Est. Number & Percent of Americans w/ Bipolar Disorder: 3,325,000 – 9,975,000: 1% – 3%
And so on, through a menagerie of psychiatric disorders. These were just the ones that came to mind first. Not in any way making light of the horrible suffering endured by those afflicted with these disorders and by those who love them. Merely pointing out how common people who have severely crippled grips on reality are. Not to mention the milder but still debilitating forms of delusion, such as socialism and political partisanship.
With this in mind, I was actually a little surprised that only a few hundreds showed up for that demonstration and counter demonstration that I’ve been diligently ignoring. The organizers could not have been trying very hard if what they wanted was a good show of numbers – there’s a large pool of potential participants. If that’s indeed what they wanted.
The more interesting issue for me has been tracking the efforts of the suicidal narcissists to find, or, if necessary, produce their Guy Fawkes. As long as your opponents keep appearing sane, non-violent and, you know, human, violence against them tends to backfire in the court of public opinion. That’s why any and all opposition is labeled ‘Nazi’. Trouble is, those enemies keep screwing it up by not acting at all like Nazis, and keep pointing out that the inflammatory rhetoric, threats and violence are all coming from the other side.
Thus, the search is on for a useable Guy Fawkes. In a country of 325 million people, millions of whom are certifiably off their rockers, that doesn’t take long.
Keep in mind that, as with the historical Fawkes, the goal here is establish a pretext to silence and eventually get *you*, the calm and rational opposition. Nobody sane objects to locking up dangerous loonies, after all.
Briefly looked over the *97* draft blog posts in my backlog. But am I finishing or discarding any of them? Noooo! I’m drafting another one! Right here, right now!
I’ve previously mentioned the froo-froo snacks thing we have going at my place of employment. The company supplies all kinds of free goodies in each of two nice kitchenettes – one upstairs, one down. This bounty includes sodas, bottled waters, fruit nectars, greek yogurts, single-serving cheeses (3 kinds) along with nuts, party mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and on and on. For an office with around 20 people in it.
We’ve recently upped the ante from this already embarrassing bounty by adding ‘healthy’ snacks from a service that supplies them in a cute cardboard box/display every couple weeks. I am weak – I tried some: they range from pretty good (e.g., coconut something-something bars – yum!) to weird (e.g., ‘jerky’ that ended up being limp sticky maple flavored bacon – huh? Bacon = good; this = weird.), as you might expect.
But I do draw the line somewhere. I have nothing against kale, per se, even if I have occasionally and with some
justification referred to it as ‘a weed with a marketing department’. But
I’m not even going to try a snack leading with ‘Blueberry-Vanilla-Kale’ in big print. I have some principles.
Also, the Gucci snack industry’s crack delivery system mutation division can’t seem to settle on terminology: are these oh-so-hip snack units bars? cookies? skeet? pucks? I’d go with ‘wads’ – ‘a delicious wad of vanilla- infused blueberries enveloped in a healthful duvet of the finest kale’ – I might try THAT, once, anyway, out of sheer cussedness.
My daughter and I sometimes kid about efforts to be holy, in what I hope is a light and not-asking-to-get-struck-down-by-lightening way. We once came up with ‘redemptive mockery’ in response to the use of the term redemptive suffering for every little inconvenience: one might piously help out a fellow sinner by mocking them relentlessly, for their own good! Look at all the humility and patience to be gained! In a similar vein, living out here in California, we get pretty touchy-feely at Mass. People tend to hold hands at the Our Father, sometimes forming circles of people so joined. I refered to this as ‘redemptive kindergarten’ to said daughter, and had the satisfaction of watching her spend the next few moments fighting off a giggle fit. At Mass. Bad Daddy! Bad!
This may have to be my default GIF from here on out:
Politics? Education? Religion? Hey, the dumpster fires have to burn themselves out eventually, right? Right? PLEASE?!?
If you want to die at home, my advice would be, don’t go to a hospital. Perhaps this will strike gentle reader as a remark overweighted on the side of the obvious; but there is some method in some of my madness. So I will begin with a careful qualification: my advice holds for Canada, and the United Kingdom, but not for all of those Natted States. (I realize there are other jurisdictions.) And even there, the impossibility of fixing “Obamacare,” without further extending its “entitlement” provisions, shows the end is coming, soon. But in Canada and UK, the future has been here for some time.
The reason, of course, is that at these higher latitudes we have so-called “single-payer” “healthcare” systems in which, as we have been reminded lately, all decision-making is concentrated in the caring-sharing State, or as I prefer to call her, Twisted Nanny. Once the paperwork is complete, and the customer has progressed from the outer to the inner waiting rooms, he is entirely in her power. He may, after reviewing her apparatus (both surgical and managerial), want to go home and die there. But she is unlikely to release him, and it will require the assistance of loyal friends and family to effect the equivalent of a prison break. (Tip: staff tend to be at their least attentive during the conventional sleeping hours.)
You see, Twisted Nanny likes to watch people die. She can become quite annoyed when others appropriate this privilege. She also likes to kill people, and has gone to considerable trouble to establish a monopoly in this regard. And given her latest powers, under legislation for “euthanasia,” she prefers to do it in her own facilities. She doesn’t make house calls, the way they do in Red China.
Let us take this day as a vigorous reminder of what insane partisanship and unscrupulous ideological fanaticism can do with historical facts. To sum up: A mob killed a few retirees and cripples who were guarding a prison holding a few upper-crust criminals and crazy people, and set them free in the name of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Vive la révolution! I guess. And this has become the great event that marks France’s joining the ranks of countries that have slaughtered tens of thousands of their own unarmed citizens because they failed to get with the Enlightenment program. Or something.
As Tonio-K put it: but just because we’re hypnotized, that don’t mean we can’t dance!
In early 1794 – at the height of the Reign of Terror – French soldiers marched to the Atlantic Vendée, where peasants had risen up against the Revolutionary government in Paris. (They had risen up because of the slaughter already being visited upon their sons, pressed into war for the Revolution and killed if they resisted, and their priests and sisters – ed.)
Twelve “infernal columns” commanded by General Louis-Marie Turreau were ordered to kill everyone and everything they saw. Thousands of people – including women and children – were massacred in cold blood, and farms and villages torched.
In the city of Nantes, the Revolutionary commander Jean-Baptiste Carrier disposed of Vendéean prisoners-of-war in a horrifically efficient form of mass execution. In the so-called “noyades” –mass drownings – naked men, women, and children were tied together in specially constructed boats, towed out to the middle of the river Loire and then sunk.
Now Vendée, a coastal department in western France, is calling for the incident to be remembered as the first genocide in modern history.
Residents claim the massacre has been downplayed so as not to sully the story of the French Revolution.
Historians believe that around 170,000 Vendéeans were killed in the peasant war and the subsequent massacres – and around 5,000 in the noyades.
But to call it genocide might taint (!) the glorious memory of the French Revolution. Can’t have that. Sort of like acknowledging that Che was a sociopathic murderer of defenseless men, women and children whose talents happen to find perfect opportunity for expression in another branch of the revolution – best not to think about it.
And this is just the most egregious slaughter carried out by the Enlightened. Many hundreds more died by the guillotine, by being left to starve or rot in ships or prisons, are just more prosaically murdered as the situation allowed. The French Revolution is the archetype and model for all future efforts to implement Progressive ideals once power has been seized.
Bastille Day is an ideal way to get your feet wet in actual history, and to see how willingly some people lie and how effortlessly many more people believe them. Ignorance is usually best, or at least the least trouble, but if people know anything about the French Revolution, it’s probably something to do with having killed mean old Marie Antoinette and gotten rid of a crazy monarchy. That the French then proceeded to cycle through military dictatorship, monarchy, and an emperor or two between periods of anarchy, all the will leaving piles of bodies along the way – that seems less well known or, worse, irrelevant.
You have to ask the question: why do the lies seem to almost always go one way and not the other? Or, better, why is something like gruesome and sadistic slaughter of unarmed men women and children given a pass if not ignored completely? Or how do actual acts of murder get presented as equivalent to largely theoretical evils, such as the victims of capitalism? Oh, sure, people have been and are still being oppressed, and some have even been murdered. But 170,000 in a year? When did Pullman or United Fruit or the mining companies round up 170,000 men, women and children and sadistically murder them? And if you’ve got something, And if you’ve got something, I’ll raise you 20 million Ukrainian Kulaks and 60 million Chinese peasants.
All evil is evil, but there are degrees. That spirit that drove the French Revolution is far more evil than the simple greed of men, and lives and wrecks havoc even today.
My beloved and I have been driving to San Jose or thereabouts to attend these monthly meeting for the last few years whenever we can – good people, and, hey! Chesterton! I thought my regular readers, who, to my surprise, are well into double digits these days, might find our current reading interesting.
However, enough of us wanted to read Everlasting Man, and the indomitable John Rose had a reading plan already in hand that broke it into suitable segments, that we were able to jump right in! Thanks, John! We’ll be taking it a dozen or 2 pages at a crack.
July, first meeting: Prefatory Note & Introduction, about 14 pages. You can find it online free here or here. In this short 14 page introductory section, Chesterton calls out H. G. Well’s Outline of History, which can be found here (I have not read it yet).
As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide.
Amusing side story: when Well’s work was first published, Belloc, who is the bad cop to GKC’s good cop as far as smacking down nonsense goes, reviewed it rather harshly, Wells responded with a piece titled “Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History.” Belloc then responded to the response with “Mr. Belloc Still Objects.” Apparently the exchange got rather heated, various partisan publications wouldn’t print the responses, names got called. Belloc was an actual historian, and took umbrage at Well’s playing fast and loose with the evidence. Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. which takes a view very much opposed to Wells’, was first published in 1920, the same year as Outline.
So Chesterton starts by praising Wells for being an amateur – in other words, highlighting Belloc’s central claim. He’s charmingly paradoxical about it, as is his style, but there’s little doubt whose side he’s on.
Some Historical Context: This dispute about how history is to be understood is just a tip of a particularly large iceberg, one still very much afloat today. For the century leading up to 1920, popes and other leaders had been descrying the threat of Modernism, the relevant aspect of which is stated in bold below:
Wells published his Outline in 1920 as a universal history – one that deals with more than “reigns and pedigrees and campaigns”. Wells had embarked upon his Outline as a result of his work with the League of Nations and a desire to aid world peace by providing the world “common historical ideas”.The Outline proved to be an expansive, all-encompassing work. Wells had a panel of specialists at his disposal to review and check his work. Although the panel revealed many inevitable “gaps, misjudgments and misproportions”, Wells reserved the right to “maintain his own judgments”. As a result, The Outline contained what were alleged by Belloc to be a number of biased statements, intolerant statements and false assumptions. Materialistic determinism was viewed as a central philosophy underlying the Outline, with Wells portraying human progress to be both a blind and inevitable rise from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of scientific utopia. (my emphasis) Unfortunately, Wells’ judgments and perceived bias left his work open to heavy criticism.
Wells was a Fabian Socialist for a while, at least, right around the time he wrote this book. The Fabian’s coat of arms:
To Wells and his besties, the League of Nations was an obvious means to promoting Communism, if only as a tool to bring about destruction of the status quo. If you believe that materialistic determinism is true, and human progress is a blind and inevitable rise resulting therefrom, you will feel (I daren’t say ‘think’) that any steps may be taken to destroy the current system – because something better will *inevitably* result! There is no going back, it’s forward all the way! The magic fairies of materialistic determinism say so! The larger truth of inevitable progress forgives in advance all the little lies perpetrated in its honor. And also forgive the murder of many tens of millions by the Communists, history’s sterling example of blind faith in Progress, for the sake of a glorious future.
In 1920, the battle between the Hegelian/Marxist faith in Progress (differing chiefly in what, if any, role one gives religion) and sanity (the understanding that progress is a highly contingent and often intermittent result of individual human actions) had been raging for almost a century. Pope St. Pius IX had issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, containing a number of anathemas against modernist ideas. Pope St. Pius X had issued Pascendi Domini gregisandLamentabili sane exituin 1907, and his Oath in 1910.
This is the environment in which Chesterton published Everlasting Man in 1925. Similarly, his essays collected in In Defense of Sanity are defending, under the name ‘sanity’ the notion that ideas and the free choices of men matter, that the understanding of what is true, beautiful and good by a common man is to be valued, and that preposterous preening and self-importance of the Progressives are empty, futile yet dangerous.
The chief characteristic of progressive thought is that it doesn’t have to make sense. This is the fruit of Hegel, who in turn is best understood in this context as a Lutheran theologian more so than a philosopher. Certainly, he tries to describe an intellectual universe where discontinuity and contradiction are not signs of intellectual failings, but rather clear indications of intellectual progress. The Spirit (Hegel found ‘God’ too loaded a term) unfolds itself through History. Being is too limiting. A real philosopher must consider Becoming. What the Spirit is Becoming can be seen in the world in His actions – History. It will make sense when and to the extent that the Spirit has unfolded itself, but not before, and only to the enlightened. Inconsistencies and contradictions are just par for the course.
Hegel could not – no one can – hold the field against the Thomists when the game is reason and logic.(1) Therefore, Hegel begins by attempting to discredit ‘propositional reasoning’ (in Phenomenology of Spirit) and logic as understood since the ancient Greeks (in Logic). He substitutes for reasoning and logic insight and enlightenment. He dismisses the Law of Non-Contradiction, and replaces it with the notion of contradictory ideas being suspended in a fruitful opposition within a synthesis. (As with most of Hegel, that last statement makes as much sense as it sounds like it does. Which is, after all, the point.)
In the hands of lesser(?) intelligences such as Marx and Freud, the idea was quickly shed that there’s a Spirit revealing itself in History, and instead it was just assumed History is moving itself forward – making Progress. We also lose Hegel’s charming humility in disavowing any knowledge of the future, since such foreknowledge would require guessing how the Spirit was going to unfold next – which is as close to sacrilege and heresy as an Hegelian can get. Marxists and Progressives in general know where we’re going: some flavor of a worker’s paradise. That’s why it’s so important to ‘be on the right side of History’ and not to ‘turn back the clock’.
Marx is the poster boy for that materialistic determinist Wells was getting on about. He knows what he knows not through reasoning, but rather through Enlightenment. He is woke. Any attempts to reason with him are in themselves conclusive proof that you don’t get it, are laboring under false consciousness, and need to be educated.
Wells knows there is no God. Yet he also knows there has been progress. Therefore, to provide a mechanism by which this observable progress has been made, he has to make a god out of Progress itself.
There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote [Manalive]. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.
The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.
Hegel and especially Marx are in some real sense heretics. They are not pagans, but people who have left aside some parts of Christianity while still clinging to its central claims of redemption from a fallen state through the intervention of the Divine. They are too close to see how much their beliefs are still Christian, no matter how twisted, like how a human form can still be recognized in the rubble of a ruined statue. But they are too close, and do not want to see.
Next month: 2. the first half of The Man in the Cave up to “Art is the signature of man.”
What about scientists and mathematicians? They make progress, insofar as they do, by deploying exactly the musty old reasoning and logic familiar to and beloved by the Thomists. Hegel consigns them to the philosophical outer darkness: their work is OK, as far as it goes, but not exalted like what real philosophers do! Irony alert: the very fields that give Wells the most ammo for his claims of self-propelled Progress are those Hegel had to toss out in order to make his claims that enlightenment trumps reason. Ouroboros.
A trenchant comment by Marcel had me looking up the use of ‘rum do’ in that wonderful book (it occurs in that exact form exactly once). Lewis imagines the tramp judging the indignities of being bathed, dressed as a don and dragged around the Institute while Merlin puts incomprehensible words in his mouth as “‘a rum do'”— the rummest do that had ever befallen him.”
IT WAS WITH GREAT PLEASURE that Mark found himself once more dressing for dinner and what seemed likely to be an excellent dinner. He got a seat with Filostrato on his right and a rather inconspicuous newcomer on his left. Even Filostrato seemed human and friendly compared with the two initiates, and to the newcomer his heart positively warmed. He noticed with surprise that the tramp sat at the high table between Jules and Wither, but did not often look in that direction, for the tramp, catching his eye, had imprudently raised his glass and winked at him. The strange priest stood patiently behind the tramp’s chair. For the rest, nothing of importance happened until the King’s health had been drunk and Jules rose to make his speech.
For the first few minutes, anyone glancing down the long tables would have seen what we always see on such occasions. There were the placid faces of elderly bons viveurs whom food and wine had placed in a contentment which no amount of speeches could violate. There were the patient faces of responsible but serious diners, who had long since learned how to pursue their own thoughts, while attending to the speech just enough to respond wherever a laugh or a low rumble of serious assent was obligatory. There was the usual fidgety expression on the faces of young men unappreciative of port and hungry for tobacco. There was bright over-elaborate attention on the powdered faces of women who knew their duty to society. But if you have gone on looking down the tables you would presently have seen a change. You would have seen face after face look up and turn in the direction of the speaker. You would have seen first curiosity, then fixed attention, then incredulity. Finally you would have noticed that the room was utterly silent, without a cough or a creak, that every eye was fixed on Jules, and soon every mouth opened in something between fascination and horror.
To different members of the audience the change came differently. To Frost it began at the moment when he heard Jules end a sentence with the words, “as gross an anachronism as to trust to Calvary for salvation in modern war.” Cavalry, thought Frost almost aloud. Why couldn’t the fool mind what he was saying? The blunder irritated him extremely. Perhaps — but hullo! what was this? Had his hearing gone wrong? For Jules seemed to be saying that the future density of mankind depended on the implosion of the horses of Nature. “He’s drunk,” thought Frost. Then, crystal clear in articulation, beyond all possibility of mistake, came, “The madrigore of verjuice must be talthibianised.”
Wither was slower to notice what was happening. He had never expected the speech to have any meaning as a whole and for a long time the familiar catch-words rolled on in a manner which did not disturb the expectation of his ear. He thought, indeed, that Jules was sailing very near the wind, that a very small false step would deprive both the speaker and the audience of the power even to pretend that he was saying anything in particular. But as long as that border was not crossed, he rather admired the speech; it was in his own line. Then he thought, “Come! That’s going too far. Even they must see that you can’t talk about accepting the challenge of the past by throwing down the gauntlet of the future.” He looked cautiously down the room. All was well. But it wouldn’t be if Jules didn’t sit down pretty soon. In that last sentence there were surely words he didn’t know. What the deuce did he mean by aholibate? He looked down the room again. They were attending too much, always a bad sign. Then came the sentence, “The surrogates esemplanted in a continual of porous variations.”
Lewis imagines the day when Truth has had enough, and takes from the speakers of lies even what little meaning their words-as-weapons still had. In the erudite Babel that ensues, everyone hears individual words that they may understand, but all meaning has now been stripped away in audible fact as it has always been absent in practice, power being the only animating principle behind what had been allowed to pass as thought. From the inside, infuriating and ultimately terrifying; from the outside, hilarious.
The Institute was a power play, a much more sophisticated and superficially polite power play than what we see in our universities today. The one problem from the point of view of the nested Inner Circles – it’s not their power that is in play. At its heart lies a power with no interest in the desires of the players. It wishes only death and destruction in total, not just the realization of the various revenge fantasies that drive the members.
If only such a drama as the Banquet at Belbury were to take place in our modern universities! I am not eager for the deaths of our enemies, but wouldn’t mind seeing their nests vacated and burned to the ground. Figuratively, of course, after Lewis.
Like others, I too have wondered if anyone has actually read 1984. Two answers: 1st, no, not many people have read 1984; and 2nd, nothing in the experience of a conventionally educated American prepares him to understand it even if he did go through the motions of looking at the text. All required readings are accompanied by specific questions at the back of the book, the acceptable answers to which are in teacher’s copy. If it were not so, how could you test on the text?
So, no: as Briggs points out, some small fraction of people are insane, and so truly believe men can be women if they say so 2 + 2 = 5. A much larger fraction have learned the survival value of group cohesion in school, and so just want to know the answer teacher wants. On the one hand, such folks won’t give much of a thought to whether or not what teacher wants to hear is true (“Truth? What is that?” as was famously quipped); on the other hand, anyone who dares dispute the claim is attacking the order carefully established through 12 or more years of schooling.
These people will act as crazy as the true believers when challenged, since their place in the world has been established by that same schooling that tells what the right answer is. The final irony: this exact same education has rendered them all but incapable of seeing that this reaction is what they are doing. (Example, for the thrill-seeker: try to have a rational discussion with a Marxist in which you challenge Marxism – watch the shields go up and the photon torpedoes brought online. It’s not the arguments that are being defended against – it’s the very concept of a challenge. Your interlocutor won’t even notice he’s doing it.)
The use of nonsense as dogma is less critical than its use as a shibboleth – it matters much more that you say whatever everybody in the group says than what particular thing it is that you say. If you say, for example, that gender is a social construct, it’s very clear that you are a member in good standing, and, if you say there are only 2 sexes and gender is a term of grammatical art, you are excluded just as decisively.
Just as the Ministry of Truth regularly changes the shibboleths – we’ve always been at war with Eastasia! – to see who is really on board, we have politicians with their fingers in the air, declaring against, say, gay marriage right up until they declare for it.
And it’s totally out of line to notice, or to call liar. To do that is, again, proof you’re not of the tribe. That’s a price few will pay.
The schools are where this experiment is being run. I’m struck by how many dystopias include the idea that our evil overlords are experimenting on us, killing some and bending others to their wills. We are trying to resist and escape, but cannot! Why does such an idea lurk in our minds, such that it apparently rings true enough to a huge enough percentage of people to sell a lot of movie tickets and YA novels? Where, in the real world, would a cognate to such behavior be found? Dragons and sea monsters, sure, even werewolves and vampires seem like extensions of some at least marginally imaginable fear. But organizations torturing us into puppet-hood, and maybe killing us? What? Then there’s zombies, undead and lusting for brains…. Where do such ideas come from?
Then there are those who understand the latest insanity is, in fact, insane, but are unwilling to pay the price of open opposition, hoping, I suppose, that the problem will go away on its own. Finally, there are those who know exactly what they’re doing. This last group may to some degree believe this or that shibboleth, but that’s not the important part – it’s doing whatever they need to do to bring down the beast, as they see it, truth be damned! I think Alinsky and his ilk fall into this camp, as do all real Communists and some of their more self-involved useful idiots – that’s the impression I get from some feminists leaders, that they want to destroy the patriarchy more than they care about if what they say is true, let alone results in the happiness of any real women.
It’s a mess out there. As mentioned in an earlier post, things are so good in general that it’s possible to promote such anti-reality, anti-survival nonsense – and yet live. I think of the imaginary Merlin from That Hideous Strength, who was prepared to simply kill Mrs Studduck for the crime of not having the baby she was destined to have, or of real-life Charlemagne, who would have dealt with people promoting such nonsense promptly – maybe send them off to a monastery for the rest of their lives, he was merciful that way – and never given it a second thought. But even these musings miss the point: people promoting such ideas as are common today would have been locked up, at best, by their own families or lords.
Here and now, we can afford (!) to let them run loose, evidently.
Once upon a time, I read way too much psychology (general conclusion: 98% claptrap), but one writer who impressed me (1) was fallen away Freudian Alice Miller. Her basic argument was that the instinct to belong and to learn the ropes are so strong – it’s a life or death issue for children – that abused kids 1) believe whatever they need to believe in order to have a place in the ‘family’ and 2) will incorporate the behaviors they observe and suffer under into their view of themselves and the world. Result: excuses get perpetuated, and abuse gets passed on from generation to generation.
What I like about this argument is that it’s fundamentally Darwinian: we’re not asked to believe based on ‘insights’ available only to the enlightened, we are asked to consider a child’s environment from an evolutionary/survival perspective. What have human children had to do to survive to reproduce? They need to stay joined to the family/tribe that assures their survival. They’re dead if they don’t. They need to find mates and raise children themselves or they’re out of the gene pool. The tribe (broadly considered) is where they’ll do those things, if they do them.
Now we reach the modern age, where simple survival is so easy that almost any amount of crazy behavior doesn’t get one killed. Parents used to need to take great care that their children would not only survive to adulthood, but had a place in the tribe once they did – otherwise, they lose the survival game one step removed, when their offspring fail to produce offspring. We all come from a long line of successful reproducers.
Raised, as one woman I know was, by a single mom with 4 siblings each by different fathers? She has a baby, who is very likely to survive. Raised by the crazy grandmother who raised your even crazier mom? Still on the market. Cast aside like garbage when mom decides she’s tired of dad, and then given an ultimatum: actively approve of mom’s actions if you want to have any relationship with her? Done! And these are comparatively minor issues, almost beneath the notice of the properly conditioned modern mind. The bar keeps getting lower. The more serious abusers – Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example – are having their behavior normalized. Miller would have predicted this.
The scary part, according to Miller: these kids are very likely to repeat exactly what was done to them, because that’s what they absorbed as children! To do otherwise is to break the treaty, to reopen the wounds. Besides, what else would they do? What other behavior do they know? Thus, children left with relatives who molested them are very likely to leave their own children with relatives who will molest them; children molested by parents are likely to molest their children. Sadly, I have personally seen this type of behavior.
This is not rational – not something people understand and decide to do – but is rather the result of seeing no other option – if, in fact, the behavior even rises to a conscious level. Miller says that, in her experience, the presence of some sympathetic witness is key. If somebody at some point is able to let the kid know that this is not normal nor acceptable, that the kid is not crazy or evil, then the likelihood of resistance and recovery is greatly increased.(2) Other than that, we hope and pray for a miracle of healing.
All of these horror stories have introduced a line of reasoning which, when applied in general and to less traumatic situations, leads to and converges with a lot of what’s going on in the world. Here’s a brief list of topics where I think Miller’s logic is enlightening:
The tribalism of American politics. The level of vehemence is pre-rational. Rare is the person, it seems, whose political positions are based on anything other than tribal allegiance, which is instilled in the cradle.
Stockholm Syndrome. You believe what you need to believe to survive and belong.
Public Schooling. Defended on purely theoretical grounds, even when real-world criticism is acknowledged. It’s one thing to admit mommy and daddy have flaws, another entirely to suggest we get rid of them. Thus, public schooling is routinely admitted to be a disaster AND something we must enthusiastically support. To admit it is merely an abusive system of control would be to question our own place in the tribe.
Attacks on marriage. What could be more hurtful (and a greater cause of painful cognitive dissonance) than to insist that marriage is between a man and a woman for the sake of children and culture, when we all know it’s just an arrangement of convenience for any number of more or less serial mommies and daddies?
When I write about school, politics, and culture, Alice Miller’s analysis is always there, more or less in the background.
My main problem with Miller is that she had not fallen away enough from Freud. She realized that his theorizing was wild overreach, but often failed to stop herself from doing the same sort of stuff. She did an entire book where she applied her modified form of psychoanalysis on a bunch of dead people – you know, based on their writings or art and other people’s biographies. Iffy, to put it mildly.
I wonder if a particularly resilient and intelligent child couldn’t find his sympathetic witness through reading? Seems possible.