oh beast! nightmares of sheep. goats. fire that sinks like water.

We wait.
I may be here when they lock the doors.

I am here to tell someone about the rate of attrition 
how at dusk

all the people disappear.

I live on the hippest street in the nation
Or the second hippest if you are thinking about the other one I don’t know its name myself although I think I know where it is.
Unless it is someplace else.
But I am certain that my street is hipper than any street there could ever be.

Point being there are always a number of people within a hundred yards of me.
Heading in.
Heading out.
Passing through.

Those that I would or have invited to stay for a moment, though.
persistence is agnostic of all of me and so
I place it upon you
a halo
and its displaced space
almost a dent
a trough
where
for a short time
light will chase its tail
ink-tipped
ravenous

They disappear or that is at dusk I am struck with all of their vanishings at once whether or not anything of note happens to occur wherever they are or were or I imagine them to be. The hush is quite nearly devastating the sidewalks bright and empty the sky congested with shadows horsemen without weight or volume nearly almost partially blocking the sun.

As far as I can tell nobody besides myself feels the chill or is it the uptick in humidity yet entire cities vanish some half century ago the heavenly curtain was to be ripped open it would be for certain or for completely unpredictable but certainly soon but unexpected the great surprise predicted with all assurance whole populations slipping quietly from this earth with an ear-splitting shout TOO LATE or SUCKS TO BE YOU DUNT IT except it would not be everyone only the very holiest airplane captains and the crew also if they all of them were really really really truly baptized the single correct way but even some of those would turn out to have done it all wrong and somehow although their true numbers were meager the disaster would be large enough to be disastrous airships abandoned left and right passengers consigned to the collective gravity of their own worldly sins centered as it is within Lucifer’s own playground all the headless planes converge deep in the earth depositing the unwashed directly into the lake of fire below our feet.

Your feet. My feet.
That was a faster trip than I expected.
Oh we have been waiting for you. Waiting and waiting.

I may have been eight when I learned of this freight train of a rapture the one bearing down with all arrested haste as it had already for the hundred fifty-ish years since it was sifted out of the King James Bible with all the hermeneutic ingenuity one could hope to find in an American preacher. My family had not mentioned anything about it yet but early in the school year a Jack Chick tract somehow landed on the windowsill of my fourth grade classroom and as it was made of words and pictures I had no power not to pick it up I would and did and still do read shampoo labels and pill bottles if they appear in arm’s reach along with a moment to fill but this pamphlet existed only to be read thus I trusted it all the more to be rewarding and useful but instead the little comic was almost terrifying only too confusing at first to be quite so. It told of a cosmic endgame of unbridled divine revenge and posed it without any reason I knew of in the place of a future I had not yet even thought about because the other five billion billion possibilities had always been open and always would be unless they were about to be unceremoniously mowed down beheaded strafed pulverized and buried.

Because god was really mad about..

something. To this day none of the excuses offered neither the simple ones nor the sophisticated have ever been anything but exasperating. Arbitrary. Stark naked all resentment and fear hanging out swollen just past the point of restraint so that you cannot decide whether to laugh or run. 

I took the leaflet home. Mom would know if this stuff was true or real or anything I needed to worry about she explained things all the time and it was clear to me then that she already knew everything I would ever need to know.

It was. Something to worry about. Or it would be. I vaguely recall being told I could put off this worry until some time a little later that I would know was the time because it would be the time and I would know by then I would not have to ask I would just know it which indecipherable moment would shortly become the focus of vicious ellipses of thought so quietly insistent how was I to know then the howling the shrieking the twisted diamond bits exquisitely drilled years they were on tight fine points of doubly bound preacher’s logic.

Time was on their side. They would wait as long as they had to but no longer a couple of decades would make for a vast polish of precision-ground glass. One note so high nobody heard it not me not you not anyone still living. Every now and again I find a shard still singing as though it had landed not an hour before.

I am ahead of myself or I would be if I knew where to go to get there.

But I don’t remember much else about the truly bad news that was to get so much worse and for so long only I recall crawling on her lap for some sort of reassurance. The memory ends there. A vague hint of
shock like that was not what I came up here for oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Where will I go now where do I wait.
Could it be time yet.
How about now.

The rest of that fall is a nighttime serial in which I try to cry myself to sleep over and over and over and over but there is exhuasted crying because you have just had enough of the day and there is I cannot sleep with this unbearable knowledge and

there is no unknowing
and
there is no.

There just was not.

I was unable to say what the problem was when asked. Someone would rub my back while I pretended to fall asleep because I could not explain why that was not working either. What comfort could they possibly offer–clearly they had no more power than I to change the ending of this weird-ass stage play we had all been born into without ever once asking. So I stayed still as they left my room. Sleep would come eventually to swallow the ruined cosmos for a little while. By spring I could see that no crying of mine would bring it back to life and so I gave up.

I could not explain that gods plan had drained life of sense and replaced it with a terrible and ruthless joke. All of the color all of the motion all of the life all of the music the running water the rocks and hills and the grass the forests awash in moss and echoes of every breeze every hoof every breath the taking flight and sitting still all of that for one question. One lousy question and the majority of all of this and all of us would flunk.

