From chapter "Abuse"
We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture or . . . kill them until we have imposed law and order on this country. We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country.
Paul Bremer, U.S. Administrator of occupied Iraq
Something very unpleasant is being let loose in Iraq. Just this week, a company commander in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in the north of the country admitted that, in order to elicit information about the guerrillas who are killing American troops, it was necessary to “instill fear” in the local villagers. An Iraqi interpreter working for the Americans had just taken an old lady from her home to frighten her daughters and granddaughters into believing that she was being arrested.
A battalion commander in the same area put the point even more baldly. “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,” he said. He was speaking from a village that his men had surrounded with barbed wire, upon which was a sign, stating: “This fence is here for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot.”
The other day, Dear Abby listed warning signs of potential abusers, saying, (in all caps, no less), “IF YOUR PARTNER SHOWS THESE SIGNS, IT’S TIME TO GET OUT.” I followed her citation to the Projects for Victims of Family Violence, and was intrigued by what I saw. I was especially intrigued by the final sentence of the Projects’ introduction: “Initially the batterer will try to explain his behavior as signs of love and concern, and a woman may be flattered at first. As time goes on, the behaviors become more severe and serve to dominate the woman.”This reminded me of something Robert Jay Lifton wrote in his extraordinary book The Nazi Doctors, about how before you can commit any mass atrocity, you must convince yourself that what you’re doing is not in fact harmful but instead beneficial, so that, for example, Nazis weren’t in their own minds committing genocide and mass murder, but instead purifying the “Aryan race.” Of course we see the same on a daily basis, as we the civilized do not enslave the poor or indigenous but civilize them, and we do not destroy the natural world but instead develop natural resources. And I thought about this on a personal level: how very rare it is for someone to do something because he or she is a jerk. I know when I’ve treated people poorly, I’ve nearly always had my actions fully rationalized beforehand, and I’ve generally believed my rationalizations. That’s one of the beautiful things about denial: by definition you don’t know you’re in it. Now, my own transgressions have been frankly pretty minor—a few hurt feelings here or there—but I’ve wondered about something of much greater consequence ever since I was a child: did my father believe the lies he told us about his own violence? Did he really think he was beating my brother because of where my brother parked the car? Or more seriously yet, did he really believe himself a day later when he denied the violence altogether? Similarly, do those in power believe their own lies? In their heart of hearts (presuming they still have them) do the scientists for the National Science Foundation really believe there’s no connection between sonic blasts louder than nuclear explosions and the deaths of nearby whales? Do the National Academy of Sciences biostitutes really believe there’s no connection between a lack of water in the Klamath and dead salmon? Does anyone really believe industrial civilization isn’t killing the planet?
Now, to the list. I’ve greatly shortened (and in some cases modified) the Projects’ commentary, and although women sometimes do beat men (and certainly in this culture—where all of us are more or less crazy—women commit their fair share of emotional abuse, too), physical violence runs overwhelmingly enough from male to female to cause me to use the masculine pronoun for batterers. Nonetheless, if your partner is a woman and fits these characteristics, you, too, would be wise to follow Dear Abby’s all caps advice.
The list begins with jealousy: Although the abuser says jealousy is a sign of love, it’s instead a sign of insecurity and possessiveness. He’ll question you about whom you talk to, accuse you of flirting, be jealous of time spent with family, friends, or children. He may call constantly or visit unexpectedly, prevent you from going to work because “you might meet someone,” check the mileage on your car.
This leads to the second sign, controlling behavior: At first, the batterer will say he’s concerned for your safety, your need to use time well, or your need to make good decisions. He’ll be angry if you’re “late” returning from the store or an appointment, will question you closely about where you went, whom you talked to. He may eventually not let you make personal decisions about your house or clothing; he may keep your money or even make you ask permission to leave the room or house.
The third characteristic is quick involvement. He comes on strong—“I’ve never felt loved like this by anyone”—and pressures you for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.
The pressure is because of the fourth characteristic: he needs someone desperately because he’s very dependent, soon enough depending on you for all his needs, expecting you to be the perfect wife, mother, lover, friend. He then projects this dependence back onto you in an attempt to increase his control, saying, “If you love me, I’m all you need; you’re all I need.” You’re supposed to take care of everything for him emotionally and in the home.
Because of his dependence he’ll try to isolate you from all resources. If you have male friends, you’re a “whore.” If you have female friends you’re a lesbian. If you’re close to your family, you’re “tied to the apron strings.” He’ll accuse people who support you of “causing trouble.” He may want to live in the country without a phone, he may not let you use a car, and may try to keep you from working or going to school.
