We hear a lot of talk these days about abuse, therapy, your inner child, life as a grown child of alcoholics, and the like . . . while on the other hand, at that point in my life when I’m having kids and everyone around me already has them, all these parents tell me the same story of how “Oh Yes, You Have to Discipline Them.”
Am I the only one who’s hearing both these things?
Am I the only one who has seen through to the first cause, the elusive but finally simple and obvious heart of our troubles? Hear me out, people, because I think I know what’s wrong with things. With, in fact, practically everything.
It’s not even new, really. All the information is available, all the data necessary for anyone to make sense of it all – but, unfortunately, this being a large, integral part of our problems, we can’t make sense of anything. That’s a function of repression. A modern, psychobabble concept, and for those rare among us that can and do read but haven’t heard it yet, I’ll explain it briefly.
Repression is the function whereby one or more of a person’s desires and/or needs are not met (or not even allowed to be expressed) and are therefore buried by the person, along with the pain, buried beyond consciousness. It’s a survival tactic, particularly for children, and it works. However, the main side effect is that the person’s unconsciousness of the pain and need remains, extending into the future and onto other people. For instance, if a person is obliged to repress feelings of say, helplessness, then that person will be unable to see or appreciate any feelings of helplessness in others. If the person can see it, likely they will despise it.
Did I say ‘brief?’ Anyhow, that’s the basic theory.
Now, I don’t really hold with what appears to be the lay version of childhood trauma at work. In the most unflattering, simplistic terms this theory has it that, in an otherwise normal early life, incidents of trauma can cause harm, causing repression to occur, therefore causing symptoms later, blind spots that leave us and those around us at risk and in trouble. Actually, put that way, I don’t disagree. It’s possible; I’ll give you that. But it’s hardly worth worrying about, really. Compared to the truth.
Anyhow, the theory boils out something like this: mostly everything’s OK, but you get some people who have problems and there’s a name for the great cause, and that’s abuse. Now abuse is, I think, having any kind of sex with children or with anyone who, for whatever reason cannot give full, conscious, free consent; and something I will diplomatically call Overdoing it in the old Discipline Department. Violence, in short, or better yet: use of Force. You ask me, this theory falls a little short of reality.
We, as a society, seem to believe in a two-sided kind of violence, what I will call Good Violence/Bad Violence. The idea of GVBV goes like this: if some private citizen takes a person and locks them up in his basement for weeks or years, then that’s illegal, immoral, traumatic, psychically and emotionally devastating. I think most people, and certainly most experts would agree. But, according to GVBV, when an old man in black robes in a legal position to do it sends someone to the giant cellar called prison, that’s supposed to do something positive for society (read people). Then we use different words; it’s not abduction and torture, it’s a deterrent. It’s not abuse, it’s punishment. The point here is we are talking about the same act. Unless you have the appropriate license, it’s a crime, and a wicked one; with the credentials, it’s a good day’s work serving humanity.
Morally, the problem is obvious. Wrong for you, wrong for me. Now, I know it would be turning the world upside-down to just adopt that moral stand, but that’s not my thrust, not really. The real point is in how we think about violence, or the broader concept, force. If we thought about it, no-one would really believe in GVBV like it’s portrayed on television, where the good guys shoot the bad guys, for, guess what, shooting people. Good murderers and bad murderers. Individually, I hope half of us can’t believe that kind of stuff, but as a society, we appear to.
When the awesome non-logic of GVBV is brought into the light, one can’t help but question it. If violence from an unlicensed, freelance source is bad, then so too is it bad from a sanctioned one. Now, so far, I’ve confined my argument to the justice system, but that is only a side effect. The other licensed source of violence is the real problem: child rearing. The rest, the justice system, the corporate world, etc., these are only fractal offspring: child rearing is the model, the base unit. What if GVBV is false? What if it is, and every act of discipline, punishment, and control ever practiced on us all, all of our pre-adult lives, had no good effect? What if it’s a simple law of nature that violence and force are harmful to their objects? That it’s . . . bad? And that our well-meaning parents and educators did it to us and we in our turn will do it to our children, believing in this mythical good violence?
