Genealogy of Pain

By Sibte Hasan

Alice Miller thinks that trans-generational perpetuation of violence is rooted in ‘poisonous pedagogy’. Under the influence of poisonous pedagogy, a society itself becomes criminal. Crime does not remain society’s subsidiary activity. It becomes a way of life and every individual commits them, being a father, mother, employer, employee and even the society at large, collectively. These are the crime which are committed with the consent of the society itself. Nobody is punished for these ‘unnoticed’ crimes. Instead of punishing them, perpetrators of crimes promote poisonous pedagogy and also win respect for them. In such societies, criminality and respectability becomes intermingled.

Alice Miller has proposed four components as the basis of this pedagogy:

  1. Blind obedience to persons in authority

All celestial and mundane institutions have been made hierarchical. In a hierarchical arrangement, at every stage, a person in authority is appointed who guides the people according to the broader scheme of this hierarchical system. There is always someone above who must be obeyed. These persons in hierarchy ensure the success of the system but leave no place for innovation or dissent. Family and schools are the basic units in the hierarchical arrangement of a society. These institutions perpetuate trans-generational consciousness from one to another generation. Children cannot question the custodians of family and schools. They have to obey them silently, without showing their pains. This kind of pedagogy keeps the children dependent and hence, under the control of these hierarchical agents of oppression.

Social mechanism operative behind submission to authority is based upon irrational power. Irrational power means really having or creating a semblance of capacity to inflict physical or psychological pain upon others. Punishing people publicly is a kind of message to all that the perpetrator has the capacity to inflict pain and people should make no mistake about it. Another way of teaching submission before authority is embedded in the prescribed social behaviour. Feeling of shame is one of them. Shaming behaviour is taught right from the childhood. According to Bradshaw, shame is designed to teach children how to curtail behaviour through negative thoughts and feelings about themselves hurled upon them by others. These are the few examples: putting down a child by saying, “You are acting like a spoilt child”; moralising by saying, “Good little boys don’t act that way”; age-based expectations by saying, “Stop acting like a baby”; gender-based expectations by saying, “Be brave, don’t sob like a woman.”; comparison by saying, “Why can’t you get more marks like so and so?” Shaming has been integrated in the core of people’s behaviour but taken as a normal behaviour.

Every behaviour has an impact on the fellow beings and a person is judged on this behaviour. In shaming, children are given a meaningless negative image about their selves, rather than the real impact of their behaviour. For example, in chauvinist clans or feudal familites, male children are expected to be aggressive, imposing and encouraged not to show physical and psychological pains. They are shamed on this prescribed behaviour and hence, develop a self which might not necessarily be their true self. One does not learn to be ashamed of right from his/her birth. This emotion is learned when a child starts developing his/her self-image. Children learn to be ashamed of themself because someone around put them to shame. So, shaming coincides with a ‘shamer’. Parents relieve their parental frustrations by shaming their children. This is basically a release of anger and they feel better after this vent.

When we want to create relation with anybody, we ask questions about him/her. Asking questions itself is a manifestation of desire to develop relations. If other person, in response to the question, reveals him/herself, a relationship begins. When we ask questions about a natural phenomenon, we actually are trying to create a relationship with nature. If nature reveals itself by de-coding its secrets, we develop a relationship with it. Through these processes of discovery, we create our world and also our place in it. This is also the journey of our self-consciousness.

Children have a natural tendency and desire to know what is happening around them in physical as well as in human world. They also want to do things by themselves. They want to experience everything. This tendency is essential for their cognitive, emotional and psycho-motor development. The same tendency has endowed children with an attitude of curiosity. Curiosity creates questions and children try to find answers to these questions. This is the beginning of the journey of discovery. Through this journey, children create relationship with the people and world around. They also discover their individuality through this process. This trajectory leads to becoming a human being.

