoting – let me get the column,” I said, opening my laptop:
The central preoccupation of a mass movement … is self sacrifice … to get people to negate themselves for a larger cause. Mass movements [tend to] arise … when a once sturdy social structure is in a state of decay or disintegration. This is a pretty good description of parts of the Arab world. To a lesser degree it is a good description of isolated pockets of our own segmenting, individualized society where some people … are driven primarily by frustration. Their personal ambitions are unfulfilled. They have lost faith in their own abilities to realize their
dreams. They sometimes live with an unrelieved boredom. Freedom aggravates their sense of frustration because they have no one to blame but themselves for their perceived mediocrity. Fanatics …fear liberty more than they fear persecution. … they are driven by a wild hope … an imminent perfect future can be realized if they proceed recklessly to destroy the present. The glorious end times are just around the corner.
The correct response is … try to heal the social disintegration that is the seedbed of these movements, … offer positive inspiring causes to replace the suicidal ones. … mass movements are conquered when their charisma is destroyed, when they are defeated militarily
and humiliated. Then they can no longer offer hope, inspiration or a plausible way out for the disaffected.
“That seems to fully cover it,” Bill said.
“That’s exactly what most of the studies of ISIS recruitment and radicalization suggest – coupled with a dose of Quoranic mission and excuse,” Jay added.
Syndrome E (for EVIL) is the basis of a New Scientist story which updates a 1997 paper by Itzhak Fried of UCLA. The piece says that Fried then
…argued that the transformation of non-violent individuals into repetitive killers is characterized by a set of symptoms that suggest a common condition, which he called Syndrome E.
The article tabulates the ‘Seven Symptoms of Evil’ as:
Compulsive repetitive violence
Rapid desensitisation to violence
Flat emotional state
Separation of violence from everyday activities
Obedience to an authority
Perceiving group members as virtuous.
The bold typeface was indeed used in the article.
Fried used the term ‘cognitive fracture’ to help describe the brain actions which lead people to commit brutal, evil acts.
I looked at the original paper in The Lancet and was impressed by the middle part of Fried’s abstract, as it so fully describes our patients:
… This transformation is characterised by a set of symptoms and signs suggesting a common syndrome—Syndrome E. Affected individuals show obsessive ideation, compulsive repetition, rapid desensitisation to violence, diminished affective reactivity, hyperarousal, environmental dependency, group contagion, and failure to adapt to changing stimulus-reinforcement associations. Yet memory, language, planning, and problem-solving skills remain intact. The main risk factors are male sex and age between 15 and 50. A pathophysiological model – ‘cognitive fracture’ – is hypothesised …
“Except for ‘…problem-solving skills remain intact, …’, that certainly describes our subjects,” Bill noted.
“Three of the tabulated Syndrome E attributes match our criteria for harmless’ patient selection:” Jay added. “Obsessive beliefs, Obedience to an authority, and Perceiving group members as virtuous.”
“And the violence our patients do are to the planet and society, rather than individual victims,” Bill added.
“They’re almost all NRA members and supporters.” I said. “That, to me, implicates them all in the violence, the terrorism – domestic and internationally.”
“But are they indeed treatable? Is MDMA likely to be strong enough, effective?”
“We’ll see,” I said.
There are many who are so far to the right on the morality, values, compassion spectrum that it may be counterproductive to waste our precious MDMA – and our time and attention – on them. For them we may need a different ‘solution’ – after we’ve done what we can via harmless.
I reached out to Kay, a politically aware and active sociologist, who had recently retired. We worked together some five or so years ago on projects for The Leonardo. I told her I was developing a priority list of people who needed ‘attention’, much as I did two years ago with U interns on ‘Project 104’. I did not, of course, mention harmless or any of our plans. Kay was to be on the ‘outside’ – not in any way part of or responsible for harmless’ actions.
For Project 104 I worked with two U interns to prepare a list of all 104 members of the Utah State Legislature. We developed an environmental issues questionnaire and then called and interviewed nearly all of the 104. As two thirds or so of that 104 are very conservative, we certainly did not expect to make environmentalists out of them. We did, optimistically, hope that just hearing our questions and concerns would enhance their awareness of issues which many of them didn’t even recognize as issues – and thus make them a bit more receptive to data, discussions, and presentations on the subjects. I told Kay I now wanted to do something similar on a national scale.
Kay responded very enthusiastically. We began meeting on a weekly basis.
“Great that we have some help,” Bill said. “It takes time to chase down all the information we need on every patient we choose to serve.”
“And it’s not just each specific patient. We have to know and understand their spouses, close friends, kids, family, etc. One single treatment may not lead to a tipping point. It may take several close others to help,” Jay added.
“Yes – but keep doing your own work on your favorite evildoers,” I said. “Feed that information to me, and I’ll route it to Kay. That way I can help her prioritize – and minimize the possibility that she’ll learn about harmless.”
“But 150 patients is, I think, far too large a number. It’s unrealistic,” Bill said.
“I guess you’re right,” I said. “We’ll work to make the final list much smaller.”
Working with the team, and then with Kay, we put together a patient list, including a large number culled from a climate denier website. Kay inherited the preliminary spreadsheets that Jay and Lucien had been developing and consolidated the information. She also put together a spreadsheet of Congressional committees, so we’d know which committees each of our patient priorities serve on, and thus what committee meetings and field hearings might be useful venues at which to access our patients.
With this data in hand, harmless began to discuss prioritization of patients, setting up an initial triage strategy:
high priority – the ‘mild’ deniers, who might be influenced by enhanced empathy, compassion, family input, colleague ‘revelations’, etc. and whom we could access and ‘treat’;
moderate priority – normal deniers, who – if they respond well to treatment – might be more influential in moving towards a national and Congressional tipping point; and lastly
low priority – strong deniers, strongly vested in positions and ‘investments’ that make it very difficult for them to change their minds in the public arena. These might include McConnell, the Koch Brothers, and Grover Norquist as examples.
“That makes sense from the raw numbers perspective,” Bill said, “but not necessarily from the tipping point perspective.”
“Right,” Jay said. “If we could engineer a strong revelation – a complete about face – for a very influential strong denier, then that would have great impact.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “One revelation can lead to tens, hundreds, or more questioning their stands – asking why Mr. Strong Denier has changed his mind.”
“Which is what happened with Bob Inglis,” Jay continued. “He was a strong arch-conservative, denier – and then flipped. And now he’s talking to conservative groups all over the country.”
“He is, including groups in Utah,” I said, ‘but it didn’t really result in others changing – at least not publically, not yet.”
“And that’s the key,” Bill said. “They have to make their revelation – their mind change – public – and solid.”
“Which is why we may have more success with Priority One and Two rather than Three,” I said.
“Unless we have some unique or special way to access the denier – to facilitate the transformation – like Inglis’ 18 year old son,” Jay said.
“Or McConnell’s smart wife,” I said.
“Or Cruz’s,” said Bill. “Or Bush’s. The Atlantic just published a profile on Columba Bush – she’s quite interesting.”
“Kay will be getting information on wives, kids, mentors, and others whom our patients may hold in high regard,” I said. “We also need to consider a way for them not to lose too much ‘face’. Rubio, for example, could cite a newly discovered concern for Florida’s coastline.”
“Maybe we could get him into that new performance art piece in Miami – an aquarium with water rising in it – and Rubio inside?” Bill suggested.
“Cuba’s coastline is also of concern – for the U.S. business community, of course,” Jay joked.
“Each patient will require a unique strategy so as to maximize our – and her – effectiveness,” Bill said.
“More on Cruz,” said Bill. “Mother Jones had a great short summary of his strong values – and values flip-flops – from a few years ago to now.”
“I thought his ideology and so-called values had been consistent,” Jay said.
“No. Not at all. He’s a flip-flopping opportunist – just more persuasive than Romney. I’ll send you the link to the Deja Cruz story.”
“And Rubio’s now starting to flip-flop and pander. Suddenly he’s an evangelist as well as a Catholic.”
“They do whatever it takes!”
Bill added: “A friend of mine the other night says Cruz looks and acts like Joe McCarthy, the anti-communist tyrant from the sixties.”
“Yes – there was actually a short New Yorker piece about Cruz claiming Communists among the Harvard faculty – accusations and baiting just like McCarthy did,” I said. “And David Brooks even commented on his MyCarthyite tactics.”
“Remember the George Clooney film Good Night and Good Luck – about Edward R Murrow and Joe McCarthy?” Bill asked.
“Yes!” Jay said. “I need to see it again – this time in the context of Ted Cruz.”
We agreed that our earlier consideration of 150 treatable patients was unrealistic – we needed to get the total list and goal down to 50 or so. We began to go through our list of 125 initial Congress-people and another 25 or so ‘others’ – Supreme Court justices, key Governors, GOP 2016 Presidential candidates (they get press!), and obvious plutocrats – who also get a lot of press.
