A brief primer on the pedagogical roots of totalitarian government

A snapshot of life in a Texas supermarket may portend the fate of our country.

I’m on vacation in Texas today. After 8 hours of travel, door to door, we arrived in a warm and humid Dallas suburb to visit relatives.

After we had settled in, I found myself curious about the neighborhood, so I took a drive around. And during my drive, I get a text from my wife, “Buy 2 cases of water”. I used Google Assistant in my rental car to find a suitable market from which to buy the water. I find it, in a place called “HEB”. I don’t know what that stands for, but it seems better than Walmart, so I head on over there.

I arrive and grab a cart on the way in. I find cases of water in the back and load two cases in my cart. As I return to the front of the market to check out, I see a family in a power struggle. I have just turned my head to see a father gesturing with his hand raised at his little girl, maybe 4 years old. She darts away in real fear of what might happen.

The father scolds his children and makes implied threats of what might happen if they don’t comply. His wife is submissive and shows signs of fear. She has seen this before. I imagine that this would be much worse in private and wonder how people get to this point. How do people get to the point where they believe that violence and threats thereof can be used to control others?

I wanted so much to stop and tell the father that what he is doing will increase the chances that someday, his kids will live in a totalitarian state. I wanted to tell him that he is teaching totalitarian governance to his kids. But judging by the emotional state of those people, I’m not sure I want to be involved in such a conversation because abusive parents get very defensive upon hearing feedback.

As I drove back to the home of my relatives, I considered the possibility that the family I observed was Christian. As I write this, I see that the Texas Almanac says that 56% of Texans are Christian. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” ran through my mind as I continued driving home.

According to FindLaw, corporal punishment is lawful in public schools in Texas, unless the parent opts out. In other words, it is assumed that corporal punishment is permitted unless the parent says otherwise. All of this means that there is an implied threat of pain imposed by the adult upon children in order to extract compliance from the children while they are in school.

I think to the mob films I used to watch, including The Godfather, Scarface, and even Goodfellas. The Mob is essentially a group of people that use force and threats of force to extract and extort rents from their victims in exchange for “protection”. The parent that I saw in the market was using extortion to extract compliance from members of his family. That is what I saw.

But such families are doing more than working through a power struggle. The father I saw in the market was not inhibited by onlookers as he raised his hand and his voice. By normalizing violence as a means of enforcing compliance with certain rules set by the head of the family, they are the model for a crime family and organized crime. They are in a way, creating a model for totalitarian governance.

It is not possible to spank your kids or threaten them with violence or use extortion or coercion, and say that you honor the Constitution.

In a totalitarian government, there is no due process. There is not even a sense of proportion for violence to the offense. There is only swift punishment, up to and including death in order to maintain order and compliance. There is no leniency, and no excuses are allowed. There is no jury. Does that sound like a family you’ve lived in as a child? I’ve seen and read about families like that. I’ve met people who lived in violent families and have heard their stories.

The latest available figures show that 85% of youth have been physically punished by parents during childhood or adolescence. That figure implies that the vast majority of our youth have been threatened with force, something we would call this “coercion” for adults, at least once before adulthood. The implication here is that the use of force, or the implied threat thereof, is normal, even in America, land of the free, home of the brave.

Psychologist and author, Alice Miller has written a series of books to document the connection between a totalitarian government and authoritarian culture. In her first book following that theme, For Your Own Good, she documents the authoritarian culture of Nazi Germany. She analyzes the available information about Adolph Hitler’s early childhood to reveal that he was beaten severely and brutally, every day by his father. In one passage, I can clearly recall her description of Hitler confiding in his sister, that he had learned not to cry when he received a spanking. And that was a man who grew up to lead a world superpower and prosecute the second world war. That was a man who led a movement to kill more than 6 million people.

Consider now, the polarization of our country, and the rise of a clear authoritarian figure to the highest office in the land, Donald Trump. His handling of immigration is a case in point. He directed that families be separated at the border. Records were so poorly kept that thousands of children were separated, perhaps permanently, from their parents. The whole point of this exercise? Deterrence. If you enter this country, you will be punished and punished severely.

Trump has made numerous statements, both implied and explicit, in approval of violent retribution. He has given tacit approval of white nationalists (their self selected and approved euphemism for white supremacists).

But Trump isn’t the problem. He is a symptom of a much greater problem. Marianne Williamson, a noted author, public speaker and now candidate for president, made some telling observations in her speech when she announced her candidacy. She made a priority of noting the grinding poverty and daily violence experienced by millions of children in America, land of the free, home of the brave. On her campaign website, she says:

The United States ranks at or near the bottom on almost every indicator regarding governmental policies toward children today. Our youth homicide rates are more than seven times that of other leading industrialized nations. Social scientists now describe “war zones” — areas in violently charged homes and communities — where levels of trauma and post-traumatic stress among children are similar to those experienced by returning vets.

This is the scale upon which we must work to heal America if we want to continue to be known as “home of the free, land of the brave”. If we fail in our advocacy of children, our children will not have the tools, knowledge or experience to maintain that home for themselves and their heirs.

It is our job, our first job as parents, guardians, and caretakers, to give our kids what they need to live in peace and freedom. We must always be advocates for our kids. There is no other way.

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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