Words Create Worlds.6 Doctors Against Fascism

“Words create worlds,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]

“Words create worlds.” These are the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, here is the full quote, remembered by his daughter, Susannah Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world.  He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.  Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child.  They must be used very carefully.  Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn.  The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[2]

I have been writing this series, Words Create Worlds, based on the words and writing of Rebecca Solnit, Rob Riemen, Timothy Snyder, Madeleine Albright, Jason Stanley, and physicians: Bandy Lee, Robert Jay Lifton, and Judith Herman. I was inspired by these authors and particularly by Riemen’s To Fight Against this Age: On Fascism and Humanism and Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names and their discourse about how words shape our reality. The title for this series of essays comes from Rabbi Heschel who cautions us to be careful with the words we use. I fear that these last four years we have been over-cautious in coming to call the words of the current president of the United States of America fascist. Dr. Bandy Lee’s Twitter profile states, “Uninvolved in politics until politics invaded my area of expertise. I take my professional responsibility to protect society seriously.” Similarly to Dr. Lee, I feel compelled to speak up politically because fascism is a public health crisis. As Foucault wrote, the “first task of the doctor is therefore political: the struggle against disease must begin with a war against bad government.”[3]

The Responsibility of Spiritual Democracy

As I was working on Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality with Joseph Rael, I began to see that while the spiritual path may lead away from society at first, it eventually leads back – one returns after initiation with a new found sense of responsibility for the land and all the creatures that live on it: four-leggeds, two-leggeds, fin-ed and wing-ed. The spiritual path leads to a sense of Oneness, of non-duality. When you start to feel One with creation, you realize that you are responsible for creation. Words create worlds. The etymology of the word “responsible” goes back to a similar word, “answerable.” To be on a spiritual path, which Joseph would say is the same as the path of being a True Human Being, is to be answerable to the Earth. This led me to feel that we had to write a section of the book on the responsibility of the spiritual seeker.

Joseph Campbell taught that the hero’s or heroine’s journey had three stages: separation from the known world, initiation into the new world, and then return to the old world, but now transformed and carrying a responsibility for healing and transforming the world. For our book, this meant writing about our interrelationship with the land; about moving from “other” to “brother and sister;” about Oneness and non-difference; and about the concept of spiritual democracy – the spiritual responsibility we have for all beings. This responsibility led to us losing our publisher as the book turned out to be 500 pages long.

Joseph Rael, in the early 1980s had a vision of men and women sitting in a circular structure, half above ground, half below, singing and chanting for world peace. He followed this vision across the globe, helping to create over 60 Sound Peace Chambers on four different continents. He was recognized by the United Nations for this work on world peace. It is this spirit of peace that leads to my now needing to speak words of peace to counter the 20,005[4] divisive words of fascism.

Circle of Light Sound Chamber

Being Present with Suffering

Words Create Worlds. To be silent or neutral is to take the side of the bully. There are times that one can lose one’s humanity through inaction. Yes, it is true that one can act without humanity as well, that is a definition of fascism: actions without humanity and against humanity. When I was going through medical school in the early 1990s, struggling with the dehumanizing aspects (Perri Klass described medical school as, A Not Entirely Benign Procedure), I was also reading the Chicago Tribune regularly, trying to understand what was happening in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. I had read about World War II extensively when I was younger, I knew about fascism and genocide – but I struggled to make sense of what it meant to be a human being in the late 20th Century as I was immersed in learning the language of pathology and despair as I learned to diagnose and treat illness. I was overwhelmed by with the feeling that I was not being taught how to be human and present with either my suffering, my patients’ suffering, of the suffering of the world.

In The Shadow of the Slaughterhouse, D. Kopacz

In the Shadow of the Slaughterhouse: Silence is the Only Real Crime Against Humanity

I brought my friends together to write and to bear witness to the age. I was reading the Beats in those days, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and I loved how they created their own interpretive community and supported each other. The Beats didn’t shy away from suffering or madness, but bore witness to it, as Ginsberg wrote in Howl, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…” Or as William S. Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg, “Whether you like it or not, you are committed to the human endeavor. I cannot ally myself with such a purely negative goal as avoidance of suffering. Suffering is a chance you take by the fact of being alive.”[5] My friends and I put together an unpublishable manuscript that included cut-up art, multiple perspectives, and no coherent theme, other than a bunch of twenty-somethings let loose in the big city and reading a lot of books and trying to find their way in the world. I titled this collection, In the Shadow of the Slaughterhouse: Silence is the Only Real Crime Against Humanity. It included essays I wrote on the Native American genocide (from Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) and an essay on witnessing and the survivor (from reading Terrence des Pres’ The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps). In a way, these essays on Words Create Worlds are a continuation of In the Shadow of the Slaughterhouse: Silence is the Only Real Crime Against Humanity. I cannot remain silent as the shadow of fascism falls across the country.

This is not the succinct entry into the topic of Doctors Against Fascism that I envisioned – but then, the fight against fascism is not through bullets or bullet points, but through re-humanization. What is more re-humanizing than stories about human beings trying to make sense of suffering and bear witness? It is our humanity, our shared humanity, that protects us against the dehumanization of fascism. All of us, as human beings, are responsible for humanity because we are part of humanity. Similarly, as creatures of the Earth we are all responsible for the Earth, as we are part of Her.

What it Means to be a Professional

I have been thinking about the idea of medical activism and what it means to be a professional.[6] In my work on re-humanizing medicine through the compassion revolution,[7] I have argued that much of what we are taught in contemporary medicine is how to be a technician rather than on how to be a healer. A technician is not a professional, necessarily, but someone who performs a set of route protocols and techniques. A healer, on the other hand, is someone who learns techniques, but who also learns humanity – for it is our human presence that we must bring to suffering. While a technique or protocol might treat a disease, suffering needs humanity and compassion. To this end I have continued to argue that as physicians we should be good technicians, but that we must also be good human beings. To be a good medical technician, we are required to engage in Continuing Medical Education. To be a good human being we have to seek out our own Continuing Human Education – this is what I call the counter-curriculum of re-humanization.[8]

To be a professional means that we answer to a higher calling than just simply doing our jobs or staying in our lanes,[9],[10] it means that we are responsible to humanity. This means that our job does not end at the walls of our exam room – our job as healers is to attend to the public health of humanity.

Witnessing Professionals

In an interview with Bill Moyers, Robert Jay Lifton describes the concept of health care providers as “witnessing professionals” who have a responsibility to confront malignant normality (such as when lies and cruelty become normality). Lifton ends the interview with the following statement:

“I always feel we have to work both outside and inside of our existing institutions, so we have to…examine carefully our institutions and what they’re meant to do and how they’re being violated. I also think we need movements from below that oppose what this administration and administrations like it are doing to ordinary people. And for those of us who contributed to this book [The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump] — well, as I said earlier, we have to be “witnessing professionals” and fulfill our duty to warn.”[11]

As Psychiatrists We Feel Obliged to Express Our Alarm

Robert Jay Lifton is psychiatrist and psychohistorian I greatly admire, he is a living example of a witnessing professional who has worked at both the individual and the societal level for healing. He and Judith Herman (another psychiatrist I respect) wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times March 8, 2017.[12]

“To the Editor:

“Soon after the election, one of us raised concerns about Donald Trump’s fitness for office, based on the alarming symptoms of mental instability he had shown during his campaign. Since then, this concern has grown. Even within the space of a few weeks, the demands of the presidency have magnified his erratic patterns of behavior.

“In particular, we are struck by his repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted. Without any demonstrable evidence, he repeatedly resorts to paranoid claims of conspiracy.

“Most recently, in response to suggestions of contact between his campaign and agents of the Russian government, he has issued tirades against the press as an “enemy of the people” and accusations without proof that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, engaged in partisan surveillance against him.

“We are in no way offering a psychiatric diagnosis, which would be unwise to attempt from a distance. Nevertheless, as psychiatrists we feel obliged to express our alarm. We fear that when faced with a crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.

“The military powers entrusted to him endanger us all. We urge our elected representatives to take the necessary steps to protect us from this dangerous president.” (Robert Jay Lifton & Judith Herman)

A Duty to Warn

Dr. Bandy Lee organized an April 20, 2017 conference at Yale, entitled, “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?” From this conference grew the first edition of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, and then the second edition with 37 experts, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. Dr. Lee and colleagues then formed the World Mental Health Coalition and published The World Mental Health Coalition Documents, which collects conference transcripts, media transcripts, letters and statements, a report on the Mueller Report, and a Prescription for Survival. Dr. Lee writes:

“Since society is one of psychiatry’s primary responsibilities, next to that of patients, there is unquestionably a duty not only to warn but to protect and to promote its wellbeing. We are bound by law in most states, as now replicated in multiple countries and even in fields outside of mental health, that we must warn even those who are not our clients in the case of danger. We also have an obligation not only to warn but to take steps to protect potential victims if security personnel will not act; safety is always first priority.”[13]

Agent 488 (aka Dr. Carl Gustav Jung)

There are precedents of psychiatrists using their skills for public health and safety. Robert Jay Lifton’s career as a psychohistorian is an example – understanding dangerous movements such as: Nazi Germany, Chinese thought reform, Aum Shinrikyō, climate deniers, and the current president of the USA. Swiss psychiatrist, Carl G Jung (aka Agent 488)[14] was recruited by the United States during World War II to provide psychological profiles of Hitler. Jung’s descriptions of Hitler’s psychology and behavior are eerily similar to the current president of the United States:

“All these pathological features— complete lack of insight into one’s own character, auto-erotic self-admiration and self-extenuation, denigration and terrorization of one’s fellow men (how contemptuously Hitler spoke of his own people!), projection of the shadow, lying, falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and double-crossing — all these were united in the man who was diagnosed clinically as an hysteric, and whom a strange fate chose to be the political, moral, and religious spokesman of Germany for twelve years.”[15]

Jung cautioned about Hitler’s systematic lying which he described as pseudologia phantastica. Is our current president’s 20,055 falsehoods (as of 7/9/20) another example of pseudologia phantastica?[16]

“A more accurate diagnosis of Hitler’s condition would be pseudologia phantastica, that form of hysteria which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one’s own lies. For a short spell, such people usually meet with astounding success, and for that reason are socially dangerous.”[17]

After World War II, many professionals wondered, “Why would so many apparently rational, even educated people, follow a fascist?”[18] Jung would say that those who do not deal honestly with their own shadow project it on to “others” who are then seen as bad, dangerous, untrustworthy. Jung saw Hitler as an inferior personality who was over-taken by his own shadow, projecting his own darkness on to the world and then trying to destroy his own darkness by destroying others. From that perspective, a fascist movement is a giant psychological experiment and a fight between those who have little self-awareness and do not take responsibility for their own darkness and those who are committed to truth and reality and are willing to introspect. Jung describes the formation of mass psychosis and mob psychology:

“Its leader will soon be found in the individual who has the least resistance, the least sense of responsibility and, because of his inferiority, the greatest will to power. He will let loose everything that is ready to burst forth, and the mob will follow with the irresistible force of an avalanche…[H]e symbolized something in every individual. He was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was an utterly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or a guttersnipe. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason why they fell for him.”[19]

Untitled, D. Kopacz

The Plague of Fascism

As I have watched this regime unfold over the past four years, my early uneasiness has gradually turned to alarm. I think it is time for the Doctor to make the diagnosis: fascism, prognosis: serious.

