Moved as of Oct. 22, 2011

I'm posting now at My new website is dedicated to teaching depth psychology and the art of being happy.


I'm Moving -- Just a Click Away

I'm moving on--but there's still lots of interesting psychological-political writing to be found here. I'm moving "across the hall," focusing my efforts now on my new blog, Why We Suffer, which is the title of my new book.

The new writing at Why We Suffer focuses more directly on our personal psychology, and less on the psychology of our political life (although, of course, the two are interconnected).

My time is also being devoted to producing new editions of my older books. The two oldest, dating from 1993, deal with addictions, compulsions, and self-esteem. All of this new writing is about how, individually, we can live free of suffering and self-sabotage.

My final bit of writing on social and political psychology can be found in Chapter 8 of the 2011 edition of Freedom From Self-Sabotage: How to Stop Being Our Own Worst Enemy. An easy-to-read PDF file of the new edition is available here, as well as the 1999 print edition.

Thanks for coming by. Hope you'll visit my new blog.


I've Been Away Too Long--But Busy

Sorry about not keeping up with posts, but I have been very busy revising my 1999 book, Freedom From Self-Sabotage. It will be available here as a PDF file sometime before August 1. Here's a quote from the Introduction:
National self-defeat is largely the combined effect of people plagued by an absence of wisdom, lack of self-worth, want of courage, abundance of passivity, malicious behavior, and a deficiency in self-regulation. These liabilities or failures can be traced to an insufficiency of self-knowledge. For starters, we have failed to recognize and overcome the human compulsion to repeat and recycle unresolved negative emotions lingering in our psyche.

We cannot directly get to the roots of self-sabotage by examining national phenomena. Instead, we need to explore the problem more intimately, at the microcosmic level of personal self-defeat. This is the level within our psyche from where at times each of us will resist acting on our own behalf, feel and act like a victim, hesitate to make life easier for others, react negatively out of proportion to events, and produce failure.
 Okay, back to work on it.


Happiness in the Age of Sorrow

It’s a great time to discover our source of happiness, even while the world’s chaos, looting, violence, and depravity are producing so much unhappiness.

We’re talking here about genuine happiness, not superficial, smiley faces. Genuine happiness is the pleasant connection we feel to ourselves and to life when we clear out our inner conflicts, negativity, and fear.
There’s a simple formula for finding happiness, one that’s been overlooked by most experts. The key to happiness is found in understanding our determination to be unhappy.
In other words, the way to be happy is to understand how and why we create our own unhappiness. It’s all a learning process. We have to understand the inner mechanisms whereby we chose to suffer.
Now lots of people say they do understand their unhappiness. They say, “Give me more money, or more friends, or a better personality, or a bigger house, or a kinder society, and I’ll be happy.”


My New Book’s Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

My new book, a two-year project, is finally done. It’s titled, Why We Suffer: A Western Way to Understand and Let Go of Unhappiness. It’s available as an e-book at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble for only $4.99. Here’s the book description as it appears at those websites:

Psychotherapist’s Revolutionary New Book Says
We’re All Addicted to Pain and Suffering

How is it possible to be addicted to our suffering? The notion seems preposterous. How could we be so foolish as to suffer for nothing?

Fortunately, we’re not foolish at all. We just haven’t penetrated our psyche deeply enough. We haven’t understood the dynamics in our psyche that cause our suffering.

This book by experienced psychotherapist Peter Michaelson shows how we unwittingly produce our own suffering. The author tells us how to free ourselves from it. Most readers will immediately realize they have not previously encountered this knowledge.

Lara Logan’s Encounter with Human Perversity

The sexual assault this past winter on CBS correspondent Lara Logan reveals the pressing need to understand something very important about human nature. Ms. Logan shared her experience with us this week on “60 Minutes,” and we have a duty to learn from it.

She was attacked by a mob of frenzied men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and she spent days recovering in a hospital. In The New York Times last week, she said: “What really struck me was how merciless they were. They really enjoyed my pain and suffering. It incited them to more violence.”

