The Elephant in the Room Chronicles

Climate Change, Plastic Garbage in our Oceans, Rampant Opioid Deaths and Involuntary Migrations All Symptoms of a Great Problem

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2019 at 8:35 am

Problems reveal themselves through symptoms and often the symptoms can pose a great danger.  For example, a child can die of a high fever so the first response must be to bring it down.  The second response is to ask what caused the fever and then address that usually employing different strategies.


For a very good reason, the point of this treatise, we are voyeuristically obsessed with symptoms.  We want to know and see the gore and horror of it all.  We slow down to see the body and the mangled steel every time we pass an accident.  We want to see and the media gives us what we want and what we want always concerns what is and seldom how it came to be.


In general there seems to be two classes of symptoms.  The first class lends itself to some kind of technological solution and the second to a social one.  Climate change, the plastic garbage pollution of our oceans and previously beautiful shores are the first class of symptoms.  We watch in horror the magnitude of their impact on our precious planet.  With the same intensity we root for the idea of corralling and scooping up the floating garbage and hope there are enough trucks to haul it off our shores.  Similarly, we eagerly await the technology that will suck excess carbon out of our atmosphere and at the very least stop the conditions responsible for the turbulent weather conditions we are experiencing.


Involuntary migration of 258 million people, according to a 2017 census, and the exponentially escalating opioiddeaths across the world are the second class of symptoms.  At least no one has yet offered a technological solution.  So far we are tinkering with social solutions such as safe injection sites, harm reduction strategies and the opening of borders to absorb those who did not want to but were forced to leave their home land.  Treatment, whatever that means, for addicts also is often advocated and for the involuntary migrants the more insightful want to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries.  


Since we are exceptionally good at solving a problem, once identified, as so aptly and at pain staking length, described by Steven Perkin in Enlightenment Now, our efforts to address symptoms are having and will continue to have various degrees of success.  As with the child’s fever, however, sooner than later we must ask what caused the symptom in the first place.  If we do not this anological fever will continue to return and eventually kill the child or in this context most if not all of us.


To identify what caused either class of symptoms requires asking questions about ourselves.


We need to ask:  what is about us that satisfying our unbridled greed for more trumps concerns for our environment and the right to sovereignty of other nations?  What is it about us that we cannot comprehend that thereare broad and long term consequences to what we do today, indeed this instance?  This includes ignoring the reality that addicts who invariably become addicted are the products of environments to which they were exposed as children.  And, what is it about us that we rather satisfy our ghoulish voyeuristic penchant for seeing what is rather than wonder how it came to be in the first place?


The answer to each question is the same.  Our cognitive developmental perspective (how we think) is stuck.  It is obstructed from achieving its innate potential by our own deliberate but most often inadvertent need to maintain the status quo.  Because of how we think we behave badly, like teen aged self centered adolescents.  We pollute the environment, meddle in the affairs of others and intergenerationally perpetuate and exacerbate family dysfunctionalities.  Developmentally obstructed we cannot behave otherwise and we certainly cannot comprehend that there are broad an long term consequences to what we do today.


No one like to hear that their, and those near and dear to them, cognitive developmental perspective is stuck.  Nor do they want to hear that as a result they behave badly.  We must, however, all hear this if we are ever going to do more than just put out the symptomatic fires caused by our obstructed cognitive developmental perspective.


Once we accept the existence of this underlying problem,responsible for causing the symptoms likely to destroy our world as we know it, we can apply our excellent problem solving skills to fixing it.  In the spirit of the upcoming new year perhaps we can add this focus to our agenda.


Synagogue Attack: Tribalism at its Worst

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Theory has it supported by thousands of years of experience, that a time of crisis is a time of great opportunity and danger.  Sadly, most times the danger is realized.  The danger takes the form of intensifying our fear and our seeking of refuge or safety.  The fear also compromises our individual and collective potential to think critically about the root cause of escalating instances of crisis.  I am compelled once again to have a go at providing an explanation and based on that a way out of this human malaise where we have been stuck since the beginning of our time.  Specifically, the impetus for trying again comes from two events, the call to cancel the debate between Steven Bannon, a former Trump advisor and conservative commentator David Frum and the Synagogue massacre last week.

First and foremost, the resolution of all problems requires an objective quantifiable definition of it.  We kind of get close to it but then fail to connect the dots.  We get close to defining the problems of racism, bigotry, misogamy, anti-Semitism, genocide, populism, political ideology, religious denominational beliefs and the like as cognitively based tribalism, a perspective which can be reliably measured.  It is that for certain but what is the relevance of calling it so is the question we fail to ask.

The relevance is that tribalism is an unavoidable cognitive developmental stage perspective in an invariant hierarchical sequence of actualizing our potential.  Simply put, it is the stage perspective of teenagers as they try to figure out who they are by exploring what they want to value, believe and do.  During this critically important time they align themselves with ‘like minded’ individuals who become their reference group (tribe).  There is safety and comfort from this affiliation, being told what to believe,value and do, until they acquire the courage to think for themselves and move on.  The courage usually comes from actively creating new, better meaning about what they experience because past beliefs have been disturbingly challenged.  Debates, especially the disturbing comes, are ideal for promoting cognitive development.  The last thing we should be doing therefore, is to cancel them, especially if they are disturbingly controversial.  

