I read a really interesting book, recently. It’s called “The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness” by Alice Miller (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B009N989PM/ref=oh_d__o03_details_o03__i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 ). Passages in this book really gave me pause for thought.
The central thesis of the book is that adult destructiveness has its roots in traumas that are suffered by the child, in childhood. It is a compelling idea. One of the things that emerges from the pages are that violence and threats inflicted on powerless children “for their own good, to make them better people” turn out to amplify into monstrous acts of inhumanity, when the child becomes an adult, often with global consequences and having serious, permanent, negative impacts on populations numbering in the millions. The childhoods of Stalin and Hitler are examined, as are the stories of the lives of Friedrich Nietzsche and Pablo Picasso. The echoes of childhood trauma are vividly connected to their later creations and destructions. The books is nothing, if not eye-opening and enlightening.
There is a prevailing school of thought, in modern times, that believes in strict, heartless discipline, harshness, cruelty, punishment, humiliation, embarrassment, shouting, violence to the person, austerity, denial of human needs, greed, selfishness, conformity, the belittling and minimising of individuality and diversity, homogenisation, orthodoxy, preying on the young and powerless and pain, all justified in the name of doing good, in the long run. The book claims, with some justification, that this prevailing zeitgeist is nothing more than the repetition of acts of strict, heartless discipline, harshness, cruelty, punishment, humiliation, embarrassment, shouting, violence to the person, austerity, denial of human needs, greed, selfishness, conformity, the belittling and minimising of individuality and diversity, homogenisation, orthodoxy, preying on the young and powerless and pain, inflicted on people as children, in early childhood and all justified in the name of doing good, in the long run. In other words, the violence and cruelty begets violence and cruelty, but it amplifies. It’s quite a sobering thought. The absence of love is a terrible thing.
If you think about the acts of our leaders and the institutions and childhood environments they grew up in, you come to see that they came from backgrounds purpose-built to perpetuate the harm. Most of our leaders had tragic, heartbreaking childhoods. The entire Conservative project owes its genesis to this damaging childhood experience, but they are by no means unique in this. Consider the recent posturing and actions of the likes of Vladimir Putin, for example. The people that govern us are deeply, profoundly, psychologically damaged, yet for the most part wholly unaware of the root cause of their psychoses. Most would reject the idea that they are abnormal at all and tragically, they are the norm, but that doesn’t mean they’re undamaged. They need therapy, not more power.
Can this self perpetuating cycle of psychological damage be broken? It must. We cannot afford to allow overgrown, damaged children to act out their rebellion against their childhood indignities and assaults to colour the governance and stewardship of humanity and the planet. The effects are too deleterious. We must, as a society, begin immediately to dismantle the institutions and attitudes that lead to childhood abuses and remove from power all those affected. Otherwise, we endure the psychological equivalent of FGM on a planetary scale, until such times as we engineer our own extinction and the extinction of all other life. That’s not an acceptable outcome.
Art can help. It can divert the echoes of childhood rage into creativity, where people can express their hurt and confusion in works of art, rather than in acts of politics or commerce. Art can heal. Art can show the way forward, to a kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more connected and all together saner future. I don’t think we have a moment to lose.