Thursday, April 8, 2010

Creating little authoritarians

The literature and research of psychology well describes how child physical and sexual abuse leads to the formation of authoritarian personalities, and later to conservative political affiliations. Children abused by the adults who are supposed to love and support them learn to deny their feelings of shame, helplessness and anger. Those displaced feelings can be activated later in life, possibly to be resolved by displacing them inter-personally or onto accepted "out" groups.

In their 1996 book The Politics of Denial, authors Michael Milburn and Sheree Conrad credit Theodore Odorno and later researchers as having "established the relationship between harsh, punitive child rearing and an authoritarian personality in adulthood."

The researchers showed how "...discipline [ in the family of the authoritarians] was experienced as threatening or traumatic or even overwhelming," and how those experiences often lead to conservative political orientations later in life, noting that "...the majority of authoritarians fall on the conservative end of the political spectrum."

In the US, large numbers of children are being abused. Nearly 3 million cases of abuse and neglect were reported to the Department of Health and Human Services in 1993, and a survey of parents showed that 84 percent reported "regularly using less severe types of physical punishment on children."

Certainly there are more cases of abuse than the 3 million reported cases. Stories like this one, Papal ally accused of 'ritual beatings': German bishop accused of hitting child with carpet beater at church-run home, have become commonplace. The accused Bishop, it turns out, is part of a "hardline conservative group of German Catholic Church leaders, to which the Pope belonged before his appointment to the Vatican."

Other children's organizations have also recently been accused of systematic child abuse, including the Boy Scouts, which has targeted gays over recent years, and public schools, where corporal punishment is still allowed in several states.

In the Catholic church, in particular, with the worldwide sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic officials, and the accounts of physical abuse by those even close to the Pope himself, the abuse of children seems to be as much about controlling the abused and accustoming them to authoritarianism as it is about sexually-repressed Christian leaders.

So in reality the "poisonous pedagogy" of spanking children and breaking their wills, and the authoritarian and harsh socialization techniques of some of our society's core institutions lead to a pent-up collective shame, helplessness and rage waiting to be tapped by unscrupulous politicians. These politicians - and others - give license to direct the suppressed feelings onto some other - communists, liberals, blacks, gays, etc. The now-adults get to experience the feelings in a socially accepted way.

But is that the way we should elect the people who actually govern us? Shouldn't political discussions be about policy and direction of the country - not the activating of hidden feelings? It is a distinction with a difference.

And lest you think that I am exaggerating the connection between right wing politics and child abuse, consider the child-rearing advice of James Dobson, the man who had the ear of the White House during the Bush administration, and who has sold millions of books on the subject, and who until very recently had a huge radio and newsletter audience.

He believes that children - as young as three years old - should be spanked for allegedly defying the wills of their parents. The sadistic Dobson writes children should only be allowed to cry for a short time after being assaulted - two or three minutes. If the child won't quit crying, then he "would offer them a little more of whatever caused the original tears."

1 comment:

Freedem said...

I have long considered the political "spectrum" to be quite bogus, and indeed it has been commonly noted that both "extremes" were all but indistinguishable authoritarians.

George Lakoff has laid out two visions of "family" that extends to government that mark a clear difference between Liberal and Conservative views. When that reference is applied to various groups (I call it the Lakoff Razor after Occam)a very interesting thing occurs. Many curious alliances and conflicts become clear as to their cause.

Groups that would seem logically wildly opposite such as religious totalitarians and libertarians, in fact rest together quite well in the Republican party, while the authoritarian "left" finds little comfort with the mainstream left, despite the Right's effort to paint them as the same because all the authoritarians and the libertarians adhere to the same "strong father" meme of government as a self interested, detached, giver of laws, rather than an empowering, empathetic, responsible face of Society as a whole that is the ideal of the real Left.