In reading last week’s article by Charles P. Pierce on Sarah Palin, there was one salient point he made about her that tends to characterize much of what passes for acceptable adult behavior today. Following her elementary school theatrics on the CPAC dais, Pierce gave the following description of the woman who might have been Vice-President as a result of a John McCain senior moment.
“She is the living representation of the infantilization of American politics, a poisonous Grimm Sister telling toxic fairy tales to audiences drunk on fear, and hate and nonsense.”
Infantilization was the operative word for me. It recalled an essay I had written several years back and re-published on my blog, indicting commercial marketers who promote the sell of useless products to adults by catering to an emotional and intellectual immaturity at a subconscious level. It’s the theme expounded on in the 1911 children’s book, Peter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie’s that tapped into our reluctance to grow up. And while their aim was not necessarily focused (or maybe it was) on long-term effects outside of a desire to establish “brand loyalty”, there has been a correlating dumbing down for many people across the social spectrum. It’s hard to deny TV’s affect on social behavior as the abundant literature on this subject has attested to.
Exhibiting infantile behavior in adults is not uncommon and we all engage in it at one time or another. We retain an inner child as we grow older and it doesn’t let go easily. My “Thursday Humor” bits on this blog are examples of personal slides into juvenile behavior. Only the prudish and purse-lipped would have difficulty in finding some humor in adults acting out like children on given occasions. But it is my concern about this “acting out” being more a norm for many people rather than an exception. It’s not a matter of turning it off and on in random social settings. It’s a behavior that is always on.
Disclosure: I have no in-depth background in Psychology. Other than the Psych 101 class I took in college that focused on B.F. Skinner’s behavior modification principles, my views here are my own and don’t warrant a personal attack from those who might take offense.
It’s probably reasonable to assume that child-like behavior evokes a nostalgia of happier times, for many people at least, and thus slipping into an adolescent persona makes people feel secure and able to make sense of their world. Life was less complicated for us then, or so it seems now, so why shouldn’t our imitation of it be acceptable to most of us. It is the frequency and timing of such displays however that may convey something more than a mere yearning for a simpler time in our lives.
So what does this have to do with Pierce’s commentary on Sarah Palin? As a representative for a subset of people in this country who imagine themselves in an earlier time in America, one where it all appears so much simpler and less complicated, Palin and those who applaud her antics in her infantile condescension of Barack Obama and liberals, reflects in so many ways that immaturity we tend to identify with children. Along with this is their limited knowledge about many important issues and the tendency to not only defend it but attack anyone who challenges them on the facts (does the word “brat” come to mind?). Children tend to defer to adults, assuming that they have a greater understanding of the realities of life. This isn’t always the case of course but children haven’t figured this out at this point in their lives.
Around boys and girls of their own age however they’re more assertive with their views and if one of their peers challenges them, especially someone whom they don’t particularly like, they often are unwilling to concede any wrongful views and in fact will find or even make up information to strengthen a bogus argument. This is what we are witnessing mostly in those right-wing circles that people like Palin inhabit.
The idealized view that they hold about government and American history, along with a rigid view of religion and limited science creates a barrier between them and an ever-changing world. When their views fly in the face of the current data and research they circle the wagons and refuse to surrender even when the imposing authority of our human knowledge base rejects their preconceived notions.
In fact, heavily slanted right-wing “think tanks” are established to defend weak or out-dated concepts that ultimately become part of the group-speak within conservative ranks. Such was the case with the George C. Marshall Institute founded back in the 1980’s by people who set out to disparage the work of those who criticized Reagan’s Star Wars program. Eventually it aimed its ire towards critics of cigarettes and the science that demonstrated the human contribution to global warming.
There are of course legitimate opposing views on certain issues that have merit and mature adults will recognize this and usually find common ground to work out their differences. It is this mode of behavior that was often exhibited in our political bodies during that time that many within the TeaParty ruminate on today. Yet as we have seen, it is those very people who refuse to compromise and like children, entrench themselves in their views, not allowing any deviation from their narrow definitions of history and the Constitution.
THE MISS BECKY MENTALITY IN POLITICS TODAY
At a time when I still considered myself a Christian and attended church regularly, we had a new pastor replace the one who had moved on up the church hierarchy. This new pastor brought his wife Rebecca, who automatically took control of the children’s Sunday school classes. As a Sunday school teacher she insisted the kids call her “Miss Becky”. It seemed innocent enough even though the “miss” part connoted that she was still a single woman. It crossed over a line however when she preferred to be called Miss Becky by the adults.
As you might suspect, someone who wants to be referred to in childish terms often displayed childish behavior. What some would call being in a happy, upbeat christian manner, with her sing-songy expressiveness, some of us saw as more of an infantile behavior. Miss Becky it seemed had brought her childhood with her; the one characterized by the child playing in her room with her doll house and surrounded by here dolls, playing adult to her make-believe children while remaining blissfully unaware of real world complexities.
Her elementary approach to teaching Sunday school to preadolescents remained in play when she found herself outside of that environment. But there would be the child-like tantrums too. Behavior that would lash out at anyone, even her husband, who would question her actions. It would be years later when the nation was introduced to people like Sarah Palin, Texas congressman Louie Gohmert and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, to name just a few, that I would see a comparison with them and Miss Becky. People who brought their childish parochial views with them into the adult world of politics.
The fact that such people now affect policy in state capitals and Washington D.C. doesn’t bode well for the rest of us adults. When any crowd mentality encourages the immature behavior and fallacious rantings of such people they subconsciously revert back to that inner child that refuses to grow up. We can’t expect everyone else to see things only in terms of self-interests as children do. Unless we come to grips with the infantile culture practiced by some, the failure of our public policy institutions will remain in gridlock and fail to address the serious 21st century issues of man-made global warming, evolving global conflicts, education and our health care crisis.