Tag Archives: mental violence

In search of a culture shift

I’m following on from a review I’ve posted today about a Book called Overcoming Depression. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/390492284?fb_action_ids=394855587245705&fb_action_types=good_reads%3Awrite&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%22394855587245705%22%3A10151158810115638%7D&action_type_map=%7B%22394855587245705%22%3A%22good_reads%3Awrite%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

When I was a kid, people thought it was no big deal to drink and drive. Awareness of the consequences has led to a culture shift and it’s now sufficiently shameful that people do it less, and are less likely to claim a right to do it. It used to be culturally fine for smokers to subject non-smokers to smoke, and not culturally ok to object to this. The police would not, until relatively recently, come out for a wife beating, much less seek to prosecute. We used to beat children, we used to bait bears. Cultures change when the people in them reject a behaviour, or a way of being.

Here’s the culture shift I want: That mental cruelty and abuse should be seen as just as damaging, unnecessary and despicable as physical abuse. If someone takes a hammer to me and breaks my bones, they will go to prison. If someone takes words to me and causes me to have a nervous breakdown, destroying my mind, there will be no consequences for them. The bones would heal. The mind often doesn’t. We need to treat psychological violence as a serious issue.

One of the things I noticed reading the Overcoming Depression book, is the number of case histories where the sufferer had been the victim of psychological abuse – often in childhood, but also in the workplace and at the hands of lovers. While we find destructive criticism socially acceptable, while it’s fine to put down, harass, demoralise, nit pick, devalue, publicly humiliate, patronise, and so forth, this is not going to change. Depression, it should be noted, is widespread and on the increase. Do we want a culture of people who are so miserable and messed up that all we do is wound each other, or do we want to fix it? We have the knowledge in our culture about how good relationship works, how to build self esteem, how to increase happiness. We just aren’t using it.

We have ideas like might is right. Survival of the fittest. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Keep em lean, keep em keen. Being nice or polite is just political correctness and worthless. Revenge is a good thing. Winning is everything. Law of the jungle. Do unto others before they do unto you. And many, many more. All of these thought forms are basically about justifying greed, aggression, and acting like a total shit. They are denials of social responsibility and they tell us that if we can get away with it, then it’s fine, and if we didn’t someone else would, or they’d do it to us. NONE OF THIS IS NECESSARY OR INEVITABLE.

And in that law of the jungle world view, you never get to relax, or draw breath. You’ve always got to watch out for the faster, smarter predator who is going to take you down. You can’t enjoy anything. You can’t trust anyone. You know it’s all conditional on what you earn, on status, power. When you lose, they’ll cut you to shreds. This is not conducive to happiness. It is about as far as you can get from being happy without having a painful and terminal disease, at a guess. With the game set up this way, nobody wins. Remind me about the intelligent ape bit again. This is intelligent?

Criticism is good. Pointing out the flaws is good. You can’t learn if you cannot make mistakes and recognise them. Success is not much of a teacher. However ‘you are rubbish’ is not teaching anyone. “You will never get anything right” is of no use. Broad, negative statements designed to denigrate, are just forms of attack. They need treating as such, and the people who dish them out need treating as aggressive and antisocial. In terms of jungle law, abusive people need identifying as social dinosaurs. And we know what happened to dinosaurs. Time to consider some evolution.

People did not get to current civilized status by trying to dominate each other. Most real progress owes more to co-operation than competition. We do most, and best, and happiest when we play as a team. We need to stop socially reinforcing the people who trade on insults and criticism. We need to stop seeing anything clever or macho about aggression and tyrannical behaviour. Culture shifts all start somewhere. Or probably, they all start a lot of places in small ways and gradually converge. Racism used to be a fact of life. Sexism used to be entirely institutionalised and on the statute books. Mistreating LGBT folk used to be considered normal, if not a legal requirement. We’ve come a long way. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We need to recognise that psychological violence destroys lives, and we need to stop pretending that this is somehow less of an issue than hitting people about the head with blunt objects.