Friday, April 20, 2018

Trauma and Life

The latest on humans thriving under somewhat adverse conditions:
Studies of the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19th, 1995, indicate that the traumatic event resulted in people seeking to strengthen their bonds with loved ones: Divorce rates went down, and birth rates went up.
My immediate reaction to the 9-11 attacks was a surge of patriotism; it was the only time in my life I ever felt like waving a flag from an overpass.

Too much trauma is clearly bad for people and can destroy institutions, but sometimes it seems to me that we need a certain amount. Or maybe that our world is set up for a certain amount; we would hardly have invested nation states with so much power if we did not fear attack from dangerous enemies. Maybe marriage also seems more important and more worth preserving under threat of serious loss.

We did not evolve to be safe and comfortable all the time. Wrenching events change us – sometimes for the worse, but maybe sometimes for the better.


G. Verloren said...

"My immediate reaction to the 9-11 attacks was a surge of patriotism; it was the only time in my life I ever felt like waving a flag from an overpass."

I know I'm something of an extreme outlier, but my immediate reaction upon being informed of what happened (still being a teenager) was "So you mean to tell me someone overseas blew up some of our buildings and people for a change instead of the other way around? Alright then. I wonder if this will make us rethink our tendency to bomb other countries." (Wishful thinking!)

Hardship can bring people together, but it also drives wedges between those newly united people and those who have NOT united with them. Our "greater unity" was immediately put to use promoting hate crimes against innocent Muslim American citizens, launching two inherently unwinnable overseas wars that destabilized entire regions of the globe for decades to come, and ushering in an ascendant and lasting culture of heightened fear and selfishness in America that lingers to this day.

Nothing about the past 17 years has been an improvement over what came before. We didn't walk away stronger by facing adversity - we plunged ourselves into darkness, and let all our worst societal traits surface and flourish.

We've spent almost 20 years running scared and plagued by insecurities, but we lie to ourselves and the rest of the world by pretending otherwise. We surround ourselves with security theatre, we wage sensless wars that can't be won, we pat ourselves on the back and say "Mission Accomplished", but nothing has changed.

We're no safer today than we were in 2001. In fact, we're less so.

Terrorism is still a looming threat that we don't have a real solution for. Al-Qaeda is still active, still killing innocent people regularly, and still successfully undermining our foreign policy and our international reputation. Iraq went from being a stable country unfortunately ruled by a brutal dictator, to being a war-torn hellhole where the lack of a stable power structure directly gave rise to ISIL, and destabilized the entire region.

At home, we've become increasingly xenophobic and paranoid; seen a surge in populist and quasi-Fascist sentiment; weakened our involvement in key trade and defense treaties like NAFTA and NATO; and diverted resources away from social needs like infrastructure, education, healthcare, et cetera, and instead spent that money on further bloating the massive budgets of the military, the police, border security, and other aspects of security theatre and shows of force.

All that zealous flag-waving, all that militant jingoism, all that desperate bluster and bravado and bomb-dropping, and we have less than nothing to show for it. So much for unity and betterment through adversity.

Unknown said...

1. Of course, the traumas you're describing--Oklahoma City, 9/11--were extremely brief episodes that came from outside the community, brought the community together, rallied round tremendous support networks, and involved, for most, virtually no sense of personal guilt, shame, responsibility, or alienation. I suspect it's rather different for extremely personal traumas that leave the victim isolated and/or stigmatized, as well as for long-lasting traumas with weak support networks, etc. You yourself have written here that combat leaves veterans in a state of damage--and not the healthy, learn-and-grow kind. I doubt the Rohingya are right now feeling that what they really need is some bracing, soul-awakening trauma.

2. I think the reaction to all life experience is highly individualized. Some thrive on adversity, but many do not. Some learn compassion from suffering, others learn bitterness, fear, or self-righteousness--and some are just worn out. I would suggest that traumatic experience does not so much change most of us, as make us more of what we already are--or exaggerate, often to grotesque proportions, some pre-existing traits at the expense of others.

3. Remember that 9/11 brought us together only temporarily; within two years the nation was deeply and bitterly divided over how to react to that event. For some, the reaction was torture, an unprovoked war in Iraq, and grandiose talk about "empire."

4. You are essentially reiterating the Thoreau-Nietzsche argument against the modern middle class. And I have to say: I love my secure, safe, challengeless middle class life. I LOVE it. I think everyone who wants one should have one.

Unknown said...

Please note I started writing mine before I saw G's comment. My comment is addressed to John.

leif said...

@G i don't think your positions are extreme outliers. as i was heading out to the parking lot to leave the very large target i used to work in, i was thinking yeah it was only a matter of time before someone did to us what we routinely do all over the globe.

i shudder to imagine the degree of trump's reaction, if faced with a similar situation.