Today I came across an article on HuffPo that almost perfectly illustrates something I’m a firm believer of: that being smarter doesn’t make you one bit more able to arrive at a wiser answer for your philosophical questions, but it does make you better able to rationalize your chosen position. Bob Jacobson has written the article in question. It’s quite a doozy: he claims that childhood abuse afflicts the majority of Americans and explains right-wing thought and poor governance. Like I said, it’s a doozy. You ready? Let’s go.
For ours is a nation of abused children, now grown up. Conservative statistics state that one of four female children, and one of six male children, will have been sexually or physically abused by the age of 18. Abuse counselors and psychologists in the field will tell you that even higher proportions — 40 to 45 percent of all female children and at least 25 percent of male children — are victims of abuse.
Those of us fortunate to have avoided the terrors of childhood abuse and neglect cannot conceive of the damage they do to the child and to the adult that the child becomes. An abuse victim learns early that the world is an unsafe place; that manipulation and deceit are essential ingredients of family life; that the administration of pain is an expression of love; and that no one will ever come to help. It truly is a case of love it or leave it — and the one route of escape is into fantasy, turning the world on its head, making evil the supreme human experience.
These accumulated hurts breed anger as well as submission. That is the strange dichotomy that fuels and rules across the political spectrum.
Large segments of the American electorate, contrary to democratic ideals, embody an unhealthy and dangerous anger, helplessness, and self-loathing.
Our culture turns the knife: in America, the individual is held responsible for his or her impotence. The jingoist culture of “rugged individualism,” while trumpeting personal strength, paradoxically emphasizes individuals’ helplessness and dependency.
So it is that a large number, perhaps a majority of Americans, are prone to accept loving abuse from their a political leaders, for which they exchange hateful but dutiful allegiance. A hundred million beaten and bruised Americans are voting with broken hearts.
Linguist George Lakoff believes that many abused grown children are looking for a “strong father” figure who is unflinching in his pursuit of the things that matter to him, who can manifest “tough love.”
We’ve now seen Jacobson’s central thesis: Abused Americans flock to Republican “strong father” politicians out of tragic attraction to the kind of abuse they received as children, leading to fascistic social policies. And what is his proposed solution?
The first, most immediate remedy is to reduce and eliminate the sense of helplessness that afflicts abuse victims, replacing it with a sense of power. This means giving adults abused as children — a lot or even most Americans — real skin in the game, a share of the action, a chance to reflect, to choose leaders and drive policies about which they’ve been educated and consulted.
This is very true, but I don’t think it would result in his desired outcome. Jacobson never seems to contemplate that increasing the ability of right-wingers “to choose leaders and drive policies about which they’ve been educated and consulted” will most likely result not in a mass exodus from the Republican party, but more laws that right-leaning people approve of.
And what will bring about this enlightened socio-political empowerment? The next paragraph tells us:
An active progressive grassroots, like that cultivated by FDR but unrealized in today’s professionalized Democratic Party led by the likes of personally abusive Rahm Emanuel, famous for his contempt of “idealists,” and the sadly fatherless president — would provide relief from the constant battering that keeps the alienated individual in line and simultaneously on edge. A social oasis that offered a refuge and respite would go a long way in this election.
I don’t even know what this means. Right-wingers will be healed by having more idealistic Democrats running around advocating laws and regulations inspired by FDR? Would liberals find themselves any more socially empowered by dudes running around delivering paeans to the glory of Reagan and Thatcher?
The second remedy is longer-term. It’s for progressives and the Democratic Party — for no other party exists with the means or desire — to recruit as its spokespersons “Caring Parents.” Not faux men and women like Republicans Limbaugh, Palin, Jindal, and Arizona’s governor Brewer, or their equally abundant Democratic counterparts — but women and men who can and do express and share honest compassion, whose policies are restorative and pro-humanity. It’s easy enough to identify them: they’re the ones shouting on the perimeter to the crazy people in government. They’re the reformers who challenge private power gone terribly amok.
Of course, you can see right away the failure baked into this proposed remedy. First of all, a government that behaves like a caring, nurturing parent is an excellent example of the exact opposite of what right-wingers are looking for. And furthermore, even if it was what they needed, what makes Jacobson so sure that they would react with open arms and tearful catharsis? Isn’t it more likely that they would react with the suspicion and violence he claims they all exhibit? His narrative doesn’t even make internal sense.
Faced with such unabashed loyalty, what’s a progressive American, one who is undamaged, to do? Appeals to truth, logic, or principles won’t carry water with people who are determined to admire leaders more who treat them worse. It doesn’t work to point out to Americans that they are abused. The sane Democrats try, but it’s a losing strategy as the polls show. People who who swim in a sea of violence and self-loathing — and what are the main themes in America these days except violence and self-loathing?
Maybe it’s just me, but a bit red flag goes up whenever anybody tries to claim that their political party is the only sane one and their opponents don’t listen to reason. I used to believe this myself, and let me tell you, it’s a lonely and isolating worldview. You have to constantly find ways to explain how people you respect are actually good people when your worldview considers them defective. It can destroy friendships when people you respect change their ideologies.
Anyway. Then there’s the gem about “violence and self-loathing”. I’d like to know what he means by this. How is the violence component being measured? It certainly isn’t crime, as that’s been falling for two straight decades (while gun ownership has been rising, incidentally enough):
Maybe he means the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? But our nation has been at war more than a dozen times before! Take the world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam war, the first gulf war as evidence of the numerous armed conflicts that the U.S. participated in before now, and the Iraq war isn’t the first time we unilaterally started an unnecessary war, either.
How about self-loathing? I don’t typically find this to be a trait of Republicans; they’re more likely to be undeservedly reverent of America when we’re not exactly at the top of our game. It’s the Democrats who are more often found decrying how terrible a place our country supposedly is, as ironically illustrated by Jacobson himself through his article about how the majority of Americans are violent, irrational abused children who need a compassionate parental government to heal their wounded psyches. It’s just about one of the most self-loathing articles I’ve come across in a while. Maybe that makes him a Republican? Better not use big words or his abused, overly emotional brain will resort to violence!
In essence, Jacobson is projecting his own desire for a warm maternal government onto Republicans. After cutting through all the fat, all we’re left with are some fairly standard leftist beliefs:
- Republicans are angry and violent
- Everything boils down to victimization
- More compassion will help everything
- Governments ought to behave like parents — specifically, like nurturing mothers
Yawn. In any event, his own statistics undo him:
Conservative statistics state that one of four female children, and one of six male children, will have been sexually or physically abused by the age of 18. Abuse counselors and psychologists in the field will tell you that even higher proportions — 40 to 45 percent of all female children and at least 25 percent of male children — are victims of abuse.
If he’s right that childhood abuse predisposes one toward right-wing views, then given that he claims that girls are abused more often than boys, shouldn’t we expect women to lean to the right in greater numbers than men? In fact, the opposite is observed in the reality: American women are universally more likely to be liberal Democrats: