The most chilling book I have ever read (book review: Democracy in Chains)

This is a book everyone who cares about saving democracy in America needs to read, so I’m reposting this review I wrote in September 2017.

If you do read it, don’t expect to get much sleep. It’s as scary as anything Stephen King ever wrote, but is based on extensive research. I have seen some of its predictions come to pass, and so have you.

A similar book is Dark Money by Jane Meyer. I have read that too, even though I didn’t review it.

Lucky Otters Haven

democracyinchains

I just finished reading Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy McLean.    This book was as creepy as anything Stephen King ever wrote, but it isn’t a horror novel or even fiction.   It’s a well-researched expose of how America lost its way — and it started a lot earlier than you thought.   It also wasn’t an accident.  Everything up to and including public attitudes about democracy and the rightward shift of both parties was planned down to the smallest detail decades ago.

It all started innocuously enough with an ultra-conservative economist named James McGill Buchanan in the early 1950s.    Buchanan was a libertarian who believed that the New Deal, labor unions, and the social safety net were assaults on true freedom  (to him and others like him, “freedom” meant the right of property owners to keep all…

View original post 1,420 more words

Advertisements

The most chilling book I have ever read (book review: Democracy in Chains)

democracyinchains

I just finished reading Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy McLean.    This book was as creepy as anything Stephen King ever wrote, but it isn’t a horror novel or even fiction.   It’s a well-researched expose of how America lost its way — and it started a lot earlier than you thought.   It also wasn’t an accident.  Everything up to and including public attitudes about democracy and the rightward shift of both parties was planned down to the smallest detail decades ago.

It all started innocuously enough with an ultra-conservative economist named James McGill Buchanan in the early 1950s.    Buchanan was a libertarian who believed that the New Deal, labor unions, and the social safety net were assaults on true freedom  (to him and others like him, “freedom” meant the right of property owners to keep all their wealth) and who also believed the Gilded Age — a time of terrible inequality and suffering harrowingly described in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) — was the last time America was on the right track.

Buchanan was relentless in his pursuit of the freedom of the wealthy and property-owning minority (who he saw as more deserving) over the masses of poor and middle class people who benefited from the social safety net, public education, labor unions, social security, and other programs put into place under the New Deal to alleviate the ravages of the Great Depression and improve life for almost everyone.   He also didn’t believe that people who didn’t own property should have the right to vote, because they would tend to favor democracy over true “freedom”  and therefore stood in the way of the growth of an unfettered free market.

james-m-buchanan-2-sized

James McGill Buchanan

 

The cancer on democracy began, like all cancers, with a tiny cell (and a lot longer ago than I ever imagined):  Buchanan set off what would become a wholesale assault on democracy in his home state of Virginia in the early 1950s by attacking public education in his state.  He wanted it to be abolished and replaced with private schools and vouchers (sound familiar?)   But at the time, his ideas were so unpopular they had no chance of influencing the public and were dismissed as fringe or even crazy by both major political parties.  Buchanan, unfazed, realized that stealth measures would be necessary for his ideas to see the light of day.

Over time, he and others like him (such as the Koch Brothers, libertarian billionaires who have funded many right wing causes and played an important role in our march toward fascism) set up right wing think tanks and found insidious ways to infiltrate the economics departments of colleges and universities, thus influencing those who studied economics and the students who graduated from these schools.

In a seemingly unrelated chapter, McLean describes the hostile 1973 takeover of Chile’s formerly socialist and democratic government by a far right wing dictator who destroyed all social programs, gutted public education and healthcare, abolished free and fair elections, ended the free press, and made dissent illegal.   And not just illegal:  many dissenters were tortured horribly before being killed, or mysteriously “disappeared.”   The end justified the means — the end being total power of the few (the oligarchs) at the expense of the many.  McLean’s inclusion of this chapter about a little-known South American country is relevant because not only did the situation in Chile (which lasted for 16 years — democracy has been restored) closely mirror the regime that is trying to do the same here in America,  the Chilean coup was aided and abetted by Buchanan and his cronies — and funded by our government.

Realizing that his ideas would never be popular with the public, Buchanan (and later, the Koch Brothers and others) deliberately planned a stealth takeover, which included deliberate lying to the public,  manipulation of the press, the gradual demonization of democratic values and the social safety net, and normalization of the callous and unthinkable.   Although they hated Vladimir Lenin’s Marxist ideology, they loved his methods, and studied them to find out how they could use the same methods to destroy democracy and install an authoritarian oligarchy in its place (Steve Bannon is also a big fan of Lenin for the same reasons).

These men and their right wing think tanks came up with new ideas for indoctrinating the public through deceptive, incredibly Machiavellian measures that resulted in getting both parties to shift rightward, until eventually, their goals that would benefit the few and hurt many no longer seemed so unthinkable.   They were able, through their machinations and manipulations, to deceive people into voting against their own best interests and erroneously believing government and regulations (laws that protect people and the environment from corporate excess) were the greatest evil we faced.

