Our Problems Part 4 Why Things are So Bad
People dwell on the world's many problems. And there are an endless number of them – religious fanaticism, war, racism, crime, poverty, environmental degradation and so forth. Reactionaries treat this misery as "man's fate". Some even revel in it, awaiting the destruction of the world when Jesus will beam them up. Progressives on the other hand, look for the source in structural terms such as capitalism, class systems, authoritarianism or patriarchy. But progressives are bewildered by the irrational behavior of so many people, a behaviour that aids and abets those structural causes of human suffering. In a nut shell, structural explanations, while fundamental truths, are not a complete explanation of why things are the way they are.
Abused individuals act in self-destructive ways. These include passivity, lack of curiosity, impulsiveness, obsessiveness, substance abuse, child and spousal abuse. I contend that the human race itself is a collective patient recovering from severe physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse and this abuse is the root cause of the irrational behaviour that so bewilders progressives. I say a recovering patient because most of the abuse took place in the past, most particularly in the late 19th to mid-20th Centuries. (This is, of course, not to ignore the recent horrors in Latin America with fascist coups and death squads, nor contemporary religious "fundamentalism".)
Abuse has an effect well beyond the generation that experienced it directly. Abusive behaviour is passed down from one generation to another, but even where this is not the case, there is still a negative effect upon succeeding generations. Someone raised by abusive parents who manages to break the cycle of abuse, might become overly protective of their children, thereby creating another set of, albeit lesser, problems. Someone raised in a sexually repressive attitude, may in rejecting this oppression, go to the other extreme and become irresponsible in their sexual relations.
As with the individual, so too with the multitude. Three or four generations ago abusive behaviour was the normal method of childrearing. (in the Anglosphere and Germany, most especially). One instilled fear in one's children. Emphasis was placed upon subservience to authority. Praise was avoided and children were constantly reminded of their inferior status. Methods involved heavy doses of guilt, humiliation, and other forms of emotional abuse. If this wasn't enough to make the child subservient, verbal and physical abuse were freely used. All these crimes against children were committed in the name of "love" for the child, creating a schizophrenic situation where love = pain and degradation.
The ultimate source of most of these horrors, and with their own particular variety of cruelty, stood the religious cults. The cults terrorized the young into submissiveness with visions of Hell-fire, should they show any independence or rebelliousness. They were taught to feel guilty about merely existing. Children were also taught to hate and fear the body and its reactions, especially those of a sexual nature. Natural desires were repressed to the full. Both religious and secular authorities worked full time to maximize sexual repression, not just among the young, but among adults as well. To add an even more grotesque twist, these same authorities sexually molested their charges or frequented houses of prostitution.
My tour through this genuine Hell, would not be complete without mentioning the extreme racism and misogyny that shouted from every corner. Anyone who was not Anglo-Saxon was branded as second class and this was enforced through the media and popular culture. This is abuse, and yet the Polish or Italian immigrant was to get off easy in comparison to groups even less-favoured. For people of color, endless degradation and humiliation. For First Nations, genocide. For African-Americans, a reign of terror.
Sixty years ago, and for generations before that, women were considered silly, mindless creatures, capable only of bearing and nurturing children. Any natural desire to do anything else was to be suppressed. A woman was second class compared to a man, and was duty bound to obey Father and then Husband. Sexuality was even more harshly repressed in women than in men. Thus, women had to endure severe emotional abuse and if this did not work to keep them emotionally enslaved, verbal and physical abuse were considered legitimate means.
No, I am not engaging in psychological reductionism. The structural causes of our suffering, class systems, authoritarian hierarchies and capitalism, are real, but they do not explain why many are willing to put up with exploitation and bullying, the natural results of these same structural causes. Nor do they explain the large minority who envy, emulate, or worship their Masters and cheerfully persecute, torture or kill those who seek their liberation. Given our history, we are where we ought to be. Those of us who have tried to live in more liberatory and humane ways still carry the legacy of generations of psychologically wounded people. Millions still live in that past, lying trapped in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and a multitude of other manifestations of abuse. It will take several generations more to overcome our cruel burden. But time is running out. The problems pile up too fast to wait for the population to recover. We, imperfect creatures that we are, must work to make the world a saner place, at the same time realizing we will make errors, and there will be difficulties strewn in our path by our past histories.