It's a great question, isn't it? The world is full of self-proclaimed experts. What qualifies me to speak about society, its problems, and possible solutions? And what makes me different from any of the other voices out there? What makes my analyses or opinions special?
I was born to and raised by a working-class family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. (That's me and my parents at left.)
We were poor, sometimes crushingly so. I started working as soon as I could get working papers (perhaps a bit earlier ...) at jobs like messenger and hardware assistant. I raised money for college by working as a building custodian (I've scrubbed my share of toilets), college security staff, and research assistant.
From very early on in my life, I was intimately familiar with the challenges faced by the working poor and their families. This is a good background for someone commenting on our society today.
I was very fortunate in obtaining scholarships for secondary and higher education, to attend Regis High School and then Haverford College, where I majored in psychology. I also took courses at Haverford and nearby Bryn Mawr College in philosophy, religion, and physics.
I obtained my masters degree in counseling from Fordham University, and then my doctoral degree in counseling psychology at New York University. (At left, I am posing with a small part of my personal library, early in my doctoral studies. It is a miracle that this homemade particle board bookcase held up as long as it did.)
My academic studies and research, conducted under the direction of brilliant and demanding professors, prepared me well to analyze society from multiple points of view, and within a solid historical context.
While studying for my graduate degrees, I worked in business firms large and small, in positions like marketing manager and systems analyst. I learned a lot about the way that companies work, and the challenges faced by workers in the corporate world.
In the later years of my doctoral program, I worked full-time in professional practice in different settings with clients from very different parts of the socio-economic spectrum. I worked half-time for a year in the counseling center of Manhattanville College, typically with students from very well-to-do families. I worked full-time for a year on the psychology staff of Manhattan Psychiatric Center (MPC), the inpatient psychiatric hospital of last resort for Manhattan; I also worked full-time for a year on the psychology staff of the outpatient mental health clinic of Lutheran Medical Center (LMC) in Brooklyn. Many of my clients at MPC and LMC were among the poorest of the poor, including the homeless. It is also noteworthy that at MPC and LMC, I worked with a highly diverse population of people from many nations, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.
After obtaining my doctoral degree, I conducted contract research in my own firm, and taught diverse groups of students at large state schools, the University of Central Florida and Hunter College--City University of New York. My scholarship in psychology garnered attention from several quarters, and I received awards from three divisions of the American Psychological Association (one at left), which elected me a Fellow.
All of this--the diversity of my clients and students; the work in the corporate world and in mental health settings--has worked together to give me insight both deep and broad into the challenges that people face in American society.
One aspect of my professional background that sets me apart from many social critics involves my experiences with elements of the U.S. and international defense sector.
As director of research in my own firm, I conducted research under contract for various elements of the U.S. Department of Defense, including the Office of Secretary of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA), and the U.S. Army. My work involved projects like developing a screen to detect psychiatric disorders in recruit-aged populations, and the creation of programs to increase psychological capacities in these same populations.
As a service to the international intelligence community, I delivered two papers at a NATO conference in London on the defense against terrorism, a contribution of which I am especially proud. (That's the NATO logo at left; "OTAN" is their acronym in French. NATO, of course, is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which began as an alliance of some of the Allied nations after World War II.)
My discussions with members of the national and international defense community have broadened my perspective, in ways that are very useful for a social critic.
I have hard experience with the challenges faced by people of diverse backgrounds at various places on the socio-economic spectrum. I also have a perspective broadened by international concerns. Combine that with a high-quality education, and a great deal of teaching and speaking experience, and I have a solid background as someone who can describe the challenges we face as a society, and how we might meet those challenges.