In 1947, Albert Camus wrote his allegory on fascism, The Plague. Camus cautioned us, through his indefatigable Dr. Rieux,

“I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when all this ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing. Later on, perhaps, they’ll think things over; and so shall I. But what’s wanted now is to make them well. I defend them as best I can, that’s all.”[20]

Dr. Rieux’s commitment to defend sick people as best he can reminds us of the professional commitment of Drs. Lee, Lifton, and Herman, as well as Dr. Fauci and all the frontline health care workers doing the best they can during this pandemic. Just as Lifton encourages us to be witnessing professionals, Rieux’s writing bears witness to the peoples’ suffering:

“It could only be the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”[21]

Camus’ choice of a plague as an allegory of fascism resonates with our current situation. We are currently in an actual viral pandemic of Covid-19 and this viral plague has further illuminated the plague of fascism. The president’s deplorable and counter-scientific handling of the pandemic has led to the United States of America, the country with the most expensive health care system in the world, and with 4% of the world population, to account for roughly 25% of the cases of Covid-19 worldwide. The president has contradicted and undermined scientists and physicians, he has encouraged the opposite of public health measures (ridiculing masks and those who wear them), he has preached economy over public health, and has spread over one-third of the global misinformation on the virus.[22] And, as of 10/2/20, the president himself is now infected with Covid-19, a carrier of the plague of the pandemic and the plague of fascism. However, we knew all along that we were electing a sick individual who is a plague – a plague of lies, a plague of bullying, a plague of divisiveness, a plague of crookedness, a plague of Covid-19 and, ultimately, a plague of fascism.

Doctors Against Fascism

The way you learn how to diagnose something in medical school is to see case after case after case – until it becomes automatic. At the first signs or symptoms, you see the incipient signs of a more serious illness. This is why we need Doctors Against Fascism – to diagnose and warn us that the fascist bacillus is starting to dehumanize our population and make it vulnerable to fulminant fascism.

The Doctor is in and has bad news for you – the prognosis of our nation’s health is serious. We are infected with fascism – it has taken hold in the brains of many of our citizens and it is spreading through our institutions. Words Create Worlds and we are surrounded by 20,055 and counting words of fascism. Every lie is an assault on reality and every bit of reality that is eroded weakens the immune system of democracy, making us vulnerable to infection with the unreality of fascism.

The Growing Stack of Books I Keep on My Desk as a Reminder

This series, Words Create Worlds, grows out of my work with Joseph Rael on peace. In Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[23]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog, https://lifebetweenthetrees.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/words-create-worlds-monday-morning-parable/. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 38.

[4] “In 1,267 days, President Trump has made 20,055 false or misleading claims,” Updated July 9, 2020. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker’s ongoing database of the false or misleading claims made by President Trump since assuming office. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?utm_term=.27babcd5e58c&itid=lk_inline_manual_2&itid=lk_inline_manual_2

[5] William S. Burroughs, letter to Allen Ginsberg The Letters of William S. Burroughs, Vol. 1: 1945-1959, p. 227.

[6] David Kopacz, “Medical Activism: A Draft Working Paper,” (8/11/20) in the Being Fully Human Blog, https://beingfullyhuman.com/2020/08/11/medical-activism-a-draft-of-a-working-paper/.

[7] David Kopacz, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine, Washington DC: Ayni Books, 2014.

[8] Ibid. Also see David Kopacz, “A Proposition for a Counter-Curriculum in Healthcare Education and Practice,” (9/10/16), Being Fully Human blog, https://beingfullyhuman.com/2016/09/10/a-proposition-for-a-counter-curriculum-in-healthcare-education-and-practice/

[9] “Doctors Revolt After N.R.A. Tells Them to ‘Stay in Their Lane’ on Gun Policy,” Matthew Haag, The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2018. The original criticism was in a Tweet from the NRA, “Someone should tell self-important  anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.” https://twitter.com/NRA/status/1060256567914909702.

[10] “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns: At ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness,” Stanley Goldfarb, Wall Street Journal, 9/12/19.

[11] http://billmoyers.com/story/dangerous-case-donald-trump-robert-jay-lifton-bill-moyers-duty-warn/

[12] Robert Jay Lifton and Judith Herman, “‘Protect Us From This Dangerous President,’ 2 Psychiatrists Say,” The New York Times, March 8, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/opinion/protect-us-from-this-dangerous-president-2-psychiatrists-say.html

[13] Bandy X Lee, “American Psychiatry’s Complicity with the State,” in Bandy Lee (ed) The World Mental Health Coalition Documents, 299.

[14] Jung was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the organization that eventually grew into the CIA and INR, to provide psychological profiles of political leaders, foremost among them Adolf Hitler. Deirdre Bair, Jung: A Biography. New York: Back Bay Books, 2003, pages 481-495.

[15] CG Jung, “After the Catastrophe” (1945) in CW 10 Civilization in Transition, page 203.

[16] The Washington Post Fact Checker, 7/9/20, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?utm_term=.27babcd5e58c&itid=lk_inline_manual_2&itid=lk_inline_manual_2

[17] Ibid., 203-204.

[18] For a recent analysis of this question, see John Dean and Bob Altemeyer’s Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers.

[19] CG Jung, “The Fight With the Shadow” (1946) in CW 10 Civilization in Transition, 220-223.

[20] Albert Camus, The Plague, New York: Vintage International, 1991, p. 127.

[21] Ibid., 308.

[22] Sarah Evanega, Mark Lynas ,Jordan Adams, Karinne Smolenyak, “Corona virus misinformation: quantifying sources and themes in the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’”

[23] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Words Create Worlds.5 To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism & Humanism

“Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]

To Fight Against this Age: On Fascism and Humanism[2] by Rob Riemen

The Words Create Worlds series of essays was inspired by Rabbi Heschel’s warning of the way certain words led to the Holocaust, Riemen’s To Fight Against this Age, and Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names. I felt compelled as a health professional to speak up about fascism, based on the warning flags of the current US presidency and other world movements. In my youth, I was fascinated with World War II, later as a professional I became interested in trauma and the role of the trauma therapist as a moral agent – not just a neutral technician, but a human being who takes a moral stand against human rights abuses, what Robert Jay Lifton calls a “witnessing professional.”[3] As I have watched this regime unfold over the past four years, my early uneasiness has gradually turned to alarm. As physicians, we need to remember our higher calling to function as witnessing professionals for the health of society.

I think it is time for the Doctor to make the diagnosis: fascism, the prognosis: serious.

Fascism is a sickness, an illness, a disorder. It spreads through false-fixed beliefs (delusions), scapegoating (projection), and its continuous stream of lies creates unreality (impaired reality testing). Fascism infects the individual, but it spreads through the community. As a doctor, I am trained to diagnosis and treat sickness. As a doctor, I am trained to attend to individual health as well as public health. Some would say that doctors need to shut up and “stay in their lanes.”[4],[5] However, as someone who has read Nietzsche,[6] has read Robert Jay Lifton, Jason Stanley, Timothy Snyder, Rebecca Solnit, Madeleine Albright, and Rob Riemen – I have learned from history and I have studied epidemiology – people staying in their lane and just following orders leads down a deadly road. 

It is Time to Call it Fascism

Could it really be happening again? Right here in the USA? The erosion of democracy and the growth of fascism and totalitarianism. I think it is time we started calling it anti-democracy and fascism. Umair Haque thinks so, see his article “What Does it Take to Fight Authoritarianism? The One Thing Americans Still Won’t Do,” in which he writes:

“I don’t blame Americans for not getting why they have to say fascism. It’s a complex and subtle set of thoughts to understand, this responsibility.

And yet if I say ‘not calling racism or sexism racism or sexism is legitimising it,’ you get it instantly. Get exactly that logic for fascism and authoritarianism now. That moral, social, and personal responsibility.”[7]

The Leader spews a continuous stream of “false statements,” otherwise known as lies, propaganda – to confuse and disorient opposition and to mobilize a base of followers into a false-fixed state of loyalty and unreality. There are so many lies that the footnotes start to eclipse the text. During his presidency, the president of the United States had made more than 20,000 “false statements,”[8] which we should just start calling lies and propaganda because there is a method behind the madness – the method of the fascist playbook.

It sounds like a constant stream of gibberish, (just try to read this two hour speech), it makes no logical sense, but it appeals to biases and emotions. It is propaganda: “othering” and demonizing of groups of people: Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, and women, “Antifa,” “radical leftists,” “anarchists.” Every event is amplified and weaponized to create divisiveness. He casts doubt on the institution of elections and hints that he will not honor the results or submit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

And This Also Has Been One of the Dark Places of the Earth, D. Kopacz

To Fight Against This Age

Let us turn to Rob Riemen’s To Fight Against the Age: On Fascism and Humanism (2018). Riemen is the Founder, President, and CEO of the Nexus Institute, “a leading international center for intellectual reflection to inspire the Western cultural and philosophical debate,” and is the editor of the journal Nexus.

