Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Denial

My father was frightened of his father,
I was frightened of my father,
and I am damn well going to see to it
that my children are frightened of me.

—King George V (1865–1936)

The abused child attempts to keep its sanity by denying what is happening to it. Over time this denial strategy becomes a habit, a way of dealing with all unpleasantness, or what the person deems unpleasant situations. Later in life, as a mature adult, an abused person who has not developed a level of self-awareness, will claim a happy childhood, denying the oppressive reality of their upbringing. It should be noted, that no effort was spared upon the part of religion and authorities to force this denial situation upon the child. Religion taught people to "honour their parents" whether they were brutes or not, and the authorities dismissed children's pleas as fantasies, or worse attacked the victims in turn. (As in "How could you say such a thing about your father you horrid child!") At every turn, reality was attacked and a fantasy world was imposed upon the individual. (1)

Anyone who has spent any time working for peace, environmental sanity or worker rights will be confronted by individuals for whom no amount of evidence or logic will convince. Virtually nothing will make them change their minds. Their beliefs are not based upon rational thinking. I suggest that one candidate for the source of their infuriating irrationality is denial. They find comfort or protection in their beliefs, the way the abused but unaware take solace in their fantasy of a loving childhood.

Such people find it difficult to admit that racism exists and that they too might harbour racist views. Global warming and peak oil are too mind boggling, too demanding of change in set ways, it is easier to pretend that the Iraq War was justified than face the prospect of presidential war crimes and so forth...I suggest that many, if not most of the supporters of the New Right or what ever you want to call it, are people who have suffered infantile trauma in authoritarian, and therefore abusive, family relations. At any rate this would be a good research topic.

1. This would partly explain the popularity of treacly, nostalgic, sentimental songs, novels, poems, pictures and movies years ago. Especially those that went on about the "joys" of childhood, school, or "Mum and Dad."

For further reading, I suggest The Politics of Denial and For Your Own Good by Alice Miller (or anything else by her for that matter.

7 Comments:

Blogger Joel Schlosberg said...

BTW, For Your Own Good is online in its entirety here.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Belinsky said...

This would be a great topic for empirical psychologists to research. I've always been attracted to anarcha-feminist theory that authoritarianism starts with patriarchy in the family, but I've never seen any empirical studies to confirm it. (Of course, I may just be ignorant of such studies if they do exist.)

4:59 PM  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

The family unit is on the cutting edge, to teach conformity. Parental authority is the first authority one experiences.

The good news is, our political enemies have rigid principles and tactics. Their world is either/or.

Strong principles and flexible tactics, are healthy.

1:01 AM  
Blogger Werner said...

I agree with much of what you have said. I've seen some very screwed up families where the kids sometimes (if they were really unlucky) became victims of the "mental illness" racket. One of my friends from the nineties lost his father from cancer which lead to some asshole psychiatrist working him over. He eventually committed suicide by walking in front of a train. I've also seen some of the best radicals who owe their outlook on life to their families but that was in the days when "old labour" ideas still meant something out here.

4:56 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

If you are looking for a more scientific commentary on these matters I'd suggest:
'The Elements of a Scientific Theory of Self-Deception' by Robert Trivers:
Annals of the NY Academy of Science 907: 114-131, Trivers, Roberty, 2000

Trivers, of course, is one of the major contributers to modern evolutionary psychology, codifying reciprocal altruism back in 1971 ('The Evoution of Reciprocal Altruism;, Quarterly Review of Biology 46: 35-57, 1971). He has been a long time political radical, and people might be interested in googling up his recent conversation with Chomsky on the matter of "self-deception".

5:11 PM  
Blogger Natasha said...

I highly recommend the writings of Arthur Silber on Alice Miller. He was the person who introduced her to me.

See here: http://thesacredmoment.blogspot.com/2006/02/essays-based-on-work-of-alice-miller.html

6:28 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Thanks Natasha, they are very good.

9:36 PM  

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