Friday, October 30, 2015

Can one exist alone?

I've been thinking about something that's touched upon in the efforts of a number of authors...a phenomenon called transgenerational trauma. That's a clunky sounding phrase that looks at the fact that harm to someone doesn't necessarily stop or stay contained in the primary victim. The definition on wikipedia reads:
Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.
What I've been wrestling with is the notion of the seemingly complimentary concept of transgenerational responsibility. And by that I mean, just as the initiator of violent acts is culpable and responsible for those acts...does that culpability and responsibility end at the person of the perpetrator or does it reach across generational lines and posit itself with the subsequent generations of the perpetrator?

There's a related notion that requires more consideration...that's for later or for someone else to do...and that is, simply put, can you harm others without harming yourself? I don't think so...but I don't know. Obviously the manifestation of the harm would likely differ...killing someone else doesn't kill the perpetrator like it does the victim but...that doesn't mean some sort of harm to the initiator doesn't occur. Violence/oppression might be thought of as being something like an explosion. In an explosion the waves of destruction spread in all directions and anyone/anything within the zone of damage gets hurt/injured/wounded/harmed. An explosion isn't unidirectional...it's omnidirectional. I may toss a bomb at someone's feet and it blows up...but that explosion can harm not only the victim...but me...the tosser. This seems to merit much more thinking/feeling about than I can do here and now.

The mechanisms (sort of a misleading word but I'll use it here, living beings really don't do "mechanical") of the transmission of transgenerational trauma is hypothecated to be...in the definition above...associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). Interestingly enough, the idea of ptsd is fairly new. Humans have noted for some time that wars (orgies of violence against humans by humans that we, the "intelligent" species periodically engage in) result in damage beyond physical destruction. People get emotionally wounded by the violence of war in addition to being physically harmed...and...not only can the victims experience emotional harm but so can the perpetrators.

In WWI these sorts of manifestations of emotional damage were called shell shock, WWII saw a name change to combat stress reaction...it was only as a result of the Vietnam experience did the name ptsd emerge for this complex cluster of reactions to violent mayhem and terror. The increase in attempts at understanding this stuff that came with Vietnam also resulted in an expansion of the notion to include all sorts of situations of trauma including those not associated with war. I'm not going to go into further detail about it here, that's not what I'm trying to write about and...in truth...I wonder about how well and thoroughly we understand this...even though many very bright and concerned people have devoted much time and attention to trying to comprehend it. 

What I'm wallowing around with is more general in nature. A question of ethics, maybe? A question of symmetry? What I'm wondering is if it is the case that transgenerational trauma can occur doesn't it follow that transgenerational culpability would exist also?

What if, as a result of that violence/harm, there is a benefit. Like, for instance, a human kills another human and steals stuff from them. They then take the stolen goods and give them to their children and their children give them to their children...and on and on. Do those children, and their children's children have any ethical or moral obligation toward that original victim...or to the children or children's children of that victim...who were deprived of that which was taken from their predecessors? 

But beyond that tangible benefit thing...what about responsibility for the harm? Does it stop at the actual perpetrator or does it ripple or cascade down onto the children and children's children of the killer? In regard to the children and children's children of the killed victim? I wonder.

We're big here, in U.S. America, on the individualism thing. It's sort of like we pretend we're all self contained little packages floating around and what we do is what we are responsible for (when convenient) and we're not responsible for what anyone else does...or for what went on before we popped out from between our mother's legs. It's a whopping big part of the ideological lens we get fitted with here in U.S. America. What's funny is we tend to confine it to white people (maybe only white men)...if you think about it.

Groups of humans not identified as white skinned males...Indigenous peoples, African-American peoples, Asian-American peoples, women peoples even, tend to get looked at as if their actions and attitudes reflect on and are indicative of everyone in the particular group they are consigned to. They tend to not get seen as individuals...but rather as representatives of and proxies for their group. The same thing goes on for those beings who aren't human...one cat tends to be seen as a representative of all cats, same for dogs, cows, bats and so on. (I've slowly come to comprehend that such ways of thinking are markers of membership or non-membership in dominant or subordinate groups in this western euro horror story that influences all of us)

But, generally, not white men...white men are seen as kind of magically individual packages blithely floating along, self-contained and somehow disconnected from all other white men (and...mostly everyone else for that matter). I must say, the more I apprehend this weird viewpoint and the more I become able to sometimes spot it when it is presented...the stranger and more bizarre it appears. One rule for white men (individuals)...different rules for all other humans (representative of their socially assigned group) and for all other Earthlings who aren't human ones too. It's even more convoluted than that at times...but that's too involved to go into now.