I picked up Riemen’s book, by chance, when I was traveling for work and was in Charleston, West Virginia. I found it at a nice little bookstore, Taylor Books. I bought it on impulse and then was fascinated by it and finished it on the flight home. The book consists of two essays, “The Eternal Return of Fascism,” (originally published in 2010) and “The Return of Europa.” In keeping with the theme of Words Creating Worlds, Riemen writes that “to be able to understand something,” you have to “call it by its proper name,” specifically, “populism…will not provide any meaningful understanding,” (18).  Even more specifically:

“The use of the term populist is only one more way to cultivate the denial that the ghost of fascism is haunting societies again and to deny the fact that liberal democracies have turned into their opposite: mass democracies deprived of the spirit of democracy,” (19).

Fascism Rests on Dehumanizing Others

I have personally been concerned with the objectification and dehumanization that happens in medical education and medical practice (see Kopacz, Re-humanizing Medicine – 2014). The antidote to dehumanization is quite simple in theory: re-humanization. The more difficult questions are: What is a human being? How is the soul of the human being lost? How is the soul of the human being regained? Riemen reaches a conclusion similar to mine about the limitations of numbers and the scientific method and the need for the humanities and a whole person philosophy.

“Science and technology will never be able to provide us with a complete understanding of the human being with his instincts and desires, virtues and values, mind and spirit…The humanities and the arts” provide “the only knowledge that could provide a true understanding of the human heart,” and that “the real requirements of a democratic civilization [are] the wisdom of poetry and literature, philosophy and theology, the arts and history,” (19-20).

How does fascism return to civilized democracies? Germany, itself was a democracy, Hitler was elected and then gradually did away with democratic institutions, consolidating power. Riemen puts it bluntly, “the main reason fascism can return so easily in mass democracies: ignorance,” (21). The ignorance of history. The ignorance of social psychology. The ignorance of power and fascism. If we don’t call it by its true name, as Riemen and Solnit both implore us, we will have no chance of confronting and stopping it.

Riemen takes his title of his book, To Fight Against this Age from Nietzsche, whom he paraphrases, “we should not accept the blind power of the actual and that instead of conforming to the whole noisy sham-culture of our age, we have to be fighters against this age…It is now upon us to fight against a zeitgeist that destroys the spirit of the democratic civilization,” (27).  

You Let Your Magic Tortoise Go, D. Kopacz

The Plague of Fascism

Riemen writes about Camus’ allegory of fascism, The Plague,[9] commenting on the “fascist bacillus,” he tells us that if “we want to put up a good fight, we first have to admit that it has become active in our social body and call it by its name: fascism,” (34). We must diagnose the problem before we can treat it correctly.

Riemen’s book was published in 2018. Now we have the strange juxtaposition of an actual pandemic being used as a fascist tool for promoting divisiveness and effecting the first purge of this regime, 200,000+ dead in the United States as of late September – 25% of the global deaths for 4% of the global population, at least we are “great” at something. Even stranger, now we have a president who is actually infected with a virus he is hell-bent on spreading to others.

Riemen, following Nietzsche’s critique, sees a problem with European and Western culture – that we have lost spiritual values. “With the loss of spiritual values,” he writes, “not only did morals disappear but so did culture in the original meaning of the word: cultura animi, the ‘cultivation of the soul,’” (38). We have become the barbarians. Barbarian originally meant “unintelligible speech,”[10] again, just try reading through this transcript.

This “cultivation of the soul” and the recognition of our common humanity is what humanism is founded upon. Fascism is the opposite of humanism – it is about the degradation of the soul, it is about exaggerating the differences between human beings into a false and superficial sense of sameness rather than seeing “out of many, one,” e pluribus unum.

Writing in the mid-1930s, Menno ter Braak noted that fascist movements were focused on “stimulating aggression and anger.” Riemen summarizes that a fascist movement:

“was not actually interested in finding solutions, had no ideas of its own, and did not want to solve social problems, because injustice was necessary for maintaining an atmosphere of vilification and hatred,” (51).

Lousy at Democracy, Super-Good at Fascism

If we look at the current US presidency, we might be tempted to call it incompetent – and from a perspective of democracy it would be right to do so. However, if we view the current president through the lens of fascism – he is hypercompetent. He is lousy at democracy, but he is super-good at fascist.

Menno ter Braak focused on the use of “social resentment vented on a scapegoat who was blamed for everything: the Jew.” Riemen further summarizes ter Braak’s view:

“At the same time, this movement considered itself to be the eternal victim of the ‘left’ or the ‘elite’ and harbored a deep aversion to intellectuals, cosmopolitans, and anyone who was different…[with a] continuous use of slogans and empty rhetoric…it was reactionary,” (52).

Untitled, D. Kopacz

Fascism is Semi-civilization and Promotes the Cult of Resentment

Fascism is “semi-civilization” and promotes “the cult of resentment.” These are the rules that the current US president is very good at, he consults the fascist playbook at every turn and fascism is winning and democracy is losing.

How did fascism gain hold in European democracies? By using those democracies against themselves. Both Hitler and Mussolini were voted into power. Riemen writes that both the liberals and the conservatives caved in to fascism because they thought they could gain something from it. It is the classic devil’s bargain of “the end justifies the means.” This is based, or maybe we should say de-based, on the idea that getting power or money (the ultimate materialist focus) is more important than human values, civility, decency, or humanity.

“The liberals no longer defended the freedom principle of European humanism but became interested only in the freedom of the markets: that is to say, As long as we can earn money,” (56).

We see this today – somehow the stock market in the US seems to give permission for fascism, as long as we can earn money.

“The conservatives were unprepared to unscrupulously exchange the protection of spiritual values for the preservation of their own power, under the veils of ‘tradition’ and ‘social order,’” (56).

We see this today, the conservatives going along with the president, even when it seems to violate their own principles, as long as they can preserve power and social order. This is the definition of fascism: power and order become more important than principles, ideals, more important than human beings.

After World War II, after Mussolini and Hitler were defeated, some still worried that we had not learned the lessons of history. Riemen reminds of that both Albert Camus and Thomas Mann, both Nobel Prize winners, warned of the return of fascism.

“Camus and Mann…as early as 1947…stated that fascism was a political phenomenon that had not disappeared at the end of the war and that we could now describe as the politicization of the mentality of the rancorous mass-man. It is a form of politics used by demagogues whose only motive is to enforce and extend their own power, to which end they will exploit resentment, designate scapegoats, incite hatred, hide intellectual vacuity beneath raucous slogans and insults, and elevate political opportunism into an art form with their populism,” (60).

Untitled, D. Kopacz

A Realm Where Words are Separated from their Meanings

Riemen warns us, as early as 2010, that “this is a new outbreak of the plague,” (60). But just as you cannot treat a disease you cannot name and diagnose, you cannot appropriately respond to a movement if you cannot call it by its true name – fascism. We, in the US, were sick, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were in the throes of a revival of an old illness – the pandemic of fascism. We entered into a realm where “words were separated from their meanings and reduced to slogans,” (61).

Again and again, throughout this essay, Riemen reminds us that the cure to fascism is the medicine of our human unity and spiritual/moral values. This is not about religion – many of the most vocal followers of the president are “religious” people who are more interested in power than in human goodness.

“Our true identity is determined not by nationality, origin, language, belief, income, race, or any way in which people differ from one another, but precisely by what unites us and makes the unity of [hu]mankind possible: universal spiritual values that shape human dignity and that every… [one]…can adopt,” (67).

“Anyone who really wants to be a humanist rejects every form of fanaticism and learns the courtesy of the heart and the art of conversation, dialogue,” (68).

What is needed is not a political solution, but a human solution. We need to remember our original instructions and the principles and tenets of spiritual democracy. While fascism is a political movement based in materialism (money and power), its cure is a spiritual movement based in humanism (soul and spirit).

Continuous Lies as Politics

Riemen describes the Party for Freedom (PVV, Partij voor de Vrijeheid) in his native Netherlands in words that sound like the current US president’s playbook. Fascism is not creative, it is not novel, it is really just the same damn thing, over and over again – the basest aspects of our material nature. It is the propagation of dehumanization through dehumanization. The PPV offers

“the shameless opposite of the Judeo-Christian and humanist traditions: vulgar materialism, oppressive nationalism, xenophobia, ammunition for resentment, a deep aversion to the arts and the exercise of spiritual values, a suffocating spiritual bigotry, a fierce resistance to the European spirit, and continuous lies as politics,” (68-69).

Doctors Against Fascism, D. Kopacz (2020)

Doctors Against Fascism

The way you learn how to diagnose something in medical school is by seeing case after case after case – until it becomes automatic, at the first signs or symptoms, you see the incipient signs of a more serious illness. This is why we need Doctors Against Fascism – witnessing professionals to diagnose and warn us that the fascist bacillus is starting to dehumanize our population and make it vulnerable to fulminant fascism. In the USA, there has been a growing concern about the signs and symptoms of fascism since 2016. Riemen has been seeing it in Europe since at least 2010 and we see it spreading all over the globe – a pandemic of fascism in Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Philippines, England, Brazil, India, and the United States of America.

The Doctor is in and has bad news for you – the prognosis of our nation’s health is serious. We are infected with fascism – it has taken hold in the minds of many of our citizens and it is spreading through our institutions. Words Create Worlds and we are surrounded by continuous lies as politics.

This essay seems to have found a natural ending-point here. I will pick up with the rest of the review of Rob Riemen’s book, To Fight Against This Age: Fascism and Humanism, in the next installment of Words Create Worlds. Perhaps I will develop this theme of Doctors Against Fascism more.

