The Elephant in the Room Chronicles

When everything that could goes wrong: The Life of Bill Cummer 

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

I just finished reading the very sad story of Billy Cummer’s life. I usually don’t read such articles …. Too much like work. I also usually don’t read such exposés because they upset me for very different reasons than you would think. In no particular order of importance the two and half pages on Billy amount to little more than ghoulish voyeuristic, neck careening at a train wreck. What was the rationale for printing this story? Whatever the reason it is lost on me and probably countless others.

Perhaps the reason for printing the story is about redemption. That even the likes of Billy Cummer, as Justice Skarica said, is “not yet irredeemable” because from the bench he has “seen people who are absolutely evil” and by inference Billy is not.

Perhaps the reason for printing Billy’s sad story is to highlight, perhaps educate and deter, others from following his chosen path. Even he describes himself as “too much of an idiot” who chose the life that “nobody else created it for me but me”.

Probably, I would like to believe there were noble public interest reasons for printing Billy’s sad tale. Unfortunately whatever the positive sentiment it is markedly misplaced. Significant opportunities were last to advance our understanding and perhaps even kindle our resolve to try harder to prevent the emergence of other Billy Cummers hundreds, if not thousands, in the making at this very moment.

Contrary to Billy’s belief he did not chose nor create the train wreck called his life. He was destined to it by the family and the environment into which he was born. Curiously no one asks or talks about in the article how was Billy Cummer made? Just like no one asked how did Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka or Jeffrey Dommer become the monsters in whose horrific behaviours everyone was ghoulishly interested. To passingly reference that Billy did not see eye to eye with his father is to discount everything that we know and is widely published in the literature about the Early Years. By the time the likes of Billy turn two years virtually irreversible damage is done. Subsequent opportunities for early identification and intervention are almost non-existent. His story, according to credible science is one of social systems failures, at all levels, starting with the family. This is not to blame his parents or anyone else. It is to explain so that from understanding perhaps we can do better at preventing the troubled likes of Billy Cummers from occurring in the first place.

Furthermore, as a collective we do ourselves a marked disservice when we talk of evil. It is a religious reference that blames a mythological character some call Satin. When we invoke this conceptualization we conveniently abdicate personal and social responsibility when it comes to child rearing. Judging from the article Billy is no evil idiot. He is simply a markedly badly behaved person whose innate developmental potential has been obstructed from the get go. Instead of being helped, perhaps rescued, as a child he was labeled, ADHD, and victimized because of his vulnerabilities. The rest of his experiences amount to nothing more than constantly pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.

I sincerely hope there will be some purpose and meaning to the life of Billy Cummer. For now it has served the purpose of illustrating later life negative consequences when all goes awry in the life of a child dependent on the adults around him.

 

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

Forensic Social Workers, author and consultant lives and writes in Hamilton

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The American People Have Revealed Themselves the 8th of November 2016

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2016 at 10:20 am

The correct and gracious phrase of one who loses an election is that ‘the people have spoken and in a democracy their voice must be honoured’. On November 8th, 2016, 60 million Americans have done far more than speak with their vote. They have revealed themselves. Those who voted for Donald Trump, those registered voters who could not be bothered to vote, and those eligible but could not be bothered to register revealed their cognitive developmental moral perspective and acted on it.Yes the pundits are correct that the three groups are frustrated with a political system they believe has let them down and are fed up with career politicians the likes of the Clintons. But there is more to explaining their action or the lack of.

In is gilded New York penthouse, in his private jet and overall life of luxury the Donald could not be more different from the 60 million who voted for him. Yet they identify with him and his message resonates with them. There is good and an explainable reason for this.

So what does Donald trump reveal about himself by what we have come to know about him and how he behaved throughout the campaign. First of all his behavior is not an act. There was no reason to coach him to behave other than he does since he was already a highly regarded successful reality show celebrity. What makes him popular and why people identify with him is the cognitive developmental moral perspective that is revealed by how he reasons and behaves accordingly. This is the common ground between him and his supporters.

Sadly morality as a focus of analyses has gone out of fashion. There are many reasons for this not the least of which is that it hits too close to home. The social angst created by revealing the moral perspective of Nazi war criminals and Watergate conspirators in the 60’s and 70’s were troubling to the extent that the practice was abandoned. It has been replaced by a ghoulish preoccupation with symptoms such as who is Donald Trump and who are his supporters rather than why do they reason and behave in this way? Everyone is interested in the details of transgression not from where they emanate.  

Before exposing the cognitive developmental moral perspective of Donald Trump, his supporters and those who could not be bothered to register and then vote a brief primer on morality is necessary. Morality has to do with what is the right thing to do when there are competing claims; ethics is about following a certain set of rules; and values is about what you like. Of the three, moral perspective is at the core and determines how rules are followed and what is preferred. There is no one single moral perspective. There are at least three levels and six higher archaically different ways of reasoning abbot what is the right thing to do.

Mr. Trump’s moral developmental perspective revealed by what he says and does is at the first preconventional level. At this level might makes right and the right thing to do is to; take advantage of all situations and people; seek the path of least resistance; satisfy immediate needs without regard for broad or long term consequences; advance personal gain interest regardless of impact on the greater good.

