Monday, September 5, 2022

4 steps to destroying the ideals and values of the middle class

[Small snippet of an article by Ronald Dworkin in First Things magazine, link HERE]

"...The Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) method gradually penetrated American cultural life and changed our politics. The effect was first felt in the 1960s, when CBT penetrated the civil rights movement. Notions of self-esteem and personal identity became central to the movement’s worldview, replacing the older emphasis on voting rights and access to jobs and housing. Soon followed the focus on group identity, the belief that racism is both a conscious and a subconscious phenomenon, and the idea that racism’s effects can be invisible—all hallmarks of today’s identity politics.

The transformation of civil rights into a right to self-esteem was only the beginning. Millions of unhappy people, angry about life but impotent to do anything about it, found psychological release through a four-step method reminiscent of CBT. In the process, they changed American politics.

1) In the first step, civil rights activists demanded that all disadvantaged people enjoy a feeling of equality with average, middle-class people. Although the movement was motivated by noble goals, it risked impracticality at certain points. For example, in 1970, the City University of New York lowered its admission standards to give everyone a shot at middle-class success and respectability. Yet rather than raise up disadvantaged and remedial students, the reform simply lowered the college’s academic level, making it harder for anyone to get a good education there.

2) A second step followed. When some disadvantaged people still failed to achieve middle-class success and respectability, they did what CBT encourages. Just as the man who blames an ethic of success for his unhappiness finds relief by smirking at successful people—those who felt aggrieved by their relative lack of success took average, middle-class people down a notch through ridicule. Activists slandered middle-class people to obscure their positive attributes. They belittled middle-class attitudes toward sex and religion, conservative dress, and efforts to become “solid” citizens.

Still, the values of middle-class success and respectability survived, even as some people failed to achieve them. People might have laughed at the life habits that went along with them, but they could not escape the conflict within themselves between their desire for these things and their impotence to get them. 

3) Thus, the third step: To take average, middle-class people down another notch, activists depreciated middle-class success and respectability, calling these things insignificant. In social science, for example, adulthood and maturity ceased to be measured by whether one had a job or a mortgage or was financially responsible—typical middle-class achievements—but by whether one possessed certain psychological traits, such as tolerance and empathy. The social model of adulthood gave way to a psychological model that consisted of values that anyone could possess, including the marginal and disadvantaged.

Activists during this phase did not say that middle-class success and respectability were bad, only that the measures of traditional middle-class success and respectability were bad. Adulthood was still praised—but now a tolerant, empathic thirty-something who dressed in grunge style and played video games all day was considered more mature than a bank executive with a house and a family who lacked the same ethical consciousness. New avenues to middle-class success and respectability opened as a result. Nevertheless, there remained people who failed to achieve any semblance of success or respectability. Their inner tension, manifested in an impulse of resentment, still begged for release.

4) Release came in the fourth and final step, whereby middle-class success and respectability ceased to be good and became evil. Success itself was said to be the product of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and transphobia, and impossible to reconcile with the values of inclusivity. The nuclear family, once good, became a manifestation of the evil patriarchy. America’s success as a country became evil; patriotism, once good, likewise became evil. Free speech became an enemy of progressive values. Good manners became evil, as they prevented activists from shouting down the defenders of middle-class respectability. Police who protect life and property—two major bourgeois concerns—went from good to evil. Art that appeals to middle-class sensibilities, ranging from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, went from good to evil—or at least suspect—while art steeped in revolutionary social justice became the supreme good.

Psychologically, the systematic reinterpretation of middle-class values promised a great deal more than the depreciation of middle-class success had: It brought release to millions. Successful and respectable middle-class people, once a cause of pain and envy for others, were now to be pitied rather than respected. They were, if not evil, then at least beset with evils. The disadvantaged and marginal, especially the unhappy among them, were the pure, the elect, and the good.

All that remained was for successful, respectable middle-class Americans to buy into the new values, to poison their own minds, to feel guilty and ashamed of their success and their country’s heritage, to wallow in the morbid and to dwell fanatically on the lives of victims. Many do. Hence the dawn of woke politics, which is perhaps best understood as CBT on a mass scale..."

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