It did not matter to me that I did not have to worry for myself right then. Add me to the damned biomass of Earth or subtract me: it made no significant difference in the overall volume of the final kill that would not even be final but ongoing and ongoing and ongoing until even a blind idiot god would have to signal somehow that enough was enough as the balances toppled lopsided with recompense.
I understood this then but could not have said even to myself what it was I understood. Besides which understanding could not overcome my absolute inability to disbelieve what my mother told me. My eight was your six besides who at eight is able to back themselves like that to walk unassisted like that to give themselves the benefit of the doubt like that.

I knew. I knew that I knew.
And I knew that it was not possible to go on knowing.

I had to fold.

It was the end
not the beginning of the end
not the end of the end
all of the end all of it
For once and for all

This would not be the last one
but it was the last one where
I was allowed
to maintain that
nobody had warned me.
 

she wrote it down so I thought ok I will do this one more time

I put a comment on this one blog post that has somehow drawn almost everyone to it: “He Wrote It Down“. I am copying the comment or that is I have already copied the comment I left and plan on pasting it here at the end of this which is mainly just a pointer to where or why or how I decided to make this one comment on the internet.

Because it can happen that I think I have no words until it becomes clear that I do. And also that I don’t.

This is what I wrote over there:

I am not sure how I got here only that I looked at my browser over coffee and here was a tab open right here. From yesterday before I succumbed to what is called sleep.

I am not sure I should leave a comment at all other than to say yes these things happened to me too only not exactly the same things because it is different for everyone only the inability to abide with oneself seems quite similar across all of the way too many stories I have heard from others and the way too many stories I have to tell and have been telling and telling and sometimes I think I am going to

run out of breath and fall right back into the earth and that will be that.

I was a girl when my brother raped me, when my church taught me I was going to burn in the Lake of Fire, when my family let me believe they were going to disappear in the rapture and I would be left behind, when some young man I had never seen before and would never see again tackled me on the beach and led me off behind the dunes and told me to take my clothes off and I remember staring into the sun and then I have my clothes back on and am looking for my grandmother who had left me playing in the sand and she finds me and says there you are and I say here I am and then nothing else.

I tell people I fell silent at 15 and did not learn to talk again for 15 more years which is sort of true although talking even now often feels like not talking at all. There are no words for it or that is no words that will cover it all take care of it all clean it up put clothes on it and take it home somewhere safe except home was not that so somewhere else I have to guess but I have not found it yet.

I am not a girl now perhaps obviously but what gender I am I cannot say or that is I haven’t found a name for it but I look like a middle-aged, balding, bearded, somewhat shall we say bohemian man. I have no idea what it is like to be a male survivor of sexual abuse; what I hear does not resonate with me. For me gender was violently enforced until it wasn’t anymore and I could be who I was except that over the course of one’s lifetime the possibility to be any particular of the ones you thought you would be narrow until maybe you are just you because none of the recognized options fit. It was not clear to me until relatively recently that being a nonbinary-gendered survivor of sexual abuse would be akin to being not a unicorn but more like a..
well there is no word for that either it turns out.

no man’s land. no woman’s land.
land? do you see a place to land?
the map says land here. why do I not see any.

Everyone on my mom’s side of the family has experienced some form of abuse or another–the majority of it sexual. For at least five generations that I know of. Everyone knows but nobody has a clue what to do that won’t upset any of the adults which is apparently the greatest sin there is. The children will be ok. They have to be. We all are ok aren’t we. Didn’t we turn out alright.

Speaking up is a little like talking to earless creatures who stare at you there disrupting the peace so discourteously. It’s not like you are telling us anything new. Can’t we just put it all behind us. We are tired. We did our best. Let it go.

It won’t let me go. Everything you forget I have to remember. The panic you swallow swallows me.
Every drop of denial you squeeze out of your life explodes behind my eyes at the temples the headache almost older than I am now.

I am 53. I was not planning on living this long. My body is starting to need attention in the way bodies will when they spend half a century resisting gravity and friction and oxidation and all the other agents of entropy that will soon catch up with us. I wish I knew what to do. I mean I have a doctor but I am disabled by what is called by some Complex PTSD and the number of symptoms has become bewildering and more than I can even keep up with trying to make appointments for.

And the stories. I dream them, I sing them, I write them, I eat them and drink them for breakfast and lunch by dinner I cannot get any more down so I dream some more and start over.

I am just going to leave this here.

bring me the pill for infelicitous birth

This was going to be mainly about what is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but now since two of its very close relations–abuse, especially sexual abuse, and narcotics addiction–have entered the internet news cycle for which I am probably way too late at this point but I am actively ignoring myself as I offer myself rationalizations not to write or not to put it anywhere anyone will find it if I do write something and so because virtually anyone with a decent-sized megaphone with which to address addiction gets it completely and horribly wrong just as those speaking about trauma and PTSD also get it completely and horribly wrong I found myself with more to say than what I started out thinking I was going to say.

