COMMENT: Liberals Suck, Conservatives Are Morons … Any Questions? (part II of II)

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Before we begin I’d like to acknowledge a milestone. This is the 200th blog post here at the Bowlby Less Traveled blog site. Thanks to all who contributed along the way and helped to make BLT a wealth of information concerning Bowlbian attachment theory, for, against, and around.

Welcome to part II of a two-part series. In the first part I critically analyzed Henry Giroux’s 2013 book entitled America’s Education Deficit and the War On Youth using cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s work in the area of cognitive models as a backdrop. I suggested that Giroux rabidly supports and promulgates what Lakoff calls the Nurturant Parent cultural cognitive model. In stark contrast Giroux viciously attacks and denounces what Lakoff calls the Strict Father cultural cognitive model. Sadly, Giroux never brings in the idea of cognitive models. As a result, the reader is left with no way of assessing whether Giroux’s support of the Nurturant model and denouncement of the Strict model are justified.

According to Lakoff, liberals tend to use the Nurturant model to map personal experience to collective or cultural experience. In contrast, conservatives tend to use the Strict model to do the same. Cultural cognitive models or maps are neither good nor bad; they simply are. They are judged on how well they allow individuals to map their personal experience to collective spaces such as the cultural or the social. Today in the US about half of the population uses the Nurturant model; the other half uses the Strict model. (Very close presidential elections of late reveal this fact.) In general we can say that both the Nurturant and Strict models are robust and enduring considering that each has been around for a very long time: Old Testament—Strict; New Testament—Nurturant. (We could probably go back even further and say Northern Invaders—Strict; Goddess religions—Nurturant.)

During the first part of this series I threw in a twist: I suggested that rather than residing on the liberal planet Suckius (you’ll have to read part I), Giroux hails from a moon that orbits Suckius called PoMo, which is an abbreviation for postmodern. So, I ended part I by saying that I would continue by providing evidence for Giroux’s PoMo citizenship. I would further continue by providing evidence for how the postmodern worldview is waging its own war against youth, one that Giroux fails to mention. First, an analogy is in order.

Several years ago I had a company called Tuff Shed build a small storage shed at the rear of my postage stamp sized lot. Almost immediately I noticed that the shed was casting a shadow on one corner of my equally small lawn. Sure enough, the grass in that corner no longer had sufficient amounts of light energy necessary to support photosynthesis and, as a result, the grass began to recede. “Oh well,” I thought, “less grass to mow.” But then something happened that I had not planned on (a so-called unintended consequence if you will): weeds started to pop up where once the grass had flourished. Turns out that even with all of the shade, there was enough light energy for the weeds. In essence, there was a dynamic, organic system in my backyard. By building my shed I disturbed the ecological balance. That disturbance created an unintended consequence, namely, weeds.

I would suggest that there are dynamic, organic systems within society. This isn’t a new idea. Bowlby was greatly influenced by Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s organismic system theory (a theory I have blogged about before). Let’s consider this possible system. The rise of postmodernism (which we will get into more in a moment) corresponds to the rise of my storage shed. The retreating grass corresponds to retreating stable families and communities here in the US as described in such books as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone and Robert Hall’s This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics, and Faith. The weeds (please forgive me conservatives) are conservatives who see opportunity open up as the grass recedes.

I present this analogy as a way of bringing an organismic systems perspective to the table (which, hopefully, would make Bowlby and his followers happy). As I read Giroux’s book I received the impression that his arguments were too black and white, too cause and effect if you will—conservatives (especially conservative neoliberals) are causing all of our problems—and did not reflect a systems perspective. If we use a systems perspective we may be able to see the possibility that conservatives are moving in, with their love of markets and consumerism, because they see an opportunity: disappearing grass, that is to say, disappearing stable, safe, securely attached families and communities. “OK, OK … now I see where you’re going with this analogy,” you hopefully say to yourself. Within this organismic systems perspective we would be guided to ask two principal questions: “Why are families and communities (grass) receding? and What’s the storage shed in this scenario?” I’m suggesting that the storage shed is postmodernism, and that the rise of postmodernism is playing a large role in the disappearance of families and family life, and community and community life.

But to be fair to the moon PoMo (and its inhabitants), we cannot lay the systems blame solely at the feet of postmodernists. In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, social critic Naomi Klein (whose work Giroux also cites) makes the point that natural disasters will often make grass recede (using my analogy). This was the case following Hurricane Katrina. Today this article announces New Orleans goes all in on charter schools. Is it showing the way? And Klein predicted this form of neoliberal encroachment (one that Giroux also talks about) back in 2007 when The Shock Doctrine came out. So, no, postmodernism is not the only shade-producing object out there within the ecology, but it certainly contributes. OK, on to Giroux’s PoMo credentials.