What I’m saying is, there is no good violence. It’s all just violence, and it’s what’d I say, immoral, traumatic, etc. GVBV is a myth; it’s all bad violence, however well meant. This seems clear: we are never going to win our war on violence if we believe in the good violence we practice on our kids (and our criminals), and expect it to produce good things in them, and in the world. We sanction violence when we sanction good violence. We are continually supporting the very violence we hope to minimize by our good violence, for example:
We punish a child somehow, by hitting it, or by some more creative way of making it’s life less pleasant perhaps, not necessarily hitting, for, guess what? For, oftentimes, hitting, or finding a more creative way to make the child’s sibling’s life less pleasant. When really, we know the child’s violence toward it’s siblings to be bad violence, our identical, or at least analogous act qualifies for good violence status in our minds, because we are teaching them how to behave. This, ironically, is true. We are teaching them how to behave, but not the way we think. We are teaching them our behavior, not our ideals. According to GVBV, though, if there’s a lesson involved and the punisher is licensed, then the violence isn’t what’d I say, immoral, traumatic, psychically and emotionally devastating. No no no, not that kind of violence! This was good violence!
Again, I keep missing the point, which is the confusion that GVBV causes. Sanctioned violence, unsanctioned, with a huge gray area between . . . it’s anarchy calling itself civilization. Rules for me, rules for you, rules for the police, different rules for the very rich, and again for the very poor. In the preceding parent/child/sibling exchange, likely as not, the real issue was played out: the explanation. This is where the parent gives the lesson, “Don’t Hit your Brother. ‘Here’s the deal: you hit him; I hurt you (or more creatively make your life less pleasant), until you learn not to. This is me, proud of myself, teaching you not to hit.’” This is where it’s passed on, the belief in good violence. That was bad; this (identical act) is good. No wonder the world is full of people who continue to break the rules, no matter how much legal violence we use on them. It’s hopelessly confusing.
I’ll try another tack. We seem to think there’s a ‘safe’ amount of force and/or violence to use on children, you know, like ‘safe’ levels of pollution, or radiation, heavy metals in our food. Knowing full well the damaging effect of illicit violence – to the point where victims are awarded lottery-size compensatory payments – knowing that, we still think a little bit of it is actually good for you! A person needs discipline. Well.
Who are the most disciplined people in the world – soldiers, elite soldiers, say, the Marines? And what are they good for, what is their function, their job? That should tell us what discipline does for us. And if that doesn’t tell us, what about our children, in the cities, in the gangs? What is that but kids hardened by abuse and Good Violence, doing basically what the Marines do, that is, shooting one another over economic and territorial issues?
We have to really look at whether or not it really is that simple, that violence, force, is simply bad in any quantity, regardless of who is dishing it out. Like gravity, you know, it counts for everything and everyone; it’s a natural law. It’s an unlikable notion, but here it is.
We cause all the bad violence in the world by dealing out good violence to our children, that is, everyone, at the beginning of all our lives. In the name of education and socialization, we induct our young into a life where ‘Might is Right’ is the only truism, all the while selling them our concept of child rearing which is GVBV. Now, if the test of a theory is whether or not it explains more than the old theory, try this one on. Take it into your heart for a week or two; try to look at things this way. If the theory is good, you should understand more through it, it should explain phenomena that was previously not understood, or misunderstood. If it describes a pervasive, almost universal force, revealing its effects everywhere you look, then it’s a revolution in thought, enlightenment – but only history shows us those. Of course these things take time. Also, it would require that we face the awful truth that all those nice, struggling people who raised us – even if we don’t consider what we would all call abuse – unwittingly raised us up with all manner and degree of control, from withdrawal of love to force to violence to torture, and, and this is the killer, all to no good effect! I mean, if violence has bad effects, which it does, no matter who deals it out or why, which in all likelihood it does, then all that yelling and screaming and spanking and being locked in the playpen, and being sent to our rooms, forced meals and mealtimes, toilet training, all that did us no good whatsoever. In fact, guess what?
Remember? When we were the kids, and our parents pulled some of that parenting stuff on us (Boom! ‘Don’t hit!’), remember what we thought then about their ‘explanations?’ Well, we thought they were full of shit, didn’t we? And you know what? They were. We were right, then. Back then, at some point before we were completely broken, we knew ‘Boom! Don’t hit!’ made no sense. Maybe we even guessed that something had to be terribly wrong with our parents for them not to see it. And it did us no good whatsoever, did it? In fact . . .
