Freedom’s Chains.

I was once sat alone in an open air restaurant on a Greek island, looking out to sea whilst I  waited for the menu. There was a family sat on the next table with two boys of about eight and ten. Something about them struck some deep chord in me. I began to pay attention. The boys were sat opposite one another, not speaking but using a torrent of nonverbal gestures and silent expressions packed in with meaning. It wasn’t quite sign language but it seemed just as rich.

The parent’s conversation stumbled overhead. The man seemed to constantly  take up more space than his seat permitted. He was loud. He’d put on a tone of insistance where it wasn’t required. He responded to his wife as though ticking some kind of inter-marital box in a contract he now regrets signing. Everything was too much effort. He speaks to the waiter with barely restrained annoyance that this Greek man, working in a Greek restaurant, in Greece, couldn’t perfectly understand his mumbled English that had a twange in it that I knew…

Meantime the woman is palcating the situation, lots of patting gestures and smoothing over her husband’s laval tantrum in a way that had the stamp of long practice, apologising for him to the world in a way that also suggested he was really quite right and justified in his contempt for it. And while she tutted she also offered him every opportunity to misbehave. I could almost smell my mother’s eau de Cologne.

I had an extreme childhood. Para-military boarding school in a post -imperial war zone. It was the kind of place you felt proud, not to have attended, but to have survived. It bred a very particular kind of person.

Eventually I turned to him and said, ‘excuse me, but did you attend Plumtree school, and were you in Milner house?’ He dropped his fork and turned white as a sheet, momentarily uncontained by the seat he’d spent the evening trying in vain to bust out of.

‘How do you know ?’ he gasped.

I shrugged, ‘they got me too.’

The fact was that I recognised his madness, all the compensatory gestures that go with being abandoned in the name of specialness, the aching emptiness that needs to big itself up all the time at others’ expense, the racial intolerance despite the fact that he had presumably been the author of his own holiday destination.

Then there was his accent and the mannerisms you begin to share after six years cooped up in a cage together, but the clincher was in his boys and the shock of realising that their interaction was precisely that of juniors in the prep-room, forbidden from speaking and having to resort to other means of communication.

Is racism a mental health issue? Of course it is. You could go further and say quite specifically that when it is systemic, it is the collective expression of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

If you look at the checklist in the DSM-5  diagnostic manual for NPD, Racism ticks every box because it has to do with a..

‘significant impairment of inter-personal functioning’. DSM-5

It is an enduring, inflexible, pervasive pattern over a broad range of social situations in which self esteem is derived from having power over others.

‘goal-setting based on personal gratification..’ibid

‘Failure to conform to normative (constitutional) ethics.’ibid

This impairment in its collective form can also be described both in terms of lack of empathy for the suffering of others and in the lowered capacity for intimacy which is severely restricted by a predominantly exploitative stance.

”including deceipt, coersion; use of dominance or intimidation to control others” ibid

Being in the same room as someone who has all this going on is hard enough even when you’re the same colour. When you’re not its hell,..

and then he gets into government.

”fabrication, lack of guilt or remorse about the harmful effect of one’s actions on others… vengeful behaviour.”ibid

You might wonder if there is something broken in such persons, or the traits of it within yourself, but Racism, like NPD, has its origins in something that was never formed in the first place. Its the defensive angry crust formed around an empty space where something should have happened but didn’t.

A threshold of development was never crossed, the threshold of separation from mother which allows baby to perceive others as beings in their own right, when Mom also has a destiny, when we relinquish the omnipotence of being at the centre of things in exchange for the richness of a many faceted inner world that can be excited and stimulated by difference rather than threatened and paranoid about it..

Without crossing this threshold, feelings of infantlike entitlement are harnessed to shining ideals divested of conscience. This is done via the projection of one’s personal limitations onto now shadowy others in order to consolidate the failing bulwarks of internal cohesion. The secret fledgling charges itself with talons of riteous indignation…

”If the Jews did not exist we would have to invent them.’  H Goerring.

The individual Narcissist has been subjected to what Masud Kahn calls ‘Symbiotic Omnipotence’, an early bond with mother that is characterised by shared specialness. The child is billed as a kind of saviour and is loaded down with all kinds of archetypal expectations by a mother who has been deprived of the freedom to reach her own potential.

One of the features of this scenario is that everyone outside their bubble is regarded with contempt, as though they were second class citizens, denial…

”that others could be potentially valuable or nourishing.” M. Kahn

Unfortunately, Western Civilisation is imbued with this toxic dynamic. Like the folie a deux of mother and child locked in Symbiotic Omnipotence we have the insistent collusion of Mother Church refusing the validity of other people’s Gods and beliefs. Even the benign end of the spectrum has a secret chuckle reserved for the ignorant foolishness of anyone who comes from further away then the next block in their city.

The way a child responds to a mother who has a destiny already written out for him/her, even if it is a glittery and shiny thing, is to create inner walls to seal off the feeling of inner deadness this actually gives rise to. Carrying a host of sparkly expectations gets in the way of being together as ordinary people where ordinary feelings and ordinary interactions give rise to the sense of being real..

‘If the mother’s face is unreflecting, damage is done to the child who becomes walled off from his own emotional self..’ P. Wright.

The problem for the special child is that he is not seen for who he actually is and no matter how glorious the vision of him might be in his mother’s eyes its still not real or alive. His inner walls are necessary to defend himself from the reality of being unloved. Unfortunatly, he’s liable to deal with this by thrusting his inner reality onto the external world and build walls between people in order not to suffer further cognitive dissonance of being a walled off person in an open world.

