What Strength Looks Like

I’ve done it again, I’m afraid, and this one’s a little bigger than saying “beta” when what I really wanted was something more opposed to an alpha than simply the next one in succession. My own sister’s been hearing me wrong, I think she thinks the rupture in my life has turned me around. I told her I think “discipline” makes us “strong,” and she thinks I’m an army recruiter now, she apparently thinks I’m saying that straight up! When I tell her I mean, “abuse” makes us “violent,” she says, “No, I get that you’re being sarcastic.”

Yes, Sis, it’s a lifelong obsession, a decades-long search that has culminated in a sarcastic one-liner. I wonder where I ever got the idea that they think of me as the family idiot? I can feel the pat on the head, and her patience while she waits for me to get interested in some bug at my feet and stop bugging her, which is perhaps a lifelong pattern for me. In theory, though, we share DNA, I mean I’m open to the idea that we share none, or too much (don’t ask), but we kind of look the same, so if she doesn’t get it the odds are I’ve failed to get it across to everyone else too. I’ve already typed this somewhere recently, but I am not talking about a dichotomy. Those two versions of that sentence above, those are not two poles of a spectrum, not two sides of a coin. They are one.

First, I’m not in the business of divisions, not by choice and not with any choice in the matter at all, really, I mean by vocation, or mutation. Rather, I am one whose brain never stops attempting to make connections and draw parallels, and I don’t mean always fruitfully. It’s almost debilitating, that’s where I am, head in the clouds doing this I don’t know if it’s art or science daydreaming, when there are simpler, more achievable mental tasks I don’t seem to be capable of. I’m a born philosopher, I think, and I think it’s about making connections, bringing knowledge together. I can break stuff down from time to time, but that is never the goal in itself, is it? Maybe knowledge is a million facts, produced by breaking things down, and that seems to be a trend, but wisdom is putting it all back together – some artsy metaphor like that anyways, but the point is, I can’t help it, I think that’s the game, integrating what we know, putting it together, I believe that’s the ultimate goal. So, I’ll try to put those poles together for us, discipline and abuse, strength and violence, see what happens – and perhaps, see what happens when we break them apart again– spoiler alert: when we do that second bit, today happens.

Set it up so well, I don’t need to bother now, do I?

The physical, real-life aspects of these pairs of ideas are the same, but discipline and abuse differ in the legitimacy of their intentions, discipline is to build something, and abuse to break it, right? I would say the same of strength and violence, strength to build and violence to break, but arguments of legitimacy aren’t as strong here as perhaps arguments of social groups, in-groups and out-groups: our strength is “their” violence, and vice versa.

Science very rightly already concerns itself with social groups and theory, and otherwise, I think I must agree with biologists generally that we have spent enough time trying to prove that what we intend with our parenting has any relation to what in fact works out. I think it’s time to start thinking of the documented, real-life effects of abuse as where the science is, where there is something to learn.

As soon as this insight came to me, I felt I knew that we had options, that we were the ones making for a nasty old world and the idea that we could make for a different one, was unavoidable – dirty little tease of a thought that it is. But the point is, for this understanding, one needn’t break anything down, one needn’t compartmentalize. One must see this as a single, real world stimulus, abuse/discipline. Words are not the things they try to describe. We must see this as a single, real-world thing, too, strength/violence – or perhaps we can look at that from another angle, that the best defense is a good offense: this axiom shows that the core of these “opposites” is the same real-world stuff, and the difference is the declared intention, or simply whether it’s us or them talking.

It’s an irony, and the tension it produces will never be  solved, but science requires breaking things down into more and smaller facts while truth requires putting them all together into fewer and bigger ones, but OK, the sorts of arguments my sister may make require specifics, and I think it’s time to spell it out, although it may get personal for some. Trigger warning, I’m going to say that many peoples’ problems and possibly lifelong struggles with their pasts, with abuse and damage and mental illness, all of that sad stuff, is the unconscious, evolved, and I’m sorry, unconscious, I said – desired response to their traumas. I am sorry, but what else?

Are we all having some brand-new, unsupported by our gene-suite response to some brand-new stimulus, trauma? OK, I just apologized for the facts, but I’ll apologize for my pissy sarcasm too. Sorry, though, I can’t un-say it either, this is the sad fact. Evolution will have chosen our PTSD for some function, and our PTSD won’t be without some effects of their own in the world. There is a function for that that probably has its most extreme example in amok or berserk states, but usually this function is what we are reading when we see the mountains of social science data correlating poor social outcomes with abuse, so many of which are around violence and intergenerational abuse.

