Sharing Relational Space with Earth

(Fall 2018)

Our key definer of adulthood may have been our dedication to staying responsible (enough) to others and to ourselves to foresee and protect ourselves and others from dangers in the immediate and more distant future. But our greatest challenge is not even learning from our mistakes, which we often do if we identify their patterns. It is to retain somehow the sensitivity, vitality, imagination, versatility, and ready wakefulness of a child.

Anyone grows up someplace, but first in a unique mother’s womb, beginning to sense whatever, without names for it, without knowing anyparticular way what one is doing. This may be the basic “natural” state for any of us human beings, in a perpetual immediate present, before we live in relation to a self and distinctions. If we could hit reset on our brain-computer, we might discover this again. As we grow week by week into our external environment, meeting it on whatever terms we are given there, we find ourselves defined by other humans and their language. They treat us in certain increasingly familiar ways, and they give us names for ourselves and our actions and attitudes. We encounter and gradually stabilize relationships to time and space and feelings and needs. We set up terms for these relationships that we have to cope with to survive in this world. All this is certainly socialization. Isn’t there something else we are also constituted by as selves, as conscious respondents to our world, perhaps unnamable in our Western discourses?

In a panel on climate change at IARPP in June, Susan Bodnar told about an intervention she has tried in workshops and psychotherapy. She asked people to recall their earliest memories of spaces and places in their natural world. What smells and sounds do they recall from the world around them? What colors? What sounds and motion? How did it feel against the skin – that breeze, that humidity, that grass, that clay? What sense experiences were known there, and what did they remember of it? She found that people tended to have deep, lasting impressions they often had forgotten about and were relieved, often deeply moved, to recall. They found words for what they felt they had experienced there – ease, freedom, belonging, joy, wildness, comfort, danger, security, trust.

Our sense of what’s natural may change across our lifetimes. So may that which we find around us to call nature. In rural Downeast Maine, where I’ve lived the past 21 years, I’m learning that the local forests were different, even a couple decades ago when I got here. Conifers are gradually disappearing, resulting in far fewer sorts of butterflies and more sugar maples, owing to changes in the climate. The woods, as we know them, now, are not as natural as when the Wabanaki tribes governed these territories, even though that human culture must somehow have impacted nature too.

We were brought up – I was brought up – many of us were brought up to be tctful and reserved about our feelings and appetites, to observe discretion in the pursuit of our passions, to opt for security, conformity with the known world, and autonomous achievement, to avoid indulging in risk, weirdness, and idleness. One result was to accept a distancing, a quiet alienation, as the favored ground of surviving manageably and proving ourselves acceptable to others.

As a boy, around ten or twelve, living in a suburban New Jersey township, before the years I would bicycle far enough long afternoons to get lost in the farmlands outside of town, I used to walk into a small woods of just a few acres across the street from our home to find my way into what I took for the heart of unspoiled wilderness. Or I allowed myself to think of it that way. There, beside an old tree along the bank of a shallow stream, as though to embrace a possibility of freedom from civilized norms, sometimes I would remove my clothes, lie in the warm sun freckled by the leaves, dip my toes into the slow-running water, defecate into a glass jar I’d brought there, and twist the lid closed to save my feces in a hidden place rather than despoil the environment or carry them home.

I believe this was a sort of erotic experience, sensual, even amatory, but not specifically sexual. It was an idyll, a respite, not an obsession. I didn’t know anything about masturbating. I hadn’t known a lust for anyone. This hideaway was a place of peace, and of an undemonstrative power, but also threatened – threatened by my own idea that just being there, naked, was transgressive, making me vulnerable to observation, judgment, and attack. My behavior was abnormal, un-called-for, and obviously pointless.

Still I can wonder, as I may have then, what all was I seeking there, and how much of that did I find?

I’m sure I’d seen photographs at home in National Geographic magazine of primitive people, scarcely dressed, in tropical places, almost as naked as I made myself. I may have wanted to be them or commune with them. What did they know that I didn’t? Or that I didn’t want to forget? Or to have already forgotten?

I think my aim was to access and preserve something unnamable, unspecifiable, a possibly universal quality of living that might be and feel simple and essential. My intuition suggests that, within the erotic pulse of prepubescent self-observation, bathing in the terpenes exuded by all the vegetal growth around me, I was seeking to enact or know my own true self and confirm an identity within the context of a non-verbal ecology, independent of human distinctions and judgments, of societal implications and expectations, of language and structure as I had learned it.

We haven’t found terms to analyze how our early emergence into a uniquely grounded and responsive selfhood are affected by vital relationships with the non-human world around us, including pets, prey, pests, and errant critters, including life forms without a heartbeat, and other unliving stuff they all live in relation to as well – rocks, walls, watercourses, boxes, pollens, UV rays, 4G broadband, stars. The non-human doesn’t relate to us through words, and it seems rarely to express expectations of us. For all we know, these animals, things, elements, all composed of energy, all love us unconditionally in some underlying sense. But we tend to take them for granted as we mature. We forget how vital and intimate, how dynamically alive, our relationships with them still always are.

Without our noticing it much, the non-human environment still responds to us, even as it is now impacted by the human in most every respect. In any given moment, I sense and know myself in part through junctions of connectivity with the non-human environment. This wooden table, this flat-screened laptop, this swiveling wooden owl stool I rest my bottom on – these function as prostheses, extensions. They coordinate my body and mind, facilitating certain functions, whether I notice them consciously or not. They affect and qualify how I am feeling and thinking. How can I describe what changes when I hear the sound of a propane heater’s fan coming on and off? How am I made, or unmade, differently by the ticking of the wall clock? Or the sunshine on the periphery of my vision? A cloudy day would find me different.

I know that my sense of self is adjusted by internal physiological changes and states, too, many of them enigmatic to me, undiscovered territories and unexplained events. My nonverbal human body makes every other aspect of attention and action and sensitivity possible, while my understanding of all that is still pretty sketchy. Like my car, if it works, I needn’t pay much mind to how it works. Our frequent obliviousness to the states and constitution of the body contributes to a disregard for our relationships with everything around us.

We can work on bringing our intimate, caring relationships with animals, plants, and other forms and forces into focused attention through here-and-now mindfulness exercises, through journaling and conversation, through slowing momentarily to take stock of the sensation or perception of a moment. This may support and strengthen our wilingness to ally with the earthly, interdependent environment on which we and other living forms of sensate energy depend. If I stop to observe and notice and feel, I can better ask: What matters to me here? What supports me? How do I support it?

We humans have an intimate, interactive, reciprocal relationship with the nonhuman world, including its underlying natural laws and energies. The nonhuman world affects our functioning, and we affect its functioning, constantly, asleep or awake. Any one moment’s attention may affect our nonhuman world, if only by delaying some other action that might affect it differently. These active, changing relationships occur within an irreducible dynamic network of innumerable other relationships between all nonhuman entities on this planet, as well as all the other humans, nearly all of whom we will never know in name or circumstance.

