October 17, 2009

Meaningful Connections

[T]he truth is that violence visited by adults upon children is an ongoing, underreported epidemic that only seems to draw attention when a celebrity comes forth or the cruel details are too hellacious to ignore.
Regular readers will know that I consider this statement to be both accurate and of critical importance. Its significance resides not only in relation to our broad cultural denial of violence and cruelty on a scale and with a frequency that are terrifying in their immensity, but in the horrifying effects of that violence and cruelty on all our lives, and on the lives of millions of innocent people around the world. The effects are seen in our personal relationships, in our work, and in our politics. Almost all of our political leaders and writers exhibit the symptoms of this "epidemic" in countless ways, and in their specific prescriptions for both domestic and foreign policy. The unending, continuing crimes of the United States government against both its own citizens and those who reside in many other countries would be impossible were it not for the cruelty in which almost everyone engages every day. Yet most of us have learned to deny all of this, even as we ourselves reenact the identical tragedies and crimes. Violence against children is the first lie, which makes all the other crippling, soul- and life-destroying lies possible and inevitable.

The crimes against children are rendered still more heinous because of the specific nature of children themselves:
There is one group of human beings that has almost no representation in our political life. It is a constituency that is left entirely unprotected. It is abused and brutalized in the most horrifying ways. What makes the horror almost ungraspable in its immensity is that this group is entirely defenseless: it is the weakest and most easily abused and manipulated group of all. That group, of course, is children, including very young adults.
For all these reasons, and for many additional ones too (only some of which I have addressed in my many articles on this subject), I am deeply grateful to James Wolcott for his statement that appears at the beginning of this entry. I hope you read all of his post from which that statement comes; it is well worth your time. I also offer my very sincere thanks to Mr. Wolcott for his mention of my own writing in this area.

Regular readers will also know that my writing about child abuse and mistreatment has been profoundly influenced and informed by Alice Miller's courageous and endlessly enlightening work. Pride of place on my list of links therefore belongs to Miller herself, and to no one else. It is only accurate to state that in many critical ways, Miller's work has saved my life, and more than once. Even that statement fails to capture the scope of the meaning of Miller's work to me. On her site, Miller has a separate page of links. The first link that appears there thus has great and unique significance to me. It represents one of the most meaningful connections that I can imagine.

Miller's link to my work (and one of Wolcott's, as well) goes to a list of my Miller essays; brief descriptions of each article are also provided. That compendium was published in early 2006. Since then, I have written a number of additional essays that seek to offer further examples and implications of Miller's major themes (probably in the neighborhood of 25, at least). But I haven't yet updated that earlier listing.

Here are a few of what I consider the major articles I've published in the last three-plus years related to these same issues. This is far from complete, but it's a start for those interested in these critical ideas. As I have time, I'll put together further similar listings. As before, I've included a brief summary of each article's primary focus.

The Ravages of Tribalism Series

Part I: Introduction: An explanation of the overall context and purposes of this ongoing series, with selected excerpts from earlier essays to clarify certain fundamental identifications that are the foundation for my analysis. For example: "It is far from obvious why so many people should enthusiastically embrace a lengthy series of lies, particularly when those lies continually result in death and destruction on a vast scale, as they do today, as they did yesterday, as they will again tomorrow. It is a question that merits investigation." And: "This series will examine some of the many ways that love goes wrong, the ways in which love destroys the genuine vitality of another soul. All too often, which is to say in the case of almost every person, the pattern of this destruction is set in early childhood."

Part II: Creating the Next Generation: A detailed examination of a true story, offered by a mother joyfully and with pride. The mother regards the story as a wonderful example of using a "teachable moment" to instruct her very young child on a critical lesson. As I explain, the story is actually an immensely destructive horror story. The horror is greatly increased because, as I also explain, the story is not one of obviously cruel physical abuse; to the contrary, it is exactly the type of psychological manipulation that most parents engage in all the time. And the problem is not that the mother doesn't love her child. She will undoubtedly insist that she does, and that may even be reflected in some limited aspects of how she raises her children. But to the extent this incident and the mother's attitudes toward it reveal her general childrearing methods, she is inflicting great harm on her child. The problem doesn't lie in the fact that she doesn't love her children; the problem lies in what she (and most people) believe love consists of, and in what she believes is the "proper" and "correct" way to treat others, including children.

Part III: Learning to Hate "The Other": I continue my analysis of the true story discussed in Part II. I begin with some general observations concerning tribal beliefs and behavior, observations that apply to all tribes, regardless of the differences in the basis of their tribal identities and particular belief systems, and then discuss the political implications of the mother's lesson to her young child, in particular the demonization of the despised "Other." Obviously, this kind of lesson has many effects which can be easily detected in the operations of contemporary politics.