The perverse pleasure that her frenzied attackers exhibited has many variations among people, involving levels of misconduct that extend from cruel to criminal to barbaric. This perversity is produced by unconscious processes that are part of human nature and common to us all.

We humans have a dark side in our psyche that makes us capable of vicious, evil behavior. One aspect of this dark side is the perverse, intoxicating pleasure that is available to us when we exult in feelings of power over a helpless victim or a passive group or population.


Why (Baseball) Owners Hate Good Government

With major-league baseball’s new season upon us, it’s worth remembering that the sport used to have good government. That governance started in 1920 following the Black Sox gambling scandal. Team owners selected Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, for the job of baseball commissioner. He took it on the condition that he would have outright authority over all aspects of the sport.

Landis ruled until 1944, and he was followed by seven other independent commissioners, a string that ended with the forced resignation of Fay Vincent in 1992. Vincent had supported the players during the lockout of 1990 and scolded owners for colluding against the players. The owners, with the connivance in particular of Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers (the current “commissioner”) and Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, had stolen $280 million from the players by rigging the signing of free agents. With the heist uncovered, the money was paid into to the players’ union.

In perverse retaliation, baseball owners ejected the umpire. In the infamous coup of ’92, they got rid of Vincent and busted the sport’s independent governing authority. They made Selig acting commissioner and, in 1998, gave him the full title. With a wink and a nod, Selig presided over the use of performance-enhancing drugs, which conveniently added home-run glamour to the game while boosting ticket sales. He helped the sleazy process of replacing many of the iconic stadium names with come-and-go corporate names. Houston Astros fans had to fight off bouts of schizophrenia as the home field’s name bounced from Colt Stadium to Astrodome to Enron Field to Astros Field to Minute Maid Park.


Are Right-Wingers Simply Stuck in Adolescence?

Not every modern conservative had a grandpa who made moonshine whiskey. With no family history of being pursued by federal revenuers, where does their extreme dislike of government come from?

The mentality is expressed succinctly in a reader’s comment about my previous article on the conservative psyche:

Conservatives simply want the Federal government to back-off. We don't need any elitist Washingtonians telling us what to eat, what to drive, how to illuminate our homes or educate our children. Real oppression comes from a nanny-state Federal government. The Federal government should focus on its constitutional purpose of defending the nation and enabling interstate commerce.
We can all agree that elitist Washingtonians, whoever they are, are the devil’s own brood. But we don’t usually think of nannies that way. Yet we’re just now discovering (thank you, Scott Walker) how nefarious our teachers are. Have we overlooked the nanny threat? As Glenn Beck has probably noted, the word does rhyme with canny.

Okay, for the moment let’s concede that the federal government is a nanny, a mean mother-figure who pushes us around. What about corporations? They can get pushy, too. To paraphrase the reader’s comment above, corporations determine what many of us eat (adulterated, genetically modified foods), produce what many of us drive (gas guzzlers), and sell what many of us use to illuminate our homes (inefficient light bulbs).


The Primitive Conservative Psyche

The battles against the anti-democratic Right in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere are being fought to prevent conservatives from remaking America in the image of their moral worldview.

Berkeley professor and author George Lakoff advises us to see more deeply into the psychology of this crisis. We need to understand, he writes, how the conservative belief in individual responsibility, to the exclusion of social responsibility, is based on the model of the strict-father family.

According to this model, the father’s role in the family as Decider and moral authority is required to teach kids right from wrong. Conservatives claim that father’s superior moral guidance is needed, along with physical punishment if necessary, so kids can develop the discipline to become morally responsible adults.

Why do conservatives think that father knows best? Psychoanalysis can provide insight.


Guarding the Mosque, Church, and State Divide

With popular uprisings toppling governments in the Middle East, it’s time to understand more clearly the mentality of people who can’t separate mosque and state.

It’s vital that democracy, not theocracy or new autocratic regimes, replaces corrupt governments in Egypt and Tunisia along with any others that fall to popular uprisings. The growth of democracy is a measure of human evolution. Citizens of a democracy are more likely than their counterparts in a theocracy to value reason, the rule of law, cross-cultural exchanges, tolerance, self-respect, and environmental protections.

