In the wake of what I’ve called the Trumpsformation that began on inauguration day last year, one of my biggest fears was that my shock/rage/despair would turn into complacency. I worried that I would become a passive accomplice in maintaining a malignant status quo, one of those singled out in the quote often attributed to Dante about who belongs in the hottest circles of hell. So, I do all that I can to resist this tendency in myself, including talking about it a lot.
That’s what I was doing about a year ago with my friend Ruth Grant. Ruth is a Professor of Political Theory and Ethics at Duke University, and she has long been concerned with big issues like good, evil, and the relationship of values to the political order. Ruth has for some time been involved in a project exploring why, in the midst of very bad things, people look the other way, turn a blind eye, and pretend as if nothing bad is happening. Naturally, Ruth asked me for my thoughts, as a psychoanalyst. This has led to a fun collaboration over the past year, which will culminate in an event on Wednesday, May 2, when the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute presents “Complacency, Complicity and Moral Courage.”
The discussion at this workshop will focus on how people overcome tendencies to be complacent, and the courage it takes to tell “truth to power.” And I will tell you up front that this is a courageous presentation, because we will be bringing it all back home and talking about things we’d rather not see in our own back yard. I’m talking about the Laquan McDonald police scandal that rocked Chicago not so many years ago, which was brought to public attention by journalist Jamie Kalven, who will be sharing the stage with Dr. Grant and psychoanalyst Wendy Selene.
The application of psychoanalytic thinking to larger societal issues is inherently risky business, especially when they are in our own back yard. I hope that this effort to address this somewhat unconventional topic doesn’t backfire and scare people away. There are certainly sexier topics for a public presentation intended to showcase the Institute, which has been an important Chicago cultural institution since 1932.
But in the last analysis, it comes down to this: If we don’t speak out, who will? So, whoever is reading this, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and sign up for what I think will be a great event.