As humans, perhaps uniquely, we can shape and frame conceptions of relationship. Our sympathetic intelligence can appreciate the liberating power of responding with care to an other. Symbolic language supports our remarkable powers to do so, as well as compromising their intimate realization.

Exploring our capacity for a warmer, more tender, affirmative quality of occasional or continuous attention to these relationships may reframe our despair and anxiety over climate change into loving care and curiosity as to what is present, changing or threatened, and what we may do, individually or collectively, to support our world’s wellness and survival, and our own. I am not speaking of pity or charity but of realizing more viscerally and immediately our actual, mutually contextualized relationships with environmental particulars as integral to our survival and wellness along with that of other life forms and their contexts on this earth. Can I look into the eyes of the fern, the cloud, the gulley, and say sincerely, “I see you”? We are all in this together.

These reciprocal relationships function whether remarked on or not, without words or naming, and largely unconsciously, for us, and perhaps also for the life forms and materials around us. These unconscious relations may to a great degree be explored as unfamiliar territories and welcomed into our personal acknowledgement. Do they flourish already in a collective unconscious?

We are and have been nurtured always by the unimaginably complex interconnected dynamic functioning of all aspects of material existence that we can identify.

Human circumstances are not routinely prioritized in the workings of nature, nor of natural catastrophes. A wildfire might support a forest’s long-term growth and the planet’s life forms without benefiting people living or holding property or planning to harvest in the area affected. In effect, the nurturing of which we can speak here happens indifferently to humans as a particular species or life form. But the planet’s ecology and development, prior to any human influence, made our development as a species possible and our tribal and individual lives capable of their peculiarly refinements of development. 

We have been given, in effect, the grounds of our existence as homo sapiens through our relationships with the nonhuman. Without our reciprocal relationships with the nonhuman we certainly cannot continue to survive, individually or as a species. Contemplating contemporary climate change along with its natural and humanly inflected consequences, including its genocidal function with respect to many species of living organisms, we humans have occasion collectively to feel remorse and guilt, along with our grieving. 

Meanwhile, we continue to coexist with everything else that currently exists, and we continue to experience its interactions with us, however little we notice. We are due to wonder how other forms of life and other entities of the natural world may experience our actions, in their own diverse means of sensitive responsivity. 

We may notice smog, for instance, changing the air in major cities. Although we have technical devices to measure air pollution in detailed ways, we primarily notice it when we sense that it changes our own condition for the worse. We are not often likely to reflect on how air pollution renders the sunsets more colorful, deep and vibrant; we are more likely to notice how visibility is reduced, the sunlit skies get hazier, and our breathing becomes compromised. The degree to which diverse humanly engineered changes in air quality contribute to autism, Alzheimers, and cancers are rarely discussed and disgracefully under-researched. We are even more unlikely to assess the effects of variable air quality on the health and habits of other animals. As humans, we learn how to empower ourselves to choose what to know — to our peril, and that of our co-residents on earth.

Significant, worrisome increases in anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide are appearing in regions marked by severe increases in heat levels. This stqte of Maine sees relatively modest effects of global warming. I may resent erratic weather, damn the invasive plants, fear a flooded basement, curse bothersome insects, frost heaves breaking through my country road and deer jumping to a stop just short of my car. I can observe that every way I feel any selfish antipathy is uncomfortable, in me. Yet I can get used to it. Such attitudes condition us to accept as normal many aggressive interventions and deliberate neglect toward the health of our nonhuman environment that are, cumulatively, deeply destructive and deregulating. Acculturation has led us to prioritize our opportunities to do what we think we want.

Negative emotional reactivity between people often urges on consequences as dangerous to oneself or one’s own tribe as to the other. A fight-or-flight moment disables us from cooperative problem-solving and mindful care for a relationship, provoking instead a patterning of reciprocally destructive harm. If the nonhuman does not fight back, we can feel our aggression is harmless, even justified. Ignoring such relational dynamics reinforces our careless, oblivious complicity in an accumulating and reactive annihilation of the networking of shared needs within which we can live. Our legacy of self-aggrandizing, colonialist, genocidal relations toward the indigenous peoples of this American continent conditions us unconsciously toward the subjugation, exploitation, and destruction of the life forms around us and of the conditions that foster their survival.

We could do worse than deliberately admit them into our attention. We have done worse. We can do better. With pleasure.

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The Concertgoer

An authentic active radical music that seems to revel in its audacity, its dry oblique wit, its divagations and unanticipated contrasts and reframes, all with a moody melancholy sense of loss and impending loss. I have a sense of “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” on the part of myself and of the composer – and of the music.

The performance however is a bit louche.

5 Duo Canons from JSBach’s Art of the Fugue & Kodaly Duo in Dminor Op. 7

We are reminded of the inevitability of the other, its inner laws interacting with our own, in surprises that seem imperative.

I feel like I’ve heard a faithful rendition of everything that’s in the music, but I haven’t heard the music.

Like a like liking its like

Even in a workmanlike rendition

Total Recall??

Expressive of experiences no one can understand who hasn’t been there, and which are extraordinary in their depths and dynamics.

                                                            10 11 2019

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2018 travel notes from West Bank & Israel

I had thought how meaningful and useful it might be to write about all that was said by people I met and trusted in the Occupied Territories of Palestine but then and now I have learned that it is not safe to name and quote them since anyone’s criticisms of Israel are likely to be identified as anti-Semitic (even if spoken by Semite-loving Semites), terrorist, and criminal in the eyes of an Israeli legal, military, and governmental administration. I am still trying to figure out if I can, perhaps laboriously, find a way to present such notes without leading to any person’s or organization’s being identified as subject to increased sanctions. I don’t see any of the persons  met as terrorist, violent, or anti-Semitic, but I am not Israeli and I have no specific legal, familial, or legacy stake in the matter. You may write to me at the address below to ask for more detailed notes.

My photos from the trip are posted at

My own list of films and resources available to see at home follows here.

Some recommended resources

8 films recommended for study on the interactions and relations involved in Palestine / Israel / Occupation / Zionism :

Colliding Dreams

Rabin, the Last Day

Censored Voices

The Inner Tour

5 Broken Cameras

Arna’s Children

Jenin, Jenin

The Lab                             

[Note: These films have been available to date as discs from

Netflix; you may discover access in other ways as well.]

Two recent nonfiction literary books devoted to addressing Palestine and the Occupation:

Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, 2017

Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense, by Marcello Di Cintio, 2018

Some valuable on-line resources:

To read:

The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict, Third Edition, at 40 readable pages of material quoted from identified sources document issues and events from 3000 BC to 2001.