This series, Words Create Worlds, grows out of my work with Joseph Rael on peace. In Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility that grows out of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which can ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[11]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog.

[2] Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

[3] Robert Jay Lifton, “Foreword to the First Edition: Our Witness to Malignant Normality,” in Bandy Lee (ed) The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2019.

[4] “Doctors Revolt After N.R.A. Tells Them to ‘Stay in Their Lane’ on Gun Policy,” Matthew Haag, The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2018. The original criticism was in a Tweet from the NRA, “Someone should tell self-important  anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.” https://twitter.com/NRA/status/1060256567914909702.

[5] “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns: At ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness,” Stanley Goldfarb, Wall Street Journal, 9/12/19.

[6] Richard Huelsenbeck, German-American psychiatrist and Dada-ist who was investigated by the Nazis and forbidden to write, once said, “We are psychiatrists; we are Germans; we have read Nietzsche; we know that to gaze too long at monsters is to risk becoming one―that’s what we get paid for!” (Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, p. 211). Marcus’ book traces the spirit of protest from punk rock back to earlier art movements that were cultural and political critiques of the times.

[7] Umair Haque, “What Does it Take to Fight Authoritarianism? The One Thing Americans Still Won’t Do.” Eudamoinia & Co, Sept 25, 2020, https://eand.co/what-does-it-take-to-fight-authoritarianism-the-one-thing-americans-still-wont-do-676dfb86794b

[8] Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, Meg Kelly, “President Trump has made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims.” The Washington Post, July 13, 2020 at 12:00 a.m. PDT

[9] Albert Camus, The Plague, New York: Vintage International, 1991.

[10] https://www.etymonline.com/word/barbarian

[11] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Yoga is Good Medicine – new post @ CLOSLER!

CLOSLER just published a new essay of mine, “Yoga is Good Medicine,” this is an excerpt I re-worked from the section “The Yoga of Burnout” that is part of J. Greg Serpa’s and my chapter on “Clinician Resilience” in the forthcoming 5th Edition of Dave Rakel’s Integrative Medicine text.

“In this way joy isn’t the opposite of burnout, but arises out of connecting (yoking) mind, body, and soul, deeply feeling the experience of being fully human. By rejoining our feeling soul with our functioning body, we can experience joy even in the midst of suffering.”

You can read the whole essay, here, and below is the full painting that the detail in the banner was taken from: 

Enlightenment, D. Kopacz (2015)

Interview with Gerald Arbuckle on Culture, Loneliness, and Fundamentalism @The_POV

This interview from September 13, 2017 with anthropologist and Marist priest, Gerald Arbuckle, is as timely and relevant as ever. This is just a small selection from our talk and focuses on culture, loneliness, and fundamentalism.

The full article can be found at The POV website.

Here are a few quotes from Gerry:

Father Gerald Arbuckle

“the American dream, comes through as a very positive dream, but the danger is that in mythology, amnesia takes place. Mythologies can hide history. What it has hidden is the racist elements in the founding story of the United States”

“The US president is a fragmenter and a polarizer. He aims to fragment by his behavior, alliances, at all levels, international and national. Then that leads to the second stage, polarizer, where not only are they fragmented, but they are polarized. So, this is the tragedy, it is going to be extremely difficult therefore to get a rational debate in that kind of atmosphere.”

“Well, anthropologically, it all makes sense. Once you disturb a culture, even a threat to disturb a culture, and even if intellectually you accept that the culture has to be disturbed, inevitably it leads to chaos levels of intensity. And chaos can only be appeased by returning to what I feel gives me order.”

“Nationalism is a way of giving me a sense of order because it has pre-existed, it is a residual mythology, so the residual mythology comes alive. It never dies, it comes alive so that the United States, with the white rage against African Americans, that is a residual mythology that comes alive, it never died. It just happens to be quietly put aside for the time being, but is there to be used again because it gives me the comfort and sense of security and permanence. And globalization and technology are moving at such speed that our affectivities are not able to catch up with it.”

“There is a real information overload. Put that on to a global scene and the pressure of technology and everything that goes with it increasingly intensifies the chaos, it intensifies the loneliness and the need for a sense of belonging which opens up the opportunity for nationalism, it just makes sense with the intensity that we have probably never experienced before internationally, globally.”

Gerry’s concept of refounding plays prominently in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. I also drew from his Humanizing Healthcare Reforms in my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. This 2017 chat I had with Gerry in Sydney, Australia was the basis for what we put in the book on refounding: how organizations and cultures go through the process of reconnecting to their founding visions, while navigating the risk of fundamentalism.

I hope to put out the rest of the interview transcript in the future…but for now you can read this segment:

@ The POV

Anti-Democracy: Changing the Motto of the United States of America from E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) to “Make America Great Again.”

This essay was originally published in The Badger, Year 4, Vol 2, March 2018. Thanks to The Badger for permission to reprint! It seems as relevant now as ever…

This past year (2018) has been a difficult one in the world. There continues to be a movement of anti-democracy and radical “other-ing,” in which we see our brothers and sisters as “others,” and we break down, rather than strengthen, the bonds of our common humanity. In the United States the freedom of the press is under attack, environmental regulations are being rolled back and hostility toward non-white, non-Christians is being promoted at the highest levels of government. Not only is there an attempt to drive people apart and promote fear, there is even talk of building a physical wall between the United States and Mexico. Walls are the most concrete dividers of people.

While the stated goal is to “make America great again,” in reality it is an anti-democracy movement that has all the hallmarks of totalitarian and fascist regimes of the 20th century.

I do not intend to regularly write on politics in this column (Becoming Medicine in The Badger), but we are in unprecedented times and times such as these spirituality needs to be engaged and to speak up for peace and human rights.

In 2017, I published an essay called “The End of E pluribus Unum? The De-evolution of Out of Many, One, to ME First” in The Badger (Year 3, Volume 2, pgs 57-66). In the essay I describe how the idea of “America First” is thinly veiled selfishness, essentially ME first. It’s history traces back to Charles Lindberg and the America First movement that was sympathetic to the Nazis and encouraged the US to stay out of the war (see M. Albright, Fascism: A Warning and J. Stanley How Fascism Works). This attitude is the pinnacle of self-centered capitalism, and betrays the ideals upon which the United States was founded.

In my work with Native American visionary Joseph Rael, in our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, we discuss the motto on the back of the Great Seal of the United States which has the Latin phrase E pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” This motto captures the “united” aspect of the country’s name: the United States, symbolized by the 13 arrows the eagle is clutching. (Glenn Aparicio Parry has written in Original Politics: Making American Sacred Again about Chief Canasatego, of the Onondaga, giving Benjamin Franklin a single arrow that he then snapped easily, then giving him 13 arrows bundled together, which could not be easily broken). The 13 colonies had different cultural, political, religious, and economic foundations, and yet these 13 colonies united and came together with the idea of strength through union, “united we stand, divided we fall.” This phrase was used in the early years of the American Revolution by such figures as John Dickinson, Patrick Henry, and Abraham Lincoln also paraphrased it. I do not mean to gloss over the major failures of living up to the ideals of the United States in regard to its inhuman policies toward Black and Native American people, but ideals provide a vision of a better world to strive for.

The Great Seal of the United States of America, U.S. Government / Public domain. The eagle looks toward the olive branch rather than the arrows – reminding us to focus on peace.

In my essay, I discussed how crucial it is for the idea of democracy to be able to see ourselves as similar and united within our diversity. When Joseph and I wrote our book on helping veterans return from war to peace, we saw this motto, “out of many, one” as crucial. Moving from war to peace means moving from a perspective of human beings as “other” to seeing them as “brother and sister.” As Joseph often says, “I am my brother’s keeper.” This statement shows affiliation and human bonding. In war, military personnel are taught to view human beings as “other” as the enemy. However, after war, this perspective of viewing human beings as “other” does not promote reintegration or democracy. All of us here in the USA (except for Native Americans) come from other lands. Our current First Lady is an immigrant, born in Slovenia.

I was uncertain if I should write a political piece earlier in the year and I am still uncomfortable with speaking out politically for several reasons.

Yet, as a human being, and as a healer, I feel obligated to speak up against totalitarianism and fascism: attacking the press, threatening federal employees, appointing government officials who seek to undermine the mandate of those agencies (e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency, the United Nations Ambassador), lying without any consequences, and consolidating power in fewer and fewer hands.

Another instance of anti-democracy is the censorship of science by banning the words “diversity,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based” in official Center for Disease Control documents. My friend Father Gerald Arbuckle has been writing on topics of bullying and fundamentalism, and he describes how “Trumpism” is a fine example of both (see my review of Gerry’s latest book, Fundamentalism: At Home and Abroad).

Sandia Mountain, looking south, NM (D. Kopacz 2018)

Other healers have felt similarly that they have a moral, ethical, and professional obligation to speak up about the current risks to American democracy. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, edited by Bandy Lee, MD, MDiv, includes perspectives of 27 professionals. (Now in a second edition with 37 professionals contributing and also a companion volume The World Mental Health Coalition Documents). While the Goldwater Rule banned mental health professionals from diagnosing mental illness in politicians who had not been formally evaluated, many of these authors take another perspective on our responsibility as mental health professionals to warn others when we see signs of dangerousness.

Two psychiatrists who were very influential in my learning about trauma studies contribute to this volume: Robert Jay Lifton and Judith Herman. Lifton’s work includes the books The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (which examines how “good” German doctors could gradually become perpetrators of genocide) and Destroying the World to Save It (which examines apocalyptic cults and global terrorism). Judith Herman is the author of the classic book, Trauma and Recovery The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. What I admire about both of these authors, and part of what drew me to working clinically with trauma is that they take a strong human rights stance in their work and do not focus solely on the individual. Their work bears witness to human rights violations as well as seeks to provide a pathway of healing for those who have been traumatized at the hands of fellow human beings.

