On this week's show, Dr. Fraad talks about why disciplining people to submit is crucial for authoritarian rule. There are three mechanisms three ideological state apparatuses in Althusser's terms. They are more powerful than the police and the army and far more effective at getting people tp submit to authoritarian leaders. They are the authoritarian family, authoritarian religion, and authoritarian education. They work together to teach the lines of dominance and subordination as natural. One obeys to consider oneself a "good boy, a good girl." They are the enemies of revolutionary transformation. This podcast explains how they work, effect personal life, particularly the lives of society's most vulnerable people, women and children, and what we can do to change them.
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Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Today’s topic is Faith, Family and America’s Future. It’s deeply influenced by two great Marxist thinkers: Louis Althusser and Alexandra Kollontai, who both thought about politics, economics, and personal life as well. Both tackled these issues in different eras but stood out as exceptions in the Marxian tradition. Louis Althusser died in 1990. He was one of the great French thinkers,who emerged after World War II, like Jean-Paul Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir, or Foucault or (Lecourt). His work (Louis Althusser’s) was both Marxian and also psychoanalytic. He was a political activist, a writer, and a philosopher. Because France is less conformist and status oriented than the United States, he was the head of France’s most prestigious equivalent of Super Harvard (even more than Harvard) because nobody’s parent can give money to get them into the École normale supérieure, France’s Harvard.
Alexandra Kollontai died in 1952. She was a heroine of the Russian revolution. She was the first female cabinet member in the world. She had been the Minister of Propaganda in the Bolshevik revolution, because she spoke and wrote in eight languages. She was a Marxist, a political activist, a feminist, a theoretician, a political writer, and also a fine novelist.
Back to Althusser. One of Althusser’s great contributions to us studying personal life and politics, is his Theory of Ideological State Apparatuses. There are three ideological State apparatuses: The Authoritarian Family, Authoritarian Religion, and Authoritarian Education. Each wields enormous power, and the power that they wield is much more powerful than the power of the Army and the power of the Police, because they train people to submit to authority from the inside, to understand that they’re nobody much, and they’d better stay subordinate, and obedience is their primary virtue, so that they daren’t step out of line.
An authoritarian family is a family with absolute control and power over its children; that’s usually only possible if the family is isolated. Even where there were extended nuclear families living together, if a parent was irrational, there was a grandparent around, or an aunt or uncle who might step in. Little children live in isolated families in a world of omnipotent giants—their parents. An indication of just how omnipotent they are is that most American child murders (in America) is way ahead of other countries in child murder (rates), because our families are isolated. We don’t live in extended families, we don’t live in collective families, we don’t have quality, State-provided child care centers from birth, on, and we don’t have social workers who visit families routinely as part of a public health package. Children in authoritarian families learn the lines of dominance and subordination to authority, which they consider omnipotent. It’s there in the language, “Yeah, you do it because I said so.” “I beat you for your own good.” “Be good!” which usually means, “Be quiet and don’t give me any trouble.” Fundamentalist child-rearing manuals, which urge authoritarian education and champion it, explicitly advocate breaking children’s wills. James Dobson of Focus on Family, a multi-million-dollar religious fundamentalist foundation and right wing organization, has several best-selling books for fundamentalist parents. In one of his best-selling books for religious fundamentalist parents, “The Strong-Willed Child,” he particularly advocates breaking a child’s will. Here’s a quotation that makes the point that it’s crucial to break a child from independent thinking or action: “Parental Authority is Absolute: As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this self-will in children, ensures thereafter those children’s wretchedness and their faithlessness. Whatever checks and mortifies a child, promotes their future happiness and piety. This is still more evident if we further consider that Christianity is doing nothing less than the Word of God and not our own words; that the one grand impediment to our temporal and internal happiness, is self-will. No indulgence of children’s self-will can be trivial. No denial of children’s self-will will be unprofitable.” Of course the question here—who’s to say what God’s will is—is an impermissible question, which children can’t ask, and neither should their parents, if they’re in a fundamental church.
In a non-authoritarian family that respects a child’s will, a child’s wishes, and his or her ability to understand, children can learn that they are an important part of the family, and what they want and what they think and what they feel is important. In an example, I have a friend whose four-year-old boy was eating at the family table and started eating with his hands. The father stood up, and in a very booming voice, said, “Don’t eat with your hands!” The little boy started crying; he was only four, and he said, “You frightened me. You frightened me, Daddy,” and the father said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t frighten you. You shouldn’t eat with your hands, but I shouldn’t yell at you either; that’s not a way to treat someone.” The Mom chimed in and said, “Yeah, you can’t eat with your hands, but it’s also very scary to yell at people, and that’s not justified either.” The quotation, “Christianity is doing nothing less than the Word of God and not our own; that one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness is this self-will” takes us on to the domain of authoritarian religion.