Neither of them, for instance–PTSD nor addiction–are diseases.

psych drugs and warning labels in psychedelic blue and hot pink

take this medication with resignation and bare faith

We would like them to be. For a million reasons but mostly nobody has to address anything they themselves might be doing to exacerbate a problem if that problem can be relegated to medical management and pinned on some vague notion of inherited disorder for which we have almost no empirical evidence that is not deeply founded in the sort of already-given interpretation my culture demands regarding health and disease, order and disorder, normality and perversity, function and dysfunction, productivity and loss, and–this list is endless as these lists always are. The point is still that blaming (genetic, medical, physiological) fate is slightly less odious than blaming those suffering under that fate but still too easy when problems are manifestly rooted in the specific cultures in which they appear, and in very complex ways that might cause discomfort to many who consider themselves beyond reproach because they did not really enjoy heroin that one time they tried it or maybe the painkillers they occasionally need to take are effective for the bluntest of physiological pain but no more than that and so they have managed so far to avoid becoming junkies of any kind.

Lucky them.

Three things:

In North American cultures, addicts of what are called hard drugs are almost always survivors of trauma–trauma severe enough that anesthesia from life itself can become the only thing that makes life bearable. And so addiction is what you do if you cannot kill yourself on a punctual, finalized schedule.

I cannot put it any more concisely than that. Probably one could investigate neural pathways and what sorts of environmental variables affect endorphin production in some cases or dopamine in others and oxytocin in other others and probably some indefinite several of neurological signaling agents we do not know very well yet. But my experience tells me that when a drug can simulate family in the absence of, you know, actual family, it answers a primal need that will not be denied once it finds what it thinks it is seeking. The idea of “will power” is laughable in the face of this sort of need, but my confused critique of whatever it is we call will–I haven’t a clue, honestly: I cannot find will in any of my personal faculties and would not recognize it if it were there staring me in the face and enacting things all on its own power as I squinted in incomprehension because where on earth did it find this original power because I have never come across any and believe me I have looked everywhere–ok well besides that much critique I am leaving the rest for later.

This will probably not make sense to you either: addiction can signal a tenacious sense of self-preservation and something like an inextinguishable hope: whatever and wherever my place is here on the planet I am doing all I can to stay here and make it into a dwelling place familiar enough not to set off serial panic even if my life will turn out to be nothing much else beyond surviving my own murder/suicide. The junkie shooting up is refusing to die even while taking into her body what may be that one bad hit. The chamber with the bullet. The all it took. The we knew this day was coming.

Sometimes that day never arrives. Contrary to legend, addiction is no surer a predictor of death than any other dangerous and desperate bid to stay alive long enough to give sunrise one more opportunity to justify its arrival.

Not entirely unlike life itself: a mortality rate of one hundred percent. Not one of us has survived it yet. I know some of you believe that to be untrue but the evidence is overwhelmingly pessimistic on this one.

That was just one thing.

Here are the others or some others or something:

somethings, I mean:

In the cultures I might call my own, PTSD is usually figured solely as either a soldier’s burden or the occasional outcome of large-scale disasters. Of those I have spoken to who are diagnosed or diagnosable with PTSD, I have known a handful of soldiers and maybe one or two survivors of the flood fire famine sort of disaster that we recognize as disaster. I have not counted up the rest but that is mainly because they are one of those vast majorities that are really hard for one person to count especially when every other day I meet another one of us. The rest of us are survivors of the more private disasters of childhood abuse, domestic abuse, andor rape.

“andor” because abuse is almost always sexual at some point whether it is primarily sexual or also physical, emotional, spiritual, or some terrible cycle of All Of The Above and so abuse and rape often as not are synonymous and even simultaneous. Other times they happen in succession. And maybe some more abuse later on because you were taught that it is part of the natural order and so it just looks like another day to you.

That’s two things. Here is where I stick my neck out:

The medicalization of addiction and of many conditions called mental illness, including PTSD, functions in part to divert public attention or maybe the public itself is diverting its own attention this way which seems a more faithful description but we whoever we are we cite models of disease for this among other things in order not to have to address our own complicity in one or another tradition of abuse–traditions which precipitate what is called mental illness and what is called addiction. Repeatedly. Predictably.

Those traditions of abuse are endemic to that culture or cultures with which I am most intimately familiar because they permeate me. Or us.

This is something I proclaim as a strong strong hunch and one for which the research necessary to show it conclusively is more than a single person could do or at least if I were the only single person doing it it could take a very long time and not just because I spend most days tending to some PTSD-related intermission or another. Statistics on childhood abuse, for instance: completely unreliable, and by the researchers’ own admission almost every time I look up another batch of them, almost certainly leading to gross underestimation of the extent to which the practices addressed in their studies are accepted as normal or at least tolerable by the participants/respondents.

Here is an interesting study on public perception of child abuse in the US (pdf file).

The Framework Institute has done other research on child abuse as well, all of it interesting.

That is almost all I have to say right now. But the other day I ran across another glib homage to the power of modern medicine or that is the power of the myth of modern medicine and it was so cheerfully reductive that I wanted almost to curse the very idea of research because no animal who forces itself to be as obtusely optimistic as we have seemingly become should be trusted with the care and feeding of a whole planet based on whatever knowledge it can produce for itself.

