The title of my new book, “The Roots of Evil — A Postmodern Exploration of the Unintended Consequences of Civilization,” is much more daunting than the actual text.
The original intended audience for the book was those who practice psychotherapy; however, it quickly became apparent that the ideas expressed in the book might be important for the public as well.
I originally conceived the book 15 years ago, during the George W. Bush administration.
My interest at the time was why some psychotherapy had failed to assist those needing help with their problems of life. My colleagues and I at the Salem Center began to take on cases that were considered untreatable. However, we had much success. We noticed that traditional definitions of the problem were flawed. We, along with colleagues from around the world — including Harlene Anderson of Texas, Ken Gergen from Philadelphia, Tom Andersen from Norway and Michael White from Australia — recognized problems with traditional modernist thinking.
We saw that four basic propositions were at the source of much of the failure of modernist thinking:
- binary thinking (us vs. them)
- control of information
- simplistic solutions to complex problems
- power over behavior
In my book, I demonstrate how these issues interfere with successful treatment.
Take the idea of binary thinking. With most therapies, there is a large power differential between the patient or client and the therapist.
We attempted to include the clients in the dialogue with the treatment team, fostering a true conversation by listening carefully, reducing the difference in power, and — perhaps most importantly — always treating the client with utmost respect and unconditional positive regard.
At the time of the Iraq War, I began to recognize that these four factors, which led to failure in the therapy room, were at the heart of failure in the community as well. In fact, these factors could be seen repeatedly as leading to evil in the community.
One doesn’t have to be a scholar to recognize all these factors were at play in George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. For that matter, we can see these factors playing out in many of the wars we have engaged in, certainly the Vietnam War and the Civil War.
As I began to research the history of Western Civilization, I saw these factors repeat themselves. In every instance, it was because the powers that be did not trust the general population to be able to make these determinations for themselves.
Today, our country is going through a difficult time. It is extraordinarily important to understand what forces around us are stoking the flames of evil. For a democracy to work, there must be a free exchange of ideas.
I do not wish to argue the merits of different solutions to problems, such as immigration and the border. The solution to that problem and other problems should come from informed people dialoguing with one another.
However, today this discussion is not taking place because a large group in the country is spewing hate. In the name of patriotism, these people are arming themselves to protect themselves from what they believe is a corrupt government.
We are heading into the darkness of winter. Even though the last election is over and we temporarily escaped catastrophe, Donald Trump is still menacing and at the forefront of the violence in this country. He led an armed insurrection to maintain his power; he distorted information as to the efficacy of the election and attempted through lying to get others to believe his assertions.
Having differences of opinion is the good and natural state of any diffuse community. However, when we speak falsehoods even when we know the truth; develop simplistic answers especially to complex concerns and project our shortcomings onto others and then use violence to get our ends met, we have created evil.
We must rebuff these actions. How are we to deal with crazy ideas like QAnon? How are we to deal with the rise of anti-Semitism? Will we ever treat people of color the same as the white plurality? How are we to confront the proliferation of military-style weapons in the community? How do we protect women’s rights? How do we stop making the divisions within this country larger? The solution to a complex set of problems facing our society must include responsible dialogue.
In my book, I propose that through love and curiosity we can once again restore normalcy to our society. It is my belief that love and curiosity are programmed into our genes. Society could not have advanced without these factors being prevalent.
Love is the single factor that keeps us together; love of a mother for a child, love of one adult for another, love of community and the love of God.
Albert Einstein said, “We are in awe of the mysteries of the universe.” Without curiosity, we would remain stagnant. We must attempt to listen to one another if our country is to prevail. If we are to restore order, we must hear each other’s pain and commit ourselves to solving problems together, and once again treat each other with respect.
Evan Longin is a Marblehead resident and author of “The Roots of Evil: A Postmodern Exploration of the Unintended Consequences of Civilization.”