Putin, Ukraine, Toxic Males, and The Emperor Card

Toxic-Male psychopathology in the invasion of Ukraine.

We’re at about the three week mark in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Anyone who’s a decent person has been shocked, appalled, and nauseated by what we’ve seen.  A quiet, peaceful country primarily known for its wheat and decorated Easter eggs is being bombed into dust.

For no apparent reason.

The horror of what we’re seeing on the news everyday is hard to grasp, but equally hard to grasp in the, “why,” of it.  Why would Russia suddenly launch a brutal military campaign – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Nazis – against a neighbor who was absolutely no threat to its security?

I saw a talking head on one of the news shows tonight who asked, “Just how much of a psychopath is Vladimir Putin?”  It’s a revealing question because it points to the fact that we already knew Putin was a psychopath, we just didn’t know (and still don’t) how truly crazy he may be.

That truth points to another truth, which is that we’ve developed a remarkably high tolerance for psychopathology.  We put up with it.  We accept it.  It isn’t as if Putin hasn’t been doing dreadful things for decades.  He almost single handedly destroyed whatever small hope the Russian people had for freedom and democracy.  His political opponents end up poisoned, dead, or in prison.  He employed chemical warfare in Syria.

He’s a bad guy.  A crook.  A thug.  A criminal.  And he has been all of those things all of the time that he’s been in power.  Still, the world leaders kept inviting him to the dinner table.  Kept trading with Russia, inviting their teams to the Olympics, welcoming their tourists and investors, just as if Putin was somehow a normal, civilized leader.  It wasn’t until he decided to obliterate a modern society for no particular reason that we began to treat him like the psychopath that he is.

Just to define our terms before we go any further, what exactly do we mean when we say that someone is a psychopath?  According to Wikipedia, psychopathology is:

“characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited and egotistical traits.”

Put another way, a psychopath is a cold blooded, egotistical prick who causes a lot of suffering and really doesn’t give a shit about how many people he hurts.

I have argued previously in this blog that psychopathology is an inherent part of the Toxic-Male paradigm which our society too often embraces.  We see some of that exemplified in the Tarot card, The Emperor.  We can tell from his throne, scepter and title that he’s a powerful leader, a king of kings.  When we look a little more closely at the card, though, we see that he’s completely alone, armored, rigid, and surrounded by a blighted, sterile landscape.  His power is so toxic that not a tree or a flower can grow in his poisonous energy field. Still,  we focus on the power and not the devastation.  

Power that destroys everything around it for the sake of power is psychopathic.

Many of us actually admire and reward psychopathic behavior.  Consider this article from Forbes magazine in which they estimate that up to 12% of corporate CEOs may be psychopaths.  They are in those positions precisely because they are ruthless, have a total lack of empathy and will place corporate profit above the human suffering of their employees every time.

Remember when the CEO of the mortgage company Better.com fired over 900 employees at a goddamned Zoom meeting just before Christmas?  People across the country were shocked at the totally heartless, callous way that he’d behaved, but he wasn’t fired.  He took a month-long hiatus (translate:  he took Christmas vacation) and was back at work within a month.  He issued a tepid apology which was much more of an, “I’m sorry I got caught,” than it was an, “I’m sorry.”  He kept his job because the board of directors at Better.com wanted someone with psychopathic traits running their company.

We may shake our heads at the horrible behavior of Vladimir Putin but while we’re doing that we should take a very careful look at the behavior of Donald Trump. Persistent antisocial behavior?  Check.  Impaired empathy?  Check.  Total lack of remorse?  Check.  Bold, disinhibited and egotistical traits?  Check.  Can we really doubt that the primary difference between Putin and Trump is one of power?  Can we really doubt that Trump would have happily shut down a free press and had his opponents imprisoned if he could have gotten away with it?  Trump is a classic CEO psychopath.

And just about half of the population of the United States voted for him.  If you need any evidence that we have an increasing tolerance for psychopathic behavior, there it is.