People who function at this moral developmental perspective are situationally determined. Principles are incomprehensible and the only thing that can be predicted about them is that they are unpredictable except that whatever they do primarily will be self serving. This can include being charming and appropriate if the situation requires it.

At the preconventional level of moral reasoning there is another significant feature, namely the ability to create pleasing fantasies about ones self and ones future prospects. The gambling industry thrives on this as did Mr. Trump benefit from it. All those who voted for him bought into his pleasing fantasies about who he is and what he can do on the world stage.

It would not be unreasonable to characterize the November 8th results as a crises of significant proportions. As in all instances of crises there is great opportunity and danger. The danger is obvious, the opportunity is not so much. It is there however in the unprecedented data created by the results. The 60 million who voted for Mr. Trump, the 100 million registered voters who could not be bothered to cast a ballot and the 40 million eligible voters who could not be bothered to register add up to an alarming number of Americans stuck at the preconventional level of moral reasoning. This is far more alarming than a four year Donald Trump presidency. After he is gone, unless something significant is done, which won’t be, the problem of preconventionality will still be there.

In addition to knowing the numbers, the other opportunity in this crisis is to see through the Disney like Main Street USA façade. There is no real Main Street USA and America has never been great. The rhetoric of pleasing fantasy hopefully can now be replaced by the reality that pervasive adverse conditions in America, indeed the world, obstruct the innate developmental potential of most people. Stuck at the preconventional level of moral reasoning the greatness of which all humans have potential remain unrealized.

If we can agree that obstructed development of the human potential is not just American but a global problem, as the adage goes, the problem already is half solved. The other half requires that we collectively take responsibility for what is and work together to remove systemic obstacles to the development of our innate human developmental potential.

Obstructed Moral Development & the US Presidential Campaign

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2016 at 7:29 am

A very long time ago, at least for some, significant world events and the individuals involved were scrutinized from a moral perspective. What moral perspective is revealed by the actions of people was the focus of analysers. The question served us well by revealing what thought processes precipitated actions, indeed characterised the persons involved. Before applying this analyses to the current U.S. presidential candidates it will be useful to briefly review some history.David Halberstam in the Best and the Brightest published in 1969 wrote “the Cuban fiasco demonstrates how far astray a man as brilliant and well intentioned as Kennedy can go who lacks a basic moral reference point.”  

William Sloan Coffin Jr. in 1973 reflecting on the morality of the men involved in Watergate observed that “the rational mind is no match for an irrational will that needs to place popularity and power above truth.”

With respect to war atrocities Berkowitz in 1964 wrote that “evaluation of action believed by members of a given society to be right is to take the position that a loyal Nazi was behaving morally”. Lawrance Kohlberg in 1969, after analyzing the Jerusalem trial transcripts concluded that Eichmann’s reasoning and justification represent the most basic stage 1 moral perspective where might makes right. In contrast McCord and McCord in 1956 characterized Herman Goering as an individual “possessed of an absolute contempt for morality.”

This type of analyses has not gone out of fashion inasmuch as it has become the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge let alone talk about. If this analyses is applied to Mr. Trump it must also be applied to all those who continue to willingly support him. The numbers of those who support him are far more worrisome than the individual Mr. Trump. The numbers who support him reveal not the frustration and plight of the downtrodden American but the moral lassitude throughout the country. The moral lassitude probably is attributable to two significant conditions. One is that the moral development of the supporters has been significantly obstructed and the other is that under siege conditions the moral perspective of Mr. Trump’s supporters has regressed to the level at which he functions.

Before examining the moral developmental perspective of Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton a brief primer on morality is necessary. Suffice it to say this is a topic much studied and written about. At the core of it all is that moral reasoning about what is the good develops over time as a function of experience. For Eichmann the good was might makes right, for the reverend King the good was a principled unconditional quest for universal justice. These extreme positions start at the preconventional and culminate at the post conventional moral developmental perspective.

Based on what we have heard and learned about Mr. Trump it would not be unreasonable to conclude that he subscribes to the perspective that might makes right. Similarly it would not be unreasonable to conclude that he also subscribes to the one moral stage higher perspective of instrumental reciprocity at which the primary focus is on serving one’s own interest through the path of least resistance without regard or appreciation that actions have broad and long term consequences. Both stage 1 and 2 perspectives represent preconventional morality the essence of which is an egocentric point of view.

While Ms. Clinton from this analytical view does not present as a principled thinker she presents a far higher and therefore more comprehensive moral perspective than her opponent. Consequently, she is more likely to pursue the good from a social system perspective that is focused on contributing to the welfare of those she will serve if elected.

Most likely this discourse about moral perspectives is somewhat difficult not because it is but because we seldom engage in it. We have abandoned it in favour of the medical model that postulates bad behavior to be an illness over which we have little or no control. While understandably more palatable than taking personal and social responsibility for obstructed moral developmental potential we all pay a tremendous price for taking the easy way out. Right now the price we pay is being subjected to the base behavior of a presidential candidate and more importantly a cohort of millions who identify with and support him. It’s time to acknowledge and talk about the moral elephant in the room. Then it’s time to remove the conditions that obstruct the moral developmental potential of which we are all capable.