I wanted to title this blog post “Liberals Are from Mars, Conservatives Are from Venus,” but then I thought I would unintentionally offend John Gray and the work he does in the area of relationships. I settled on “Liberals Suck, Conservatives Are Morons.” OK, let’s try this: “Liberal Suckies Are from the Planet Suckius, Conservative Morons Are from Morono.”
I know what you’re thinking: “OK, Rick, have you lost it? Why all of this name calling?” I’ll tell you.
I just finished social critic and educator Henry Giroux’s 2013 book entitled America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth. In my opinion, this book contained a whole lot of name calling. This got me thinking about name calling in general. Name calling is a lot like a one night stand: feels good in the moment, but then the next morning a sense of shame creeps in, the shame associated with the unconscious, intuitive knowing that any chance of longterm, meaningful intimacy is long gone. My read of Giroux’s book started out feeling good, but then a sense of shame started to creep in. “All this repetitive and incessant name calling,” I thought to myself, “will certainly block any chance of acquiring deep meaning, understanding, and insight.” A couple of disclaimers before we continue.
Back in about 2010 I read Giroux’s book entitled “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?” I enjoyed this book. In the late 1990s I worked with troubled youth as a psychotherapist in a residential treatment center (RTC) setting. Suffice it to say that the behavioral health RTC I worked at was, how shall I say, very prison like, often using a Strict Father cultural cognitive model (more on the Strict model below) to frame methodologies and intervention techniques. Giroux’s book helped me to understand where the prison frame was coming from. As Giroux argues in Youth in a Suspect Society, many public schools have taken on the look and feel of a prison as they are increasingly subjected to market dynamics.
Then for Christmas 2013 I received a copy of Giroux’s 2011 book entitled Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism. I read Zombie Politics and had a somewhat mixed reaction. I wrote about this reaction in my last blog post back on February 25th, 2014. Here’s what I said (with editorial comments in brackets):
As Henry Giroux makes clear in his 2011 book entitled “Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism,” for democracy to survive we need people to be in their reflective, perspective taking, mentalizing, future thinking, critical thinking upper brains. When Giroux talks about a culture of zombies, I would suggest that he’s talking about a culture of people primarily imprisoned within their middle object brains [that part of the brain that perceives objects outside of the context and conceptualization delivered by the upper brain]. This would be a culture filled with people whose lives are chiefly characterized by field-dependent behavior [see original post for more on field-dependent behavior]: teen cashiers unable to make change, using food as an attachment substitute, mindlessly buying objects, surfing the Internet for data that has little chance of finding its way toward knowledge or wisdom. Ironically, Giroux promotes the ideas of universal day care and pre-school [which happens to be the position reflected in the article A New Entitlement? The Right to Preschool]. I’m not sure how one is able to advocate for the upper brain skill of critical thinking while at the same time promoting something that has the potential to keep us from that very same critical thinking skill set, namely, day care and pre-K. I guess this is the downside of promoting a particular ideology in a throughgoing way: you have to take the bad with the good.
So, before reading America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth, I was familiar with and had enjoyed Giroux’s work.
During our 2012 – 2013 fiscal year our Foundation made a grant to the independent news outlet Truthout.org. Giroux is a frequent contributor to Truthout.org (Giroux’s 03.19.14 Truthout.org article entitled Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation would be an example). And it is my understanding that Giroux has been or currently is on the board of Truthout.org. So, I just wanted to get those disclaimers out of the way.
As far as America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth is concerned, I can summarize the entire book in one short sentence: Conservatives are morons from the planet Morono. That’s it. OK, that’s not very helpful I admit. Let me see if I can expand things a bit.
As mentioned above, my last blog post was way back on February 25th, 2014, in large part because I have been slogging my way through Giroux’s book America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth. For me it has been a tough read, not so much because the subject matter is dense and complicated, but because Giroux uses a big hammer to deliver his message. Giroux whacks you over the head with his message over and over and over. I felt like a moving target in one of those Whac-A-Mole games at the video arcade. Whack, whack, whack. OK, here are a few of Giroux’s favorite whacks:
- Anything private sucks, and the public is glorious
- Everyone should engage in open, critical, reflective liberal thinking; and closed, robotic, technical conservative thinking sucks
- Conservatives suck (and two prominent conservative thinkers should have their high school diplomas revoked)
- The military and militarization sucks
- Strict authority sucks and anything Nurturant (as in the Nurturant Parent cultural cognitive model, more below) is glorious
- Neoliberalism (e.g., unfettered market dynamics) sucks
- The Occupy protestors are doing amazing and glorious things, and bankers suck
- Schools are turning into prisons churning out students who cannot think for themselves and engage in critical thinking
- Conservatives suck, suck, suck, and are the source of all of our problems
- Liberals can do no harm and are glorious, caring, nurturing individuals
- Conservatives oppress and imprison (chiefly through neoliberalism); liberals struggle, liberate, and emancipate
- Liberals are thoughtful, reflective, analytical, critical thinkers; conservatives are morons
Sure, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but not much. That’s why I could only read a few pages at a time. It was hard getting whacked over the head all the time. If I hear that we need more critical thinkers one more time, I’m going to scream. Out of curiosity, I loaded Giroux’s book onto my Kindle and searched on the word “critical.” That search returned 282 results. Yeow! And most of those hits reflected contexts such as critical thinking, critical analysis, and critical pedagogy. Whach, whack, whack! Ouch, ouch, ouch! I get it. Here are just two examples:
“At its best, critical pedagogy must be interdisciplinary, and contextual; it must engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and focus on how students relate imperatives of critical social citizenship.”