While I am glad to see that other health professionals are also struggling with the commitment to human rights that is part of being a healer, I do not think that the questions about specific psychiatric diagnoses are important. It does not matter why someone is acting in a totalitarian and fascist manner, danger is danger: fomenting anger and division, whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment, attacking the press, and lying so much that people have come to accept his lying as “normal.” Robert Jay Lifton calls the normalizing of lies, “malignant normality,” through the sheer repetition of lies, people no longer expect the truth.

The Washington Post Fact Checker reported that the current president of the US made “2,140 false or misleading claims” in the first year of office (as of 10/2/20, the total is 20,055 false or misleading claims).

In an interview with Bill Moyers, Robert Jay Lifton describes the concept of health care providers as “witnessing professionals” who have a responsibility to confront malignant normality. Lifton ends the interview with Moyers with the following statement:

“I always feel we have to work both outside and inside of our existing institutions, so we have to…examine carefully our institutions and what they’re meant to do and how they’re being violated. I also think we need movements from below that oppose what this administration and administrations like it are doing to ordinary people. And for those of us who contributed to this book — well, as I said earlier, we have to be ‘witnessing professionals’ and fulfill our duty to warn.” (Robert Jay Lifton)

Face in the Tree, Sandia Mountain, NM (D. Kopacz 2018)

I am obligated to provide some follow-up to last year’s essay and to do my part as a witnessing professional. When I spoke of the de-evolution of E pluribus unum to “ME first,” I was speaking on how the current administration’s policies promoted selfishness and self-centeredness over the idea of coming together into union. In many ways my essay predicted that the president would remove E pluribus unum from the official discourse, and in fact he literally did so when he removed it from the new presidential coin and replaced with “Make America Great Again.” The deletion of E pluribus unum promotes anti-democracy. I am very worried about the direction the United States is heading because we are seeing statements and actions that have historically led to the rise of totalitarian and fascist regimes.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I continue to work together to promote peace. In our latest book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, we seek to illuminate the pathway in the heart that brings us from “other” to “brother and sister.” Mystics, visionaries, and shamans teach us that there is a state of radical union that transcends even the separation implied in our relation as brothers and sisters.

Joseph Rael teaches us that we do not exist as separate beings, but are all part of Divine Oneness. Anti-democracy and radical other-ing are not consistent with spiritual reality. Spiritual Democracy asks us to walk the path of the heart at the center of the medicine wheel.

Many Native American traditions speak of walking the good Red Road, and Joseph tells us that the Red Road is currently off kilter and we must all strive to straighten the path that we are walking upon.

Red Road Off Kilter, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

New Issue of The Badger – Letting Forth the Goodness

Here is what the editor of The Badger put forth to the contributing authors:

Dear Authors,

I world like to remind you that the next deadline for The Badger is August 10 2020.Usually I don’t ask/suggest themes, but this time, considering the extraordinary events of this year, I would like to suggest a theme. I strongly believe the changes ahead require our best skills and knowledge. So I would like the next issue to infuse hope for a good new future for our descendants.While I am writing,  I realize that I am asking you to write something that will be useful for the next 7 generations.This is the time to give our contribution to the evolution of humanity.

Thank you for your effort 

Lots of love and light your way

Antonella Vicini 

Dreaming a New Future, Joseph Rael (2005)

After thinking it over for a bit, and then talking with Paulette Millichap, of Millichap Press – who published Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD – we offered chapter 14 from that book, “Return to the Held-back Place of Goodness.” It can be found in The Badger, volume 4, Issue 2, Autumn/Winter 2020, 44 – 67.

Warrior Healing, David Kopacz (20016)

Here is how we introduce the offering of this Goodness:

During this time where so much in the world seems to be going badly, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I offer you Chapter 14: Return to the Place of Held-back Goodness from our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (2016 Pointer Oak/Millichap Books). We thank Paulette Millichap for giving permission to reprint this chapter.

While we wrote this book for Veterans, we feel that it is useful for anyone going through stresses and suffering – as so many are during this time of pandemic and political turmoil. Joseph tells us that no matter what you have done, no matter what has happened to you, there is a held-back place of goodness in your heart. The job is to search for it and to reconnect to it. The world could use some more goodness, when you find yours, please share it openly and widely…

Blessings & Goodness

David R. Kopacz MD & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Divine Healing, Joseph Rael (2006)

Great Book about Healing by Returning to the Land of War to Find Peace

John Wesley Fisher, DC, asked if I would review and write an endorsement for his new book, Dak To Rx: A Travelogue – A Veteran Returns to the Land of His Nightmares. John is a Vietnam veteran and the Founding Director of CORE (Community Reconciliation)Viet Nam. Dak To is the name of a town in Vietnam that John had been in during the Vietnam War. Returning to engage with the land and the people, now from a state of peace, rather than war, leads to healing and the formation of many friendships. One Vietnamese veteran tells John, “Now all survivors are the same…we didn’t kill each other, so now we can be friends and teach the world about peace together.” Here is my endorsement of the book:

Dak To RX is just what the doctor ordered for healing PTSD and coming home from war to peace. John Wesley Fisher is a man of many places and roles: seeker, chiropractor, surfer, traveler, and Vietnam Veteran.

Dak To RX is a journal of his journeys throughout Vietnam in 2011-2012 where he finds compassion, acceptance, peace, and healing from the people he meets and the places where he walks up on the land. His nightmare becomes a dream of peace and healing.

Fisher notes that it is “a sacred time being on the road,” and his journey is a sacred journey of healing. He meets many Veterans (both former allies and enemies) and survivors of the American War in Vietnam along the way. What he learns from one former enemy is, “Now all survivors are the same…we didn’t kill each other, so now we can be friends and teach the world about peace together.”

David R. Kopacz, MD

Psychiatrist, Seattle VA
National VA Education Champion – Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation
Assistant Professor, University of Washington

Words Create Worlds.4: The Fight for Humanity – or should we say – Working for Humanity

Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]

Are we in a fight for humanity? You bet your life we are. In 1973 Bob Marley & Peter Tosh wrote the lyrics:

 Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight![2]

Is fight the right word? Maybe there is a time to fight, even if you are a pacifist, but what does it mean to fight?

Maybe fight is not the right word, as it conjures up opposition and separation – and that is the very thing that we are “fighting” against. There is a quote, often attributed to Mother Teresa, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”[3] This captures the danger of fighting against something. Nietzsche warns us, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”[4] And yet, how do we respond to the growing fascism in the world and our history of colonialism and racial oppression and genocide? We have never recovered from racism, we have never fully addressed it. We are in the midst of a pandemic from Coronavirus COVID-19, and yet we are suffering from a re-infection of “the plague bacillus” of fascism.[5] Are not the risks of racism and fascism such that all human beings with a heart must necessarily “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights?”

Tree, Lime Kiln State Park, WA, D. Kopacz (2015)

Carl Jung’s 1946 essay, “The Fight Against the Shadow,” actually argues not so much for a fight against something outside in the world, but rather an internal struggle to acknowledge, own, and integrate one’s own shadow. While Jung comments on mass psychology and group psychosis following a fascist leader. He wrote that Hitler had an “unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or a guttersnipe.” He also wrote that the reason that Hitler was so successful was because he “represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality…and this was another reason why they fell for him.”[6] Jung seems to assume that the fight had to be done in the outside world, but that the cause and the ultimate cure had to do with each individual’s inner fight against their own shadow, to acknowledge, to accept, and to integrate so that one is conscious of this inner darkness within the heart of humanity rather than unconsciously acting it out in the world. He calls this a “moral evaluation,” and an “ethical responsibility.” He notes that the people who are capable of this are often not the political leaders, but the “moral leaders of mankind.” The “maintenance and further development of civilization depends on such individuals” to act in these roles of moral evaluation and ethical responsibility.[7] Jung’s defense against mass movements and collective psychosis resides in the strength of individuals to face their own darkness, for only one who has stood up to one’s own darkness can stand up to another’s darkness. As Jung wrote, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”[8]

Jung reorients us to the inner fight as well as the outer fight. From this perspective, we are the barbarians, they are not out there. The word barbarian originally meant “all that are not Greek,” and came from the Proto-Indo-European  root “*barbar- echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners.”[9] A barbarian was originally just someone “other” than you whose speech you were to ignorant to understand. Somewhere along the way, though, we projected our shadow onto the other and imagined they were the ignorant and dangerous one. Look at the murder and pillage that the colonial empires of Europe let forth upon the world. When Jung met Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake) of the Taos Pueblo in Southwestern United States, he was told how the non-European sees the European.

“See…how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are mad.”[10]

Binding Sites of Coronavirus Covid-19, D. Kopacz (2020)

Perhaps Western civilization is not only barbaric and mad, but also sick. We evaluate the health of countries primarily by their economies. Economies are not people. As we have seen with the Coronavirus COVID-19, our health care systems, educational systems, our systems of justice, even our economic systems – were all in ill health and fractured. A few weeks of interruption of the economic machine and everything was revealed to be so very fragile and weak where we thought it was strong. “Civilized” people look with disdain and horror at earlier civilizations that sacrificed animals or people to the gods, however the Economy demands human sacrifices – homelessness, underfunded health care systems, underfunded education systems, the rape of the environment. If another civilization comes after this one, surely they will see us as mad, primitive, barbaric, worshipping false idols of money and profit at all costs, even the cost of our own humanity and our own home, Mother Earth.

Rebecca Solnit writes “Who Will Win the Fight for a Post-Coronavirus America?” in The New York Times, 3/29/20:

Every disaster shakes loose the old order: The sudden catastrophe changes the rules and demands new and different responses, but what those will be are the subject of a battle. These disruptions shift people’s sense of who they and their society are, what matters and what’s possible, and lead, often, to deeper and more lasting change, sometimes to regime change. Many disasters unfold like revolutions; the past gives us many examples of calamities that led to lasting national change.

How can we fight against this inner and outer madness that is the very structure of our economic civilization? As Charles Eisenstein writes, all the problems that we are facing are all part of one root problem: separation; and the only solution is that we need to move from separation to “interbeing.”

