The Human Basis of Democracy: Relational Power-Sharing & Everyday Authoritarianism in U.S. Rural Cultures
Preface: Background, Method, & New Terms; U.S. Rural Cultures & Democracy. (Power, agency, and relations are defined as they emerged in the field)
Chapter 1: Sarah (intro story to chapter)
Chapter 2: The Relations of Place: Cave Junction and Sea Ranch
The second chapter begins with an exploration of “place” and “rural,” understood as both geographical actualities and as functions of human relations. The two rural cultures, Cave Junction and Sea Ranch, are then described in detail using five relationally-relevant, field-based categories: (1) populations, (2) geographical characteristics, (3) power-scarcity, (4) connectivity, (5) tourist transience, and (6) natural resource management.
What emerges from the second chapter is a picture of two disparate rural cultures when understood in conventionally abstract, rural research terms: through the analytical lenses of economy and jobs. When understood from an experience-based cultural perspective focused primarily on human power relations, however, the two rural cultures share stunning similarities.
Chapter 3: Everyday Authoritarianism: Power-stealing & Hoarding Practices
The third chapter begins by distinguishing political authoritarianism from relational authoritarianism, or what I call “everyday authoritarianism.” Power-stealing and power-hoarding are modes of everyday authoritarianism, and how power moves in those imbalanced relations can be experienced and observed in human communicative practices.
Specific power-stealing and power-hoarding practices are then described as they were observed, experienced, and noted in the two rural cultures. Immersed observation of human practices and relational communication patterns in each rural culture provide the rich sources of data for this chapter.
The power-stealing and power-hoarding practices are detailed next and they include: (1) willful ignorance, (2) obfuscation of authority, (3) unreliable and inaccurate information offered intentionally, (4) passive aggression, (5) emotional withholding, (6) threats of punishment, (7) resources control, (8) information control, (9) trauma vandalism, (10) weaponized fear, and (11) exclusionary relational communication patterns.
The chapter continues with a description of observed, experienced, and noted impacts of power-stealing and -hoarding practices on human safety, trust, and well-being. Concluding, I suggest that imbalanced power relations between humans in a culture create everyday authoritarian practices that support state-level authoritarianism.
Chapter 4: Generational Orientations: Unexamined Assumptions in Practices
In the fourth chapter, I provide an examination of human “orientation” as it relates to generational factors in the rural cultures that nurture everyday authoritarian practices. For the purposes of this chapter, a human orientation is how a human’s internal world understands, engages with, adapts to, and acts in relation with their external world. Relations are communicative practices not confined to family, friends, lovers, and mentors where human orientations often can be publicly observed, experienced, and noted, as they were for this study (the healthy clinic, for instance).
Offered next is a social context overview that shows how rural members of the Baby Boomer (1946-1964) and Silent (1925-1945) generations share embodied orientations with learned assumptions that support everyday authoritarian practices. The overview distinguishes between an “orientation” and an “age,” making room to understand the following assumptions as not necessarily age-related; rather, human orientations are a result of cultural factors in formative processes of human identity-creation.
The chapter continues with a description of everyday practices that reflect assumptions (many unexamined) held by members of the Baby Boom and Silent generations in the two rural cultures.
Assumptions embodied in experienced and observed communicative practices include: “white people are superior humans,” “children are property and free labor,” “men are heads of households and authorities,” “women are support for husbands and children,” “seeking therapy and self-understanding are signs of weakness,” “experience comes from accumulated years,” “respect and deference is owed to experience,” “competition leads to improvement,” “help is earned,” “a higher authority is keeping score,” “history tells humans what the future will look like,” “emotion undermines intellect,” “the earth, its nonhuman inhabitants, and its resources exist for human use,” “the world is made up of opposites,” “‘adults come into being at 18 by leaving childhood behind,” “punishment creates responsibility,” “fear is a necessary tool to control,” “imagination and beauty are superfluous,” “following rules should be rewarded,” “authority should be obeyed,” “non-authorities lack ‘what it takes’ to be in charge,” and “the ‘big’ picture is most important.”
Chapter 5: Adaptation & Growth: Everyday Authoritarian Sprawl
The fifth chapter begins with a discussion that addresses the idea that the normal power-stealing and power-hoarding practices concentrated in the two rural cultures are simply “rude” or “mean” interpersonal encounters and that avoiding those interactions is a viable response. I offer a relational perspective that reframes everyday authoritarian practices, showing how they destroy connection, damage human and other beings, and why those practices chain personal agency, the human basis of a democratic (power-sharing) culture.
