Sarah Schulman

American writer

Sarah Miriam Schulman (born July 28, 1958) is an American novelist, playwright and lesbian rights activist.

The pusuit of reality is essential to happiness. Even if the process gets us in trouble.



The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (2012)

The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. University of California Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0-520-28006-9. 
  • Gentrification is a process that hides the apparatus of domination from the dominant themselves. Spiritually, gentrification is the removal of the dynamic mix that defines urbanity—the familiar interaction of different kinds of people creating ideas together. Urbanity is what makes cities great, because the daily affirmation that people from other experiences are real makes innovative solutions and experiments possible. In this way, cities historically have provided acceptance, opportunity, and a place to create ideas contributing to freedom. Gentrification in the seventies, eighties, and nineties replaced urbanity with suburban values, ... so that the suburban conditioning of racial and class stratification, homogeneity of consumption, mass-produced aesthetics, and familial privatization got resituated into big building, attached residences, and apartments. This undermines urbanity and recreates cities as centers of obedience instead of instigators of positive change.
  • There is something inherently stupid about gentrified thinking. It’s a dumbing down and smoothing over of what people are actually like. It’s a social position rooted in received wisdom, with aesthetics blindly selected from the presorted offerings of marketing and without information or awareness about the structures that create its own delusional sense of infallibility. Gentrified thinking is like the bourgeois version of Christian fundamentalism, a huge, unconscious conspiracy of homogeneous patterns with no awareness about its own freakishness. The gentrification mentality is rooted in the belief that obedience to consumer identity over recognition of lived experience is actually normal, neutral, and value free.
  • At the 2008 Lambda Literary Awards (the awards the LGBT community gives to books ignored by straight book awards) not a single lesbian book nominated for best novel was published by a mainstream press. Our literature is disappearing at the same time we are being told we are winning our rights. How can we be equal citizens if our stories are not allowed to be part of our nation's story?
  • Gentrification replaces most people's experiences with the perceptions of the privileged and calls that reality. In this way gentrification is dependant on telling us that things are better than they are—and this is supposed to make us feel happy. It's a strange concept of happiness as something that requires the denial of many other people's experiences. For some of us, on the other hand, the pusuit of reality is essential to happiness. Even if the process gets us in trouble. It is very hard to get a glimpse of what is actually happening when one is constantly being lied to, and it is even harder to articulate what we realize is actually happening while intuiting that punishment awaits.

Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair (2016)

Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair. Arsenal Pulp Press. 2016. ISBN 9781551526447. 
  • Often a real conversation would illuminate nuances and correct misunderstandings. The real question is: Why would a person rather have an enemy than a conversation? Why would they rather see themselves as harassed and transgressed instead of have a conversation that could reveal them as an equal participant in creating conflict?
  • There is no correlation between having the ability to punish and being right. More often than not, the wrong people get punished. And the punishers use their power to keep from being accountable.

Introduction: A Reparative Manifesto

  • Disaster originates in an initial overreaction to Conflict and then escalates to the level of gross Abuse. It is at the Conflict stage that the hideous future is still not inevitable and can be resolved. Once the cruelty and perhaps violence erupts, it is too late. Or at least requires a level of repair outside of the range of what many of us will do without encouragement and support. Conflict, after all, is rooted in difference and people are and always will be different. With the exception of those natural disasters that are not caused by human misdeed, most of the pain, destruction, waste, and neglect towards human life that we create on this planet and beyond, are consequences of our overreaction to difference. This is expressed through our resistance to facing and resolving problems, which is overwhelmingly a refusal to change how we see ourselves in order to be accountable. Therefore how we understand Conflict, how we respond to Conflict, and how we behave as bystanders in the face of other people’s Conflict determines whether or not we have collective justice and peace.
  • The community holds the crucial responsibility to resist overreaction to difference, and to offer alternatives of understanding and complexity. We have to help each other illuminate and counter the role of overstating harm instead of using it to justify cruelty. I suggest that we have a better chance at interrupting unnecessary pain if we articulate our shared responsibility in creating alternatives. Looking for methods of collective problem-solving make these destructive, tragic leaps more difficult to accomplish. People who are being punished for doing nothing, for having normative conflict, or for resisting unjustified situations, need the help of other people. While there are many excuses for not intervening in unjust punishment, that intervention is, nonetheless, essential. Without the intervention that most people are afraid to commit to, this escalation cannot be interrupted. In other words, because we won’t change our stories to integrate other people’s known reasons and illuminate their unknown ones, we cannot resolve Conflict in a way that is productive, equitable, and fair. This is why we (individuals, couples, cliques, families, communities, nations, peoples) often pretend, believe, or claim that Conflict is, instead, Abuse and therefore deserves punishment. That the mere fact of the other person’s difference is misrepresented as an assault that then justifies our cruelty and relinquishes our responsibility to change. Consequently, resistance to that false charge of Abuse is then positioned as further justification of even more cruelty masquerading as “punishment,” through the illogic at base of refusing accountability and repair.
