What does a Charmin lovin' bear have to do with politics?
So last night, I was watching a speech by Bernie Sanders, you know, that disheveled Senator from Vermont. God, how I love him. Every time he speaks, I am reminded of big money in politics. I am reminded of how corruption is an exchange of rights for privilege. I am reminded of how prone people are to outside influence.
I am also reminded of what it was like to watch commercial TV. I avoid commercials like the plague now. I don't listen to commercial radio because I don't like having my train of thought interrupted. I don't watch commercial TV because I know something of the science that goes into commercials. They nag my brain with terrifying precision and that bugs me.
Over the years that I was watching commercial TV, I formed a sort of philosophy of watching TV. I assume that if a product is being advertised, I don't need it. I learned to fast forward through commercials with my DVR by noticing that ads for television shows on the same network were always last. And then I grew tired of the whole affair and just subscribed to Netflix, YouTube Premium or Amazon Prime to watch television without commercials.
As I look back on some of the most successful commercials, with success defined as, "I still can't forget them", I find it hard to believe that anyone can actually be induced to buy toilet paper as a result of viewing a cartoon depicting a fictional bear who loves Charmin toilet paper. And when I think of that, I'm reminded that those people who bought the toilet paper based on an endorsement of a fictional bear, well, they vote. But that is not the reason I'm writing this article today.
I think it's important to understand why people would be susceptible to such influence because the same thing that makes people easily influenced by a commercial, is probably the same thing that makes people susceptible to corruption. What is that thing?
Many of us were raised by parents who spanked us. We were told to do X or we would get spanked. After two or three or 10 mortifying experiences of being spanked, we either fall in line, or we go covert. But we find a way to avoid being spanked and there is almost no way of doing that without a few tablespoons of castor oil that might be called, obedience.
On the flipside, we are told to be good for a cookie. Behave in the store while Mommy shops for that treat to eat on the way home. For me, I'd lobby for the toy I wanted after drooling over the toys in the toy section for the little kids. Mom would shop, and she'd know where I was, planted there, salivating, fantasizing, and idolizing all the cool toys in that little corner the market. If I could just pick one. But there was always some reward for obedience.
I'm a parent and I'm pretty sure we've all done it. We learned punishment and reward from our parents and we're teaching punishment and reward to our kids. And there is no way to do that without teaching obedience, and teaching obedience also teaches one how to exchange dignity for something else. So I'm doing something different.
I think it's important here to make a distinction between control and influence. When we have small kids, we want control. We love our kids and we don't want to let them wander into harms way. So we try to control them, cordon them off, or at least develop a set of signals that will stop them in their tracks before they knock over that expensive vase, or climb up the bookshelf to get the shiny phone you put there. More obedience.
I don't want obedience from my kids. I'm thinking drugs, peer pressure and the like. I want influence, sure, but I don't want them to be obedient to me. I want them to be like me in the sense that they can look at a commercial and make an objective assessment about what they really want. I don't want obedience from my kids because I can't be there all the time to think for them.
So when it comes to danger, I either gently restrain them from imminent peril, like standing on top of the backrest on a chair, or I caution them, like, "You're up high and the floor is really hard. I think you should come down now." And they come down.
But this whole idea of getting big money out of politics, well, that assumes that people can't think for themselves. So while I agree with Bernie about getting big money out of politics, I think that is a symptom of a sick society, or at least, a mildly confused society. Maybe there will always be people who are influenced by a 30-second commercial. Maybe there will always be people who are willing to exchange dignity for a corrupt act. But that too, is a symptom, not the cause. Both are a symptom of a pedagogy based on punishment and reward.
The whole problem with punishment and reward has nothing to do with punishment and reward. It has to do with skills:
Children exhibit challenging behavior when they lack the capacity to respond proactively to the demands of their environment. -- Dr. Ross W. Greene, PhD. Author of "The Explosive Child" and "Raising Human Beings"
When children lack the capacity to respond proactively to the demands of their environment, they usually lack certain skills required to responds. Skills like critical thinking, delaying gratification, telling time, communicating their desires respectfully, patience and self-respect. All of these skills are modeled and taught by parents. We cannot punish a kid for bad behavior without teaching him how to meet or exceed our standards for behavior. We teach those skills not by punishment and reward, but by collaborating with our kids to solve the problems that give rise to the challenging behavior in the first place.
Cooperation and collaboration are the foundation skills of all of humanity. Language is proof of this. Love is the ultimate proof of this. Love is the ultimate act of cooperation.
If you do something you don't want your kids to do, don't do it in front of them, because kids are the worlds greatest imitators. They will do what you do because that's how they learn to become adults. I can prove this and have done so numerous times.
"Hey kids, whatever you do, don't do what I do." I stick out my tongue, they stick out their tongue. I touch my nose with my index finger and they touch their nose exactly the way I do. I even remind them not to do what I do, and the word "not" is completely ignored as I stand on one foot, and they do the same, with or without some success.
To take big money out of politics, we must take away the demand for big money in politics. The source of that demand is an audience that is susceptible to influence through television or other media. And that requires critical thinking skills. And one thing I can say for sure about spanking - sometimes called "extortion", and reward - sometimes called "bribery", is that neither teach critical thinking skills.
Think of the last time you were physically threatened. Are you capable of exercising critical thinking if you're worried about being hurt by someone you love (or don't)? Think about the last time you bought a lottery ticket. Are you capable of exercising critical thinking skills when presented with a chance to win an astronomical sum of money? Few of us are. And yet, reward and punishment passes for parenting and politics.
Reward and punishment is exactly what makes our lives so miserable because they lack compassion, because they teach expectations, and because they don't teach any skills. They do, however, teach obedience and rebellion, two skills that are worlds apart from critical thinking.
Most adults today are lost in this world of reward and punishment, too. They think that if they get this or that shiny thing, that they will be happy. And their vote follows that thinking. And when they're focused on the shiny thing, or avoiding the iron fist, they're not thinking about what they truly want. For most of us, that is love.
We all want to be loved. But that TV doesn't love you. The phone doesn't love you. The shiny sports car doesn't love you. The diamond ring doesn't love you. The dress doesn't love you. They don't have beating hearts and memories. There is no reward that can ever fill your empty arms.
If we really want to take big money out of politics, we need to teach our kids the skills they need to think for themselves. We need to teach our kids (and ourselves) how to look at a commercial and think, "Oh, they're advertising a shiny thing. I don't need it", and then we can consider if we actually want it, later.
That is what is wrong with American politics today. We've been trained so long on punishment and reward, that thinking for ourselves and making objective assessments about our choices is difficult. Don't believe me? How in the world did we elect Donald Trump for president?