In authoritarian religion, the priest, the imam, the rabbi or the minister is considered the representative of God’s voice, never to be questioned—even if they sexually abuse you, which is the case across the world. Forty-thousand Irish orphans in Irish-religious orphanages testified that they submitted to physical violence and rape because they were told it was God’s will, and they were taught that God’s will was the priest’s and the nun’s will and they must submit.
Children are to recognize their subordinate relationship to absolute authority. That is true in authoritarian education as well. The teacher is the absolute authority to which you must submit. You learn what the teacher wants, you learn to obey, and you don’t ask questions, particularly questions that might challenge the teacher. A dear friend of mine, who grew up as a kind of street urchin because his parents worked in factories’ very long days, so he grew himself up, was tested and (it was) found that he was a genius on the standardized tests. So, the local yeshiva gave him a full scholarship, which his Orthodox-believing parents found to be a great honor. The first week during religion class, he piped up and said, “Wait a minute! That doesn’t make sense! Hold on, hold on!” and the teacher told him to get to the Principal. He got to the Principal, who was a rabbi, and said, “Why are you here?” He explained, “He was sayin’ this, and that doesn’t make any sense,” and the rabbi slapped him across the face. He then proceeded to punch that rabbi right in the nose, because he thought in his few interactions with his father, his father had told him, “Listen, don’t go lookin’ for trouble, but somebody hits you, you get ‘em right back!” He (the son) wasn’t brought to temple, he was out on the street by himself most of the time.
I remember when I was at PS 81 in the Bronx, a very authoritarian school, the teacher was talking about Christmas customs and burning the yule log. I raised my hand and said, “Well, won’t that burn Santa Claus when he comes down the chimney?” and she yanked me out of my seat, dragged me to the front of the room, and knocked my head against the blackboard because I was asking an insolent question, to her mind; that’s authoritarian education, where the point is, “Don’t you dare challenge the authority.”
If we return to Althusser’s first Ideological State Apparatus, the authoritarian family, we can look at the situations of children and parents in the United States. Startling statistics give us clues as to what is wrong with isolated authoritarian families. For example, the murder rate in Iceland is 1.8 people a year, with many of those murders committed by people outside Iceland; 1.8 murders for everyone, zero murders of children. The United States is the leader in murder among all of the developed nations in the world. In the United States, there are 500 murders a year, of children; that’s just the numbers of murdered children, and they are overwhelmingly murdered by their authoritarian families, by their parents or designated relatives. Why are their parents under such pressure? Parents in the United States, unlike those of the other developed nations, are saddled with costs. The burden of children’s care is staggering to most families. Licensed infant and toddler daycare is unaffordable, which is probably why 85 percent (according to government statistics) of childcare centers in the United States are substandard in their quality. On average, U.S. childcare for infants and toddlers is $1,230 a month, just about $15,000 a year to provide childcare for one child. Of course, if you have two children it’s doubled. The median income in the United States is $45,646 a year. So, for one child you would use up a third of your income, if you had the child in the daycare center. If you had a child in a family care center, with a woman who takes care of a few kids, it is slightly less but still unaffordable. In Iceland, all of Scandinavia and France, infant daycare can’t ever take less than 10 percent of your income, because all childcare centers are government regulated, are quality, and are subsidized by the government. So, childcare costs of parents for children, are staggering, and therefore parents are under huge pressure. It isn’t because parents in the United States have guns—why there are all the murders—no, some parents kill their children with guns; however, Iceland and Finland have quite a few guns but they just don’t shoot their families. In part, because the pressures on families—the pressures that are really resented, are the huge economic burdens on families. “Who is this kid who disobeys and costs me this much?” For families with only one income (and remember, 42 percent of America’s children are born outside of a two-parent family) or with minimum wage jobs, their struggle is even harder. Families across the country are struggling to afford the cost of daycare, and what they pay in daycare costs, of course, doesn’t translate into any high-quality care, because our government doesn’t regulate childcare and doesn’t subsidize child care. So, the parents are under huge pressure from their children’s maintenance. They pay on average, 30 percent of their income for childcare. In Iceland, and in Sweden, Norway, France, etc., they pay less than 10 percent of their income for childcare until public schools starts; in France, at two years old, and in Iceland at six. However, they are so subsidized that the care can never be more than 10 percent of their income.