  • While perfection is never achievable, positive change is always possible. Resolution doesn’t mean that everyone is happy, but it does mean that perhaps fewer people are being blamed for pain they have not caused, or being cast as the receptacle of other people’s anxieties, so that fewer people are dehumanized by false accusation.
  • Change requires awareness to propel a transformation of attitude. Once there is even a glimmer of awareness, it implies the ownership of an injustice, and a consequential responsibility for its solution, which must be expressed through behavior, not just feeling.
  • Palestinians are, today, among the most victimized, scapegoated, and attacked people in the world. I watch as their suffering and mass murder is propagandized through pervasive dehumanized representations that falsely position them as “dangerous” when, in fact, they are the ones endangered and in desperate need of outside intervention.
  • From the most potent potential for intimacy between strangers, to intimate domestic moments between lovers, to the claims of the state on its citizens, to the geopolitical phenomena of mass murder, we witness a continuum. Namely, false accusations of harm are used to avoid acknowledgment of complicity in creating conflict and instead escalate normative conflict to the level of crisis. This choice to punish rather than resolve is a product of distorted thinking, and relies on reinforcement of negative group relationships, when instead these ideologies should be actively challenged. Through this overstatement of harm, false accusations are used to justify cruelty, while shunning keeps information from entering into the process. Resistance to shunning, exclusion, and unilateral control, while necessary, are mischaracterized as harm and used to re-justify more escalation towards bullying, state intervention, and violence. Emphasizing communication and repair, instead of shunning and separation, is the key to transforming these paradigms.

Part 1: The Conflicted Self and the Abusive State

  • It is not only the dominant who feel endangered when faced with normative conflict or when their own unjust actions are responded to with resistance. In fact these distorted reactions occur in both the powerful and the weak, the supremacist and the traumatized, in society and in intimacy. In arenas in which real abuse could conceivably take place, there are those who feel persecuted and threatened even though they are not in danger, and they often lack help from those around them to differentiate between the possible and the actual. Bullies often conceptualize themselves as being under attack when they are the ones originating the pain. Everywhere we look, there is confusion between Conflict and Abuse.
  • If a person cannot solve a conflict with a friend, how can they possibly contribute to larger efforts for peace? If we refuse to speak to a friend because we project our anxieties onto an email they wrote, how are we going to welcome refugees, immigrants, and the homeless into our communities? The values required for social repair are the same values required for personal repair.
  • Confusing being mortal with being threatened can occur in any realm. The fact that something could go wrong does not mean that we are in danger. It means that we are alive. Mortality is the sign of life. In the most intimate and personal of arenas, many of us have loved and trusted someone who violated that trust. So when someone else comes along who intrigues us, whose interests we share, who we enjoy being with, with whom there could be some mutual enrichment and understanding, that does not mean that we are going to be violated again. And experiencing confusion, disagreement, frustration, and difference does not mean that we are being violated again. Experiencing anxiety does not mean that anyone is doing anything to us that is unjust.
  • Part of peace-making is acknowledging that we can’t know everything about ourselves, and sometimes we reveal things to others that we are not ready to accept.
  • Refusing to speak to someone without terms for repair is a strange, childish act of destruction in which nothing can be won. Like all withholding, it comes from a state of rage, and states of rage are products of the past. As some say, “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” By refusing to talk without terms, a person is refusing to learn about themselves and thereby refusing to have a better life. It hurts everyone around them by dividing communities and inhibiting learning.
  • Romance doesn’t always start off on the right foot, two people don’t always see the potential in one another at the same time, and thankfully, other people can change us with their hope, forgiveness, and optimism. We can make each other’s lives better, despite all our fears. Sometimes one of us knows that before the other.
  • While unrecovered trauma is so often a prison of inflexibility, some people do have choices about how to respond. And someone else might make that shift possible by daring to imagine what to us may feel unimaginable. Which can be love.
  • No answer is not an answer. It is unreasonable to expect other people to interpret our silences.
  • It is a sign of maturity and decency to acknowledge that often all parties participate in making mistakes that can produce discord. In our time, recognizing this fact is part of being an honest person of depth. It helps us understand that trouble between people gets transformed when everyone takes responsibility for their part. Negotiation is a process, first of acknowledgment, and then adjustment to the new information produced by that acknowledgment. Recognizing mutuality of cause is a principle that allows progressive change without scapegoating. Scapegoating, after all, is often rooted in the false accusation that one person or group is unilaterally responsible for mistakes that are actually contributed to by multiple parties.
  • People may feel angry, frustrated, upset. But this does not mean they are being abused. They could, instead, be in Conflict. Instead of identifying as a victim, they might be, as Matt Brim suggested, Conflicted. Therefore the fact that one person is suffering does not inherently mean that the other party is to blame. The expectation that we will never feel badly or anxious or confused is an unreasonable expectation and doesn’t automatically mean that someone else is abusing us. These emotions are part of the human experience.
