Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of African-American studies at Princeton, was invited on to National Public Radio to expound on the use of “racial code words” in “the current opposition to health care reform.” For example, explained professor Harris-Lacewell, “language of personal responsibility is often a code language used against poor and minority communities.”
“Personal responsibility” is racial code language? Phew, thank goodness America is belatedly joining Canada and Europe in all but abolishing the concept.
“Code language” is code language for “total bollocks.” “Code word” is a code word for “I’m inventing what you really meant to say because the actual quote doesn’t quite do the job for me.” “Small government”? Racist code words! “Non-confiscatory taxes”? Likewise. “Individual liberty”? Don’t even go there! To an incisive NPR racism analyst, the elderly gentleman telling his congressman “I’m very concerned by what I’ve heard about wait times for MRIs in Canada” is really saying “I’m unable to overcome my deep-seated racial anxieties about the sexual prowess of black males, especially now they’re giving prime-time press conferences every night.” With interpreters like professor Harris-Lacewell on the prowl, I’m confident 95 per cent of Webster’s will eventually be ruled “code language.”
For years now, pop psychology and its gurus have mesmerized the culture at large. All their self-help tenets have percolated through K-12 educational curricula; and been accepted wholeheartedly by the cultural elite of Hollywood and the intellectual elite of academia.
The triumvarate of contradictions that claims to be based on "scientific" psychology includes the hyping of (1) self-esteem (increasing your self-worth without having to achieve anything); (2) hope (achieving your goals without any real effort) and (3) victimhood (it's not your fault that you haven't achieved anything or made any effort). See here for more discussion.
These three fundamental axioms of leftist thought have risen to prominence in our society as the denigration of the concept of personal responsibility has taken hold. In fact, as you can see from Steyn's column above, the very use of the words have become politically incorrect--racist, even--primarily because personal responsibility is not compatible with the leftist definition of those three fundamental axioms.
After several decades, the intellectual impoverishment brought about by faux self-esteem, fairy-tale utopian fantasies, and eternal victimhood--all pseudoscientific psychological deceptions designed to maintain dependence on leftist ideology-- are now becoming apparent:
Over a 20-year span beginning in the early 1970s, the average SAT score fell by 35 points. But in that same period, the contingent of college-bound seniors who boasted an A or B average jumped from 28% to an astonishing 83%, as teachers felt increasing pressure to adopt more "supportive" grading policies. Tellingly, in a 1989 study of comparative math skills among students in eight nations, Americans ranked lowest in overall competence, Koreans highest — but when researchers asked the students how good they thought they were at math, the results were exactly opposite: Americans highest, Koreans lowest. Meanwhile, data from 1999's omnibus Third International Mathematics and Science Study, ranking 12th-graders from 23 nations, put U.S. students in 20th place, besting only South Africa, Lithuania and Cyprus.
Still, the U.S. keeps dressing its young in their emperors' new egos, passing them on to the next set of empowering curricula. If you teach at the college level, as I do, at some point you will be confronted with a student seeking redress over the grade you gave him because "I'm pre-med!" Not until such students reach med school do they encounter truly inelastic standards: a comeuppance for them but a reprieve for those who otherwise might find ourselves anesthetized beneath their second-rate scalpel.
The larger point is that society has embraced such concepts as self-esteem and confidence despite scant evidence that they facilitate positive outcomes. The work of psychologists Roy Baumeister and Martin Seligman suggests that often, high self-worth is actually a marker for negative behavior, as found in sociopaths and drug kingpins.
We see the people who have inhaled this "psychology-lite" everywhere around us, and in all levels of society. Particularly we can notice it in the elites of Hollywood and Academia; who alternate between acting out their narcissistically empowered superiority -- demanding to be noticed, admired and loved (by you); and playing the narcissistically empowered victim -- demanding their inalienable rights and priveleges (at your expense).
