Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Rejecting poisonous strategies

Thomas Frank, who wrote the book I really need to read  What's the Matter with Kansas?, provided an op-ed in the NYT last Sunday on the failure of the FMA .  His take: this could be a planned failure, a strategy to unite his base using the dynamic of us-versus-them.
eRobin at her excellent blog, Factesque, makes some very smart connections with Renata Brooks' thoughts on the use of fear and the induction of learned helplessness.
Building a Codependent Base
The coverage of BushCo's seemingly desperate reaching out to his grabby base has been getting a ton of coverage in the corporate press. Nobody has gotten it even close to right except Thomas Frank in his NYTimes op-ed analysis of the doomed-from-the-start FMA. 
 ... (snip)...
BushCo has been effectively combining this strategy of pandering not to the base's desires, but to their self-image as underdogs victimized by the elite, with one of his favorite linguistic strategies, instilling a feeling of "learned helplessness" in those same supporters.
Dr. Brooks is talking about BushCo's positioning of himself as the only person able to stand between us and terrorist attacks, but she could just as easily be talking about BushCo the Culture Warrior. He survives politically on a campaign of fear in both foreign and domestic matters. And fear is a powerful drug with only one antidote. Dr. Brooks suggests that the only way for opponents to fight back is with a message of true optimism. I would add that the idea of an empowered community is also necessary to penetrate the Us vs. Them position that BushCo takes on every issue. Gov. Dean was on that path but couldn't hang on against the opposition press and Democratic leadership. Kerry*Edwards have been working to tell America whom they mean by "Us", but their pat message is too easy to pigeonhole and mock as insincere. They need to give Us a challenge to inspire community and offer an alternative to the fear that BushCo sews at every opportunity.
Important stuff because it's too easy for the media to not notice the manipulation. 

I'm chiming in here with my own take, in this not very well-written post  from awhile back when I was very new to blogging.  
Alice Miller, the psychoanalyst who broke from her ranks to publish her then groundbreaking theories, offers some interesting psychological insights, which she developed in her quest to understand how Hitler to come into power. The Truth Will Set you Free, published by Perseus Books in 2001, is the most recent of her books and probably the most accessible.
 Here, Miller discusses again how the traditional methods of upbringing involve “a vicious circle of violence and ignorance”, resulting in a child who develops as a survival tool a strong sense of denial. This incredible denial results in a powerful “emotional blindness” that makes it difficult for the adult to be open to other possibilities and belief systems because doing so would bring up those old traumas hidden in the past. The denial is perpetuated into the next generation unconsciously. The barriers to these old childhood beliefs can only be taken down only when the (socially unacceptable) journey is undertaken to reflect and revisit childhood memories honestly.Miller describes this type of parenting ”poisonous pedagogy”. It is:

“…the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child’s will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt and covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail”.(p. ix in the preface of The Truth Will Set You Free).
Not coincidentally, I believe Miller’s poisonous pedagogy accurately describes the dark side of the more recently developed Strict Father family parenting model by George Lakoff in his book Moral Politics. (For an online summary of Lakoff’s work: see here but I challenge you to read his book, especially the chapters towards the end.) Since Lakoff is a cognitive scientist, he does not really discuss in depth the dynamics of how psychological damage is inflicted in order to maintain the Strict Father family system. But he does do a better job than psychology in describing the larger system.
Repeating: this type of parenting and worldview makes people extremely vulnerable to manipulation. This administration (and let's not forget the forces in the Democratic party) tends to push for policies which would recreate this type of environment.  Coincidence? Think not. 
NCLB is one example that fits both models, Lakoff's and Miller's, amazingly well: punishment rather than reward, drill and kill approach to education,  unreasonable 'proficiency' levels, demolition of public education  for it's own good. 
The prognosis, however, isn't good, in my opinion unless we get a more progressive public policy through.  The current policies will only create another generation of wounded.  Addressing the truth, if you follow this model, threatens to destroy the walls around the original wounding. It'll be hard to get through unless things are so bad, people are willing to question the status quo.
As for solutions, I know of only one sure thing: electing Kerry would be a good (not perfect) start. But seriously, I think the progressive agenda is generally more compassionate and more healing.  I'm leaning Green locally  but have no doubt, I will be voting Democratic in the national election.