  • People may not know how to make things better, how to look at their own participation, how to deal with feeling badly about themselves. They may not know how to understand their own actions, and are afraid of the implications of their actions on the meaning of their lives. And this may be devastating, tormenting, and painful. But this is not being Abused. It doesn’t get resolved by organizing punishment of another person. And someone who feels conflicted in this way does not have the right to take punitive actions against another person because they feel bad.
  • People may be part of negative friendships, families, or communities who attack outsiders instead of being self-critical. They may be receiving encouragement to blame and scapegoat others. They may live within groups, relationships or families that do not tolerate the admission of mistakes, and that reinforce Supremacy ideologies about each other in order to maintain illusions of righteousness. This pressure, resulting in the action of collectively deflecting blame, does not mean that the person being blamed is abusive. In fact, it says nothing at all about that person, except that they are in turn being caused great pain for no reason. And in my mind, they have the right to resist that unilateral blame. In this way, group bullying is multiplicative of injustice, even though it is done in the name of nation, family, friendship, or distorted renditions of “loyalty.”
  • Being in a negative moment with another person can be destabilizing, hurtful, and stressful, especially if a person’s self-concept requires them to think of themselves as perfect. But it is not, by definition, Abuse. It could be Abuse, if one has power over another, but if not, it’s a Conflict. And being in a Conflict is a position that is filled with responsibility and opportunity.
  • Lacking the support and encouragement to successfully negotiate does not mean that someone is being victimized. True, we have to recognize that the frustration of not knowing how to solve problems and only knowing how to escalate can feel like a response to an outside force, but it is, in fact, internal. Differentiating requires awareness, and we may be dependent on our surrounding communities, including social workers, to achieve this.
  • People who describe themselves as “Abused” when they are actually in Conflict are not lying; they usually don’t know the difference. We’re not talking here about the tired false cliché of the vindictive woman who “cries rape” or diabolically constructs the other as an abuser while knowing full well that the charge is false. What we have instead is a devolved definition of personal responsibility, which constructs avoidance as a right regardless of the harm it does to others. This negative standard persuades some people to feel that being uncomfortable signals that they are being Abused, because they don’t have the option of describing themselves as Conflicted. So asking a distressed person if they are unsafe, or rather, uncomfortable, angry, or hurt provides them with an alternative idea that might fit better with their actual experience. It not only elicits helpful information, but encourages the individual to start to think about themselves in a more adult, complex, and responsible manner.
  • Helping each other negotiate is the bedrock of a healthy and active community, clique, family, country. Instead of shunning, shutting down information and scapegoating from a place of non-responsibility, the Conflicted must express, focus, listen, and transform. It is my claim that in situations of Conflict, accusations that attribute sole responsibility to one party and then construct them as deserving of punishment or shunning are unjust.
  • It is unethical to hurt someone because we have been told to do so. We are required by decency to ask both the complainant and the accused how they understand the situation. And this, I truly believe, requires an in-person discussion. Asking hard questions and creating an environment in which complexities can be faced is, after all, what a real friend does.
  • Truths can be multiple and are revealed by the order of events. [...] Each moment is a consequence of the previous moment. So truths can be complex, and complexity is articulated by its details. Anyone who refuses to hear the details is making a deliberate decision not to understand.
  • Resisting unjustified punishment is not Abuse. And people who are being asked to stand by and passively allow shunning to take place certainly should know exactly what the accuser is claiming and exactly what the shunned party is experiencing. Without that information, the decision to be a complicit bystander is an unjustified one. Simply wanting to exclude, silence, or dehumanize someone through forced absence is not an inherent right.
  • The police are often the source of violence, especially in the lives of women, people of color, trans women, sex workers, and the poor. And the police enforce the laws of the United States of America, which is one of the greatest sources of violence in the world. US foreign policy is enforced by the military who are a global police, and domestic order is enforced by the federal, state, and city structures of policing. The law is designed to protect the state, not the people who are victimized by the state.
  • What was even more distracting and confusing was that the job of punishing the expressions of patriarchy, racism, and poverty was assigned to the police, who also cause violence. This responsibility, in some cases, produced additional acts of violence on the part of the government, like “stop and frisk,” and racial profiling that committed violence in the name of claiming to fight violence. These laws also produced more access for the state into the homes and families of the poor, and more incarceration of Black and other poor men. Instead of empowering women and the poor, the fate of the traumatized was increasingly in the hands of the power of the police acting as a group to represent oppressive systems.