If the world of children is not respected rather dismissed by trivialising their experiences, they grow up feeling unimportant and this sentiment keeps them passive; devoid of initiative throughout life. Shaming leads to withdrawal from any relationships. Gradually, shame becomes the inner voice and guides a person as a moral ombudsman sitting in his /her psyche as conscience. Moral ombudsman sitting inside also promotes moral policing. Constant fear of being exposed under the feeling of shame hinders any act of spontaneity. If we want to do something just to enjoy, an inner shaming voice would stop us to do so. We are stopped by memories of being told not to be ‘so childish’.

Shame is a superficial feeling and does not guide about deep relationship or empathy. While shaming, parents or teachers label a child by saying naughty, careless or disobedient. When this is repeated again and again, children learn to label themselves naughty, careless or disobedient whether in reality they are so or not. Furthermore, these traits are temporary and not part of permanent behaviour. Here, the construction of (false) self begins on the basis of extrinsic stimuli. With false self, they do not learn about comprehending the true feelings of other. Shame is a strategy to control the behaviour of children and hence the most effective weapon in the hands of people in authority.

  1. Glorification of aggressors

Perpetrators of general oppression i.e. parents, teachers, elders, and in case of women, men are considered respectable. People are compelled to respect their culture, history, traditions and ideologies which provide basis for poisonous pedagogy. Respect does not prove anything but is a way to control the behaviour of people and to coerce them to submit to the oppressors. One does show his/her gratitude towards his /her benefactor but this is a voluntary action. When it becomes an obligation, it loses its spirit of free-will. Code of respect in oppressive societies is obligatory and is a way to un-stigmatize oppressors so that they continue oppressing people without hesitation and guilt. In this peculiar code of respect, a transcendental status is granted to these oppressors and its breach or even just thinking of disobeying them creates a sense of guilt in the oppressed. This creates a sacred zone for the oppressors and nobody is allowed to pop into it. In history, for instance, such status was granted to kings, and they were believed to be the representatives of gods on earth. In reality, king was the central figure in the oligarchy of oppressors but due to this ‘holy’ status nobody could ever dared to question him. Rather, kings were glorified through popular and folk stories as generous and kind to their people. Even predatory birds and animals are respected and celebrated as national symbols of power.

Trans-generational oppressive pedagogy is woven around a grand narrative. This narrative constructs a specific cognitive domain of transcendental ideas and symbols. This world dynamically influences the lives of people who believe them. As this world is fictive, through prescriptive learning and repetitive reinforcement, this ‘world’ is kept alive. Based upon this world, a peculiar social sensibility comes into existence which sets high moral standards of deeds as an ideal for an ordinary person.

All personages in the grand narrative belong to a non-existent world. One cannot create a relationship with the world which does not exist. They have been extended to infinitude and thus claim ‘eternity’. ‘Eternity’ is a transposed expression of human finitude. According to Simondon, the French philosopher, ‘eternity’ promises the impossible as it never defines material trajectory to achieve them. It revolves around fictive domains and inhere through imagination, hallucinations or delusions. Any sort of world can be created. It does offer solace but only in imagination. In this perspective, eternity, in reality hinders unceasing potential of exploration for the human beings. Sensibility based upon eternity is an expression of severing relation from the existing concrete world. Respecting these personages is in reality pursuing the path of obscurity.

Schema of respect is an irrational attitude and it is used to stigmatize various sections of society. For example, the downtrodden are duty bound to respect their oppressors on the basis of caste, colour, ethnicity, and above all on economic status. Respect is shown by adopting certain mannerism and customs. By performing these mannerism or customs, a symbolic demarcation line is drawn between the respected and the person showing respect. So called respected person feels being in a privileged social position and at the same time people showing respect to him/her are considered less respected and less privileged. So called disrespected people are denied recognition of their needs and feelings. So paraphernalia of respect determines social placement of an individual or class in the economic system.

In reality, the so called respected person also knows in his/her heart that the oppressed would never respect him/her naturally. The oppressor insists on the rituals of respect because in oppressive societies, deeds done in public sphere are considered true. This is why slight deviation in such rituals invites the wrath of the oppressor. Deeds like stripping oppressed women naked and parading them in streets or raping their girls in public before their family by the oppressors are the public pronouncements of their power.

