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The Big Answer

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Lost in the Land of Oz: The Search for Identity and Community in American Life

a book by Madonna Kolbenschlag

(our site's book review)

In this book, the author bemoans the fact that the nuclear family, cut off from many of the familial and communal connections that would support its functions and moderate its pathologies, “…has become a victim of its own isolation. When we learn that interpersonal violence probably occurs in one out of three American families, we need to ask why.…Violence in American families…is not an aberration. It is too frequently the norm.…If so many families fall short of our expectations and batter women and children, especially, through physical or psychological abuse, or passively, through deprivation and devaluation, we might well ask, Are there any families that are okay? To the extent that all families are infected, to greater or lessor degree, with the myth of dominance modeled in the dynamic of gender roles and social class, the answer would have to be no. To the extent that families are struggling to evolve new dynamics of interaction, the answer would be a qualified yes. In other words, the okay families are probably recovering families who are processing their pain and their pathology.”

The dominance model, of course, operates in most families, even the so-called liberal ones, since whenever the spoiled kids become too unbearable, threats and force (and often hitting or spanking) are used as a desperation measure to stop the unbearable behavior. Authoritarianism steps in as proof positive that permissiveness doesn’t work. Authoritarianism and the dominance model are one and the same—the author simply prefers the latter term. And, as she observes so clearly, none of these types of families are really doing “okay.”

Spanking: a perfect example of the dominance model
Spanking: a perfect example of the dominance model

Kolbenschlag realizes, as do Arthur Janov of The Primal Scream fame, Harvey Jackins of Re-evaluation Counseling fame, and many others including Alice Miller, John Bradshaw, John Pollard of Self-Parenting fame, and most counselors and shrinks, that kids normally don’t end up feeling fully loved and nurtured, and so they normally engage—as adults—in the struggle to get people they meet to parent them and supply the unconditional love their parents didn’t supply, or they go through life trying to earn love, manipulate love from people, or find it in substitute experiences that vary from materialism or overeating to perversion. This is not necessary, not fair, not happy and not “okay.”

So there’s abuse everywhere, and growing participation in recovery and self-help support groups. And rather than the schools and media doing what’s necessary to educate us about good parenting and about lifestyles that lead towards growth and fulfillment (information which is well known), the media (and often the schools) give confusing mixes of information, superficial information and misinformation relating to what “sells,” what has enough sensationalism in it to get ratings, what reflects conventional wisdom (usually popularized misinformation like "spare the rod and spoil the child"), what reflects the personal views of teachers or media company CEOs, and what’s popular with the special interest groups and PACs that pay for ads, pedal influence, etc. Worse yet, the child-raising information that gets through to families is a casualty of the Culture War, caught in the cruel crossfire and rancid rhetoric.

Cruel crossfire and rancid rhetoric
Cruel crossfire and rancid rhetoric

Kolbenschlag goes on: “The challenge to both men and women is to invent new myths. People are changed, not by intellectual convictions or ethical urgings, but by transformed imaginations [italics hers].…One study shows that 10 to 12 percent of fathers are substantially more involved with their children today than ever before. Slowly,…American manhood is trying out new roles, new myths: caretaker, helpmate, homemaker, teacher, and nurse of the young. But the old myths die hard.…The accelerating urgency of problems like childcare, literacy, education, health care, domestic and social violence, homelessness, and drug traffic are overwhelming us.”

After rightly advocating the new, ecological-holistic paradigm, Kolbenschlag tries to help the religiously co-dependent (anything can be used as an addiction, a reason to accept “fate,” or a crutch that acts as a barrier to maturity and self-discovery) get over the need for a Disneyesque God up above the clouds, watching over us as dependent, helpless children, and willing to spare us the pain and loss of death by offering a Disneyesque heaven to vacation in for all eternity.


This humiliating vision is a myth that is simply beneath us. She leans toward a more mature spirituality with less patronization, fear and denial and more compassion and Gaia spirit—the new, ecological-holistic paradigm, again. The patriarchal, authoritarian vision is simply not going to harmonize well with Third Wave reality, the new paradigm and the new world order. We need to figure out how we can survive the 21st century, not how we can comfort ourselves with pretty fairy tales as we anticipate imminent nonsurvival. If we cannot even face the existential fact of death with integrity and maturity, how will we ever face the dangerous potentials of the 21st century?