Sunday, January 01, 2006

Believe It!

I “believe” Steve Salerno has a point.
EVER SINCE the United States began weaning itself off the sociological junk food of victimization and its culture of blame, the pop-psychology menu increasingly has been flavored by an antithetical concept — empowerment — that can be summarized as: Believe it, achieve it. (Opinion from the LA Times)
I got caught up in this “fake it till you make it” culture way back in the late 70’s. Thrashing around trying to make a decent living with unresolved war issues buried in the back of my head, I just wasn’t getting anywhere. Then along came Amway! My parents tried to debase me of my delusions of mansions and caddies if I only believed, but to no avail. I may as well have joined up with Jim Jones or Harry Christna. I carried around my well thumbed copy of Believe! Figuring that it would save me from poverty in the same way a person thinks the Bible will save them from hell.

Believing yourself into riches is like believing yourself into a NFL contract as a star quarterback. There are only just twenty six slots. A good Jehovah’s Witness can’t believe herself into heaven because there are only 144,000 slots. I don’t know how many slots there are for Rich Guys, but there aren’t enough that you can believe your way in. Just like it takes a lot of fans to make a quarter back, and it takes a lot of sinners to make a saint, it takes a lot of poor people to make a Rich Guy. If you want to make it to the top in this taker world, theft and scamming skills will work better than believing skills.

In truth, the overselling of personal empowerment — the hyping of hope — may be the great unsung irony of modern American life, destined to disappoint as surely as the pity party that it was meant to replace.
In any society in which there is such a disparity of access to wealth and power, there has to be some magical way to make things better for the oppressed. The magic has to be believed by the masses to protect the fortunate from the wrath of the masses. “I’m not rich, beautiful, strong, smart, well employed, etc. because I don’t/didn’t believe enough.” Works just as well as any other bit of magic “it must be somehow my fault”.

Salerno goes on to complain that schools have degenerated into teaching this believe pap. For all his insight, Salerno’s assumption that public schools used to have some other function is off the mark. Public schools have always been designed to turn the masses into non-thinking drones willing to believe that their plight is their fault.
H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that government schooling was about "the perfect organization of the hive." He said standardized testing was a way to make lower classes recognize their own inferiority. Like wearing a dunce cap, it would discourage them from breeding and having ambition. Goddard was head of the Psychology Department at Princeton, so imagine the effect he had on the minds of the doctoral candidates he coached, and there were hundreds.
What Salerno decries as the self help movement is just a different version of making the masses stupid. Returning to the good old days of feeling inferior won’t help. It is only nostalgia for a different form of mind control.

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