Some experiences present opportunities for “transformative learning”.
According to Wikipedia:
Transformative learning theory says that the process of “perspective transformation” has three dimensions: psychological (changes in understanding of the self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioral (changes in lifestyle).
Transformative learning is the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of basic worldview and specific capacities of the self; transformative learning is facilitated through consciously directed processes such as appreciatively accessing and receiving the symbolic contents of the unconscious and critically analyzing underlying premises.
A defining condition of being human is that we have to understand the meaning of our experience. For some, any uncritically assimilated explanation by an authority figure will suffice. But in contemporary societies we must learn to make our own interpretations rather than act on the purposes, beliefs, judgements, and feelings of others. Facilitating such understandings is the cardinal goal of adult education. Transformative learning develops autonomous thinking.
In my case, what the quote refers to as “autonomous thinking” was a necessity almost from the beginning, for the following reasons:
First, I had no (credible) “Authority” figures:
My ‘father’ was basically AWOL — off somewhere or other, most likely rip-ass drunk and/or trying to ‘score’ with various bar-sluts. by his own subsequent admission, he “sucked” as a father, and “probably should have used condoms”. (I honestly can’t blame the guy — at least he was honest enough to admit it.)
For her part, my ‘mother’ was equally-useless: locked into a cycle of systematically ignoring the increasingly-blatant antics of my idiot, heroin-addict half-brother and (as she later admitted) the suspicions of other relatives with regard to what — or more accurately who — Dad was ‘doing’.
In any case, both of them (implicitly or explicitly) subscribed to the doctrine that “children should be seen and not heard”. If I am honest with myself, I have no choice but to admit that I was more or less ignored, as much as possible. There was food, clothing, shelter etc. Unfortunately, there was also total, unquestioning acquiescence to the (faulty) prescriptions offered by what passed for a “School system” where we lived.
I was bullied quite a lot in school. I never enjoyed “recess” (for example), due to the fact that one of the fun “games” the other students tended to “play” involved rushing me from behind, tackling me, and “kneeing” me in the groin repeatedly — sometimes until I vomited).
Predictably, my parents advise (“just ignore them!”) utterly failed to do anything other than escalate the bullying. However, when I finally stopped “ignoring” them and defended myself, I was the one singled out by the school “psychologist”, for having inadequate “social” skills.
Much later (long after it was too late to make any meaningful difference), one of my various eye-doctors suggested that many — if not most — of the issues I remember experiencing from childhood were at least partially symptomatic of “migraine-equivalent”, triggered by photo-sensitivity:
It is also possible (although uncertain) that (in a school district which actually gave a shit), I would have been diagnosed as autistic, Aspberger’s, etc. I have no idea (although — as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the blog, the online self-assessment tests tend to indicate at least a fairly strong possibility.
So: my “parents” were either apathetic toward me, or too preoccupied with their own antics to even notice the fact that I was being bullied. The “school” system did notice the bullying — but blamed me for failing to “fit in”:
In other words: it was my “fault” that other children tackled me,and kneed me in the groin until I vomited.
The above should give you some indication of why I was incapable of the sort of “uncritically accepting” any of the idiotic bullshit spewed by would-be “authority figures”: it was blatantly — blindingly — obvious that they were WRONG.
Moreover — given the fact that I was essentially regarded by the other students as nothing but an organic punching-bag, I had no “peer group” into which I could mindlessly sink no “clique” from which to derive an externally-imposed, sub-cultural “identity”…..
….Which brings me to the topic of religion.
My relatives were as apathetic about religion as they were about (almost) everything else; we attended weddings and funerals, but….that was about it.
This state of affairs was actually fairly empowering, in that it prevented me from developing what George Orwell would have described as “Crimestop”:
Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.[7
I’ve noticed that this “Crimestop” disorder is exceedingly common among the adherents of many religions — a visceral aversion toward/revulsion against even learning about other religions/ideologies/”belief”-systems — coupled with the strident proclamation that those”foreign” belief-systems are wrong and/or evil.
(TL; DR: “Islam? The only thing I need to know about it is: it’s Satanic bullshit!”)