These men were not stupid.  They were well aware how much human misery and suffering extreme unregulated capitalism and privatization, removal of the safety net, voter suppression, and oppression of dissenters would create.  They saw what happened in Chile — and approved in spite of the vast human misery the extreme capitalist regime caused there.   But to them, the end always justifies the means.   If people suffer, they are necessary casualties of a system they believe is the only one that would reward and benefit only the deserving.   Those who suffer deserve to suffer.

The changes, which had already been going on for over two decades, finally became noticeable in the late 1970s, as evangelical Christianity was co-opted by the far right, which began to infiltrate its theology.  Using religion as a tool to reach the middle and lower classes, most of the South and Midwest could be duped into voting against democratic values and for those that benefited only the oligarchs.    Shortly thereafter, Reagan was elected and the era of deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations began — and is still going on to this day.   But even Reagan proved to be a traitor to the cause when he refused to privatize Social Security, which is a long dreamed of goal and frighteningly close to success.     His refusal to cooperate caused a deep rift in the Republican party between the moderates and the hardline conservatives.  Reagan would be too liberal for today’s far right.

The most horrifying thing about Democracy in Chains is the last chapter, which describes our future if these sociopathic leaders have their way.   I won’t go into too much detail here, but prepare to be shocked by these “liberty first” hardliners’ callousness for human and for all life.   Such a future would make today’s seem like a paradise.   Conditions would rival developing countries (and they are aware they would be but they don’t care). There would be no funds for public health or sanitation, which would cause pandemics only seen in the third world.  The rich would live in gated palaces while the masses would be forced to try to survive in shantytowns and makeshift shelter, since housing would be priced out of their reach. No access to public education, transportation (roads would be privatized also), healthcare, or any basic services at all would create early death, brutality, despair and suffering, violent crime beyond anything we can imagine in America.   Naturally, the lack of access to public schooling (and the need for cheap and slave labor) would lead to the dismantling of child labor laws (which they see as anathema to “freedom”).   Private prisons with no laws against brutality would be the lot of many.    There’s also a reason for their climate change denial. It’s not because they are ignorant (they aren’t) and it’s not solely about greed either.  They actually see natural disasters as a way to weed out the “takers” (those who would not be able to prepare or escape) from the “makers.”  

We are almost there.  This coup is deliberate and well-organized and evil to the core — and is being carried out in the darkness and secrecy because there is no other way for them to force their diabolical plan on the rest of us.   It didn’t begin with Trump, or Bush, or Clinton, or even Reagan.  It’s been the stealth plan of the far right for almost 70 years.   These people do their evil work in darkness and secrecy and the intent is to rewrite our Constitution to suit only themselves.  They are determined to have their way no matter how antisocial or oppressive the means to get there might be.   They are no longer even trying to hide their nefarious (if not outright evil) motives.  This was evident during the recent healthcare bill fiasco, in which the GOP worked in secrecy, without input from any Democrats or progressives, and never even denied their lack of transparency.   Trump is a late stage symptom of this coup and this book is a last minute call to action before it’s too late and we lose even our right to vote or protest.    This is an unsettling but necessary book.

Democracy in Chains is incredibly well researched, with 60 pages of footnotes.  It’s not an easy read, but I recommend it to anyone who cares about democracy and wonders why America lost its soul.

Book Review: “PurgeAtory” by Brieanne K. Tanner

purgatory purgatory2

A friend I met on Twitter, a young woman named Brieanne Tanner, has had an interesting life.  It’s been a crazy and enlightening journey in every sense.

In her first book, PurgeAtory: You Can Purge Your Karma, she tells the story of Liv, a fictional woman whose life experiences are based on Brieanne’s own.  Liv’s memoir-like tale starts with a near-tragedy, the suicide attempt of her sullen and rather antisocial golden-child Kurt Cobain-lookalike brother, Reid.  Liv, an INFJ–introverted, dark, artistic, and introspective–is the scapegoat in her narcissistic family, ignored by her father and constantly berated by her mother who can’t or won’t appreciate her daughter’s unique qualities.

A turning point arrives at a party at which Liv is given a date-rape drug and the unthinkable happens.   Liv grows into adolescence hardened and cynical but still open to new experiences.  She’s Gen-X personified–embracing her generation’s ’90s incarnation of who-cares grungy, gothic edginess.  She worships the Cure, the Grateful Dead, and Nirvana, wears loose black clothing, and writes dark angsty poetry.

Later, she loses herself (and sometimes finds herself) in music and for awhile, psychedelic drugs–and meets a lot of odd, scary, and unforgettable people along the way.   She suffers great losses and seems to have lived the life of an 80 year old even though she is only in her early 30s.

