June 20, 2011

To My Fellow Sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome: When Your Captor Is the State

If you live in the United States (and more broadly, if you live in any modern State), you are a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. This is necessarily true, even if you passionately protest against the overwhelming majority of the policies and actions pursued by the State in which you live. If you continue to live there, you suffer from Stockholm Syndrome due to that fact alone. I suffer from the Syndrome myself, although (I think it is fair to say) far less than most people.

Remember the basic characteristics of the Syndrome. I emphatically do not refer to Wikipedia entries in the belief that they are likely to be correct, especially on any matter I view as of special importance. But this Wikipedia entry is correct on the essentials (and I refer to it especially because of one document it relies upon, as mentioned below). The entry begins:
In psychology, Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a real paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors; sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.
It deserves emphasis that "[t]hese feelings are generally considered irrational" -- but if, and only if we are able to view the situation from outside the perspective of the hostages themselves.

Now consider what happens if the captor is the State in which you live. I would submit that the identical mechanisms can be identified, but that it is very rare indeed for the captive in this situation to be able to step outside the hostage perspective. If I reword my earlier observation, the reason for that becomes clearer: if you still live in the United States (or another State), you are still a hostage. To maintain consistently a perspective which steps outside the captor-hostage situation requires unceasing, dedicated effort when you remain a hostage in your daily life.

I've been thinking about these issues in connection with upcoming articles. I provided a small preview in a recent entry:
My focus in the upcoming article(s) will be on the various ways in which the oppressive, deadly system under which we try to live has distorted and coopted the approach of even those who condemn and protest against that system.

In a discussion of the beginning of what was positively guaranteed to be the "brief" (!!) intervention in Libya, I mentioned how difficult I often find it these days to read "dissenting" writers. The reactions to the sordid Weiner crap provide a further opportunity to explain why I find most "dissenters" to fall lamentably short of the mark. I wrote in the earlier post that one way of describing the failing I discern is to note that the dissenters "are all so goddamned, fucking polite."
Most "dissenting" writers exhibit the characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome, even if to a somewhat lesser degree than reflexive supporters of the status quo. Consider the deeply awful Sam Smith article that I analyzed the other day. Smith identifies a number of reasons for his strong criticisms of Obama -- and then proceeds to offer transparently unconvincing rationalizations for voting for Obama next year (because, as Smith says, Obama will "do us the least harm," ignoring that Obama, too, is committed to your complete destruction).

Smith, like many, many others, thus adopts the captor's perspective, and "fights" on the captor's terms -- and in this sense, he is "defending" his captor, just as a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome does. If you fight in the manner permitted by those who hold you hostage, how likely do you think it is that your captors will set you free? That's right: they won't. Your captors permit you to "fight" them in certain ways because they know you'll lose.

The Wikipedia entry largely relies on an article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: "Understanding Stockholm Syndrome." Several formulations in that article particularly caught my attention. Ponder this sentence:
In essence, eventually, the hostage views the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it.
Now contemplate this idea with the United States government as "the perpetrator." On this point, we must begin (as I always endeavor to do) with the terrible fact that Obama claims the "right" and power to murder anyone in the world, whenever he wants, for whatever reason he wishes, that is, he claims to hold absolute power. In other words: if you continue to live, it is only because the State permits you to. Gone altogether is even a nod toward the notion of unalienable rights, or that "life" is first among them. Thus, the State gives life by simply not taking it.

This is the fundamental point for us today, and it is tragically inescapable, short of permanently leaving the country. And, as is always true, the hostage situation encompasses far more than this one issue, as ultimately dispositive as this first issue may be. Turn your attention to my formulation of the related point:
Our entire political-cultural frame of reference is that determined by the perpetrators.
I've discussed this phenomenon in many articles. For a single detailed treatment of it, I would recommend one essay: "'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought." From the beginning of that discussion:
As a nation, we are resolute in our refusal to identify the true nature of our actions, and in our refusal to acknowledge the consequences of what we do. This may well be true of most nations throughout history. Yet there is a direct correlation between a nation's power and influence, and its reliance on myth and other public relations ploys. As the world's sole superpower, the United States via its ruling class saturates its subjects at home and abroad with propaganda on a scale and with an intensity that have rarely been surpassed. As is true of all propaganda, permissible viewpoints are confined within suffocatingly constricted boundaries of thought; variation of any moment from the prescribed guidelines is prohibited.
The full article discusses this in detail.

My own views continue to grow more radical with each day that passes, in contrast to the idea that many people tend to become more conservative as they age (a point I mentioned in one of my essays about the Reverend Wright affair). In connection with the ideas offered here, I would say that I view my thought and writing as an attempt to step outside the bounds of thought and action prescribed by our captors as completely as I can. Or: my work here, and in my thinking generally, is to escape the effects of the Stockholm Syndrome. In many ways, it is an arduous task; among other things, it requires a willingness to challenge one's own ideas anew every day and to take nothing at all for granted. But I also find the rewards incalculable. As I discussed in the Wright article, it is a perspective of youth, using that term in its best sense. A willingness to perform this very hard work grants one the blessed sense of being young again. I would cherish that feeling under any circumstances; since I feel terrible physically so much of the time, it has come to represent a gem of inestimable worth to me. Given the political circumstances in which we now find ourselves, I do not exaggerate when I say that I will continue to guard it with my life.

In addition to the sentence I highlighted above, I was also very struck by these formulations in the Wikipedia entry, which are largely taken from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin article (the first point is the one already discussed):
The following are viewed as the conditions necessary for Stockholm syndrome to occur.

-- Hostages who develop Stockholm syndrome often view the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it. In this sense, the captor becomes the person in control of the captive’s basic needs for survival and the victim’s life itself.

-- The hostage endures isolation from other people and has only the captor’s perspective available. Perpetrators routinely keep information about the outside world’s response to their actions from captives to keep them totally dependent. [See the "'Regrettable Misjudgments'" article for more on this point.]

-- The hostage taker threatens to kill the victim and gives the perception of having the capability to do so. The captive judges it safer to align with the perpetrator, endure the hardship of captivity, and comply with the captor than to resist and face death.

-- The captive sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor exhibits it in some form towards the hostage. However, captives often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence. If the captor is purely evil and abusive, the hostage will respond with hatred. But, if perpetrators show some kindness, victims will submerge the anger they feel in response to the terror and concentrate on the captors’ “good side” to protect themselves.
With regard to the third element -- that the "captive judges it safer to align with the perpetrator, endure the hardship of captivity, and comply with the captor than to resist and face death" -- I refer you to "Killing Wikileaks, and Making Collaborators of Us All," and to this formulation of mine:
The corporatist-authoritarian State is designed to force all of us to become its collaborators. If you wish to survive in such a State, you either collaborate or your life becomes increasingly difficult. In the most extreme case, your non-cooperation means you will die.
And you will find an extended discussion of this theme in: "Memo to the Victims: You Yourselves Will Pay for the Crimes of the Ruling Class," which includes this passage:
The authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system victimizes untold millions of individual human beings, as well as many other forms of life as we see again today, both here and abroad. That would be a momentous evil in itself, but this particular evil is unsatisfied with only this first form of destruction.

Thus, the victims are targeted a second time, and they are forced to become collaborators in their own destruction. It is crucial to understand that these two forms of destruction are not separate manifestations of separate evils. They are the consequences of the same evil, and the two forms of lingering torture and death (psychologically at a minimum, and frequently existentially as well) are part of one overall design.
The fourth of the conditions identified as necessary for Stockholm Syndrome to occur is of special importance, and I will be discussing some of its numerous manifestations in upcoming pieces. For the moment, think about those people (which is most people, including almost all "dissenters") who are so deeply committed to "reforming" and "saving" the system. To allow themselves to believe that the system is capable of being "reformed" and "saved," they must constantly appeal to what they view as the "kindness" of their captors. This must be true, even if that "kindness" is only the alleged willingness of the captors to change and alter course, if only they "understood" and finally appreciated the truth, or some critical element of the truth. The "dissenters" are, of course, eager and willing to explain that truth to them. They must desperately search for their captors' "good side" to grant legitimacy to their efforts. Of course, this is precisely what the captors want you to do. But what if you're wrong about your captors' willingness to change? And again, I ask: If you fight in the manner permitted by those who hold you hostage, how likely do you think it is that your captors will set you free? As I said: they won't.

And we must answer this question: Is our political system capable of being "reformed" or "saved"? I'll turn to that in more detail shortly.