Sunday, May 24, 2015
Exodus As Survival
As I have watched the unfolding pattern of police violence, excessive force and murder against unarmed people of color in the United States, I have also been watching the protests which have arisen in response, and particularly the organized Black Lives Matter protest movement. I am encouraged in a small way by the protests; however, I am also deeply ambivalent toward them. It's not that I don't think that the murder of unarmed people of color should be quietly accepted. It's just that I don't think that the protests by themselves will accomplish anything.
The cause of my pessimism lies in the subject which has occupied this blog for almost a year, namely, the way in which an entire national culture has become personality-disordered. The particular personality disorder which I have discussed is malignant narcissism. One of the features of a malignant narcissist, whether that narcissist be a person or a narcissistic nation, is an overwhelming urge to abuse others. Another feature is that reasonable people cannot reason with the narcissist to restrain his abuse. The narcissist is unreasonable, and thus implacable. A reasonable nation would apply one standard of law enforcement to all of its residents, rather than playing “favorites.” The police forces of a reasonable nation would not murder unarmed Hispanic teens driving cars as the police in Denver, Colorado did to Jessica Hernandez in January. (They allege that the car she was driving was stolen. I did a Google search and was unable to find any evidence to support this claim.) The justice system of a reasonable nation would not throw the book at people of color accused of petty crimes while being lenient toward rich white offenders guilty of much more serious offenses. But the United States is not reasonable. The United States is a narcissistic nation now indulging in narcissistic rage. Therefore it is violently projecting its own dysfunction onto people whom it has tried to groom to be scapegoats and receptacles for its rage, targets whom it blames for its own dysfunctional behavior.
I have previously listed examples of scapegoating behavior, but here is a new example of scapegoating and “white-on-white crime,” a story about the Midwestern and Western towns and small cities which became boom towns during the now-expiring shale oil craze. As prices rose, a large number of Caucasian oilfield workers flooded these towns, bringing with them both lots of money and a sharp increase in crime. Now that shale revenues have fallen, oil patch towns and counties have fewer resources to fight the increase in crime that has resulted. But they haven't lost their ability to scapegoat, blaming, for instance, the sharp increase in drug use on “Mexican drug cartels.” There's only one problem with that accusation: the biggest drug problems in these towns are methamphetamine, prescription painkillers, and alcohol. You don't need to find a Mexican drug cartel to find these items. And meth is incredibly easy to make. The corruption in this nation's heartland is not the fault of Mexicans.
The wealthy and powerful, and those who enjoy American “white privilege” in this country are facing an existential crisis internationally, as the United States loses its place in the world. In their desperation to find some safe place where they can nurture and revive their identity of dominance, they are increasingly looking inward, at those victims within the nation's borders on whom they can dump their hostility.
One of the features of narcissistic abuse is that the protests of the victims actually fuel further narcissistic abuse. Why is this so? Because in the protests of their victims, narcissists see the reflection of their own power – so narcissists can say to themselves, “Look! I have power to inflict pain on other people. I have the power to make others say 'Ouch!'” If the only response of victims is to protest, the protest winds up feeding the abuser with "narcissistic supply."
Which leads to the second potential pitfall of protesting, namely, becoming entangled in the narcissist's response to your protests. Most of the time, that response can be summed up in one acronym: DARVO which stands for “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.” The way it works is that the narcissist does something to injure a victim. When the victim protests the narcissist's action, the narcissist responds by Denying that he did any wrong, Attacking the victim's right to protest by attacking the victim's character or humanity, and Reversing the roles of Victim and Offender by casting himself as the victim of some imagined slight on the part of the real victim. In recent months, DARVO has played out thus: a crooked cop shoots an unarmed person of color under extremely questionable circumstances. When the victim's relatives protest, the cop Denies that he did anything wrong. Then the cop and his department, along with a bunch of right-wing talking heads, Asserts that the reason for his treatment of the unarmed (now deceased) person of color was that the cop was working in a high-crime area and the victim of his shooting – a member of a criminal race – somehow threatened the cop (even though a gaggle of witnesses denies this). Then the cop and friends Reverse Victim and Offender by protesting that “police lives matter” and that police work is very dangerous. "And besides, this entire ordeal has stressed out the poor 'widdle' cop, so let's support his feelings." For a sickeningly over-the-top example of an offender passing himself off as a victim, see this. For a more truthful look at the actual level of danger in police work, see this.