The past didn’t go anywhere : making resistance to antisemitism part
of all of our movements, at In 34 pages, a booklet on questioning and overcoming antisemitism in thoughts and speech.

Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A primer, at A fact-based 16-page basic history.

Obstacles to Peace: A reframing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by Jeff Halper, 2016, at An 84-page historical analysis of how things came to this point.

To watch:

We Have a Dream to Live Safe لدينا حلم العيش بأمان is a 12 minute video, completed in 2016, created by youth at Lajee Cultural Center in Bethlehem, characterizing life in Aida Refugee Camp. (Find more videos from the Center at

The Great Book Robbery, at , is a one-hour film made 6 years ago, vividly explains and documents the looting of Palestinian’s libraries in 1948 and their subsequent archiving under Israeli institutions.

Mohammad Alazzah’s videos at Five vivid and thoughtful short films from within the Palestinian community.

Please excuse any errors or omissions.

These recommendations stem from my own limited recent experiences.

— Steve Benson

(Send any correspondence to [email protected])

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The Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery, based in a Papal bull of 1493 and the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, was used throughout the colonial imperialist period to justify the ownership of lands by whatever Christian government’s representatives first set foot on them to claim them, so long as they were previously not occupied by any people subject to a European Christian monarch.

The doctrine’s utility does not appear to have required that such a government be specifically pledged to Christianity nor to have a monarchical governing power, as it was extended. In 1792, as Secretary of State for the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson declared the Doctrine would apply to his newly founded nation as it had to European powers.

The United States Supreme Court agreed that the doctrine justified USAmerican settler colonialist taking of land from indigenous peoples, who were recognized as occupants rather than holders of the land, if and when they were recognized as human. Typically, indigenous occupants of lands subject to such European or settler discovery were regarded as subhuman, savage, or barbarian.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court in Johnson vs. M’Intosh to the effect that land titles obtained from Native Americans should not be recognized by U.S. courts. Marshall himself had considerable real estate holdings that would have been affected if the case at hand had been decided otherwise. In other cases, the Court also used the Doctrine to justify “the concept that tribes were not independent states but ‘domestic dependent nations’” and to prohibit any tribe from legally prosecuting anyone not a member of that specific tribe.

Despite recent decisions to repudiate the Doctrine by the United Nations Economic and Social Council Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ and several prominent U.S. churches, it remains foundational in the establishment and continuity of legal and property rights in the U.S. and has never been disavowed or overturned by the U.S. government.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the state of Israel appears to re-enact this principle in its relations with the Palestinian peoples (including Christian Palestinians), compounding its methodology with the principle of the right of return of the Jewish peoples, stemming primarily from Europe and the United States. The lack of a formal Palestinian state formation prior to the development of Zionist settlement following the break-up of the Ottoman empire in the first World War has been drawn on to support the premise that there never was a Palestine, nor a Palestinian people.

Those native to lands intended for settlement or appropriation, whether still now subject to military occupation or actively colonized by Jewish communities with state support, are typically regarded by high officers of the Jewish state as, without exception, nothing but terrorists, non-existent, or less than fully human. Palestinians employed as workers in cities and towns in Israel are subject to strict conditions that disempower the labor force and contribute to instability and vulnerability of working Palestinians. Human rights as recognized by Israel and other democratic states as essential to the protection of citizens are not acknowledged as pertinent to Palestinians in Israel or its occupied territories.

The Israeli state’s methods of dislodging, degrading, terrorizing, evacuating, and restricting a great many diverse rights of the Palestinian population sustain a process of gradual genocide. This process closely resembles the management of relations with the indigenous peoples of territories the United States has chosen to colonize, settle, and lay claim to and govern, often in violation of treaties previously established with various tribal authorities.

The imperialist conquests and the violent and oppressive impositions of colonial power they reputedly validated continue to be enacted in Palestine and elsewhere, despite consequences easily identified as catastrophic and profoundly inhumane, except by those who do not regard the indigenous in fellowship as sentient, intelligent human beings.

To this day, religion is in many cases cited as authority for one power’s or people’s superiority of authority and rights over another. (The secular faith in an “invisible hand” of commercial markets, wiser than any state or person, appears to have evolved into playing such a role on demand in some instances, in support of state or corporate powers over the indigenous people of a region.)

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a note, more like an aside, on the poetry community

I had another thought about the poetry community thing and it’s far-fetched or simple-minded or right on, I’m not sure. It’s my suspicion that much of the time it’s not only the diminished hope of returns in ongoing timespace of human relating that feels like it’s in scarcity and that risk of missing the boat threatens connectivity but also the diminished hope of ongoing interpersonal timespace itself in the face of global economic insecurity, climate change, nuclear proliferation, diminishing h20 resources, increasing expectation of imminent terrorist deracination and infrastructural collapse — all the things I myself think of when I decide maybe I prefer not to live forever. (I can’t think of any other reason not to I’ve forever, but those can, on increasing realization of what we can for the moment call fears, add up not only to my personal suffering but my being one more uneasy burden on whoever is young and bright enough to negotiate the radically catastrophic and revamped future we may be up against to ever accelerating degrees). I know this is kind of a grim thought, and it doesn’t occur to me while I am dialoguing with you but later, in a subway car, after listening to people talk (for the most part, very compellingly and well and intelligently, even brilliantly) about the schizophrenogenic circumstances of life in Israel and Palestine (these being two names for the same thing, of course, at least in more than one way). I wonder if what I’ve just referred to, which is I believe more an intrinsic internalized cross-population un-ease than a litany or inventory of risk and worry, also underlies the rising tide of typographical errors in all writing, on line or published in print, across recent years. This morning, reading two Poetry Foundation website articles on Laura Elrick’s book Propagation, I find in each one patently inadvertent but unmarked typo, each time in a lengthy quotation from a review published (on line, presumably) elsewhere. Was the error (e.g., ‘and’ for ‘an’) not noticed in the original, then again not noticed in the essay quoting it? Who’s minding the store? Probably, as we were saying, the person so delegated, if they exist, is overworked, not sleeping enough, has digestive track (tract? why can’t I tell which word is right?) trouble, and is distracted by terror of a sort they can’t focus on, focusing instead on sort of doing the right thing, even if that’s a suspect project and in any case it can’t be done entirely right.

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On the occasion of the unthinkable

From a letter to Thom Donovan, 03 16 2017: I am grateful for your sustained discussion with me of the unclear and yet also lucid topic of ‘going crazy’ in the name of integrity and socially realistic and fluid realization of the power of discourse to make more sense than logic or ‘common sense’ will allow. (That, anyhow, is how I can momentarily phrase the topic we have shunted back and forth, or caroomed on through in this dialogue.)