“Critical pedagogy takes as one of its core concerns how to provide students with the competencies they need to cultivate the capacity for critical judgement, thoughtfully connect politics to social responsibility, and expand their own sense of agency in order to curb excesses of dominant power, revitalize a sense of public commitment, and expand democratic relations.”
So, what, if anything, is going on here? Are liberals from the planet Suckius, and conservatives from Morono, and that’s it? John Gray, please, help us.
OK, to start, I was very puzzled by Giroux’s whole book (puzzlement that started to creep in as I read Zombie Politics as mentioned above). Giroux calls for analysis and crtical thought, but frankly (and with all due respect to Giroux) I found very little. There really is a simple reason for this: Giroux fiercely defends and advocates for what cognitive scientist and political commentator George Lakoff calls the Nurturant Parent cultural cognitive model (a model I have blogged about before). In contrast, Giroux viciously attacks what Lakoff calls the Strict Father cultural cognitive model. Giroux defends the liberal WIIT (we’re in it together) model, and attacks the conservative YOYO (you’re on your own) model. Giroux engages in what us psychology types like to call “black and white thinking.” Truly, for Giroux, there isn’t room for even one shade of gray.
For a balanced look at both the Strict and Nurturant models, see Lakoff’s 1996 book entitled Moral Politics—How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Allow me to pull key points from Lakoff’s work on cognitive models because I think they will be helpful as we move forward:
- There are two overarching cultural cognitive models: the Nurturant Parent model, and the Strict Father model (as mentioned above).
- People think using cognitive models, not facts.
- If a fact agrees with a person’s cognitive model, it is allowed in; if it doesn’t, it is cognitively filtered out.
- People cannot live without cognitive models or maps, especially cultural cognitive models.
- People will defend their particular cognitive model above life and limb (as the early Christian martyrs demonstrated).
- The Strict and Nurturant models map personal experience to collective experience using the metaphor of a family.
- A Nurturant national leader acts as if he or she is a nurturant parent in a family environment. Many consider President Carter and President Obama to be nurturant leaders embodying and representing the archetypal energy contained within the Nurturant Parent model.
- A Strict national leader acts as if he or she is a strict parent in a family environment. Many consider President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to be strict leaders embodying and representing the archetypal energy contained within the Strict Father model.
- Neither the Strict nor the Nurturant model is either right or wrong; they just are.
- The Nurturant and Strict models have been around for thousands of years: the Old Testament—Strict; the New Testament—Nurturant.
- Here in the U.S, about half of the population uses the Strict model to map their personal experience to the collective space; about half uses the Nurturant model.
- If all you do is negate a model, then, according to Lakoff, you unwittingly energize that model and, by doing so, you make that model stronger. For more on this theme, see Lakoff’s 2004 book entitled Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.
- Models are chiefly maintained and expressed through the use of frames. “Death tax” is a popular frame used by conservatives to maintain and express the Strict model. In his book America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth, Giroux uses the frame “casino capitalism” to frame neoliberalism from a liberal perspective. “Lottery liberalism” is another similar frame (talked about in Daniel Brook’s 2007 book entitled The Trap—Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America).
- Both models have a core sense for such things as freedom, care, empathy, success, honor, dignity, and duty. However, each model extends these core concepts in different ways. As an example, according to Lakoff, liberals and conservatives both have a core sense for empathy; they just frame empathy differently and extended it using their particular cultural cognitive model. Yes, both liberals and conservatives are empathic, just in different ways. Liberals tend to express empathy “person to person” whereas conservatives express empathy “person to model.” Liberals tend to keep other people in mind; conservatives tend to keep the conservative model in mind. This explains in part why conservatives consider corporate entities to be people. In their minds, they are. Simply, liberals and conservatives display two different forms of mindfulness.
- So, you cannot use terms like freedom and empathy and hope without saying which cultural cognitive model you are using to frame these core concepts. As an example, “liberals should advocate for Nuturant forms of empathy” makes much more sense from a cognitive model perspective than, say, “liberals are empathetic and conservatives are not.” The latter statement is simply not true. For more on this theme, see Lakoff’s 2006 book entitled Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea (executive summary available).
