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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY, PROGRESSIVE POLITICS, AND THE "OCCUPATIONS"

An Integrated Perspective

Elliot Benjamin

NOTE: In this article I continue to use the term “integrated” to describe an approach that unifies diverse perspectives, which is consistent with the basic framework of “integral,” but without utilizing the particulars of Wilber's theory of four quadrants, eight perspectives, levels and lines, traits and types, etc. (see my previous Integral World essays Integral vs. Integrative (Benjamin, 2007) and Challenging Obama in the Primaries (Benjamin, 2011a).

As disappointed as I am with Obama, I cannot honestly say that we would not be far worse off with Perry as president.

What do humanistic psychology, progressive politics, and the current peaceful “occupations” all over the country protesting the unlimited greed of banks, large corporations, and Wall Street (http://roarmag.org/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-bigger-spreads-us/) have in common? Utilizing the original formulation of humanistic psychology's focus upon caring, empathy, personal growth, and authenticity of relationships (Rogers, 1961), the following two humanistic principles can be selected from the various descriptions of what is motivating the occupations, as described in the General Assembly Declaration of the Occupation of New York City (www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/):

  1. The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members.
  2. A democratic government derives its just power from the people, and places people over profits.

These humanistic principles extended into the October, 2011 antiwar demonstrations that took place in Washington DC (http://october2011.org/blogs/margaret-flowers/october-15-freedom-plaza-everywhere), which protested against our ten year war in Afghanistan and the military/industrial complex that has been financing that war.

In his later books, Carl Rogers, one of the key founders of humanistic psychology, realized that his precious ideas about the primacy of empathy, caring, and authentic relationships between therapists and clients (Rogers, 1961), and between teachers and students (Rogers, 1969), needed to be extended into the worldwide political arena (Rogers, 1980). To his credit, Rogers (1980) traveled to various violent conflict-ridden places in the world and immersed himself in putting into practice his person-centered group process approach. Rogers was able to make significant headway in healing the hatred and animosity between various rival political and religious groups (Rogers, 1980). In his later life, Rogers certainly believed that humanistic psychology needed to enter the political arena, and he dedicated his last years to making this happen.

The basic principles of humanistic psychology can also be seen in some of the core features of progressive politics, in particular from the progressive platform of the Rebuilding the American Dream organization (http://rebuildthedream.com). The platform of the Rebuilding the American Dream movement includes ten generic areas, much of which has overlap with the political/humanistic anti-corporation and/or antiwar focus of the occupations. The Rebuild the American Dream platform was painstakingly built up from the grass roots meetings of over fifteen hundred “house parties” all over the country in July, 2011. Having facilitated one of these house parties in my own rural Maine community, I was actively engaged in creating a political/humanistic group atmosphere that I believe Carl Rogers would have been very pleased with. In spite of the enormous and overwhelming political agenda that was given to us by our overseeing organization MoveOn.com (http://front.moveon.org/), we were repeatedly instructed by MoveOn to spend a good portion of the meeting in small group discussions where every person was encouraged to tell his/her story of how she/he was affected by the economic meltdown that our country is suffering. I broke up my group of about twenty-five participants into three small groups, each with its own facilitator, and it was very moving to me to hear the various emotional personal sharings of lives that took place that afternoon.

I then actively structured the remaining time we had to insure that the small groups focused on the necessary discussions and decisions they needed to make to prioritize the various “ideas” to formulate the Rebuilding the American Dream platform. This grass roots democratic humanistic/political process was happening simultaneously in a multitude of house parties like mine, all over the country during that weekend in July, and it had been preceded by millions of online ratings of thousands of ideas. Thus the Rebuilding the American Dream progressive platform is intrinsically humanistic by the local democratic group process in which the ten core areas of the platform were found.

Is our country heading toward a “revolution,” as many comments on the occupations are suggesting? (see the comments on the above referenced occupations sites). Time will tell, but the conservative status quo forces combating humanistic/political changes are enormously powerful. I believe that the battle needs to be fought on a number of fronts, inclusive of continued peaceful street demonstrations and “occupations” all over the country, forward moving progress in progressive political movements such as Rebuilding the American Dream, MoveOn.Org, and the Network of Spiritual Progressive (www.spiritualprogressive.org), and exerted continuous and unrelenting pressures put on President Obama to move him away from the center and right-of-center agendas he has been engaged in the past three years, and more in the direction of a progressive left-of-center agenda.

From my perspective, Obama is a political entity who shifts toward essentially whatever position he thinks is in his best political interest. Obama's real views are difficult for anyone to decipher, but I believe they involve a complicated mixture of military interventions, business and high finance interests, and using government programs to help people in need. I believe Obama is appropriately characterized as a centrist or as right-of-center, dependent upon what perspective he chooses to promote at any given time. And there is virtually no disagreement that Obama is a masterful speaker and has a passion for compromise.

It appears that the dominant perspective of the occupiers and many radical progressives (see the various occupation articles and their comments on the Common Dreams website at www.commondreams.org) is that it essentially no longer matters if we have a Democrat or Republican as president, as the two parties have become virtually indistinguishable from each other, and are both run by the big corporations who care only about the almighty dollar. Although I certainly understand and am sympathetic to this perspective, I still cannot go there. As disappointed as I am with Obama, I cannot honestly say that we would not be far worse off with Perry as president, and somewhat worse off with Romney as president. I don't want to take the chance on a deranged tea party president of the United States attacking Iran and precipitating World War III and the end of the human race much sooner than if Obama is reelected and his military and war expansions are more contained. And of course there are a host of other urgent progressive issues to favor Obama to his Republican alternative, ranging from jobs to preserving social security and medicare (i.e. I believe Obama would make social welfare cuts more hesitatingly than would his Republican alternative) to more liberal environmental policies (once again speaking relatively) to taxing the rich, etc.