  • Back in 1991 Giroux wrote the book entitled Postmodernism, Feminism, and Cultural Politics: Redrawing Educational Boundaries (SUNY Series, Teacher Empowerment and School Reform).
  • Consider this quote from the book description of Giroux’s book Youth in a Suspect Society: “Drawing upon the work of theorists such as Zygmunt Bauman, Judith Butler, Agamben, Foucault, and others as a theoretical foundation for addressing the growth of a rigid market fundamentalism and a punishing state, Giroux explores both the increasing militarization and commercialization of schools and other public spheres….” Suffice it to say that French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984) was one of the chief animators behind the postmodern movement.
  • In his book America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth, Giroux draws upon the work of another French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930 – 2004). Consider this quote by Giroux: “The late Jacques Derrida suggested that the social function of intellectuals as well as any viable notion of education should be grounded in a vibrant politics that makes the promise of democracy a matter of concrete urgency.” Derrida was another chief animator behind the postmodern movement and focused in on cultural deconstruction. But, again, I have to ask (using Lakoff’s book Whose Freedom? as a backdrop), “Whose notion of a vibrant democracy should we use—Nurturant or Strict?”
  • Throughout his book America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth, Giroux uses what I call PoMo speak. (I’ll talk more about the gibberish of postmodern thought below in note number 1.) Let me give you an example: “As such, the pedagogical starting point for such intellectuals [e.g., teachers] is not the isolated student removed from the historical and cultural forces that bear down on their lives but individuals in their various cultural, racial, and historical contexts, along with the particularity of their diverse problems, hopes, and dreams.” Giroux here is advocating for social and cultural relativism. That everything in life is relative and there is no such thing as objective truth are cornerstone beliefs of postmodernism. Once you accept relativism, then you have no destination, and any road will get you there. What’s that country western song … “If you don’t stand for something, then you’ll fall for everything.”

I will not belabor the point that Giroux hails from the moon PoMo. “So, what’s wrong with postmodernism?” you ask. “Isn’t it yet another cultural cognitive model like the Strict and Nurturant models you speak of?” You are exactly right. Postmodernism is nothing more than a cultural cognitive model. As I have mentioned before, postmodernism is the “model of no model” or, looked at from a different perspective, “the model of all possible models,” thus its focus on relativism. Let’s take a closer look.

There are any number of places one could start as far as trying to get a handle on postmodernism, but let me start at a place that hits close to home for a Bowlbian such as myself: postmodernists believe in the proverbial Blank Slate. I have talked about Blank Slate thinking in earlier posts. For a thorough and insightful analysis of Blank Slate thinking, see Canadian cognitive scientist Steven Pinker’s 2003 book entitled The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

OK, Pinker’s book title gives it away: postmodernists deny human nature. I guess you could say that postmodernists are human nature deniers. Ergo, postmodernists deny that there are innate behavioral systems such as sex, attachment, and caregiving (receiving). Postmodernists believe that people, especially young children, are blank slates (tabula rasa) waiting for the right teacher to come along and write the correct narrative on that slate. Postmodernists deny that people, especially young children, are born with innate systems such the attachment behavioral system. In general, postmodernists deny biology. We can see this denial reflected in such social constructs as self-esteem, self psychology, and resiliency. Simply, postmodernists wish to separate body (biology) from mind (sociology). In this respect, postmodernists share much in common with people who believe in the End Times. Both groups have a strong belief in dissociation: separating body from mind. This wish for dissociation drives the desire on the part of postmodernists to frame everything using the frames of liberation and emancipation. Because postmodernists do not have a destination in mind, the twin processes of liberation and emancipation become ends and are no longer means. As I write about in my 2011 book entitled Bowlby’s Battle for Round Earth, youth are out there screaming at other youth to write “liberation apps” for their smartphones. But liberation to where exactly? There is this sense that writing the liberation app is an escape in and of itself. And this may be true if one considers joining with virtual digital worlds as a form of escape or liberation. I see this as expressing a desire to separate body (the real) from mind (the virtual).

Both groups, End Timers and postmodernists, share a desire to become posthuman or post-biology. For more on this theme, see James Barrat’s 2013 book entitled Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era. As a colleague once told me, postmodernists knew early on that they could not compete with modern science on the level of product—bridges, planes, trains, cars, buildings, etc.—so they made the political decision to fight on the grounds of process: social constructs, culture, narratives, etc. But as my colleague pointed out (with a wry sense of humor), after their lectures, postmodern academics drive home in their cars, over bridges, and take the elevator to their fourth floor apartment.