Through a new mentor, Liv finally discovers yoga and begins to write, and finds both of these activities to be cathartic and healing.  She begins to contemplate her own karma and the meaning of everything that has previously happened.

I won’t say more about Liv’s story so as not to spoil anything–you just have to read it for yourself.   It’s one woman’s spiritual and emotional journey from an abusive childhood to wellness and wholeness.  It’s about fulfilling one’s destiny and moving on from the limitations of the past without forgetting their lessons.  It’s a story about narcissistic abuse that is so much more than that.

PurgeAtory is not long–just 83 pages and even includes a glossary.  It’s a mix of short essays, vignettes, poetry, drawings, and profound and sometimes funny ruminations about loving and living life to the fullest.

I recommend this book to all survivors of narcissistic abuse, and all survivors of just having lived life, which is itself a potentially traumatic experience.  You don’t have to be into yoga or Eastern religion or a member of Generation X to appreciate and learn from Brieanne’s message of hope and healing.

PurgeAtory is available for purchase on Amazon.

Book Review: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (by Pete Walker)

pete_walker

I finally finished reading a most wonderful book sent to me by my friend and fellow blogger, Linda Lee. It’s called Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, written by Pete Walker, himself a sufferer of C-PTSD and narcissistic abuse survivor. He is also a therapist who works with others with C-PTSD.

Walker’s book is incredibly readable and tells you everything you need or want to know about C-PTSD, a subcategory of PTSD that isn’t (but should be) included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of the mental health profession. Complex PTSD is similar to PTSD but there are several important differences. The recognized diagnostic category of PTSD describes a disorder that is caused by one traumatic event, such as a rape or combat in a war. PTSD itself wasn’t recognized until psychologists noticed that many Vietnam war veterans were suffering from a group of similar symptoms including, but not limited to, loss of memory, dissociative episodes, panic attacks, general but severe anxiety or depression, inability to cope with day to day challenges, impaired ability to regulate emotions including anger, impaired ability to relate to others in a healthy way, nightmares, flashbacks, and physical pain with no medical causes. C-PTSD has a similar set of symptoms, but is “complex” because of its cause–instead of being precipitated by a single traumatic event, it’s caused by an ongoing series of traumatic incidents and also usually (though not always) begins during childhood. Very often it’s a result of being “cared for” by narcissistic or sociopathic parents, who are actively abusive or neglect their child. Unlike most self-help books, Walker covers the nature of narcissistic abuse and its soul-murdering effect on a child, and how this can lead to C-PTSD and its various manifestations.

Walker breaks down C-PTSD into four “types,” each one corresponding to a different type of defense mechanism, which he calls “The Four F’s”–Fight (the narcissistic defense); Flight (the obsessive compulsive or “workaholic” defense); Freeze (the dissociative defense); and Fawn (the Codependent defense). Most people will have a combination of these, but usually one will be dominant over the others. I find it intriguing that Walker describes the narcissistic and borderline personalities as manifestations of C-PTSD (BPD is a Fight-Codependent hybrid), because I also think that’s exactly what they are.

Walker doesn’t think that any form of C-PTSD is untreatable or necessarily permanent, although some forms are more difficult to eradicate than others. People with severe C-PTSD may spend most of their time in a “flashback” without even knowing that it’s a flashback. For example, if you are continually depressed and anxious without being able to pinpoint why, you may be in a flashback to a time when you were made to feel shame as a young child. Any sort of invalidation or reminder of the shame, no matter how small, could have set off the flashback.

Also discussed is the importance of nurturing your Inner Child, and Walker shows you how you can begin to do this on your own. He also explains why people with C-PTSD have such a harsh Inner Critic (which is the internalized “voice” of the abusive parent that relentlessly continues to shame the Inner Child) and how how re-training your Inner Critic to be less, well, critical and more supportive of the Inner Child can do wonders for your self esteem and help you begin to heal. One of the most important things that must happen in order to heal from C-PTSD is to be able to grieve the lost or wounded inner child and also to be able to feel and express righteous anger toward the abuser (while being No Contact with the actual guilty party, of course).

While Walker encourages therapy (and states that in severe cases says it may be the only way to heal from C-PTSD), he recognizes that it may not always be appropriate or possible for everyone. For example, some C-PTSD sufferers (usually the Freeze/dissociative type) are so hypervigilant and uncomfortable relating to others that they can’t begin to trust a therapist enough to make any progress that way. Such people may do better on their own, at least to begin with. He points out early on that even if you skip around in the book (because not everything in it may apply to everyone) that you can still be helped. He gives the reader helpful things they can do on their own, such as positive affirmations, self-mothering, self-fathering and the “Time Machine Rescue Operation,” mindfulness skills, thought-stopping the Critic, thought substitution, recognizing signs of being in a flashback, how to grieve, and finding “good enough” relational help, among many other tools.

