“Pulling at the Roots of Evil” (inspired by Arthur Silber)
[Arthur, am in the process of following up on your links on the above subject. Thanks. I respect your sensibility re “evil”. That its roots originate in childhood trauma and it recycles through the generations.]
There is an urgency for those of us struggling to be and stay sane and strong enough to identify -- call out -- “evil” and to begin to help society become aware of it. To help us all get deprogrammed from its relentless and massive grip to the best of our psychological and intellectual abilities.
Let me shoot off some of my own preliminary thoughts here. Off the top of my head, my favorite teachers of the roots of evil are Alice Miller, Scott Peck and Eric Berne.
I am a long time fan of Alice Miller. Her “trauma theory” is simple and profound. Psychological disturbances follow if trauma victims are not afforded an adequate supportive opportunity for processing trauma. More often, instead, the trauma is repeated again and again. And often and even more horrifying, the victim of the trauma is toxically assured by the traumatizer or even witnesses to it that the motivation of the trauma was well-intended and for the victim’s “own good.” One example, the old adage, “spare the rod and spoil the child” from years ago, supporting corporal punishment. Physical punishment too often is meted out to a child earnestly and shamelessly when the adult himself or herself was earnestly punished in such a way by his or her parent and assured it was for his or her “own good.” Sometimes the additional whammy is the claim that it is in line especially with God’s will.
What “acting out” occurs in its wake when trauma is not identified honestly and processed by its victims. When trauma is repressed its symptoms come out in either aggressive or passive aggressive behaviors. Acting out or acting in. Psychosis or neurosis. Unidentified evil in the guise of “good” can infect a national sensibility and support the most horrifying justifications for mass violence and cruelty, especially by a “daddy” or, yes, “mommy” authority leader acting for the “good” (pseudo-good) of the national family. The enthrallment of evil upon perpetrated children. Let’s face it, the willingness is there to deny or minimize massive evil coming at you from someone trusted and beloved. It arouses confusion. “Confuse” from the Latin. “Con” means “with”, “fuse” means “bond.” Bonding with one's aggressor. Being confused by him or her or them. This “enthrallment” supported by “confusion” can easily be re-triggered within ex-children in adulthood.
Victims of parental trauma will often deny or minimize parental trauma and as Miller and others contend these victims will, if unrecovered, perpetrate that trauma, especially similar trauma, often rationalized in the name of “tough love”, onto their own children. Sometimes, through broader transference than just their own immediate progeny, former victims have so identified with their parental or substitute parental “aggressors” they find opportunities to inflict insidious punishment onto a vast range of victims. Escalating its nature.
I believe the opportunities for parents to unconsciously perpetrate evil against their own children and train them to be perpetrators themselves is profoundly and epidemically true, and profoundly and epidemically not understood by most people.
In Miller’s book, For Your Own Good she even dramatically declares that if Hitler had had a child the psychotic “acting out” he did on millions of people would have been targeted at his own child to absorb his sadistic and destructive dysfunction. Or that, she even contends, perhaps if Hitler’s father had not had the child, Hitler, there would have been a Hitler a generation earlier acting out his perverted will on millions. Hitler was abused by his father. Hitler’s father was abused by his father, etc., etc. Miller’s not playing when she talks about dysfunctional parenting and its ramifications on a family line, a culture or all of mankind.
One of her favorite phrases is “poisonous pedagogy”, the enthrallment of a society to a patriarchal, puritanical sensibility. A status quo toxic standard operating procedure in parenting. Patriarchal, power-addicted and competitive behaviors by parents and authority figures, rather than humanist or “feminine” (not re gender but in the proverbial philosophical sensibility) ones that foster partnership and cooperation, harmony (to use a vocabulary I learned from Marion Woodman).
Eric Berne was a brilliant psychologist. I have at times shared about one of his theories on political blogs to explain the power and popularity of authoritarian demagogues such as John McCain. I think he offers as much in comprehending the roots of evil as Miller and Peck.
Eric Berne is known for the powerful, 60s, pop psychology book, Games People Play based on Berne's theory of transactional analysis. Berne maintained that there are three ego states that human beings communicate from. The parent ego state, the adult ego state, and the child ego state. Parent ego state communication might be someone telling some one else firmly to button his or her coat because it is cold out. It carries a degree of authority but a caring or good will nurturance. Adult ego state is the rational one. Straightforward. Maybe relaying information. “It is cold outside.” The child ego state Berne divides into several categories. Maybe the child will respond rebelliously and say re buttoning his or her coat, “Don’t tell me what to do!” or “Okay, mommy,” (or daddy) and button the coat to please or out of fear of the parent (authority).
Now, understanding Berne’s modes of the child ego state, I maintain, holds the key to appreciating to a great degree how primitive power and control addict adults trigger and control vulnerable and malleable fellow adults because of their childhood unrecognized trauma and enthrallment to “toxic” authority figures who have abused them.
Berne maintained that there were two counterpoint categories of the child ego state. The natural child and the adapted child. The natural child mode feels free to behave spontaneously. Emotions and physical sensations are embraced easily. The adapted child state, the second, is more cautious and has been influenced by the censoring of parents and society’s social codes in general. Conditioned by the authorities in the social environment.
Berne also introduced the idea of something called the “pig parent” which is an additional child ego state that instead of speaking with a discernible child ego state sounding voice actually mimics the parent ego state voice. It issues orders and injunctions but not with the good will and wisdom to protect another as the voice of the parent ego state, though it postures that.
Using the voice of the parent, the “for your own good” tone of authority, the pig parent child ego state firmly uses that counterfeit voice to primitively and selfishly satisfy its own needs and impulses. Sadly, the “pig parent” to many citizens, in considering political abuse of some leaders, resonates to people’s own history with parents who controlled them maybe far too often from the “pig parent” inappropriately dysfunctional ego state. The genuine parent and adult ego states would have had the welfare of a child or fellow adult in mind, not the childish ego needs of the asserter. But a child is not sophisticated enough to separate when mommy or daddy is not maturely parental and is "acting out" at them in a childish way but using parental language and tone.
So when John McCain pops off in his angry but paternal rhetoric, say, millions swoon back in Pavlovian response to their own fathers, perhaps, that “pig parent” coming at them and since they are in denial of the toxicity of their real parent, McCain gets to infantilize them -- trigger them -- by his “pig parent” authority posturing so authentically similar to the toxic “pig parent’ voice of their own parent. That parent that was not acting out of nurturance but primitive self-aggrandizing impulses. They buy it. Because it is FAMILIAR and they continue on in denial of how abusive it actually was. McCain gains power. They are invested in his being sincerely paternal when he is so not. Those not feeling the transference feel stupefied at McCain’s power.
Maybe Rush Limbaugh is an even better example of someone coming from the "pig parent" child ego state faking they are of a parental "for your own good" protective perspective. Dick Cheney, there is another poster “pig parent”. Sarah Palin is an example. George Bush. Barack Obama, though not a bombastic “pig parent.” But a toxic paternalism power emanates from him, too, on occasion. Listen for him to scold us more and more to sacrifice. (Though to me it seems Obama postures from the adult ego state but too often actually reacts from the "adapted" child ego state, with the child ego state "pig parents" of Congress, Pentagon, Republican party, military, media, etc. piling onto him and his offerings.)
I can’t remember who once mentioned in his or her book how Americans originally became so enthralled with celebrity movie stars. Their theory was that when movies were invented, and people in the audience looked up at massive heads and upper bodies on the screens -- the likes of the Clark Gables, etc., -- they felt like tiny infants in the arms of colossally powerful parent figures and there was a profound and primitive bond made between actor celebrity and child-audience member. Primal and strong and unconscious. I found that theory quite exciting and sensible.
As for Scott Peck and his contribution to this preliminary exploration of evil, Peck explores in People of the Lie the power of authority over conscience. The power of necrophilic leadership, that wants to keep things static and distrusts change and expansion for its own need for secure power, against biophilic leadership with its healthier willingness to learn, explore, expand and be flexible. A willingness to CHANGE.
