Is “Machine” the New White?

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A few weeks back Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly declared on-air that both Jesus and Santa Claus were white. The reaction was swift. Biblical and history scholars pointed out that Jesus and Saint Nicholas have Middle Eastern and Turkish origins. Saturday Nigh Live cast member Kenan Thompson dressed as a black Santa during a skit to put a comedic spin on the issue. During this same timeframe (and close to home) a New Mexico high school teacher told student Christopher the same thing: “Santa Claus is white.” Turns out that Christopher was simply complying with a teacher suggestion that kids come to school dressed as their favorite Christmas character. Well, Christopher is black, and his favorite Christmas character is Santa. Seems like Christopher should get an A. But wait, think about it, how many Christmas characters are of color? I’m running Christmas characters through my mind and the tally I come up with is, well, zero. So, when teachers suggest that kids of color dress up as their favorite Christmas character, this creates what us psychology types like to call “cognitive dissonance.” To the New Mexico teacher’s credit, upon reflection, he realized that he had created an unsolvable conundrum for student Christopher, and offered up an apology to Christopher and his family.

I could be way off base here but my sense is that these “Santa is white” stories took on such energy because they came at a time when the world was (and still is) mourning the loss of anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela. In a Jungian sense, the entire world was (is) experiencing an archetypal energy centered on uncovering and doing away with “Acculturate White” programs. Here’s an example of an Acculturate White program (again, one close to home).

“American Indian boarding schools were boarding schools established in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to educate Native American children and youths according to Euro-American standards.” Thank you Wikipedia. Canada also had a boarding school system designed to Acculturate White native peoples. There were Indian boarding schools out here in New Mexico (the Santa Fe Indian School would be an example).

As I read Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book entitled The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations (executive chapter summary available), I was shocked to learn that the start of the social work movement here in the US was chiefly informed by the Indian boarding school system. This time the target was the children of the immigrants flooding into the country. Consider this quote by Lasch on the auspicious beginnings of the social work profession: “Ellen Richards, founder of the modern profession of social work, argued: ‘In the social republic, the child as a future citizen is an asset of the state, not the [private] property of its parents. Hence its welfare is a direct concern of the state.’ ”

During an attachment conference out in Salt Lake back in January of 2007, the Honorable Judge William A. Thorne Jr. Utah Court of Appeals spoke on the topic The Effect of Foster Care Upon Children. Judge Thorne, who is of Native American descent, told us (and I paraphrase), “Our current US foster care system is based on the old Indian boarding school system. Until we recognize this connection and strive to do away with such systems of acculturation, children—and our society as a whole—will continue to suffer.” To Canada’s credit, they have begun the process of redressing the wrongs committed by their boarding school system. I read about such efforts when I was in Calgary to hear Sir Richard Bowlby speak back in 2005 (conference summary available). It’s a long story but John Bowlby (along with colleagues such as Donald Winnicott) fought efforts by the UK government during WWII to ship kids off to places like Australia and Canada. Apparently UK government officials were worried that the colonies would not have the necessary number of white children to establish a white stronghold. Australia is now trying to redress these wrongs (as well as the UK). It’s interesting that Bowlbian attachment theory is big in countries like Australia and Canada. In contrast, the US has not begun the process of redressing the wrongs perpetrated by their Indian boarding school system. I would suggest that it is no coincidence, then, that Bowlbian attachment theory is not big here in the US.

As archetypal energy swirls around the topic of Acculturate White programs, I’d like to offer up a caution: let’s not take our eye off of another acculturation process, what I am calling Acculturate Machine. In what can only be called a form of Freudian displacement, maybe we are focusing energy on Acculturate White programs because we do not wish to recognize that we are surrounded by Acculturate Machine programs. As an example, the movement of men and women into their own respective factory environments (e.g., men moved toward manufacturing goods as women moved toward manufacturing children) at the turn of the last century is mapped by the emergence of the “fembot” image—a machine-like mother worker. We first see the fembot in the 1927 sci-fi movie Metropolis. I would suggest that the fembot represented, among other things, Christopher Lasch’s “socialization of reproduction.” As an aside, the fembot image is still used today to sell us all manner of consumer products from washing machines to smartphones. As I scanned magazine racks while I did my Christmas shopping, I often saw Santa and Santa’s helpers depicted as robots or even fembots. Consider this: If a news anchor had announced, “Santa is a machine,” would that have raised any eyebrows? Here’s another piece of evidence for what I am suggesting.