Special constituencies and interests were also considered. For example, combat veterans in Congress know about PTSD, empathy, and psychoactive drugs.
We also considered the cautions noted by psychedelic – and empathogen – using psychologists and therapists over the years. Our patients must be on firm mental, psychological foundations with the ego and self-confidence to be able to change their minds…to grow mentally, intellectually, and politically. They should have family, colleagues, friends of different persuasions whom they respect. Treating those who are too fully ideologically insulated – who exist in ideological bubbles – may be counter-productive.
“You know, nearly everyone who’s used and been a spokesperson for psychedelics and empathogens say it’s very unethical to ‘treat’ patients without their full permission and cooperation,” Bill cautioned.
“The CIA did such work in the sixties, with LSD – and generated some very bad trips. Their Project MKUltra was searching for interrogation and ‘truth’ results, rather than political persuasions,” Jay said. “It’s covered in the Acid Dreams book, based on Church Committee hearings in 1975 and declassified files released finally in 2001!”
“And that ties to The Burglary and 1971,” I said. “Because it was the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office burglars who stole and distributed the documents that were largely responsible for activating the Church Committee. It’s all connected.”
“That’s very interesting, but most ethicists would say it’s unethical – even evil – to spike a drink without the patient’s knowledge,” Bill continued.
“I agree, I said. “Shulgin said the same thing:
…something I consider truly unforgivable – giving somebody a psychoactive drug of any kind without telling them and getting their consent.
But generally such actions are to get the patient to feel or do something for the benefit of the person doing the clandestine spiking – to activate an action which goes against the patient’s interests.”
“Right. We’re trying to get the patient to have a perspective which is in their best interests – they just don’t know that yet,” Jay explained.
“What we are really doing is what philosophers and ethicists are now calling ‘moral enhancement’,” I said.
Unfit for the Future is the title of a 2012 Oxford University Press book by Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu. Persson is a Professor of Philosophy at Gothenburg University in Sweden.
Savulescu holds a Chair in Practical Ethics and Philosophy at Oxford.
The Oxford Philosophy Department has a Future of Humanity Institute, which looks ‘at big-picture questions for human civilization’. They deal with
…technological change, weigh ethical dilemmas, and evaluate global priorities … to clarify the choices that will shape humanity’s long-term future.
And that, of course, includes human enhancement – moral and otherwise.
Unfit for the Future is subtitled The Need for Moral Enhancement. The basic idea is that moral enhancement is essential if humanity is to avoid catastrophe.
A similar statement was made by Roger Walsh in the Roberts book on entheogens:
We are in a race between catastrophe and consciousness … A key question … is whether we can create a critical mass of aware people in sufficient time. …whether we create a sustaining and sustainable society or leave behind a planet that is polluted and plundered and poisoned. The state of the world now reflects the state of our minds. …look at the world and its insanity, we can see that it reflects our own insanity.
Sidney Cohen made a similar suggestion in his 1967 book on LSD The Beyond Within, when he said: ‘Social change is so rapid that the precepts of one generation become the absurdities of the next’.
“Cohen’s statement relates directly to an economic and political system whose foundations are based on early 19th century assumptions,” I said. “We should understand that cognitive and moral enhancement is not a new idea – that our deficiencies in cognition are unrecognized. New World, New Mind: Moving towards Conscious Evolution is a 1989 book by Ornstein and Ehrlich that considers the deficiencies of our minds – the old mind, they call it – and the need for us ‘…to take our own evolution into our hands’.”
“Is that The Ehrlich, Paul Ehrlich?” Bill asked.
“Yes, he wrote the book together with Robert Ornstein, a neurobiologist. They advocate an education effort to facilitate ‘cultural evolution’ – to enable us to address longer term problems and thinking rather than the very short term, reactive approach that has characterized brain evolution during mankind’s survival phase.”
“1989 was at the end of the cold war,” Jay noted, “so I imagine they were very concerned about war and nuclear weapons.”
“Yes, but also about population and planetary environmental issues.”
“Jake said several times,” Bill recalled, “in our earlier discussions – before harmless –
that it’s not the Planet we ‘environmentalists’ are trying to save – it’s humanity itself; it’s civilization. The planet will do just fine – perhaps better – without Man.”
“Understood,” I agreed. “Diversity and ecosystems return and become healthy in those political no man’s lands where people are excluded.”
“Like the 38th Parallel in Korea,” Bill added. “And various international border parks in other areas.”