The final words of the paragraph you offer resonate for me, now as I read them again, months after I first read them and had to let them wait a while before finding psychic elbow room to respond in good faith.

I guess this is what matters in going crazy–stepping far enough outside of common sense that one would appear crazy (and/or dangerous) to those for whom the world is structured. Or, that by assuming the common sense of those whose lives have never had value or power–whose common sense has in other words never constituted the commons–you risk the sensual certainties of the world as it has been given to you. Perhaps this is all the craziness of which I speak entails: these structures of hate becoming clear and the instability psychically and otherwise which results from this…

The concept of ‘common sense,’ like that of ‘normal,’ has become increasingly infuriating and impatience-provoking to me, such that I rail against them regularly in psychotherapy sessions and elsewhere. Either is what it says it is merely in the eyes of a beholder, and different to each when actually articulated, and those of any supposed authority who assume and reassure others of consensus on such matters are virtually (or would-be) brainwashing, if perhaps more inept in reaching their goals. Thus, I am glad for each opportunity I encounter to turn a position against common sense or the seeming positive or negative value attributed to ostensible normality, in whatever assumption or projection it appears, and whether my position is articulated formally, logically, flamboyantly, or manneristically, I can see it as rather wild, though not close to insane from my point of view.

Others who don’t identify ‘common sense’ and allegations of normality in some trait, achievement, or ideation as conceptually and linguistically insane might well see my own positions as insane. Such indeed seems to be the nature of our social discourse, among the body politic, to a greater extent than ever, in the age of Drumpf. It seems to be now supremely difficult for homo sapiens americanus to dialogue and perform active listening exercises with one another across the enormous divide between belief systems as identified by George Lakoff and others. I have hopes of diverse individuated crossings over from right to left as the nation itself goes down the drain and millions are sacrificed to the god of Mammon. I fear now as ludicrous my personal wishes that such conversions occur soon enough, nonviolently, and effectively to a degree that may allow subsequent generations in this and other regions of the planet to live with adequate water, food, energy, peaceable intertribal relations, and felicitous climatic conditions for survival and perhaps even exercises of imagination and reflection. At this point, it seems presumptuous and absurd to anticipate such supposedly ‘normal’ conditions half a century from now.

Given the US government’s and populace’s functionally ‘insane’ two-step of acceptance and avoidance around the patent evidence and awareness of climate change over the past 30 years since folks like you and me began to take it quite seriously, as well as how the same ambivalent but seemingly effortless dance step has played out in relation to nuclear proliferation and class and race relations in this country, it is hard not to presume that the erratic and clumsy strategies and tactics with which Drumpf plainly hopes to collapse his nation and his planet into a disaster capitalism windfall will be largely taken by the routinized public as embarrassing but tolerable foibles along the path toward some city on some hill, while imagining his hidden better nature soon or somehow emerging to reconcile the balance between catastrophe and supremacy in some unformulatable constellation of adroit adjustments — of a sort neither he nor others in our government have demonstrated competency in devising, beyond the rhetoric of promises. “Believe me” has become the bottom line of our minority president’s appeal to his electorate’s judgment and reason.


written in Facebook, 03 19 2017, after linking to Steven Reisner’s 03 15 2017 article in Slate on whether Drumpf has a mental illness:

The minority president tends to bait and provoke fights with others of any standing, authority, or power, whenever he is not idealizing and fawning over them. He is restless and competitive and not done twisting truth and seeking power and contesting all challenges to his integrity and reality. He has filled key cabinet and advisory posts that are usually taken by civilians with former combat generals, when not with corporate bosses and financial sharks. As he gradually antagonizes and argues down his own chosen crew, turns all but the diehards in the electorate against him, and wrecks or sacrifices all but the most venal international alliances on principle, won’t he decide the enemy is us (the US)? I anticipate his deliberate and triumphant turn against the people (except whoever continues to pile glory on him)?Will he begin to feel out his team’s readiness to stage a military coup? Might his military advisors and their cronies react to all that too-muchness by launching one against him (and us)? If not, why not?

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Coordination was the Nazi-era term for normalization

I have less and less confidence in our national checks and balances’ capability to cope with disturbances in our political system’s functions that are deeply prepared, procedurally, ideologically, and unconsciously. Climate change could be a simple test case for our system: has the interaction of the 3 branches of government, with their typical swaying from L to R to L between two parties (which we may see as radical right and centrist-enabling) managed to do its share to ward off global warming responsibly to its own citizens and to the peoples of the world whose basic rights it vows to protect? I find there is little grounds for trust or confidence, and much for shock and awe.

Coordination, within our consumer culture, is easily done by passively standing by, noting the authorities’ current statements, behaviors, and undertakings, and commenting with more or less vehemence than one might show while watching NFL play-offs. Shock, disdain, worrying, and lamentation among diverse fragments of the population are readily enfolded within the capacities of large-scale national coordination in service to a centralized regime supported by large corporate sponsors.

The alternative, as I understand it, is not just to criticize but to actively and visibly participate in alternatively oriented statements, behaviors, and undertakings. Food distribution nonprofits. Nonviolence direct action trainings. Public documentary film screenings concerned with peace, justice, and deepening awareness of interpersonal challenges. Petitions and donations on line.

Commentary is not enough. Conjoint participation in a meaningful activity with others is vital. This working group on the study of authoritarianism is, however, an active agency of contesting misuses of power and of allegiance, which requires concerted energy to sustain its function and may result in increased strength in a community’s will to resist radical disempowerment and to envision realistic and inspiring options for the near and distant future.

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24 hours, 09 10-11 2016

There exists, there remains, some possibility of rain, incipient, pregnant, pausing,
about to be realized.
As it said in the guidebook, if the road is muddy,
you may not like it.
I’m surprised, given ostensibly extraordinary lack of rainfall,
that the road is wet and muddy in places.
Even though I don’t like it, it’s not bad,
it’s still walkable, and my feet are not sinking into anything, though it’s slippery,
a little slippery.
It’s wet in the atmosphere too, as I have been told is characteristic
of Nova Scotia and of Cape Breton.
I walk along the River Denys Mountain Road.
I did not expect to come across it so soon, nor to walk down it so soon.
I found it
because the sign pointed it out.
I was looking more for signs for the roads across the street preceding it,
which I did not notice, but maybe I was distracted,
thinking about your text to me, thinking about what the environment meant to me,
thinking about the present.
My idea was, whatever is present is what I can comment on.
I can’t say much else. There’s a sign by the side of this mountain road,
this dirty mountain road,
This reminds me of the guidebook again, a guidebook I do not have, did not bring,
looked at only yesterday and not for long, choosing this road
as a trail for a relaxing and convenient walk on my way into Cape Breton today,
and maybe it will be, so. I want to stay attentive to the present
because I don’t trust my knowledge of anything else.
I don’t trust my anticipation of theft, mugging, conspiracy, surveillance.
I do believe that I see puddles of water, reflecting, in brown, the sky,
as seen between tree limbs and branches and tree trunks. I do believe
that I parked my car, back there, on a piece of earth recently moved so as to create
a place to park or turn one’s car around.
It serves, though unfortunately to my mind
it appears to have resulted in some breakage and movement of some tree limbs and trunks towards the slope down to the river, which is not visible from here.
I don’t even know if I can hear it.
I only suppose that I am walking parallel to it
and may soon, at some time, catch sight of it again and hear it more clearly.
When Bob and I walked through the ovens we recorded the sound of water
sluicing up the channel between severely sharp tilts of rockage into the caverns, tubular, lengthy at times, and grotesquely dangerous to any potential swimmer or boat that might be washed in as the waves thundered proudly and indignantly triumphantly demanding and confirming their domain temporarily as they hit the air inside and the rocks and the water and whatever flotsam and muck they had stirred up and pushed toward the back end of the cavern, the oven, the tube, to where rock creates or sustains a limit, and rushed faster and faster back to crash against another oncoming wave, from the ocean.