When we look at written history, legends, and myths, it’s a safe bet that psychopaths have always been scattered throughout the human race.  Wherever we find suffering, cruelty, torture, war and rape, there we find psychopaths.  Is it fair, though, to tag this trait as a part of Toxic-Males?  After all, there are female psychopaths, too.

The answer to that question is a resounding, “yes.”  Psychopathology is toxic and it is very much a male behavior.  The ratio of male to female psychopaths may be as high as 20:1.  Virtually all serial killers have been males.  Mass shootings are overwhelmingly committed by males.  The prison population of violent offenders is heavily weighted toward males.

We can see the same evidence in human history.  Leonard Shlain, author of “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image,” hypothesizes that most of the earliest human cultures were matriarchal, goddess based and peaceful.  It wasn’t until the emergence of patriarchal society that we began to see psychopath kings and leaders.  There is no historical record of females leading hordes of barbarians to murder, rape, and pillage.  Virtually all of the monsters in human form – Ghengis Khan, Hitler, Napolean, Pol Pot, to name just a few – have been males.

It might be tempting for us to simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, well . . . they’ve always been a part of the human race.  What can we do about that?”  Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – the human race is at a crossroads and, as Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, we are in imminent danger of extinction if we don’t begin to evolve out of our current ways of thinking.  We now have weapons capable of destroying life on earth.  Millions – not thousands – of people were killed in wars and other armed conflicts during the 20th century and it’s not looking a hell of a lot better in this century.

To put it mildly, “Houston, we have a problem.”  A major component in that problem is Toxic-Male psychopathology.  By far and away, the majority of human beings – male and female – are NOT out there killing people and spreading terror.  It’s this tiny, tiny minority that’s threatening our very existence.  

So we must be rid of them.  One way or another, we MUST be rid of them.  We start that process with our own minds.  We start that process by recognizing that they are sick, depraved, deeply flawed human beings.  We stop, “admiring,” their so-called toughness and ruthlessness and realize that it’s really nothing more than a thin veneer over a sadistic personality.  We stop describing them as, “geniuses,” when they put their brutality on full display.  We stop voting for them when they run for office.  We stop promoting them to positions of leadership in businesses.  We stop acting as if it’s somehow okay or inevitable that mass shootings continue in our society or that our leaders are braggadocious bullies.

Above all else, we need to start holding up and supporting the model of emotionally healthy, nurturing, caring males.  Most men are not like these psychopaths – we know that.  Most men love their partners and their families and just want to live their lives in peace and harmony.  At the same time, though, as males we are constantly confronted with the stereotypes of what, “real,” men are like.  And those stereotypes look an awful lot like the psychopaths:  ruthless, emotionless, physically dominant, violent, and lacking in empathy.  That ideation of the, “alpha male,” is buried WAY deep down inside the collective psyches of both males and females.  We have to start digging it out, holding it up to the light of day, and rejecting it.

It really is a matter of our survival.

The Lovers, The Goddess, and The Monogamy Model

Did you ever have a good friend just disappear on you when they became romantically involved with someone?  You know:  a friend you loved to hang out with, a person who was your go-to buddy for a cup of coffee or a drink, the first person you’d call when something really good (or really bad) happened to you?

And then they fall in love and suddenly you can’t reach them.  You ask if they’d like to have a cup of coffee and they reply, “I don’t know;  I’ll have to see what WE’RE doing.”  On the one hand, you’re happy for them to be in love, but on the other hand, you really kind of feel like you just got dumped.

The bottom line on it is that romantic love, as we currently practice it, tends to be very exclusionary.  We’re a decidedly monogamist society, so 99% of the time falling in love involves two people, period.  And, yes, there is a strong expectation that those two people will devote the majority of their loving and caring to each other and not to people who are outside of the relationship.  It’s very much as if your former best friend is saying, “Well, yeah, I loved you but that was what I was doing until I could find someone to fall IN love with and now I’m busy.  Bye!”

