Monday, March 10, 2014

Stuck in Reversal

One of the reasons I wanted to write about the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity is that Bennett noticed an interesting phenomenon that is not often captured in developmental theories, but tends to affect many liberals. As a reminder, here are the stages:

Bennett noticed that sometimes people move out of the "Defense" stage, but instead of progressing to "Minimization," they go into what he calls "Reversal."
A variation on Defense is Reversal, where an adopted culture is experienced as superior to the culture of one’s primary socialization (“going native,” or “passing”). Reversal is like Defense in that it maintains a polarized, “us and them” worldview. It is unlike Defense in that it does not maintain the other culture as a threat...Reversal may masquerade as cultural sensitivity, since it provides a positive experience of a different culture along with seemingly analytical criticisms of one’s own culture. However, the positive experience of the other culture is at an unsophisticated stereotypical level, and the criticism of one’s own culture is usually an internalization of others’ negative stereotypes.
Many of us have experienced this stage at one time or another - or at least have witnessed it when (usually liberals) get so disgusted with the lies they've been told that they reverse course and embrace something that is not their own. But as Bennett says, the "us vs them" way of seeing the world remains intact.

As an example of someone in the Reversal stage, I would point to Glenn Greenwald. Back in 2005, he was firmly planted in the Defense stage - as can be seen by his writing about immigration at the time.
The parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known, and it gets worse every day. In short, illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone. Few people dispute this, and yet nothing is done.
If you click on that link, you'll see that Greenwald has added a note to that post denouncing his own views from back then. But instead of moving into minimization and focusing on what cultures have in common, he has continued with an "us vs them" worldview. For Greenwald, the U.S. is the embodiment of the "evil empire." There are some ways that that framework is historically true (slavery, Jim Crowe, Native American genocide, the Monroe Doctrine, covert foreign actions during the Cold War, etc.) But the U.S. is also the home of things like the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Marshall Plan and the Civil Rights Movement.

Greenwald also fails to ever acknowledge the failings of the opponents of the U.S. To do so would mean to actually grapple with a response to terrorism rather than simply paint them all as the innocent victims of our country's policies. It would also mean holding the USSR (as well as the U.S.) responsible for the failings of the Cold War or Russia's politics of demagoguery both at home (LGBT issues) and abroad (Ukraine).

I've used Greenwald as an example. But this way of framing things generally applies to many of the liberals we tend to call "dudebros." It not only informs their view of U.S. politics, but helps us understand why they are so woefully bad at addressing the racial dynamics that are at work in this country. That's because they are still operating out of an ethnocentric perspective.

Far be it from me to prescribe an antidote for these folks. But here's what Bennett said:
The resolution of Defense issues involves recognizing the common humanity of people of other cultures...Facilitators who try to correct the stereotypes of people in Defense are likely to fall prey to the polarized worldview themselves, becoming yet another example of the evils of multiculturalism or globalization. The need here is to establish commonality, not to introduce more sophisticated understanding of difference. When this resolution is accomplished, the stage is set for a move into Minimization.
So if/when a dudebro starts having a kumbaya moment about our common humanity, don't mock him...he's actually making progress ;-)

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