As a travelogue this may be the best I can do. I present a travelogue concerning a transit of Cape Breton. I’m not sure how to pronounce it. I’m walking uphill. Rocks are embedded in the road, or the road was created out of dirt that existed and was put down and around among many rocks, some of which were pushed away, no doubt, and many of which remain, barely visible, at the surface. As the roadway curves, it goes up. On the drive here, I listened, from the area of Lunenberg, to the area of Agrichamonte, no, that’s not the name of it, but it’s a city that starts with A-g-r-i in which a Catholic university exists. Most of that duration I listened to the first disc recorded as a reading of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, whose fiction I am not personally familiar with, aside from reading Ethan Fromm in high school. I know that her other books are not much like that, or so I think. Anyway, I observed, through the English accent of the man reading the novel, that there exists or is sustained, evidently, quite a bit of complacency among the key characters and their associates, despite change taking place. Not only will a new opera house be built that will alter the census and divisions of their milieu, but they realize that getting engaged to be married changes things, at least a little, and maybe a lot, despite well-worn passages of expectations awaiting any newly engaged couple, and furthermore, that the return of an errant cousin, fetchingly beautiful and ostensibly more than available for intimacy and inquisition, will disrupt many expectations and perhaps derail life plans for her and others, if they have any. Some have plans primarily to keep things pretty well the same, but she, being a woman who has absconded from a marriage that appears to have been contrary to her needs, in another country, to return home under the shadow of an unfortunately scandalous reputation, may have no plans for normalcy other than perhaps that which she recalls from her childhood and adolescence, when her expectations, however barren, appeared in the context of an ostensible normalcy for her class and its local customs. The voice I heard there affects my speaking voice in this travelogue, as does a different male voice I listened to in the previous hour or so, reading aloud another novel, this one by Alan Furst, another one of whose World War Two espionage novels I have read on the page, perhaps ten years ago. And the traveler at the moment at the crux of this tale, moving alone between holiday, work, and home, work, appears increasingly anxious, and I suspect realistically so, that he will be arrested and stalled, detained and questioned, and, whereas he expects this will lead to beatings, torture, and death by firing squad or other mode of secretive state execution, I suspect he will be flipped or turned, as the expression may be, to become an agent for the opposing forces, namely, in this instance, the Third Reich. Therefore, his status and what people understand of it will be brutally different, even though no one may realize that he has indeed flipped, turned, been so recruited. Looking down the embankment, which now is very steep, as I have been walking uphill since the point at which I mentioned the roadway turning and curving, I see a very large blue can on its side in the woods, which mostly are pristine new growth, where what they were like a year or ten years or fifty years ago, I cannot say. The can might be a can used to hold paint that such as house paint or car paint that awaits sale from its manufacturer or a retail outlet. None of those is available for questioning here, but I do spot another piece of trash at my feet. This seems to be the top end of a Budweiser can, or, no maybe it’s Coca-Cola, I’m not sure. The script on one side reminds me of Budweiser, and they talk about the wood aging produces, and on the other side I see red with some blank angled lines in it, which reminds me of Coke, but then again it could be that funny logo at the top of a beer can that might be Budweiser. It’s a long time since I’ve looked at a Budweiser can, and so it is almost facetious, no, I think it is facetious for me to attempt to attribute this fragment of a can, flattened by many vehicle tires passing over it, heavy with the weight of vehicles and their contents— I’m not sure what it is, other than feeling sure that it is the ripped-apart top end of a can in which some sort of a drink, probably beer—and how can one be sure of a probably?—was once held, sustained, kept under some pressure, readied for sale at a retail outlet, to persons visiting or residing in these parts of lower Cape Breton.


Twenty or thirty paces further, I see a box
left over from a double six-pack of Budweiser in trees which are on their sides
broken off close to the road, downhill,
beneath them many elements of garbage including other
six-pack or twelve-pack containers
and metal cabinets and something I would think of
as a homeless person’s tent shelter if I weren’t so sure that
no homeless person would want to live amid quite such a mess as that
in quite such a distance from other resources of transportation
or assistance when needed. More sky
appears available soon, around a bend.
I’m developing a coating of perspiration around my trunk, as I continue to walk uphill without much difficulty, aside from the difficulty of speaking, while doing so without inordinate panting registering, probably again, without my knowing for sure, in the recording.
If the road had gone straight, I would soon, I suspect, be at a clearing,
with much sky available overhead to consider
the cloudy overcast gloom of,
but the road’s bend seems to be intent upon maintaining its trajectory through woods, and now, further, and further, from the river,
from which it draws its name. And more, and more
in favor of achieving some heights on the surface of the mountain
from which it draws its name.


Time holds many mysteries it does not disclose or explain here in the mountains, at least along my trajectory upward along some side of some mountain here. I can see
by my trusty reliable wristwatch that I have walked about half an hour already
since leaving the car behind me, and yet it feels much shorter.
I’ve perhaps been in a transcendent flight of fancy as a creative agent.
I’ve been enchanted, not by the sound of my own voice, which I barely care to listen to at all, but by the actions of producing it, which in fact are fully astonishing to me.
How can I possibly, how can I possibly produce a voice, with sounds emanating from my body, toward the pick-up, if you’ll pardon the expression, of an electronic device, which later, perhaps coupled with another such as earbuds or my personal computer, may reward my ears with a moderately accurate and reliable re-presentation of the sound, without my needing then to move my mouth or even comprehend the words at all. It will not translate them into Russian. It will not twist them around so that they are presented backwards. It will not undermine their integrity as human utterances to present to me the sound of a barking dog. I will instead hear them about the same time and rate and speed and emphasis and tone of voice and syntactical arrangement as I deliver them right now. How to understand this I cannot say except to accept that it is customary to do so, or to accept that the unthinkable is happening even now, right now, as usual, for me, as it can and has and will, for many others.