“There’s been a set of books imagining – or prophesizing – what will happen when man is gone – or largely gone.” I said. “A current one is Station Eleven, a novel where a virus wipes out nearly all of mankind – and a greatly decreased and restricted civilization somehow slowly rebuilds.”
“Have you ever read Earth Abides, by George Stewart?” Jay asked. “It’s similar in that a virus or plague wipes nearly everyone out, and small isolated groups carry on and eventually find each other.”
“There was a talk here in Salt Lake some five or so years ago – in Kingsbury Hall – by the author of The World without Us,” Bill recalled.
“That was Alan Weisman. It was a positive account of the resurgence of plants and animals – of planetary biodiversity – with Man largely gone. His newest book is Countdown – about the need to greatly control human population.”
“So maybe we’re better off letting Congress and humanity go on unperturbed,” Bill suggested, “- much of humanity will eventually crash – and the planet will then slowly ‘recover’.”
“Very, very slowly. That’s what some call the very hard core environmentalists’ position,” Jay said. “But there are some nice aspects of life and of civilization I’d like to maintain.”
“Interestingly, in the Station Eleven novel,” I said, “there is an entertainment caravan, the Traveling Symphony, pulled by horses, which goes to the various largely isolated communities and offers Shakespeare plays and a small live orchestra. The wagons are labeled Survival is not Sufficient.”
“I saw a short local documentary the other night on KUED,” Bill added, “on the history of Salt Lake City. There was a piece on the Salt Lake Theatre, built shortly after the Mormons established the City – well before they built their Temple and Tabernacle. It quoted Brigham Young as saying something like ‘religion is not enough’ – the people need amusement.”
“I hope that means real culture – ,” Jay said, “music, theatre, philosophy, science,…”
“As long as it didn’t interfere with Mormon theology.”
The Persson-Savulescu position is that humans have very rapidly advanced science and developed technologies whose influence extends over the entire planet and far into the future. Our moral psychology, however, evolved in the absence of such science and technological powers. Our mental makeup may be appropriate to small hunter-gatherer tribes – their problems, concerns, and issues – but is simply incapable of dealing with planetary wide and long time frame issues and concerns, hence our need for moral, psychological, ethical enhancement. Their main purpose is to argue for global moral enhancement – to counter the prevailing ethical ‘wisdom’ that morals and ethics are individual, small group, small nation concerns.
They say that moral enhancement means appreciating altruism and justice, and this requires enhanced feelings of empathy and expanded imagination. They also note that, in general, women have greater capacities for altruism and empathy than men. These positions and suppositions are in line with harmless.
But they say very little about how to go about moral enhancement. There is no mention of empathogens or of any specific drugs or agents, except for oxytocin. They do mention the SSRI drugs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and suggest that pharmaceuticals may have a role in moral enhancement – and then write that ‘…no straightforward moral enhancers have hitherto been discovered…’.
“That’s astounding,” Jay said. “Are they completely unaware of MDMA?”
“It appears so,” I answered. “I’ve looked at some of their papers and chapters. The closest they seem to get is oxytocin. And it gets better – right at the end of the book they continue:
Even if such means were discovered, the daunting task of applying them to a sufficient number of people – probably in the range of hundreds of millions – would remain.
“Well, our task is certainly daunting,” Bill said. “But if we could start by morally enhancing the US Congress, it would be a good start.”
“There’s also a New Scientist story, titled Morality 2, referring to the moral enhancement work – as well as to Crockett’s. She’s the one we noted earlier who suggested in an online video
What if negotiators popped a few moral enhancers before heading to the [negotiating] table?
“I considered trying to contact Persson or Savulescu,” I continued, “but we better not. We are on such a tight time frame and now have the need for total secrecy. By now they should know that MDMA and empathogens exist, because an Australian named Sparrow published a critique of their positions at about the time their book was published – already several years ago. The last sentence of his critique is:
...if we are concerned about the problems of war, global warming, and terrorism, et cetera, it is to politics rather than neuroethics that we should turn.”
“And that’s exactly what harmless is doing,” Bill said.
“I was just skimming through your underlines in the book,” Jay said, holding my copy of Unfit for the Future. “They do largely conclude the book with this sentence:
Significant moral enhancement of the human species appears to be necessary in order to ensure the survival of human civilization in the longer run.”
“Amen,” said Bill.
“You want an even more pessimistic perspective?” I asked. “Here’s the opening paragraph from a little 1983 book by Konrad Lorenz, The Waning of Humaneness:
Now, as never before, the prospects for a human future are exceptionally dismal. Most probably the human race will soon and swiftly, but certainly not painlessly, be committed to suicide through use of extant nuclear weaponry. Even if this does not happen, every human being remains in peril of a slow death through poisoning and desiccating the environment in which he lives and by which he is sustained.
