I Wish You Great Heartbreak


I have no mercy for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.

~Malcolm X

Last night I watched an hour long documentary called War in the Mind. The full program is on the web so you can watch it too. It was about soldiers with PTSD and the consequences they face having participated in war. Some of the soldiers were young and newly returned, some were very old and still affected by the conflicts they participated in such as WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other places and at other times. I had an uncle who was in the Navy in the Pacific in WWII. For decades after he was a genteel alcoholic, and many years later he hung himself in his garage. No one really knew what PTSD was back then. Once you have an experience of any kind but particularly an experience of horror, you can never return to the world you thought you knew or to whoever you thought you were before. Experience is a one-way street.

This documentary stuck with me all day today. It kind of shook me up. Sometimes I enjoy being shook up or upset. Enjoy may not be the right word there…more like “do not turn away from” or accepting, although accepting is also not wholly correct since that which is causing the disruption is not something that is accepted passively and filed away. It is more accepting the fact of being shook up and the reactions that arise because of the content of the trigger. I find when I have the urge to turn away or compartmentalize “that stuff”, the content, into some corner that will allow me to be numb to it, then it is often at that time, if I allow it to continue, that a moment of recognition or connection is at hand. It is hard to be vulnerable to anything but especially to horror and other people’s pain.

These kinds of things were on my mind when I read a Twitter discussion about Islamophobia. The gist of it was Islamophobia was merely racist. That description “merely racist” is not meant to downplay the seriousness of racism, but to point out that there is more to it than that. There’s always more.

This was followed by an article in Mother Jones, America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Pelican Bay, which describes what is a monument to inhumanity where prisoners spend, literally, decades in solitary confinement. There are currently 1,500 in solitary there. Entombed alive for life. Think about that for a moment.

The reaction of people to these kinds of things is often unthinking. It goes something like “Well that’s OK because they are “enemies” or “criminals” or “illegal” or <insert dehumanizing label of your choice>”

There’s two main ways that these kinds of reductionisms are understood and dealt with. In the first instance the label is used simply to dismiss something or somebody we don’t want to deal with in any substantive way. That’s the most common. In the second instance it is a call to action. I have consciously been shifting myself into that mode over the years after being well-conditioned to using the dismissive mode. [We all are similarly conditioned.] When I find myself using labels, I consciously try to separate the behavior and the human being. I’ve used labels in a derogatory way. My set of labels include, “fascists”, “Americans”, “capitalists” and so forth. By adjusting some of my thinking, and some of my language, what I am discussing becomes fascist behavior and ideology, nationalism as an identity, capitalism as a system that influence people to act in exploitative ways, etc. It takes a lot more work to be more precise in this way but it also brings a certain amount of clarity to issues of social structure and behavior. One starts to see the bigger picture then.

So while the reductionism of labels can confine issues to small words it can also be used to see beyond them if one is willing to do the necessary work.

That was something of a digression but it underpins what I thought about after being exposed to those particular pieces of disruptive information.

On Twitter I wrote:

I don’t think Islamophobia is *only* about bigotry. There’s a whole lot of hegemony underneath it.

Also the notion of a threat of collective (Ummah) identity which intimidates those who highly value individualism above all else.

[Hegemony is] Not necessarily state sponsored. It is now more of a dominance at all costs by anyone (or generally a group)ie cultural, economic

PB [Pelican Bay] and other supermax prisons are an abomination. It’s like entombing people alive.

That doc I watched last night on soldiers with PTSD kind of shook me.

Mainly the part when some recounted looking at their "enemies" and realizing the people they killed were human.

Imagine looking at everyone dehumanized with labels like "enemy", "criminal", "illegal", etc as humans. Hearts would break.

I wish that great collective heartbreak on every person in the world.

6 comments on “I Wish You Great Heartbreak

  1. this is not something that is widely understood to many and it is not funny either to me. Labels hurt including the ones we use for the “enemies” we have. I know some people are twisted in thinking about what defines the enemy, but sometimes I think we take this too far and everyone becomes an “enemy”. Thanks for writing this it is so true.

  2. Excellent post. I want to suggest Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault, who examined the psychology of prisons and of society’s desire to classify and normalize behavior it doesn’t immediately understand.

    • Yes, most definitely Foucault is pertinent here. As is Bentham’s writing about the Panopticon when discussing prisons and biopolitics. (then there’s also Fanon, Adorno (esp Authoritarian Personality) and many others for deep analysis and understanding)

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