Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Amateur Psychology with Ian

Relax, everybody. America is not sliding to the right. I think the reason everyone thinks so is because the people in power (in both the political and the corporate spheres) are the ones who most want us to think we are now a neoconservative country. But in reality, they are just the ones who want power the most and who have the biggest stake in maintaining the illusion that they are who everyone wants.

Consider the classic Type-A personality. You know the type. This describes that person who, when you were in school, joined every club and very aggressively sought positions of leadership in those clubs. The person who worried that every insignificant action was going to work against them on some phantom "permanent record." The person whose only priority in college was to network, network, network! The person whose graduation sashes somehow validated their existence. They were so ambitious they ambitionized themselves right into a plummeting spiral of chain-smoking, alcohol and/or religion while watching "Wall Street" as a documentary, absent of any satirical irony. Michael Douglas is their Michael Moore.

So what kind of person becomes inclined toward such self-actualizing (and self-destructive) behavior? One root is insecurity; in many cases, these people are children of hyper-expectant parents. I once knew a kid who got grounded for six weeks for making a B, for example. A grade of 94 in those days. In cases such as these, the parents are generally very successful people who are used to a particularly high plateau of achievement. The flip side of this are lower-income parents who want to live vicariously through their children. In both circumstances, the parents have decided that 1) their child is going to be successful at any cost and 2) that by "success," they mean one primary definition: wealth and connections.

The latter is generally where the problems begin. When parents stretch the universal parental hope (that their children can support themselves and their families throughout life) into an extreme push for material comfort, the younger generation often has little option other than to satisfy those expectations. The result is that a genuinely gifted student in a creative endeavor is stuck going to business school (or other practical profession), often due to the parents' stake in paying tuition. They are led to believe that what they want is idealistic or otherwise wrong, and thus devote their lives to accruing money. What good is satisfaction in doing one's trade or craft if it can't buy you a nice home in a gated community with a couple of SUVs to boot? Because, you see, real happiness lies in dressing in a suit every day, going to work, then coming home and changing into another suit so you can attend a pricey gala and get sloppy drunk with the same and like-minded people with whom you spend 100 hours a week working.

It is at this point of realization that a prospective student/worker can take one of two broad paths: 1) they can ascend the corporate ladder with gusto or 2) they can choose to do what makes them happy, even if they have to make certain sacrifices. Granted, there's no shortage of people who find true happiness in working their way up in the business world at all costs. But I would guess there's fewer of these people than most would imagine.

Those that do take the corporate-ladder path out of a sense of calling are generally the ones who prize the tenets of unfettered capitalism: accrue as much capital as possible, develop a strong work ethic, network, etc. Doing this in its purest form also requires an attitude of self-centeredness, an every-person-for-themselves attitude. These are the people who don't mind stepping on toes, working the interoffice political system and caring only about the bottom line. The people who think "putting food on the table" is the be-all and end-all of human life, even if they they can already hire servants to do the actual food-putting on the table.

What kind of person is most likely to take on this Type-A attitude? Precisely the kind of person who believes in the ideal of all Americans as bootstrap-pullers and thus don't want to pay even a dollar to help anyone else, unless it comes tagged with a picture in the local high-society pages. The ones who think the only reason people are poor is because they're lazy, stupid, black or any combination of the three.

In other words, conservatives.

In my experience, I find that extreme Type-A personalities are (almost to a T) inclined toward conservatism. This is not to say that all conservatives are this way; far from it. I am friends with many conservatives, none whom exhibit these traits. Likewise, I know several Type-A liberals with whom I am not friendly. It's not an attractive quality no matter what the political belief.

Nevertheless, conservative belief leans toward authoritarianism--in other words, control. Someone has to be in control of others, and under the conservative model it is the one who holds control who has the best position. This can be seen in many conservative/religious families, where the father is the ultimate head of the brood (and in some cases abuses that power). Everyone adhering to this mold acknowledges the power and respects it. Some wish to be controlled. Others covet the power, whether out of awe, insecurity or revenge. And this is where the real world comes in.

Recent years have seen the worldwide acceleration of right-wing leaders and machines to power. They have not gotten there out of luck or (entirely) corruption. In most cases, they are elected or chosen because they resonate most with the people. This consensus allows them to crush opposition, saying that "this is what the people want."

But not so fast. People do not swing in political theory as much as the experts would have us believe. Indeed, much of the public will cheerfully admit to wanting to jump on whatever bandwagon seems cool or will make them popular. This has been the case for centuries, and for what I credit entirely with the concept of women feeling like they must hurt to feel beautiful. In political terms, this means that enough people are swayed by the loudest or most emotionally resonant message to turn the tide in an election. Whoever is offering up the most popular message at any given time is going to win. This is true in both the political and the public spheres (in which promotion is generally based on how much ass one kisses as a peon).

