Are socialization and acculturation the true names? If so, of what?

Several ancient traditions held that using the right word or phrase was important in rendering the truth of the matter. Writers such as Ursula K. Leguin adopted this tradition in some of her fiction—the power of naming, of saying the true name, was magical in EarthSea.  I recently read another Chinese writer, Lu Chi, who espoused a similar idea back around 300 CE. A modern example might be Murray Gell-Mann’s use of the word “quarks” for the particles, whether theoretically real or mathematically imaginary, which make up the atomic and sub-atomic particle zoo.  I just finished his biography; what an amazing creature he was (having just passed away on 5/24/2019).  He had a hand or finger in almost every advance in developing the what physicists now refer to as the Standard Theory, as good an approximation in our understanding of physical reality as we have managed, not the ultimate one, they say, but one that manages to be the most accurate in accounting for past experimental results and predicting future ones.  New ways of explaining previously unknown particles and fields were needed.  Gell-Mann was known for coining terms to label some of these newly found phenomena, his lifting of the word “quark” from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake being the most famous.

I have also finished The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann, a very intense, insightful book examining the sociology of knowledge that I discussed a couple of posts ago (6/22/19), and their use of labels is what really concerns me today.  After discussing the objective basis of our social construction they move on to the subjective basis.  That, of course, necessitates they venture from a sociological domain into one more psychological.  If they wrote their book today, rather than in 1966, I think they would be able to find better words (maybe the right or ‘true names’) to capture some important phenomena.

They refer to the process of a human child acquiring the basis and basics of its society’s construction of reality, which includes the establishment of identity, as socialization.  While they are focused on the sociological structures of knowledge, they acknowledge a necessary component of emotional identification.  Gosh and golly, for those of us who began studying in the late 60s, this necessary component morphed into the very important phenomena of attachment and identification, including the basic capability of emotional regulation going up and down, including now some of the neural structures that serve this development of a functional personality (see Allan Schore’s books and my post on 7/31/18).

Many do still refer to this phase of development as ‘socialization’ so that word is still serviceable.  After this initial phase, a second phase begins during which language helps children to acquire the social accoutrements of their culture.  Berger and Luckmann call this phase ‘socialization 2’. Not bad for a first approximation, but it lacks the cachet of the later term ‘acculturation’.  I really like these two terms when placed in relation to one another:  socialization refers to the ontogeny of an individual mind, personality and early social identity and acculturation refers to that individual’s acquiring the habitus and orthodoxy of their culture, including their social roles outside of familial relations.  If, as an adult, you move to a different land, you will be acculturated anew, maybe not to the same unconscious or deep level of implicit or procedural memories as a naïve youngster once was but still learning some new ways.

A couple of favorite examples of this latter process comes from movies and TV. One of our favorite shows on PBS is Cycling Around Japan in which a westerner who has lived in Japan for some years and is an avid bicyclist travels through an area meeting interesting people, e.g., farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen, or better, craftspeople & fisherpeople.  I find the care with which the westerners approach each Japanese person delightful. They always greet the person at the outset, “Konichiwa” and ask permission to talk and view their work as they exchange bows.  Contrast this culture where each person is careful not to be intrusive, where calm and distant politeness in basic exchanges is quietly assumed, with the attitude currently in the news about the New York way of blustery engagement.  I prefer the Japanese culture in this, but then I went to high school in Japan and hold those memories dear.

The second example of a different acculturation is from the movie, Wadjda, discussed here in a post on 12/11/14 about a young Arab girl who wants to ride a bicycle, a completely unorthodox and mostly unacceptable wish on her part.  A westerner would have to adapt very quickly, i.e., become acculturated, to function in this culture, especially a female. Women who even visit briefly must dress accordingly, e.g., no shorts or even short dresses and wear a head covering. That is an obvious and surface marker of cultural differences, but one scene in the movie stands out to me.  The girls at lunchtime are allowed to play outside for a while.  Some workmen on the roof of a building some distance away settle down for their lunch with a view of the schoolyard.  Immediately most of the girls run inside because, after all, these are men not of their family and so cannot look at them.  Our heroine Wadjda retreats more slowly, (oh, she is a spunky lass) because why should the girls have to lose their recess due to men who are far away, and is promptly reprimanded by the schoolmarm for doing so.

