Dear Sherri I doubt that you remember Billings Montana in August Air filled with smoke from the fires burning just beyond the ridge But I think of you fondly smiling almost every time I stand by the sink doing dishes
I remember our laughter in a bar after a long day when you were among the few to treat me like a friend even though I carried the heavy isolating distinction of keynote speaker at the BIA human services conference
Others looked at us our tears streaming as we laughed while you recounted stories about your nosy neighbors who reported you for feeding deer a nuisance to their sculpted yard and your creativity and humor watching their response to your latest prank peeking with binoculars through your kitchen window by the sink to watch them watching you through their binoculars to surveil your latest visitors
Life-sized sheep you crafted out of paper maché and placed in your yard as if they were “grazing” repeatedly moving them when you knew the neighbors weren’t watching to add to the illusion
The authorities finally grew weary of your neighbors’ fallacious complaints and left you alone to live as you wished feeding wildlife you loved
I am sorry I lost track of you after so many jobs and moves but I will always be grateful to you for bringing kindness and laughter into my life and forever brightening the mundane task of washing dishes as it did again this sunny morning
Exposing people in their 20s and 30s who have lived in rural communities most of their lives to the video is not always effective. It presents information that is new and not easily understood. Yet as future social workers, it is crucial for them to have some critical awareness of the larger social forces that affect them and the people they will serve in their careers.
Reading the notes the most recent class wrote confirmed the difficulty. So I took my own notes and included them in the Power Point for class discussion. Excerpts are below.
The Century of the Self – Part 1: “Happiness Machine”
This is “the story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires” (YouTube overview, emphasis added).
Consider the subtitle of this first part of the documentary, “Happiness Machine” How does this relate to the overall message of this video?
The preface to the video introduces Sigmund Freud’s theory about human nature. Simply stated, Freud theorized that all people carry primitive sexual and aggressive forces hidden deep inside. If these forces are not controlled, societies will be filled with chaos and destruction.
What are your thoughts about Freud’s perspective? Our guess is that it’s easy to conclude that the theory has merit if one views society today. Now consider the same question from the perspective of your ancestral roots. Do you think Freud’s theory explains your ancestors’ motivations and your own?
The preface of the video also explains that the purpose of this series was to raise awareness about the ways in which Freud’s ideas have been used by those in positions of power “to control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.”
How does the timeframe of Bernays’ work fit with shifts in the focus of social work practice and social welfare policies? Can you see any links to your ancestors’ experiences during this historical era?
Part 1 describes the central role that Bernays played in popularizing and applying Freud’s theories to “manipulate the masses,” working both with politicians and corporations.
What are some of the ways Bernays employed theories to promote US entry into war, increase cigarette sales for tobacco corporations, or buffer corporations from overproduction when WWI ended?
Strategies for social control in times of peace followed, involving “the engineering of consent.” How was this done?
Stuart Ewen, historian and author, noted that the emergence of democracy had changed the relationship of power that governed the world. He described how Bernays’ strategies gave back power to the ruling elite by “giving people some kind of feel good medication that did not alter their objective circumstances … even if it meant stimulating the irrational self.”
The Great Depression ushered in by the 1929 stock market crash required a different approach to governing. Franklin D. Roosevelt believed people were rational and he wanted to know what they thought as he began to initiate a series of interventions to address massive social issues that affected them. He turned to George Gallup who had developed a way to poll peoples’ opinions scientifically without introducing emotional bias. It gave citizens a rational voice so they could take part in government.
With Bernays’ help, “big business” fought back with an ideological attack on the New Deal to regain power by creating emotional ties to corporations. The 1939 World Fair presented an opportunity to manipulate people to believe that democracy would not exist without capitalism and the goods it produces.
“Active citizenship” was replaced by “passive consumers.”