To speak, as I have been doing, off and on, much of the time I have been walking here, on the River Denys Mountain Road, has a salubratory—salubrious?—effect, namely, as I speak I am extremely unlikely to clench or grind my teeth. Therefore, my teeth are less likely to become increasingly loose and wobbly in my mouth or rubbed awkwardly against each other, destroying parts of the enamel thereon. Otherwise, I’m not sure of the point of walking further on this trail and therefore am turning around, in full recognition that I have no reason to suspect it will create a loop and little reason to imagine I will attain a viewpoint of anything beyond the foliage immediately adjoining the pathway or dirt road I’m on at any particular moment in the near future. It might take another hour or two, which I could spare, and yet I find that I’m exercising my legs and sweat glands more than adequately on the basis of this walk up and back. So I allow myself this relatively easeful and gentle downhill walk, which I hope will terminate in my discovery of my locked vehicle, my ability to enter it, and my success in driving it out of this dirt roadway onto a highway leading to my hostel of the evening, where I might set up my bedding and assess the options for supper and an evening’s quiet, complacent recreation.


I drove into Baddeck and parked, so that I could go into Tom’s Pizza. It’s called Tom’s Pizza, quote, The Best Pizza Anyway You Slice It, enquote. And, I don’t know, it seems like a cheap place to eat something good. I wonder if they have a liquor license. I might need to go to a bar before or after. I don’t know. I’m outdoors, but I’m in the car. There’s a lot of people around here. The eaters, the walkers. I’m going to go for a walk. Talk to you later.


Cape Breton. Tenth September, eleven fifty-five a.m., Cape Breton time.
In Cape Breton, all that which is ordinary is increasingly ordinary as I continue to explore further and deeper, farther and wider, and all that is extraordinary, special, unusual, remarkable, and amazing, becomes more amazing as I proceed. At times these are one and the same, for example, a young woman walking down the highway, into Ingersoll something, between Ingersoll Beach and Ingersoll proper, at a point where there are cottages, and no place to stop for photography that is not awkward. I do not photograph her but what she may see as she walks.


Back a little further, chasing this siren to the other side of Swamp Road, I come to the Periwinkle Café, another quarry of the last half hour having been café latte or at least a coffee, I stop there and photograph her across the dashboard, as she walks further past down toward Ingersoll Beach. Inside, I find a jewel-maker’s station, followed by, in the middle of the building, a café counter, with fresh-baked goods of diverse sorts, hearty, strengthening, and sweet, and attractive, with a man with a long beard and thin hair and body, and two young women—all three young, actually—serving espresso drinks and lemonade, and whatever else you might wish, next to a precise oil reproduction of a Wayne Thiebaud painting of slices of chocolate cake, their frosting almost shining, despite indirect lighting.


Today is wonderful for being here, because it’s cool, breezy, sunny, and cloudy. A bad day for a swim at the inland lake, but marvelous for standing and staring into space, towards whatever’s on the other side, since it’s constantly changing. The same landscape sustains viewing for as long as one has the patience to continue to discover new things in it, small things, sensitive things. The air is magnificently clear, and easy to look through.


Green Gove, thick with striated red rocks. Pink, white, granite, nice, with crystals glinting. Waves crashing. Rocks tumbled and coalesced into platforms surfaces mounds. Encounters of landscape.


It was said of Ellen, when she was a child, she was so beautiful that she really ought to be painted. Her parents were wanderers. They died. She took up with her aunt, for the rest of her childhood, who also was a wonderer and tried to settle down in New York, the setting of this novel. To paint a painting of the landscape is to settle it down, to fix it, to keep it, to take it and put it inside, inside one’s home, or the bank, the museum, the restaurant. Without that, it is a flux of memory, it is uncertain, it is unfocused, and out of focus it stays transmutative. But once fixed in a painting or a photograph, it becomes a thing that may be held in propriety, owned upon a wall, kept in sight, and under the protection of those who would have it always.


Like that of the coast of Maine, as it proceeds further north, the geology of Cape Breton must be something amazing, unusual, remarkable to study. Adjectives well up inside me, based on my enthusiasm. I don’t know what to think. Driving further toward Meat Cove, I don’t know how far I will get. I can only say every mile is more valuable than the last, so there is no mistake in coming this way.


Meat Cove is the northern-most community in Cape Breton, and here I don’t drive down to the beach, because that road looks too rugged. Instead, I pull over on a narrow shoulder, alongside the entrance to what is posted as Mountain Trail, in order to hoist myself above the crevasse that opens into becoming the community, However, what I find is, the trail doesn’t really go anywhere and is quite overgrown. If anything it’s a matter of a small loop from one edge of the road to the next. Or just walking over a rise. Perhaps all the trails posted in Meat Cove are a sort of prank or hoax to intrigue the visitors with the quaint and curious manners of its entrepreneurial initiative.


Between St. Margaret and Capstick I eat my lunch at the foot of a river, I believe it’s the Salmon River, and under a bridge, fighting down over pink granite mixed with all sorts of rock, to the edge of the water and back up the other side of the bridge. Anyway, I head back now, through St. Margaret, and the Bay Road Valley, Sugarloaf, Espe Bay, to Cape North, and then down through Sunrise and Big Intervale, until I reach a trail called Lone Shieling, where I might say, be able to see some three-hundred-and-fifty-year-old sugar maple trees. I think I’d like that.


The woods at North Shieling are beautiful, fresh, refreshing, relaxing. Remarkable. Birches, maples, old, deep, near the creek. But why am I taking so many pictures? Okay, I don’t see another woods like this, anywhere else. Here I see it.
Why do I take so many pictures? Someone else will surely have taken these pictures, or ones about like it, I could find on line, through my electronic devices.
Instead I take my own, with my own handheld electronic device, the cell,
which makes it seem like one in a skedillion of cells that together comprise an organism of intelligence. Anyway, if I take the pictures, I am holding the experience, and if I take the pictures, I am mitigating some of the passion, the awe, the longing, the loneliness, the overwhelm, the ecstasy, and the loss that are involved in witnessing, beholding, such a place, such an experience of my own.
It’s a way of holding it at a distance, keeping myself halfway here and halfway in the memory of being here and halfway in the futurity of regarding it again to share, to show, to tell about, to remember, in another incarnation, as I will have changed and become somebody else or someplace else.