There was a time when I accepted a protracted reference group perspectives, especially religious ones at the time of death, as valuable and comforting to the bereaved.  I also accepted that being a member of a pro-social tribe served a positive purpose and this justified their existence.  Unfortunately all this comes at a price I am no longer willing to pay.

The price we all pay is that we allow ourselves to be cognitive developmentally stuck and behave accordingly.  The murder of worshipers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh is the most recent example of the horrors that can be rationalized from a tribal or reference group perspective.  Throughout the ages there are innumerable examples against which the developmentally actualized have railed, alas to no avail.

The message of most, if not all prophets, have been and continue to be, that we have the innate potential to create a world far better than the one in which we live, only to have their message institutionalized into tribal perspectives.  The late John Lennon captured their hope in Imagine as did the Reverend Martin Luther King in I Have a Dream.

To finally realize the opportunity from our self inflicted one crisis after another, at the risk of sounding preachy, it’s time to fully embrace debates and let our minds do their job of creating new and better meaning from the cognitive conflict created by them.  Its time to carefully listen, analyse, and test other perspectives no matter how disturbing we may find them.  Its time to break self or reference group imposed rules about what we read, listen to or learn about.  Instead of fearing cognitive conflict we need to seek and engage with it.  Because without it we will continue to be stuck, hating, fighting and killing each other just because of the tribe to which the other belongs.

The benefits of getting unstuck have already been all too well described so all that is required to get started is to just Imagine and Have a Dream.


Alexander T. Polgar, Ph.D., R.S.W.

Forensic social worker who lives & writes in Hamilton


The Danforth Incident: Less a Mystery than we might think

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2018 at 8:59 pm


Our collective reaction to the shooting in Toronto’s Greektown is remarkably predictable and similar to reactions to other senseless tragedies.  We are literally obsessed with what happened, what people saw and how people feel about the events.  The media panders to this ghoulish primitive voyeuristic preoccupation sending a hoard of news reporters to the site who repeat what they have said many times before and who stick microphones in the faces of pedestrians asking them questions such as; “How do you feel about your city now, or do you still feel safe in Toronto?

Besides filling time and pandering there seems to be very little, if any constructive value in this type of media coverage.

Appropriately, the fate of victims is identified and in so doing we are all reminded of the fragility of life.  Sadly adjectives such as innocent or beautiful are constantly used to describe the victims.  One is left to wonder why there is a need to do so. If they were not would the assault on them be less tragic?  Assuredly all forms of violence, regardless of what it is perpetrated with is abhorrent and unacceptable.  The fact that a gun was used in this instance is not  nearly as important as it is made out it to be.  Focusing on gun violence could well take us in the wrong path.

To the media’s credit, knowing that we all need to make sense of what happened on the Danforth they call in “experts” who by definition are knowledgeable in narrowly focused specific areas.  This explains the confusing hodgepodge of perspectives they provide about what happened.  For example, the experts do not explain that radicalized and gang related violence is a reference group ideologically prescribed behaviour problem.  The Danforthperpetrator does not readily meet this criteria.  The shooter in fact has no history of radical ideas or behaving violently. In fact his actions have been characterised as out of character.  To be perplexed by his ‘motive’ while understandable is likely the wrong question to ask.

Given the perpetrator’s so called history of mental illness the more relevant question is; what caused him to behave in this way?

There is a vast body of scholarly, evidence based, albeitvirtually entirely ignored literature that purport that depressed an or psychotic people do not kill themselves or others.  Involuntarily, unwittingly intoxicated medication spellbound people do.  We have known about this for decades and many malpractice and product liability law suits have been settled out of court essentially to avoid a sensational public trial exposing the dangers of psycho-active drugs, the primary tools used by psychiatry.  Books by Peter Breggin MD are good reference sources for those interested.

In fact, there for the looking, are product inserted warnings about many psychoactive drugs that they might cause: suicidal ideation and behaviour, acting on dangerous impulses, unusual changes in behaviour, increased agitation, aggression and the list does go on.

Moreover, these reactions to the toxic substances can also occur after they have been stopped.  The greatest tragedy being, the definition of medical spellbinding, is that the individual does not know or is unaware of the negative effects produced by the prescribed drug. 

In trying to make sense of the Danforth tragedy the critically important questions to ask therefore are:

 What is meant by the statement trying to get help for the perpetrator?
 What medications and therapy did not work and why not?
 What medication was he taking or had recently stopped?
 What toxic, including prescribed psychoactive drugs were found by the autopsy?


As we all know, finding the right answer always requires asking the right questions.  Especially in this case, finding the right answer also requires acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room that psychiatry and psychiatric drugs often do more harm than good.  Which was it in this case needs to be determined.


Alexander T. Polgar, Ph.D., R.S.W.

Forensic social worker who lives, practices and writes in Hamilton