  • We have learned over and over again, through the almost mechanistic co-optation of a wide range of radical movements and disenfranchised communities, that as long as the system of domination and power remains intact, winning “rights” or realignment in the hierarchy simply means that the most normative elements of any community gain access to the state apparatus. When this happens, the least powerful elements remain the objects of their force. New insiders will create new outsiders if the way we think about our society doesn’t change. Conflicting interpretations of the vocabulary of Abuse appeared to address a problem while simultaneously reinforcing the abusive status quo. Some people may get their problems addressed, but others will have their problems aggravated. In this way, the state and the interests it serves, Kim Emery points out, will have their authority both legitimated and instrumentally extended.
  • The definition of “violence” has now expanded to include a new continuum of behaviors and feelings that are also generically used to ascribe a negative value to a person’s actions. The word “violence” has expanded far beyond the field of physical assault to also mean emotional abuse and, unfortunately, emotional conflict where there is no abuse. In recent years, we see “violence” and “abuse” being ascribed to social criticism, efforts to understand phenomena, and social and psychological analysis. “Abuse” is also regularly used to describe disagreement and misunderstanding. Accusations of “policing,” “shaming,” and other expressions of “call-out culture” demanding “safety” from uncomfortable ideas represent people and actions as laden with blame, refusing interactivity around the content of ideas and perceptions. This is in line with the similar practice of calling racial analysis “playing the race card.” Trying to understand and explain structures of pathology is repressed by accusations of wrong-doing. Thinking is wrong. Saying is wrong. Not only are revelations unwanted, they get mischaracterized as harm.
  • The word “violence” should be used to describe physical violence. Emotional cruelty, shunning, group bullying—these things can be worse than some violence, but they are not the same. If this wide range of precise experiences is all collapsed into the generic word “violence,” then nothing has any differentiation, therefore all the variations lose meaning. And as I have been arguing, rhetorical devices that hide details keep truth from being known and faced. Using the word “violence” without metaphor will help with the current discourse of overreaction and help us discern, with more awareness, the differences between Abuse and Conflict.
  • In a healthy educational forum, students engage materials regardless of agreement or comfort level and then analyze, debate, critique, and learn from them, addressing the discomfort as well as the text.
  • The problem with shunning is that it keeps information that can be productive out of the realm of consideration. Healthy discourse means dealing with what exists and coming into some kind of relationship of understanding with reality. Defended discourse forbids or shuns certain perspectives or contexts to information. The focus of these trigger warnings was usually on sexual violence, but the constraints, by implication, could lead to students being exempted from materials describing colonialism, racial Supremacy, Occupation, or anything that they might find upsetting, even from a Supremacy position.
  • My view, in sum, was that while sexual and physical abuse does occur on campuses, and prejudice and discrimination may be rampant in class, actual sexual and physical abuse do not usually take place in a classroom. So intellectual, educational settings are among the few places in life where these things can be analyzed and engaged with depth without threat of actual physical danger. Being reminded that one was once in danger has to be differentiated from whether or not one is currently in danger. Confusing the two is a situation that quickly becomes destructive. Being conscious about one’s own traumatized past experiences, and how they manifest into current traumatized behavior, can be a force for awareness of one’s own reactions, not a means of justifying the repression of information. Additionally, as a teacher, I opposed all restraints from administrations on classrooms.
  • Processed awareness of one’s own experience of oppression and violation are crucial expressions that must be heard, and are essential contributions to public understanding. And expression of terrible experiences starts out unprocessed and raw. And pain must be heard. At the same time, unprocessed violation and pain cannot be at the helm of control of what information is allowed to be expressed by others, including teachers, and required to be engaged in a classroom.
  • Time and time again, Americans are reminded of the fact that the people who become police officers in the United States are often absolutely incapable of problem solving. There are famous examples of parents calling the police to “scare” their children, and the children ending up being murdered by the police. In cases of Conflict, calling the police is the last thing any of us should be doing unless our only objective is to cause more pain.
  • Physical violence has many varied manifestations, and non-defensive violence is never justified or desirable, nor does it solve problems. The most common scenario is the regularly violent spouse who initiates violence as a control mechanism, where it is used to enforce behaviors in the victim. Then there is the couple who both lack problem-solving skills and resort to violence irregularly, or in a single incident, in ways that are equally undesirable but don’t result in one person’s domination. They do not endanger each other physically, although there are clearly signs of problems that need to be faced and dealt with. These are obviously different phenomena. And I think they should be treated differently even though they both involve physical violence. Once we stop being determined to produce a victim and are instead focused on learning the truth of what actually happened, we become willing to accept the discomfort of recognizing two people as being Conflicted and embrace a more humane and acknowledging vision of social relationships. This is essential if we want peace.
  • People do things for reasons, even if they don’t know what those reasons are.
  • Anxiety is best addressed by support and love in trying to understand those reasons, not the false “loyalty” of aggression to escalate unjust actions. When we are in community with people who are escalating, we have to ask the right questions in order to understand what past experiences the instigator is responding to in the present. That is the responsibility of real friendship, the true definition of love.
  • The police are often the least likely people to be able to solve problems, to think in nuanced ways about emotional pain and its projections, and as a result are not the people we need help from if we are interested in creating peace.