If one were to record the sound of water moving against earth, especially I think of stones and rocks and other water, as I did today. I recorded water breaking against rocks at the edge of the ocean, I recorded water coursing down under a bridge in the brook, and I recorded water beneath and of a waterfall at Macintosh Brook. To do this supports my attention to listening to the sound of the water, appreciating their distinct qualities, rhythms, differences, tonalities, prosody. I am only partly listening to them. Would I listen to them more if I were not recording? More openly, more fully, as when, if I take off my sunglasses and walk through the woods, I see more fully, I am more fully within and a part of the world that is in my field of vision, than when I find frames around it, between the in focus and the out of focus, between the filtered and the unfiltered light, reflecting from it. Good question. I think that I might actually listen more when I am recording even though still my listening will be quite partial. That is to say, I partially listen, but I fix my attention to the idea of listening, now and in the future, so that I may be listening for what I might listen for in the future, or listen to, or be surprised to hear in the future, or be complacent and matter of fact about hearing in the future, but I’m not thinking a lot about such future attitudes and perceptions. I’m mostly thinking about what I would want to preserve, and how much of it, and what it sounds like now, and I hope it will sound like that in the recording, later, but I know it might not. And, meanwhile, I think that later I will hear it again, also partially, with many distractions, reframes, other ideas coming and going, ideas about what I’m listening to, and the fact that I’m listening to it, as well as other ideas, that are in the way, crowding around and into my consciousness at that time. I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to cease use of alcohol for a person whose use is chronic and dependent, who finds it difficult or impossible presently to stop using alcohol, who finds the need or the expectation, the hope and anticipation of use of alcohol is a pregnant and persistent and typical theme of the day, again and again and again, rather than feeling, “Okay, well, I’ll wait and do it later. Oh, I know when I’ll do it, I’ll have one, that’ll be good, that’ll be fine,” which to me seems preferable. However, for some people, that may not be do-able, especially if a more intensive and chronic use of alcohol across the day has been established as a practice and custom and a presumptive need. Then, I thought one would feel happier, I believe, if one didn’t have that difficulty with a need that one knows is debilitating one’s wellness, precipitating depression and inflammation and therefore many other illnesses, psychological and physiological. So a person might prefer not to have that chronic use and need of alcohol, and instead, a person might be more willing and happy to consume more fruits and vegetables and grains and nuts, if not so dependent on alcohol. A person might be more capable of willing and enjoying exercise of a moderate and even intensive quality, if not so chronically dependent on alcohol. What occurred to me was that to choose some inspirational readings, including primarily those that have nothing to do with alcohol, that do not remind one of one’s interest in alcohol or one’s habits of having used alcohol, but that simply are encouraging, inspirational or philosophically inspiring texts, such that one might, again and again, read a paragraph or two at a time, when one feels that strong urge to drink, and instead of taking a drink, one might feel that that’s good enough, that that’s satisfactory, that that’s comfortable, and read another paragraph after that later, when one feels that urge or need or the frustration and aggravation, the annoyance and ill temper that might come in the first weeks of not drinking. So it would help to always have a volume or two handy to be able to read a fragment of again. I thought that might well succeed. It would depend also on no alcohol being available. If one
in such a situation were around others who were drinking alcohol or talking about their interest in soon drinking alcohol or making alcohol available to sight, that would be a difficult provocation to resist, and preferably no experiences like that would be present for the first month or three of someone’s trying to give up alcohol. It might even be permanently required, but I would think usually not.


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Thinking, or responding, as a psychologist, to hate crimes/mass killings, like in Orlando

How do we distinguish a phobia (such as homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia) from hatred, given that they are bound to overlap among many? We can theorize, e.g., that such phobias underlie hatred, often. However, sometimes such phobias have taken the form of wanting not to know, not to associate with, or not to understand a given population. I don’t know that we can assume that hatred is at the root of such phobias or identical with them.

Some political and religious groups and individuals have encouraged a fear-based demonization or dehumanization of large demographics like LGBTQI, alien, Afro-American, immigrant, Islamic, Armenian, Roma, and Jewish, among others. I suspect that a homophobia that may have been wide-spread already has often been encouraged and augmented by such ambitious powers and, in so doing, leveraged to increase blame-throwing, hostilities, disempowerment, persecution, diminishment of rights, and massacres.

I believe we cannot be certain which of these guided this Orlando killer’s behaviors, or whether it was even more primarily sheer self-hatred or misplaced zealotry (e.g., seeking a magically luxurious afterlife).

Even his background in domestic violence may not be clearly explained as based in fear or rage or hatred, as I am given to the general theory (but not quite the blanket assumption) that domestic violence and efforts to control partners’ behaviors are borne of deep insecurity and consequent anxiety.

I don’t mean to question or undermine our grief, outrage, concern, and compassionate struggle to reduce or stop such emotionally reactive and terribly catastrophic violence. I only mean to express concern and hope for our clarity in using our skills as psychologists to address it.

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Psychosocial trauma and militarization, an invitation

With interest, in Ken Pope’s listserv, which notifies subscribers of all sorts of articles he thinks might somehow matter to psychologists and related persons, I came across the announcement of a new article on psycho-social traumatization getting published now in the APA journal, American Psychologist, vol. 71, no.3. I will reproduce Pope’s notice, in full (as he requests this always be done), below my message here.

Not being an APA member anymore, having quit a decade ago over the enhanced interrogation illegal detention ethical and intellectual arrest of the organization, I do not have a subscription, so I wrote to Dr. Blanco at the address indicated in Pope’s notice, and quickly received a full copy of the article, as formatted for publication in the journal.

I was unfamiliar with Martin-Baro’s work, which constitutes the basis and underpinning of its arguments, even while it cites numerous other studies, data and ideas to develop its arguments. Clearly, this martyred visionary has much to share about how militarism develops within a society and a culture and with its effects, seen by himself primarily through an embedded practice of service in his adopted country of El Salvador. He was committed to a bottom-up practice of psychotherapeutic research and development, from the oppressed rather than for the oppressed, as well as research based in knowing the people of his culture. He was committed to working for a de-ideologicalized reality and psychology, rather than an individually-based and supposedly neutral, objective science. In this article, he is identified with the idea that militarization of a culture can set the conditions for psychosocial trauma to unfold, can result from the fraying and destruction of the social order due to psychosocial trauma, and can become embedded in everyday life as well as social structures and lead to “a progressive militarization of the mind,” a terrifying if fascinating concept. As you might suppose, he was killed, along with his teenage daughter, his housekeeper, and five other Jesuits, by a Salvadoran death squad one night in 1969.

I gather that the primary means to read his work in English may be a 1996 anthology of his writings from Harvard, described at The Madrid-based authors of the paper published now by the APA journal will have utilized his writings in Spanish.

