Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The structural collapse of American thought

Piaget argued that a critical moment in the development of a functioning human mind is object permanence. Before object permanence, infants can only learn basic biological skills, like sucking, or touching. Afterwards, they can collect information about objects in their environments. To do this, however, they must learn to identify obvious, tangible patterns in their environments as objects.

Sensori-motor Stage

0-2 years It is at this stage that children develop their senses of the world in general through movement such as sucking, grasping, crawling, standing and walking. Children also use their senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound in order to develop schemata of the world. In this way children put together a picture that incorporates these elements. Piaget sees the adult as being important during this stage in terms of providing the stimulus needed to help the child gain a variety of experiences. One of the key stages is the development of object permanence. Piaget argues that the child cannot grasp the concept that objects still exist when hidden or taken away until the age of 8 months. Up until that point, out of sight is literally out of mind.

Piaget tested for object permanence by hiding a toy that the child was playing with under a blanket. He found that the child under 8 months did not search for the object, seeming to lose total interest in it. After 8 months, however, children would attempt to find the object after it had been hidden from them.

I actually have some grave doubts about pulling out of Iraq. I dont think it follows that if the troops should be removed merely because the invasion itself was a reprehensibly stupid act of mass murder. But wathcing the GOP debate tonight, I found myself terrified by the strength of Giuliani's performance on "National Security" issues.

Fact is, Giuliani said exactly what Bush has been saying, only with less drooling. And yet, it felt different. Newer. More resonant. Plausible to the middle. Maybe it was the background of acknowledged failure. Or maybe it was the fact that Giuliani has, for some reason, been getting a complete pass on the central political question of the day -- will you or won't you pull out the troops. Its astonishihing, but I dont know the answer, and I dont think either of the moderators have asked him. I dont mean I can't find it, but it doesn't seem to matter because he didn't get us into it. So even prosective questions about the war are deflected because its not an issue he owns.

The point can be pushed too far, but it does make sense, to a point, to understand cultural and political decision-making in psychological terms -- countries process information, aggregate conflicting impulses, and store trauma. Every group brain of any size is sluggish, stupid and spastic. But until now, there were threads of rationality, connections between national events and a political course. 9-11 was a trauma, and the result was a massive consolidation of federal and governmental power, and a widespread intolerance toward dissent and ethinicity. It was awful, but the reaction was goal directed. Katrina and Iraq produced massive electoral defeat for the GOP -- nobody in the democratic party had a particularly compelling plan to rebuild the coast, and the Iraq debate was consistently retrospective. But there is no surprise in seeing punishment meted out for grotestque, traumatizing incompetence.

Tonight, I smelled a further regression. I smelled a Rudy who can stand up, say that we need to stay in Iraq because it is a place to fight terrorists, and generate the same reflexive nodding obedience from pundit and voter that lubed us up for the Iraq invasion.

This is a gut impression, but it is a gut impression of a gut impression, and I can't think of a better way to measure and sense a gut impression. My gut impression, though, is that something, something, something has disabled the American information processing mechanisms and rendered us incapable of that most basic cognitive act -- recognizing the same object after it has been momentarily removed from our sight.

Bush and Rudy are talking about the same war. I am fearfully unconfident that this most gruesome traumatizing object can be identified by the American brain as the same gruesome traumatizing object it was six months ago if a different person is talking about it.

Something has changed. It is not a more warlike attitude. It is not a lower threshold for fear. It is not an attitude or a proclivity. It is an intellectual collapse caused by a structural change in the way information is being processed. I don't know what it is or what is responsible, and could very very well be full of shit, but TV, I (like everyone else) am looking in your direction.

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