“Wow,” Jay said. “And I think I get depressed.”
“Well, he wrote that in 1983, before the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain came down – in the midst of all the concerns about nuclear driven Mutually Assured Destruction.”
“And that was before global warming and climate change was on our radar,” Bill said.
“We think the nuclear threat is over,” I said, “but it really isn’t – nukes plus terrorists equals terribly frightening scenarios.”
“And now you have Putin trying to restore the old USSR – as well as the Middle East forever imploding,” Jay added.
“And don’t forget Iran and Israel,” Bill cautioned. “Say, let me mention an interview in The Sun I just read – it’s relevant.”
“I’m glad you still subscribe. They really do great work.”
“They interviewed Mathew Fox, an excommunicated Catholic former priest, who just wrote a little book Letters to Pope Francis. The last part of the interview focuses on evil – here are the key quotes:
the economy… is an evil we are all involved in… I would consider the denial that human activity is causing climate change to be a collectivist evil…”
“I like that – a ‘collectivist evil’.”
What harmless is trying to do is indeed ethical and moral – at least according to a small subset of the philosophy – ethics communities.
We agreed, in late 2015, before Scalia’s death, that our highest priority is Supreme Court justices – and that we would each begin our homework on the most conservative five: Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy.
We were meeting at a new place, Coffee Noir, the corner coffee shop at about 10th East and 2nd South, close to the U. This was part of harmless’ strategy to move around a bit and not get too comfortable at any one location.
“The Supreme Court can’t legislate – they simply come to decisions on the cases before them,” Bill said.
“Sure, there is no such thing as an activist Court,” Jay taunted. “Give me a break – that’s an idealistic fallacy.”
“And fantasy,” I said. “We do have a very activist Court, although that’s not necessarily bad. There was a recent Times story on how Justices and the Court ‘request’ cases they want to hear. It talks about ‘legal entrepreneurs’ – people who engineer cases designed for eventual Supreme Court consideration – to pass new judgments on social issues.”
“Isn’t that what the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) case was about?” Bill asked. “Four little words, taken out of context. If the Court had agreed, it would have destroyed the ACA.”
“Which was the intent of the case,” I added. “The Court should never have agreed to hear the ‘case’.”
“But they did, and got three positive votes,” Jay said. “Fortunately there were six no votes.”
“There’ll be more entrepreneurial activist cases coming up before the Court,” Bill said. “It’s a way to legislate without going through Congress – and they are likely to have a highly conservative outcome.”
“All the more reason to provide some positive psychology for at least several key justices,” I concluded.
We also agreed to consider those in Congress with major positions of power and control.
“McConnell is in his last term,” Bill said. “He’s accomplished his goal of becoming Senate Majority Leader, and he’s looking tired. He failed at his earlier goal of ‘making Obama a one term President’. He now has his ‘dream job’ – Senate Majority Leader.”
“Yes, but he seems to be failing at it,” Jay said. “He lost to Rand Paul on the Patriot Act provisions.”
“He screwed up the timing,” Bill added. “He was confident that by letting it go to the wire, Paul would play ball. He didn’t; McConnell took a beating.”
“He seems to have a ready supply of, and taste for, Manhattans,” Jay said. “It’s his favorite drink.”
“Take two after every defeat?” Bill asked. “Perhaps with a little something added?”
“Why not?” Jay said. “It would certainly do him some good.”
“It’s an interesting power struggle – the old and young senators from Kentucky duking it out,” I said. “Both are strong climate deniers, but Paul tries to be somewhat rational, consistent, and principled.”
“Yes, Libertarians think they are principled. But many of those principles are based on out of date assumptions. The Kochs, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul – they all need treatment,” Jay added. “Let’s put them on the list and do the needed homework.”
“That’s already ten,” Bill said.
“Today’s NY Times is loaded with stories relevant to harmless,” Jay offered.
“The Times editorial said that simply saying dangerous, mean, even bloody things cannot be prosecuted – Supreme Court ruled it’s free speech.”
“So if someone reads all our musings and plans about harmless, it’s not grounds for arrest and prosecution?” Bill asked.
“That’s what I thought at first,” I interjected, ‘but Roberts said ‘Wrongdoing must be conscious to be criminal.’”
“Oh, ohh, ”Bill said. “I think we are all conscious and know exactly what we’re advocating.”