Joy DeGruy and Michael Yellow Bird and Eduardo Duran and others have all written and talked about the notion of transgenerational trauma (maybe not using that phrase though) and implicit in their thinking/writing is the idea of transgenerational responsibility (again, not using that phrase either). If you want...you can learn more about these ideas by referencing their efforts. I would especially encourage you to watch this presentation by Joy DeGruy. She wrote a book about this sort of thing that details some aspects of these ideas. I cannot recommend your reading this book (especially if you are identified as a white U.S. American) unless you are willing to risk losing a number of comforting and reality denying illusions.

Sensei Aishitemasu references this sort of thing in a video she created. She wasn't, by name, referencing transgenerational responsibility or transgenerational trauma...but...she was talking about aspects of those notions and she did it in such a way that it was sort of funny and sort of sad simultaneously.

Here's an excerpt from the writing she did to accompany this video. She's referencing racism but in her addressing that abomination she points out the sort of magical notion that somehow white people are exempt from all known dynamics of cultural transmission or of ideological comprehension and viewpoints (and, we might infer, corresponding behaviors and/or responsibilities and/or culpability). Her words:
You can't opt out of the system. You can't opt out of your privilege. You can't opt out of its benefits if you're born with white skin.

And it's funny how we understand this when we're talking about other forms of pathology. We understand that people growing up in abusive households have higher chances of being impacted by abuse. We understand that soldiers coming back from violent war zones have higher chances of being affected by post traumatic stress disorder. We understand that people in certain environments will be psychologically impacted in certain ways.

But start talking about learned racism and, all of a sudden, everything we know about the human brain goes out the window because every white person is a unique special snowflake (with the magical mutant x abilities to not be influenced by their surroundings and the constant barrage of racist, white supremacist propaganda).

Dear white people: You are not omega level mutants able to control things with your mind. You are not Jean Gray. You have been born into this racist, sexist, capitalist, white supremacist society and from birth you have been imbued with its beliefs.
All of the resources I'm listing here have to do with humans writing or talking about human doings to other humans. But...it's all about oppression...one group with more power doing large and small awful things to other groups with less power for benefit of some kind or other. Beings belonging to a powerful group harming beings belonging to a less powerful group.

Maybe, in those portraits of human injury and wounding and harm we can dimly apprehend processes of oppression and their similarities from one group of victims to the next...and the similarities of the processes of oppression...from one group of perpetrators to the next. Maybe we can do that.

In the doing though there is danger...and risk...it must ever and always be held in awareness that the lived experience of oppression is unique and individual to each victim (or, maybe in some ways, each group of victims) and great care and caution must be exercised in the face of any temptation to meld or conflate those experiences. While oppressions may look very similar, indeed...they may be similar, that doesn't mean the experience of those targeted is the same.

Using verbal shorthand phrases like "people of color" does great harm to comprehension unless it is kept in mind that the experience of harm (and sometimes even the form of the harmings) differed depending on which minoritized group was being targeted. The circumstances and experience of Native Americans was different than the circumstances and experiences of African Americans and the circumstances and experiences of Asian Americans was different than either of those groups. (It is to be understood that this uniqueness of experience holds for all groups who are oppressed/harmed even if they're not specifically named here)

About the only thing that can be said in general, with some element of accuracy, is that European ancestored white males (and often the European ancestored white females too) pretty much treated anyone who wasn't assigned to their socially constructed group, horribly. And...that many of the processes and dynamics of harm emanating from European white peoples of the past continue to operate in the present.

Well...one other thing can be said, in general, with some accuracy and that is that understanding all this demands much more sustained thinking and comprehending than U.S. American culture tries to make us believe. It's rather embarrassing to realize how incredibly ignorant most of us (I include myself) who are identified as "white" are regarding many things really...but especially those destructive processes encompassed by the term racism. What's even more excruciatingly dismaying is how many of us who are so woefully ignorant are just as likely to have amazingly strong and certain opinions about that which, we are in fact, almost totally clueless. Being both ignorant and certain about something is an ugly and dangerous combination. 

Hiding the horror and the complexity and the suffering and the nuance and the processes...processes like transgenerational trauma...keeping all those out of awareness and visibility is part and parcel of how they are kept in operation. And...interrupting them...changing them...opting out of them...is virtually impossible until they are more fully and widely known and understood and recognized...by those who are members of dominant groups. Those who belong to the targeted groups know what's going on...it's those who do the damage who evince ignorance and obliviousness.