So, using Lakoff’s work as a backdrop, here are some of the errors that Giroux makes:
- Giroux never spends any time defining and critically analyzing the cultural cognitive models he uses, or, in the case of the Strict model, negates. All the way through his book I found myself saying, “Man, these conservatives have been very busy and effective for over 30 years now. I’m impressed.” Giroux’s frame of negation backfired (for me at least) as Lakoff’s theory predicated it would. And, ironically, Giroux talks about how liberals must move past negation towards hope, but Giroux never provides us with any concrete plan. (There’s a reason for this, which I will talk about in part two. To whet your appetite, Giroux uses the cognitive model known as postmodernism—“the model of no model.”)
- Effectively Giroux simply tells us that the Strict model sucks, and the Nurturant model is great. There’s no analysis, no critical thought at all. Again, if you’d like analysis and critical thought concerning the Nurturant and Strict models, see Lakoff’s book Moral Politics.
- Giroux lays all of the blame for a reduction in critical thought at the feet of conservatives and their plans for neoliberal domination. Yes, Giroux is right; conservatives have been hard at work for the last 30 years maintaining, growing, and expressing their Strict model. This is a point that Lakoff makes in his work as well. But as I read Giroux’s book, I could not help but think of that line from Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
- What Giroux never tells you directly is that he’s not a liberal from the planet Suckius; he actually lives on a moon that orbits Suckius called PoMo, which is an abbreviation of the word “postmodern.” What Giroux does not tell you is that during that same 30 year period in which conservatism ascended here in the US, so too postmodernism along with such social constructs as self psychology, self-esteem, and resiliency.
- At no time does Giroux provide any critical thought or analysis concerning the rise of postmodernism over the last 30 years here in the US. Giroux acts as if postmodernism is like the air we breathe: why would anyone question it. Well, question it we should. And that’s exactly what Giroux advocates that we do—question—but never does with respect to his own home moon: PoMo. And in fairness to Giroux, we often treat our own particular cultural cognitive model as a natural given, one beyond the need for reflection or analysis. But I guess I was expecting more from Giroux. Lakoff was able to critically and fairly reflect on both the Nurturant and Strict models in his book Moral Politics, so I know it can be done. In fairness, Lakoff does ultimately come out in favor of the Nurturant model, but he he tells us directly and openly that he is doing so. Had Giroux come right out and told us that he uses the postmodern model to frame his world, and that he will accept no other model, I could live with that. But then any claim made in the name of critical analysis would ring hollow. At times like these I think of Henry Ford: According to Giroux, you can have any cultural cognitive model you wish as long as it’s postmodernism.
I’ll start part II by supporting my claim that Giroux uses a postmodern cultural cognitive model to frame the message he delivers in America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth. I’ll follow that up by pointing out how the rise of postmodern thought has played a large role in destroying critical thinking and analysis. In many respects postmodernism is waging its own war on youth (i.e., locking the minds of youth in the object perceiving middle brain as I talked about in my February 25th, 2014, post). Most of this should not come as a surprise. For as long as the Bowlby Less Traveled blog has been around (over two and a half years now) I have been arguing that the rise of postmodernism (and along with it social constructs such as self-esteem, self psychology, and resilience) has played a large role in the demise of Bowlbian attachment theory. This is not my idea. I first encountered it in Anthony Stevens’ 2003 book entitled Archetype Revisited. The rise of postmodernism has also brought about higher levels of fear and insecurity, the same fear and insecurity that Giroux attributes solely to the rise of conservatism. Sure, I’ll agree with Giroux that the rise of conservatism has brought about increased levels of fear and insecurity, however, I would argue that postmodernists need to take their half out of the middle. As mentioned above, the postmodern practice of putting kids at younger and younger ages into day care, preschool, and pre-K, has had the negative result of making kids more insecure, afraid, angry, and aggressive. Once again, my favorite quote from conservative social critic Allan Carlson:
[T]here is mounting evidence that … child care may be a human activity that cannot be industrialized. The psychological evidence is overwhelming, and still mounting, that children in extended day care—even very good day care—are on average more aggressive, less sociable, and less emotionally secure: traits that, ironically, undo the key socialist goal of enhanced human cooperation.
So, I would suggest that Giroux uses a big hammer to deliver his message as a way of yelling, “Keep your attention on the conservative wizard cloaked in smoke … he’s the source of all of your problems!” Giroux does not wish for us to look at the man behind the curtain. If we do pull back the curtain, we may find that the man there—who hails from the moon PoMo—is also causing a large chunk of the problems facing society today. Neoliberalism, meet postmodernism. You guys have a lot in common, more than you may think.
To get you thinking and questioning, let me end by mentioning a 2014 book entitled Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science by physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. (I finished reading Fashionable Nonsense just before I started Giroux’s America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth.) Simply, these two physicists convincingly argue that the rise of postmodern thought has played a large role in not only eroding modern science but also eroding such Executive Function skills as critical thinking and analysis, skills that are the hallmarks of modern science.