The most recent upsurge in despair followed this which is how this all got started insofar as my deciding to write something down goes:

A comprehensive PTSD drug would be the holy grail, of course.
well.

no.
actually.
the holy grail would be

a culture that does not deliberately impose multiple traumas on its offspring over and above the unpredictable and inevitable injuries that are standard-issue living.

the holy grail would be

a culture that does not use shame and silencing as its primary methods of discipline when overt violence seems unacceptable if that ever happens to happen.

the holy grail would be

directing some of the obsessive energy devoted to identifying the neurological and genetic causes of psychiatric disorders toward identifying and eradicating the cultural, social, and familial causes of those myriad physiological changes that so often result in syndromes we call mental illness. because we cannot bear the possibility that we may ourselves be the primary vectors of this sort of pathology we look for isolated, simple biochemical interactions where nothing isolated or simple ever takes place: in and among the bodies of complicatedly social, intelligent, and sensitive animals.

the holy grail would be

examining cultural assumptions about family that chronically make children open targets of abuse while simultaneously depriving them of the security they would need to be able to talk about what was happening to them without fear of retaliation for telling the truth.

the holy grail would be

asking ourselves with unhesitating honesty why our culture predicates itself on scarcity, competition, conformity and exclusion, deprivation, and a general hostility toward life as it occurs on Earth as the pillars of social, spiritual, and economic order and security. we have chosen homelessness as the guarantor of stability and I mean that both literally and metaphorically although the metaphor is itself as real as any shopping cart and tarpaulin city.

where you must repent before kindergarten

I was talking to my therapist the other day–auspicious start for a blog post innit?–mainly because I pay her to give me an hour a week in which to think of something to say out loud which is itself a major exercise in social willpower for me not that in my universe “the will” names something at all legible as such but this may be idiopathic or really I am not going to try to explain the problems I have with it right now.

But so a topic arose as it frequently does concerning the tenets of the Judaism that she follows in relation to such things as the Buddhism we are both interested in and the Christianity I was raised to believe but walked away from for the sake of self-preservation in early adolescence which was a late adolescence which is why at 16, 17 I was only in early adolescence and the question we were looking at that is the other day my therapist and I not in 1978 was what does each say about self-anything. Self-regard, self-care, self-compassion, self-hatred, self-ish-ness–we mentioned all of those and probably some more self-doings/qualities/things.

I do not know precisely which sort of Judaism she follows but it is likely not Conservative or Orthodox but I have not asked so that is what it is a likelihood and not a confident assertion. But she said that if you are Jewish, then the general form of a prescriptive rule is, in her words, “Do this–unless it is not healthy for you.” I drew from this that the Jewish Rules are serious but they are not intended to do harm and so one is more or less obliged to be mindful about the consequences of following a rule and that includes a mindfulness toward oneself.

I pointed out that although one might think to look for this same principle in Christianity what with its shared history with Judaism, regard for the self seems not to have translated well if at all. What I hear from my Catholic friends is that Catholicism did not pick it up and what I have experienced of it tells me that Protestantism did not pick it up either or at least the more conservative parts did not or at least not the evangelical and or fundamentalist and or dominionist strains with which I am far far too well-acquainted.

Anathema, actually, is what would be any principle of caring for oneself first rather than others, and especially powerful others, and especially powerful others holding positions of authority who have laid down rules they expect you to follow. It is not that the self is any kind of illusion. The self is eternal. The self will survive the self that is the death of “the flesh” and be judged according to how well it withdrew from and overcame its fleshy self during its earthly bondage to it.

I walked home with visions of Platonic horses pulling chariots this way and that but in the ten minutes it took me to go the four blocks I drew out for myself something like this:

Fundamentalist Christianity has done with the Platonic idea of the unruly horse leading the disciplined horse astray and the chariot of the self to ignominy that which it does best with most ideas it did not come up with from scratch. It runs them all the way through the very ends of logic and out the other side and then continues on indefinitely or until it reaches a level of sufficient cruelty toward the negative term.

There is always a negative term.

So unlike the Buddhist self which might be said to be not real or to be an illusion or at the very least impermanent and delicate and subject to the same decay and entropy as any other phenomenon arising from a collection of living matter and so in a practical sense something for which attachment leads to grief this fundamentalist self could not be more real existing as it does in a physical dimension for now and a spiritual dimension forever. More precisely the earthly part is split from the really real part that must purify itself of itself or of its other self.

Bajillions of academic points of departure await. I am not going to take any of them although they might sneak in anyhow. Because experience is more compelling to write about much of the time or that much time that I spend trying to estimate what style to aim for forgetting that style will emerge according to the general outline I am trying to follow and who made that outline because who wants to speak. And so I quote many preachers, sunday school teachers, evangelists, and those traveling revival preachers who had the precise amount of charisma to charm a congregation for a week or so before they needed to move on lest anyone get worn out in the spirit.

Something like this and many times in slightly different ways sometimes but sometimes the same phrase once and twice and three times with a rising voice for emphasis maybe a pointing finger often an intense, penetrating gaze and then quickly whisper and hush and the air crackles and stirs until down to the heartbeats auditioned by their own bodies for some measure of faint resonance or conviction stirring almost without pattern or rhyme. until now.

