Justice, Trauma, & Healing

Man. I don’t know how to clear­ly write about this; it will be long & messy. I’ve spent a few weeks think­ing about the gestalt of the sex­u­al assault & harass­ment sto­ries that have per­me­at­ed the news. At first I was hap­py to see that ser­i­al offend­ers, who had used their pow­er cor­rupt­ly, were receiv­ing actu­al con­se­quences for their actions. At the same time, I felt like the con­se­quences were being enact­ed by unin­volved, non-author­i­ta­tive par­ties. I think now that my per­cep­tions there we formed by the way the sto­ries were framed in the media. To be hon­est, I think the deci­sions were made because it’s just good busi­ness to virtue sig­nal in this way. They are shocked, shocked to find gam­bling going on here!

Justice

I’m still unsure how I feel about this kind of moral jus­tice. I go back, again and again, to my Catholic upbringing:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And ear­ly in the morn­ing he came again into the tem­ple, and all the peo­ple came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Phar­isees brought unto him a woman tak­en in adul­tery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Mas­ter, this woman was tak­en in adul­tery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law com­mand­ed us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempt­ing him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his fin­ger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they con­tin­ued ask­ing him, he lift­ed up him­self, and said unto them, He that is with­out sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being con­vict­ed by their own con­science, went out one by one, begin­ning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman stand­ing in the midst. When Jesus had lift­ed up him­self, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man con­demned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Nei­ther do I con­demn thee: go, and sin no more.

John 8:1–11, KJV

And now see that I’ve prob­a­bly missed a few points in this les­son. I’ve always tak­en it to mean sim­ply: You, a sin­ner, should not con­demn oth­ers who sin. Yet this is only a wise moral func­tion when you have the pow­er, and the accused does not. With­hold­ing con­dem­na­tion of those who abuse their pow­er per­pet­u­ates that abuse.

I do not begrudge the anger and sense of vic­ar­i­ous vengeance that women are feel­ing as these pow­er­ful men are held to account. Injus­tice should always be appro­pri­ate­ly addressed. Yet at the same time, I am look­ing for, but not see­ing a path of mer­cy or restora­tive jus­tice avail­able here. Maybe it’s there and I’m miss­ing it? More like­ly, I think, is that this is just white guys final­ly get­ting a taste of what women & minori­ties have lived with for thou­sands of years. If I under­stand this par­a­digm cor­rect­ly, I am wor­ried about it. I want to assume that our goal as eth­i­cal, empa­thet­ic beings is to cre­ate a soci­ety where insti­tu­tion­al­ized forms of oppres­sion cease to exist because all peo­ple are look­ing out for all peo­ple. That’s tough though, because we’re trib­al & clique-ish by nature. Vengeance and vig­i­lan­tism are trib­al behav­iors. So while I do not begrudge the feel­ings, I also do not know what goal they progress us toward.

For chil­dren are inno­cent and love jus­tice; while most of us are wicked and nat­u­ral­ly pre­fer mercy.

G.K. Chester­ton, On House­hold Gods and Gob­lins, 1922

Trauma

Of all the pow­er­ful or car­niv­o­rous ani­mals… the wolf seems to have been the most impor­tant for the Indo-Euro­pean war­riors. Reflex­es of the old word wlk­wo, “wolf,” are found in lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of prop­er names, and [in the names of] numer­ous peo­ples, such as the Luvians, Lycians, [et cetera]…Stories of lycan­thropy are well known among the Greeks, Romans, Ger­mans, Celts, Ana­to­lians, and Ira­ni­ans, and these would seem to be trace­able to these ancient war­rior practices.

In Ger­man­ic myth and leg­end, say Brown and Antho­ny, these fer­al war-bands “are called Män­ner­bünde… a label often applied [by schol­ars] to all sim­i­lar Indo-Euro­pean insti­tu­tions.” Män­ner­bünde means “men-league,” league of men.

Toward their con­clu­sion, Brown and Antho­ny spec­u­late on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of a sym­bol­ic trans­for­ma­tion into a beast of prey. The wolf war­riors, they sur­mise, “would feel no guilt for break­ing the taboos of human soci­ety because they had not been humans [at the time].”

Find­ing some way to deal with guilt must have been cru­cial, not only for indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the leagues but for their soci­eties as a whole. This is because mem­ber­ship in the Män­ner­bünde last­ed only for a set peri­od. If you were still alive at the end of that time, you had to inte­grate your­self back into your old com­mu­ni­ty. In order to per­form the roles soci­ety now need­ed you to per­form — fam­i­ly man, work­ing stiff — you had to shed your taint­ed and bloody sav­age identity.