  • We should not isolate, denounce, and punish people for being human.
  • Once people are given the right to punish or to threaten punishment by the state, they are no longer required to interrogate themselves and can fall back on convenient dehumanized views of the people they want to hurt. This is what Supremacy Ideology does: it provides the empowered with delusions of superiority, as the ideology itself masquerades as reality. This is why some people feel righteous in calling the police instead of facing their own anxieties, and why others reinforce them in this terrible decision, or even worse: they stand by and do nothing.
  • Never, ever decide that you know who someone is, what they did, their objective, context or goal, how they feel or what they know, until you ask them. And not asking means a direct investment in not understanding the truth.
  • The privileged are often good at articulating injury but not always able to identify if they are actually experiencing it. There is a difference in being able to recognize the conditions under which injury has or is happening, and actually living, or having lived through it.
  • Privilege has always been a dulling factor in one’s comprehension of human difference.
  • Just as a group of bad friends reinforces unilateral supremacist thinking by encouraging group punishment and shunning of the conflicted other, good friends insist that people think twice, to look to their own participation in conflict instead of calling the police. Good groups help their family, friends, and community members recognize and dissipate anxiety rather than joining them in acting out cruelly against others.
  • Once people are given the right of dominance, that is the right to punish or to threaten punishment by the state, they are no longer required to examine themselves. It has never been shown that punishment works. Punishment, denouncing, excluding, threatening, and shunning often create a worse society. It divides people, causes great pain, compromises individual integrity, and obscures truths in the name of falsely shoring up group reputation. Similarly, there is no correlation between having the ability to punish and being right. More often than not, the wrong people get punished. And the punishers use their power to keep from being accountable. So creating new classes of people who can threaten someone with the state, or who can call the police, does not produce more justice, and is more likely to produce more injustice.
  • HIV criminalization assumes that society itself is negative, and that the threat to society is positive. HIV criminalization is making it easier for the negative person to avoid communication and instead call on the state to punish the positive person. It encourages the HIV negative person to see themselves as victimized instead of as an equally conflicted party in a human relationship, with mutual responsibilities, feelings, and accountability. It is a governmental privileging of anxiety and punishment over communication, thereby dividing people between those who claim to be good and clean and normal and therefore deserving of state protection, and those whom the first group wish to separate from and hurt whether it is justified or not; whether it makes things better or not.
  • It is our moral obligation as human beings who share this time and this place to not punish, but rather to remain calm, to open up communication, and to place our hands gently on each other’s shoulders and say, “Think twice.”

Part 2: The Impulse to Escalate

  • The force that takes Conflict and misrepresents it as Abuse is called Escalation. Escalation is a kind of smokescreen to cover up the agent’s own influence on events, their own contributions to the Conflict. By escalating in the face of nothing, normative conflict, or resistance and acting as if it is Abuse, we avoid having to confront ourselves, or our family, our clique, our HIV status, our country, our own individual and group shortcomings, our anxieties from an unresolved past. Instead, we use accusation to create an artificial furor to override or distract from our own responsibility.
  • Escalating Conflict to the status of Abuse obscures our desires, our own contributions to problems in relationships, our own anxieties about sex, love, and HIV, our own projections from our pasts onto the non-deserving present, and it disavows our agency in a manner that enhances the power of the state. Escalation under these circumstances is a resistance to self-knowledge.
  • Certainly I am not a practitioner of doing nothing. There is little more destructive than the passive bystander allowing cruelty to be freely imposed. I’m the opposite of a Buddhist, as I believe in action. But there are all kinds of actions: some are designed to acknowledge and reveal the sources of conflict and pain in order to resolve them, and some are designed to obscure those sources so that resolution/change can never occur. Which one we choose, of course, is related to how we see ourselves and others, and what we don’t see about ourselves and others. There is no evidence that time heals all wounds, or even most wounds; instead, it freezes unnecessary enmity and makes it harder to overcome. Time allows perpetrators to forget the pain they have imposed.
  • We all have an ideal imagined self and a real self, and there is always a gap between the two. I’ve never met a person who was exempt from this. The process of moving forward in life requires, I guess, constant adjustment on both sides. We each come closer to a more mature understanding of who we really are, some kind of acceptance, while at the same time working to change the things we can in order to get closer to our desired self. In this way, that gap narrows from both sides: acceptance, and change. But it never goes away. When we can’t move forward and the gap widens, many of us become paralyzed. The breach between the real self and the imagined self is unbearable, and the reality of our lives becomes unacceptable, undoable, and we become stuck: we can’t move out of our parents’ house, we can’t take a job that compromises our entitlement, we can’t actually fulfill our dreams and, finally, we can’t adjust those dreams.
