Socialization and Bourgeois Institutions
“The other major group of emotions is the social emotions. The label is a bit odd, since all emotions can be social and are often so, but the label is justifiable given the unequivocal social setting of these particular phenomena. Examples of the main social emotions easily justify the label: compassion, embarrassment, shame, guilt, contempt, jealousy, envy, pride, admiration.” (Damasio)
“Nature and nurture become one during development, and the line between organic and functional has dissolved into what is now called experience-dependent plasticity. This term means that our brains are structured and restructured by interactions with our social and natural environments” (Cozolino).
“In examining the way our brains analyze rewards, Schultz stated, ‘The brain not only detects and analyzes past events, it also constructs and dynamically modifies predictions about future events on the basis of previous experience” (Schultz & Dickenson, 2000).
The educational system as it exists today, exacerbates and neglects much of the fundamental elements which produce oppression and class division by providing a sort of “rat race” for people to compete within in exchange for a promise of more privileged positions in society vis-à-vis higher pay. At the same time it is important to note that this desire for general education—the acquisition of knowledge—is itself a noble pursuit. However, such a system under capitalism necessitates competition while also limiting the information that is available to students. The result is a steadily controlled population of each class within capitalism, maintained such that wealth can be rewarded to one at the expense of the many. This is expressed through test taking, limited admissions, the existence of campus police that repress social movements on campus under the guise of protecting student safety, and the steadily rising price of tuition.
It is unfortunate that so much of this cultural grooming should occur in our formative years because that is precisely when the mind is most pliable and receptive to social stimuli that purport to teach what is necessary in the “real world,” i.e. the labor market. In the classrooms of these institutions designed for ladder climbing, the relationship between student and teacher is one-sided. This relationship is focused upon what Paulo Friere describes as the “Banking Method” of education, where teachers are superior resources of information, depositing their worthwhile knowledge of a given subject into the minds of what the system considers to be inherently ignorant students. Students, who then must retrieve (or “withdraw” to continue the metaphor) the knowledge they have accumulated over the course of their institutional education, “spending” it in order to successfully pass tests and other formalized methods of knowledge evaluation. The teacher in this situation is not necessarily to be blamed for their dehumanizing practices, rather it is the hierarchical nature of the educational institutions which have been erected by both the government and private companies who decide upon a standard of “education” to be applied universally, within the boundaries of the budgets they decide upon at the expense of the people. This restricts creativity, ingenuity, and genuine dialogue between students and teachers while also discouraging individual efforts towards self-education and empowerment.
Here we find an alienation similar that which is experienced by workers in the labor market wherein students, teachers, and campus workers who are the lifeblood of the institution at which they labor both physically and intellectually, do not make decisions which affect the nature of the institution by shaping it according to their own wills and interests. Instead there is only a shrinking population that is allowed the opportunity to assimilate and perform according to figures of authority at the top of the institutional hierarchy. If we look at the people who govern these institutions collectively we see the general interests of the bourgeoisie reflected in their decisions. This is most explicitly expressed in the context of capital, where the “budget” must be set such that more capital is gained than spent (or at least as much capital is gained as possible). When the rate of profit in the private sector or the budget of social institutions in the public sector is sufficiently low enough to motivate the gradual restriction of those allowed the profit of capital or the benefit of education, the result is the general denial of teachers’ and students’ agency as well as a decrease in access to educational institutions under capitalism. “The right to education” under class-based society really exists only as a reward for individuals with sufficient resources to endure the assimilation of their intellectual life into bourgeois academic culture in exchange for higher pay. Any institution that cannot accept and adapt to criticism and new analyses is a dead and stagnant one. In the context of emerging neurological studies on human consciousness critical re-evaluation of social institutions is all but too important:
Understandably, and with rare exceptions, the weight given to evidence coming from brain science and cognitive science has been negligible. Now there is a growing fear that evidence regarding brain function, as it becomes more widely known, may undermine the application of laws, something that legal systems have by and large avoided by not taking such evidence into account. But the response has to be nuanced. The fact that everyone capable of knowing is responsible for his actions does not mean that the neurobiology of consciousness is irrelevant to the process of justice and to the process of education charged with preparing future adults to an adaptive social existence. On the contrary, lawyers, judges, legislators, policy-makers, and educators need to acquaint themselves with the neurobiology of consciousness and decision-making. This is important to promote the writing of realistic laws and to prepare future generations for responsible control of their actions.(Damasio)
A humanizing institution of education would be universally accessible, allowing for a malleability that adapts to the democratic will and decisions of students, teachers, and campus workers. Such a campus would be adequately equipped with resources that would thoroughly sate the all of basic needs of teachers, campus workers, and students such as food, shelter, and all academic resources that facilitate learning. An institution that purports to be concerned exclusively with education must also acknowledge and remove the plight of workers, students, and teachers under class oppression. It must strive to create an educational atmosphere that bests all of its predecessors. This is a fundamental right to education. An educational movement that adopts this as their main vocation would fight to remove any obstacle to this human right:
When did this game of life become so unfair that we blame individuals rather than the circumstances that prevent them from achievement? This is known as the fundamental attribution error in human reason. When other people screw up it’s because they are stupid or losers but when I screw up it’s because of my circumstances. The self illusion makes the fundamental attribution error an easy fallacy to accept. Also, putting all the blame on the individual self is tantamount to excusing all the policies that create inequality in our society. Maybe it’s time to redress this imbalance by rethinking success or failure not so much as issues of the self alone, but more of society in general(Hood)
The institutions that make up “the media” pre-package images saturated with information about the world, creating sufficiently salient information that can then be digested by viewers, readers, and the like. Divisions of the media are concerned with providing entertainment and news about the world that surrounds us. Ostensibly, this information is objective (or is at least subjectively pleasing). However, this perspective ignores the interests of profit making capital that articulates such a system. Even assuming the validity of the information presented by media corporations does not compromise its reliability in providing information which is sufficiently useful to the oppressed; even this understandingstill ignores the role that humans have in constructing the manner in which information is presented to the general public, who deliberately utilize strategies and methods which play upon human emotion and cultural knowledge. Here we have the seeds of prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination where previous experiences, be they the narrow presentation of the media or the limited interactions in an alienated society, misinform minds about real people and real situations:
These implicit predictions allow us to benefit from past learning by having them available in situations the brain deems relevant (Shultz & Dickenson, 2000). Of course, the brain isn’t always right and often misapplies past experience to present situations, resulting in prejudice, transference, and all sorts of interpersonal distortions (Cozolino).