“Yep. But the good news is the NSA has a bit less power than it did before Paul’s Patriot Act actions.”
“Thank you, Edward Snowden,” Jay said. “and Rand Paul.”
“The European Union just passed a resolution urging its 28 members to recognize Snowden as an ‘…international human rights defender,’ and attempt to shield him from prosecution. It was a close vote, but it did pass,” Bill said.
“And did you hear that our own Doug Fabrizio interviewed Snowden – via a video link between Moscow and Park City,” I said.
“Slightly off the subject, but very relevant, did you see Friedman’s Times column on evil?” Bill asked. “Very powerful. He covered the role of hate speech helping sow the seeds for Rabin’s assassination some 20 years ago.”
“I read it – very thought provoking. He referred to a documentary now out – called Rabin: The Last Day – on the background and conditions leading to Rabin’s death.”
“Remember Sarah Palin’s campaign and then the Gifford shooting in Arizona? Palin’s sites were showing maps of states and districts with gun sight graphics superimposed on them, including Gifford’s district. Palin actually said, regarding the districts she targeted, ‘Don’t retreat – instead RELOAD!”
Gifford said, well before she was shot:
We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. … the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”
Hate speech has been even more in the news recently, prompted by Trump’s anti-Muslimism statements, Carly Fiorina’s ‘harvested body parts’ tirade against Planned Parenthood – perhaps indirectly related to the Colorado Springs shootings, and the dramatic upsurge in Google searches on ‘kill Muslims’ after the San Bernardino shootings.
Sara Lipton in a recent Times’ Opinion piece said:
…history does show that a heightening of rhetoric against a certain group can incite violence against that group, even when no violence is called for. When a group is labeled hostile and brutal, its members are more likely to be treated with hostility and brutality.
She also noted the role of images and caricatures used to portray certain peoples as evil.
“We arrest people for inciting to riot, but we don’t charge them for hate speech or hate graphics,” Jay said.
Michael Daly, writing in the New York Daily News, said:
…violent language can incite actual violence … metaphor can incite murder. …Palin added to a climate of violence.”
”There was just an op-ed in the Times on Anti-Abortion Violence. It noted Troy Newman, who has endorsed Cruz, calling for the ‘execution of abortion providers’. And Cruz said he was ‘grateful’ for his endorsement!”
“There’s now some potential good news for harmless – at least for the book version.”
“In a recent court decision on a strange case, the Times reported that two of the three judges were loath ‘…to give the government the power to punish us for our thoughts and not our actions’. The judges wrote that ‘
…fantasizing about committing a crime, even a crime of violence against a real person whom you know, is not a crime.
The case was the subject of a 2015 documentary film Thought Crimes.”
“So harmless in book form, as State Change, is not illegal, according to that decision,” Jay concluded.
“But of course our goal isn’t to write a book, it’s to actually treat a group of political ideologues,” Bill said. “We treat, we’re guilty; if we only talk about and even plan treating, we’re innocent, right?”
“I think that is correct – and Matt would likely agree,” I said. “There’s another legal approach I just heard about – The Empathy Games.”
“Is that another novel and movie series, like The Hunger Games?” Jay asked. “The Economist just ran a piece on youth and politics, saying
In the world of The Hunger Games youngsters are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of their white-haired rulers. Today’s teen fiction is relentlessly dystopian, but the gap between fantasy and reality is often narrower than you might think.”
“Bernie Sanders seems to be mobilizing the young – so far the only candidate to really do so,” Bill added.
I continued: “The Empathy Games is a computer games competition, partly run and sponsored by our own U.”
“The Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program?” Bill asked. “It’s a program between Engineering’s Computer Science Department and the College of Fine Arts, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s part of a games4health challenge; there seem to be five challenges, one of which is on empathy, and cosponsored by a group called iThrive!, which seem to promote ‘positive psychology’.”
“This could be really significant,” Bill said. “Consider the impact of Game of Thrones, SimCity, Civilization – and many others.”
“And even Dungeons and Dragons,” I said. “My kids were hooked on it.”
“Jane McGonigal is a videogame publicist who has talked about using games to develop our mind’s ‘empathy muscle’. She has a new book out, Superbetter, to help people ‘de-stress’ and self-improve,” Jay reported.
“Perhaps we could suggest a State Change game,” Bill said.
“Let’s not forget the other really evil plutocrats and business people, like Tillerson and Watson on the oil side,” Jay reminded us.
“Two others that need revelation – and are probably ready for it now – are Wayne LaPierre and Grover Norquist,” I added.
