Lorenz’s Goose Eggs
Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), the Austrian physician and zoologist who shared the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, hatched a clutch of greylag goose eggs as a young man and found that the newly-hatched goslings “imprinted” on him and would follow him wherever he went as if he were their mother. He later found that they would imprint on whatever they saw moving during a “critical period” after they emerged from the eggs. In goslings that period is from 13 to 16 hours after hatching. That’s how Lorenz became “mother” to a series of baby geese and ducks in subsequent years. He also found that this surrogate motherhood was indelible. Once the little birds had “learned” that the naturalist was their mother there was no “un-learning” it. That might explain why Lorenz often appears in photographs followed by a gaggle of geese.
Lorenz’s understanding of imprinting was further elaborated on by E.H. Hess in 1973. W Sluckin, in a later University of Leicester study, explains Hess’s findings:
Hess emphasizes that the imprintings are a “genetically-programmed learning process.” It includes the animal’s acquiring certain specific objectives during a critical period in its development. This period of acquisition and the links of the imprinting are governed by the laws of primacy and are characterized by their permanence.
From Homespun “Truths” to Hell in a Handbasket
But what does this touching story of the emotional life of waterbirds have to do with the un-brainwashing of America? It turns out that ducks and geese are not the only animals that pass through critical periods in their young lives when they are genetically susceptible to “learning” whatever is put before them. Human beings are, too, especially when it comes to subjects like religion, patriotism and a country’s mythical values. Psychologists Marie E. Hefferman and R. Chris Fraley, maintain in a 2013 paper published in the Journal of Research in Personality that human adults can be imprinted in infancy by parental behaviors. That could explain how American children are instilled from their most susceptible ages with a series of absurd beliefs associated with religion and extravagant claims regarding their country’s history and values. I humbly submit that, if the United States is to regain a healthy perception of its own reality, its citizens must be disembarrassed of all this rosy ideological conditioning. That is to say, they must be un-brainwashed. I’ll go even further. If this litany of mendacity, myths and homespun “truths” are not urgently replaced in the nation’s value set, the consequences could be disastrous.
If you believe in your country right or wrong, whenever your country is wrong you are assenting to crimes against humanity in places like Vietnam, Iraq, Libia and Afghanistan, all invaded by the United States under false pretenses. If you believe that life on this earth is just a vale of tears and that real life begins when you ascend into heaven, you will be inclined to disregard the massive damage being done to your world by unscrupulous industrial interests, e.g. big oil. If you think you are exceptional for having been born in the United States and entitled therefore to exceptional rights and privileges over people from other countries, you are in for some unpleasant surprises. People from other countries are watching you and they don’t like what they see. Similarly, if you think your white skin entitles you to a place at the top of the totem pole, that proves not your racial superiority but your mental and moral inferiority. The truth is this modest brush fire of false beliefs, with a little help from the winds of history, can be whipped into a catastrophic conflagration.
Learning Is Relatively Easy; What’s Hard Is Un-Learning
From the very cradle, most Americans are imprinted with wasteful, damaging ideas such as rugged individualism, American exceptionalism, magical religion, racism and greed. American young people are instilled with a near reverence for egoism, insolidarity, the acceptance of inequality, militarism, patriotism and jingoism. Consumerism and instant gratification are axiomatic in their country. I want it all and I want it now! A visitor from the Bay Area told us recently that his neighbors were brimming with pride because their baby son had pronounced his first words: “credit card.”
Unlearning all that misinformation is not easy. I have come to the conclusion that successful unlearning/unteaching is virtually impossible. Everything that is learned over a period of time as a child is imprinted there forever, no matter how absurd, how damaging to oneself and others, how wasteful nor counter-productive, it’s branded there indelibly on one’s mind and very being.
It’s about the Future
Though it’s almost impossible to change minds, to un-teach and un-learn in retrospect, it might be possible is to work for the future, to start now to teach young people sane and humanitarian thought modes and values. There is no shortage of valid models in the world. Couldn’t the Americans learn from them? Where to start? Holland? Norway? Finland? France? Australia? Japan? Any of those models would do.