The Lovers tarot card beautifully illustrates the romantic model of love that the Victorians positively adored.  A man and a woman stand beside each other, nude, but not touching, not even making eye contact, while an angel hovers overhead, its wings spread protectively over the couple.  The message is loud and clear:  romantic love is holy and ethereal and, yes, we have bodies, but REAL love is about those heavenly emotions and not about . . . you know . . . S-E-X.

And, yes, it’s about two people and two people only.  You don’t see any best friends hanging out in this card.

Thic Nhat Hanh says that true love, as opposed to our normal idea of romantic love, includes four elements:  (1) loving/kindness which is the ability to offer happiness to the other person; (2) the energy of compassion, which removes suffering from you and the other person; (3) joy in loving; and (4) inclusiveness, which is removing the barriers between you and the other person.  BUT – and this is the kicker with our western concept of love – if it’s really true love then those energies will continue to expand, particularly the energy of inclusiveness. 

 In our romantic love model we draw a circle around ourselves and our partners and say, “Okay, we’re in love – go away.”  In this alternate model, romantic love becomes a spiritual practice that expands to include, rather than exclude, others. In other words, if it’s real love it grows your circle, it doesn’t contract it.

Which leads to a very sensitive and perhaps painful question:  Is monogamy really a healthy model for growing love in our lives?  

Unfortunately, the very question comes packed with a lot of poisonous images.  We think of the middle aged man cheating on his wife with the babysitter.  Or unhappy housewives having miserable affairs with the next door neighbor.  Or swingers, who basically just want to fuck anything that moves, proclaiming that they have, “an open marriage.”

In other words, there’s a large, built in, “Yuck,” factor when we try to visualize a model of love that doesn’t involve exclusive monogamy.  All of those images, though, are operating WITHIN the framework of a monogamist society.  Screwing around on your wife or husband is yucky because it involves lying, cheating, and deeply hurting people who love you, trust you, and expect that you’re going to be, “faithful.”   Sexual swingers probably have inordinately high sex drives and are non-monogamous by nature.  They just get yucky when they try to disguise their true nature within the framework of a traditional marriage.

It may help to think about this issue if we can actually step back a bit and ask ourselves, “Is monogamy natural?  Is this the natural state of human love or is this something that’s been imposed by society over many thousands of years?”

As Leonard Schlain points out in, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,”  the evidence is strong that most human societies were originally matriarchal.  And there are actually a few truly matriarchal societies left in the world.  So where do they stand on the issue of monogamy?  

The Mosuo women are China’s last surviving matriarchy.  They don’t marry.  The women choose and change partners as they wish, whenever they wish.

The Minangkabau people practice marriage to a limited extent but the women and children live in their own houses and the men live elsewhere.  

In the Khasi society, a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, monogamy is the norm but women are free to divorce and remarry as frequently as they want to, with no social or economic consequences.

So, if the most ancient form of human society was the matriarchy, and if the current surviving matriarchies are examples of how those societies functioned, then we can conclude that monogamy is NOT a, “natural,” human norm.

Even more fascinating is the fact that these are WOMEN who are rejecting the monogamist model.  Remember, a large element of the argument for monogamy is that women, especially when they’re pregnant, are weak, helpless, and badly in need of male protection.  Apparently these societies think otherwise.

Is monogamy simply an artificial social construct that was foisted on humans by patriarchal societies that viewed women as property, as, “belonging,” to men?  And, as the Goddess archetype reemerges in the world, will we see a breakdown of the monogamistic model?

There may be signs of that, especially among older people.  Sociologists have already noted a new form of family structure they call, “living apart together,”  in which people who describe themselves as being in love still choose to maintain separate households.  Women in these relationships are very much maintaining their own individual identities rather than merging into a shared identity.

It’s fascinating to think of what new forms of romantic relationships may emerge in the coming few years.  Communes?  Group marriages?  Matriarchies?  The Lovers card may need to be a lot larger before it’s all over.

