Why Politics Happened This Way--a tribute to Alice Miller

The recent commitment that we have to bring forth the greatness of others, as exemplified by the podcast Meetings with Remarkable Educators, reminded us to call forth the work of a great psychologist who made a profound and lasting impression upon us, Alice Miller. Here she predicts the current state of politics—an inevitable outcome of the poisonous pedagogy.

Alice Miller was a Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst of Polish-Jewish origin and who suffered the ravages of non-relational parents and the holocaust. She survived, and for more than 40 years engaged children in order to see the effects of parenting and education on their lives. Universally acclaimed for changing the way we approach children, she was, In a word, brilliant, compassionate, and certainly prescient about the future of a world without proper care for children. Listen to these chilling words written around 2005.

  • Poisonous pedagogy is a phrase I use to refer to the kind of parenting and education aimed at making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail.

  • There is a good deal that would not exist without "poisonous pedagogy." It would be inconceivable, for example, for politicians mouthing empty cliches to attain the highest positions of power by democratic means. But since voters, who as children would normally have been capable of seeing through these cliches with the aid of their feelings, were specifically forbidden to do so in their early years, they lose this ability as adults. The capacity to experience the strong feelings of childhood and puberty (which are so often stifled by child-rearing methods, beatings, or even drugs) could provide the individual with an important means of orientation with which he or she could easily determine whether politicians are speaking from genuine experience or are merely parroting time-worn platitudes for the sake of manipulating voters. Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed. By the time we learn to think conceptually, a functioning emotional mechanism is already in place. The nature of that emotional mechanism will determine in many respects precisely how we think, when we finally do.