In the United States, just giving birth to a child is an enormous burden. Vaginal deliveries in the United States cost women about $4,300 out of pocket. The out-of-pocket is referring to people who are fully insured. If they are unlucky enough to need a cesarean birth, the costs go up to $5,161, and of course that is for people with full insurance coverage. People without insurance pay eight times more. When things go wrong, the mother has raised blood pressure, if a child is a premature birth or needs medical care afterward, the costs spiral into hundreds of thousands of dollars; even with insurance, to thousands and thousands of dollars. While the data are limited, experts in medical debt say that the childbirth costs factor into bankruptcies in America every year, and that’s according to an article in 2018 in The Guardian newspaper, as well as in medical journals in the United States. Icelandic parents, like French parents, Swedish parents, and most other parents in the developed nations, pay nothing for delivery or any maternity care. In fact, in Norway the Norwegian government, according to the Norwegian government’s own website, pays mothers over $6,000 when they deliver a child. They are then paid a $160-a-month child allowance until their child turns 18. The French government pays $120 a month until a child turns 18, unless there are several children in a family, and then they pay more. Icelandic parents are guaranteed nine months of maternity or paternity leave, and then another nine months of paid family leave, and these are paid leaves. During their leaves they are paid 80 percent of their income, but it is capped if you make an income of more than $520 thousand dollars a year. They are not very exceptional, it’s the U.S. which is exceptional. The U.S. (government) gives no paid maternity or paternity leave. There is another huge burden on parents for being parents, which may not help these parents to be patient with their children’s demands. Authoritarian parents may want to extract complete obedience, because they just can’t afford the stress of explaining and going over with the child, and hearing a child’s point of view.
As I pointed out before, authoritarian religions encourage extracting total obedience from children. Philip Greven has a book on fundamentalist childrearing. If you look at Focus on Families, any of their child-rearing books advocate total obedience and breaking children’s wills. If we look in our own city, in New York (because that’s where I live), at success academies, which are subsidized, they are charter schools and they are champions of authoritarian education. Children have to sit upright with their hands folded at all times. They are not even allowed to go to the bathroom without being timed, so they don’t spend too much time in the toilet. They’re not allowed to leave when they have to go to the bathroom, except for certain certified times. So, if someone has an illness they could soil themselves and humiliate themselves at school.
Authoritarian families, authoritarian religions, and authoritarian education works hand in hand to shape children who think they are really good people, if they don’t question the rules and they never disobey. Those children are ripe to graduate and go on to be obedient citizens in an authoritarian government, to which they submit without questions. They admire the authority, even an irrational one; they obey orders and they don’t question. The German film, “The White Ribbon” is a wonderful film, showing how German childrearing before World War II created the conditions for fascism and submission to fascism. Our isolated and debt-burdened parents, authoritarian schools, and authoritarian religions prepare Americans to obey autocrats, who demand loyalty and unquestioning obedience. Many private schools offer the opposite, just as the success academies, and many other charter schools, and the Christian schools advocated for by our Education Commissioner, Betsy DeVos, want children to recite, to be quiet, to listen, and to never challenge authority; whereas, a non-authoritarian education does just the opposite. A lot of very expensive private schools follow non-authoritarian principles. They usually cost—the lowest cost is $40,000 a year. They often train children of the elites to be leaders, to ask questions, to challenge, to innovate, and to think rather than obey without question. So, they are preparing people to lead rather than to follow orders. A non-authoritarian education helps children to figure things out. The difference, I can tell you, in terms of geography. At PS 81 we learned geography by coloring in the countries and memorizing the shape and the name of the country. We had no idea what was going on in their country, why anybody settled in a particular place, or what geography was really about. It’s a very different approach from the kind of approach where you say, “Okay, let’s say you’re a person and you have no city, no streets, and you’re trying to figure out where to live, what would you need,” and you elicit from the children that you need water, you need to be able to get food, you need to be able to be in a safe place, and then you look at how countries developed and how cities developed, with rivers and oceans, and arable land that people could till for food and a reasonable climate; how all civilizations started in areas of Africa, which had plenty of sun, which had rich land, and which had water flow through them.