This book is a guide from the old story, through the empty space between stories, and into a new story. It addresses the reader as a subject of this transition personally, and as an agent of transition—for other people, for our society, and for our planet. Like the crisis, the transition we face goes all the way to the bottom. Internally, it is nothing less than a transformation in the experience of being alive. Externally, it is nothing less than a transformation of humanity’s role on planet Earth.[11]

Jung and Eisenstein point out that we do not know who we are and this ignorance is killing us – it leads to fascism, racism, plundering the environment, it leads to us seeing human beings and the environment as “other” as we only focus on this littlest, meanest little part of our larger humanity, our ego. We do not know who we are and this ignorance is killing us and turning our lives and world into a living hell.

Rob Riemen picks up this theme that we have forgotten our humanity. His book, To Fight Against this Age: On Fascism and Humanism takes on the task of a response to the growing rise of fascism and the response being to reinvest in a kind of spiritual humanism. Perhaps, then, our fight is not against fascism so much as it is for every individual to have the right to choose the human, to choose humanism. This is not the kind of humanism that fundamentalists fear – although I am not exactly sure what they have to be afraid of, other than losing control of control.

Our true identity is determined not by nationality, origin, language, belief, income, race, or any way in which people differ from one another, but precisely by what unites us and makes the unity of mankind possible: universal spiritual values that shape human dignity and that every man can adopt.[12]

This kind of humanism recognizes our sacred nature – a sacred humanism, a sacralizing of humanity. Riemen writes that some of the ways we can continue to rehumanize ourselves is through the arts, the humanities, and by learning from history. He also writes that we must have qualitative values, valuing the things that can be felt, but cannot be counted. He critiques a purely business or scientific view of humanity reduced to dollars, numbers, and percentages.

The religions tell us about the sacred, but if a religion leaves out the sacredness of humanity, it literally has no place on Earth. In promoting the idea of a sacred humanity, I am not speaking of one people’s religion, I am speaking of the religion of One people, a religion of humanity that recognizes the sacred in all human beings, in all beings, and in all the Earth.

I am working with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) over the last six years. The kind of work I do with him is listening, writing, and reading. The work that is most important to him is world peace and he was recognized by the United Nations for this work. Joseph’s grandfather used to say to him, “work is worship,” and that is the kind of work we do together – worship.

When Joseph had his vision of a Sound Peace Chamber in 1983 (a circular structure, half above ground, half below, with men and women sitting in a circle and chanting for world peace), he took a year looking for the best place to build it. After one year, the Spirit Elders came to him and asked why he hadn’t built it yet. Joseph said he was looking for the perfect place. The response was a beam of light that came from the Heavens to Earth and landed in his backyard. It turns out that the work for peace begins at home – in your own backyard!

Joseph learned, in the Tiwa language of Picuris Pueblo, that the name for God is Wah-Mah-Chi, which translates as Breath-Matter-Movement. This tells us that our breath, inspiration and expiration is sacred and holy. This also tells us that our matter, far from being dead or a neutral resource, is alive as well, and full of vital spirit. Movement, too, all of our movements and the way we touch each other is meant to be inspired and full of divinity. In the Tiwa linguistic world, everything is God – just as in the non-dual philosophies such as tantra and Non-dual Shaivism. God is not out there, God is everywhere. The question then is on what do we place value? What do we invest in?

Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy, J. Rael (1997)

Our contemporary civilization invests in money, economic growth, building capital. While the United States of America is often considered by many to be a “Christian” nation, it is actually a nation of heretics if money is placed before God and before humanity, because humanity is one of the homes of God on Earth. In The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad wrote, “This also has been one of the dark places of the earth.” The question is what “this” refers to – is it inner Africa; up river; is it the pagan African people who are physically “dark;” is it King Leopold’s Ghost, the colonial conquest of Africa; or is it simply the darkness in our own hearts when we cease to honor the spiritual humanity of ourselves and others?

Psychoanalyst Robert Stoller describes the motivation behind dehumanization and objectification of others: “we anatomize them … we deprive others of their fullness.”[13] As I wrote in Re-humanizing Medicine,

“Stoller believes that reducing the other to a body part or replacing a relationship with an object is a psychological defense against the anxiety of relationship. The risk is that the process of dehumanization goes both ways. One cannot dehumanize someone and remain human oneself. It is not a human action to treat someone else as an object.”[14]

Stoller writes that the act of dehumanizing another “dehumanizes the dehumanizer.”[15] The colonial project of conquest, plundering resources, slavery, forced conversion to Christianity, the outlaw of indigenous languages and religions, and genocide, both cultural and literal, against indigenous peoples created a vast dead zone on the planet Earth, a vast zone of dehumanization and de-spiritualization, a hell on Earth. What does it matter if one is rich if one lives in hell? The outlaw of indigenous languages and spiritual practices, as in the United States until 1978, was a war against words because it was known on some level that words create worlds. The colonizers took the words right out of the indigenous peoples’ mouths and substituted their own words as they renamed and over-named the landscape in an attempt to make pale copies of the places they came from and from rulers, kings, and queens. Colonizers and colonized were both, thus, dehumanized.  

How do we fight against dehumanization? Is it ever human to fight? Or is the method, rather to get up, stand up, stand up for your rights – your human rights? We must choose the human, not the dehumanized. We must choose to re-invest in humanity by seeing the divinity within Breath-Matter-Movement. Is it possible to get up, stand up, stand up for your rights without turning it into a fight? What does it mean to fight?

fight (v.)

Old English feohtan ”to combat, contend with weapons, strive; attack; gain by fighting, win” … from Proto-Germanic *fe(u)hta … probably from PIE *pek- (2) “to comb, to pluck out” wool or hair (source also of Lithuanian pėšti”to pluck,” Greek pekein ”to comb, shear,” pekos ”fleece, wool;” Persian pashm ”wool, down,” Latin pectere ”to comb,” Sanskrit paksman- ”eyebrows, hair”). Apparently the notion is “pulling roughly,” or “to tear out one another’s hair.”[16]

How do we make sense of the etymology of the word, fight, referring to pulling hair? We can turn to Ayenwathaaa or Aiionwatha, whom we know in English as Hiawatha. While his life and words and legend belong to the Haudenosaunee, the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples, The Great Law of Peace (Kayanerenkó:wa) is said to be one of the inspirations for the Constitution of the United States of America (See the enlightening new book by Glenn Aparicio Parry, Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again).[17]

War & peace, fighting & working are all tangled up. Hiawatha can be translated as “He Who Combs.” He is called this because he was tasked with helping Great Peacemaker bring the New Mind, the Great Law of Peace, to the minds of humanity – however, he must first comb the snakes out of the greatest opponent to the New Mind, Atotarho.[18] Hiawatha was living a life of dehumanization and depravity prior to meeting Great Peacemaker, in some version of the story he was even a cannibal – a thing that feeds on humanity. When Great Peacemaker explained the Great Law of Peace to him, Hiawatha said, “I take hold, I grasp it. . . . Now what work is there for us to do?”[19] The work he takes on is to bring the New Mind of to those who have become dehumanized, who have lost their connection and memory of their own divinity. There are no enemies to the Great Law of Peace, only opponents, because once a human being makes the choice to be a spiritual human, to grasp a hold of the New Mind and the Great Law of Peace, that person becomes a carrier of Peace. Jacob Needleman, in discussing this story, writes that “man must experience himself as the force that resists the good.”[20] The beauty of this story, and by story I do not mean fiction, I mean medicine,[21] is that no one is forever lost, even the most depraved has the hope of redemption. As Joseph Rael says, Wah-Mah-Chi holds back a place of goodness in our hearts, no matter what we have done, no matter what we have seen.[22] Needleman sees in Hiawatha’s struggle to re-find this goodness within his heart the struggle that we, as citizens of the United States of America, must go through as well for our crimes against humanity.

Here…the legend speaks of a human crime for which no ordinary action can atone. Here the story may well be heard as speaking to our own remorse as we see in a clear light what has been done to an entire people. And here the tale echoes the constitutive legend of our own culture—the crime for which no ordinary action can atone, a level of self-remorse which demands of man an action of an entirely new quality. And for this action the man needs now to turn to the greatness he has seen in himself.[23]

In Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey model one of the stages before being able to return home is atonement, or as Campbell sometimes wrote, at-one-ment. We must do the work of the heart to atone for our own sins as well as those of our ancestors and culture. To do this means we must become at-one with them, we must bring together both sides of the wound, as was done in the Truth & Reconciliation work in South Africa after apartheid. Perhaps this is a way to look at our culture and society know, the places where we see separation are really two sides of the whole which the wound has cut apart. To pull further from each other only leads to deeper wounding. Also, continuing with this metaphor, we cannot simply force the edges of the wound together, without cleaning and what surgeons call “approximating” the edges of the wound, full-thickness from the base of the wound to the superficial edges – together. We are all wounded and we are all part of the wound and our healing cannot be done individually, it is only through collective healing that we can bring the division of the wound back together into a whole. Needleman and Hiawatha learn that the wound will be healed through the new idea of peace, an idea that is a power.

The New Mind has come to you . . . and you are miserable because the New Mind does not live at ease with old memories . . . Now you will work with me to bring justice and peace to those places where you have done injury to man. We will work together to bring to the earth the new idea of the peace that is power. Such is the work given to man by the Creator of Life.[24]

Needleman sees that we need a re-spiritualization of ourselves as human beings and or our democracy. Joseph Rael and I talk about the idea of Spiritual Democracy, in our book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. I came across this term in Steven Herrmann, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forwardand Herrmann found it in Walt Whitman’s writing.

