The Clare Spark Blog

May 16, 2013

May 6, 2010

Social Cohesion and Adjustment

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:43 pm
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Eric Foner as President of the American Historical Association

My late mother (Betty Spark) saved much of my childhood productions, including artwork, and one of my first published articles: a short editorial (published by the Forest Hills High School Beacon) on the practice of accumulating activities in high school to wow admissions committees in elite universities. Back in the early 1950s, I argued for joining clubs that were personally satisfying and that furthered “adjustment.”

   Rereading this admonition on behalf of “adjustment” made me wince. And then I thought about what that could have meant to an adolescent girl with many artistic interests, all vigorously pursued in the 1950s, the alleged age of conformity. What I was adjusting to is no longer the norm in our country. Instead of a “puritanical” work ethic, frugality, intellectual development for boys and girls alike, and a drive toward perfection, we have a society given to aping the standards and opinions set by celebrities (musicians, movie stars, fashion designers, journalists and academics); it is a society beset by political and personal corruption, and the young girls grow their hair as if waiting for a Pre-Raphaelite artist to immortalize them.  The humanities in academe set the tone for all education in social studies, and they are frequently anti-Western, egging on “racial” minorities to demand reparations and to avoid the “dominant culture,” held to be essentially deformed by its New England “Yankee” or “Puritan” or “Southern Bourbon” past! Choose your poison.  And yet with all these “adjustments” to “the body politic” our shape is more and more a pyramid.

    When I was in graduate school in history, everyone studied “inequality,” cheered for every sign of an upsurge from below, and we were instructed that the Democratic machine in the rising cities managed the immigrants dishonestly, but the immigrants were better off owing to the paternalism of the [crooks.]  We also were taught to revere separatism in the humanities.  When I complained, arguing for an integrated history, I was admonished for violating academic freedom and worse: I was a racist for opposing “ethnic studies.” I was disrupting the social cohesion “obviously” brought to bear by certain academic stars. I can still see visiting professor Eric Foner’s face when I told him that I had concluded that multiculturalism was an elite strategy for micromanaging group conflict; what I was implying was that MC did nothing to remedy discrimination or prepare minorities and women to succeed in a market society. He was not the only academic star to turn on his heels and walk away. (He could have drawn me out or asked to see my writing on the subject, but of course did not. Moreover, until that time I had thought he was a radical like myself: I had no intent to provoke him.)

    While researching the history of social psychology, I found out what the trend-setters meant by “adjustment.” It was a mark of sanity, for one understood how institutions functioned along with their limitations, and hence the adjusted person would be an effective reformer, and not a malcontent, or heaven forbid, a feminist or other person sighting irreconcilable conflicts of interest that could not be swished away by better management. Call me maladroit for noticing the institutional double binds and mixed messages that bedeck the critical articles on this website. I am neither adjusted nor easily assimilated.

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