The Star Tarot Card – Ishtar, The Dalai Lama, and the Re-Emergence of The Goddess

Just who is the mysterious woman in the Tarot card, “The Star?”  She’s one of what I call, “the astronomical cards,” that are grouped together at the end of the Major Arcana:  The Star, The Moon, The Sun, and The World.

For some reason it seems easier to relate to the other three cards today.  Perhaps it’s because they are so intimately interwoven with our daily existence.  We live on and with Mother Earth/The World. The Sun makes us happy and marks out our seasons.  The Moon controls the tides and is strongly connected with women’s fertility and men’s insanity.  

But what about The Star?  What comes to mind? Anything?  Not much?

The first known examples of the Tarot emerged 1500-ish.  We know that most of the natural philosophers (they didn’t have scientists, yet) were still using the Greco-Roman model of the universe at that time.  The Earth, of course, was the Center of the Universe because we are SO important. Then extending all around the Earth there was a great circle of a sphere which contained space and the moon and the sun.

The latest, most up-to-date thinking at that time was that stars were actually holes in the sphere that surrounded us and that the light they radiated was heaven shining through the holes.  Which is why heaven is, “up there,” even today.

BUT . . . there were also stars that moved around.  We call them planets now days but the thinking back then was that if they moved around, then, by golly, they must be alive because that’s what living things do and that’s what dead things don’t.

Now, it’s interesting because the Greeks (and their intellectual suck ups the Romans) decided that if there were magical, celestial beings whizzing around in space then most of them must have penises.  Yes, I know . . . there’s poor lonely Venus and she’s a female, but every other, “living star,” was a male. Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Pluto . . . not a vagina in the whole lot of them.

The rest of the world took an entirely different approach, however.  In most cultures there was no doubt that if stars were living beings they were definitely females.  And that’s what showed up in the Tarot, which we are told was a product of medieval Europe and which was still going by Greco-Roman thinking.  A woman. Odd, isn’t it?

In, “The Alphabet Versus The Goddess,”  Leonard Shlain makes a very strong case that all early civilizations were Goddess-based cultures.  And we can posit that Star Goddesses played a prominent role. The Sumerian/Babylonian Star Goddess Ishtar is portrayed here as her symbol, an eight pointed star:


And here we have an early Tarot deck version of The Star, with . . . ahem . . . an eight pointed star hovering over the Star Woman.


Or take the example of Tara, the Hindu Goddess who crossed over into Tibet.  She is portrayed with seven eyes – two in her hands, two in her feet, and three in her head – because she sees all of our suffering .


When the Buddhists arrived in Tibet they announced that Tara was actually the feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) Avalokiteshvara and came into existence from a tear of Avalokiteshvara, which fell to the ground and formed a lake.

Right.  Another example of a man giving birth to a woman.  We know that happens all of the time.

Tara is thought to be the oldest still worshipped Goddess in existence and she was in Tibet a LONG time before Buddhism arrived.  Tara actually means, “Star,” so we can guess that Tibetan society was originally a matriarchal culture centered around the worship of a Star Goddess.

If you want a clincher for that, the term, “Dalai Lama,” literally translates as, “High (or exalted) Mother.”  If the original Dalai Lama didn’t have breasts it would have been a damned peculiar title.

When a Tibetan Buddhist wants to talk about compassion and pure, unadulterated love, they use the the example of the love that flows between a mother and a child.  Several of them that I’ve run across – such as Tulku Thondup who wrote, “Boundless Healing: Meditation Exercises to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body,” – expressed frustration in trying to convey that concept to Westerners because we tend to have such screwed up relationships with our parents.  Mother EQUALS love in their culture, if not in ours.

So we can perhaps begin to cobble together a picture of who the Star Woman actually is.  She is a Goddess. A mother. Unconditional love. Compassion. Always there, gently shining down to guide and protect us.  The blessing of feminine energy.

And perhaps, as the Goddess archetype continues to re-emerge in the world, that image and that feeling will once again seem as normal to us as The Sun, The Moon, and The World.

Let’s hope so.