In fact, it killed our spirits, separated us from our emotions, and the third crucial point, one often missed by bookstore psychological theory, it disabled us for rational thought. In the absence of any comparison and with enough force behind it, we were forced to accept, as our only working premise the logic of ‘Boom! Don’t hit!’, that is, of GVBV. The worst thing it did to us is that it made us into the kind of people who, believing in GVBV, will destroy our children the same way, conditioned, desensitized, brainwashed. Proud of ourselves for our use of good violence in raising our children. The kind of people who can do anything, even allow or support a state of war.
Although I’m not as concerned as some over the nuclear aspect of this conversation, that is, that the desensitizing effect of good violence might just lead to global nuclear holocaust, because frankly, I’m more concerned about this little problem of GVBV in child-rearing here, thank you. What did the man say? ‘The disaster has already occurred!’
See, if things are so bad here now that global nuclear war is a real option, then some kind of disaster of near-equal magnitude has already happened! By analogy: when you’re young and healthy, death seems unthinkable, no alternative at all, right? But when you’re old, sick, alone, suffering terrible pain and not long for the world anyhow . . . well pulling the plug gets less ridiculous. Newlyweds think divorce a horror, but a married couple with thirty years of unfaithfulness and resentment between them might see it as a godsend. Well, what kind of state are we in already that a nuclear war is a real fear, that it doesn’t look so impossible? Brutalized, desensitized, cut off from our emotions, and addled with the logic of good violence. Believing any horrendous lie that we hear in the absence of any example of logic or truth by which to know the difference.
Now, I ask you. In this state of affairs, can we presume to ‘teach’ our children anything but the twisted logic that ruined us, and can we still justify the force required to teach a falsehood to a mind that has not yet quit functioning? Any adult using any force or control to ‘teach’ a child teaches only one thing, over and over again: Might is Right. It comes, not only free, but first and foremost, with every other lesson.
This is the problem of nearly all parents: they are oftentimes horrified by the behavior of their children once the little ones have gotten their legs and their words, the parents being unaware, through repression, of the child’s previous abusive experience. What with cribs, playpens, forced meals and toilet training, by the time our parents can talk to us, we’ve already been damaged, well on our way to becoming either deluded, dangerous, or both.
Violence, good or bad, propagates violence, good and bad. Part of the problem is that there is no way to tell good violence from bad, because, truly the distinction exists only in our addled minds. Depending on the dosage one receives, one will draw the line at a different point when it becomes one’s turn to dole it out, as to where the good ends and the bad begins. We still do the bad on occasion, helpless to stop it, but at least then we are repentant, when we cross the line that exists in our minds. The real problem is the evil we do believing it to be good.
Because good and bad violence can often appear identical (because they are), the legitimate status of the good variety allows bad violence to thrive unseen and unnoticed on our streets and in our homes. Having taken this idea on, viewing the world through it, I’m convinced that at least some of the too numerous abducted and murdered children we’re all aware of were hauled away, kicking and screaming, in broad daylight. Likely there were even witnesses assuming they were watching a normal parent/child interaction. With any honesty, one has to admit it’s possible.
Now I’m not saying, “Ban the Good Violence Now” for two reasons:
One: we have a whole world now, populated with people raised on the old system, that is GVBV, both of the deluded, law-abiding citizen type and the outright crazy and criminal type, and without restraint, these people will make things even worse, things being as they are. Frankly, I’m afraid of violent people, and any we lock up seems a relatively positive thing. Consider this: once a person has been abused, it’s a long road to bring them back to sanity and gentility. We have all suffered it, and crazy, violent people continue to suffer it into adulthood: confinement in prison or mental hospitals and torture by their keepers as well as fellow inmates. This, this being my whole point, does not make them nicer.
Two: we would have to invest some of us with the power to enforce this no violence thing with what, guns and prisons? Kind of defeats my whole idea.
No, not more rules and reprisals (read punishments, read violence). But we must begin to move away from this largely unspoken and unconscious belief in the great lie of GVBV. We must stop believing that force and violence will be the tools to put an end to our social problems. They, by definition, once removed either way, are the social problems. Aren’t they?
1.R.D.Laing, Sorry, I can’t recall which book!