Such is the substance of a human mind experiencing the sensory input that is provided by media. Here we find a peculiar byproduct of human nature where the same drives which allow us to become “fit” for society also make us vulnerable to emotional manipulation resulting in a type of socialization characterized by the interests of capital. As a result, we see fear and stress slowly dominating the drives we depend upon for success:
All this effort, complicated in its orchestration and costly in the amount of energy it consumes—that is why being emotional is so bloody tiring—tends to have a useful purpose, and it often does. But it may not. Fear may be nothing but a false alarm induced by a culture gone awry. In those instances, rather than saving your life, fear is an agent of stress, and stress over time destroys life, mentally and physically. The upheaval has negative consequences (Damasio).
While there are sufficient moral implications to this practice alone, there are more subtle consequences of a people that depend on these mediums of information in their day-to-day socialization. It is when a population becomes dependent on these mediums that the media becomes a sort of cultural thermometer in which people check their own internal emotions against the emotional content presented to them by the media. Here is a feedback loop in which an emotional stimulus is presented to a mind, which then judges and creates what it believes to be an appropriate belief or orientation based upon a history of experience with the subject, interpreted and checked now in real time against how the subject is being presented by a particular media company or institution.
Stated plainly, those who enjoy the privilege of commanding a hierarchical media institution (perhaps inadvertently) also decide on what is culturally “normal” or “righteous” as well as what is “abnormal” or generally “negative.” This is most easily observable in the political coverage of events that embody the human struggle towards liberation. Some concrete examples include the coverage of war, strikes, government actions, company policies, and matters that concern “human nature” as presented by the entertainment industry at large:
Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt about the social utility of the finished products is removed”(Theodore Adorno).
This dynamic is problematic wherever the perspectives and interests of people (oppressed people in particular) are in direct contradiction with the perspectives of the media. This fundamental contradiction is produced because the people and events interpreted by the media are not truly representative of the humanizing interests of the people. The people are left with very few mediums of cultural transmission and communication that are not directly influenced or controlled by resources employed by capital, and as a result reproduce the dehumanizing notions of popular media. The consequence of this is a population of people who continually act on poisonous profit driven misinformation that forwards the interests of the oppressing bourgeois class. This is a major obstacle to international solidarity between oppressed persons in the struggle to end oppression by class; “Capitalism is to be condemned because it blunts sensitivity instead of sharpening it” (Novack & Mandel).
The state, which is a physical representation of the interests of the ruling class, poses itself as a violent obstacle to the survival of individuals who fall out of favor with the state. This relationship embodies yet another major negatively motivating stimulus in the social environment which demands assimilation to a law that is decided upon by the most privileged members of society who work in concert with the bourgeoisie. Indeed, the law as put forward by the state does much interpreting for the people. The very potential for violence is enough to thoroughly discourage any behaviors the state deems problematic, thus tainting the “illegal” behaviors in the minds of those people who do not make up the state, serving to further desensitize people to oppression at large. This is to say nothing of illegal behaviors that are a reaction to a thoroughly depraved society such as those “crimes” committed by depressed impoverished masses. Thus it follows that fear becomes the primary agent of submission within a state ruled by violence and on behalf of the ruling class. The state itself is represented by the media as benevolent, just, and trustworthy despite its active role in repressing the oppressed, further strengthening the state against its victims.
Spirituality itself presents a certain type of escape from the negative weight of oppression on human minds. For believers, it provides a free immaterial substance that strengthens the resolve of oppressed people in order to endure oppression. At the same time, spirituality poses no direct threat to the material machinations of oppression wherever it invents causes of suffering or discourages a genuine search for causal elements of oppression by substituting immaterial explanations for true humanizing knowledge. This does not include the agency of communities that have been brought together by spirituality. The actions they accomplish and have accomplished do not reflect the will of any spiritual entity, but rather the power of any group of people that has recognized an obstacle to liberation. The very expression of spirituality represents a certain degree of existential grief in the face of oppression. The result is a deluded people who have become content with an impossible dream world of righteousness and balance.