My relatives’ approach to religion isn’t that surprising, given the historical and sociological context of (so-called) “Pennsylvania Dutch Country”. The area has historically been more or less dominated by various “Anabaptist” Protestants — a rather confusing welter of regional “denominations” (predominately either Amish or Mennonite), the “Brethren” churches, along with some genuinely weird derivatives (The “Assemblies of Yahweh” — (Mennonite Wannabe ‘Jews”), as well as some really weird historical variants which had been ‘extinct’ for decades, but were still “milked” relentlessly by the local tourism boards (the “Ephrata Cloister”, for example).
In addition to the above-mentioned local “denominations”, South-Central PA also has a smattering of so-called “Mainline” Protestants and catholics, as well as (comparatively) small pockets of LDS, “Jehovah’s Witness’ — even a few jews. 🙂
The above context can be both beneficial, and challenging:
It is “beneficial”, in that the lack of religious/denominational homogenaety makes the existence of alternatives blindingly obvious (at least, to anyone fortunate enough to have originated outside of the Amish/Mennonite subcultures).
(To be fair: there is a fairly-significant amount of “drift” between the various Anabaptist denominations — mostly “shunned” Amish who tend to gravitate toward the more Conservative (“Plain”) Mennonite sub-denominations).
The two most obvious facts about the religious “subcultures” mentioned above is the fact that they are ALL extremely insular (IE: their adherents tend to associate almost-exclusively with one another), and they regard one another as “heretical”, and/or “Satanic counterfeits”. The above contempt is typically hidden under a veneer of faux-civility, and seldom discussed among “mixed company”.
What the above means is: if you are “from” PA Dutch Country: the 3 most visible subcultures for whom religion is a “total institution” are: Amish, Mennonites, and — to a less-obvious extent — the “Assembles of yahweh”, who explicitly attempt to observe their own — genuinely bizarre — parody of Kashrut (being “kosher”)
(Parenthetically, the — vanishingly small — Jewish population tends to regard the “Assembles of Yahweh” as something between a humorous “homage”, and some sort of ‘Antisemitic” parody).
At any rate: I never really had the (dubious) luxury of being “raised in” (propagandized by) a particular religion/denomination. Additionally, I couldn’t help but be acutely aware that the region was a hot-bed of what I can only describe as thinly-disguised “theological chaos”. The putative distinction was between the (so-called) “Plain Dutch” (Amish/Mennonite/Brethren), and “Fancy Dutch” (Everybody else).
There is a tendency in PA “Dutch” country to actively pander to — and even mollycoddle — the Amish. A good example of this is the fact that most non-Amish will play along with the fact that the Amish refer to all Non-Amish using the demonym “English”
(I have always found this usage to be both exceedingly idiotic, and extremely grating — mostly because I realize that “England” is a real place.)
Sadly, both the Amish and Mennonite subcultures are relentlessly “milked” by various local tourism-boards, both because the more techno-phobic denominations appear “quaint”, and because the Amish/Mennonite/Brethren/Yahweh-folks appear “exotic” to tourists.
At any rate: my “upbringing” is anomalous, in that my “relatives” essnentially didn’t give a shit about me beyond mere physical maintenance (food/clothing/shelter), and I didn’t have the luxury of having been indoctrinated by any of the prevailing “total” religions dominant in the local area. Thus, I could — and did — observe the respective subcultural antics with some level of dispassionate psychological “distance”.
Another thing which “insulated” me, was a book which I found at one of the local libraries, containing excerpts from various Non-Christian texts: (The Rig Veda, “Lotus Sutra”, etc.)
The mere existence of such a thing demonstrated to me the following three (incontrovertible) facts:
- Somewhere or other, there were various “foreigners” who invested exactly as much “faith”/belief/conviction in hinduism/buddhism/shinto etc. — as the local “Anabaptist” variants did in their respective dogmas.
- The primary determinant for what individuals claimed to “believe” was mere geography or demography — NOT a rational appraisal of the various alternatives.
- This pattern of uncritically ‘aping” – although common — is neither “ubiquitous” nor “inescapable”, as demonstrated by the existence of religious “converts”:
The above links should give you some idea….
In other words: I have never had the (dubious) luxtury of regarding the bigoted little backwater within which I happen to have been “raised” as anything other than a bigoted little back-water.
And THAT brings me to one of the reasons why I enjoyed Short-wave listening: it was a “window on the world” — a glimpse beyond the bigoted, idiotic backwater, and….strangely…..a “beacon” of sorts.