Once you believe that there are no innate behavioral systems in specific and biology in general, then you can engage in what Francis Fukuyama calls “signposts on the road to posthumanism.” Fukuyama talks about these signposts in his 2002 book entitled Our Posthuman Future—Consequences of the Technological Revolution. Here are postmodern behaviors and activities that mark the road toward posthumanism. I would suggest that many if not all of these practices could be looked at as attacks on youth in specific and on human beings in general:

  • Feeding children copious amounts of behavioral drugs—like Ritalin and Adderall—more potent than cocaine.
  • Genetically modified foods and genetic engineering.
  • Various ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies). ARTs point the way toward a world of designer babies.
  • Skinnerian behaviorism today couched as cognitive-behavioral therapy (a movement that Bowlby railed against).
  • Systems engineering (which is the darling of cybernetic systems such as and smartphones).
  • The self-esteem movement (a movement that Bowlby also railed against).
  • Biological shortcuts such as Botox, Prozac, Ritalin, Viagra, and all manner of parent substitutes.
  • Medicalization of normal human behavior especially normal child behavior.

As Fukuyama points out in Our Posthuman Future, “Human nature shapes and constrains the possible kinds of political regimes, so a technology powerful enough to reshape what we are will have possibly malign consequences for liberal democracy and the nature of politics itself.” See, Fukuyama (who tends to use a conservative model) sees the rise of postmodern and posthuman thinking as a threat to democracy. Again, Whose Democracy? But, hey, as parents recede, or partners pull away from committed relationships like marriage, business opportunities grow in the shade: selling behavioral drugs, providing ARTs, providing cognitive-behavioral therapy, selling smartphones and Netflix accounts (both examples of cybernetic systems), providing parent substitutes such as food, alcohol, consumer products, and violent music. Way back in 1991, writing in her book entitled The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, Naomi Wolf told us that safe, secure, committed relationships are bad for business. Split apart a marriage through divorce and you create two separate households. Immediately you double the demand for consumer goods. You simply cannot blame everything on neoliberals. If you reduce the demand for behavioral drugs, Botox, Viagra, day care, food, consumer goods, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc., supply is reduced. As anesthesiologist Ronald Dworkin points out in his 2003 book entitled Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class, psychiatrists would not be able to write a humongous number of prescriptions for various behavioral drugs without demand coming from the public for a quick fix to what ails one: unhappiness, the stress of parenting, overeating, distractible kids, sexual performance issues, etc.

Once body is seperated from mind through postmodernism or posthumanism, the demand for biological shortcuts or quick fixes goes up, and the market is only willing to oblige. Giroux argues that the market/supply side should curtail its activities, but what about the customer/demand side, the demand created through a desire to separate body from mind? For more on this theme see Paul Stiles’ 2005 book entitled Is the American Dream Killing You?: How “the Market” Rules Our Lives. In essence Giroux argues that if the rise of postmodernism creates a shadow, and that shadow in turn causes the grass to recede (e.g., stable families and communities), then the market should exhibit self control and not march in to claim the now abandoned plot of land. So, even though postmodernists don’t want a particular piece of property—safe and securely attached families and communities—neoliberals shouldn’t want it either as it begins to break apart. This type of thinking seems rather naive to me. I digress.

Once you accept the Blank Slate of postmodern or posthuman thought—the denial of human nature—then you are free to engage in all manner of practices:

  • Feeding kids copious amounts of behavioral drugs
  • Using parent substitutes such as day care, food, consumer goods, inappropriate sex, smartphones, the Internet, Facebook, etc.
  • Engaging in role-reversal and parentification—the practice of treating children as if they were small adults.

Let me wrap up by talking about role-reversal and parentification: two practices that Bowlby railed against. Bowlby in essence said that the practice of role-reversal is the road toward insecure attachment. Many authors—both liberal and conservative—have taken up the subject of role-reversal. In my executive summary of Kay Hymowitz’s 1999 Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Endangers Their Future—And Ours, I presented the following listing of books on role-reversal:

  • Bly, R. (1996). The sibling society—An impassioned call for the rediscovery of adulthood. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Sommers, C and Satel, S. (2005). One nation under therapy—How the helping culture is eroding self-reliance. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Eberstadt, M. (2004). Home-alone America—Why today’s kids are overmedicated, overweight, and more troubled than ever before. New York: Sentinel.
  • Stiles. P. (2005). Is the American dream killing you? How “the market” rules our lives. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Lasch, C. (1979). The culture of narcissism—American life in an age of diminishing expectations. NY: Norton.