  • Obviously I am not a clinician, but I have lived, loved, listened, felt, expressed, and observed. I have looked within and without. So without authority beyond my own experiences and how I understand them, I have observed that people living in unrecovered trauma often behave in very similar ways to the people who traumatized them. Over and over I have seen traumatized people refuse to hear or engage information that would alter their self-concepts, even in ways that could bring them more happiness and integrity. For the Supremacist, this refusal comes from a sense of entitlement; that they have an inherent “right” not to question themselves. Conversely, the unrecovered traumatized person’s refusal is rooted in a panic that their fragile self cannot bear interrogation; that whatever is keeping them together is not flexible. Perhaps because Supremacy in some produces Trauma in others, they can become mirror images. And of course, many perpetrators were/are victims themselves.
  • We know that usually a traumatized person has been profoundly violated by someone else’s cruelty, overreaction, and/or lack of accountability. The experience could be incident-based (rape by a stranger or being hit by a drunken driver), or it could be ongoing over a long period of time (being constantly demeaned and beaten by a stepfather, paternal sexual invasion, alcoholic or mentally ill parents), or systematic (intense and constant experiences of prejudice, denial of one’s humanity, deprivation, violence, occupation, genocide). The traumatized person’s sense of their ability to protect themselves has been damaged or destroyed. They feel endangered, even if there is no actual danger in the present, because in the past they have experienced profoundly invasive cruelty and they know it is possible. Or in the case of ongoing systemic oppression, they receive cruelty from one place, and project it onto another.
  • There is a strong element of shame in Trauma that makes thinking and behavior so inflexible. The person cannot accept adjustment, an altering of their self-concept; they won’t bear it and they won’t live with it. And if their group, clique, family, community, religion, or country also doesn’t support self-criticism, they ultimately can’t live with it.
  • In my own life, I have found that the most dangerous response to shame is recognition. Those of us who have lived lives of shared public space like a city, or who study history, know that people suffer. We know that people’s lives are complex, filled with contradiction and obstacles. So when someone tells us that their mother allowed their stepfather to beat them, or their son cannot take care of himself, or their father was sexually invasive, or their parents are alcoholics, or they were projected onto by a trusted lover so that they no longer allow themselves relationships, or that they themselves suffer from anxiety and mental illness, it can play out in different ways. The offering of honest information can be a test to see what it is like to tell the truth, to see if real experience will be met with rejection. But I find that if the information is received with consequential recognition, i.e., “Now that we know this, our relationship is elevated,” there is a possibility of a backlash, because that means the experience is real; the awful thing is no longer a repressed secret but a recognized reality. And this can provoke an explosion of regression. The recognition itself is now called a harm. The pain of the original violation is projected onto the person who knows about it. “What you are doing to me is worse than anything my father ever did to me,” becomes the accusation. Because, unlike the father, we are not pretending it away.
  • Often the words “privacy” or “boundaries” are used to deflect recognitions of Shame. Privacy, or rather invasion of, is when the government collects data on you without your consent. Shame, to me, is hiding information that reveals common human experiences, contradictions, and mistakes. Sometimes this is imposed from the outside through stigma. For example, being HIV positive is a common human experience, but some people hide it because they fear unjustified cruelties imposed by others. But for many, shame-based hiding is often imposed from within. They want to conceal their experience because they don’t understand that it is widely shared. There is a narcissism in trauma-based shame: a belief that one is special and different and that others can’t possibly feel the same way, understand, or need understanding.
  • The business of psychological studies is a messy one. There are so many and they contradict each other, but like poetry, they can stimulate thought.
  • Human life, being mortal, is inherently filled with risk, and one of the greatest dangers is other people’s escalation. It can hasten the inevitable end before we’ve had a chance to really begin. It can be a terrible waste of life and potential. Being the object of overreaction means being treated in a way that one does not deserve, which is the centerpiece of injustice. Yet, protesting that overreaction is often the excuse for even more injustice. There is a continuum of pathology in blame, cold-shouldering, shunning, scapegoating, group bullying, incarcerating, occupying, assaulting, and killing. These actions are substitutions for our better selves, and avoid the work of self-acknowledgment required for resolution and positive change. Refusing to resolve conflict is a negative action, yet many families, cliques, communities, religions, governments, and nations choose this option all the time.
  • Feeling “safe” of course is already a problematic endeavor since there is little guarantee of safety in our world, and the promise of it is a false one, as the effort to enforce this is often at the expense of other people. Both Supremacists and the Traumatized may conceptualize themselves as “weak” or “endangered” unless others around them are controlled, repressed, punished, or destroyed. The concept of “safe space” can also be a projection in the present based on dangers that occurred in the past. It may have once been used for those living in illegality, like gay people, Jews, immigrants, or adults who now have agency but were oppressed as children. But now those of us who have become dominant continue to use this trope to repress otherness. It is used by the dominant to defend against the discomfort of hearing other people’s realities, to repress nuance, ignore multiple experiences, and reject the inherent human right to be heard. Instead, it may even be considered victimizing by the supremacist/traumatized person to not simply follow their orders when they “feel” or say that they “feel” endangered, even if that feeling is retrospective.