All of this is coalescing as conservatives ascend the ranks of power both in private industry and in politics. Because they want it more, and because they think their survival and social standing depend on it. More than anything, they know how to get what they want and they spare no shame in doing so.

So what can liberals, progressives and moderates do? Well, first off, we can be thankful that we are not so deeply insecure as to require power to be validated. The left has the lion's share of creative types, social workers, teachers, blue-collar workers and enlightened corporate employees. People who make a difference without letting the need for work and money override their humanity. Liberals within the political and corporate-ladder systems can steal a page from the conservative playbook and assert themselves more. Liberal-leaning people should never feel insecure; indeed, we are the ones who advocate the best-possible conditions for everyone. Our current dilemma is in broadcasting that to others and ourselves. Current events prove, however unfortunately, that the loudest and most aggressive voice gets the ear. We need to seize that voice and make it our own. In other words, work that Type-A personality in our favor (or, even better, somehow reduce our society's reverence of this trait in favor of a more humane success strategy). We cannot, and should not, let success and political triumph go only to those who feel entitled to it. Because they are the ones who are least deserving of it.

We have the right ideas and attitude. We just have to want it more.

24 comments:

Murph said...

I don't know if I agree with your conclusion, Ian. It seems to me that you're merely suggesting trading one type-A asshole for one you agree with more, the very people whom you say you don't like in the early paragraphs. Your conclusion seems to stand on the assumption that a type-a liberal will not be as bad for the world as a type-A conservative, but power-hungry people are power-hungry people, no matter their political affiliation. The extremes would be, of course, Stalin and Hitler, or Mao and Mussolini.

Also, conservatism seems to espouse private control, while liberalism more public control in the form of government. They aren't necessarily varying degrees of control but rather different types. Of course, I know that today's "conservatives" in power are trying to make government bigger and bigger in interesting ways.

Ian McGibboney said...

Murph, I said that power-hungry people are power-hungry people no matter who they are, so I'm with you on that. What I'm trying to say is that we have to harness what's good about the Type-A personality (the drive and ambition, as well as the assertiveness) without its negative connotations (the stop-at-all-costs, might-and-money-are-right mentality, for example).

And yes, the difference between public and private control is significant. As long as conservatives have one of the two, they will attempt to take the other. I think that if liberals can rise more in both, we could do some good. Because unlike conservatives, whose goals are to win every office and executive seat to consolidate power (plenty have said so), a progessive/moderate mix would keep things in both sectors fair and clear. And that we should want.

The Goblin Slayer said...

The ones who think the only reason people are poor is because they're lazy, stupid, black or any combination of the three

Lazy and stupid are behaviors and/or traits. Being black isn't. Trying to lump them together is the typical left-wing victim mentality that turns off the minorities and proves you to be a racist in its truest form. I personally know many successful black folks and I am an independant conservative.

Lazy and stupid people deserve to be poor. Why should a lazy, dumb ass be rewarded?

Ian McGibboney said...

Talk about missing my point, Goblin. I'm not debating what it means to "poor or lazy"; I'm saying that the right claims and acts as if the only reason that people are poor is because they don't work hard enough. Which is a lie, of course; fast food can be a demanding job, as is teaching. Yet neither of these jobs pays nearly as much as a stock payout of inheritance, two forms of wealth that are not tied to merit and/or effort.

As for your comment about racial alientation, give me a break. What is your evidence that blacks are running from the left? Because as I recall, 9 out of 10 African-Americans voted Democrat in the last two elections.

The Goblin Slayer said...

I'll answer your questions when you answer mine, Journalist.

gambitch said...

I'm sure your position's strong enough not to need to wait for Ian to embarrass himself, GS. So why didn't you go first?

Michael said...

Lazy and stupid people deserve to be poor. Why should a lazy, dumb ass be rewarded?

So, Goblin, how do you explain G. W. Bush?

Ian McGibboney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ian McGibboney said...

Well, when you think about it, at $400,000 per year Bush IS pretty poor for a Bush.

[edited for too many zeroes]

Michael said...

I was going for the "rewarded" part, Ian. If Goblin's metaphysical test is correct, then Bush, who is both lazy and stupid, should never have been rewarded--by getting into Yale on his daddy's name and position, by getting into TANG on his daddy's name and position, by getting bailed out of two (or was it three?) failed oil companies, by getting appointed managing partner of the Texas Rangers, by getting elected governor of Texas, and certainly not with the mother of all rewards, the {p}residency.

The Goblin Slayer said...

Michael,

Do you have any proof of Bush getting into Yale becuase of his Daddy or is that just your blind hatred boiling over as usual?

