Alice Miller and Thuggery

From Arthur Silber's blog, The Light of Reason, which I commend to all.  (note: As of September 2005, The Light of Reason site is no longer available.  We'll post info here should someone repost it.)

In light of [Alice] Miller’s analysis, we can now see the real tragedy of the terrorist attacks in recent years—the attacks of 9/11, the attack in Madrid, and all the other atrocities that we have witnessed. The people who commit such monstrous acts are the perfect embodiments of the mechanism Miller describes: these are people who were terribly abused as children (read any description of the kind of education and upbringing endured by any terrorist), yet they deny their own history and their own immense pain, and idealize and venerate their elders, and their religious leaders.

Now, as adults, since their denial continues, they seek revenge—and no mounting toll of bodies will sate their need, and their arguments are impervious to reason: [quoting Miller] “The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason.”

Such terrorist attacks demand a response, and they demand that our political leaders protect us from future attacks, to the extent possible. But a reasoned response would be one targeted to those who represent the danger: it would be an attack on the terrorist networks themselves, not on a third- or fourth-rate dictatorship that represented no substantial threat either to its neighbors, or to us.

But those who plan and implement our current foreign policy, as well as those who defend them, have adopted a different strategy, which arises from a different source altogether. They are using the threat of terrorism as a springboard to remake the entire world, one area at a time—utilizing the Utopian delusion of “nation-building” as their rationale, and as their rationalization. They ignore the lessons of history, which show that such a delusion is simply that—a delusion, one that it is doomed to fail; they ignore the huge costs in both human life, and economically; and they ignore that our current course provides a recruiting tool for our enemies that the terrorists themselves could only dream about, and would not be able to provide themselves, if we did not offer it to them.

But the hawks and their defenders ignore all this—and they ignore the indisputable fact that rather than minimizing the dangers we face, our present course only increases them—because they are not focused on the reality of the threat that faces us. And this leads to the additional tragedy now unleashed by the terrorist attacks of recent years, and it is this tragedy that almost no one cares to name, or to face.

The fact that we have been attacked by monsters who seek revenge for the injuries they themselves have suffered in the past, and particularly in their childhoods, has provided a morally defensible “cover” for the hawks now to engage in a similar revenge fantasy, arising out of the injuries that they have suffered in the past, and in their childhoods—and it takes the form of their desire to remake the world, of their plans of “nation-building,” and of their desire to impose their will on the rest of the world by military force, one country at a time.

This is the source of the rage and condemnation you see directed at the people of Spain. The hawks are saying, in effect: “How dare you disobey and disagree with us? How dare you question the wisdom of our course? How dare you suggest that you might have another plan of action which would achieve the end we say we care so much about, and would achieve it more effectively, and create less new dangers in doing so? Don’t you understand that we know best, and that we are not to be questioned? How dare you?”

This is the voice of the enraged parent—who inflicts untold cruelties on his child, all the while proclaiming that he is committing monstrous acts for the child’s own good. And, in fact, this is precisely what the hawks tell anyone who disagrees with them, and what they tell the entire rest of the world: we know what is best for you, not your own citizens, and not your own leaders. We do—and you had better do what we say…or else.

No, we are not at the point where another Hitler or Stalin could grab the reins of power here in the United States—not yet. But the longer the indeterminate “war on terror” goes on, and the more attacks there are, the greater the likelihood becomes that either this administration or a succeeding one will finally impose an authoritarian dictatorship on us. All the required pieces are now being put in place, as revealed for example in this series about Ashcroft’s unremitting attacks on individual rights, and on the personal liberty of us all.

In this deeper sense, commentators and writers such as David Brooks, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, James Lileks, Andrew Sullivan, and Steven den Beste are the harbingers of the horrors that might yet come. They are the people who will tell us, in a moment of great national and world crisis, that what we need is more “discipline”—despite the fact that it is mindless, cruel, unnecessary “discipline” that caused the initial horrors. And they will tell us that anyone who dares to disagree is a “fifth columnist,” who is aiding the enemy—and who must be made to shut up and go away, or perhaps simply to disappear forever.

Then, in another thirty or forty years, assuming that mankind survives and people in the future study how it was that horrors visited the world yet again despite all the warnings of history, they will be the people who will say: “But we never knew it would come to that. We just did what we thought was required for our own survival.” And one or two might even add that they “were only following orders.”

What you are hearing now is the voice of the thug—which in truth is the voice of the abused child, grown to adulthood, and still denying his own pain, and therefore denying the pain of everyone else. And the child now seeks to revenge himself upon an external enemy, any external enemy, and the terrorist attacks have provided the perfect opportunity to unleash destruction, but destruction on a scale that Hitler and Stalin could only dream of.

Do I think catastrophe can be avoided? Perhaps. It is too soon to tell. But many of the signs are not hopeful, and the longer the “crisis” goes on, the greater the danger becomes.

But it is not too late…not yet. And it is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I will continue to write about these issues.

The ultimate key to what is now unfolding in the world lies in that single sentence from Alice Miller: “The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason.” This is the key that explains the open hostility that Bush and many of his supporters exhibit toward anyone who dares to disagree with them, just as it explains the demand for “doctrinal uniformity,” “enforced by sacred violence.” Disagreement is much more than an intellectual matter: it is an assault on the very identity of the apocalyptic crusader at the most fundamental level.

As long as such people continue to deny the nature of what motivates them, they represent a great danger to all of us, and to the world. They will continue to seek personal redemption through “cleansing war-making”—and the attacks of 9/11 served as the mechanism which lifted the lid off the vastly destructive nature of this psychology. Certainly, the 9/11 attacks demanded a response—but a healthy man, one motivated by a desire for successful life, and not merely the avoidance of death (which are not at all the same thing), would target his enemy as narrowly as possible and deal with it expeditiously. He would not seek to instigate a world war in an effort finally to achieve personal salvation, while continuing to deny what actually motivates him all the while.
 

The more I read Arthur Silber, the more profound his work seems to me.  If you find the above very small excerpt of interest, please go to his website, The Light of Reason, and read more.  He indexes his massive array of articles by various subjects he views as significant.  The index entry of "Alice Miller" contains nothing but pure gold.  Please support his site--he's doing everyone who retains a modicum of reality-based thinking in this world of mirrors a great favor.  --Fiddlin' Bill

(note: As of September 2005, The Light of Reason site is no longer available.  We'll post info here should someone repost it.)

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June 9, 2005