All of these environmental stimuli as presented to the human mind provide it with “value stamped stimuli,” where “value” in this case represents emotional information which is recalled and deliberated upon by the faculties of human consciousness for the purpose of making behavioral decisions in real time. Posed differently, the decisions each individual makes within a class or caste based society are thoroughly influenced by the emotional salience of money, commodities, social privilege, race, and authority. This begs the question, “what would we do if we were not socialized to take into consideration the effects of these negative, oppressive, and unfair institutions when we socialize amongst ourselves?’ Less abstractly, we can study the consequences of decisions that either reinforce or deconstruct oppression. An honest analysis of these social factors must be generally accessible to society so that its members can then make new decisions that will influence the trajectory of the evolution of humanizing revolutionary social environments.
It is important to note that many of the conclusions to be drawn from such an extensive analysis would necessarily invalidate many current cultural beliefs and rationalizations of “normal” behaviors that actually strengthen systems of oppression. Already there are many challenges to cultural suppositions, which serve as foundational landmarks for oppressive institutions that have been posed by neuroscientists critical theorists, and the genuine validity of oppressed people’s understanding of their own oppressive living situations. Within this wealth of experience and human knowledge it becomes very feasible to make conclusive statements about the consequences of reactionary (oppressive) behaviors and institutions measured against that of humanizing behaviors and actions. This is done by measuring the effects the existing societal structure has on human minds in addition to how they are manipulated in favor of the ruling class against the oppressed.
This measurement can be accomplished by studying relevant brain structures as they are employed in certain social contexts/environments in order to interpret moral or emotional data:
The evidence for nonconscious processing has increased unabated. Our economic decisions are not guided by pure rationality and are significantly influenced by powerful biases such as the aversion to losses and the delight in gains. The way we interact with others is influenced by a large array of biases having to do with gender, race, manners, accents, and attire. The setting of the interaction brings its own set of biases linked to familiarity and design. The concerns and emotions we were experiencing prior to the interaction play an important role too, as does the hour of the day: Are we hungry? Are we sated? We express or give indirect signs of preferences for human faces at lightning speed without having had time to process consciously the data that would have backed up a corresponding reasoned inference, which is all the more reason to be extra careful with important decisions in our personal and civic lives…This is all the more important if you are voting in an election or on a jury. One of the major problems faced by voters in political elections and in courtroom trials is the strength of emotional/nonconscious factors. (Damasio)
There is a great danger that arises from rejecting the need for such a communal analysis of society that is embodied within the illusion of “equal opportunity;” the belief that all members of a class based society are afforded the same opportunity to acquire a particular degree of societal privilege. Privilege, in this instance, represents the acquisition of a lifestyle wherein a person’s commodity-based desires are attainable. This privilege contents them with oppression, on a local scale as well as an international scale, on the basis that it brings individual satisfaction in the present. This privileged belief rewards those who believe in it with the abhorrent delusion that everyone who does not own an amount of capital which contents them with their present position deserves nothing more than what they have managed to earn in capitalist society. Expressed crudely, “the poor deserve to be poor and the rich deserve to be rich.” Granted, this is not always explicitly stated. The social information presented by society to the mind does not permanently remain in the forefront of people’s conscious awareness as they make social decisions, yet at the same time this data, acquired through experience, informs our emotional systems on a subconscious level in such a way that these emotional reactions to our environment sometimes reach conscious awareness if they are sufficiently salient.
In the context of oppression where we must deal squarely with other people’s hardships, people rationalize their own feelings towards the subject of oppression of any nature. Through the social network of neurons that aid us in navigating social environments, people come to a realization or conclusion that sufficiently justifies their own individual decisions. At the same time, the social brain reaches a final decision regarding the actions of other people in relation to a given instance of human suffering. Where there is conflict involving the well being of some people at the expense of others’ suffering a particular willingness to become apathetic emerges in many minds that have in their experience come into contact with reactionary ideological illusions. In this way illusions promoted by the bourgeoisie protect their own economic and social interests, while also safeguarding individual narratives of existence that people make for themselves within a capitalist society, against empathetic reactions for people who are perhaps more blatantly oppressed than others. In this process an individual becomes imbued with the sense that they have chosen the correct orientation towards the existence of capital, and for that reason they will continually be rewarded, along with every other person who behaves in the same manner. Such are the substances of privilege and illusions inspired by capital:
Our experience of the world is constructed around the notion of the isolated self, and it is from this perspective that Western science has explored the brain. Yet, even though we cherish the idea of individuality, we live with the paradox that we constantly regulate each others’ internal biological states” (DeVries et al., 2003; Hofer, 1984, 1987). [Louis Cozolino]
The consequence of this social dynamic is an apathetic population that begins to encourage more apathy while condemning empathy. Thus, liberation becomes irrelevant in a mind so affected by class-based apathy.