“You bet,” Jay smiled: “The NRA and Americans for Tax Reform.”
“Yes – flush the government down the toilet, Norquist preaches.”
“Let’s not forget the guy advocating lung cancer around the world,” I said.
“Who’s that,” Bill asked.
“The tobacco wars are not over,” I said. “A U.S. group is advocating uncontrolled cigarette sales and consumption around the world – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, headed by Thomas J. Donohue.”
“I did read about him. What they’re doing is criminal,” Jay said.
“Evil,” Bill added.
“We need to include some of the presidential candidates – they get large audiences, much press,” I suggested.
“Yes, especially those with staying power who are likely to be in the running at the party conventions – although all the GOP wannabes need treatment,” Jay said.
“For now, I’m betting on Rubio, although Trump, Bush, and Cruz may get more press,” I said.
“They all need attention,” Bill said. “Say, I know this is a digression, but did you see that cool piece in USA Today about Facebook grammar?”
“Yes! My son clued me in – also a writer we know well noted it.”
“There’s a software package called Grammarly, which analyzes text for grammar correctness. Looking at only spelling and punctuation mistakes, they analyzed the Facebook comments on each of the candidate’s Facebook pages.”
“Betcha I can predict the outcome – and USA Today’s not a particularly liberal paper,” Jay said.
“Me, too. The Republican average was nearly 9 mistakes per 100 words! – from 6 for Fiorina to over 12 for Trump.”
“Figures,” Jay said. “And the Democrats?”
“Average was 4, ranging from nearly 4 for Sanders to 6 for Hillary.”
“Does that reflect Carly’s Stanford education in the humanities – and Hillary’s pre-law degree from Wellesley?” Bill asked. “Did you hear about the Associated Press’ climate science literacy event?”
“Not yet,” I smiled. “Go on.”
“The AP asked eight climate and biological scientists to grade (on a 0 – 100 scale) the comments of top presidential candidates for their scientific accuracy. To eliminate bias, the names of the candidates were removed from their comments, so the scientists were scrutinizing them merely on scientific grounds.”
“The three Democratic candidates scored highly: Hillary Clinton (94 percent), Martin O’Malley (91 percent) and Bernie Sanders (87 percent).”
“Let me guess!”
“Jeb Bush was the only GOP candidate to receive a passing score of 64 percent. In dead last,
at 6 percent, was Ted Cruz.
Bill’s notes also quoted Penn State University’s Michael Mann, a well known and respected climate scientist, regarding the six percent score: ‘This individual understands less about science than the average kindergartner.’ He then learned the score belonged to Ted Cruz. Mann then continued: ‘That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president.’ The other candidates’ scores, according to the AP: Chris Christie, 54; John Kasich, 47; Rand Paul, 38; Carly Fiorina, 28; Marco Rubio, 21; Donald Trump, 15; and Ben Carson, 13.
Cruz was last – even worse than Trump and Carson. Bush, the highest scoring GOP candidate, has now exited the race.
“That’s enough for now,” I said “Sixteen or so to study. Congress-people will take some time and homework. My goal is to keep the final list down to 29.”
“Why 29?” Jay asked.
“You’ll see,” I smiled.
“Cause it’s a prime number?” Bill asked.
“Nope. You’ll see.”
We agreed that the selection of the dozen or so additional Congressional patients needs to be very strategic. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy – the Congressional Leadership – of course deserve our attention and treatment.
We looked at the House Freedom Caucus and at the ideological ‘spectrum’ data available at www.govtrack.us . We discussed the possibility of treating the far right end of the spectrum, where most of the Freedom Caucus and ‘Tea Party’ members are located. We looked at a Rolling Stones magazine recent analysis of the Freedom Caucus, by Dickinson. Apparently the members are elected from largely white, lower middle class districts. Their constituents say they want ‘their country back’.
The commander of the Freedom Caucus is Rep. Jim Jordan, whose rural Ohio district is gerrymandered into the shape of a pelican: The bill reaches into the outskirts of
Cleveland, while the tail feathers ruffle up against ex-Speaker Boehner’s district in Cincinnati.
Jordan’s district is 89 percent white.
Jordan’s a high school champion wrestler, first elected to Congress in 2008. When many Tea Party types were elected in 2010, he selected and organized those critical of Boehner to form the Freedom Caucus. He can be seen ‘in action’ during the recent Benghazi hearings which attempted to implicate Hillary.
Dickinson writes that Jordan is ‘… like a less-polished version of Paul Ryan’ and ‘a master of
political leverage’ who ‘embraces obstruction’ and engineered the earlier government shutdown.