So...in furtherance of the goal of getting through the thicket of obfuscations and obliviousnesses and invisiblities of oppression...the question that I'm struggling with is whether it is possible to have transgenerational trauma without also having transgenerational responsiblity or transgenerational culpability?

In other words...if harm carries across generations...doesn't it follow that responsibility for that harm also carries across generations? It seems to me that it would...and does. But...it may be that I'm being misled and confused by words or language or skewed logic. I don't know. I don't think so though.

Note: I'm writing and thinking this from the position of an older European ancestored heterosexual male...which means I've been well indoctrinated in obliviousness...for decades. Hence, it is likely I've committed profound omissions and errors or distortions in my efforts to express my thinking on this topic. Anyone choosing to assist in correcting my ignorant or unintentional error making in this post will have my gratitude. Thank you.
 

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Mexico is

maybe my all time favorite place on planet Earth...especially northern New Mexico up around Taos. It is an area that is almost magical in terms of the way the beauty of the sky and the desert and the mountains affect me. The sky there is a blue so deep and rich that it almost sparkles.

Our two main goals for a trip were to catch the Aspens and Cottonwoods around Taos as they turned golden in celebration of Autumn and to visit the Acoma Pueblo. We were fortunate enough to manage both.

entry roadway to Acoma
I borrowed the photo from the wikipedia entry about Acoma Pueblo...it shows the road that leads up to the location of this settlement. Up on the mesa where the houses of the traditional Acoma village are located is situated a catholic mission. I also borrowed the photo below that shows the structure.
mission at Acoma
Some time ago I had read a bit about how that building came to be located at the Acoma village and because of what I knew I didn't go inside although the tour includes visiting the interior of the building. I maybe will write about that in another post...it's a sordid and ugly tale as are most that have to do with the European invasion of the western hemisphere.

This post is mainly about one of the three fur people that live with us because in order to make the trip they were kindly cared for by Jeannie (the director) out at Heartland Rabbit Rescue.

Luigi, Jr and J.J.
The fellow on the left who has the dark hair on his nose is Luigi, Jr. He's one of those bunnies that staggers you with his cuteness...his brother is called JJ...who is no slouch in the cuteness department either. I wrote earlier about their coming to live with us.

Mr. Luigi's reaction to being dislocated from his home for a few days was rather dramatic...and for Jeannie...painful. When we returned and everyone was back at home, Jeannie asked me if Luigi was a "biter". He had no history of such and when I told her this she explained that she had asked because he had inflicted several painful bites on her while he was staying at her place, once he bit so strongly that he drew blood and was hanging from her hand while she tried to get away from him.

We had explained several times to the boys and to Gwennie (who also stayed with Jeannie while we were gone) about our trip and their going to visit Heartland while we were gone. Well...explaining with human words doesn't remediate distress and upset. Gwennie reacted by being rather withdrawn and depressed while we were gone and Mr. Luigi reacted by taking out his upset on Jeannie. I'm presuming JJ watched Luigi's aggression and let that serve as a proxy for whatever feelings he was having about being away from his home.

All three are back home now and seemingly happy to be so. Luigi is eager for headrubs and so are the other two and all seem to be settled back into their usual routines. Gwennie immediately cruised around her area in the living room when she got home and asked to be held a couple of times and then passed out for a long long nap. We speculate that the stress of change had worn her out and she needed some recovery time.

Luigi behaved differently (aggressively) than usual even though our intent was not to upset him. The impact on him, however, was upsetting...if his aggressiveness is an indicator that he was upset. Luigi doesn't speak the human English language but he speaks a language common to all Earthlings...behavior. There's an old saying in English that addresses this truth and I bet most of you have heard it at one time or another: Actions speak louder than words.

Yup, that's right, there is a universal language common to all Earthlings...it's called behavior. It can be difficult sometimes to comprehend nuance in terms of what factors produce or motivated the universal Earthling language or even what it means...but...it is a language shared by all of us living beings here on mother Earth.

It overrides and is more potent than human languages and should be given more credence than vocalizations and/or writing because it is what our words or writings reference. Humans can lie with their behavior, so can other Earthlings but...in general...it is much easier to detect lying with behavior than it is lying with human words and it is also generally more difficult to lie with behavior.