Sir Richard Bowlby (mentioned above) made a video that was designed to introduce his father’s theory of attachment to a lay audience. Sir Richard profiled his wife, kids, and grandkids so as to not get caught up in permission issues. He finished his video. At the aforementioned Calgary talk I asked Sir Richard how I could go about getting a copy of his video on Bowlbian attachment theory. His face got this look and he simply told me, “I’m not releasing it.” My face got all crinkled and I blurted out plaintively, “Why?” Sir Richard went on to explain that he showed his video on Bowlbian attachment to several test groups, and the reaction was the same each time: the groups became very sad, and, at times, angry. As Sir Richard put it (and I paraphrase), “Our attachment relationships have become so impoverished that people react negatively when they are reminded of this fact. They simply cannot handle it, and it was not my intention to make people upset.” How truly sad. And I could tell that Sir Richard was sad for his father who, through his lifetime of work, only wished for people a celebration of attachment and being securely attached, which is very much akin to a celebration of being in love and loving life. George Orwell, who spent considerable time fighting postmodern attitudes, simply reminds us (as cited by Nassir Ghaemi), “However much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back….” (Contact the Foundation for the Ghaemi reference). No matter how much we deny attachment and attachment relationships (typically through embrace of postmodern sensibilities), they keep on existing, and, I would suggest, Sir Richard’s video reminds us of that truth.

Sir Richard’s story has stayed with me. However, upon further reflection, I think there’s another layer to it. What has brought such attachment impoverishment, or, as social critic Robert Hall puts it via his book title, what has brought This Land of Strangers? I would suggest that Acculturate Machine programs are one major source of attachment impoverishment. Whereas back in the early 1900s men (mostly) were supposed to “be like” machines (see the Charlie Chaplin clip below from the 1930s entitled A Cog in the Machine), now in the 2000s men, women, and children are supposed to “be” machines, that is to say, Acculturate Machine. As Maureen Dowd tells us in her book Are Men Necessary?, women no longer wish to be “guided” by the archetype of pornography: they wish to “be” pornography, to become the pornographic object. In essence, women wish to merge with the pornographic object. As Jungians tell us (Marion Woodman would be an example here), we should strive to be guided by archetypal energy for if we were to ever merge with archetypal energy, we would risk incineration. According to Marion Woodman, Shakespeare was guided by archetypal energy; Virginia Woolf was consumed.

As a simple warning, I believe we are becoming consumed by Acculturate Machine archetypal energy. I’m not alone. In his 2013 book entitled Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, futurist and social critic James Barrat tells us about how the Singularity movement is centrally about concretizing a desire to move “biological brain” over to “mechanical brain” (such as a computer or computer system). Barrat is quick to point out that the Singularity movement shares much in common with certain End Times movements—movements by those who believe in the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Barrat is quick to point out that End Times movements are nothing new. As a matter of fact, with each technological revolution there seems to be a resurgence of End Times thinking and belief. As an example, Barrat points out that introduction of the printing press in the 1400s brought about its own form of the Singularity.

In his final book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, Jung wrote about the appearance of Acculturate Machine archetypal energy across time (executive summary available). According to Jung’s analysis, today [the 1960s] we see that energy reflected in the phenomenon of UFO sightings. (Because alien abductions started up in large numbers after Jung’s death, he only looked at sightings). But what’s different about today’s particular resurgence of Acculturate Machine archetypal energy? Barrat gives us the answer: Intelligence. The technology in question today now has the first vestiges of intelligence, artificial intelligence. So, if we are now successful in merging with machines, all bets are off. In all likelihood it will spell the destruction of mankind. We will literally be consumed as this new life form repurposes our human atoms to suit their machine purpose (which will share little with human purpose). According to Barrat, machines that embody artificial intelligence will have four overarching motivations: efficiency, self-preservation, resource acquisition, and creativity. (For a look at the AI motivation of creativity, see Richard Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class.) The motivations that Bowlby principally investigated—attachment, caregiving, and sex—stand in stark contrast to the motivations of artificial intelligence. Note, however, the similarity between AI and business motivations. Also note how AI motivations are creeping into our education and healthcare systems. Using Jung’s work as a background, I would suggest that the desire to merge with technology expresses a desire to concretize psychological dissociation—mind separated from body.