In oppressive societies, people’s role is gauged on a prescribed consciousness. Consciousness is built up on specific knowledge. Realistically speaking, every person creates his/her own knowledge from his/her existence. Knowledge springing from concrete life is the true knowledge. If a person learns from his/her experience that he/she is being exploited by his/her employer, he/she would protest and fight back. This consciousness of fighting for one’s rights is coming from one’s concrete experiences of life. On the contrary, employer would not believe the knowledge of the employee for the simple reason that in that case he/she would be accepting his/her crime. Employer can keep on exploiting by refuting the experiential knowledge of the worker. Here, the employer would create a substitute knowledge which should not necessarily be truthful. The employer would manufacture a different kind of knowledge to label the experiences of the worker. If this is happening in a society based on caste system, the employer would offer a reference of caste. If this is a religious society, the employer would say, ‘look, those work hard in this world would get reward manifold in hereafter. Endurance is the virtue which keeps man in peace.’ To deny right of knowing about ones’ real situation, a system of manufacturing alternative knowledge was/is instituted by the people sitting in authority. Any living person creates his/her knowledge but in this scheme of oppression, only that knowledge would be taken as truthful which is prescribed or narrated by the people who belong to the ‘respected’ stratum or their cronies. In this paradigm of oppression, knowledge coming from the concrete life is the first step towards freedom.

  1. Endorsement of coercion

Poisonous pedagogy is laden by physical and psychological pains, humiliations, disgusts and abuses. Even animals react very strongly to physical pains; human beings with far more developed brain cannot restrain themselves retaliating to such pains. A culture of endurance permeates in this pedagogy and glorifies such persons who bear pains silently. Though all people living in this pedagogy are victims of oppression but women and children are the most vulnerable being the weakest and the most dependent. Oppression trickles down towards women and children. Though, they are the most affected, they cannot show any trace of retaliation as it infuriates the oppressors. Virtue of endurance is instilled into them. They perish in this labyrinth of pain and suffering; silently. Nobody cares for them or feels their pains. On their death they are eulogised as persons of great courage and perseverance with social pride. 

This culture of endurance latently exonerates the perpetrators and they keep up their atrocities with any trace of guilt or sense of crime. Parents, teachers or any other oppressor is always considered right and every act of cruelty is an expression of their ‘love for the victim’. In order to protect these oppressors from blame, children blame themselves for what happens to them. This kind of cruelty becomes a normal affair. If a person inflicts pain on others what was once done to him/her, he/she does not need to feel all the pain they would otherwise have to experience. In this genealogy of violence, the perpetrator thinks that if he/she could bear such pain, why the victim cannot. This is a zone of senseless antipathy. Often mothers discourage their daughters or daughters-in-law to deliver child without taking any measures for painless delivery and in this context, they boast of their capacity to bear pain as a virtue. Alice Miller explains that the perpetrator is unable to recognize the abuse as such and passes it on to the victim without any trace of a bad conscience.

  1. Tenant that such abuse is for the child’s own good

If a child is convinced that he /she is being abused for his/her own good, then the poisonous pedagogy automatically is legitimised. Any act which is not undertaken with violence and abuse would be taken as if it were not for the good of a child. Children become accustomed to such abuse and perpetration of violence becomes an ordinary affair of everyday life. People in such cultures breathe violence. Spectacle of violence in movies or in real life thrills them. While living a ‘normal’ life, they breed violence ‘naturally’.

Before a child can love, he/she must have been loved. Rien Verdult and Gaby Stroecken, the Belgian psychologists say that basically human beings construct their nature or for that matter their humanity. Bad experiences damage this construction of humanity. A child develops a basic feeling of trust in the course of his/her first experience with his/her mother and father. This is a basic step towards a positive development of personality. Trust is the feeling of being able to rely on another person and of being able to build on that reliance. Trust is the certainty of being safe with another person. Where parents trust, the child is able to build up trust in her/himself. Children in orphanage have no one around whom they can trust. People of all ages feel happiest and most able to use their talents when they are certain that they have the support of one or more trusted person to whom they can turn in difficulty. When a child is abused, he/she experiences pain and anxieties. They cannot develop trust in their parents. No matter, they express it categorically or not.

