May 26, 2012

Reallocating Aggression. ~ Ann Halsig

Courtesy of H. Koppdelaney/Flickr

The far right is getting strong all over the place.

Especially here, in France.

Many of you have probably heard about the recent elections, in which third place (actually quite an important win for the underdog because of the additional political power allotted that group) was won by none other than Marine Le Pen.

Yes, Marine Le Pen, now-president of the Front National and daughter of her predecessor in that role…the infamously racist Jean-Marie…took 20- stinking-percent of the French vote, which, incidentally, brought out an impressive 80% of the population.

And then, a few weeks ago, procrastinating as per my usual on getting my day fully into gear, I landed upon an article about the recent surge in support for Greece’s far right party, Golden Dawn.

Depressing isn’t the word.

I was deeply inspired to rant about a human tendency—or, rather, a theory about a human tendency to which I happen to subscribe—that just tears me up from the inside out: displaced aggression. It exists (insofar as any sociological concept exists…it is a soft science, after all) and it sucks.

Here’s my long and short of it:

We have energy, both good and bad.

That energy, quite a lot of the time, has to go somewhere. A positive twist on this is the idea of random acts of kindness or the pay it forward movement, both of which function largely from the karma-based notions that if we all start doing enough good things, it will spread plenty of warm fuzzies around and eventually the good vibes propagate themselves.

But when it’s not so good, the same is true.

Courtesy of Daniel Johnson/Flickr

Yes, there are the saints and martyrs who have withstood great personal suffering and maintained a state of holiness in spite of it all and of course, the good ol’ American way of interpreting that is, “If Mother Teresa/Mohandas Gandhi/Martin Luther King could do it, why can’t you?

The thing is, as much as I wish I was…I’m no Gandhi.

Many victims, survivors and witnesses of great suffering, oppression, exploitation and abuse have to do something with it. A small (but ever increasing) portion take out that anger/fear/lack of control on themselves by way of self-harm and self-injury. Others turn their anger into community action, art or proving their worth by endeavoring—and sometimes succeeding—to rise above it all.

What we’re not honest about in my country of origin is how seldom it is that somebody’s well and truly able to do that.

What happens more often (and the bit that tears me up, that makes me question why we think we’re better than animals and if we even have a fraction of the logic Mother Nature afforded moles and roaches and salamanders) is that in light of our inability to address the real source of our suffering (the bigwigs, 1%, bosses, abusive partners or parents, etc. ad infinitum); in light of our inability to come to terms with the fact that the people and powers we trusted have anything in mind but our own best interests, in light of all of these things, we choose to hurt somebody weaker than ourselves. Because the hate has to go somewhere; the anger doesn’t just disappear.

As I say this, I realize this is just a soft science theory and leave it to a pinko-commie-liberal to stand by the rhetoric of sociology, right?

But you do the math.

If it didn’t work, the vultures that are the truly racist, self-righteous, self-entitled energy-sucking demons of the world (the Hitlers and Le Pens of the world—I don’t compare them lightly—her father was a Holocaust denier) wouldn’t have a dream of winning elections.

The average human being, who I believe is a decent creature, driven most often by a relatively reasonable mixture of the need to survive, compassion and ego, would take a step back. They would see that greedy corporations and banks, as well as lazy and corrupt government officials, are to blame for the fact that so many people are out of work.

Courtesy of Bryonie Wise


They would know that it wasn’t the fault of refugees and asylum-seekers, who are they themselves risking their lives to flee countries overridden with violence and poverty, due in large part to the ancestral greed of the country in which they seek shelter.

Just as drug addicts are not responsible for the drug trade, prostitutes are not responsible for sex trafficking and the unemployed are (most often) not responsible for their inability to find work. I could go on…but I won’t.

The truth of the matter is that we live in an extraordinarily confusing time.

At this point, we have enough written history, twisted and otherwise, to take us twenty lifetimes to make any kind of sense out of. And yet, even if the task seems impossible, it’s the only way. Because pointing the finger at Mexicans crossing the border to find work—and increasingly to seek asylum—in the U.S. for their plight is not just cruel, it’s downright illogical!

Rather than condemning the addict, why don’t we examine a system that profits so extensively off of keeping drugs illegal that it’s never considered what might happen if we legalized and regulated?

Rather than judging the sex worker, why don’t we look at the johns?

Better yet, why don’t we examine a society that has placed a monetary value upon women’s physicality for so long it can’t remember how not to?

Why don’t we ask what we must do to nurture those parts of society that don’t promote the hatred of women?

Here’s the thing about soft science:  it’s not fixed. Whereas E (will always equal)= mc2, displaced aggression is not a physical law—it’s a sociological phenomenon. Human sacrifice was practiced in enough civilizations that I think it would be fair to call it a sociological phenomenon as well, but that seems to have evolved, right?

Chances are this is the effect of our society being constantly overwhelmed by too much stimulation, too much consumerism, too much secrecy. We are suffering from too much and not enough, more or less all of the time. But pacifying us with reality television and Prozac will only work for so long and there are plenty of examples of heroism, innovation and the like taking the world by storm and proving that we are capable of so much more.

I wonder this: what if we taught our most vulnerable, socio-economically disadvantaged children about displaced aggression?

What if we told them what it was and how it worked?

Might they think twice before they lashed out at the wrong person?

Might they begin to think creatively about their dilemmas and how to actively and effectively address them?

I learned about the Holocaust throughout my academic career, but Hitler was a sickening disgrace to the world by then. How do we teach our children that the police right now too often arrest the victims and turn a blind eye to the real culprits? How do we explain that the banks that keep their parents’ money might in fact be the biggest thieves around? How do we explain that the host countries of  ‘illegal’ immigrants allegedly stealing jobs are so often in the messes they’re in because of the politicians for whom their own grandparents voted, because of the corporations for whom their own parents work?

How do we tell them that there are still Hitlers in the world—there may always be—and they are only as powerful as their followers allow them to become?
Editor: Bryonie Wise

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