Mama … How Do You Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Conservatives? (part 2)

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Welcome to part 2. Lets get started with a second example of conservative blowback in response to liberal framings of psychological norms. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you may wish to start with part 1. If you enjoy a state of confusion, then, by all means, forge ahead.

If you’re a student of the development of systems theory (as I am) then you will most certainly wish to read Deborah Hammond’s 2003 book The Science of Synthesis—Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory. At the risk of reducing Hammond’s work to the point of libel, Hammond suggests that there are effectively two forms of systems theory and systems thinking: a naturalistic form, and a mechanistic form. Arguably the father of the naturalistic form of systems theory and thinking is Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Arguably the father of the mechanistic form of systems theory and thinking is Norbert Wiener. The mechanistic form of systems theory also goes by the name cybernetics. In essence, Hammond’s book looks at the development of both approaches to systems: naturalistic and mechanistic. (As I have mentioned many times before, Bowlby was very influenced by the naturalistic systems frame while maintaining an awareness of what was going on in the mechanistic systems realm.) To say that these two approaches (and their chief animators, such as Bertalanffy, Wiener, Ralph GerardAnatol RapoportJames Grier Miller, and Kenneth Boulding) have had a tempestuous “love-hate” relationship would be an understatement. (As Hammond points out, the naturalistic camp was so disgusted that mechanistic systems theory was being used to further the WWII war effort—guided missile systems would be an example here—that many of them eventually left the US in protest and moved to places such as Canada.) When you boil it down, though, there seems to be one overarching rub: in the mechanistic school, systems are guided from without; in the naturalistic school, systems are guided from within. See a pattern here? The former school believes in natural purpose whereas the latter school believes in purpose from a higher power, a power that in essence lords over the system so-to-speak. So, we’re right back to “natural purpose versus God’s purpose” (as described in part 1).

In this last example you may be asking, “Where’s the conservative push-back?” What I find fascinating about Hammond’s analysis is her suggestion that the mechanistic form of systems is an extension of behaviorism. It would appear that God’s purpose, behaviorism, and mechanistic systems all fall on a continuum. So, the conservative push-back takes the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (which, more recently, has teamed up with the widespread practice of using behavioral drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall). Witness the fact that often in the media you will hear therapy referred to in two different ways: mental health therapy and behavioral health therapy—basically, liberal therapy and conservative therapy. See, conservatives are no dummies. They witnessed the emergence of the liberal mental health movement back in the 1930s and 40s (of which Bowlby was a part) and, feeling a bit threatened, decided to develop an approach to therapy that would better reflect their particular wordview. Today, I tell behavioral therapists that they are practicing using a conservative worldview and they look at me askance. I then give them the following continuum (which I gleaned from another great book on systems—one I have summarized—entitled Systemic Intervention: Philosophy, Methodology, and Practice by Gerald Midgley):

worldview <==> ideology <==> methodology <==> intervention

Lets apply this continuum to conservative behaviorism:

conservative <==> purpose from without <==> behaviorism <==> thought stopping

Occassionally I’ll encounter a sharp individual who will simply tell me, “Modernism is so yesterday … I’m a postmodernist … we can mix and match worldviews, ideologies, methodologies, and interventions willy nilly silly.” I still don’t have a come back for that one. Allow me to paraphrase Juan Carlos Garelli (more on Garelli below): “Once you accept the contradiction of postmodern thinking, all possibility of growth of knowledge is arrested.”

By way of wrapping up, I’d like to mention an article I found online by the aforementioned Juan Carlos Garelli (who I think is retired now but used to teach in the Department of Early Development at the University of Buenos Aires). The article is entitled Aggression and Attachment and appears in the January 1997 issue of (which stands for Psychiatry On Line – Italia). Allow me to quote at length because this quote drives home the point I’ve been trying to make here (with my comments in brackets):

As Seymor Feshbach (1987) states, early attachments and adult political ideology, patriotism, nationalism and internationalism are deeply related in that similar mechanisms mediate early attachments to caregivers and later attachment to one’s culture and nation. The tendency to equate nations with parental figures suggests that one’s nation and government are often viewed in terms of parental imagery [i.e., Lakoff’s Nurturant and Strict models mentioned in part 1] and that there is a similarity between affective attachment towards parents and affective attachments towards one’s nation. In fact, the primary question addressed in conversations with Professor Feshbach was the role of affect-related factors, particularly values, as possible mediators of individual differences in attitudes towards nuclear armament – disarmament issues. One such factor is value placed on children. Those individuals who have greater affection for children or who are more supportive of devoting national resources towards meeting children’s needs, [tend to be] more supportive of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear testing moratorium. Studying patriotic and nationalistic values, I learned that patriotism, but not nationalism, was found to be positively correlated with early parental attachment while nationalism, but not patriotism, was found to be significantly related to pronuclear armament views (Freshbach, 1989, 1992).

This idea that early attachment patterns within the family proper track later attachment patterns within the “political family” is the same message you can find in work by the aforementioned George Lakoff as well as the work of Peter Marris (see Marris’s 1996 book—which I have summarized—The Politics of Uncertainty: Attachment in Private and Public Life for an example). In 1956 Bowlby wrote, “Probably in all normal people [attachment] continues in one form or another throughout life and, although in many ways transformed, underlies many of our attachments to country, sovereign, or church.” Stevens, writing in Archetype Revisited, states: “[T]he mother-child bond has deep social and political implications [quoting E. Neumann now]: ‘confidence in the mother is identical with confidence in the society she represents.’ ” But notice something interesting here.

I went to a conference not too long ago where one of the presenters talked about developing the next generation of bomb builders. I remember asking myself, “How would you go about developing a generation of bomb builders?” (From above, keep in mind that many of the mechanistic systems theorists were involved in bomb building during WWII.) Well, pulling from Garelli above, it would seem that you would encourage this type of conservative attitude and development by encouraging insecure attachment. Sure, Bowlby equated secure attachment with a liberal position, and, in the process, equated insecure attachment with a conservative position, but maybe that’s the wrong approach. Maybe there’s a liberal form of secure attachment and a conservative form of secure attachment. It would appear that we need conservative secure attachment if we are to enjoy the benefits of having a well-stocked and technologically advanced arsenal of nuclear weapons. And now there’s research out suggesting that in times of danger, it is desirable to be near someone who’s “conservatively securely attached.” Consider this article by JR Minkel entitled Being Bad at Relationships Is Good for Survival.

Minkel talks about experiments that suggest that insecurely attached people are able to recognize danger signs quicker than those people who are securely attached. You’ve heard the expression, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” Here’s a new expression: “There better not be any securely attached people in a foxhole.” Turns out that we may need conservatively securely attached people in foxholes. See the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan for more on this theme. There’s a character in Saving Private Ryan who’s duped (which is a liberal characteristic) but eventually learns to embrace being conservatively securely attached. I may not know how they do it but it may well be that we need mamas who let their babies grow up to be conservatives. Trust me, I’m sure conservatives would agree with this position. What do you think? Do you agree with the attachment transformation depicted in Saving Private Ryan. (I’ll give you a hint—I call the character I’m thinking of in Saving Private Ryan “map man.”) How about two forms of secure attachment—one liberal and one conservative—that flow from political realities. Good idea … bad idea? Leave a comment (registration required) and let us know. If you’re a conservative mama, let us know how you go about raising conservative babies. I’d like to know. My guess is that it has something to do with being a mama grizzly. Just a guess.