In the same way, a non-authoritarian religion encourages people to explore what is there spirit, what connects them, what is the bigger picture that connects them to other people and to their lives, so that they can question and share as equals. A quality education would be possible for all children, which was advocated in the early 70s, and that was the idea of educational parks that all the resources from, all these isolated schools in very different neighborhoods would be combined to quality educational parks, which had all the enrichments that a private school can have. All the children would be bussed and there would be special campuses for littler kids, for slightly older kids, and for high school kids. There would be after-school programs, so it wouldn’t only be rich kids who got music lessons, ballet lessons, computer lessons, robotics clubs, and they would be enriched from the public coffers because we would not have to pay for each individual school building and equip each. So, there are alternatives to authoritarian education. There are alternatives to isolated nuclear families also. Partly, there are alternatives like the childcare centers that are all over the other developed countries. There are also even more alternatives that are mainly suppressed in our country. After World War II, when there were so many children who were homeless and orphaned, alternatives to the nuclear family sprung up and there are still some that exist in the world. There were other ways to bring up children; radical alternatives born of changed circumstances; in Europe with World War II, in Russia after Russia’s civil war and their revolution, and I’ll start by describing some of them that were started in Europe after World War II. One of them is called Kloster Indersdorf. [I only found about these things, by the way, because I really wanted to know, because they’re not readily available]. Kloster Indersdorf is covered in a book called, “The Rage to Live” by Anna Andlauer and Sarah Moskovitz, and it’s about children who were from concentration camps, and who were orphaned and displaced people during World War II, who were sent to Kloster Indersdorf in Germany, from toddlers to kids of about 16, some of whom had no idea about what happened to them and their parents, and they were cared for by the U.N. Refugee Administration in ways that nurtured them, gave them individual expression, allowed them to talk and to process what happened, and to ask questions. Those children went on to be productive citizens, even though they often began their lives in concentration camps and experienced terrible things. Another example is of the children’s colonies that were set up in Russia after the civil war and the revolution. During that time, children formed predatory gangs where the older kids were in charge, and they went around and robbed people in order to get enough food on which to live. What they started then were children’s colonies. Their great educator was a guy named Anton S. Makarenko, who started these colonies where children ran the whole colony. Where they were trained to work with the staff, and to be given responsibilities and authority, and they ran the place, but with the help of the teachers. They were entirely self-sufficient after a while. They made their own food, they made their own clothes. When a kid came into the colony they had a welcoming ceremony with their brass band from the colony, and bestowed on that child the uniform made by the colony. They even had older kids watching the greenhouses at night, to make sure that if the weather changed they could do something about it, and the flowers wouldn’t freeze. In Russia today, there are the (Kittez) Communitarian Homes, where children who were so badly abused and neglected that they were taken from their parents, go into a system of family homes, with some of the people’s natural children and some of the children from these homes, where everyone is committed to child development—from the gardeners, to the cooks, to the parents—where people meet collectively and talk collectively. The idea is to take children from criminally abusive families, and show them that people together can make a better life. They have had tremendous success, which is interesting, since they started out in life so very injured.
So, how do we save Americans from submitting to irrational authorities in this country, when many have been raised in authoritarian families, authoritarian churches, and authoritarian schools? Well, the first thing we would have to do is change the situation of the United States families’ huge individual financial burdens for children. Then, we would have to change family isolation by providing superb childcare, the way they do in most of the OECD nations, and they do in all of the Scandinavian nations and France; public care that doesn’t cost money, and can never cost more than 10 percent of a parent’s income. We also need to study other collective forms of child rearing from the start, because 1 in 10 children now in the United States, spends some time in foster care, because the opiate crisis has knocked out their parents, because their parents have proved unfit to bear the heavy burdens of childcare in our society, so that you have to create alternatives, and there are alternatives, so that we could create childhoods and adulthoods free of ideological state apparatuses of authoritarian religions, authoritarian families, and also authoritarian education. We can do that; it’s doable in the rest of the world, and of course it’s doable in our country as well. If we preoccupy ourselves with devoting one-third of the money we devote to creating armaments—one-third of $1 trillion dollars—we could make huge headway of changing family isolation and the conditions for children and families, and changing authoritarian religions by creating a spiritual environment for everyone, and also creating non-authoritarian education that teaches children to challenge, to question, to treat each other well, and to be in a collective. We are a very backward country in these ways. If we want people to really be independent thinkers, we have to as a left, address these situations that have to do with childcare, maternity care, healthcare, education, religion, and family, and stop leaving utterly vulnerable children in the care of a totalitarian family, where they have so few choices and where they’re not urged to question and urged to accept themselves as people. Even if they have to be civilized and relate to other people, to accept their impulses. A good example is, I remember when my daughter was about two, I got her and my son ice cream cones and she started to cry. I said, “Why are you crying?” and she said, “I wanted both cones and I only have one.” I said, “Of course you did. Everybody wants both, but you can’t have both because he (her brother) wants both, too. Everybody wants it all, and we have to share or nobody will get a chance.” She accepted that, even though she was only two. You can allow children to want what they want, need what they need, and be accepted for who they are, so they learn that their own feelings and their own reactions are reasonable. They’re sometimes unreasonable, they sometimes can’t be allowed, but they are allowed as people to have reactions, to challenge things, to try to understand and to not just accept and submit. Sometimes when children do have to obey—whether they want to or not, to let them know, “I’m sorry, you have to do what I say, I’m in charge of your life, and I’ve decided that’s the most important thing to do. Later, we both may think that’s a mistake, but right now you have to do it.” That’s enabling people to understand, to think for themselves, to be okay as people, and not to blindly obey, which is terribly dangerous.
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Transcript by Ann Ford
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