A day after I posted the notes, I found myself face-to-face with the consequences of consumerism. My granddaughter’s birthday was coming up. She has discovered therapeutic coloring books and loves the challenge of using her new pens to create intricate patterns of many colors. For her birthday, I offered to let her choose a new coloring book. She was excited. Off we went to a “big box” store to see what we could find.
The store was filled with people browsing art supplies, plastic flowers, craft kits, and aisles of yarn. We perused all of the merchandise several times unsuccessfully. The only three staff in sight were womanning the cash registers, nonstop. There were no roaming staff to ask for help, so I asked a young girl if she had seen any coloring books.
“She’s my daughter,” boomed a woman’s voice behind me. “She doesn’t work here.”
I turned and smiled. “I didn’t think she worked here. But I thought maybe she had seen coloring books. My granddaughter and I are trying to find them and we haven’t been able to find any staff people to help.”
The woman came up to us and asked her daughter to help us look, so they both joined the search. Even with more people looking, we still had no luck.
“I know how to get their attention,” the woman finally said. She walked over to the rows of yarn and grabbed two huge balls of yarn and stood below the surveillance camera posted high on the wall. She shoved the balls into the top of her shirt and held up her arms and waved them at the camera. “This should get someone’s attention!”
She was right. A humorless dour-faced man walked through a hidden side door. “Where are the coloring books,” she shouted.
“By the cash registers,” he replied before he turned without further comment and disappeared again.
Tears from laughter were clouding my vision as we headed to see if we could find coloring books. No luck. My granddaughter was undaunted. Despite the long lines at the registers, she asked one cashier to help us. The books we found were for little children and not at all what she wanted, so we ended up buying a gift card for a bookstore instead.
The connections between the legacy of Bernays’ machinations and big box stores are quite obvious, although that’s not a lesson that seemed timely for a little girl turning 11 who loves the challenge of coloring and creating something beautiful.
Hopefully, there will be times in the future when we can laughingly recall our adventure and discuss the deeper implications. For the time being, she can enjoy an activity that doesn’t involve dangerous and addicting technology.
Ah how I wish I were as courageous as the woman who helped us. I can only imagine what her daughter thought, though. And I am left wondering what Bernays would think of the man hidden away to merely watch customers and do little to help them consume…
On this grey morning thoughts of the Standing Rock Water Protectors again touch my heart with deep sorrow. It’s far more than the legacy of historical trauma that brings tears to my eyes. It’s the continuing structural oppression that I have witnessed for so many First Nations reservations, Appalachian hill communities, urban neighborhoods or rural farming communities. It’s the overwhelming sense of threat and loss in the ongoing clash of worldviews that makes everything I have done and am doing and wish I could do feel so pitifully ineffective.
My granddaughter will turn 11 tomorrow. My grandson turned 19 last month. There are so many reasons to be concerned about the future they face.
As I feel the physical limitations and pain of my aging body, the scars of so many past efforts to build healthier more inclusive communities weigh on my heart. I wish I could be hopeful but I can no longer believe that change is possible unless a critical mass of people awaken. It feels as though all of my efforts to help that process along during my career have been so insignificant.
Perhaps the tears that are flowing will clear my vision so I can see possibilities. But as I greet this morning, it’s all I can do as I type these simple words. All I hold dear is threatened by insane forces that wreak death and destruction.
Still, it’s time to dry my tears. Somehow, my ancestors found the strength to survive genocide, displacement and Indian boarding schools. I owe it to them, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, my daughter, my grandchildren, and all life to do what I can any way.
Do you ever want change something that annoys you? I don’t mean people, you know. I mean something like a moldy, funky bathroom.
“Ah, no,” you may tell yourself. “I wouldn’t know where to start.” So you make a few superficial changes and learn how to ignore the things that bother you. The things that you know will ultimately create problems.
Then one day you look closely. Who knows why now, but suddenly you can no longer screen out the dirty yellow daisy wallpaper on the ceiling that is sagging ever lower and peeling off. So you pull it off and discover that the glossy green paint underneath is even worse. It’s harder to ignore and you find yourself with a messy project you didn’t plan to tackle at this moment.