  • Safety is an acquisition of power, often dependent on unjust structures of subjugation to satisfy the threatened person or group’s need for control. Normativity itself is dependent on the diminishment of others. We know now that determining punishment by the feelings of one party is the essence of injustice.
  • My conclusion from this experience of noticing the similarity of behavior between the projecting traumatized person and the entitled self-aggrandized supremacist person is that both need and want dominance in order to feel comfortable. And yet the sources of this need are so different. Underlying all of this is the fact that traumatized behavior is most often caused by Supremacy. [...] These two entirely different entities, Trauma and Supremacy, operate with resonance and similarity under the same system. And, of course, these two impulses can co-exist in the one body.
  • At the base of the demand to refuse information/knowledge/communication in order to maintain rigid control is the belief in one’s self as human, and of the other as not-human: a specter or monster. Inherent in the insistence on a refusing party’s righteousness and the other’s blame is the illusion that the control is value-free, neutral, natural, and simply the way things are. But we are all, in fact, human. Because Trauma and Supremacy are ideological but also emotional and perhaps biological, they are compounded obstacles to peace. They are systems. These systems live within, and are expressed without. These are inabilities, limitations from the soul, and expressed through the active body; therefore they represent, as Mary Daly might say, “dis-ease.” The dehumanization involved in overstatement of harm as a justification of cruelty is a form of illness, a systemic malfunction that is produced by our humanity, mortality, and literal vulnerability compounded with levels of protection, societal placement, and reward. Unfortunately social convention that either denies the existence of mental illness in one’s own ranks or uses it as an excuse for shunning others, makes it difficult to call the Supremacy/Trauma mirror what it is: delusional, i.e., rooted in untruth. And if you can’t name something honestly, it cannot be acknowledged, addressed, and healed.
  • We are suffering, and if we could all acknowledge that suffering has content, we could all understand, as a community, somewhat better how to help each other.
  • As Will Burton says, “pain has a story, a narrative,” and knowing it reveals human complexity which is an invitation to decency. When we try to understand, we discover causes, origins, and consequences about each other and our selves.
  • Unfortunately, groups that rely on perfection, the good/evil dichotomy, and are motivated by a paralyzing fear of ever being wrong, often deny that mental illness/distorted thinking is in play. Bad families, bad friends, negative communities, and supremacist identities hide and deny contradictions, and rely on the projection of blame onto others to maintain their cohesion as perfect. Pervasive depression gets called sadness. Anxiety that is so severe as to control one’s life gets called upset or difficult or sensitive. And no one is allowed to talk about why any of it is happening.
  • Suicide is often a failure of community, and claiming it as inevitable is a defense against that failure.
  • To understand, compassionately, that someone is suffering from distorted thinking to the extent that they are hurting themselves and/or others is not an attack. It is the honest, loving truth. Yet in false loyalty systems, saying that someone is suffering is considered worse than the suffering itself, which everyone pretends isn’t occurring. Ironically, bullying, shunning, scapegoating, threatening, violence, occupation, racism, and other forms of cruelty are not only created by instability, they produce instability. When they overreact, both the supremacist and the traumatized person insist that others not resist or object to their orders. They expect complete control, but in reality they produce instability in others in the form of unnecessary pain.
  • Shunning by family, cliques, or governments is an active form of harassment, and is consistently detrimental to all parties, even as it becomes normalized and status quo. Our friend, family member, co-worker, fellow HIV-negative, fellow citizen, or co-religionist may suffer from mental illness manifesting as Supremacy or Trauma. Consequently, they may be calling Abuse as an apparatus to absolve themselves of responsibility that they do not have the support to face. Our complicity with ignoring their suffering and our complicity with falsely placing the blame on the other party is not only not loyalty, it hurts them. It makes them worse. This is the opposite of friendship. The denial is dishonest and it prolongs the torture. It sucks. And it’s shallow, and desperately needs to be dismantled.
  • A “trigger” is a form of overreaction crucial to the conflation of Conflict with Abuse. We react constantly through life. Breathing, noticing, thinking, swallowing, feeling, and moving are all reactions. Most reactions are not really observed because they are commensurate with their stimuli, but a triggered reaction stands out because it is out of sync with what is actually taking place. When we are triggered, we have unresolved pain from the past that is expressed in the present. The present is not seen on its own terms. The real experience of the present is denied. Although reacting to the past in the present may make sense within the triggered person’s logic system, it can have detrimental effects on those around them who are not the source of the pain being expressed, but are being punished nonetheless. They are acting in the present, but are being made accountable for past events they did not cause and cannot heal. The one being falsely blamed is also a person, and this burden may hurt their life. The person being triggered is suffering, but they often make other people suffer as well. There is narcissism to Supremacy, but there is also a narcissism to Trauma, when a person cannot see how others are being affected. Although the triggered person may be made narcissistic and self-involved by the enormity of their pain, both parties are in fact equally important. And it is the job of the surrounding communities to insist on this.