Part IV: The Unknown Country: The World of the Uninjured Child: This essay further explores why the damage inflicted on most children is so critical, and how the effects of that damage continue to distort and damage the lives of most adults. To understand the damage that was inflicted on us and to begin to undo it, we must appreciate the child's perspective. This knowledge is lost to most adults, yet our wounds will never be healed without this understanding. As part of that understanding, we thus need to understand the behavior of the healthy, uninjured child. This, too, is close to impossible for many adults. But as Miller states:
It is only from a child who was never injured that we can learn entirely new, honest, and truly humane behavior. Such a child does not accept without question the pedagogic reasoning to which we were susceptible. He feels he is entitled to ask questions, to demand explanations, to stand up for himself, and to articulate his needs.
Yet as I observe in the same essay:
What I urge readers to consider is that reverence for authority of this kind -- and this sense of tribal identity that was first forced on us when we were defenseless children -- is not restricted to the specifics involved in [Mel] Gibson's case. We see the same kind of unquestioning obedience to the demands of tribal identity in almost all writers and bloggers who deal with political questions.

Studies in Conformity, Generating Consensus, and Why You Are Not Adults: A consideration of how denial and the desperate desire to "belong" and to be "accepted" distort our discussion of the continuing economic crisis at the most basic level, including some thoughts about how the famous Asch experiment in conformity reveals the same dynamics at work. ("The fact that most Americans refuse to grow up and be adults has many results. One of them is critically relevant here: most Americans will not accept that actions have consequences, and that those consequences are sometimes irrevocable. Your prayers will not restore over a million slaughtered Iraqis to life. Your wishes will not instantaneously erase the horrifying memories that make an American soldier unable to sleep, incapable of holding a job, and that make him a stranger to his own family. There are times when our actions lead to results that cannot be undone."; and: "The pathetic truth is that most people fear genuine independence more than they fear death itself. So desperate are they for 'acceptance' and so fearful of being thought 'peculiar,' they will deny the evidence of their own eyes and mindlessly repeat the lies and ignorance of others. When it comes to a subject like economics or foreign policy, they think: 'Oh, that's so hard! I can't understand that. I'll just listen to what the "experts" say. They know best.'")

Choosing Sides: Let the Victims Speak: An analysis, including examples from psychology, political campaigns, and foreign policy, of the double-victimization of oppression. ("The oppressor may inflict unimaginable cruelties on innocent victims -- but the victims may only protest in ways which the oppressor deems 'acceptable.' The profound injustice is obvious, but not in itself remarkable or unexpected: this is how oppression operates. But ask yourself about the deeper reason for the prohibition. This is of the greatest importance: the victims may only protest within a constricted range of 'permissible' behavior because, when they exceed the prescribed limits, they make the oppressors too uncomfortable. They force the oppressors to confront the nature of what they, the oppressors, have done in ways that the oppressors do not choose to face.")

Flecks of Light, Points of Understanding, and the Gift of Sight: A discussion of the Sondheim-Lapine work, Sunday in the Park with George, the nature and purposes of creation, the connections made possible by creative work (using an especially illuminating moment from a Maria Callas master class I attended as an example), and some concluding comments about how, on a much smaller scale in my own work, a similar dynamic can be detected and how, from a broad perspective, my writing revolves around one overall theme: "All things are connected."

The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?: An analysis of the common factors underlying obedience that occurs in very different contexts, including a wonderfully incisive passage from Hannah Arendt concerning obedience with regard to living in a political system -- and why it is not obedience at all, but support.

A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent: A discussion of the general cultural response to the tasering of Andrew Meyer (while John Kerry stood by and did nothing), which revealed an unthinking, virtually unanimous acceptance of the necessity of obedience as the fundamental organizing principle for social and political life, together with an analysis of Alice Miller's work concerning the origins of this destructive idea in early childhood. The Miller section of this article includes reflections on my own experience with Miller's work, how I myself resisted many of the implications of her identifications for years, along with some suggestions about the order in which her books might be read.

When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West: Relying on several news accounts, I discuss the lessons imparted to a group of high school students who had peacefully protested the ongoing occupation of Iraq, and were then threatened with sickeningly and profoundly unjust punishment, including expulsion. Those lessons were directed not only to the students, but to all of us. The worst and most destructive lesson of all is this one: "The extent of your awareness of the world around you, and the extent of your sensitivity to and concern for the sanctity of human life, will be the extent to which you are punished."

At the conclusion of the essay, I explain what the reaction of a minimally decent society to these students' protest would be:
These students are hope. They are the future, if we are still fortunate enough to deserve one. These students have earned their right to a peaceful, joyous future. Most adults can no longer say the same.

Honor them. It's the very least we can do.
There are still more essays on these and related themes. If you read some of the articles described above and follow the links, you'll find them.