AST– A Better Metaphor, Part One

I can’t commit to one thing or another.

Art or science, I mean. It’s a self image thing, I know I don’t have the education for science, but I also can’t compete artistically, so . . . so I’m afraid I abuse them both, using one as a hedge against the other, doing disservice to all. We’re all special, though, right? I like to imagine that I rule in my field – it’s just that my field doesn’t, what’s the word, exist. If it did, I figure I’d be the go to guy, the SME, subject matter expert, and science or art be damned, just so long as someone listens to me. I can’t tell. Was that about even, half funny, half pathetic?

At this age, having studied this non-thing for much of my adult life, I have at last produced at least a name for it: Antisocialization Theory, or AST.

Having said that, perhaps I’m not using the term ‘theory’ in it’s most concrete way. It’s more like an attitude, or an environment in which to theorize, a framework. Now, considering the incumbent attitude or framework around the issues that AST addresses, namely child discipline and child abuse, criminal justice and social engineering, we may wish to de-loft AST even more, because what AST would replace isn’t scientific theory either, or even a loose collection of scientific observations, really, it’s only a meme, or a loose collection of memes. What AST offers is perhaps not quite science, but a new metaphor, and considering the traction hard science lacks in the areas looked after by social science, a new metaphor is possibly the better and more powerful thing anyway. The old metaphor is certainly powerful, if not in its success then at least in its failure. What am I defining as our present metaphor about child discipline and child abuse, criminal justice and social engineering?

Talk to me about spanking, or if not, about “consequences,” that is the current story we tell ourselves.

I’ve heard it so many times online and IRL and I’ve argued against it from a powerless, ghost in the machine sort of a stance for so long that I can’t bear to type it for you. Go ahead, you tell me. I’m afraid if I say it I won’t be fair about it. But that story, about what must happen and how consequences make it happen and about how what must happen might never happen without our consequences – I knew it, see? I’ve got an attitude about it, I’m sorry – that is the current metaphor among proponents of any sort of discipline of children. That is the prevailing metaphor for parenting. If it’s not where you live, then never mind, consider yourself exempted.

I’m not sure if that demographic would enjoy their central parenting idea described as a meme, or even ‘not scientific,’ so I’ve decided to try to make the case that one, metaphors are all we have in these areas, and two, that as such they are sort of irrefutable in the sense that general rules of logic do not really work within them, that these sorts of schools of thought or social constructs are specialized sets of logical rules for the mode of operation established through the meme. The point is one I feel every time I make some point that seems bold and logical to me and see it crash unheard and unnoticed on the rock of the old paradigm. I’ve felt it from the dullest and the brightest folks imaginable, my ‘logic’ and yours cannot hear one another. Yes, me too: the “consequences” story lacks causality for me, the conclusions simply don’t follow. Having said that . . .

Despite that we all must think we’re right, that we are dependent upon our own brains and faculties and so there is no percentage in thinking we’re not up to it, the overwhelming numbers of people living the consequences narrative arrayed against me in this clash of metaphors have convinced me to treat it as a fair contest, a level playing field. They – you – might be right. Or, it may simply be a matter of that metaphors aren’t right or wrong, they’re just preferable or not, they’re just taking us closer to our goals or not – in which case it’s the goal that is the sanity test for the meme. The point of that sentence was that reality is not a check for the meme; who needs a metaphor if it’s identical to reality? Metaphors are for when the reality is either unknown or unfriendly to our goals.

In the case of the prevailing child-rearing metaphor, I think I can lay out clearly that it’s the latter, that in other contexts, when speaking from the other of our two faces about it, we do indeed know this reality. That only one side of our personality knows it means that one side is at odds with the goal. I want to leave us with this question for now, having spent this entire blog merely trying to set up the context for it. Again, for this meme, fill in the generalities for yourselves –

. . . that story, about what must happen and how consequences make it happen and about how what must happen might never happen without our consequences . . .

 – what is the goal?

I know, everybody knows, but please, indulge me. Write your answers down (use the reply button, I promise not to be confrontational about it) if you’re following me, if you’re following this train of thought. It is far too easy to rationalize our way out of this little trap I’m setting when it all takes place between and so behind our ears, in the privacy of our biologically motivated minds.

Damnit, look at that, will you. The artist has chloroformed the philosopher and taken over again, apparently dosing himself in the process. Sorry folks, all I can do is switch off his microphone. Next time.