We must die to the self. The self is evil. The self is in thrall to Satan. The self was born separate from god (or the universe or everything but not out loud). The self will lead you that is the real you astray. You must not listen to what your self wants. The self must be deprived of its fondest wishes. The self must be rebuked. The self must be conquered, subjugated. The self must be denied that is it must come to know itself as abject as fallen as unworthy as treacherous mad sick mistaken broken beyond humanly-possible repair so dangerous and to be endlessly blocked from getting what it says it needs or wants at least until it admits to its own degeneracy and begs for forgiveness rather than mercy because mercy is not on offer even though the word is invoked so frequently that one might think it meant something quite unusual.

Otherwise we risk ‘Hell’: that catastrophic condition worse than death where all connection and light are extinguished not just forever but repeatedly taken away to heap loss upon loss and anguish upon anguish.

Because God— well here things get quite out of hand and I am not really in the mood to draw out the entire Protestant or conservative or fundamentalist or evangelical Christian cosmology, but as many have pointed out the fundamentalist Christian version of God has a way of looking like an authority figure with some baggage of his own flying into fearsome rage if any of his children dare to withhold affection or wish him ill or even look at him wrong. The point of salvation–be it whatever any given congregation determines it must be–is not the point at which the self gets a break from the

well I will go ahead

abuse.

Is that clear? I mean is this as clear to you as it is to me? However large a line can be drawn around the Christianity that treats its selves this way and I think the question I am going to pursue next is where the line itself might have begun with the Reformation or prior to that but wherever it began did that particular articulation of Christianity could it have emerged out of a culture in which abuse, that is intergenerational child abuse along several spectra was not endemic or (about to or already become) foundational?

Explanations and analogies are only what they are because we who come up with them are good at seeing patterns but patterns are sometimes nothing but pattern rather than the expression of some force more fundamental than that perceiving the pattern. This is how the question arises for example whether the patterns we see in the positions of celestial bodies relative to this celestial body as it would be looking up at somewhere else’s ceiling are interesting pastimes or alignments of cosmic forces whose influence on us is related somehow to the patterns we have been able to elaborate out of them. The question then whether the pattern is also an expression of forces that necessitate that very pattern or whether the existence of the pattern is a consequence solely of our ability to create patterns sometimes or almost always we forget to ask unless our method requires that we remember but still we forget. And also the question could some other array of forces completely different from what I am thinking of also have produced this pattern because if so the whole puzzle is still open this question also falls away in the euphoria of having constructed a pattern that appears to fit neatly and everywhere we currently have data points for. That a given pattern is the best and most useful to come along so far does not rule out the possibility that a better one could come along in some other place and time but for the same set of data.

My experience tells me that the last question remains open when imagination is willing to grant that it cannot imagine everything imaginable or at least not all at once and certainly not yet. There may be other conditions keeping it open but this one seems necessary. And generally speaking I tend to imagine that almost anything else could be the case if it could be considered reasonably as that which currently appears reasonably to me to be the case. This would be why I almost never make claims without a few dozen qualifications.

And so my argument from incredulity may come to nothing but I am going to continue to act as though it is worth thinking through even over a long period of time because I am sort of on a mission although I have never been able to name that mission exactly I am pretty sure I took off on it almost 45 years ago or maybe even one or two years before that.

Here is a list of things that I have read mostly in other people’s writing about childhood abuse that make sense to me within the context of relatively general ideas about child development here in the culture that I grew up in whichever one or ones that is or those are and which–
well here is a list and some interjections:

It is said that:

Children are dependent on their primary caretakers or parents (and from here I am going to use “parents” as a synecdochical or abbreviate reference to whoever carries the most responsibility for feeding, protecting, sheltering, nurturing, training, and all else that is needed to keep a child healthy and safe. I know that there are many individuals who do this who yet might not be “parents” in a legal or biological sense in my culture but “primary caretaker” has too many syllables even for me and “caretaker” is not specific enough). The younger the child, the further the extent of dependence to the point of absolute dependence in infancy. Children will each view their parents as all-knowing and all-good in rough proportion to both the child’s age and their level of dependency.

I take this at face value when not purposefully engaging in deep psychoanalytic spelunking. In my own experience it seems true enough of what I can recall of conscious thoughts and feelings when I was small. I took everything my mother told me about the world as the literal, infallible truth, even when I was old enough maybe to start to intuit the potential problems in being that credulous and that trusting.

But that was me. And this sort of thing gets said by a wide variety of people who work with a wide variety of children and so whether it is strictly true in every case it is mythically so in general. Interestingly I think also this infallibility and goodness are usually attributed to conservative constructions of ‘God.’ And often for the same reasons.

None of that is news.

Children whose parents are abusive, who inflict pain, who punish their children for perceived imperfections–and I am thinking of such things as being unable to avoid spilling ever or unable to be always perfectly quiet or unable to always suppress anger or unable to always suppress sadness, doubt, upset, jealousy, desire, or other affects that strike the parents as negative, threatening, dangerous in some way whether to their own peace of mind or to the child’s future as an acceptable person and I am also thinking of outsized punishment for anything or for nothing at all using physical beating or refusal to meet basic needs or deliberate and deep shaming or turning away repeatedly in a kind of serial abandonment that leaves a child always at risk of losing those upon whom their survival rests–these children are faced with a dilemma that they can only solve one way.