The chapter continues by describing a multitude of experienced, observed, and noted relational adaptations embodied by those from whom power is stolen and hoarded in the two rural cultures. Those adaptations fall into four categories: (1) disruption, (2) supplication, (3) internalization, and (4) passive aggression.
The chapter concludes by showing how, like a virus growing in a cultural petri dish of actual and perceived power-scarcity, unchallenged everyday authoritarian practices spread and grow, killing any native rural democratic processes. When those power-stealing practices are combined with resources, particularly in resource-scarce cultures, they force humans with little power or resources to submit to further power-stealing in order to survive, and undermining their ability to participate in democratic practices. The taken-for-granted, largely unchallenged power-stealing practices become the rural standard: they are invisible, like air or whiteness, and everything and everyone is immersed in them.
Chapter 6: We’re Looking in the Wrong Direction: The Human Basis of Everyday Authoritarianism
I offer in the sixth chapter a description of how power relations at the “bottom” of a rural culture create the social soil in which people and policy—from within or without–are planted and where they grow. I show how people and policies are damaged by power-stealing and hoarding practices, and how human agency is imprisoned by those practices. I show how unhealthy power relations currently create the cultural basis of our struggling democracy and why agency is the sine qua non of democratic (power-sharing) practices. I suggest that the economic tools of analysis and the resulting solutions in nearly all rural literature simply erase from our considerations the rural human beings living and growing in the soil of poisonous power relations.
Ultimately, I suggest that, like developing nations’ rural cultures, the power-stealing and hoarding practices in the two U.S. rural cultures would destroy efforts to solve the cultural crisis with money or jobs or from any other top-down effort. I suggest that most of us are looking in the wrong direction—up to politics, media, and the economy–to find ways to makes sense of what occurred on 11.6.16, its connection to our rural neighbors, and for healthy paths forward.
Concluding, I suggest that when we look “down” at the basis of everything—to the relations that grow humans and create cultures—we find that each one of us can begin to identify power-stealing and hoarding practices in our own social contexts, and that every single informed and mindful U.S. American can reframe those relations in democratic (power-sharing) terms.
Chapter 7: Breaking the Authoritarian Relation
In this chapter, I describe why and how the everyday authoritarian orientation has significant disadvantages and blind spots. I make the connection between those weaknesses and how they translate into vulnerabilities in the state-level authoritarian structure and for the current state-level authoritarian in the Office of the President. I show how the heart of democracy is not in policy or structure, but in humans’ commitment to share power.
Next, I describe a power-sharing orientation that produces practices that can transform rural relations and help create the enabling conditions necessary for a healthy democracy. I show how we can all do power differently, every single day.
A multitude of relational sites are identified and various power-sharing practices described, including: (1) transparent professional processes, (2) accurate, reliable information, (3) respect for time, (4) inclusive relational communication, (5) optimism, (6) emotional accessibility and facility, (7) willful self-examination, and (8) democratic access to necessary resources. Each relation–and each one-on-one power-sharing practice it creates–provide the basis for human health and for a power-sharing (democratic) culture.
Chapter 8: Conclusion: We All Live in Rural America Now
In the concluding chapter, I show how everyday authoritarian practices at the bottom of rural cultures are rewarded and glorified by structures generated at the top of urban cultures: politics, media, and capitalism. I suggest that the impacts are bi-directional: that the power-stealing and hoarding practices at the bottom spread supporting values up, throughout the culture.
I suggest that changing top-level systems and processes is overwhelming for most, and that participating in them creates human beings forced into circumstances that chain their agency: their ability to speak up and to dissent. I show how without the human agency to support power-sharing practices, power-stealing and hoarding render democratic processes and systems useless. I demonstrate how democratic cultures require protection if they are to withstand the downward generated relational pressures of capitalism, politics, and media.
I conclude with recommendations for every American who has asked themselves, “What can I, just one person, possibly do to improve the health of our democracy?” Those recommendations include: (1) recognizing and acknowledging that all humans own their forward momentum, (2) check inevitability scenarios and statements, (3) develop a personal ability to identify power-stealing and hoarding practices, (4) critically consume media representations of rural people and cultures, (5) look under the media, political, and economic narratives for the human power relations, (6) speak up, reframe, and offer democratic alternatives, (7) be mindful of the competing relational requirements of democracy and capitalism, (8) broach hard conversations with power-stealing and hoarding family members, and (9) keep the everyday fleeting interactions–our relations between one another–strong and healthy even when everything else around us seems to want to weaken them, to make us doubt them, and to make us carelessly hurt each other and destroy our human connections.