Guarding America’s church-state divide is paramount, too. We might not be able to export the wisdom that honors the separation of church and state when we’re in danger of being overrun by a theocratic mentality in our backyard.

Inner fear may be the main influence on those Americans who can’t separate church and state. Inner fear, which is often unconscious, is a common ingredient in human nature. The fear is evident in the widespread worry, stress, and anxiety that plague the human race. Inner fear causes the concerns of modern life to become fearful preoccupations, as when concern about terrorism produces a fearful populace willing to tolerate the suppression of civil liberties.


Fear of Facts Endangers the Nation

What may be hurting our country more than anything is a thick-skulled mentality that refuses to face the facts. Many of us are more afraid of facts than of terrorists.

Sad to say, people don’t necessarily change their minds when their erroneous assumptions are corrected. A University of Michigan study found that misinformed people, particularly those loyal to their politics, rarely change their minds when exposed to corrected facts in news stories. Instead, they often become even more strongly set in their beliefs.

This restriction of intelligence may be America’s most baffling and self-destructive problem. The nation’s complex challenges won’t get solved by all the dead brains cells insisting that President Obama is foreign-born, death-panels are coming, and gun controls destroy liberty.

Why are some of us so obtuse? We tend to create an identity—our sense of ourselves as individuals and as a group or nationality—that is based on certain beliefs. Those beliefs can be religious, secular, personal, cultural, and social. Beliefs are not just mental deductions: They carry a lot of emotional baggage.


The Primary Value of WikiLeaks

Julian Assange is the “bad” boy in the family who jumps up and down waving his parents’ dirty laundry. He’s shaking up the dynamics of a dysfunctional family. Everyone’s in a tizzy.

By exposing the secrets of the ruling class, Assange and WikiLeaks can help us to grow up psychologically.

The relationship we have with the ruling class is patterned on the relationship we had with our parents. We maintain in our psyche the emotional memories of how we experienced our parents. Passivity is a primary feature of that relationship. As young children, we were dependent on our parents, and we understood that they had the power and were, in a sense, our rulers. As children, we’re biologically unable to rule ourselves. We need the rule of parents. In an ideal world, parents would always practice benevolent authority.

The rule of parents over their children is biologically necessary, just as the rule of political leaders is socially necessary. We’re not evolved enough yet to live in a complex society without a hierarchy of authority. This authority is entitled to withhold some information from the public in order to maintain an advantage over its enemies. On these grounds, the release of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks (not by WikiLeaks) probably calls for legal review.


Tyranny Prevention Starts With You

A lot of us fear that the big changes happening in America are for the worst. Many on the Left are convinced soft-core fascism has crept into our institutions and been smuggled into our laws, and they fear the possibility that conditions will deteriorate. On the Right, many fear that the federal government, more than ever, is infringing on their liberties.

There’s plenty of evidence that democracy has been weakened since the 1980s, including the growing role of corporate money in politics, the ascendency of the military-security state, the suppression of human rights under the Patriot Act, the high rate of prisoner incarceration, and the relentless pursuit of empire.

A tyrannical leadership could indeed seize power in America. But it’s self-defeating for people to live in fear of that possibility. If we spend time in fear, we’re in danger of facilitating that vile prospect. Fear arises, whether on the Left or the Right, largely out of a sense of powerlessness, passivity, and an unconscious temptation to indulge in the the feeling that the worst is going to happen.

It obviously doesn’t pay, as an example, to go around worrying about getting cancer. Worry and anxiety in itself can help bring on the disease. Instead, we try our best to live a healthy lifestyle, and keep cancer at bay through our own vitality, sense of purpose, and ability to enjoy life, even with all its trials and imperfections.

What does healthy living involve in the context of our citizenship and our desire to defeat stealth tyranny? Prevention, not fear, is the antidote.


Roots of Inflammatory Political Discourse

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, President Obama has called for a new era of political civility. If we really want this reform, we need to understand something about the roots of inflammatory discourse.

