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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/26/09

Rush Limbaugh and the Power of the Negative

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Most of us recognize Rush Limbaugh as an active volcano of negativity and hatred. We tend to think his listeners must be fools or simpletons to be under his influence. Yet smart and successful people are among his biggest fans.

Limbaugh's appeal exposes a vital flaw in human nature: A lot of us are more enamored of the negative side of life than we realize. The Star Wars creators were right to warn us about the power of the dark side.

Limbaugh's listeners are entitled, of course, to disagree with liberal thought. But they don't just disagree. They impersonate their leader in spewing hot anger and hatred, believing that these negative emotions are warranted by the "idiotic" and "evil" beliefs and behaviors of liberals.

Terrorists do exactly the same thing: They believe that other peoples or groups are the cause of their negative feelings. They fervently refuse to recognize that their willingness to attack and kill us comes from the intense negativity (with its capacity for evil) in themselves. Their suicidal violence is a direct measure of the ferociousness of this denial. Their violence also indicates their staunch unwillingness to divest themselves of their own negativity.

Likewise, the hostility toward us from America's rabid right is a cover-up of their indulgence in their own negativity. We ought to understand this phenomenon as clearly as possible because human negativity may be the biggest obstacle to the country's need for reform. Political partisanship or the lack of national unity can be just as much about this human negativity as it is about moral, philosophical, or policy differences.

The main aspect of Limbaugh's negativity is his compulsion to be critical or judgmental. Psychoanalysis says this compulsion has its source in the superego or inner critic. This element in our psyche is an unregulated negative drive that will, at the slightest provocation, berate us, harass us, and undermine our sense of self.

When on the receiving end of this inner aggression, we turn around and compulsively dish it out to others. We become judgmental and critical toward others, believing that they are deserving of our scorn. When this critical tendency is activated in a highly dysfunctional (or highly unconscious) person, the negative feelings toward others escalate to become hateful and possibly violent.

While many of Limbaugh's listeners are intelligent, they are nevertheless uninformed about these inner dynamics. Most of them would likely try to change for the better if they understood the mechanisms through which they project and displace their negativity.  It takes a pretty evil person to understand this and still be unwilling to reform oneself.

The big problem is that (because of unconscious defenses and resistance) this understanding often doesn't penetrate into the brain. Cognitively, Limbaugh's listeners block honest facts or truth because these expose the lies they tell themselves. Moreover, they are unconsciously determined to recycle their negative emotions, and these can't be activated or fueled by truth. Instead of truth, they cavort with its wretched third-cousins-speculation, mockery, righteousness, blaming, and irrationality. This debased language, employed by the inner critic, was widely used during the Bush Administration.

So, with the stubbornness that marks George Bush's refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing, these individuals adamantly refuse to acknowledge that they themselves are the source of their negative feelings. Unconsciously, they refuse to acquire self-knowledge.

Liberals and progressives have to be alert to our own negativity. Consider, for example, that the most negative person in any family unit usually gets the most attention. Other family members tend to be pulled into this person's negative power through their passivity, their lack of understanding, and their own unseen negative elements. These family members are often entangled in the impoverished state of passive-aggressive reaction to the negative person, and are thereby unable to reform the situation.

In a comparable way, liberals and progressives in the blogosphere and on cable TV may be giving too much attention to the folly and clownish antics of the GOP. Doing so provides us with drama and entertainment, but it may ultimately represent our own inability to turn our eyes from the negative and focus on the task at hand-the reforming of our country.

Another example of the power of the negative can be seen in the forces that have ravaged our financial system and corrupted the integrity of our politicians. Both liberals and conservatives can have their own aversion to seeing the underlying dynamics of such negative forces, because to understand this fully means that we must see the traces of this in ourselves and be in the process of overcoming emotional obstacles to personal development.

One powerful but little understood form of the negative is passivity, which is the consolidation of fear, self-doubt, and a lack of inner authority. The GOP has put this negative emotion on display in its servile relationship with "Boss" Limbaugh. The concern now is for President Obama to avoid this negativity and muster the strength needed to overthrow the tyranny of the nation's money-makers.

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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)
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