But the real victims of all this hype are our children, because these foolish notions, without a scintilla of scientific evidence and only becaue it makes some people feel good about themselves, have become the pop psychology dogma of public policy in education; and the corollary of their implementation is an equal and opposite de-emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one's actions and behaviors and accepting the consequences, both good and bad. One's character is not only determined by successes in life, but by how failures are dealt with. Self-esteem is the by-product of negotiating those successes and failures with integrity and honesty. "Hope" is meaningless unless it escapes the land of fantasy and conforms with reality; and victimhood should only be a transient state that motivates a person to change behavior--not a celebration or a way of life.
For many on the left side of the political spectrum, the concept of "personal responsibility" is inextricably linked to conservative moral principles; to business success and capitalism; and to the bugaboo of collectivists everywhere, individualism. It is no secret that the political left has idealized certain social and political systems because they suppressed the individual and elevated the state, insisting that individuals had no right to exist for their own selves, but only to serve others.
Those on the left mistakenly believe that it is individualism and "evil" capitalism that is linked to narcissistic behavior. But as I have explained in previous posts, there is a flip side to "selfish" or "grandiose" narcissism-- and that is narcissism rooted in idealism, rather than selfishness; or "idealistic" narcissism (discussed at some length here if you are interested). This second kind of narcissism (the flip side of the coin, if you will) is less obvious to an observer, since it is disguised with a veneer of concern for others. But it is equally—if not more—destructive and causative of human suffering, decay, death and misery. Both kinds of narcissism are a plague on the world; and both are well-traveled avenues for limiting freedom and imposing tyranny. The "grandiose" narcissism is the stimulus for individual tyrants, while the "idealistic" narcissism leads to groups imposing their will on others.
The idealistic narcissist is invested in utopian fantasies. Their self-esteem is derived from the power they feel in controlling the lives of others, and they desperately need to maintain a constant supply of "victims" they can pretend to champion. In general, they are extremely resistant to taking responsibility for their own behavior or the implementation of their utopian dreams--all of which have been emotionally catastrophic for the individuals in the system. Is it any wonder that the political left identifies personal responsibility as a dangerous and radical concept? In a world where personal responsibility and accountability for one's behavior is expected, they themselves would have to answer to that thing we call "reality."
This they cannot and will not do.
Hence they have constructed a whole system ("political correctness") to stigmatize and intimidate those who believe that self-esteem must be earned by achievement and is dependent on one's choices and actions; that "hope and change" come about not by wishing and lovely rhetoric, but by doing; and that your current bad situation may not be (entirely) your own fault, but by constantly externalizing blame for that situation, you miss opportunities to make necessary changes in your own behavior that keep you down. By taking responsibility for your own life, you stop waiting to be rescued and do what you have to do to rescue yourself. You can stay a "victim" and wallow in "victimhood", but the essence of maturity and adulthood is taking charge of your own life and not letting others dictate who you should be, or what you should do.
Unhealthy narcissism (yes, a certain amount of narcissism not only can be healthy, it is essential to function optimally in life) is encouraged by the "self-esteem gurus" in education, whose nonsense continues to reinforce the inappropriate grandiosity of young children by facilitating a faux self-esteem; just as the radical environmentalists and politically correct, kumbayah types (among other groups) continue to reinforce the malignant selflessness that comes from fervently believing in the perfectibility of human beings.
Between the two influences unleashed on the vulnerable minds of our children, is it any surprise that by the time they get to college, kids are either dysfunctional, self-absorbed narcissists; naively malignant do-gooders; or (at best) completely and irrevocably cynical about the pervasive indoctrination and anti-intellectualism they have been subjected to in their educational careers?
As this article from the LA Times says somewhat understatedly, "Gen Y's ego trip is likely to take a nasty turn". Yes, we are already seeing the consequences on a daily basis.
Welcome to the Golden Age of Narcissism! Please check all personal responsibility, common sense and reality at the door before entering....