Many partisans are not interested in any resolution of political issues. The real purpose for the venom they direct at each other is to cover up their own unresolved negativity and to discharge that negativity on to their opponents and us.

If civility returns to political discourse, these partisans will be left to bake in their own neurotic juices. They prefer a scorched-earth political climate to a true accounting of their distemper.

That distemper has been particularly gruesome from the right wing where the most aggressive projections of negativity and the most irrational discourse originate. As a people, we are unable to outgrow regressive, reactionary, and violence-inviting political discourse when we don’t understood the psychological dynamics clearly enough. For all the advances in neuroscience and brain studies, we haven’t acknowledged an essential aspect of human nature. Psychoanalysis did identify this dark aspect of our psyche, but our education system failed to transmit this vital knowledge to the public.


John Boehner’s Unexplored Psyche

What makes John Boehner cry? The new Speaker of the House’s crying jags are psychoanalytically intriguing.

Boehner cries a lot in public, even when debating bills in the House. He cries when he talks about his humble past. Son of a bar owner, he grew up with 11 siblings in a two-bedroom house with a single bathroom. He said recently on “60 Minutes” that he no longer visits schools or even looks at kids playing outside because he immediately starts crying.

My intention is not to belittle Boehner but to analyze him through his childhood experiences and current behavior. We have to understand the psyche of our politicians if we’re going to reform our dysfunctional government. He has much in common psychologically with many members of Congress from both parties. They possess a level of self-awareness that’s completely inadequate to the demands of their jobs.

Boehner had a scrappy upbringing, running cases of beer and mopping the floor in his father’s bar. He put himself through school, “working every rotten job there was.” The circumstances of his childhood, along with his manner of describing it, strongly suggest that, at times, he felt unappreciated, disrespected, and lacking in value.


The Left's Unconscious Self-Defeat

The collapse of the liberal resurgence of 2008, when Barack Obama swept to power, is evidence that some form of self-defeat is at play in the left-wing psyche. Obama is not solely responsible for this collapse. He’s manifesting a weakness that’s common to most liberals.

I believe that liberals and progressives—count me among them—are weakened significantly by a false article of faith. This false belief holds that national disharmony is caused by the malice, ignorance, and oppression of others, particularly the right wing and the oligarchy.

On a personal level, we also blame our dysfunction and unhappiness on others, namely parents, employers, misguided friends, insensitive loved ones, and soul-crushing society.

Fifty years ago many people had a different take on reality. According to classical psychoanalysis, dysfunctional government is directly related to inner conflict in the individual psyche. Together we create a society that mirrors our inner development. According to this view, the behaviors of bankers, federal regulators, or the media would not be considered the ultimate cause of the current financial crisis. Rather, the crisis arose from the lack of awareness and self-development on the part of us all. Accordingly, collective revolutionary actions won’t necessarily transform this country for the better when many of its citizens remain psychologically naïve.

Passivity is as American as Apple Pie

In a perverse sort of way, passivity is very powerful. It’s the 800-pound gorilla that’s blocking our destiny. It accounts for our failure to respond appropriately to the corporatism, militarism, narcissism, and absurdism of American life.

What exactly is this passivity? Many writers and thinkers on the Left claim it’s a condition or mentality that’s being forced upon us. They believe we’re victims who are being disempowered, manipulated, and controlled by a corporate state.

Many individuals feel dominated, oppressed, and even devoured by villains in the corporate world. Some believe we'll become more powerful if power can be shifted to us, away from the corporations and the oligarchy.

However, this trickle-down empowerment doesn’t appeal to me. Those corporations possess self-aggrandizing worldly power that’s sustained by marketplace mythology, the sanctity of profits, and an illusion of earth’s invincibility. If we acquired that kind of power, we’d probably be corrupted by it.

It’s also futile to blame corporations and the oligarchy because we feel powerless. In their compulsion to grow wealthier, they take advantage of any weakness. Their ruthlessness identifies our worst weakness, which is our inherent passivity, an aspect of human nature.