The Culture of Emotional Manipulation

I’m currently reading, at David Didau’s suggestion, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, which was published in 2009, when the DfE was still the ‘Department for Children, Schools and Families’, and ‘Every Child Matters’ was spreading its tentacles vigorously through the nation, as Labour poured millions of our hard-earned pounds into it. The culture it describes may no longer be pushed so vigorously by the government, but it is so deeply ingrained, and serves so many vested interests, that one wonders whether that matters very much.

The therapeutic turn in culture, which has had a huge impact on education, but also on management and on policy more widely, depicts humanity according to what the authors call ‘the diminished self’. In this understanding, people are all fragile and vulnerable. They all have problems which they need to acknowledge, and once they are acknowledged, suitable professional help can be arranged. From their earliest years, children are inducted into this culture, as they are manipulated into confessing their private thoughts and feelings in circle time. If they refuse to talk about their inner lives in this public context, they are seen as ‘repressed’, and certainly in need of help to overcome their inability to express themselves. It’s a Catch 22. Admit your problems, and we’ll interfere. Refuse to admit your problems, and that’s a problem, so we’ll interfere. The authors comment that

therapeutic education is profoundly dangerous because a diminished image of human potential opens up people’s emotions to assessment by the state and encourages dependence on ritualised forms of emotional support offered by state agencies. (p xiii)

It’s a gift for anyone who is seeking ever greater funding for state agencies which propose to manage all of the frightful emotional problems from which every person is presumed to be suffering. It’s also a wonderful culture for promoting ever greater sales of drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac.

This view of humanity pushes to one side the traditional view that we all have free will and reason, that we need to struggle to achieve anything, and that suffering is an ordinary part of human experience. Struggle is good; it is not a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘managed’. Instead of viewing humanity as rational and capable of making free choices in difficult circumstances, the therapeutic narrative presents us as prey to an overwhelming flood of emotions which the professionals will help us to manage.

In the therapeutic culture, we have all become victims, and the biggest victims are the ones who gain the most attention. No one shall be allowed to battle on calmly and quietly, refusing to draw attention to themselves. Everyone shall be required to expose their inner lives to public scrutiny, in a manner which our forebears would have considered self-indulgent to the point of obscenity.

This culture makes rational argument almost impossible. Those who propose rational arguments and refuse to be drawn into emotionalism are seen as cold, harsh and uncaring. The ‘circle time’ approach to discussion forbids correction. No one shall be told that they are wrong. No one shall be told that their personal feelings, however strong, do not in fact alter reality. The important thing is that everyone expresses themselves, and that we are all ‘non-judgemental’.

The consequences of therapeutic culture have been made very clear in the recent coverage of Brexit. We are informed of incidents of racial abuse, and called upon to express our outrage at them. Of course they are to be deplored. But it is the next step which is so pernicious. Because of these deplorable incidents, we are supposed to abandon any rational arguments in favour of Brexit, and instead allow ourselves to be emotionally blackmailed into agreeing that it must be wrong.

He who suffers, wins. Presumably this is why Palestinians are to be allowed to express their national identity, while British people are not.

It’s time to stand up for the dignity of ordinary human beings and fight against this culture of emotionalism and manipulation.

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4 thoughts on “The Culture of Emotional Manipulation

  1. In this context, it is worth exploring the work of Dr William Coulson, a long-time associate of Carl Rogers, who later recanted and dedicated his time to talking about the dangers of Rogers’ approach (‘therapy for normals’) as applied to schoolchildren.

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  2. Yes, here’s the thing:

    The human mind and our ‘psyche’ has evolved through hundreds of thousands of arduous years to give us an edge in an unpleasent, relentless, challenging environment. The more we soften and smooth that environment, then the more the mind actually starts to malfunction, as the self-conscious elements are freed to go into overdrive, over-analysing minutia in a way that they weren’t intended for. In turn, this amplifies and reinforces the emotional elements, which the mind then latches-onto even more.

    Additionally of course, our minds are now bombarded with forms of stimulation which they just didn’t evolve to deal with, so the balance is even more precarious: Unnatural level of information overload vs unnatural level of safety and idleness.

    …Plus a cultural discourse which says that feeling overwhelmed by things is not your problem, so things go unfettered.

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  3. This probably began early with everybody gets a gold star awards. Now it is everyone is suffering. Sometimes it becomes tiring to say things like “Well we’ve all got problems. . .”

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Thoughtful and reasonable discussion is always welcome.

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