Idaho’s Raul Labrador is Jordan’s ‘top lieutenant’ – a ‘gregarious, rumpled and far less
guarded person’. Dickinson continues that Labrador ‘reveals open contempt for GOP leadership … Boehner … and McCarthy.
Labrador echoes Cruz … who led the 2013 government shutdown fight from the upper chamber’.
The Rolling Stones piece also profiles Cruz and McConnell, noting both Cruz’s and the Freedom Caucus’ contempt for McConnell.
“They are the major reason there’s no bipartisanship, no cooperation, in Congress,” Bill said.
“They are the ones largely responsible for voting for government shutdowns and against ObamaCare,” Jay added.
“Some sixty times against ObamaCare,” I said.
“I think it’s now up to about 80 times – even under Speaker Ryan.”
“They are the real partisan clowns on the Benghazi panel,” Jay continued.
“The ones on the far right also tend to be the most avid climate deniers,” Bill said, “like Jim Inhofe.”
“If our treatment could just ‘titrate’ them a bit towards the center of the Govtrack Republican ‘peak’, it could make a real difference,” I said.
“Maybe even a tipping point,” Jay smiled.
‘Adjustment’ and even tipping of those on the far right became a key consideration in harmless’ patient selection strategy. Other considerations included convenience and ease of access – such as patients representing Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Washington. Another was connection to the Koch political plutocracy machine and interests, such as Iowa’s Joni Ernst. We also agreed we could deal with more than 29 if it was easy to do so.
We decided to treat Raul Labrador of Idaho. His district includes part of greater Boise, so we decided we might as well get to Mike Simpson, whose gerrymandered district also covers part of Boise – and of course Idaho Senator Risch, the ‘Most Conservative Senator’ according to the National Journal – and one of the least effective based on his Leadership Score. Senator Mike Crapo is also very conservative and merits treatment. Our plan became to focus on the key 29 – AND to treat nearby colleagues, if convenient.
And that led to the harmless patient priority list – as of late 2015:
Supreme Court Justices – five:
Presidential Candidates – four
Plutocrats and others – five
Norquist, Grover – President, Americans for Tax Reform (ATF)
LaPierre, Wayne – Executive Director, National Rifle Association (NRA)
Donohue, Thomas – President, US Chamber of Commerce
Congress – fifteen
McConnell, Mitch – Senate Majority Leader.
Ryan, Paul – Speaker of the House.
McCarthy, Kevin – House Majority Leader.
Barrasso, John – Wyoming Senator.
Capito, Shelley – West Virginia Senator.
Chaffetz, Jason – Utah District 3.
Ernst, Joni – Iowa Senator; Koch support.
Gardner, Cory – Colorado Senator, Koch support
Goudy, Trey – South Carolina District 4, Benghazi Committee.
Inhofe, Jim – Oklahoma Senator.
Issa, Darrell – California District 49.
Labrador, Raul – Idaho District 1; Freedom Caucus co-founder.
Lee, Mike – Utah Senator.
Rodgers, Cathy – Washington District 5.
Smith, Lamar – Texas District 21; Chair, House Committee on Science.
These 29 and the additional ‘convenience’ patients, effectively treated, may facilitate a tipping point and a major change in governance via the Federal Government.
“We could use Centennial Valley as a key delivery strategy,” Bill said. “We could arrange a gig at the U’s Taft Center with the Kochs and with others they endorse and support.”
“Are you smoking something?” Jay asked.
“No, seriously. The Kochs own Beaverhead Ranch, which practically surrounds the wildlife refuge which borders the U Center. I read somewhere that their Dad, Fred, sent his kids there in the summers to work and help make men out of them.”
“Interesting,” I said. “So the Kochs, Joni Ernst, Jim Inhofe, and perhaps even Lamar Smith, as well as Ryan, Rubio, Labrador and their families, could all be there?”
“Sure, why not? Charles and David Koch seem to have an affinity for the Koch ranches. The Taft Center is about environmentalism and sustainability. The place is readily available and underutilized.”
“Sounds good. Will you look into it?”
“I already have,” Bill replied. “I’ll deal with the planning and logistics. Stay tuned.”
“Maybe Inhofe could fly his own plane there,” Jay said. “And perhaps pickup Lamar Smith on the way.”
“If we invite their families to Centennial Valley – the kids could read Ishmael there,” I suggested.
“Ishmael?” Jay asked.
“A beautiful little book on history, philosophy, and politics. We’ll get to it.”