|When you go into the army (or away to summer camp, or boarding school, or prison) one of the objectives is usually to get you to ‘mature’, to be more independent of those who have nurtured and sheltered you, to help you learn to cope for yourself. For those who are sensitive, especially, it can be a horrifically traumatic (“creating substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to mental illness”) experience.
Nature’s way of dealing with trauma is chemical: dopamine, adrenaline, endorphins, testosterone and other hormones are released by our bodies to buffer us from emotional shock.
In situations of extreme stress, or when because of poor diet, drug abuse or other deregulating situations the balance of these hormones gets chronically out of whack, the consequences are various forms of psychosis, mental illness. Beyond this, neither medical science nor ‘psychology’ has a clue. Civilization has developed a whole arc of myths to explain our aberrant behaviour when the chemical cocktail of our brains and bodies is unable to do its regulating job: “Good’ versus ‘evil’, criminality, the ability to ‘tell right from wrong’, ‘terrorism’, the need for law and order, political and economic and educational control systems to teach people to behave ‘properly’ and punish and ‘correct’ them when they don’t.
To me this is all preposterous. It is a Darwinian absurdity to believe that all this repression is needed to make a species behave in its (and our world’s) collective interest. It seems to me all of our species’ dysfunctional behaviour is a response to our society’s unmanageable stress, not a cause of it.
Consider an extreme case — a child who hurts animals when he’s young, becomes a bully in his teenage years, and then develops into a pathological liar, manipulator, and psychopathic megalomaniac in his adult years. (We all know at least one such person — because of their lack of moral scruples and remorse, they tend to be very successful in politics and business). Let me say up front I’m not going to be an apologist for this behaviour — and if I ever caught anyone face-to-face who was physically or psychologically abusing animals, children, subordinates or ‘loved’ ones I would probably commit a violent act against him.
But could such behaviour actually be a coping mechanism for trauma? If you’re abused yourself, or if you just can’t cope with the real world, and just find it overwhelming, might you take it out on others more helpless than you, as a ‘best defence is a good offence’ means of desensitizing yourself, telling yourself that it’s not really as horrific as it might seem? And if that behaviour actually does alleviate the trauma, do you then go on to more serious, more antisocial and more desensitizing (and hence further self-reinforcing) behaviours? And how about withdrawal into depression or alcoholism, which have been shown to cause physical atrophy of nerve endings — are these also means of desensitizing ourselves? And escaping into daydreams, agoraphobia, self-isolation and withdrawal? And violent movies and video games? And the preponderance of porn, that objectivizes women and de-emotionalizes sex?
Yes, I can hear the conservatives (if any of them are still reading) ranting that I’m blaming everything on ‘society’ and absolving individuals from personal responsibility for their behaviour. And to an extent they’re right. To what extent are we really in control of how we feel, and what we believe, and what we do? To what extent are we really driven by our bodies and by our biochemistry and by the instinctive and other subconscious acts that make up 99.99% of our information processing and decision-making bandwidth?
When we applaud people who ‘suck it up’ and who, despite personal setbacks and trauma are able to live peaceful and ‘productive’, obedient lives, and when we institutionalize and write off those who are unable to cope and who succumb to alcoholism or incapacitating depression, and when we reward other psychopaths who ruthlessly and remorselessly step on and over others to become rich or powerful, what does this say about us?
If you buy what I’m saying, we have two problems to solve: How should we treat (ideally before they become seriously anti-social) those who are least able to cope with our traumatizing civilization? And in the longer run, how can we make our civilization less traumatizing?
I’ve answered the second question in many of my How to Save the World posts: By replacing our political and economic and educational and legal systems with more egalitarian, decentralized, diverse, accommodating, community-based systems that are directed towards well-being for all, and for our planet, instead of the accumulation of wealth and power; and by by finding humane, non-discriminatory ways to voluntarily, radically reduce human numbers and per-capita footprint. In such a post-civilization world, we could once again live healthy, happy, low-stress, untraumatized lives.
In the meantime, how can we help each other to cope better, without desensitizing ourselves? The bookstores are full of ‘self-help’ books, and psychologists offer various therapies (pharmacological and other) to this end. I have little confidence in any of these. We know far too little about how our brains and bodies work to be able to adapt ourselves well to a high-stress, high-trauma world. Most solutions from these sources seem to me more likely to desensitize us further, and at best will do so in ways that will make us less likely to hurt others. I’m not sure that there is any solution to this problem. Can we really hope to think or learn our way past it, when so little of what we are and do is conscious? Besides meditation and other relaxation/awareness techniques, besides loving and supporting and reassuring and encouraging each other, what methods have you found that keep you truly sane: able to cope, while still open, sensitive, caring?
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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