In the atmosphere of abuse, a child is not truly heard. He/she stands at the receiving end and does not claim to be autonomous. ‘The misrecognition of the child in ourselves begins early in life. At conception, during the period spent in the womb, at birth and in the first years of life, the vulnerable child runs the risk of finding its natural expectations misinterpreted and disregarded. As children, in the womb or newly born, we are entirely dependent on our parents.’  Rien Verdult and Gaby Stroecken further claim that we are all born, just not in the same climate. The possibilities to evolve are for every human strongly determined by his/her parents and the culture in which he/she grows up. The cultural influence is very much historically determined; we are children of our time. Children born in medieval times are different from our children. Our children are the children of the computerization, of the commerciality, virtual / cyber world and of the globalisation. Every generation makes its own (sub) culture and every culture makes its own generations. For every culture has its own child-rearing ideals that are based on a certain view on humanity. Childrearing determines the human kind. Every generation puts its own details in child-rearing. Despite these differences of detail, the core of the model of childrearing, unfortunately stays unchanged. While in the past one used to be more tempted to treat a child with discipline and punishment, nowadays parents seem to use more psychological influence. The means are different; the goal is the same, namely controlling the (emotional) life of the child.

Arno Gruen, the Swiss – German psychologist explains autonomy as a situation in which you are entirely one with your own feelings and needs. Autonomy is being open to what is positive in existence, to feelings of joy, grief and pain, in short to vitality. Autonomy is not independence in the sense of proving that you count, that you are valid. It is neither a rebellion nor deformed egoism.

According to Freud, human beings are born with an innate tendency to destruction and violence. Throughout his scholarly and clinical career, Gruen challenged that assumption, arguing instead that at the root of evil lies self-hatred, a rage originating in a self-betrayal that begins in childhood, when autonomy is surrendered in exchange for the ‘love’ of those who wield power over us. To live in subjugating power, people create a false self, a pleasing-to-others- image-of-themselves that springs from a powerful, deep-seated fear of being hurt, humiliated or abandoned. Gruen traced this pattern of over-adaptation, and the fate of those who resist the pressure to conform through a number of case studies, sociological phenomena—from Nazism to market-economy and literary works. This hyper-conformity produces the insanity of rage and numbness. These emotions unfortunately, go widely unrecognized because it has become the cold, tough ‘realism’ that modern society inculcates into its members and even admires.

Gruen warned, however, that escape from these patterns lies not simply in rebellion. On the road towards rebellion, the rebel aims to annihilate the world. Rebel remains emotionally tied to the objects of his/her rebellion. Rebellion may end up in self- destruction or the destruction of the world, ‘realism of numbness’ remains untouched. The rebellion tries to fight the superstructure of society but numbness and conformism flows under the deep fabric of society and the people’s psyche. People take these factors as the irrefutable components of the ‘realism’ of their lives.  Real revolution occurs in the development of a personal autonomy and a relinquishing of all forms of self-numbing and self-deception. Autonomy and authenticity are not easily attained. Their absence proves catastrophic to both individual and society as the embittered conformists seek new victims on whom to wreak violence and avenge their psychic wounds. Their crimes are not culpable rather society grants legitimacy to them and hence, society becomes self – annihilating.

A child who is not heard, finally stops crying because there is no response. This misrecognition then transforms into adaptation or submission. As adults, we carry with us the misrecognised child that was formed in our early childhood. The need for continuing affirmation, the insatiable need for bodily contact and sex, addiction to eating and drinking and loss of contact with our psychical needs, all are symptoms of early childhood misrecognition. Abused young child cannot see its parents’ behaviour as bad. She/he will take on her/himself the guilt for whatever is wrong and defend it.

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