Bruce Burleson – April 12, 2017
When I’m not busy writing for Liberty Clarion Call (or otherwise “having a life”) I’m at work as a substance abuse counselor and program manager.  I work with homeless individuals who have addictions, and I also work at a local drug and alcohol treatment center.

My specialty is cognitive behavior therapy, which helps people change the way they think about things.  Cognitive behavior therapy teaches that it is primarily our thinking that shapes both our emotions and our behavior.  Constructive, healthy thinking is based on facts, and any kind of thinking that isn’t factually based is generally considered to be what we call a cognitive distortion.

For example, often my clients get urges and cravings to use alcohol or drugs.  They tell themselves: “I should be able to drink or use like everyone else.”  Can you guess what’s wrong with that thought?  Firstly, any thinking that is oriented around a “should,” or a “must,” or an “ought” is suspect. By what law of the universe “should” anyone be able to drink or use drugs?  Secondly, the idea that “everyone else” uses drugs or alcohol is factually inaccurate.

Another thought they often have is: “I can’t stand feeling this way; the only thing that will make it go away is alcohol (or drugs).”  Two problems.  First, we human beings are quite resilient, so when we tell ourselves we “can’t stand” something it’s probably untrue.  A counselor once told me that there’s only one thing you can’t stand (or withstand) and that’s the thing that kills you.  Second, who’s to say that the only way to deal with emotional upsets is via substance use?  Don’t people all around the world cope with difficult feelings without resorting to drugs or alcohol?

Now let’s enter the bizarre cognitive world of the leftist.  I’m in a unique position to analyze what goes on inside the head of a leftist not only because I’m a cognitive behavioral counselor but also because I used to be a leftist myself.  From college until about ten years ago, I wandered from one Marxist-Leninist group to another, trying to organize the revolution.  It was an exercise in futility.  I finally started drifting rightward politically after visiting Venezuela and seeing first-hand what a disaster socialism is.

Leftists harbor quite a few cognitive distortions.  One need only glance through their literature for a second to find them.  For example, the International Socialist Organization’s website misinforms the public that “capitalism divides the working class, based on sexual, gender, racial, national and other distinctions.  Says who?  What is the evidence?  There is none (and it took me years to figure that out for myself).  Any glance through the past 300 years of the history of capitalism yields one amazing fact: capitalism as an economic system actually brings people together.  Hundreds of millions of people move to cities to work in factories, office buildings, hospitals, universities and other places of employment.  Visit virtually any workplace in America today and you’ll find men, women, black people, gay people, straight people, and people from many nationalities.  Do they constantly bicker with each other around these differences?  Not in any place I’ve ever worked!  In fact, if it was true that capitalism breeds social division, the system would have completely imploded on its own centuries ago. 

That is an example of a political cognitive distortion at the macro—societal—level.  Let’s look at some of the everyday things that leftist activists are saying and examine them for the presence of cognitive distortions.

Currently, leftist students at Notre Dame are up in arms because they’re afraid that an appearance of Vice President Mike Pence on their campus will do them harm.  Activists stated they feel “unsafe” by “someone who is openly offensive.”  Now getting back to our original premise: thinking shapes feelings and behaviors.  If activists “feel unsafe” at the prospect of the presence of the vice president, it is because they actually believe Pence’s speech will harm them.  Moreover, they have developed the core cognitive distortion that anyone they disagree with is “offensive” and shouldn’t be allowed on campus. 

If these students had me for a counselor, I’d ask them: Who gets to decide what is “offensive” and what isn’t?   I’d ask them why they think Pence is offensive.  They would then likely say: Well, he’s racist, sexist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and so on.  They’d roll out all of the typical “isms” and “phobias” the presence of which they’ve been brainwashed into thinking “must” never be tolerated.  (Remember that “must” as a word is a common component of cognitive distortions.) 

I would then ask them to present evidence of all of their claims.  What are the facts?  What makes them think the vice president has these “isms” and “phobias?”  Invariably, they will then restate what they’ve been taught in the classroom or heard in the media, as if those are two absolute sources of truth.  Add to that the far-left media and you’ve got a recipe for cognitive disaster.  I recall having distributed socialist newspapers in Harvard Square, arguing politics with people.  “It’s all right here in Socialist Worker,” I’d tell them.  Sometimes people would try to convince me: Just because it’s written in that newspaper doesn’t mean it’s true.  But I wasn’t ready to hear it.  I was so caught up in the cognitive distortion that Marxism was the one accurate lens through which to view the world, that I was unable to consider any alternative viewpoints.  That is the problem with leftist ideology: it quite literally brainwashes people over the course of time.  And guess what I also did? Drank incredible amounts of alcohol.  After all, I believed the world was a terrible place anyway and therefore there was no reason not to get annihilated every night.  There’s another cognitive distortion in itself!

Another example of a leftist cognitive distortion is the idea that a Chick-fil-A restaurant on the campus of Duquesne University will bring harm to students.  Why?  Because the company’s executives happen to believe in traditional marriage.  So, it’s like, uh, sexist and homophobic, or something.  People who do not subscribe to the far-left ideology of Duquesne’s student activists can of course see right through the absurdity of the idea that a fast-food restaurant causes emotional harm by violating “safe spaces.”  But if you’re inside the head of a leftist, where you subscribe to a number of cognitive distortions, it makes perfect sense.  Such distortions might include: 

“Restaurant owners should see things the way we do.”
        --A “should” statement.

“It would be awful if that restaurant opens on campus.”
       --Says who?  Maybe someone might actually like the food!

“Our safe spaces must never be violated by anyone who is racist, sexist, or homophobic.”
        --Two things: (1) It’s a “must” statement and most “must” statements place an unrealistic expectation on reality.  (2) What happens when you graduate? 
Will the entire world be a “safe space” for you?

Another common cognitive distortion leftists harbor is the idea—or idealization—of equality.  The view that all human beings are, or ought to be, equal, in all things, all the time, is irrational and a gross distortion of reality.  (Notice the words “ought to be”; they’re a variation of the “should” theme.)  Are all people capable of becoming brain surgeons?  Will everyone one day be elected President?  And when it comes to “income inequality” does it really make sense that everyone should get the same income regardless of what they contribute to society?  I’m sorry, but burger flipper at McDonald’s requires a very different skill set than CEO of Ford Motor Corporation.  In other words, there is no evidence to support the common leftist claim that there even “should” be anything close to the socialistic sort of “equality” demanded by leftists.

I lived several years ago with an elderly leftist named James.  He was one of the most miserable human beings I’d ever met; in fact, when I looked at his website recently he admitted as much: “My life has been totally miserable.”  But that should come as no surprise as he had spent his entire life chasing a set of cognitive distortions and irrational beliefs, all centering around an idealistic view of the world.

Inner peace, in my view, comes not with idealism but in realism: seeing the world the way it actually is (in some ways good and in other ways not so good but not necessarily always evil), and shaping your thinking around actual facts.  I was never able to put the cork in the bottle and begin living a happy life until I ditched leftist ideology. I certainly hope others who are being brainwashed by leftist cognitive distortions can one day find their way outside their own heads.