Luigi evidently didn't like what happened and he "spoke" with his behavior. impact is more significant and meaningful than intent...all Earthlings speak the universal Earthling language called behavior. Ignoring or misreading one or the other or both will mean you are being oblivious to reality or erroneous in terms of your apprehension of reality. Operating this way, obliviously or erroneously, can be disastrous for others or yourself or both.

Intent is only vaguely (if at all) connected to impact and human words carry little or no import when compared to actions. Two truths that we human animals rarely spend much time emphasizing.

Think about this...given that behavior is a universal and powerful language that is more important than any species specific vocalizing...how much time did you spend in your formal schooling studying this universal language versus studying human languages? I suspect most of you spent much much more time learning about the meanings of human vocalizations and writings than you did learning about the nuances and meanings of behavior.

We humans can believe ourselves to be "educated" and yet have little or no structured or formal explicit learning about the language spoken by all Earthlings. But...that doesn't prevent us from proclaiming ourselves to be the "intelligent" species. Curious, eh?

Apologies to Luigi, JJ and Gwennie...and most of all apologies to the injured innocent one...Jeannie.
 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The personal is...

political. You can get a feel for the history of that statement here.

Below is a quote that is related to that interesting and brief saying. It references a core component of psychodynamic psychotherapy (other psychotherapeutic approaches utilize this process of making the mysterious become known too). But...it isn't written by a psychotherapist.

Psychotherapy is usually thought of as a very personal sort of endeavor...and yet...another way to think about it is that since it deals with feelings/emotions/perceptions...each of those aspects of a living being can also be considered to be political since they are influenced (almost totally) by our perspectives and our perspectives are profoundly intertwined with...you guessed it... the political elements of our living situation.
"When some experience causes us to question our firmest beliefs about the world, there is a domino-like effect which can change our entire perspective both on who and what we are....Such chains of questioning, such probing of our assumptions, are elementary examples of a process Paulo Freire calls conscientization. Critical theorists often name the state of mind that is nurtured by this process "critical consciousness". Critical consciousness is the mental habit of asking ourselves what assumptions are guiding our actions; why we believe what we believe; who gains and who loses from the assumptions we endorse; whether things might be otherwise, and possibly better; and how we might effect change if we think it desirable."          p. 122-123 Finding Freedom in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction to Critical Theory, Patricia Hinchey, 1998.
Psychotherapy often focuses on discovering assumptions about the world and about ourselves and their origins because, in the illumination of those dearly held beliefs, differing courses of action, different experiences as well as viewpoints about ourselves and others automatically present themselves. Often the motivations that resulted in the creation of those beliefs also become visible.

It is when we are young that we are most trusting and accepting and least possessive of experience, hence we're most open to receiving assumptions and viewpoints as well as being least able to critically evaluate or consider them. We take what we're given...whether we ever choose to evaluate those beliefs and/or assumptions and/or perspectives predicated on the questions noted in the quote...that's a different thing. Generally that can only occur after we've lived long enough to acquire a fund of experience and knowledge that allows us a foundation from which to engage in competent questioning.

Doing this kind of questioning can be upsetting and threatening hence, many choose to not follow this path. Moreover, many who opt to not do this get riled up if someone else does some questioning...even though they aren't the ones doing it.

When I was a quite young child I was (like many/most children) a big question asker. My parents were strongly invested in their religion and I asked many questions about their beliefs, about god and the bible. They were kind enough to try to answer them but I soon was asking about things beyond their knowing so they would invite various church people to Sunday dinner with the hopes that these folks could answer my questions. I remember ploughing through several of these deacons and preachers until finally one, in their apparent frustration with my questions, said something that has stuck with me. He said...and I'm paraphrasing here..."you don't think about this or question it...you just believe it". That resonated with me because I could see he was on the edge of anger and because what he said felt like a truth. The sort of religion they participated in wasn't one that took too kindly to questions beyond a certain point.

I was reminded of that situation some years later when I was in basic training. A fellow trainee had done something that upset the drill sergeant and he asked (screamed at) this fellow why he had done the upsetting thing and the trainee responded with "I thought...." and the sergeant almost levitated while screaming "don't think...just do what you're told". My parents religion and basic training were similar in many ways...thinking and/or questioning past certain points wasn't welcome and would evoke anger in many situations.

I have neglected to become super proficient at not questioning things...I often haven't questioned when I should have but I never did quite achieve comfort with just believing things without questioning or thinking about them. I used to long for that though...questioning/thinking is often sort of a pain in the ass...life seems lots less stressful if "you just believe it". Or so it has seemed to me at times.