The saviour child who has been charged with bringing meaning and fruition to mother’s unlived dreams must fail. Even if he could magically wave the wand that would save her, he is still a self-as-object rather than self-as-subject which gives rise to a sense of dislocation from oneself.

What Mother looks like is the source of the child’s emerging self concept. If what baby sees is impassive or dead, that’s what he takes himself for.

‘Her look freezes the subjective feeling of life.” D. Winnicott.

This breeds not only terrible emptiness but also terrible shame which the child is then left eternally trying to shake off by means of either shaming others or by claiming that this is somehow their intention.

Shame, being a self-as-object in another’s world..

”is the feeling of an original fall, not because of the fact that I may have commited this or that particular fault, but because I [still] need the mediation of the other in order to be what I am.” J. P. Sartre.

Racism ameliorates this shame and the isolation of narcissistic encapsulation. It gives the damaged person Others, clan, with whom to entirely identify and still further Others to entirely hate, a neurotic solution to the endemic damage engendered in cultural patterns of mother/infant relations characterised by Mother’s loss of value and freedom.

Healing the Anxious Heart.

We live in what W.H. Auden calls, ‘the Age of Anxiety.’
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“We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.”  W.H. Auden.
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Like no other, our era is suffused with a nameless trepidation that trawls our inner landscapes…
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”like droves of cattle, like soldiers marching, or big flakes of foam on a flooded river pushing on through the brain.” P. Kennedy.
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It is also true that never has so much time and effort been spared to counteract anxiety. We spend billions on therapy and medication to little avail. In fact our efforts seem so fruitless that one cannot help but ponder at the possibility that our remedies are part of the problem.
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The fact is that…
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”nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” Pema Chodron.
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Do we have something to learn from anxiety?
Could it be there for a reason?
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Our age is also one, as never before, that is rooted in material values and aspirations. We pursue comfort and security as if it were the Holy Grail. Our collective goals are not betterment or growth or being part of something, but relaxation, having the kind of life that has as the index of its success being able to lie by the pool.
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We work, not to contribute or to rise to a challenge, but so that we can be protected from tomorrow. Our hopes and dreams are circumscribed by palm trees, white sand and secure investments.
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We veiw pain and suffering as a malevolent force to be defended against at all costs, almost as if it were a sacred duty.
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This polarisation of life restricts us…
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”Consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain. The more we struggle for pleasure (only) the more we are actually killing what we love.” A. Watts.
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Because we can’t or won’t find meaning in anxiety, opting rather for the search and destroy scenario, so to are we compelled to eradicate the pleasures of life and fail to be replenished by them.
Wanting only half the pie we get none of it.
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The Western cult of consciousness leads us to believe that we really can have one without the other. We then suppress and project our anxiety onto unfortunate others, raising razor wire between our successful selves and those who seem to have lost their protective amulets. Like any projection, this exerts a fascination over us and so we sit compulsively glued to the endless newscasts depicting their misery.
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But anxiety is part of life. Material ruin, environmental disaster and the machinations of evil regimes are but a few of Anxiety’s playing fields.
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One of Nobel Prize winner A. Solzhenitsyn’s great insights is that blows of fate are not to be avoided or eschewed as meaningless. He refers to his own imprisonment as ‘concentrated living.’
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”It is extremely important to recognise that the uncontrollable caprice of fate await everyone. Illness, catastrophe, accidents and death are only another form of arrest, trial, prison and punishment camp.” A. Weatherall.
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The more we try to avoid it the worse it gets.
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”The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing.” A.Watts.
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Despite our antipathies Anxiety’s roots are given considerable room to spread from the very start of life in Western culture. The suppression of the Divine Feminine does more than undermine the inner life of women. It undermines us all.
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”In emotional development, the precursor of the mirror is the Mother’s face. What a child sees (there) is…. themselves. What she looks like is what baby takes itself for.” Whitmont
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Regardless of mother’s devotion to her baby, the deprivation of access to the sacred mysteries of her sex, the lived experience of the Great Mother, is bound to leave her inner life anxiously uprooted. These cracks in life’s mirror..
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”interrupt (baby’s) going-on-being and give rise to threats of annihilation.” D Winnicott.
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So we have more than our fair share of anxiety from the start. Yet even this is an Ariadne’s thread to return us to the truth of Christendom’s inner impoverishment and longing that is the legacy of the lost Goddess.
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Moreover, life really is short, nasty and brutish. Our fragility, impermanence and mortality is something to be anxious about. Those who are not anxious in the face of such ontological givens are either sages or psychopaths. The former are liberated only by the paradox of accepting anxiety for what it is and the latter are hardly role models.
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Our issue is not simply that we are suffused with anxiety and continuously at war with it but that..
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”we have forgotten how to be anxious about the right thing.” S Kierkegaard.
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After all,  there is a sense in which the unconscious holds us in the palm of its hand.
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”Something unknown is doing I don’t know what.” E. Ramirez.
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The cult of consciousness dismisses these archetypal stratae of the psyche at its anxious peril. Rather we ought…
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”to experience these forces anew and not wait for our moods, nervous states and delusions to make it clear in the most painful way that we are not masters of our own houses.” C.G. Jung
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Our situation is not unlike the protagonist in ‘the life of Pi’, who finds himself on a small boat with a tiger, except that in our case we never quite get around to really acknowledging the fact and only ever concede to catching the swish of its tail out of the corner of our eye, giving rise to nameless apprehension rather than awe and cautious wonder.
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”Heart, alone in the night, beat.
Beat for all you are worth.
Be the night’s pulse,
Be the blackbird about to sing.
Somewhere under the earth the waters break.” J. Moat