July 21, 2020-
I am re-reading Joy DeGruy’s “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, an enlightening account of the effects of both two hundred forty six years of slavery, and nearly one hundred fifty-five years of its aftermath, on the psyches of African-Americans. There are a variety of ways that people who are descended from the enslaved have adapted to modern American society, just as there are a variety of ways that people who are descended from historically “free” people, or who are descended from First Nations people-they who were not technically enslaved, but who were most definitely not free, following the Trail of Tears and Black Hawk War, have adapted.
One of those ways, common to many, regardless of ethnicity, legal status or the historical background, is what Dr. De Gruy calls vacant esteem. The listless, the self-limiting, the soporific, the “crabs in a barrel”-all work overtime to keep both themselves and those around them in a state of suspended animation, or at least on a very basic level of achievement.
Society has largely answered this phenomenon with outwardly loving, but ultimately debilitating, practices like “the Self-Esteem movement”, participation awards, and worst of all-the simplified curriculum. We are seeing what these have brought- Along with the spread of a mindset that anything not perfect merits destruction, (the ULTIMATE crabs in a barrel mentality), the sense that “my ignorance is as good as your intellect” has brought us to the Age of Confusion.
It is in this clime, that opposites may be switched: Up is now down; black is white; good is evil; hatred is love. Into this setting come the notions- that anyone who thinks differently than oneself is demonic and deserves death; that one must dither and accommodate every single idea that is proposed, in the name of “fairness”; that rapid change must be opposed at all costs, or, conversely, that anyone opposing change needs to be pushed aside. It is not long in coming, when such attitudes, collectively, result in chaos, that authoritarian thinking, on BOTH sides of the divide, gains primacy.
We are seeing the seed sof this, here and now. Generations of authoritarian policing, (hardly everywhere, but in a critical mass of public experience), combined with long-standing authoritarian executive thinking-at the county and state levels in both “Liberal” and “Conservative” jurisdictions and at the municipal level in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, have resulted in a certain public sclerosis in thought, as to how change should be brought about. This has been countered by academic authoritarianism, so that ANY adherence to conventional ways of thinking about the nature of this country and its past, or about HUMAN nature, is subject to being uprooted-violently if necessary. The academics who push this agenda are failing their acolytes.
The violent pushback that has shown its face in Portland, OR will spread, not the least because conservative people are still as sensitive, still as subject to fear, as are Liberals and will support THEIR authoritarians, in suppressing the authoritarian forces on the Left. It will spread because of overkill, overreach- the cries for toppling statues of ALL of the Founding Fathers, of ALL religious figures, of ANYONE who ever uttered an unkind sentiment about someone of a different skin tone, sexual orientation, gender status, creed or social class; the calls for putting someone like J.K. Rowling TO DEATH!
Such authoritarianism will be, deservedly, opposed by those who don’t want its equal and opposite reaction. The demonstrations in Portland, prior to the deployment of plainclothed Federal agents, were for the most part mellowing, according to people who LIVE there. The hornets were settling in their nest, but once the nest was whacked-well, “torch the Courthouse” was not long in following. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy, that only FEDERAL FORCE will crush the spirits of those on the Left, gains currency among those in the socioemotional Heartland.
I love too many, especially of the younger generations, to sit on my hands with this one. It is time, with a very narrow window, for the neofascists in academia to let up and stop agitating those who know and feel the need for social change. It is also time, with an equally narrow window, for the Old Guard Fascists, who seem so set on flooding the streets with their forces of occupation, to pull back and to ENGAGE with those currently tasked with leading our cities and states.
Engage, and be specific with your expectations, the way parents, teachers and community leaders at the grassroots level have to be.
The clock is ticking, and it’s not made in China-yet.