June 25th, 2006

ozarque figure

Emotional weather discussion; part two...

johnpalmer commented:
"Now, I haven't studied Buddhism much; I've read a few things written by Buddhists, but that's not the same thing. But here's my take on it. Life is pain... so it's normal that it hurts."

But that's not what we're taught, here in the U.S. The constant message from the current U.S. culture is that feeling pain is utterly abnormal, that it must not be tolerated, that the instant you feel even the smallest twinge you are supposed to take a pill to stop it, that life is supposed to be without pain. Every few minutes on television there's a message telling you explicitly that the only decision a normal person has to make with regard to pain is which one of the painkilling pills to take, and that well-informed people make that decision wisely -- perhaps discussing it with their doctor in the "Is [Pill X] right for me?" format. That message never stops coming at you from the media. There is never a suggestion that if you would put up with a pain for five minutes or so you might acquire some pain muscles that would be useful down the road, or that learning how to deal with pain without a pill might be a useful skill to have.

You are supposed to feel the pain of wanting things, however, because that pain is necessary to the economy. Life, in the "American" culture, is pain, yes, but it's two specific kinds of pain. One of those pains is the pain of wanting material things badly. It's never suggested that if you find yourself wanting one of the very fancy cars you see in the commercials you should take a pill to get rid of that discomfort; that pain is on the Approved List. You should get rid of the pain, of course -- pain being abnormal -- but the way you get rid of it is by buying whatever it is that you want, even if the car you now have works perfectly well and is paid for, even if you must go deeply into debt for many years in order to get the other car. Life is the pain we Ozarkers call "hankering after" things; more severely, "lusting after" things.

The other pain the U.S. culture wants you to experience is the pain of not being a Winner, which you also are not expected to tolerate. You're expected to get rid of it by getting out there and winning, no matter what you have to do to accomplish that. It overlaps with the hankering and lusting because one of the ways you demonstrate that you're a Winner is by always being able to run buy whatever it is that the ads are pushing right now. If you have all the best and latest toys, that marks you as a Winner.

My son-in-law, who is Laotian and a Buddhist, says, "We don't teach our children not to want things. We teach them to want the things they have."
ozarque figure

Linguistics note on "Emotional weather; part two"...

This is what drives the U.S. resistance to teaching foreign languages in elementary school, during the years when children are best able to acquire languages with native fluency. People know that language is the mechanism that carries and teaches culture. And the U.S. culture has an immense investment in these three cultural messages:

1. "You must not tolerate physical pain, no matter how trivial. You must buy a pill to stop that pain."

2. "You must not tolerate the pain of wanting material things you don't have. You must buy those things, to stop that pain."

3. "You must not tolerate the pain of being a Loser. You must find a way to be a Winner, to stop that pain."


Suppose a child learns a foreign language that doesn't carry and teach those three cultural messages -- or, worse yet, a language that carries and teaches messages that contradict them. Then what? You can't let that happen.

The U.S. is in a serious bind right now about this. You can't let that happen ..... you can't risk the destruction of the culture. But suddenly there's a desperate need for large numbers of people who are "American" and can qualify for the most rigorous security clearances but who also have native fluency in languages like Arabic and Farsi and Mandarin (and many more). National security demands those large numbers of foreign-language speakers; at the same time, national security demands that U.S. children and teenagers be protected from the cultural messages that those foreign languages might be carrying and teaching.

It's going to be very interesting to see how this works out.