That is, their all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful parents cannot possibly be doing any of these things out of any sort of error at all from the point of view of a child. That would be catastrophic: the parents would become untrustworthy during a time when a child has no means to protect itself from capriciousness and needs its parents to be consistently benevolent. Functionally a child with untrustworthy parents would be an orphan and quite without any remedy: when you are very young, to be orphaned is to be as good as dead.

And so self-preservation dictates that some solution be found very very quickly.

In an abusive family, children are also often punished for behavior over which they cannot be reasonably expected to have control: strong feelings for instance–especially feelings that parents do not know themselves how to handle without shame and punishment. Expressing unpleasant (to the parents) feelings can earn vociferous correction and this amplifies the dilemma to the point that a child comes to understand that its very existence as an emotional being is putting them at risk of abandonment and death.

The solution may already be clear: a child experiencing this kind of abuse from its parents must choose to reject whatever parts of themselves seem to be angering or alienating or upsetting its parents. Because if they can somehow keep those parts hidden the risk of orphanhood and death begins to diminish. Put another way to emphasize the enormity of this threat: the risk of sudden and catastrophic annihilation begins to diminish to the extent that the child can learn to hide its strongest feelings from its parents.

Parallels jumping out at me so quickly I can barely keep up with them so here is one of them: fundamentalist Christianity taught me that I was born evil and that I must repudiate myself in order to find favor with a god who otherwise wanted to see me suffer disproportionately to anything I could realistically have done to that point. I was often bewildered to be told that this god was very upset about something I had done which at the time I felt I had done out of necessity and sometimes under the duress of having to choose from possible actions that all seemed risky and so it was imperative to find that one that would be least painful or more importantly the one I thought least likely to annoy god or my parents because their annoyance was more urgent a problem than my own relative well-being.

But I also learned eventually–too soon really but not right away not the very moment I learned to speak–that a place of eternal catastrophic abandonment and annihilation awaited all people for their inherent evilness. If that sounds like what has been called hell, then I am describing it adequately for now.

The only choice offered to all people all of whom are defined as evil at the moment of birth–and this varies across denominations but the basic idea of original sin holds that we are born into a fallen state whether or not we have a few years of grace in which we are taught that we ourselves are responsible for that fallenness in the eyes of the god who cannot apparently be anywhere near anyone who is in this state for reasons that can be logically circular at times–the only way to escape orphanhood or death or catastrophic abandonment or hell is to reject one’s fallen self: to repent, or acknowledge that one has been evil all along and that as an evil being one can do nothing acceptable in the eyes of this god who does by now begin to resemble an abusive parent: arbitrary, unpredictable, and uniformly rejecting in that no part of the self will remain uncondemned: eventually even the best of intentions catch dad/mom/god on a bad day and will bounce back to the self as unanticipated shame, abandonment, and/or violent rebuke.

Reality for a child in an abusive family can become chaotic as violence or shame or rejection are unpredictable outgrowths of the parents’ own shifting emotional or physiological rhythms–rhythms that a child cannot comprehend well enough to be able anticipate their effects. The only controllable entity in a child’s universe is its own self or rather the child’s own self is the only entity on which it is allowed to exert any control be it effective or not. Much as the fundamentalist Christian self remains under constant scrutiny for shortcomings that cause its god to turn away–to stop speaking, in effect, or to send a believer to her/his room to search themself for signs and motives of and remedies for disobedience–this child’s self will be under whatever degree of self-surveillance is necessary to keep its parents from turning away.

There are finer splittings of the self within the tradition called Western but this one resonates here: a child living in an abusive family will come to militate against its own self or that is it will divide itself against itself or against the bad self or against the self who appears responsible for unpredictable abandonment and or injury. Or at least so far as the child can make out those qualities in themselves that enrage or upset or drive away their parents must be repudiated–one might say the child must repent–and carefully controlled lest they emerge in any recognizable form. Because those parts of the self for the child at that time are in fact dangerous and they represent a certain evil insofar as they appear to the child to directly jeopardize their only source of sustenance and protection.

And so the child’s self repudiates or repents of its other self in order to reduce the immediate danger of sudden catastrophic abandonment and annihilation–or something like hell, say.

I recall hearing more than once that the family was the microcosm for god’s kingdom but I doubt that anyone saying that had looked closely at the what similarities might be seen between that kingdom and abusive families. Of course abusive families have only been relatively lately recognized as abusive and I do not know how many others might have noticed by now that the abused child’s necessary war with itself might be mirrored or otherwise reproduced in the fundamentalist Christian’s war on themselves–and even could easily pass for abusive parenting when fundamentalist Christian teachings are handed down and enforced through familial power structures.