I sought to read this paper partly in order to test out in my own apprehension an immediate supposition that the APA’s seduction into collusion with the Department of Defense in torture and illegal detention of foreign citizens may have been partly predicated on its membership’s and leadership’s processing of the collective violent social trauma within the USA of the 9/11 attacks, precipitating as they did not just trauma, depression, and fear, but also high levels of emotional reactivity, bias, negative stereotyping, militarized mentality, mistrust, and division within US cultures and society. These of course led not only to anxiety about further terrorist attacks “at home” but to our launching first one and then another dubious but allegedly necessary war of prevailment in oil-rich nations of the Middle East. (Both Bushes and Obama have announced that “prevailing” is the goal of our incursions in the Middle East. Don’t ask me what they mean by that.)

Although the authors do not make this point, they do remark more than once on the 9/11 attacks as a powerful incidence in one nation of the sorts of “interpersonal and collective intentional violence” they are referring to as generative of complex social disorder (as well as re-ordering, which they note often includes a strengthening of in-group bonds that is coordinated with an empowering and enforcement of out-group demonization).

As a useful support on considering how and why militarization develops within a culture and developing our own applications of such knowledge and theoretical understandings, I recommend reading this article,
which you too can readily acquire by writing to the primary author or through the American Psychologist itself.

– – – –

full quotation of list serve post by Ken Pope, in better days, well before 9/11, chief of the APA’s ethics office:

Ken Pope

Apr 9 (1 day ago)

to Ken

The new issue of *American Psychologist* includes an article: “Social (dis)order and psychosocial trauma: Look earlier, look outside, and look beyond the persons.”

PLEASE NOTE: As usual, I’ll include both the author’s email address (for requesting electronic reprints) and a link to the complete article at the end below.

The authors are Amalio Blanco, Ruben Blanco, & Dario Diaz.

Here’s how it opens: “A recent paper reported the earliest evidence of injuries to human skulls (cranial depression traumas in frontal region) in the Middle Pleistocene (between 700,000 and 130,000 years ago) due to an act of interpersonal violence clearly intended to kill (Sala et al., 2015, p. 8). No wonder, then, that the outstanding political scientist, Hannah Arendt, underlined the ‘enormous role’ violence has always played in human affairs and in social and political undertakings (Arendt, 1969). These acts of extreme interpersonal violence become collective when they are intentionally driven by hostility against people in terms of a salient group or categorical boundary (e.g., Gould, 1999; Tilly, 2003) in which, by identifying themselves as members of a group, individuals fight against each other in order to achieve political, economic, or social objectives (World Health Organization [WHO], 2002, p. 215). These authors, and many others, agree that the collective expression of violence is much more rooted in the macro (even international) or micro social atmospheres (social order) in which the intergroup relationships take place than in personal traits. Civil war in El Salvador, for instance, was the result of a social (dis)order based on extreme poverty, political repression, social polarization, and institutionalized lying, shaping the “enabling context” of violence. This context used to be ideologically grounded in a framework of cultural values, beliefs, and formal and informal norms that rely on violence as a preferential means to deal with interpersonal and intergroup conflicts (Martin-Baro, 2003, pp 87-93) and to justify the system and his supporting sociocultural power structure (see Jost, Banaji & Nosek, 2004, for a review).”

Here’s the abstract: “The most common and extreme suffering humankind has ever experienced comes from interpersonal and collective intentional violence. In dealing with traumatic outcomes psychology must overcome the mutually constitutive interaction between the (dis)order of a given macro or microsocial context and the mental health of the persons living in it. Social psychologist Ignacio Martin-Baro addressed in a preferential way the study of civil war in El Salvador in terms of intergroup hostility and polarization. He also approached the aftereffects of war by means of a theoretical core assumption: that traumatic experience rooted in collective violence (a human-made stressor) should be understood bearing in mind its social roots (pretraumatic situation), its personal and collective harm (collective injury), and the destruction of the social fabric. These are the arguments for his conceptualization of psychosocial trauma. Twenty-six years after the violent murder of Martin-Baro, along with 5 Jesuit priests, a housekeeper, and his teenage daughter, the current authors have adopted his general framework. Based on new theoretical insights and supporting data, the authors propose an expanded 4-dimension theoretical argument on psychosocial trauma: (a) pretrauma conditions based on social distress, (b) shared network of fear leading to breakdown of core social assumptions, (c) the outgroup as a target of negative emotions, and (d) destruction of family ties and community networks.”

Here’s how it concludes: “The theoretical argument of psychosocial trauma goes back to a core psychological assumption that has a Lewinian taste: As any human action, collective violence can only be rightly understood by taking into account the surrounding social (dis)order. As such, collective violence is a distressing shared experience that besides its widely documented personal impact has also a psychosocial side damaging the primary support and protective networks of victims, their social and cultural identity, their cognitive and emotional patterns of interpersonal and intergroup relationships, and so on. Martin-Baro, a socially engaged social psychologist, suggested a close relationship between the socially “ordered disorder” leading to collective violence (pretrauma conditions), the aftermath of collective suffering, and the wrecking of the social fabric. Nowadays, the psychosocial trauma argument has gained enough empirical and theoretical support in the four dimensions previously described. However, when dealing with trauma, it is still too obvious that the DSM-5 dispenses with the more structural roots of violence, and therefore of trauma when (a) putting together, for instance, motor vehicle accidents and terrorism (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 276) or low intelligence and ethnic status (p. 277); (b) reducing the social distress in the definition of mental disorder to social activities (person’s behavior; p. 20); (c) narrowly conceiving gender differences (a group boundary) as the mere result of biological sex and individual self-presentation (p. 16), and thus neglecting the power structure, the ideologically rooted differences, and the cultural role played by men and women; (d) neglecting the group boundaries (religious and political affiliation, for instance) as a pretraumatic risk and prognostic factor; and (e) avoiding any reference to social suffering or human rights and providing a very sparse one to the breakdown of the primary support networks. Therefore, DSM-5 does not purport to understand that some intense and severe traumatic experiences are normal reactions to abnormal contexts or circumstances and for theoretically unresolved reasons seems to throw into oblivion the vast majority of victims. In our view, it is imperative to change this state of affairs if psychology really aims to ameliorate the suffering all human beings, regardless of their gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, nationality, or birthplace. This will be one of its coming challenges.”

REPRINTS: Amalio Blanco, Department of Social Psychology and Methodology, Faculty of Psychology, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, C/Ivan Paulov, 6, 28049 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: [email protected]

The article is online at:

Ken Pope

Professional ethics protect the public against abuse of professional power, expertise, and practice, and hold members accountable to values beyond self-interest. Guild ethics place members’ interests above public interest, edge away from accountability, and tend to masquerade as professional ethics. A decade later, in 2002, APA revised the code again, reflecting an even more extreme commitment to guild ethics. It has disseminated, taught, and enforced that code of guild ethics for the last quarter of a century.

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”
–C. Wright Mills (1916-1962)

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