The way to save a lot of life-time trying to unlearn negative values is to learn the right things in the first place. How do you do that? Unfortunately, it’s not up to you. It’s up to your parents, your neighbors, your society. In part, at least, it’s a lottery in that respect. Roll the dice: did you come up with a sane, solidary, egalitarian society? Or did you grow up in a warlike, hyper-competitive, misguided, unequal, unsafe, consumerized pressure cooker? Or were you born into a doctrinaire religious sect like the Scientologists, or the Catholic church or the Methodists, or the Baptists? Or the Evangelicals? Or raised in a camper van in a Walmart parking lot? Most Americans think that the winners in this life lottery are the ones who inherit wealth, but that’s not necessarily the case. The rich are damaged, too, because life is not about individual wealth. It’s about shared humanity.
Umair Moved from Business to Something Serious
Umair Haque was a business consultant till he moved on to more serious stuff. Born in California and currently living in England, he is concerned about what he calls “the foundational myths they (the Americans) have been taught to believe.” Here’s an excerpt from an essay he posted recently on his Eudaimonia.com site:
The real question isn’t whether America’s democracy’s dying (it is) — the real question is: why was it so easy to kill? After all, it didn’t take a single bullet. It seems to have fallen all by itself. How curious. How odd. Why, then, would that be?
The answer to that crucial question hides in plain sight. Americans don’t see it, or understand it, yet, though — because it conflicts with the foundational myths they have been taught to believe. The ones they are socialized into — educated about at school, hear repeated in the headlines, and come, all too soon, and without enough critical or reflective thought, examination of history, to proudly believe in — to accept as true. And now they are clinging to just those myths — even while their democracy implodes around them, like ashes pouring from a volcano of rage, fear, greed, and fury.
Which myths do I mean? That America was the land of the free and the home of the brave — that it was the world’s noblest experiment — that it was unique amongst nations in being a haven for the wretched — that people ever lived together in some kind of new Athens on the Atlantic. None of these things were ever true.
Read Umair’s full article here: https://eand.co/why-american-democracy-was-so-easy-to-destroy-735c716efbb5
Clearly, the answer is education, and the earlier the better. The great woman with the key to human well-being is not Ayn Rand; it’s Maria Montessori. The ideal goal is not übermensch superiority; it’s simple humanity starting with generosity and common decency. Young people must learn patience and creativity–essential elements in any of life’s endeavors–before physics.
How do we measure the results of educational reform? The best follow-up study is the existence of a sane, healthy society (SHS) after half a century or so of quality education. There’s Germany, a fair model of an SHS. They began with ashes in 1945, along with Japan, Finland, Holland and Belgium, among others. Portugal started their educational reforms in the mid-1990s and already they’re climbing up in the educational ranking worldwide. It’s not too late to start to emulate those progressive education systems and the sane, healthy societies they lead to.
Effective education solutions do not come cheap. They’re long-term and require expensive infrastructures and well-trained, well-paid and motivated teachers and staff. Almost all of the countries mentioned above offer free public education straight through university and pay their teachers well. We can also add Scotland to that list, but not England. The British, having discovered how a heavy load of student debt (currently around 100 billion pounds) creates intimidated and docile citizens, have adopted the American system. The US and the UK are not valid role models, the first disqualified by racism and hyper-consumerism, the second by their smothering class system and imperial attitudes.
Dystopia to Utopia, an Uphill Trudge
All of this optimistic theorizing about liberal education is mere hot air if there’s no one prepared to formulate and implement a concrete plan. Any American initiatives in this sense will certainly not come from the top down. The American establishment–the military/industrial/congressional complex–has been fabulously successful advancing its septic agenda with the timeworn sea-to-shining-sea mythology. They have no incentive to change the formula now.
President Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, is indicative of a retrograde, anti-public-school agenda. At the time of de Vos’s Senate confirmation process Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called DeVos “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee” since the position became a cabinet position. The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Michigan Democratic Party also opposed DeVos’s nomination.
DeVos, a militant Christian whose $40 million yacht was cut free from its moorings on Lake Erie last summer , is known as a fierce proponent of school vouchers that would allow students to attend private schools with public funding. This, of course, opens the doors to public funding of sectarian religious education. According to The New York Times, it “is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos.”
Given the United States’s current political climate with its time-hardened educational policies and budget cutbacks, what are the chances of progressive education initiatives being introduced and the United States being reformed?