Another Peck theory in People of the Lie is about compartmentalizing and diluting one’s moral responsibility in enabling social dangers. He calls it "specialization". Someone who sells guns excusing himself or herself for not actually doing the shooting so gun deaths have nothing to do with them in their minds and hearts. Those who make guns excuse themselves because they don’t sell them, etc. Also, in terms of war, the excuse that “I was just following orders” in the patriarchal system chain of command is a profound minimization for sure. So it is not my fault someone was killed by me shooting my gun. It is the responsibility of the person who told me to shoot the gun. They were the authority I had to respect.
The other day at work I became angry at the nature of a project I was assigned. My regular supervisor was leaving and the substitute supervisor was not the person I felt to object to so I popped into the manager’s office who was new and who asserted she had an open door policy. HAH!
It became immediately clear that I had broken the corporate code. I had jumped the shark. There were two degrees of separation between us and though she was in contact directly to the delegator of my very project, the supervisor under her was delegated to deal with me but did not have rights to communicate directly to the originators of these projects.
This is the corporate patriarchal chain of command system. Now the supervisor who communicates with her is not the person who suffers through said project and she is not as fully acquainted with its scope as I am. So my acquainting the manager above the supervisor with it directly was informing her more immediately of the reality of this oppressive project, and she could have ideally been in a position to communicate with the originator of the project above her what its problem was.
The manager refused to offer empathy or even extend much of an opportunity for me to share and ordered me out of her office. I suddenly had an epiphany of what Peck was speaking about with the compartmentalization of evil and also Marion Woodman’s calling out of the patriarchal chain of command system based heavily on power and competition rather than a humanist or feminine system based on cooperation and partnership, a lateral not vertical system of communication.
I went to see the movie "Fair Game" recently and intend to write a review of it. One of the revelations within that movie was the betrayal of Valerie Plame by the CIA and its governing leaders in the administration after an 18-year relationship with her as a solid middle management operative doing earnest work, or so she believed, in counter-proliferation. She, too, was divided from the top “deciders” by at least two or three degrees of separation I would guess. And though her comrades in the middle management knew that the aluminum tubes and yellow cake were propaganda tools for an unjustified war, the reality that they were best acquainted with went unheeded by the top leaders and thus media due to the power chain of command and its political and profit-motive needs.
The lower echelon and its revelations based on reality were and still too often are easily discounted by the “authorities” since the system of status in the chain usurps integrity and reality. In this case Plame was apparently a “true believer” in the necessary work being done by the CIA and her betrayal by the CIA and the system she was risking her life for, its turning on her to discount her and her husband’s stand on calling out Bush’s lies about yellow cake, shows how in the national family she as an earnest member of said family was profound. How the “pig parents” within that administration went after her and her husband, too. And these authoritarian “pig parents” carried great weight with many enthralled citizens.
I heard recently that in Sarah Palin’s new book, she asserts she is a fan of Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell makes a good poster boy for the “PIG PARENT”. His feedback to people exhibiting their talent is malicious. Yes he gives his performance-based reasoning, but it is from a mean-spirited, pig parent, punishing state not a nurturing “parent” authority one. And yet Simon’s voice enthralls millions of fans who enjoy a schadenfreude high and also might feel a perverse sentimental fondness for Cowell from their own childhood shaming by parent aggressors. Out of self-protection they ended up identifying with instead of rebelling against and rejecting “pig parents” as role models. I guess it could also be regarded as a “Stockholm Syndrome” dynamic.
Added to the mass national enthallment of the “daddy” and “mommy” pig parent demagogues we add the endorsement of them by the mainstream media that gives them the mike rather than leaders of integrity with the courage to speak truth to power. Pig parents are spotlighted zealously by corporate-owned media wiling to enable pig parents because they are willing to enable them back. Pig parents are so confident and so dramatic and so righteous.
We all have experienced “pig parent” ambushes from others, and we all have conveyed “pig parent” messages to others. It is a matter of degree. It is a matter of recognition.
And it matters that we become aware of the dynamic and its power. It’s massive and toxic, “evil” power.