  • If someone wishes to alter a relationship, they must discuss it with the other person, negotiate the change, and listen to the other person’s account. There is no ethical way around it.
  • Shunning, an active form of harassment, is never useful in resolving problems; in most cases it is petty and primarily a way to avoid an adjustment of the self that is required for accountability. If it has no terms for resolution, it is simply a form of asserting supremacy and imposing punishment, and punishment, as we know, rarely does anything but produce more pain.
  • Shunning as an end-point to normative conflict is the definition of absurdity. Shunning is not only a punitive silencing, but it is a removal from humanity, and therefore reliant on the Making of Monsters. After all, no one owns humanity and humans cannot be removed from themselves. It’s a delusion.
  • When anxiety is at the wheel, we tragically project, blame, and then separate. We flee reality, which is the fact of conflict as part of life, rather than confront difference and expand our understanding of ourselves.
  • There are options, and even though anxiety may make the reality of choices elusive, they still exist. Recognize the existence of the anxiety, then strive to overcome it in order to perceive other options.
  • In the embodiment of the good group, through the therapist, a person can be helped to understand their own motivations, reactions, and choices, to achieve an ongoing desire for awareness.
  • “Overindulgence” is a deprivation of constructive attention, a refusal to teach social/life skills, a refusal to teach self-regulation in social situations, a refusal to teach how to distinguish between wants and needs. Desires are indulged at the place where needs are starved. This is the abandonment of the child, and the responsibility to parent, disguised.
  • Lack of empathy, of course, is central to conflating Conflict and Abuse. Inherent in the sequence is an absence of thought as to the consequences of the false accusations on others. This is followed by feelings of shock and rage when others resist their unjust treatment. All this, of course, is rooted in a childish but pervasive expectation that their orders will be followed. And if that obedience is not in place, huge feelings emerge of being threatened by the others who express disagreement.
  • Blame is when the reasons behind conflict, the order of events, are not allowed to be addressed, where the understanding that could reveal how both parties contribute is blatantly denied. For me, it is not the understanding itself that is the blame; it’s what fills the void left by refusal to understand.
  • Growing up with chaos can make it harder to know how to create order as an adult.
  • I believe that a truly “good” family is one that is deeply and in fact primarily concerned with the behavior of its members towards other people. That instead of reinforcing indifference, exploitative behavior, arrogance about class, race or gender, blind allegiance to the state, and cruelty towards sexual partners, they systematize methods of accountability. In this way, each family member would grow up with a loving practice of opposition, with the commitment to psychological insight, individuation, and a means of discussion that emphasizes context, objective, and the order of events. Blind adherence would be the definition of “disloyalty,” as it is detrimental to peace and justice. Our model for relationships within groups can be transformed from obedience to biology, biological assumption, or simulacra of biology, emphasizing instead the ethics of each individual’s actions, cumulative consequence, and the necessity of self-criticism. In other words: accountability.
  • All human beings, by virtue of being born, deserve care, recognition, protection, fairness, and opportunity.
  • All human beings deserve to be heard and considered.
  • If we are really feminists then we know that the mother is also a person. She has a body, she has a sexuality, she has dreams for her own life. She has things she wants and needs. Up until a certain point, these desires cannot be priorities over protecting and developing her children. But this information has to be integrated into the children’s world views so that they don’t grow up to become adults, especially adult men, who expect and believe that women are in the world to serve them for the remainder of those women’s lives.
  • Despite how enriching it may be for a child to learn from their parents, school should be starting them on the journey of learning how to individuate, how to develop their own world, their own habits, responsibilities, and relationships; how to live on their own, support themselves, and help others. They need to have their own secrets, dreams, private experiences, and independence.
  • One of the fallacies in a queer context is the assumption that queer mothers are somehow inherently feminist because they managed to separate themselves from heterosexuality. Being attracted to or even loving a woman has no relationship to treating her, and by extension one’s self, as a person who matters. On one hand, lesbians give each other meaning in private, and yet this requires a transcendence of lifelong messages about women’s lack of worth. Treating another women with decency, care, forgiveness, and flexibility is certainly not an automatic impulse.
  • Feminism, or full and complete personhood for women, is an idea. And each human being has to do the work to explore it, build a relationship to it, and understand what their own changes must be in order to be part of it.
  • Politics is a consequence of how a person understands their experience.
  • Every person needs to be parented. By this I mean that every person needs to be helped, encouraged, and supported in becoming accountable to themselves and others. To not be threatened by taking other people into account. To not be frightened of difference.
  • A true friend can be a blood or legal relation. They can be in the same clique or neighborhood or workplace. They can belong to the same racial, cultural, religious, or national group. But a true “friend” asks the right questions about category itself, and thereby transcends it. A true friend has the conversation.
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