At the core of C-PTSD is the “abandonment depression,” a feeling of terrible emptiness that the Four F’s have been used to avoid confronting. Walker explains how to cope with the abandonment depression without denying that it exists or using the Four F’s as defense mechanisms against it.

Finally, Walker includes a list of books–which he calls “Bibliotherapy”–that he and his patients and visitors to his website have found useful. He wraps things up with six easily referenced “toolboxes” the C-PTSD sufferer can use as adjuncts to their recovery.

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving is intelligently and empathetically written, and easy to read without being condescending or dumbed down. Its chapters are organized in an understandable and logical way, and subheaders are used throughout to make it possible to read the book in easy to digest chunks. This book has helped me immensely so far, and takes the complexity out of this “complex” disorder.

You can visit Pete Walker’s website here:
http://pete-walker.com/

Book review: Confessions of a Sociopath (M. E. Thomas)

sociopath_confessions

A couple of weeks ago I went to a yard sale and a book caught my eye, because of its subject matter–a copy of M. E. Thomas’ autobiography, Confessions of a Sociopath: a Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight.

Ever-fascinated with all things Cluster B, including first-person accounts by narcissists, psychopaths and other antisocial types, I got busy reading that same evening. It took me two weeks to finish the book, when normally I’d devour a book of this length and subject matter in just a few days.

I’m sorry to say, this book was a disappointment. It was a long, painful, boring read. First of all, Ms. Thomas isn’t a very good writer. Full of run-on sentences and endless, dull descriptions of how great she thinks she is because she lacks empathy and a conscience (she seems to think of these as traits only weak or stupid people have, reminding me of Ayn Rand without an iota of the latter’s intelligence), Thomas comes off more as an obnoxious, self-centered, common narcissist than a true sociopath.

Thomas (who owns the website Sociopath World) is not a criminal. She may well be sociopathic in that she seems to take pleasure in cheating, manipulating, hurting, and discarding others, once gleefully watched a possum drown, and admits she enjoys ruining the reputations of people she has worked with. She clearly has no empathy and seems to have no emotions. She crows on endlessly about how her lack of a conscience or any empathy has freed her from having to worry about what others think and therefore indicates what she thinks of as her superior intellect. But like the narcissist she really is, she overvalues her achievements and intelligence. She works as an attorney but doesn’t seem to be able to stay employed for long, and really doesn’t have any other impressive achievements under her belt. Her “theories” about sociopathy are nothing more than rehashes of what other people have already described in psychology texts, and less readable than theirs. Overall, Thomas comes off as self-congratulating, obnoxious, unlikeable, and very shallow. She also comes off as rather dumb.

M. E. Thomas is clearly a malignant narcissist, but by calling herself a “sociopath” you feel like you’ve been the victim of a bait-and-switch (which is in itself sociopathic, I suppose). The cover of the book is a picture of a sinister female mask on a white background, and you open the book expecting something more than you actually get, at least some sort of depth or insight into her own behavior. But Thomas has no real insight and the book reads more like a resume of her fake “achievements” than a dark psychological memoir. She talks about her family, who she describes as neglectful, but she doesn’t seem to think they were particularly abusive. She takes arrogant pride in her “sociopathy,” repeating the word again and again throughout the text, as if to drive home the fact that she really is one, when it seems that she “protesteth too much” and underneath all that bluster, suspects she may not be. That kind of insecurity over the possibility of not really being what one says they are is a lot more typical of NPD than psychopathy or sociopathy, who don’t care what others think of them. Thomas also talks about wanting to have a family and her religion (Mormonism) a lot. Maybe her religion keeps her from acting out against others in more heinous ways and gives her a sort of “cold” conscience that keeps her out of prison, but I sure hope God doesn’t let her have children. She doesn’t seem capable of maintaining a relationship, so that doesn’t exactly work in her favor.

Although narcissists are thought of as having no emotions, it isn’t really true that they don’t, and there are narcissists and sociopaths who have been able to write about themselves in an emotionally engaging, albeit dark and depressing, way. There is rage and hurt and despair seething behind the surface of their words. But Thomas writes in a cold, emotionless way, probably because she’s such a bad writer. As a result, you feel about as excited reading her “memoir” as you’d feel reading the most boring high school textbook–and learn a whole lot less.

The only reason I didn’t feel completely ripped off was because the yard sale copy of this book set me back only $1; if I’d purchased it at full price, I’d be pretty annoyed right now. It was all I could do to even finish this book. It was that boring. Don’t waste your time. If you want to read a good book about sociopathy, read Marsha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door instead. If you really need to read something that comes “out of the horse’s mouth,” you’d do better with Sam Vaknin.