My idea is that the outcomes, these “problems,” violence, crime, risk-taking, general devaluing of life, these are selected-for group traits, more useful in an aboriginal context than a modern one, perhaps, an adaptation that tilts outcomes when groups of humans meet in competition, on the battleground. Part of this idea is that our damage, our bitterness, perhaps our anger, our sense of worthlessness, all that results of abuse, maybe even a depressive death wish – this is the group advantage I’m talking about, this is the “strength” referred to by populists and dictators, and this is the “strength” our trips to the woodshed guarantee we carry into the world.

There is no “good and pure” strength, our strongmen aren’t “good” and “theirs” bad – what, we have a guy just as strong as theirs, just as ready for a fight, but what? Ours fights fair? Ours waits for theirs to take the first shot before he expertly murders him, like in the movies? The noble savage I’m trying to paint, our evolved man in his usual environment, hunter gatherer groups in proximity with other such groups, is a bitter, beaten, low self image, developmentally arrested, violent crime looking for a place to happen brain squirming like a toad time bomb with complexes, and you don’t want to be the first modern human he sees, most days. (And you don’t want to mess with us, either, the True North, Strong like that, and Free to fuck you up, LOL.)

Parasites are a biological reality, and mental illness is a fact of life, is what I’m saying. I hope we find a way to fix some of it, but really, we should stop creating it all day long first, if that’s what we want. I’m not saying every grump is trying to make a soldier or a cage-fighter out of their kid; I’m saying when you punish people, this is the evolved function you are engaging, the consequences you bring to the job hurt, they’re supposed to hurt, that’s the theory – and hurt creates this sort of twitching, seething “strength” that we’re talking about: problems, mental illness.

If anybody needed this clarification, I’d like to know that.

Jeff

April 7th., 2018

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7 thoughts on “What Strength Looks Like

  1. Pamela Spiro Wagner April 8, 2018 / 8:00 am

    “we should stop creating it [mental illness] all day long first, if that’s what we want. I’m not saying every grump is trying to make a soldier or a cage-fighter out of their kid; I’m saying when you punish people, this is the evolved function you are engaging, the consequences you bring to the job hurt, they’re supposed to hurt, that’s the theory – and hurt creates this sort of twitching, seething “strength” that we’re talking about: problems, mental illness.

    In a word, YES! It seems simple and obvious enough, yet so many are dead-set in their determination not to understand. “There are none so blind as those who will not see!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff/neighsayer April 8, 2018 / 8:17 am

      thanks, Pam! Yeah, you know, having new thoughts, making them yourself is rare and really difficult. I was at it all day yesterday, and was exhausted, slept well for the first time in ages. And they come slowly and painfully. Having this one right now, carrying on with the thought, one word at a time – we’ve evolved to GET sick, is what I’ve said here, unfortunately. I’m really making a case that that’s the evolved thing and health is maybe not an evolved thing . . . ouch . . . so support for repair to get back to health almost certainly would not be an evolved thing, ouch, goddam . . . and yes, so simple if we didn’t have all this blockage or whatever, it’s been such a slog to get back to this simplicity . . .

      Like

    • Jeff/neighsayer April 8, 2018 / 8:23 am

      hey, I’m pretty sure you didn’t need this clarification from me, right? You didn’t think I really meant “strong” in a good way or anything, right, you knew this was what I meant? I hope you weren’t the only one . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • nancy mcguire April 9, 2018 / 6:56 am

        i am so happy to get this clarification. i was about to ask you for it.
        thanks
        i get it jeff, i get it deeply .you have many good points and i finally understand
        sister

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff/neighsayer April 9, 2018 / 7:39 am

          Wow, thanks, Sis. I’m sorry, you don’t look great in this story, I was looking for a place to say I was treating you bad here, using you a little. Our Momma didn’t raise any dummies, folks, and if she did, I’m it, trust me.
          Yeah, I finally said what for some reason I seemed to think I couldn’t or shouldn’t, finally laid it out. I really like that sentence about the noble savage. I feel I have not only refuted what was stupid about Rousseau, but explained Rousseau in the process, his success, I mean. And probably a lot of other folks too. This was a side trip the other day in the middle of writing a conclusion to a series, I’m still doing. Losing my calluses again.

          Like

        • Jeff/neighsayer April 9, 2018 / 7:42 am

          . . . while I’m sucking up attention – nothing about the Oedipus one? 😉

          Like

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