March 5th., 2017

Here’s the whole series:

and a bonus nipple-twister:

9 thoughts on “AST– A Better Metaphor, Part One

  1. Benjamin David Steele March 5, 2017 / 11:44 am

    I’m never quite sure what is my opinion about childrearing. But I like your question, what is the goal? I would apply that question to the discussion about childrearing itself. What is really being discussed? That has occurred to me with other issues, such as abortion. All culture war issues are similar, typically dealing with some combination of marriage, family, sex, and gender.

    This is what I explore with my own theory of symbolic conflation. Early on, I realized that people often used symbolic issues as proxies for indirectly dealing with what really concerns them. At the heart of these concerns is always found issues of the social order and social control. Obviously, that has much to do with parenting and childrearing, what kind of children and hence what kind of society is being created.


  2. Benjamin David Steele March 5, 2017 / 3:08 pm

    I came across another example. Someone posted it in a comment on my blog. After reading your last comment to me in Part #2, I realized that it related.

    You know about the whole Tiger Mom thing. It is about a particular parenting style, but specifically in terms of promoting a stereotype of Asians, that of the model minority. The following interview with historian Ellen Wu discusses all of this, in talking about her book “The Color of Success”.

    The model minority is a symbol. It represents how we perceive, justify, defend, reinforce, and maintain the social order. And it isn’t just about the national social order but the geopolitical social order. The combined frame of race/ethnicity and family/parenting allow for a carefully constrained public debate. The framing determines the conclusion made.

    I would note that fear plays a central role in symbolic conflation and social control. But it isn’t abstract fear. It’s concretely real, viscerally felt, and emotionally potent.

    Here it is:

    [b]I think a lot of people believe that the model minority stereotype came out of the huge surge of highly educated Asians who started coming to the United States after 1965. But as your book shows, I think, the causality actually runs the other way.[/b]

    It’s mutually reinforcing. At the time that the United States did this major immigration law overhaul in 1965, policymakers decided that the nation should select its immigrants based on how they could contribute to the economy (and also to reunify families). So what we start to see is people coming to the United States with these credentials and backgrounds and training, and they seem to confirm some of the ideas that are already there — that Asian Americans are model minorities.

    My book stops in the late 1960s, but what I think has happened since then is that the model minority stereotype story has really shifted away from the original ideas of patriotism and anti-communism. We now fixate more on education. There’s the image of the tiger mom focused on getting her kid into Harvard. That emphasis also speaks to a shift in the American economy, how upward mobility really depends on having a certain kind of educational training.

    And the anxieties about Asians have never really gone away. Now they’re portrayed as our global competitors. So underlying the praise there’s also this fear. […]

    [b]Sometimes in America, it feels like there are only so many racial buckets that people can fall into. With increased immigration from South Asia and Southeast Asia, for instance, it seemed like lot of the newcomers were swept up into this model minority narrative.[/b]

    What happened in 1965 is that we opened up the gates to large-scale immigration from places like Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. From Asia, you get large numbers of people coming from South Asia, the Philippines, Korea. Then by the 1970s, the United States is fighting a war in Southeast Asia, so you get this refugee migrant stream. And you’re right, they’re stepping into this predetermined racial landscape, these preconceived notions about how Asians are.

    But as a historian, as someone who thinks about race in American life for a living, I also think that the “model minority” category has only a limited usefulness now in terms of our analysis. We talk about it as a common stereotype, but it doesn’t explain the whole scope of Asian American life today — especially since 9/11, when you have communities of South Asians who are Muslims or Sikhs now being racially targeted or labeled as terrorists. So that has become another stereotype of Asians these days.

    [b]I think that underscores maybe the meta-narrative of your book — how we in America have always viewed ethnic and racial minorities through the lens of politics and geopolitics, right? In terms of international relations, in terms of what kind of image we want to project to the world, and in terms of what our national anxieties about other countries are.[/b]

    Absolutely, that’s the link. The model minority stereotype and the terrorist stereotype are related, I agree, in how they speak to the geopolitical anxieties of their times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff/neighsayer March 5, 2017 / 3:36 pm

      LOL – I’m embarrassed to say both that I’ve never heard the concept before and that the two words weren’t enough, that I couldn’t even guess what it meant, “model minority!” It’s a real deal obviously, but it’s also sort of a hilarious cynical joke, isn’t it, such a dark concept couched in such a nice-sounding term. Wow.

      Liked by 1 person

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