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Getting to the heart of it

November 15, 2006

There’s a discussion going on over at Anthropik that I’m going to respond to here because it gets to the core of what this blog is about. Or at least what it has come to be about.For the uninitiated, I started this blog to track my long term plans to set up an eco village. Over the time of my writing however I have come to understand that the village will merely be a setting for what I’m about to discuss here:

In the discussion I just mentioned, Casemeau commented.

A mistake that we tend to make when speaking of abuse is to only think about it in its very obvious and dramatic forms. Then, if none of these has happened to us; if, say, we haven’t been punched by a parent, or even yelled at, we think the discussion doesn’t apply directly to us. A widespread form of abuse that I’ll bet everyone has suffered from is the denial of our true selves by (usually) our parents. This takes place invisibly, every day. An example is like this: “Oh don’t cry, sweetie, it’s just a broken toy.” Or like this: “It’s a sad occasion, but you must be brave.” In physical abuse, the bruises and broken bones can heal quickly. What imprisons the child for decades after the bones have healed (until death, even) is the emotional need to bury the true self which cries when it is appropriate to cry. This allows the child, literally, to survive. This same damaging imprisonment is effected with seemingly good parenting (“Oh don’t cry, sweetie.”–This response to a crying child seems so right!)

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Jason responded with:

I disagree with the use of the term “abuse” to cover something like that. The fact of the matter is, even in a tribal society, you have to know when it’s OK to express yourself, and when you need some self-control. If you accept that, then the rest of this is a sliding scale.

For all his excellent research I think Jason misses the point here. The real problem with coming to grips with this is what it implies about out parents – which is that not only have they hurt us but that they are the principle means by which civilisation and it’s abusive rules are passed from generation to generation. In the context of an (online) anti-civ community like this circle of blogs this is a hell of a thing to say and a good reason to keep in denial about it. It should surprise no one that I have yet to tell my own parents about this blog. Clearly I can face this truth but equally clearly I can’t yet deal with it adequately.

Unless we can face and deal with this aspect of civilisation no amount of violent insurections or well meaning alternatives are going to make a blind bit of difference. We could be living in the forest making fire with a bow and using permaculture to supply food and still carry civilisation within us.As it is I can’t see how we can do more than water down the civilisation within us a little bit each generation.

The real reason I know this is not because of how my parents treated me but because of how I treat my kids. I have as much information available to me on how to break this cycle as anyone else but I am still not free of the temptation of mis-using my power over my kids. It could be as simple a thing as inventing a reason they can’t do something simply because it would involve me getting off the couch.

The fact that most people reading this will probably say that what I’ve described is not really a big deal and hardly worthy of the title power abuse or even mis-use is an indication of just how far we have to go. Know this though, Behaviour like this is something that normally WOULD NOT happen in a well-functioning tribe.

Of course to improve our behaviour as parents we need to work on ourselves first and I can’t speak too highly of what I see in Casemeau, Ted, Dan and Ran’s blogs. Often when I sit down to write about an issue I end up concluding that to solve it will involve doing some internal work (as opposed to the much more popular option of fixing the external world).

I don’t think my message is a particularly popular message. I fear that I may have inherited the dictatorial, communication style of my father but I also know that the solutions I advocate to our problems are damn hard to enact and maybe even impossible without a tribe or village to support us. Certainly most people are not in a position to focus in this area – especially if they are in the middle of trying to raise children.

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