Adopting the big idea of Spiritual Democracy, the realization of oneness of humanity with the universe and all its forces, can help people feel joy, peace, and interconnectedness on an individual basis. It can also inspire us to undertake sacred activism, the channeling of such forces into callings that are compassionate, just, and of equitable heart and conscience, and give us some tools to start solving some of these grave global problems, while uniting people on the planet.[25]

“The written word, the spoken word,” writes psychiatrist Paul Fleischman, “is like a hand feeling its way into a dark room, looking for a switch.”[26] The switch that we are looking for is the one that turns on and illuminates our shared sacred humanity. We are not alone in this quest, as Fleischman writes in his book, Cultivating Inner Peace: Exploring the Psychology, Wisdom and poetry of Gandhi, Thoreau, the Buddha and Others

Shakers corresponded with Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s book was one that transformed Gandhi, and Shaker and Gandhian ideas re-molded Count Tolstoy into a Christian peasant Tolstoy. Whitman and Thoreau met and influenced each other, and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” became the manifesto for Gandhi’s social action. Scott and Helen Nearing read Whitman and Thoreau, as did Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore and Gandhi had a long relationship. John Muir’s favorite author was Thoreau. Thoreau “carried Leaves of Grass around Concord like a red flag.” Seekers of peace read each other, write to each other, influence each other. The quiet life of inner peace isn’t a vacuum.[27]

In Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, Joseph told us that we are all brothers and sisters. He says, “I am my brother’s keeper,” thus contradicting the first documented murder in the Biblical tradition. After Cain has killed his brother, Abel, God asks Cain where his brother is. Cain says “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Joseph would say, “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper!” In Becoming Medicine, we move from us being brothers and sisters to us all being One, an identity of non-duality.

Joseph told me, when we were working on Walking the Medicine Wheel for veterans, that every veteran should get their DNA analyzed through National Genographic’s program, so that they would learn that we are all brothers and sisters, we all originally come from Africa. We know this is true through genetic science and the migrations of peoples. We also, literally, all have common human ancestors. We are all the sons and daughters of Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa about two hundred thousand years ago. We also are all the sons and daughters of Y Chromosome Adam who lived between 150,000 and 300,000 years ago. Mitochondrial Eve’s initials are ME – this reminds us that we are all not just one family, but we are all One. Mother Earth’s initials are also ME, thus we are all relatives of the Earth and are One with the Earth. We are made of the Earth and the Earth moves from place to place through our Breath-Matter-Movement.[28]

Mother Earth Dreaming all of the Two Leggeds into Beauty, J. Rael (2006)

We all come from Africa and Joseph says that when he was growing up the Pueblo people would refer to Black people as “our ancestors,” recognizing that we are all related and honoring the Black people and Africa as our common homeland. And where did Africa come from? Africa and all the continents were once all part of One continent, Pangea, which slowly broke apart and is slowly coming back together to reunite in Pangea Ultima.[29]

We have a choice in this life, do we want to be Lumpers and Splitters? This is a concept Charles Darwin described in determining whether two individuals are part of one species or two different species. He noticed that some biologists tended to focus on small difference and others focused on large similarities. Science works, largely, through separation and differences. When you are doing science, it can be good to be a Splitter. However, when you are doing humanity, it is better to be a Lumper, and to see our common spiritual humanity. Another word for “doing humanity” is mysticism. Mysticism is the spiritual practice of being a Lumper, of attaining a sense of peace and unity – what is sometimes called, non-duality. Joseph Rael and I have chapters devoted to becoming a visionary, becoming a shaman, and becoming a mystic and really all of these are about another thing that Joseph often says, becoming a true human.

We must reinvest in our humanity, in our spiritual humanity. To reinvest means we need to take what we consider “mine” and we need to think of it, instead as “ours.” We are out of balance. We have too much energy going into separation, isolation, and hoarding. Our view of the economy and life as always moving toward some imagined future of better profits and no pain is obsolete. Our economy and civilization is based upon expansion. There never was any “empty” land to expand into, it was only other people’s land that we took, stole, signed treaties for and then broke later when convenient. Western civilization has stolen, pilfered, raped, and mutilated the earth and in doing this we have tortured and distorted our own humanity. Who will stand up for humanity? Who will get up, stand up for humanity. We must re-invest in humanity and that begins with you, that begins with me, that begins with us.

But if you know what life is worth

You will look for yours on earth

And now you see the light

You stand up for your rights. Jah![30]

I have been writing on this topic of how our “words create worlds” in relation to our spiritual and political situation. In working with Joseph Rael, writing Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[31]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[2] Bob Marley & Peter Tosh, “Get Up, Stand Up,” from the album, Burnin’ (1973).

[3] This quote is popularly attributed to Mother Teresa. The Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center site says that it is falsely attributed to her and that it is “significantly paraphrased versions or personal interpretations of statements Mother Teresa made; they are not her authentic words.” However the page does not say what the original quote or statement was. https://www.motherteresa.org/08_info/Quotesf.html She did speak out for peace, as in this letter to George Bush and Saddam Hussein in January 1991, “Please choose the way of peace… In the short term there may be winners and losers in this war that we all dread. But that never can, nor never will justify the suffering, pain and loss of life your weapons will cause.” “10 inspiring quotes by Mother Teresa,” curated by Jessica Durando, USA Today, published August 26, 2014, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/08/26/mother-teresa-quotes/14364401/

[4] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 134? What edition? Kaufmann translation?

[5] Camus, The Plague, 308.

[6] Carl G. Jung, “The Fight Against the Shadow,” Civilization in Transition, Second Edition, CW20, page 223.

[7] Ibid., 221.

[8] Carl G. Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW13, pages 265-266.

[9] https://www.etymonline.com/word/barbarian

[10] Ochwiay Biano, quoted in Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 247-248.

[11] Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, 6.

[12] Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age, 67.

[13] Robert Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1992), 32.

[14] David R. Kopacz, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transformation of Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine, 2014, 34-35.

[15] Stoller, 32.

[16] https://www.etymonline.com/word/fight

[17] Glenn Aparicio Parry, Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again. New York: Select Books, 2020.

[18] Needleman, Jacob. The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003., 225

[19] Needleman, 225.

[20] Needleman, 230.

[21] see Kopacz & Rael, chapter “Story Medicine,” in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of a Living Spirituality, 2020.

[22] Kopacz & Rael, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, 254.

[23] Needleman, 223-224.

[24] Needleman, 224.

[25] Steven Herrmann, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward, xiii.

[26] Fleischman, Cultivating Inner Peace, 101–02.

[27] Ibid., 101–02.

[28] See Kopacz & Rael, Becoming Medicine, 368, 424-425.

[29] See Kopacz & Rael, Becoming Medicine, 361-379.

[30] Bob Marley & Peter Tosh, “Get Up, Stand Up,” from the album, Burnin’ (1973). “‘Get Up, Stand Up’ was also the last song Marley ever performed on stage, on 23 September 1980 at the Stanley Theater, now the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” (Wikipedia, “Get Up, Stand Up,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_Up,_Stand_Up, accessed 6/6/20.

[31] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

The Art of Becoming Medicine.20

The next painting in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality is one of my favorite’s of Joseph Rael’s works – “Of Many Many Windows in the Dream Time of Mother Earth.” A detail view of this artwork was also published in our essay in Kosmos Journal for Global Transformation entitled “Becoming Medicine: When There is no Treatment, You are the Medicine.” Take a look at the article through the link, here is the first paragraph:

We are living in disruptive times, yet there have been other times as equally disruptive. People lived through pandemics, plagues, pestilence, famines, natural disasters, slavery, genocide, oppression, and wars upon wars. How did they do it? I believe there is a secret well of resilience and wisdom within the human being—located in the heart—where we find our medicine.

Of Many Many Windows in the Dream Time of Mother Earth, J. Rael (2005)

This painting reminds me of a passage I write about in the book where a deer bedded down for the night right outside my tent when I was backpacking on the way to Black Elk Peak in South Dakota. Here is what Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) says about the Deer:

Deer means peh ney. Peh means straight forward. Ney means a space in front of, before creation was made. What this is saying is that if we as a people are going to have peace, we have to go to that space beyond, before creation where Peace was. I did the Deer Dance when I was younger and I think that added to my medicine. That is an important point. The last time we were working a book, my father came in a vision and gave me permission to go forward. Now with this work with the deer medicine, the earlier dances are supporting us to go forward. True Peace is that space before there was anything that could create un-peace. (Joseph Rael, p. 298)

The next artwork in the book is also by Joseph, another great one, “Puma Giver of th Visionary Life to the People of Mother Earth.” These paintings are in chapter 11, “Initiation,” and we speak of the relationship between animals and humans and animals as guides.

Puma Giver of the Visionary Life to the People of Mother Earth, J. Rael (2005)

“I felt like something was pulling me toward the stream and I went down there and I just washed myself, blessed myself with the water, but I knew that this place belonged to me and I was turning around and I saw at least five or six puma tracks, lion tracks and some had crossed the river, right where I was drinking water and maybe that was the vibration that was I picking up of the lions and I didn’t know that I was going to have a relationship with them.”

“Picuris Pueblo seemed so far away then, because now I was in Colorado and so I noticed that right there at the river, you remember where we did the visionquest that night with the tree spirits? Right there. There were tracks coming from the other side but they were going the other direction and so there were like two separate little pathways. It was an east-west crossing of the river and I had just drank from the energy of the tracks that were the lion’s. So somehow that seemed like a different vibration, but I saw the cat tracks. I wanted to know where are these lions from, so later I went to the top of the hill and I saw that if you go far enough in that direction, you will get to the mountains where the lions were that I had left a deer for. So here I got the sense that I was dealing with a family of lions, not lions in general, but the Puma; there was a family.” (Joseph Rael, p. 292-294)

Words Create Worlds.3

This essay first appeared in The Badger, Year 6, Volume 6, Issue 1 (4/4/20). Thanks to The Badger for permission to reprint.

“Words create worlds.” These are the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, here is the full quote, remembered by his daughter, Susannah Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[1]

Remembering the Past & Learning from History

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)[2]

Are we witnessing a rise of fascism and totalitarianism? Many say we are, and it is worth looking at what these words mean and if they apply to our current situation, which Rebecca Solnit calls a linguistic crisis.[3]

Are we justified in using such a strong word as “fascism” for the language and ideas that are being tossed about under the guise of a resurgent nationalism? The Director of the McMaster Centre for Research in the Public Interest, Henry Giroux, believes so.

