Comment: What Happens When We Lose Our Conceptual Rudder

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Why We Should Take Jared Loughner’s Politics Seriously. — by Steve Striffler

As many of you know, I like to read the articles over at When I see an article that catches my attention, I like to use the WordPress (the blogging software being used here) feature known as “Press This.” You hit the Press This button and WordPress sets up a post template that allows you to start blogging about an article found on the Internet. I read Why We Should Take Jared Loughner’s Politics Seriously by Steve Striffler and immediately hit the Press This button. Here’s an excerpt from Striffler’s article:

Like Loughner, a significant portion of young people are, for very good reasons, profoundly anti-establishment, distrustful of anything they hear from the government or mainstream media. But this does not make them crazy anymore than it automatically leads them toward a coherent critique of the political system. Rather, in a world where fragments of information come from so many sources, it often leads them to the odd place where any explanation of the world is as good as any other, where there is no conceptual rudder for judging one theory or idea against another. Hence, they draw from wildly opposing political ideologies and are attracted to conspiracy theories. And it often leaves them in a frustrated place where public figures cannot be trusted, and to the conclusion that nothing can be done to change the world (except perhaps something chaotic and dramatic). Hence, the tendency toward apathy and (after a philosophy class or two) nihilism.

What caught my attention was Striffler’s idea that when people are bombarded with fragments of information coming from all directions (i.e., sound bites), it can lead “to the odd place where any explanation of the world is as good as any other, where there is no conceptual rudder for judging one theory or idea against another.”

As many of you know, our Foundation tries to use John Bowlby’s theory of attachment as a theory of social change. Why do we do this? Because it allows us to have a “conceptual rudder,” a rudder that allows us to judge “one theory or idea against another” (quoting Striffler). It’s times like these that I recall that country western song that says something like, “You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for everything.” I think that’s what Striffler is saying: stand for something, something coherent, something that will help you make sense of the world. Equally, I think Striffler is saying that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll find yourself in a position where you are constantly falling for everything, all the time. If you’re falling constantly, that takes a huge physical and emotional toll. As Striffler suggests, one way to “stop falling all the time” (so-to-speak) is to embrace cultism where “any explanation of the world is as good as any other” (quoting Striffler). What do cults really sell? Simply, a coherent worldview whether it makes any sense or not. Do you know who joins cults? Sadly, otherwise very “intelligent” people, like doctors, lawyers, scientists, and even college professors, make up the majority of cult populations. Why would this be? Marc Galanter, writing in his book Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion, tells us that many times highly educated people are information rich and model or theory poor. Galanter tells us that we can only tolerate raw information outside of a model or theory—one that carries with it the potential to make sense of it all—for so long before we look for a place to discharge. Unfortunately, too often that discharge takes place within cults, or within the “chaotic and dramatic” (quoting Striffler).

Recall from my January 12th, 2011, post Frogs, Sex, and Stayin’ Alive that I make the following statement:

Well, the material world does put restrictions on the spiritual world and vice versa. As a very simple example, although the spiritual can go in many different directions at one time, the material cannot. If your ultimate goal is to get the material out of danger (because that tiger is bearing down on you) then the spiritual needs to heed this restriction and imagine a path that goes in one direction at one time. During the SSA (Strange Situation Assessment), which assesses for attachment functioning in toddlers, it is sad to see disorganized toddlers moving as if they were drunken sailors (a scene that Bowlby describes in his trilogy). I would suggest that what you are looking at in large part is a spirituality—with it’s multiple simultaneous paths often in different directions—that is not able to heed the “one path, one direction” restriction of the material. Again, the result is a toddler moving as if he or she has had one too many drinks at the local bar. As simple as it sounds, what the SSA assesses for is how well a toddler is able to solve the body-mind dilemma that confronts us all.

Theories, worldviews, and even Bowlby’s coherent Inner Working (Cognitive) Models, give us some protection against becoming “drunk with information.” I hate to say it but postmodernism has taken us far along the road toward being drunk with information. Rachael Peltz, writing in the 2006 edited volume Psychoanalysis, Class and Politics, suggests that one consequence of a postmodernist view of the world—a view that expresses a desire for a model of no model—is a “fear of imposing cultural and class biases,” a fear that then makes us “unduly reticient about formulating what people need from society in order to thrive” (quoting Peltz). Drawing from Bowlbian attachment theory, if you allow your spirituality to go in multiple directions at the same time with no effective bridging model that can provide for a single path at a single time within one’s material domain, then the result is increased levels of vulnerability to all manner of predation, from unscrupulous politicians, cult leaders, bankers, marketers, you name it. Postmodernists, in their zeal to find the model of no model, do not liberate, they, in fact, tighten the bonds that imprison us. For evidence of this trend, consider the following AP article that points to research that suggests that college students are not learning much at all. Again, information is not knowledge. Knowledge is gained when information is framed and given direction by a conceptual rudder such as a worldview, theory, or model.

AP article – Student Tracking Finds Limited Learning in College

For another take, consider this Christian Science Monitor article by Jonathan Zimmerman entitled Arizona shooting: Don’t Blame Sarah Palin—Get Public Schools to Discuss Politics. Zimmerman suggests that rather than attach to the cult-like nature of Palin’s politics, help students form a conceptual rudder by talking about politics in the classroom.