The sixth characteristic is that he blames others for his problems. If he’s not successful in life, someone must be out to get him. If he makes a mistake, you must have upset him, kept him from concentrating. It’s your fault his life isn’t perfect.
And it’s your fault he’s not happy. It’s your fault he’s angry. “You make me angry when you don’t do what I say.” If he has to harm you, then, that, too, is your fault: you, after all, made him mad. And you certainly don’t want to do that.
He gets upset easily. He’s hypersensitive. The slightest setbacks are personal attacks.
He’s often cruel, or at the very least insensitive to the pain and suffering of nonhuman animals, and also to children. He may beat them because they are incapable of doing what he wants: for example, he may whip a two-year-old for wetting a diaper.
He may conflate sex and violence. This may be under the guise of playfulness, wanting to act out fantasies that you’re helpless, which serves the vital purpose of letting you know that rape excites him. Or he may simply drop the guise.
The next warning sign is that he may perceive and actualize rigid sex roles. You’re supposed to stay at home and serve him. You must obey him, in great measure because women are inferior, less intelligent, unable to be whole without men.
He may verbally abuse you, saying cruel, hurtful, degrading things. He may run down your accomplishments, and may attempt to convince you that you cannot function without him. This abuse may come when you’re surprised or vulnerable: he may, for example, wake you up in order to abuse you.
Sudden mood swings are another warning signal. He can be nice one minute, and explosively violent the next, which means of course he was never really nice to begin with.
You should watch out if he has a history of battering. He may acknowledge he hit women in the past, but will aver they made him do it. You may hear from ex-partners that he’s abusive. It’s crucial to note that battering isn’t situational: if he beat someone else, he’ll very likely beat you, no matter how perfect you try to be.
You should be very wary if he uses threats of violence to control you. “I’ll slap your mouth off,” or “I’ll kill you,” or “I’ll break your neck.” A batterer may attempt to convince you all men threaten partners, but this isn’t true. He may also attempt to convince you you’re responsible for his threats: he wouldn’t threaten you if you didn’t make him do it.
He may break or strike objects. There are two variants of this behavior: one is the destruction of beloved objects as punishment. The other is for him to violently strike or throw things to scare you.
The last characteristic on the Projects’ list is the use of any force during an argument: holding you down, physically restraining you from leaving the room, pushing you, shoving you, forcing you to listen to him.
Now, I found this list very interesting in its own right, and given the rate at which women are abused (just in this country, a woman is beaten by her partner every ten seconds), it’s also very important. But I found it even more interesting because it was immediately clear to me that these warning signs also apply to our culture as a whole. Let’s go through them again.
Jealousy. The God of this culture has always been jealous. Time and again in the Bible we read, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,”or “Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.”God today is just as jealous, whether he goes by the name of Science, Capitalism, or Civilization. Science is as monotheistic as Christianity, moreso really, since Science doesn’t even have to say it’s jealous: we’ve so internalized its hegemony that many of us believe the only way we can know anything about the world is through science: Science is Truth. Capitalism is so jealous it couldn’t even allow the existence of the Soviet version of itself (they’re both state-subsidized command economies) the biggest differences being: a) the merging under the Soviet system of state and corporate bureaucracies into one huge bureaucracy that was even more inefficient and wasteful than the “capitalist” system of functionally separate bureaucracies working for the unified goal of production; and b) the Soviet Parliament was dominated by different factions of the Communist Party with more than 90 percent of the votes going to this party, while the American Congress is dominated by different factions of the Capitalist Party, with more than 90 percent of the votes going to this party). Civilization is just as jealous as science and capitalism, systematically disallowing anyone from perceiving the world in nonutilitarian terms, that is, perceiving the world not in terms of slavery, that is, not in terms of addiction, that is, perceiving the world relationally. Lots of so-called free thinkers like to comment on the tens of millions of people who have been killed because they refused to worship Christianity’s God of Love—because God is after all a jealous God—but even they rarely mention the hundreds of millions of (indigenous and other) people who have been killed because they refused to worship Civilization’s God of production, a God just as jealous as the Christian God, a God deeply devoted to the conversion of the living to the dead.
