Sunday, March 1, 2009

Independence Training and the Stimulus Package

Recent evidence for the dysfunctionality of the independence-trained side of our national ethos.

We have retired people here in Florida who reject efforts to raise sales or property taxes for education, let alone establish a state income tax, because, as they say, they don't have any kids in school, so why should they help pay for the education of other people's children? No thought of the fact that those other people's semi-literate, semi-educated children might be working at their nursing home some day, and their lives might depend on the fact that one of those kids has learned that "inflammable" doesn't mean "not-flammable."

We actually had some super-conservative troglodytes throw a "tea party" here in Jacksonville late last week. They’re against Governor Crist's accepting the stimulus money, even though we desperately need it to keep things, including education, going. The action was prompted by CNBC reporter Rick Santellis's lunatic rant against President Obama's plan to help people avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.

Like Norquist, and Limbaugh, and the rest of the socially challenged, they’d rather see the US fail than allow that the government might be able to do something other than drop bombs on brown people.

The idea that government is the problem, that the government should stand back and let everyone rise or fall, without intervention or assistance, is an outcome of a particular mode of enculturation that some anthropologists call Independence Training, or IT for short. IT, which stresses the construction of autonomy and individualism, contrasts with what some of us call Dependence Training, or DT, which focuses on the development and maintenance of social ties of interdependence. These labels were used by psychological anthropologist Francis Hsu to help explain some of the cultural differences between the IT-based US and DT-based China.

In the US, the application of IT as a mode of enculturation begins early: newborn infants are made to sleep apart from their mothers, first in their own crib and preferably in their own room; babies are nursed on a schedule that suits the parents, rather than on demand, and weaned off mother's milk so they can learn to feed themselves as soon as possible. IT is implicated in the parents' lack of health insurance, as well as in the lower wages and less desirable working conditions they likely endure due to lack of a union: IT abhors "collective" activity. If the children attend public school, there is almost inevitably a shortage of materials, modern textbooks, and even teachers, due to the reluctance to use general taxes for education. If these young folks make it to college, they'll likely end up with enormous student loan debt since the expenses of college must be born by individuals rather than by the society.

Of course, for social animals, a certain amount of IT is vital: individual members of the society do have to learn to become autonomous agents. But when IT subverts the nature of society itself, the result is a dysfunctional culture, which is I would argue what we have always had in the US, though it really began to intensify during the Reagan regime.


  1. Amen, Bro! Excellent post. I think the roots of IT in this country, actually before it WAS a country, are in the laws enacted and other tools used to separate the enslaved and free black people, the indigenous people, and the indentured or poor white people who were used by the elite to enrich themselves. They didn't want the many to come together to rise up against the privileged few and were, in fact, terrified of the prospect. This is still in force today, with the "socially challenged" (love that!)serving as shills for the corporatocracy, working hammer and tong to convince us that our brothers and sisters are the enemy, not "The Man".

  2. If I may use the shorthand ITs and DTs, it's odd that the ITs see to be independet except when it comes to invading other countries, then we should all set out brains aside and march in lock step.

    It's also seems odd that the avoidance of paying any taxes at all has been elevated to a high virtue in this country which started off with a declaration of independence, in which the signers "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." (No loopholes for corporate retreats in Las Vegas.)


Comments and feedback are welcome, as long as they conform to normal standards of civility and decency. I will delete comments that do not meet these standards.