That interest in questioning and thinking was part of what drew me toward the practice of psychotherapy. Various schools of thought there encourage questioning damn near everything...which was right up my alley. You can see why the quote I inserted above was appealing to me. Most psychotherapists have a very different notion of "normal" than the average person. It is refreshing to see notions that fit well into certain psychotherapeutic approaches presented as simply a way of approaching the living of life. Critical theory is snazzy stuff.

Think about all the things your culture presents to you as "normal"...that aren't to be thought about or questioned...but just done. Think about all the times some sort of authority demands that you not question but just follow instructions. Sometimes "normal" things are valid...like don't walk in front of speeding automobiles...but way too many "normal" things are just stuff somebody made up that maybe benefited them or their group and instead of owning up to that it was for their benefit they presented it as "normal" and not to be questioned. One clue about the origin of something indicating whether it is made up stuff or not is whether people get all riled up over the questioning of it...especially when there is no harm apparent in that questioning.

Again...you can question walking in front of speeding cars all day...and that doesn't change the fact that you'll probably get badly hurt if you do it...but questioning whether it's ok for a man to wear a skirt...hey...what's the harm? But...I can assure you that some people will get riled up over the skirt thing...which suggests that it's just made up stuff. 

I have to admit, I sort of get a hoot out of engaging with someone and asking questions about something or other that they present as "the way it is" and observing when they start getting nervous about the questions. That usually means we're getting to that point where the preacher sort of told me to shut up and just "believe". I don't always question like that...but sometimes I do. It's sort of spooky...really...how many of us have those "just believe it" elements in our worldview and usually we don't realize it. (I think that "not realizing" stuff is one way that invisibling manifests itself).

I've noticed, over the years, that the way many/most who don't want to pursue the questions deal with my inquisitiveness is by sticking me into a category where they can discount my questions. They assign me to some grouping that facilitates their being able to ignore or minimize my thinking or questioning. I think maybe that's partially what drives marginalization . If they can tag me as "weird" or "strange" or or or then I can more easily be ignored...and by association so can my questions.

If you choose to question  "firmest beliefs"...be ready to be considered as "peculiar" by those who aren't into asking questions...and be ready to feel uncomfortable. Both because questioning strong beliefs can be disturbing all by itself (because of what you might discover) and...your fellow cultural participants will often reward your questioning by rejecting and/or marginalizing you. It can be rather daunting. Interesting...but daunting.

I suspect that many/most of you who operate out of an ethical vegan framework have encountered this sort of reaction. Whether you asked questions about the "normalcy" of oppressing animals out loud...or whether simply your way of living implied such questioning, I would bet that many of you have been consigned (whether overtly or covertly) to the realm of the "strange" or the "weird" by those who were made uncomfortable by your veganism.

It is sort of instructive to think about marginalizing humans because of their way of being or living. How often does that happen, not because there's anything harmful about their way of living or being, but because it implies a questioning of that which culture said was "normal"? I have to admit that often when I run into the justification for some way of living/being that includes "because it's normal", I think of the drill sergeant with the red face and the twisted and screaming mouth.

Ever hear the phrase "think outside of the box"? That's actually just a variation of saying "question what's normal". What's interesting is that many who use the box phrase don't realize that they're advocating something that, should it actually happen, would probably make them uncomfortable. If you actually do get outside that "box"...don't be surprised if the drill sergeant (whether it's your own internalized drill sergeant or one from the outside) shows up.
   

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lived experience

is one thing...information about or second-hand knowledge about an experience are different things.

I happen to be biologically sexed (this references my external genitalia and other physical attributes...biological sex is not the same thing as gender which refers to the way a culture views biological sex) as male. I have many decades of living as a male, many instances of other humans interacting with me predicated on my being male. I have stored up lots and lots of memories and experiences of the reactions of other humans toward me and included in their behaviors involving me were, almost always, factors influenced by my biological sexual identity.

Since I have much experience living as a male...does that mean I know what it is like for all males in my culture? Nope. Although I might have some good guesses as to what an experience might be like for a male based on such living...those guesses would be based on my unique history and situation and culture and and and. Once I start generalizing from my particulars...the potential for error proliferates. But...my generalizing is likely to be less error prone than generalizations coming from someone who does not have the lived experience of being a male...presuming our general knowledge bases are similar. They might even know facts that I do not...but they cannot know about that experience of being male without being male.

Two things to consider...all males differ from one another in greater or lesser degrees and each male has a specific set of unique life and cultural experiences that have served to influence them...and those differ from person to person hence generalizing always risks greater or lesser error.