Yes I know rationally that Obama is better than the Republican alternative, but I must admit that I still feel “not good” about voting for Obama again. My heart and soul is with the “occupiers” and the radical progressives who talk about “revolution” and forming a third party to completely break away from our defunct two party system that has brought us into the brink of disaster through the excessive greed of the evils of capitalism. But I also know that if a third party candidate were to emerge out of the occupations that have sent shockwaves throughout the country for nearly a month, the result would be that it takes precious votes away from Obama and makes it that much more likely for a Republican president to get elected. And as much as I might want to support a hypothetical progressive third party candidate if he or she does eventually materialize from the occupations, this is my dilemma, which I believe is the common no-win situation that many progressives are currently finding themselves in.

The deepest part of me knows that the people demonstrating and occupying all over America are right.

The deepest part of me knows that the people demonstrating and occupying all over America are right. Our system is horribly broken and heading for disaster—and it appears that it is only a matter of how long it will take us to get to the brink of destruction. I agree with the occupier's perspective that our only hope is for something radically different to happen than politics as we have known it for way too long. But I choose to continue putting my efforts in the direction that has been taken by the Rebuilding the American Dream movement, in regard to getting progressive political representatives elected, with the goal of obtaining strong progressive contingencies in both houses, and eventually progressive congressional majorities and a progressive president.

Along these lines, I think that the peaceful occupations need to continue to spread and gather a wide range of support, as they have been doing. They need to form a “critical mass” of support for the demonstrations and occupations that have the potential to transform itself into electing progressive candidates in the crucial elections in 2012. This peaceful progressive political context of the occupations goes along with the guiding principles of humanistic psychology—involving the building of caring relationships in all segments of our society. And although the process of getting progressive candidates elected is undoubtedly going to be slower moving than I and other progressive would like, hopefully it would put at least some kind of deterrence on the unchecked military and war escalations that would otherwise occur, if for no other reason than unchecked military and war escalations contributes significantly to our economic meltdown, which was the primary message of the antiwar Washington DC demonstrations (see the above website reference).

In my previous Integral World article I have advocated for a progressive primary challenge to Obama (Benjamin, 2011a), based upon the proposal initiated by Ralph Nader and Cornel West (www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/09/19-7) to spur on debate for progressive political issues. As I described in my previous Integral World article "Challenging Obama in the Primaries", this proposal has not been received well by Progressives, largely because of the intention not to “win” or weaken Obama's chances of getting reelected. However, this proposal came out soon before the occupations, and a lot has happened the past month. At this point, I think that it is now much more feasible for a serious Progressive primary candidate to emerge to challenge Obama, and this is what I advocate for. Regardless of the realistic possibility of a progressive candidate actually winning the 2012 Democratic nomination for President, which from what I understand there is virtually no chance of happening (but then again who would have thought that in one month we would have occupations, demonstrations, and protests happening in over a thousand cities all over the country), at the very least we would have the potential spurring on of debate for progressive political issues that Nader and West originally envisioned.

However, it may be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part that there will be a progressive primary challenge to Obama, and thus the only viable means of effectively promoting a progressive humanistic/political agenda may very well be through a continued outpouring of demonstrations and occupations all over the country (which is also happening all over the world; see www.occupywallst.org) in support of the original Wall Street occupation. These worldwide demonstrations and occupations are mixed with the unrelenting political efforts of various major political organizations deeply involved in trying to save our country and the world from the disaster many people claim we are headed for. The enemy as I and many other see it is unrestrained self-interest, greed, and militarism, resulting in unchecked violence and a total disregard of those who are less well off. The progressive agenda prioritizes promoting jobs and fighting against cuts to human service programs, ending the war in Afghanistan, taxing the rich, and preserving the environment.

Effective human service programs go hand-in-hand with respecting people's feelings, enhancing people's creativity, and promoting people's personal growth and development, which are the essential building blocks of humanistic psychology (Benjamin, 2008, 2011b, Schneider, Bugental, & Pierson, 2001). These precious humanistic staples are in danger of virtually disappearing from the way our children are growing up. This is why I believe that humanistic psychology absolutely needs to meld itself into the political hotbed into what is going on in our country. The budget cuts to any and all human service programs inclusive of mental health, education, senior citizens, etc. is doing irreparable damage to the most vulnerable of our population. There will soon be no more opportunity to relate to people “humanistically” if we do not fight the battle for progressive politics and keep the beast away from our doors. This is what Carl Rogers dedicated himself to in various parts of the world in his later years, and this is what I believe is urgently needed in our country right here and now.

To conclude my thoughts on the relationship of humanistic psychology, progressive politics, and the occupations, I plan on going into action myself and joining the demonstrations/occupations in my state of Maine. This morning I made up the prototype for my sign—which consists of the following twelve words:

WAR AND VIOLENCE LEADS TO MORE WAR AND VIOLENCE!
PRIMARY OBAMA NOW!!!

REFERENCES

Benjamin, E. (2007). Integrated vs. integral. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from www.integralworld.net

Benjamin, E. (2008). Art and mental disturbance. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), 61-88.

Benjamin, E. (2011a). Challenging Obama in the Primaries: An integrated perspective. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from www.integralworld.net

Benjamin, E. (2011b). Humanistic psychology and the mental health worker. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 51(1), 82-111.

Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Rogers, C. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus, OH: Merill.

Rogers, C. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Schneider, K. J., Bugental, J. F. T., & Pierson, J. F. (Eds.). (2001). The handbook of humanistic psychology: Leading edges in theory, research, and practice. London: Sage.




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