My study in Developmental Psychology (M.S., 1975) added to an already radical political philosophy that I had developed during the Vietnam War era. American involvement in the Vietnam War is today regarded almost universally as a tragic mistake. Although 58K Americans were killed in Vietnam, many people believe that an even larger number died by suicide or other self-destructive means following the war. I think that these concerns have been largely buried by American media in the effort to bury the mistakes of American involvement in Vietnam.
Immediately following the American withdrawal from that conflict, I worked as a teacher in Australia for two years, giving me a distance from American propaganda and media. Living outside of America is the only way to see the size and depth of the forest rather than being blinded by a select presentation of a clump of trees. Seeing American history from a distance, objectively, shows a picture far less romanticized and homogenized that even the best education in America provides.
The recent rightwing rants against teaching facts from American history, dressed up as criticism of Critical Race Theory is a perfect example of this. If we were to adhere to a strict rejection of instruction in CRT history as necessary to avoid divisiveness and all the other problems of learning truths we don’t like, we’d miss out on understanding things like Jim Crow Laws that were fully in place and fully prosecuted from the late 1860’s until the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960’s.
The Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the U.S. South from the end of Reconstruction to the mid-20th century. The laws were named after Jim Crow, a derogatory term for an African American, and were meant to keep Black people in a subordinate position to white people. The laws affected many aspects of life, such as education, voting, transportation, public facilities, and employment.
Civil rights activists and organizations, such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee challenged these laws. Some landmark court cases that overturned some of the laws were Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which declared school segregation unconstitutional, and Loving v. Virginia (1967), which struck down the ban on interracial marriage. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 also outlawed many forms of discrimination and segregation. However, the legacy of Jim Crow laws still affects the social, economic, and political conditions of many Black Americans today. Criticism of the teaching of CRT aims to shut down consideration of these inconvenient truths and therefore make changes more difficult. Fortunately, the arts, especially the art of filmmaking has demonstrated repeatedly the history (The Help, Hidden Figures, The Green Book) and ongoing impact of America’s racist history.
No problem is ever effectively dealt with by pretending it never existed or by ignoring its ongoing reality.
American Racist Denial and the World
The U.S. South had Jim Crow laws that segregated and oppressed Black Americans. The German Nazis learned from these laws and made their own race laws, called the Nuremberg Laws, that targeted Jewish people in Nazi Germany. The Nuremberg Laws had two main parts: the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. The Reich Citizenship Law took away the citizenship of Jewish Germans and called them "nationals", while the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor forbade and punished interracial marriage and sex between Jewish and Aryan people. The Nazis also copied the U.S. ways of deciding racial identity, such as the one-drop rule, to decide who was Jewish and who was not. The Nuremberg Laws set the legal basis for the killing and torture of Jewish people during the Holocaust and World War II.
A knowledge of history can help people do the right thing in the present by helping trace the historical roots and transformations of our societies and values, we can grasp the origins and implications of the problems and opportunities we face today and draw lessons from the achievements and mistakes of our ancestors.
History hones our ability to critically and analytically examine various sources of information, viewpoints, and arguments, we can form our own views and choices based on evidence and reason. This can help us resist being deceived by manipulation, falsehood, or prejudice, and to act responsibly and morally.
By cultivating our sensitivity and appreciation for the diversity of cultures, identities, and experiences, both in the past and in the present using history, we enrich our understanding of human history, and acknowledge the shared humanity that unites us. This can also help us fight against bigotry, injustice, and violence, and to foster harmony and fairness.
History is more than a collection of facts and dates, but a way of making sense of the world. By learning history, we can acquire valuable insights and skills that can help us make the right decisions in the present.
How Knowledge of History and Developmental Psychology Blend Together in Political Philosophy
I consider myself a political radical with heavy leanings towards anarchy as a foundational starting place in my politics and my psychology. I wrote an award-winning novel, Stuck in Neutral and six additional novels edited and marketed for teens that dealt with deep and profound developmental Psych issues. The famous and lovable TV personality Mr. Rogers, of children’s programs of the 70’s and 80’s, also had a master’s degree in Developmental Psych. I think it’s safe to say that we took our training and education in rather different directions, although both of us dedicated our careers to the betterment of society and human beings. Developmental psychology is the scientific study of how and why humans change over the course of their lives. Political philosophy is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature and justification of political institutions, values, and principles.
There are different ways that a knowledge of developmental psychology can help with developing a political philosophy. One way is to understand how people acquire and change their political attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors throughout their lifespan. For example, some researchers have explored how childhood experiences, such as family socialization, cognitive development, and exposure to political events, shape adult political orientations. Others have examined how political generations, life events, and aging influence political stability and change.
Another way is to evaluate and compare different political philosophies based on their implications for human well-being, justice, and citizenship. For example, some scholars have argued that positive psychology, which focuses on the scientific study of human flourishing, can provide an empirical basis for assessing and improving political systems. They have suggested that political philosophies can be classified in two dimensions: individual/collective and ethical/non-ethical. Based on this framework, they have proposed that communitarianism, which emphasizes the importance of social bonds, shared values, and civic engagement, is the most compatible with positive psychology and the common good.
A third way is to apply the insights and methods of developmental psychology to design and implement political interventions that promote human development, empowerment, and participation. For example, some practitioners have used the capability approach, which is a normative framework that focuses on the opportunities and freedoms that people must possess to achieve their valued goals, to inform and evaluate policies and programs that aim to enhance people's well-being and agency. Others have advocated for deliberative democracy, which is a model of democracy that emphasizes the role of rational and respectful dialogue among citizens and public officials in decision-making processes, to foster political learning, trust, and cooperation.
There is no definitive answer to the question regarding how impactful Developmental Psychology can be in the formation of a political philosophy and viewpoint, as different perspectives and disciplines may have different assumptions, methods, and goals. In my case, I believe the blending of such disciplines was critical to the formation of my present-day beliefs and practices, reflecting the importance of engaging in interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration to enrich our understanding and practice of both fields.
By Unknown author - Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, frontispiece., Public Domain