It would be easier to simply gut the whole bathroom and start over, but that’s not an option for many reasons. So you reflect on which steps need to be taken first and begin, learning how things are made in the process of deconstructing them, one by one, each in the proper order. You learn to laugh at your limitations and clumsiness.
“I need some kind of tool to pull this glued-on rubber baseboard off,” you think to yourself. “Yeah,” you answer, “like longer, stronger arms.” And you laugh and keep trying until you figure out how to work smarter not harder. You learn patience and tenacity.
You still have other work to do. You’ve lived with this mess since you moved here seven years ago. So chill out, but don’t give up.
Remember things can only be done step by step. Remember to take care of yourself and your other responsibilities as best you can for now. Remember to take pictures next time so you can see where you started not just what you know still needs to be done. Remember to have fun and laugh at yourself as you misplace tools, tip over the paint bucket, put curtains on rods backwards, and spend hours figuring out how to put on fancy bathroom fixtures that your guests can figure out how to deconstruct in an instant.
Remember messes are temporary necessities. Living with the constant mess of books, papers, and now, all the stuff related to remodeling means taking some time just to breathe and escape into fantasy now and then.
But most importantly, remember that nothing lasts forever –except –the legacy of the love, laughter, gratitude, and celebratory joy you breathe into what you do.
I apologize for being so slow replying to comments and visiting your blogs. I do want you to know how deeply I appreciate all of you and the important work you share.
This post describes some of the reasons why I have been absent from the blogosphere. Teaching, spending time with my lovely granddaughter, and of course shoveling snow, have also made it difficult to for me to stay up-to-date blogging.
Meanwhile, the signs of spring are evident this morning.
The snow is gradually melting given warmer days, and come May, the class I am teaching will end. Maybe my repair work will be done by then, too, just in time for yard clean up and gardening. Hopefully, I will even have time and space to return to blogging and editing/ revising my book manuscript. In the interim, I send my best wishes to all of you.
Yesterday, my blog turned four years old. I still wonder what led me to blogging. Initially I thought it was the stockpile of unpublished reflections and stories I wanted to share. They were stories based on a particular perspective as an outsider who wasn’t content with merely pointing out injustice and oppression. My work has always involved trying to solve puzzles and experiment with possible constructive solutions from a critical view. It seemed fitting to name my blog Voices from the Margins.
After a couple years, though, I ran out of those old reflections. So I began to experiment with different topics and ways to write. I also learned a little bit about photography using my old digital cameras. I kept blogging because of the dear friends I met here in the blogosphere. Although few of my original friends still blog, new friends have filled the void.
I have no illusions that my photos or blog posts are great works of art. But I do have fun creating them and sharing them with others.
On this anniversary, I wondered what comes next. I find myself re-engaging with the world a little more and taking on long-ignored home repair projects. The title of the blog still holds true, but perhaps the blurb about my blog needs a bit of updating. There are all kinds of issues I could write about from a critical frame, but so many others do that far better. What is less common are those who look both critically and gratefully at what is and ask how this informs practical everyday choices.
Increasingly, my posts are deliberately a little like the bright moon on a dark night peeking through tree branches. Reflected light that flows through me, meant to provide solace and encourage creative, peaceful, constructive, thoughts and actions in a time of darkness.
These days, though, like the moon, my presence is not always visible. I am woefully behind replying to comments and reciprocating visits to other’s blogs. I apologize. I will try to do a better job because your friendship and what you share matters. I am always touched by the work you do.
But I do become micro-focused, like yesterday, when I had intended to share this post and visit blogs. I became so intent on finishing my newest project, sanding an old window frame, that I failed to stop and see the beauty of the day. I only saw the birch tree lit by the sun in a clear blue sky after I took a photo to record my progress.
Today, I will take time to thank you all for being an important presence in my life.