The next of Dear Abby’s warnings about abusive relationships was that you should be very wary if the abuser uses threats of violence to control you. A batterer may attempt to convince you that all men threaten partners, but this isn’t true. He may also attempt to convince you that you’re responsible for his threats: he wouldn’t threaten you if you didn’t make him do it.
These are actually three related warnings. As far as relating the first—the use of violence to control—to the larger social level, after my most recent show a man said, “You talk a lot about the violence of this culture. I don’t feel I’m particularly violent. Where is the violence in my life?”
I asked him where his shirt was made. He said Bangladesh. I told him that wages in clothing factories in Bangladesh start at seven to eight cents per hour, and max out at about eighteen cents per hour. Now, I know we hear all the time from politicians, capitalist journalists, and other apologists for sweatshops that these wages are good because otherwise these people would simply starve to death. But that’s only true if you accept the framing conditions that lead to those wages: Once people have been forced off their land—the source of their food, clothing, and shelter—and the land given to transnational corporations, once people have been made dependent on the corporations that are killing them, sure, it might be better not to starve immediately but to slave for seven cents per hour, starving a tad more slowly.
The question becomes, how much violence did it take to force these people off their land? It is violence or the threat of violence that keeps them working for these low wages.
. . .
The reason (part two of Abby’s warning) that batterers may attempt to convince victims that all men threaten partners of course is that if you can get victims to disbelieve in the possibility of alternatives—if you can make your violence seem natural and inevitable—there will be no real reason for them to resist. You will, like the owners of sweatshops, have them exactly where you want them: under your control, with no need to even bother beating them anymore. The larger social equivalent is our culture’s frantic insistence that all cultures are based on violence, that all cultures destroy their landbase, that men of all cultures rape women, that children of all cultures are beaten, that the poor of all cultures are forced to pay rent to the rich (or even that all cultures have rich and poor!). Perhaps the best example of this culture trying to naturalize its violence is the belief that natural selection is based on competition, that all survival is a violent struggle where only the meanest, most exploitative survive. The fact that this belief is nearly ubiquitous in this culture despite it being demonstrably untrue, logically untenable (recall the one-sentence disproof from early in this book: those creatures who have survived in the long run have survived in the long run, and if you hyperexploit your surroundings you will deplete them and die; the only way to survive in the long run is to give back more than you take), and a complete distortion of Darwin’s elegant ideas, to which it is wrongly attributed, reveals the degree to which we have internalized the perspective of the abusers, and done so against the combined weight of history and common sense.
The third part of Abby’s warning was that abusers attempt to convince their victims that the victims are responsible for the abusers’ threats: the abuser wouldn’t threaten you if you didn’t make him do it. This has huge implications for activists. I cannot tell you how many activists have insisted to me that we must never use sabotage, violent rhetoric, and certainly never violence, because to do so will call up a strong backlash by those in power.
This insistence reveals an absolute lack of understanding of how repression works. Abusers will use any excuse to ratchet up repression, and if no excuses are forthcoming, excuses will be fabricated. Recall my discussion of the planned “outbursts” of CIA agents. Recall the Japanese knot-tying art of hojojutsu,where every movement tightens the ropes around your throat. Those in power will repress us no matter what we do or don’t do. And if we do anything they will ratchet it up.
What is our solution? Probably the most commonly chosen solution, which is no solution at all, is to never upset those in power, that is, to use only tactics deemed acceptable to those in power. The main advantage of pursuing this non-option is that you get to feel good about yourself for “fighting the good fight” against the system of exploitation while not actually putting at risk the benefits you gain from this same system. (Have you ever wondered, by the way, why so many more people in the United States support third world rebel groups [rather] than participate in similarly open revolt here?)
Well, let’s try this on for a solution. What if we prepare ourselves so that each time they ratchet up their repression towards us, we ratchet up our response? If they make us afraid of acting decisively to stop them from exploiting and destroying us and those we love—to stop them from killing (what remains of) the oceans, (what remains of ) the forests, (what remains of ) the soil—what would it take for us to make them fear to continue this exploitation, this destruction?
Everyone who has ever in any way been associated with perpetrators of abuse will probably agree with this analysis by psychologist and writer Arno Gruen of why abusers must continue to ratchet up their exploitation: “[C]atharsis does not work for those people whose anger and rage are fueled by self-hatred, for if it is projected onto an external object, self-hatred is only intensified and is aggravated by actions that are unconsciously perceived deep within as further forms of self-betrayal. Thus, with every additional act of destruction, destructive rage raises its stakes.” [Hmmm. