Saturday, July 02, 2005

Trauma & apocalyptic thinking

In response to my last post, T wrote in part:
We are living in an age of lost humanity. We no longer know the definition of reaching out and seeing a friend in the eyes of a stranger

I think there are still many people who can reach out that way, but there are certainly forces in society that are pushing people apart, forces that need to be confronted. Some of them have been around since civilization began and gain force periodically due to civilization's unfortunate tendency to create a relative handful of people who believe (wrongly) that they can most benefit by taking as much as possible from others.

This handful of people isn't the same every time -- no "Illuminati" or other wacky conspiracy theory here. But they are often of a similar personality type, namely, sociopathic.

Often, the perpetrators are authoritarian fundamentalists of various stripes, sometimes religious, sometimes political, sometimes both (not that there's much difference in practice; generally, only the names differ). Personally, I believe that most fundies react the way they do because they have themselves been traumatized in some major fashion but refuse to acknowledge that and instead have absorbed the victim/abuser ideology. The two cannot exist separately and are often seen in the same person depending on the current situation. Such folks do not really trust or care about others b/c they do not trust themselves (if they did, they wouldn't ID themselves and everyone else as "sinners," for example.)

While those folks DO most clearly demonstrate the problem, they are actually symptoms of it more than the causes. (That doesn't excuse their actions when they manipulate and/or brutalize others, however. We are not responsible for what happens to us, but we are responsible for what we do because of it.)

Unfortunately, since trauma afflicts a large number of people, it has large-scale social effects. especially when unacknowledged. Nobody is entirely free of trauma in some form, but only a relatively small percentage of people are actively trying to see how it might be affecting them and each other. Many have internalized the belief that they are "bad" for the horrors that befell them, that such horrors are "human nature", but feel/have been taught they cannot do anything about it. That can make it easy to turn a blind eye to hypocrisy, to promote violent "solutions," to react without enough thought, and to accept as "normal" situations of long-term fear, secrecy, and oppression (such as the world's possession of enough nuclear weapons to kill us several times over).

I believe the traumas people inflict on each other aren't due to some flaw in humanity, but to the fact that we have been trying to live in crowded, hierarchal, sedentary, impersonal cultures that clash with the way humanity and human emotions evolved over most of our species' history. Emotionally, we're still (semi-)nomadic hunter-gatherers who react best in small groups and in circumstances where changes aren't happening too quickly. That doesn't mean we can't adapt to modern circumstances, just that it takes time to do so, and the kinds of changes today are overwhelming the adaptability of too many people.

For some of them, the feeling of being overwhelmed breeds individual mental and/or physical illness. For some, it breeds addiction to ideologies that promise "salvation" in religious, political, technological or other form, often including violent destruction of an extremely generalized abuser (personally, I see that as a collective mental illness). But for others, it serves as a wakeup call to take action ....

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