Ian McGibboney said...

Goblin, Ivy League schools operated for decades under the legacy policy, meaning that the child of an alumnus was automatically accepted. They did this both for name recognition and for fundraising reasons. Bush himself once admitted that he was "basically a media creation."

Additionally, a look at Bush's eclectic career in oil, baseball and politics shows a resume not exactly consistent with sweat and achievement. If it is, then Dubya has the best luck in the world. No, I would guess trading on his famous family name had more to do with it.

The Goblin Slayer said...

Regardless, Ian, he still had to graduate and then get a master's. The same as you and me. Are you saying that the Ivy League professors let him slide because of his name, too?

Phillip said...

goblin... he was denied entrance into law school at UT, but got into yale? of course, because money and/or favors have NEVER incited a school, especially an ivy league school, to alllow a sub-par student to graduate, or more importantly enroll.

"pulling yourself up by your bootstraps", as republicans love to glorify, is rarely the manner in which they arrived at their own success. anyone who is successful had help from somebody at some point, and it's the ones who benefitted the most from the silver spoons who chide the lower classes for being lazy. they have no empathy.

Nick said...

I think Icon has a great point, if he's willing to follow his own advise when it comes to the leaders of his own party. Neither party gives a damn about any of us who argue on this blog. Some of you ranted about how when Cheney visited Lafayette a couple weeks ago, he only visited w/ the powerful. Who the hell do you think John Kerry visits w/? He's no different. They all try to act like they're mingling w/ the common folk when campaigning, then, once in power, forget about the "lowly" people who elected them.

I think leaders of both parties should be sent a message. That's one main reason why I'm registered IND and not R. Also, I think donkeys and elephants are dumb.

Ian McGibboney said...

Goblin, I suggest you look up the term "gentleman's C." Think about it. Would Yale really want to fail a Bush?

Nick, Kerry was not the one who prescreened the audiences at campaign stops and made them sign loyalty slips before they were allowed admittance. I myself was once in the very front of a Bill Clinton event at an open park during his campaign. If that isn't access, I don't know what is. More recently, John Edwards ate at Prejean's on more than one occasion. Cheney flies in, makes his spiel to the rich folks, flies out. It's not the same.

Ian McGibboney said...

Oh, and one more thing, Nick. It's ADVICE, not ADVISE. I advise you seek better advice on spelling. Grrrrgh!

Mustang Bobby said...

Good points. I think you struck some nerves.

Oh, by the way, Ian...you're one of my picks for this little diversion. Have fun.

Nick said...

Icon:

Dude, everyone eats at Prejeans. Rush even eats there, of course I'm sure he eats about anything. He even mingled w/ some common folk, one being an old g/f's dad, all he does is sell office supplies in a run down store off Jefferson. Point is, the Dems on the national scene are no better than the Repubs when it comes to carring about people like you and me. I'm glad you got to be at the font of a Clinton event, however, like you even said, it was while he was CAMPAIGNING. If you really think that either of Cheney, Edwards, Kerry, Bush, etc. really care about you and me, you're more out of it than I thought.

Also, I do seek better advice on spelling and care about it when it's something important, such as when I was writing columns at the Vermilion, doing business reports, or negotiation letters to landowners. I know you're proud of your blog, and you are talented in writing, but I don't believe your comments section requires that kind of importance. Get over it.

By the way, I scored 32 in English on the ACT, though I'm sure you did much better, college papers were a joke for me, and my mom, her mom, and many of my aunts are English teachers, so I know a thing or two about grammer. But yeah, my spelling does lack at times.

Michael said...

Sorry, Nick, but your "advise" is off-base. John Edwards just had a lefty blogger over to dinner. Howard Dean is famous for schmoozing with the "little people" in the party. And nobody's ever had to sign a loyalty oath to get into a Democratic function.

Mustang Bobby said...

And nobody's ever had to sign a loyalty oath to get into a Democratic function.

Or been thrown out of one for wearing a pro-Bush t-shirt.

Ian McGibboney said...

Nick, I scored a 30 in English on the ACT. Just goes to show you how far standardized tests go...


As for the comments thing: yes, on many occasions I have made careless mistakes while typing on both my blog and other blogs. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I type faster with my left hand than my right. But why you would not always strive for spelling and grammAr excellence is beyond me.

Flamingo Jones said...

I scored a 36 on the English portion of the ACT, and I still make the occasional error.

Of course, those errors then eat away at my soul like grammatical acid, and make me want to fall on my sword.

So, I can see both sides of this argument. Whatever this argument is. I just felt like butting in.

Phillip said...

i scored a 14 on my english portionn of the I See Tee.