Control. I’ve thought for a couple of days now about what to put in this paragraph. I considered talking about the public school systems, which have as their primary function the breaking of children’s wills—getting them to sit in one place for hours, days, weeks, months, years on end, wishing their lives away—in preparation for their lives as wage slaves. Then I thought about advertising, and more broadly television, and how through our entire lives we’re manipulated by distant others who do not have our best interests at heart. I thought of the words of economist Paul Baran, “The real problem is . . . whether an economic and social order should be tolerated in which the individual, from the very cradle on, is so shaped, molded, and ‘adjusted’ as to become an easy prey of profit-greedy capitalist enterprise and a smoothly functioning object of capitalist exploitation and degradation.”But then I thought maybe I should write about face-recognition software, and of the implantation of ID chips first into pets, then into people. I thought of the words of a 1996 U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Report: “One can envision the development of electromagnetic energy sources, the output of which can be pulsed, shaped, and focused, that can couple with the human body in a fashion that will allow one to prevent voluntary muscular movements, control emotions (and thus actions), produce sleep, transmit suggestions, interfere with both short-term and long-term memory, produce an experience set, and delete an experience set. This will open the door for the development of some novel capabilities that can be used in armed conflict, in terrorist-hostage situations, and in training.”Of course one no longer needs to envision these sorts of weapons: many are already operational. I thought of the Joint Vision 20/20 Statement and the goal of “full-spectrum domination.” I thought of the so-called Homeland Security Act of 2002, passed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 90 to 9, that, in the words of even the conservative writer William Safire, means, “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’ To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you—passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance— and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every U.S. citizen.”I thought of science, which has as its ultimate (and proximate) goal the conversion of the wild and wildly unpredictable natural world into something orderly, predictable, and controllable. There are simply too many examples of our culture’s basis in the need for control for me to choose. You choose.
Quick involvement: I’m not sure how much quicker you can get than the choice offered to so many Indians as they were tied to stakes, piles of wood around their feet, of Christianity or Death. One Indian asked in response: If he converted to Christianity would he go to heaven? And if so, would there be other Christians there? When he found the answer to both questions was yes, he said he’d rather burn to death.
But there’s something else about quickness. Civilization has only been on this continent a few hundred years. There are many parts of this continent, such as where I live, that became subject to civilization far more recently. Yet in this extremely short time this culture has committed us and the landscape to this technologized path, in so doing shredding the natural fabric of this continent, enslaving, terrorizing, and/or eradicating its nonhuman inhabitants, and giving its human residents the choice of civilization or death. Another way to say this is that prior to the arrival of civilization humans lived on this continent for at the very least ten thousand years, and probably much longer, and could drink with confidence from rivers and streams everywhere. After this culture’s short time here, not only has it toxified streams and groundwater, but even mother’s breast milk. That’s an extraordinary and extraordinarily quick commitment to this technologized way of being (or rather non-being). Here’s another way to say this: these days the decision to enslave or kill a river by putting in a dam is generally made in the several years it takes to write an Environmental Impact Statement and get funding. The process might drag on a decade or two at most. But such a decision, if it is to be made at all, should be made only after generations of observation: how can you possibly know what is best for any part of the land unless you interact with it long enough to learn its rhythms? For example, four days ago hooded mergansers landed on the pond outside my window. They stayed two days, and have now been gone two. They did this last year, only they arrived one day earlier, left one day earlier, and then came back a few days later and stayed a week. Will they come back next year? I don’t know; I haven’t been here long enough. And last year there were many rough-skinned newts living in the pond. I saw them almost every day. The mergansers ate some (rough-skinned newts are one of the most poisonous creatures around, but mergansers don’t seem to mind). This year I haven’t seen so many newts. Is that because of the mergansers, because of me, or because of something else entirely that I would only understand if I lived here long enough to start to know the place? I panicked two years ago because there weren’t as many tadpoles as there had been the year before. Was the population collapsing? Well, the next year the frogs were quieter because there were fewer returning yearlings, and I was even more worried. But these new males must have been especially virile, the females especially fertile, because there were once again lots of fat babies. Many of these tadpoles, however, were eaten by roving packs of backstriders, far more than were eaten in the prior two years. Should I worry? The point is that I have no idea, and I can have no idea till I’ve been here enough years, even generations, to begin to know what is normal, expected, desirable. In the meantime, I’m a fool if I do something grossly destructive.
Were we not abusive to the land, to each other, to ourselves, we would sit back and see what the landscape gives willingly, what it wants us to have, what it wants from us, what it needs from us. That’s what you do in relationships, if you’re not abusive.
But we are abusive, so in the blink of a mountain’s eye we have forced this continent (and the world) into an abusive relationship. The good news is that the planet seems to be in the process of getting rid of the relationship.
Dependency. One of the advantages of not having to import resources is that you need depend on neither the resources’ owners nor on the violence necessary to eradicate these owners and take what’s theirs. One of the advantages of not owning slaves is that you need not depend on them for either your “comforts or elegancies” or even the necessaries of life. We have at this point become dependent on oil, on dammed rivers, on this exploitative way of being (or, once again, non-being). Without it many of us would die, most all of us would lose our identities.