So I am just going to say that I think I see something here and it looks entangled to me with the culture I grew up in to such an extent that it is not always clear where abuse and fundamentalist Christianity can be completely distinguished from one another. If a culture produced abusive parents who produced abused children who grew up needing substitute parents while only recognizing abusive authority figures as acceptably parent-like then those grown children might predictably choose or stick with a religious tradition that supplies them not only with such a parent but with an entire social structure that feels like home because it supports ongoing abusive relations between its upper and lower hierarchies. And so their campaign against themselves can continue but not only that: it is reinforced and modeled as normal and necessary.

It seems clear that USian mainstream culture has absorbed this hostility to the self albeit in complex and ambivalent ways: selfishness is almost universally regarded as a defect even while a self with a drive to dominate others and to profit from this domination is hailed as ambitious or possessed of a strong work ethic–whether or not the dominating requires any sort of productive work. One could investigate the Protestant/Puritan/Calvinist roots of such ambivalence or rather it has been done but I am not aware of connections yet drawn between micro-cultures of abuse–abusive families–and larger structures of abuse or not in such a way that they might be detectable in fundamentalist Christianity nor much written on any historical or genealogical analysis of that connection. If there is one.

The last thing I want to say though is something of a resistant push back against the notion of selfishness as a defect of character but not at all in some Ayn Randish exultation in cruelty inflicted on others out of the crude narrow selfishness arising in a culture where abuse is practiced as a matter of course. And especially not so long as a self who inflicts cruelty on others is able thereby to achieve some great accomplishment or idea–one that will eventually avenge all the insults sustained by this reactive, resentful self who still lives and acts under the rule of self-abnegation as its reverse side and so does not in any way undermine or question the tradition of abuse.

Instead of this polarized tendency either to torment the self for the sake others or to torment others for the sake of the self, one thing–and it is not just one thing but here I will condense a few things–that appeals to me in Buddhist thought is that the self is a transient effect among all the other transient effects in the world and as points of unnecessary suffering these would benefit the most from a compassionate intervention: one that shifts attention away from continually judging the self as to its acceptability and especially away from the cultural axiom that there can be no connection between a yes and a no judgment on this question, no possible position between the extremes of elect or damned.

Suspending reactivity against oneself can create space in which to do not much more than note that oneself appears here at this time and place, but that notice can set off a curious cascade of perceptual and conceptual change. This has been my experience, once I manage to interrupt my own self-obsession by studiously and calmly observing whatever–whatever as in whatever happens–and I am able to pause the reactive impulses from my own sense of besieged self: the siege comes to an end. Or is suspended at least, and all of us here the non-royal we can breathe a bit and begin to pay greater attention to what comes to pass, be it self or other or other other, without always meeting it with suspicion and hostility.

* * *

Most of what I have relied upon here for descriptions of abusive families has come from elsewhere but the only discrete elsewheres I can recall at the moment are Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and For Your Own Good and also Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. I think the specific question of familial abuse is distinct from the more general ideas I have read in what is sometimes called trauma theory. At least so far, the mentions I have run across of “abuse culture” as an attribute of westernish cultures have arisen mainly in activist circles, which are not necessarily coextensive or even concentric with academic ones. And so this is all the bibliography I currently have, but it leaves out all those titles and writers whose names I never took down.

killing you softly

What defense against the apprehension of loss is at work in the blithe way in which we accept deaths caused by military means with a shrug or with self-righteousness or with clear vindictiveness? To what extent have Arab peoples, predominantly practitioners of Islam, fallen outside the “human” as it has been naturalized in its “Western” mold by the contemporary workings of humanism? … After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?
… If violence is done to those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those lives since those lives are already negated. But they have a strange way of remaining animated and so must be negated again (and again). …Violence renews itself in the face of the apparent inexhaustibility of its object.
Judith Butler, Precarious Life 32-33

Today being the day it is I decided that rather than participate in the public spectacle we seem intent on creating out of our inability to mourn whatever it was that we in the US think we lost ten years ago–although we may well have never had it to begin with –rather than go along with the ruse of our fallen, long-mythologized invulnerability to attack or even decay, that I was going to re-read Judith’s Precarious Life, since in it she addresses violence and mourning in direct response to the war that we imagine only began in 2001. I wanted to try to understand what it was exactly in our fetishization of the images of destruction that I find so frustrating to deal with, beyond even practical and political concerns over the extent to which we seem to be willing to give up every last shred of dignity and “freedom” (were we “free” before?), if it will help us to reestablish our illusion of security and safety from political violence.

I am also thinking a bit about death and the multiple, complex relations between life and death–not only in the realm of the human, but even in whatever cycle it is with which the forces of the whole universe are engaged: materialization out of potential, animation out of elementary energy, and any and all inevitable returns to entropy that we might also be undertaking as moments of complexity and approximate coherence in a system characterized by violent destruction in creation, and creation in destruction.

As is usual, I managed to get about thirty pages into my chosen reading before I felt compelled to begin writing. The questions that arise upon reading anything with nuance or subtlety are irresistible to me, and so I remain in interminable study, never able to finish much of anything but always starting again to reformulate this process in which I have, for most of my life, been chasing after ways to express the inexpressible and to narrate that which defies language. To put it all too neatly.