In interactions with a narcissist, DARVO too often leads to a response from the actual victims called JADE, which stands for Justify, Argue, Defend and Explain. The victims, still believing that the narcissist can be reasoned with, attempt to Justify the reasons why they deserve fair treatment. Then they Argue and try to verbally Defend themselves against the narcissist's ad hominem attacks. They waste their remaining breath on trying to Explain their point of view to the narcissist. While all this might work in dealing with a reasonable person, the narcissist will respond only by serving up a second helping of DARVO – along with a side dish of further abuse. Again, our recent societal troubles provide an illustrative example. After a crooked cop shoots an unarmed person of color, and after the ad hominem attacks from the cop and his allies attempting to justify his actions, there are usually protests. These protests provoke certain right-wing gasbags to get on television and loudly proclaim that aggressive policing is needed in minority communities because of the problem of “black-on-black crime,” yadda yadda. Then the victims of police brutality begin to speak up, citing historical examples and government statistics which prove beyond doubt that white people are at least as capable of serious criminal behavior as black people, that crime rates for certain stereotypical offenses are actually lower in Black and Latino communities than they are in white communities, and that White populations regularly engage in rioting and property destruction, usually for very, very stupid reasons. The victims then heave a collective sigh of relief, believing that now that they have told their side of the story, things will change. Except that they don't. Nor do the oppressors give the slightest sign that they have heard the victims.
If the Black Lives Matter protests are just a form of JADE'ing, and the response of “the powers that be” will only be more DARVO, then what is an effective response on the part of victims to the erosion of civil rights and equal protection under the law by the rulers of a narcissistic country? The answer is simple, but it is rather painful to put into practice, because the answer is No Contact. Why No Contact? First, because continuing to remain in contact with a society which wants to use you as its toilet bowl is not good for you. It can cause a great deal of psychological damage, not to mention damage of other kinds. (An unfortunate example: suicide rates among young Black American children rose sharply from 1993 to 2012. God damn America!) Second, as long as you remain in contact with a predatory system, you continue to feed the predator. This point leads to a discussion of what going “No Contact” with an oppressive society looks like.
“No Contact” takes place within three spheres: the economic, the cultural, and where necessary, the physical. In the economic sphere, we have seen historically what can happen when an oppressed minority withdraws its support from economic organs that are used as instruments of oppression. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is an extremely effective case in point. That boycott was characterized by people of color finding and devising alternatives to a system of transportation which was being used to oppress them. But the boycott was not without cost: in addition to suffering white violence, those who participated in the boycott had to endure the inconveniences of withdrawal from an oppressive system. And the boycott lasted 381 days before its goals were met. The Blackout Black Friday boycott was very little more than a symbolic action in comparison. We went back too soon to the system that is destroying us. (How many people of color shopped at Walmart after Black Friday 2014? Walmart is where the police in Beavercreek, Ohio shot an unarmed John Crawford to death last year as he was buying toys for his children.) No Contact may have to last a long time.
To see economic “No Contact” from another angle, here's a link to a 2013 podcast covering the urban adaptation strategy known as “Permaculture.” Permaculture is a strategy for building the household economy by smart agriculture and community building. The goal of permaculture is to make households and communities resilient in the face of the failure of large-scale commercial enterprises due to resource depletion. Many permaculturists are also activists with strongly leftward economic leanings, who oppose the destruction now being wrought by the present economic order. In this particular podcast, David Holmgren, a co-founder of permaculture, stated his belief that the task for permaculture activists is not to try to start a huge movement to reshape the dominant society, but rather to develop working models for resilience and self-sufficiency. His reasoning was that economic contraction would provide all the motivation required to get people to seek alternatives to a dominant and destructive system, and that they would naturally seek out people who had successfully created those alternatives. Once a critical mass of such people formed, their withdrawal from the dominant system would succeed in bringing down the system – or at least slowing down its destructiveness. This would be far more effective than shouting loudly in mass protests. The economic contraction of which Holmgren spoke is happening now. Can you teach yourself to get your needs met without giving your money to people who are trying to destroy you?
Cultural “No Contact” begins with throwing your TV into the trash. It begins with cutting yourself off from organs of mass media which are trying to poison your mind. It proceeds to home education of your children, thus saving themselves from an educational system which has been turned into a weapon of mass destruction. It also spreads to the people of your neighborhood, where you all get to know each other and learn to work with each other and celebrate each other without some intermediary trying to tell you all what you can and cannot do. In essence, you create a culture within a culture - a culture of health and support within and separate from a dominant destructive culture.
But sometimes economic “No Contact” and cultural “No Contact” are not enough. If a locality is physically threatening – if, for instance, it is like Ferguson, Missouri which has a large minority population, yet the local political system has been so screwed up by wealthy interests that there is no minority representation in the local government and almost no minority presence in the police force – and if the local government has become well-known for throwing many of its citizens in jail or slapping them with exorbitant fines for increasingly trivial offenses – then maybe it's time to move. Moving is traumatic, especially when you're poor, but it can be done. And it's better than remaining in place and losing your life.