I have never lived being identified as a female...but...I'm identified as a member of the human species and human females are identified as members of that same species so I can make good guesses as to what an experience might be like for a female since we're both human, right?

Nope. Even though I share categorization as human (I'm pretending here that "human" is a designation that has some sort of meaning that's significant...I'm not sure that's quite accurate like we pretend it does) the difference in the way others behave toward us based on our sex means many/most (if not all) situations will involve different factors because of the significance associated with our designated sexual identity. No doubt...there probably are similarities...but the differences, whether blatant or subtle, are significant and influential. I can make guesses, sure, but they will be guesses that almost invariably include error...whether small or great. And...most importantly...I would likely be unaware of those errors because my comprehension and understanding would be filtered by my being male.


I do not know what it is like to experience life as a female. Does that mean I can't know? Well, in significant ways, yes it does. That doesn't mean I can't study and learn and acquire information about the lived experiences of females but...having information about is different than having lived those experiences.That's something you can't get around...as far as I know.

I might could achieve a distorted and warped and rather inauthentic version of such experiences if I lived as a female. By that I mean if I dressed and acted like and presented myself to other humans as if I were a female. But...that would be problematic because I would still be a male and that would profoundly influence my experience (it would be problematic for other reasons too...obviously) because I wouldn't be a female...I would be a male pretending to be a female....which is not the same. I would not have the experience of being responded to as a female from birth...that would not be available to me.

None of the images I've used in this post are "perfect" in terms of what I'm grappling with here...but each provides a varying take on something similar. I'm uncertain whether Dr. Einstein actually made the statement in that first graphic...but...it does express something that's important to keep in mind.

It's also important to keep in mind that information about...oh say baking a cake or any other area of doing or engaging in tasks...is not the same thing as experiencing something. Knowing the steps to follow in making a skydive is not the same thing as having the experience of doing a skydive. And...the experience of learning how to do a skydive and the doing of a skydive would be different for a female (because of her unique history and learnings) than for a male. There would be similarities, of course, but there would also be differences. Differences would also arise based on other socially emphasized aspects of identity too...such as age or race or ableness.

The "me" that I experience as me is profoundly and completely affected by my sex and my race and my physical ableness and my age and my class and my education, etc. Primarily not because those aspects of me are necessarily "real" or that big of a deal by themselves but...because in U.S. American culture those factors strongly influence how others react to me and behave towards me and how I'm taught to think about myself and those who are not me.

And those factors are often...probably more often than not...hidden to me in terms of how their influence determines what I experience and how I interpret that experience. They point me toward paying attention to certain things and also toward ignoring other things and thereby steer my knowledge acquisition and awareness.

The skydive example is illustrative of the point of this post. A human can learn all the things they need to learn to be able to successfully skydive...they can learn from books and/or other humans...they can practice or watch videos over and over. But...until they actually skydive...they will not...nor can they...know what the experience of skydiving is like. You can't substitute learning or practice or imagining or thinking about for the actual experience of a skydive.

I can never know what it is like to have the lived experiences that someone has if they are biologically sexed as female. I can never know what it is like to have the lived experiences of someone who has never been able to hear. I can never know what it is like to have the lived experiences of someone who is identified as Native American. And on and on and on. I can learn about those experienced lives from those who have lived them...but I cannot know in the way that each who live those lives knows. And...if I try to learn about that experience of being female without listening...and listening for a long time and very carefully...to those who live as females...then I'll learn erroneous and misleading things.

So what?

Consider opinion polls. Here in the U.S. opinion polls have become quite popular in the public media. They can be useful (maybe) but they can be profoundly misleading and are often used in ways that are much more misleading than they are illuminating. Think about this...if say the question asked in a poll is about going to war? Take a look here and you'll see the "opinion" results of just such a poll. But...notice...the poll results lump all sexes and all races and all ages and and and...all together. We can't tell from what is presented to us what the opinion of folks are depending on whether their lived experiences are those of a black female, a white male, a gay female, or or or.

Here's a link to an NPR interview of a reporter who notes that 70% of African Americans opposed the Iraq invasion before it began...but...you would not know that just by looking at that poll I linked to in the previous paragraph.

Lived experience profoundly influences our comprehensions. The lived experience of those in charge of every major social institution here in U.S. America is that of a white male. Think of it...Education, Government, Corporations, Media, Medicine, and so on...all of the societal configurations of power and influence are "led" by humans who have only the lived experience of being a white male.  This source estimates that as being only about 36% of the U.S. population (and that includes children...so it's even less for adults).