It is not a simple coincidence that the refusal to integrate our national experience into a humane course of action causes me to pause over this question of what it is to live in close proximity with death–even here in the US where death is sequestered and hidden away beneath neatly manicured lawns and behind antiseptic curtains. And it is not simple coincidence that this question occurs to me at the same time as does my perennial questions concerning the limits of language and sense, for death is one name for an ultimately senseless way of going along: it is the primary way in which I myself have been and will be related to all that is for all but the tiniest sliver of time that I claim as my uncertain lifespan. I do not mean by this that ultimately I will be dead, but rather that my being dead, or my not being, or something inexpressible that has to do with never having come to be to begin with despite my apparent sensible existence at the moment, constitutes the primary and primordial relations that ground this current state in which, for now, I seem to be here.

To put it in a Zen Buddhist sort of way, I am already dead and always have been. There are infinite other ways of putting it, for it will not be put, or it will not stay put, or in other words there are no other words and so there will always be an ongoing stream of other words. What we in the US seem unable to comprehend is that our ideal of individualism and consequence-free domination of whatever it is we damned well feel pleased to dominate has been bound from the time of its conception to meet, eventually, its limiting case, its moment of mortality realized, its susceptibility to destructive forces and its vulnerability to the violence that it so easily calculates as acceptable expenses for a political economy that will admit no peer. That is, empires are destined to fall. Are we falling now? Have we not already fallen?

To the degree that we must recognize the unrecognizable–that is, our “primary vulnerability” to that upon which our very being falters, even disastrously, in its attempt to circumscribe itself as independent and individualistic –in order to be able to mourn whatever is lost in a violent encounter, in a disaster, then to that degree, one who suffers loss might attempt to disavow one’s own vulnerability to loss by virtue of the fact that injury is instigated by an unrecognizable force. Thus is rendered impossible the question of any sort of narration of loss or resolution in sensible language of the insensibile moment of trauma. But rather than pausing to consider what might be the consequence of our all being exposed in this way, by virtue of our primary vulnerability, if we decline even to pause in the face of what undoes us in violence, if we attempt to master our vulnerability, we only manage to deny the very conditions of our existence and are immediately closed off from the possibility of our own future. With the unrecognizable other, we also die, or are discarded, or are disavowed, or are visited in the continuing cycles of violence that serve the interests of this denial of vulnerability, which is a denial of life itself.

We are thrown here on a sort of paradoxical demand: that the unrecognizable not be consigned to illegibility or, worse, to unreality, because we are not prepared to acknowledge that we might not be able to conceptualize, chart, categorize, or comprehend the nature of our own being exposed to an other. That is, this would be the ethical demand of living itself: not to deny the fact of our helplessness, not to foreclose the possibility of incursions from unpredictable sources–incursions which may cause us pain or pleasure or both, which may occasion the possibility of our being able to live in a more lively way, or which may frustrate our desire to keep our lives in order. One cannot predict which it will be, or whether all of these moments might be bound up together in such a way that pain is the precondition of pleasure and vice versa, or, more precisely, in such a way that the distinction between pleasure and pain is lost in the very potential of coming to life as terrestrial creatures.

Relegating to the unreal that which threatens the security of the self, denying conceptual meaning to that which breaks the bounds of conceptualization, is a form of impotence in the face of the other. This impotence is realized as the impossibility of negating that which, conceptually, one has already negated–as well as the impossibility of negating that which is not subject to the workings of negation! But although the workings of negation or exclusivity or ideation cannot bring this other into any sort of domesticated, enforced “peace”, this other remains naked and vulnerable in relation to the subject of the act of negation. Our impotence, or inability to erase what is not, to begin with, legible, visits upon the other a violence without end, a real violence that incurs real atrocities precisely because its mission is impossible, and thus must be repeated indefinitely, so long as the subject inflicting that violence seeks to immunize itself against what is crucial to the being of that very subject: its other, against which it attempts to define itself. And fails.

This is how, or one of the reasons why, totalitarian violence is in the last analysis suicidal: an attempt to destroy the other which faces me and makes my utterance of “self” possible in that primordial encounter, the effort to sever relations with that in which we are already entangled and always were, from a time prior to memory and thus prior to time, is, in a very real way, the destruction of ourselves. It is not only that the balance of an interconnected ecosystem can be fatally disrupted by exploitation to the point that exploiter and exploited both perish, although to conceive of the relations between living things in the universe in this way makes our fragility in the faceless face of our own exploitative appetites quite clear. But it is also that without those relations we are, quite simply, not. Or rather, not simply at all: those relations’ being the anteroom of history and discourse renders them both foreign to and constitutive of our ability to try to name them as such.

I have no idea how to end this, but it seems as though it might be worthwhile to pause at the point of our own suicidality as it emerges from militaristic efforts to secure our place in eternity. There is no such place to be had, of course, and we only hasten our own demise in struggling to erect for ourselves a line of defense against every possible enemy. Again, this is not only because we are happy to relinquish our ideals for the illusion of safety, but it is at least that and also our current relation to that which has, in the “West”, so long been designated as inadmissible: vulnerability itself, subjection itself, fallibility itself, interdependence and the possibility that our ideals themselves are inadequate and provisional.