Berger and Luckmann’s term ‘socialization 2’ does not really capture this phenomena in an illuminating way—‘acculturation’ is the way to go, assuming you are being neutral and not judging the Arab society mores discriminating against females (and then other terms would apply, eh? Let’s settle on ‘unjust’ for now).  As always I wish to understand how these two terms, socialization and acculturation, if they do indeed parse out the true or right distinctions in our development, operate in neural terms.  As I mentioned, Allan Schore has given us a good start on the socialization front in his excellent summary of research into the neural systems supporting attachment and emotional regulation, but what are the neural systems supporting acculturation? I presume acculturation is quite complex and not at all unified into a single system.  Consider some of the various facets: kinesics, e.g., body language, social mores of politeness, social constraints on topics for conversation, divisions between groups, child-rearing and elder support practices, along with the traditional anthropological subjects of property inheritance, matri- and patri-lineal succession, ways of forming alliances, e.g., marriages, and rituals marking birth, death, and the passages falling in-between.

Thinking about the conventional understanding of our current paradigms, some of these facets would be inherent in procedural and semantic memories, while some would seem to operate through episodic or autonoetic memories.  Many would seem to operate as constraints as to what could be understood, remembered and practiced as orthodox and acceptable, i.e., the less conscious standards by which we judge the others.  Ah, so much more to understand as we progress in our thinking when we are more capable.

I leave you with a passage from the Art of Writing, written by Lu Chi (more on him later) around 300 CE and translated by Sam Hamill:

Ordering thoughts and ideas we begin to choose our words.

Each choice is made with care, fit with a sense of proportion.

Shadowy thoughts are brought into the light of reason; echoes are traced to their sources.

It is like following the branch to find the trembling leaf, like following the stream to find the spring.

*  *  *  *  *

Calm the heart’s dark waters; Collect from deep thoughts the proper names for things.

 

Lu Chi’s lessons apply, I believe, to most intellectual endeavors.  As always, looking for the proper name of things, I travel on.

Male privilege is an ugly cultural trope

So I am talking with a friend, whom I know to be intelligent and fair-minded about Mr. Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, and I am caught by surprise.  He says first that Dr. Ford has been too inconsistent in her testimony about who was in the room when she was assaulted (she hasn’t), so that he cannot believe her. Then he says the incident is not big deal because he as a teenager tried to “cop a feel” many times, thereby equating perhaps overly aggressive making out with forceful isolation and capture while trying to strip the lady (I heard this too many times when I worked with sexually aggressive youth).  Finally he says the #Metoo movement has gone too far because simply accusing a man ruins his reputation.  Geesh!  If he had ever expressed concern over the centuries old culture of men abusing women with impunity I could give him a break on this one, but he has not. We talked a good deal about his views mostly to no purpose and I have since wondered about the lacuna in his moral outlook and how it is that what we call ‘male privilege’ is inculcated mentally and then so strongly affects perception, action, and judgment and the male seems unaware of the effects.

One analogy here is our accent when speaking. We learn early on to speak with a regional and familial accent; we can recognize speakers from Boston, the Midwest, and different parts of the South.  Our accents can change incidentally when we move to a new region or on purpose as when some train their voices for media work.  Further, we make judgments about people based on their accent.  I lived all over the USA and graduated high school in Japan.  My accent was a conglomerate of family and different regions. Some years after high school and having lived in North Carolina for 12 years, I ran into an old girlfriend.  We had been talking for a while when she said that she knew I was smart but that I sounded so dumb with my southern accent. Who knew?  And after long holidays in Ireland and Scotland I find, and friends remark on it, that my accent has picked up a little of their lovely lilt.

Accents different from our own can be hard to understand and put people off. My mother grew up in south central Virginia.  She left there in the mid-1940s with my father who joined the Air Force.  In 1960 we moved to North Dakota.  In those days you went through an operator to make a long distance call.  When my mother tried to call home, i.e., Petersburg VA, the operator could not understand her and she could not understand the operator, who spoke and listened with the Norwegian rooted accent native to that area.  My sister stepped in to translate.  When we visited family the next summer, her sisters said my mother sounded strange to them and talked like a ‘Yankee’.  Oh, my.