Once you accept that there is no such thing as human nature or innate behavioral systems such as attachment, sex, and caregiving (receiving) then you are free to engage in role-reversal or the practice of treating young children as small adults. Giroux suggests that neoliberals are oppressing and imprisoning youth, but many social critics (see the list above) suggest that the rise of postmodern and posthuman thought—and, along with it role-reversal—has played a large role in oppressing and imprisoning youth. Again, using my analogy, is it possible that without the rise of the postmodern storage shed and the retreat of safe and secure families and communities, there would be little fertile ground in which neoliberalism could take root. I’m just saying that it is a complex ecological system that requires analysis and critical thought from a number of sides. So, as a final thought, I would suggest that Giroux’s approach is too narrow-minded and too cause and effect (which, as Lakoff points out, is the type of thinking typically displayed by the Strict Father model). Giroux, to me, seems rather Strict: use the postmodern model or else. I would say that Giroux displays a will to power as do most postmodernists (see note 1 below). Considering that postmodernism is the model of no model (or of all models), it’s ironic how much this one model is defended against all others. According to postmodernists, you can have any cultural cognitive model you wish as long as it’s postmodernism. Thanks Henry Ford. I guess only time will tell us how well the postmodernist model allows individuals to map their personal experience to collective spaces such as the cultural or the social. If current cultural conditions are any indication, I’d have to say “not well.”

So, what can we do about all of this? Well, that will be a topic for a future blog post. To whet your appetite I’ll recommend a 2004 book by Juliet Schor entitled Born to Buy—The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. Schor, like Giroux, rails against hyper consumerism and the current drive to turn kids into little consumers in what can only be called a gross case of role-reversal (as mentioned above). Schor’s solution? Parents need to once again assume their roles as authoritative adults and put an end to what Robert Bly calls our current Sibling Society. So, yes, that means no more mother/daughter trips to the plastic surgeon, or sons slipping condoms into the breast pocket of their father’s sport jacket as depicted in a current TV ad campaign. If you’d like to know more about role-reversal I’d recommend Hymowitz’s book Ready or Not (executive summary available). And for the scientific theory and data behind why role-reversal could potentially adversely affect psychological development, there’s always Bowlby’s trilogy on attachment theory.


[1] – Recently I read two books that try to push back against the postmodern tide. The first is by philosopher John Searle and is entitled The Construction of Social Reality. I wrote about this book in my October 23rd, 2013, blog post entitled Truer Words: Expressing a Wish to Abandon External Reality Without Paying a Price. Here are the Truer Words that I pulled from The Construction of Social Reality:

One objection to some of the current challenges to realism is that they [postmodernists and posthumanists] want to abandon external realism without paying the price. The price of the abandonment of realism is abandonment of normal understanding. If someone wishes to abandon normal understanding, he or she owes us an account of what sort of understanding is possible.

Once you abandon normal understanding then you can say whatever you wish, even gibberish. This quote by Searle a bit further along gives us his “bottom line”:

[T]he motivation for denying realism is a kind of will to power, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. In universities, most notably in various humanities disciplines, it is assumed that, if there is no real world [e.g., no nature or biology], then science is on the same footing as the humanities. They both deal with social constructs, not with independent realities. From this assumption, forms of postmodernism, deconstruction, and so on [i.e., self-esteem, self psychology, resilience, etc.], are easily developed, having been completely turned loose from the tiresome moorings and constraints of having to confront the real world.

In the above quote we get the sense that postmodernists abhor modern science because modern science attempts to moor us to the real objective world and the messy worlds of biology and innate behavioral systems such as attachment. One way to break these moorings is to engage in postmodern gibberish. Physicist Alan Sokal (along with his co-author Jean Bricmont, also a physicist) are concerned about postmodern gibberish and talk about it at length in their 2014 book entitled Fashionable Nonsense—Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (the second book I read recently and have mentioned in earlier blog posts).

To bring attention to postmodern gibberish, Sokal wrote an article for a leading journal of postmodern thought. Sokal in essence took a number of well established scientific concepts (such as Einstein’s theory of relativity) and connected them together using gibberish. Sokal submitted his bogus manuscript and it was accepted with rave reviews from the postmodern community of scholars. After revealing the hoax, Sokal was viciously attacked by the same community that hailed him just months earlier. In essence, Sokal wished to establish that the postmodern emperor indeed was wearing no clothes. Let’s listen in as Sokal talks about his reasons for engaging in his now famous hoax. This quote is from Fashionable Nonsense:

[M]y main concern isn’t to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit [literary criticism] (we’ll survive just fine, thank you). Rather, my concern is explicitly political [emphasis in original]: to combat a currently fashionable postmodernist/poststructuralist/ social-constructivist discourse—and more generally a penchant for subjectivism [e.g., narratives]—which is, I believe, inimical to the values and future of the Left.

Sokal then goes on to present this quote by Alan Ryan which I in turn present to you because I think it speaks to how postmodern thought can in fact lead to imprisonment and not liberation:

It is, for instance, pretty suicidal for embattled minorities to embrace Michel Foucault, let alone Jacques Derrida. The minority view was always that power could be undermined by truth … Once you read Foucault as saying that truth is simply an effect of power, you’ve had it…. But American departments of literature, history and sociology contain large numbers of self-described leftists who have confused radical doubts about objectivity with political radicalism, and are in a mess.