So, I admit, this is definitely a bit of a ramble, however, I’m trying to suggest that as we focus our attention on Acculturate White programs (which do deserve attention), we should be mindful of the many Acculturate Machine programs that currently surround us. I would suggest that discussions of Bowlbian attachment (like Sir Richard’s video) are so disturbing because they remind us of how far along the Acculturate Machine pathway we have moved. As we continue to use all manner of parent substitutes—food, consumer goods, inappropriate sex, behavioral drugs, day care, etc. (see Mary Eberstadt’s work here)—we unconsciously sense movement along the Acculturate Machine pathway. As we continue to form attachment relationships with smartphones, Facebook, and robot caregivers (see Sherry Turkle’s work here), we unconsciously sense movement along the Acculturate Machine pathway. As we continue to develop AI or artificial intelligence—Wall Street trading systems, NSA surveillance programs, Google’s and Amazon’s cloud computing systems, etc. (as revealed by Barrat), we unconsciously sense movement along the Acculturate Machine pathway. As we become posthuman (a la Francis Fukuyama), we unconsciously sense movement along the Acculturate Machine pathway. Sure, focus on Acculturate White programs, but let’s not allow that focus to cause us to lose sight of Acculturate Machine programs. Look at your desk or belt. Is there a computer or smartphone there? If the answer is yes to either, then you have invited Acculturate Machine programs into your home, into your life, into your very person. Are we cogs in the machine, or have we become the cogs themselves? Am I going too far by suggesting that Machine is the new White?

OK, I know what your asking yourself: “What’s going on that we are so rapidly and easily accepting the Man as Machine or posthuman model?” The best answer I have come up with comes from a 1967 book by the husband and wife team of Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, both psychoanalysts. Their book is entitled The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior. The Mitscherlichs argue that when a country is not able to collectively mourn after sustaining loss, say, the loss associated with a world war, locked mourning results and that locked mourning is reflected in a hyper-desire to embrace technology and efficiency. The Mitscherlich’s used the examples of Germany following the losses associated with both WWI and WWII. In her 2001 book entitled Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, art critic Susan Napier suggests that the fembot images that populate Anime represent the father loss that Japan experienced as a result of their defeat during WWII. Not only was there literal father loss associated with WWII and the dropping of the atomic bomb, Japan as a nation also lost her faith in the Father’s ability to keep its people safe and protected. According to Napier, three generations later young Japanese Anime artists are representing father/Father loss and associated locked mourning in themes centered on violence, destruction, cyborg attacks, and unprotected, waif-like fembots with saucer eyes. (Napier points out that the saucer eyes depicted in Anime have a real world referent: Japanese people watching the atomic explosions of WWII.) Hopefully the reader can pick up on the connection back to Jung’s fascination with saucers in the sky. Napier also makes the connection that many animated Disney characters now sport “saucer eyes.” John Bowlby’s work can be framed in myriad ways but I would suggest that one of Bowlby’s intentions in developing his theory of attachment was to help the UK as a nation process huge loss following the close of WWII.

In sum, when mourning becomes locked for a country we should expect at least two things: 1) trust should fall off, and, 2) a desire to embrace technology and efficiency should rise. I think at least for the US, the latter item is obvious. For more on the former, see the following article entitled In God We Trust, Maybe, But Not Each Other. As this article points out, the social capital of trust has been declining for decades now. And if we started today, it would take decades for it to come back. As economist Jeremy Rifkin reminds us in his work, without trust such societal structures as democracy and free markets would greatly suffer. Suffice it to say that secure attachment, Executive Function skills, and trust go hand-in-hand. If there ever was a time we needed theories of attachment and EF, it is now. Absent embrace of such theories, I agree with the title to urban planner Jane Jacobs’ book Dark Age Ahead.

Postscript: I worked on this post during the holiday break, which I trust everyone enjoyed. Toward the end of my break, I began reading a book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time. The book is entitled Forced to Care—Coercion and Caregiving in America by Evelyn Nakano Glenn, who is professor of Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. I’m only part way through Glenn’s book, however, I took note of that fact that she covers such topics as the Indian boarding school system (which I mention) and the reform school system (another Acculturate White program). Glenn also talks about “the movement of men and women into their own respective factory environments” at the turn of the last century (quoting from my post above). As Glenn puts it, “Industrialization was heavily implicated in the final shift of production away from households and into factories, shops, stores, and offices.” So, if these topics are of interest to you, I offer up Glenn’s book as a possible reference. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Forced to Care in upcoming posts.