If we take the 36% value as semi-accurate (remember that includes white male children, so it is inflated) then I'll make it 30% to sort of take out the children...it would actually be even less than 30%...but even then...that means that 70% of the U.S. population's lived experiences are only vaguely (if at all) known to those who "lead" our major societal institutions. Consider...those who are sexed as female are the numerical majority in the U.S. And...the major social institutions that are lead by females is exactly zero. That's so bizarre that it would be laughable if it weren't tragic and sad and ignorant making.

I'm really really old to be just now fully appreciating this. If you're younger than me...and I'm pretty sure you are...don't stay ignorant and oblivious about this as long as I have. I wish I had read something like this 50 years ago but...maybe I did and just ignored it. Do better than me. Please. Remember...knowing about something is not the same thing as having a lived experience of something.

Whenever you encounter someone coming from a "knowing about" position trying to override or obviate or dispute someone coming from a having lived experience of something....be very very dubious. No one is perfect and having a lived experience of something doesn't include achieving perfection of knowing...but...the odds are strongly in favor of the one with a lived experience accessing awarenesses that the one without the lived experience simply cannot.

To presume that those without the lived experience of something can speak for or can "know" about that lived experience more truly or accurately than those who went through it is....well...silly. But...our culture really works hard at trying to convince us to lend more credence to those with power over something instead of those with the lived experience of that something. 

Imagine folks who read books about skydiving (but haven't skydived) trying to tell folks who have skydived what skydiving feels like. It's sort of pitiful when you think about it. No wonder we have so much trouble figuring things out.  
   

 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Unanticipated consequences...

can be surprising.

Consider the phrases "unanticipated consequences" or "unintended consequences" while thinking about that notion of not knowing what you don't know. There's a big difference between thinking about or considering an ideology versus actually making shifts in your ideology...because when you make such changes...things that were hidden can come into awareness and/or what might be in your awareness will begin (slowly or suddenly) to be perceived and experienced differently. Those sorts of changes can often be surprising or shocking or disorienting. Aph Ko and Syl Ko, on their excellent blog Aphro-ism, write about these phenomena here.

For instance, grappling with decreasing my oblivion regarding how we human Earthlings behave toward our sister/brother Earthlings resulted in my pretty much avoiding any movies that include humans riding or "using" horses...which encompasses a lot of 'western' movies (ignoring the ubiquitous lies and distortions about Native Americans that often permeate 'western' movies). I find it too unpleasant and painful to watch such abuse and so mostly I don't. I certainly didn't expect that maintaining an ethical vegan viewpoint would interrupt the viewing of 'western' movies...but there ya go.

Speaking of unanticipated consequences...I started reading a book titled Blowback by Christopher Simpson but found it to be disturbing enough that I decided to stop reading it. It's about how the U.S. decided, immediately following WWII, to enlist thousands of Nazi war criminals in their efforts to "resist" Soviet Russia...and in the process to exempt mass murderers from any punishment. It's equivalent to a group of men being afraid of women so they decide to hire Ted Bundy to advise them on how to resist women...and to absolve him of any criminal charges as a payoff for helping. Or...it's much akin to our government's justification of torture as a way of "obtaining information". In each case...we opt for excusing despicable behaviors because "we're really scared". Jeez.

But the unanticipated consequence that hit me recently was both surprising and sad making. One of my (formerly) favorite movies of all time, Judgement At Nuremberg, which stars Spencer Tracey and Burt Lancaster suddenly looked completely different to me. I ran across it recently and started to watch it and I realized that I was feeling disgust as I watched.

I've always enjoyed Mr. Spencer and Mr. Lancaster as actors and this movie had it all...high minded moralizing...punishing bad guys...consideration of different viewpoints and so on. The movie is shot in black and white (which I often enjoy) and, aside from the somewhat irritating Richard Widmark, cast with some other excellent actors. The story is sort of based on a trial soon after WWII wherein various Hitler era judges were held to account for their participation in some of the awfulness of that time. It was released in 1961.

So the movie is all about awful stuff that was "legal". It's about showing how terrible these judges were for going along with the harming of humans because they happened to belong to particular groups...not because of anything they had done...but just because of being identified with a group. There are a few complexities thrown in (fear of the Russians) and such and some interesting attention paid to many German citizen's protestations of innocence because they "didn't know" what was going on...and so forth. I had liked this movie for years and it was one of my favorites. Well...no more.

