Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.
In a recent mailing, Carolyn Baker, a historian and psychologist, noted that our society presently devalues drama–invoking, for instance, the moniker, “No Drama Obama,” and the disparaging of “drama queens.” Baker infers from this a “numbing” of emotion.
In short, we aren’t supposed to get angry even in the face of injustice, and we are not to expect even emotional support from our friends and relatives. There’s something of an inconsistency as Obama faces heavy criticism for a leadership style that fails to express appropriate emotion.
Psychologists and interpersonal communication scholars accept as fundamental that anger can be a defense mechanism. Appropriateness depends both on how it is expressed and how the audience interprets its expression. But our society’s repudiation of “drama” on general principle legitimates oppression and delegitimizes the oppressed.
The inconsistency appears to hinge on who the “victims” are. It is okay to wail about BP’s wanton destruction of the Gulf of Mexico because a large population faces the prospect of fouled beaches, ruined recreation, and eviscerated livelihoods. Likewise, it is okay to whine about government budget deficits because repayment may entail higher taxes for the vast majority who pay them in order to sustain expected services.
But an illegal killing expedition against Iraqi and Afghan civilians producing over a million “excess” civilian deaths in Iraq alone (extrapolating from a peer-reviewed study in Lancet) attracts little condemnation. A widening and increasingly surreptitious crusade mostly against Islam attracts criticism only when it seems futile–in other words, because we aren’t winning.
Lest you think this is just about foreign “others,” our political response to 6.7 million long term unemployed is to refuse to pass even a stripped-down jobs bill. Deficit hawks could cite a Gallup survey in which concern about the deficit edged out concern about unemployment as a matter of “extreme” concern. Because bleating about unemployment apparently would be “drama.”
The numbing of our collective consciousness means we do little more than criticize discrimination against the unemployed in hiring. It seems to translate to collective inaction in the face of a wide perception that Obama’s economic policies are, at best, ineffective. It means we sustain a war on Islam, a religion which too many view monolithically, with over 1.57 billion adherents worldwide, even at the expense of urgent domestic needs.
It means, in short, that we prioritize killing people over taking care of people.