I use this analogy only to highlight the incidental, mostly unconscious learning of specific cultural facets.  A deeper and broader facet would be sex/gender roles, e.g., boys don’t cry, girls do and that’s ok except that it indicates their lack of rationality. “Boys will be boys” and so much misbehavior, some of it quite serious in its violation of another person, is excused, and aren’t all men really boys at heart so give all of them a break, please. I have posted several times before about gender bias and sexual harassment/assault.  As a clinical psychologist I worked with many young males who had been sexually aggressive.  They wondered what the problem was or thought their actions were completely ok and justified.  The complexity of full consent was unknown to them as it is to many males in many cultures. Why?  Because full consent, in the view of many males, does not apply to them—this is the rotten core at the heart of male privilege.

We go from being young children with instincts for empathy, intimacy, fair play, helping others, & revulsion at seeing others hurt to (especially men now) feeling entitled to catcall and comment on a woman’s appearance, privileged to touch her without either explicit permission or, more commonly, mutually established trust and intimacy, and holding opinions that women do not want powerful and responsible positions because they are too fragile or just prefer someone else to do the heavy lifting.  And opining that the questions raised about a man’s behavior when a women alleges that he has been inappropriate are being handled unfairly, while showing little concern about the incredible numbers of women who endure sexualized mistreatment silently because they are only too aware that speaking out will compound their mistreatment by those who loudly carry forward male privilege.

When we consider how our brains are acculturated in this way, how we inculcate assumptions in our habitus about the rules of social behavior, and how our Empathy Central or EC (that’s ToM or Theory of Mind to most of you) operates with the moral lacunae of male privilege, when we consider such phenomena, our lack of knowledge about this neuropsychology is plainly seen.  But we do know some things; go back a couple of posts and read about Decety’s model of empathy (see post 9/9/18) and Iacoboni’s ideas about existential neuroscience (see post 9/16/18). The latter discusses the centrality of mirroring and mentalizing about others in social behaviors.  Male privilege can be seen as both a defective mirror that distorts the resonance with another (females are so different from us, huh, guys?) and inaccurate algorithms that provide errant empathetic suppositions about the other (she can’t rationally object to what I the man think).  Decety’s model includes the failure to mirror and resonate accurately and fully and he also adds 3 other systemic difficulties [from that post]:

  • Confusion as to the agent of thoughts and feelings. They think their own thoughts and feelings are also the other’s and they may fail to process accurately social feedback when the other tries to disagree or otherwise present their own perspective (familiar, ladies?).
  • This leads to problems with perspective taking. They may assume that their perspective is shared by everyone [males assume females share theirs]
  • Poorly developed emotional regulation presents difficulties for staying on mental task and intent as well as for responding with empathic concern for the other—instead they act upon their own egoistic anxiety and fail to engage socially in an adequate manner

Male privilege is a cultural trope that has maintained its bias through many iterations for a long, long time.  Such bias is inculcated while young in various ways with different forms according to one’s sex/gender, family traditions, social class, and educational level.  Like a linguistic accent, our social behaviors and attitudes have a ‘privileged’ accent.  Many operate with this accent, i.e., bias, without any cognizance that something is different, indeed that something is wrong.  Some do learn to operate socially and morally with a different accent, i.e., they reflect consciously on their attitudes, evaluating their accuracy and fairness, and change the bias acquired earlier in life.

As I posted in January about Oprah’s wonderful speech at the Golden Globes: “Oprah’s promising vision of a world where girls and women meet respect and justice is one beautiful flower of this moment in time and cultural egress leaving a stultified domain of male privilege and entering one refreshed by the inclusion of females in a new and refreshing view of their humanity, the acknowledgment of their personhood and the refusal by everyone to abide by any violation of this inalienable right.” The change needed to fulfill this vision is, given the long history of cultural biases, enormous.  Indeed, it is in a way utopian, but it is also already evident in the cultural path of our civilization.  We are not alone in refusing to go forward with male privilege. That’s a good thing because the heavy lifting necessary for progress has gotten a bit heavier this past week or so. Travel on.