Here's the problem...the movie is set in 1947 or 1948...it's all about these nasty disgusting Germans who treated people awful because the Germans (most of them anyway) had decided that people in certain groups were not ok. The movie centers on the terrific and freedom loving U.S. Americans who are all concerned with "liberty and justice" and taking these miscreants to task. And it's all sort of true...about the trials occurring...but the concern with "liberty and justice" by U.S. Americans...well that's simply not true. Here you might want to refer back to the paragraph above re the Blowback book.

Yes we did some trials and we punished some people...but in 1947 back here in good old U.S. America we white people were treating some of our citizens horribly (including murder by lynching) just because they belonged to certain groups. In fact, this crap was still going on in 1961 when this movie was made.

One victim was portrayed by Montgomery Clift playing the role of someone who had been forcibly sterilized and much was made of his anguish...all the while back here in the U.S. such forcible sterilizations continued until 1981. Or maybe for longer.

Another case, referencing illegal liaisons between Jewish identified people and non-Jewish identified citizens, was presented by the actress Judy Garland....and...back here in the U.S. "inter-racial" marriages were illegal in various states up until 1967. Emmett Till, a 14 year old African American was murdered in 1955, supposedly for whistling at a white woman and his murderers were freed by our "legal" system. And yet...this movie is asking us to be outraged over the awfulness of the German prohibitions against the behavior of Jewish identified peoples.

Watching the movie this time around was simply repugnant to me. The hypocrisy was of such a magnitude that I couldn't bear it. I had to stop watching. It was white people fantasy at full tilt. The hideous disconnect from reality was too much. Good grief, in 1961 in many areas of the U.S., people were legally prevented from attending school together or eating in the same restaurants or watching movies together...simply because of their belonging to differently identified groups. But we're holding trials for German judges and imprisoning them and even executing some of them...for behaviors similar to those we (white people) in the U.S. were engaging in at the same time?

The movie was highly regarded and and nominated for and received numerous awards. The wikipedia entry tells us that several of the 'big-name' actors worked for a fraction of their usual salary because they felt the movie was socially important. One way to think about the movie is that it was identifying injustices perpetrated by some German judges...and by Germany the nation. But...those doing the pointing at Germany apparently didn't know what they didn't know about their own nation's behaviors. Decrying the behavior of others while being oblivious to your own actions is problematic. If the makers of the movie had prefaced it with some statement indicating their awareness of the awfulness in their own country and judicial system...that would have been refreshing. As it is though...it's just sort of embarrassing and also insulting, especially toward members of targeted groups here in the U.S..

While this trial of German judges was occurring and even while this movie was being made...the U.S. Public Health Service was lying to hundreds of African-American men about providing them with health care...all the while the health service knew these men had syphilis and did not tell them what disease they had and did not provide them with drugs which would have stopped the disease because...they wanted to know the effects of the disease as it progressed.

And...we're trying and imprisoning and executing German people for what they did? Of course what they did was inexcusable...but to have the nerve to hold them to account and totally ignore what we were doing? We're in never never land here. Hypocrisy seems like a concept that's too small to characterize our oblivious and other-directed moralizing.

What are we? Who are we? By we I mean primarily white U.S. American people because that group (mostly white men) controls...and has always controlled...government and business and education and the military and the police and the media and and...ever since this nation started. We present ourselves one way...but if our behavior is examined...a whole different picture emerges. Struggling to step away from being centered in, excuse the awkward phrase, "U.S. American white man's dominant worldview" is...hell, I don't know...I don't have words for what it is. Whatever it is, it isn't fun...that's for sure.

I'm fearful too, as these shiftings happen, that I'm unable to clearly communicate about them. Good grief...they aren't at all clear to me and trying to write about them while in the midst of experiencing them...means I probably end up spouting gibberish. Maybe that's part of what Aphro-ism's posting about confusion was pointing out.

I really liked that movie. I feel sad about that liking going away...and I feel duped and angry about being duped...but I also participated in the duping by not breaking through my obliviousness. Chagrin is a good descriptor for some of my feelings.

Abagond writes semi-humorously about Apple-pie America but I can't read his writing about this without thinking that humorous and horrid begin with the same letter and so does hurt and it all makes my head hurt...and the rest of me too.

Being oblivious is not a desirable way to blunder through life because that makes it too easy to inadvertently harm others and one's self, for that matter. However...decreasing obliviousness is a change and sometimes change means loss. So...goodbye to my liking for this movie...that doesn't mean I can't watch it and learn from it...but that liking (based on obliviousness) is no more.