“I have no apologies whatsoever for using the word fascist politics. And I think that people who are afraid to do that become complicit with the very politics they condemn. Because if you can’t learn from history, then it seems to me that you end up in the dark,” (Henry Giroux).[4]

In this next installment of the Words Create Worlds series, we will turn to the work of two authors who warn us against a global movement into fascism. Both authors have familial roots in the persecution of the Jewish people during the holocaust and the Soviet take over of Eastern Europe after World War II. We will first discuss former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning. Then we will turn to Yale professor, Jason Stanley’s book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. I do not intend this to be polemical, partisan politics, but rather to objectively document the current resurgence of fascistic rhetoric, in the United States and globally, in light of the history of fascism in the 20th Century.

“Crow Flying through Cosmos,” D. Kopacz

Fascism: A Warning

Former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright published her book by this name in 2018. She starts with describing her family’s experience with fascism, escaping to London in 1939 from the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. The family returned to Czechoslovakia after the war, only to have to flee in 1948 from the communists, this time to the USA. The family lost numerous members to the Holocaust.

Albright sees a worldwide movement of leaders “intentionally undermining the institutions and democratic principles that have held the world together,” (xvii). She has chapters focusing on the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Putin in Russia, Erdoğan in Turkey, Milošević in the former Yugoslavia, Chávez in Venezuela, Orbán in Hungary, Kaczyński in Poland, the Supreme Leaders in North Korea, and Trump in the USA. She defines a fascist as “someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals that he or she might have,” (245-246).

Albright includes Trump in this group of leaders leaning into fascism as “we have not had a chief executive in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals,” (5). She points out that he has “systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libeled his predecessors, threatened to ‘lock up’ political rivals, referred to mainstream journalists as ‘the enemy of the American people,’ spread falsehoods about the integrity of the US electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies, vilified immigrants and the countries from which they come, and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world’s foremost religions,” (5).

Albright notes that, in 2016, “fascism” was the most searched for word in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, except for the word “surreal,” showing a popular interest in understanding the meanings of these words. She describes the history of the word fascism, going back to Mussolini’s revival of the Roman consul’s emblem, the fasces, a “bundle of elm rods coupled with an ax,” (19-20). Mussolini is also credited with coining the term, “drain the swamp” (drenare la palude) by firing 35,000 civil servants (20). Albright traces the history of the words, “America First,” back to Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee of 1940, which included “Nazi sympathizers” to resist entry into World War II (216). One of the things we are looking at in this column is how words create worlds and to echo and mimic the words of a fascist is to risk recreating a fascist state. She quotes George Orwell’s one-word description of a Fascist, a “bully,” (209). We can look to see if the current president of the United States qualifies as a bully – does he call people names, does he push people around and try to intimidate them and always get his way?

The question is whether what we are seeing in the United States, which seems to resonate on larger geopolitical trends, deserves to be called fascism. Albright states that “Trump is the first antidemocratic president in modern U.S. history,” and that on “too many days, beginning in the early hours, he flaunts his disdain for democratic institutions, the ideals of equality and social justice, civil discourse, civic virtues, and America itself. If transplanted to a country with fewer democratic safeguards, he would audition for dictator, because that is where his instincts lead,” (246). She writes that leaders around the world “observe, learn from, and mimic one another,” and that they see “where their peers are heading, what they can get away with, and how they can augment and perpetuate their power,” (246). She describes how this happened historically in the Twentieth Century and she fears that history is repeating itself and that “the herd is moving in a Fascist direction,” (246). Albright is issuing a warning, as her book’s subtitle states, she feels that in the US, we “are not there yet, but these feel like signposts on the road back to an era when Fascism found nourishment and individual tragedies were multiplied millions-fold,” (224).

Albright’s Antidotes to Fascism

Albright mentions a few antidotes to fascism, such as “caring about others” and “the proposition that we are all created equal” which neutralizes the “self-centered moral numbness that allows Fascism to thrive,” (66). She also says that we need to develop world views that see similarities, rather than us and them, that we need “a way of looking at the world that recognizes the humanity that we share with one another, and the interests that nations have in common,” (187). This is similar to the idea of “spiritual democracy” that Joseph Rael and I develop in our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.

“Medicine Wheel of Dark Matter,” D. Kopacz

How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them

Jason Stanley is a Yale professor and author of the book, How Propaganda Works and his recent How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Stanley was born in the US, but his parents fled Europe as Jewish refugees. His father lived through Kristallnacht in Germany and his mother, from Eastern Poland, was in a Siberian labor camp during the war.

Stanley also speaks of the history of the America First movement (“the public face of pro-fascist sentiment”) and its roots in anti-immigration policy. He defines fascism as “ultranationalism of some variety,” with the nation “represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf,” (xiv). As does Albright, he sees the United States in a dangerous moment. A hallmark of fascist politics “comes from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population,” which leads to limiting “the capacity for empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination,” (xv). He points out that dehumanization can exist without overt fascism, but that “it should concern all Americans that as a candidate and as president, Donald Trump has publicly and explicitly insulted immigrant groups,” (xv).

Dehumanization

Dehumanization is the process of treating a person as a thing, as something less than human. I have written about this process in medical and health care settings in my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. Dehumanization can spread like an epidemic. Psychoanalyst, Robert Stoller, has written that the act of dehumanizing another “dehumanizes the dehumanizer,”[5] (Stoller, 32). The dehumanized individual has lost touch with what it means to be human and thus treats others as objects rather than as people. This recalls Martin Buber’s distinction between the I-Thou and the I-It relationships. The I-It relationship is a dehumanized relationship, it is profane and materialistic, treating human beings as raw material. The I-Thou relationship, on the other hand, sacralizes and spiritualizes the relationship between two human beings, it is a subject-subject relationship.[6] The reason that fascism is a spiritual as well as political issue is because fascism despiritualizes human beings and the world. Just as I called for Re-humanizing Medicine, we need a Re-humanizing Politics, and a Re-spiritualizing Politics after the resurgence of fascist rhetoric and action. Two of the antidotes that I describe in Re-humanizing Medicine are developing a personal counter-curriculum of re-humanization (an action plan to reinvest in one’s being fully human: body, emotions, mind, heart, creativity, intuition, and spirituality), and to join the compassion revolution – a global movement of bringing heart back into health care. We could use these processes in our current geopolitical climate.

Stanley’s 10 Common Features of Fascism:

  1. Political invocation of a mythic past – e.g. “Make America Great Again”
  2. Propaganda – to distort reality and create alternate narratives and “realities” of control
  3. Anti-intellectualism – “the liberal New York Times,” casting free speech and scholarship as liberal agendas
  4. Unreality – “fake news” and “alternative facts,” creating a state news organ
  5. Hierarchy – us/them, the deserving and the undeserving
  6. Victimhood – seeing oneself as a victim can lead to victimizing others before they victimize you
  7.  Law and order – warn about dangerous “others” and the need to control and contain “them”
  8. Sexual anxiety – fears of racial purity and appeal to need for “strong men” for protection
  9. Sodom and Gomorrah – decadent “coastal elites”
  10. Arbeit Macht Frei – This German phrase, meaning “work will set you free” was inscribed over the entrance to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz[7]
“Out of One, Many,” D. Kopacz

Stanley’s book follows chapters on each of these different topics, but he reminds us that:

“The most telling symptom of fascist politics is division. It aims to separate a population into an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’” (xvi).

The antidote to fascism can also be found in the poison of it. Stanley writes that the “suffering of strangers can solidify the structure of fascism,” but that “it can also trigger empathy once another lens is clicked into place,” (xix).

This is the much-needed compassion revolution. I often find myself musing about what would happen if all these politicians who are spreading hatred and division simply asked themselves before they spoke, “Am I speaking from the heart and out of love?” Stanley sees the root power of fascism in the separation of people into us and them. Many spiritual practices cultivate the opposite of us and them, seeking states of peace, unity, and interconnection. For example, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen and Loving Kindness focus on breaking down the barriers between self and other. Hindu Kashmiri Shaivism seeks the understanding and experience that all is Śiva, that we are all God, and that there is no “us and them.” In our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality,[8] Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I discuss the concept of Spiritual Democracy, of cultivating different ways that we can move from self and other, to brother and sister, and even further to the non-dual point where we are all one. Through exploring different pathways of initiation we come to the conclusion that the spiritual path leads to a state of oneness and from this state of oneness, one feels a responsibility for all life. After seeking initiation, comes finding & receiving wisdom, and this wisdom comes with the responsibility to return to the world and to find ways of giving compassion and wisdom to others. 

Sun Through Trees Near Sol Duc River, Washington state, D. Kopacz (2019)

In the next installment of Words Create Worlds we will be, “The Fight for Humanity – or should we say – Working for Humanity.” Throughout 2019 I was writing these Words Create Worlds essays that appeared in The Badger. In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[9]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog.

[2] “‘Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It.’ Really?” Nicholas Clairmont, Big Think, 7/31/13, https://bigthink.com/the-proverbial-skeptic/those-who-do-not-learn-history-doomed-to-repeat-it-really

[3] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018, pg 4.

[4] “Henry Giroux: Will Trump’s Deliberate Racist Rhetoric Lead Us to Fascism?” Interview with Marc Steiner, Big Think, 7/18/19. https://truthout.org/video/trumps-racist-rhetoric-is-deliberate-will-it-lead-us-to-fascism/

[5] Robert Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 32.

[6] Robert Audi ed., ‘Martin Buber,’ The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 104.

[7] These are the chapters from, Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. New York: Random House, 2018. I have provided my own brief elaborations after the topic headings of Stanley’s chapters. For a quick review of Stanley’s 10 elements of fascism, which also comments on the rise of Hindutva in India, see “The ten indicators of fascist politics,” Kanishk Tharoor, The Hindu Business Line, 5/17/19, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/talk/the-ten-indicators-of-fascism/article27158525.ece

[8] David Kopacz and Joseph Rael. Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. Seattle & Marvel: Condor & Eagle Press, 2020.

[9] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.