For some, this would have been impos­si­ble, no mat­ter what psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms were deployed to help. But many oth­ers must have man­aged the rein­te­gra­tion well enough. The rota­tion back into nor­mal­cy is doc­u­ment­ed in the Vedic texts: “At the end of four years, there was a final sac­ri­fice to trans­form the dog-war­riors into respon­si­ble adult men who were ready to return to civ­il life. They dis­card­ed and destroyed their old clothes and dog skins. They became human once again.”

Eliz­a­beth Scham­be­lan, League of Men, N+1 Mag­a­zine, Spring 2017

A few days ago, on my 37th birth­day, I woke from a night­mare into a pan­ic attack about my father’s emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal abuse. Stuff that hap­pened 24 years ago! I chose to not inter­act with him after I was 13. He’s dead now. I haven’t con­scious­ly felt any need to deal with it for years. But that trau­ma is still inside & hops out always unex­pect­ed. So while I might not be able to empathize with the par­tic­u­lars of a trau­ma, I know what it is like to be sub­ject­ed to it in general.

There’s no time lim­it on trau­ma, and peo­ple don’t seem to be very good at acknowl­edg­ing that or help­ing oth­ers deal with their own. The entire­ty of the arti­cle I quot­ed above is worth read­ing. It offers a well con­struct­ed anthro­po­log­i­cal argu­ment that humans have essen­tial­ly been punt­ing on how to deal with the trau­ma caused by “men as wolves” for longer than record­ed his­to­ry. Soci­eties give men tac­it per­mis­sion to inflict any man­ner of destruc­tion, but no tools for pro­cess­ing what they inflict or receive. I have shared deeply held, vul­ner­a­ble feel­ings with close friends and fam­i­ly this year, and have been told by on mul­ti­ple occa­sions, by women, to suck it up and be a man.

I also see the ampli­fi­ca­tion some­thing like this receives:

and the pop­u­lar­i­ty of #menare­trash and I get real­ly frus­trat­ed. This kind of behav­ior is func­tion­al­ly no dif­fer­ent than per­se­cu­tion that’s been direct­ed at women for­ev­er. It comes from trau­ma, but just cre­ates more. Every­one’s life is a teach­able moment. If men are trash, and not sup­posed to learn from the expe­ri­ences that women have, then how are we sup­posed to get bet­ter? Many men are not equipped to fig­ure this out on our own. Many of us lack any sort of emo­tion­al sup­port net­work for our own trou­bles, and typ­i­cal­ly peo­ple don’t look to men to pro­vide emo­tion­al sup­port. I don’t know how else peo­ple are sup­posed to grow and under­stand each oth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty, if not by learn­ing about each oth­er’s lives, being open to that shar­ing, under­stand­ing that harm will hap­pen, and being will­ing to accept and work through when it does. 

Healing

I don’t know that any­one is good at inter­per­son­al heal­ing right now. The trend con­tin­ues toward polar­iza­tion in all things. I am nat­u­ral­ly inclined toward coop­er­a­tion & peace­mak­ing. I want to wel­come the repen­tant & prodi­gal back into the fam­i­ly. But heal­ing & for­give­ness can only occur when all sides want it. While I’m quite moti­vat­ed to cre­ate accord in most things, I have almost zero inter­est in heal­ing & for­give­ness when peo­ple hurt me deeply. At the same time, I have no desire to call them out on it. After I jumped out of my dad’s car, he was dead to me. It’s been the same way with any­one who has betrayed my trust on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el: friends, fam­i­ly, & part­ners. That’s prob­a­bly not healthy, it’s def­i­nite­ly not heal­ing, & I think it relates direct­ly to what peo­ple refer to when they speak of tox­ic and/or frag­ile mas­culin­i­ty. But I’ve got no oth­er tools to deal with it.

I like to think I’m pret­ty good at solv­ing prob­lems, but not in this case. I’m unsure what tools I need, and have not had good expe­ri­ences when I have asked for help in learn­ing to be more deft with the ones I have. I’m not even sure most folks are inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing restorative/redemptive meth­ods to heal divi­sions of any stripe. It’s way eas­i­er to just say ‘fuck ’em’.

I have no con­clu­sions. I don’t even know where to go from here.