Psychology and language as forms of control: gender, race etc

Psychology is always ingrained in politics, because politics is about the ways that people think that the world, and its people, work.

In general psychologies will support the ruling groups – no real surprise there. Aristocratic psychologies say that members of the aristocracy possess particular virtues and innate abilities which justify their position, and that non-aristocrats generally do not have them. Capitalist psychologies explain that people are primarily selfish, competitive and accumulative, and so on. In this psychology, the wealthy are wealthy because of their abilities and virtues which are not possessed by the poor. Racist psychologies explain that the master race is inherently better at whatever is required for ruling and the other races are naturally subordinate, lazy and stupid. Patriarchal psychologies attribute all public virtues to men, and explain that women need, or want to be, controlled, and are naturally inferior or subordinate, only interested in children etc.

Evidence can easily be found to explain and support these positions. It usually is.

I suspect that most of these psychologies are actually based upon violence. Patriarchy is a good example as, statistically, men have more mass, more musculature and more leverage than women. Socially they are trained in, or have experience, applying violence, while women are discouraged or forbidden from learning. Hence women, as a whole, are subordinate to males of their class. Culture and social practice increases and reinforces the subordination. People who don’t feel they match the categories in play have to be careful, or they will suffer.

I tend to accept those depth psychologies which suggest that we all have characteristics which are defined as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – the question becomes do we integrate them, or do we suppress our ‘opposites’. Patriarchy tends to inculcate the idea that men are either better women than women, or that the male ‘feminine’ parts (like real women) should be suppressed. Depth psychology is more in favour of awareness, integration or synthesis. I also suspect that as nature and environment tend to be identified with women, they are also suppressed as a matter of course in patriarchy. In a racist society similar forces could be at work. We could associate some of the repressed parts of our ‘selves’ with the supposedly other race.

The point is that whatever your theory of psychology, it will likely flow from your politics, and affect your politics and affect your sense of self.

Language is also political.

This should not be surprising either. Language expresses and conditions how we perceive and categorise or classify the world.

Patriarchs fight hard for the right to talk of people as ‘Man’ or ‘Mankind’ and to use the pronoun ‘he’ for the general person. This is because this classification renders the default and important person male. It implies males make history and culture, while women are entirely secondary. The language incorporates power relations. If you don’t believe it try calling a male patriarch ‘she’ and see what happens.

Logically those opposed to patriarchy, prefer to talk of ‘people’ rather than ‘men’ and humanity rather than ‘Man’, and use gender neural pronouns to talk of people as a whole. This form of classification also strikes me as more accurate.

Personally if a person asks you to use ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘hir’ or whatever to refer to them, I think it is polite to do so. It is not polite to obliterate an entire gender.

The distinction often made in the social sciences between sex and gender, is a technical distinction, not to obliterate gendering but to clarify issues and remind us that gender descriptions and requirements may vary with culture and with individuals. Gender has also used been used in linguistics and grammar for a long, long, time as some languages classify things without sex as having gender.

Naturally this distinction challenges patriarchy, because patriarchy looks pretty stupid if gender categories/classifications are not absolute, and is therefore resisted by patriarchal gender police.

In general, social categories tend to provide people with their place in society giving other people expectations about what they can expect from those people and defining how they can behave towards them.

If you want to govern large numbers of people then constructing and enforcing the categories in which they insert themselves and from which they construct their identities, is a great step towards that governance.

So if you support patriarchy it helps you if you can make sure gender categories are tight, and people define themselves in terms of gender. If you run a racist society it is helpful if you can make sure racial categories are tight and people define themselves in terms of race and so on.

Language and psychology are rarely politically neutral.

Advertisements

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s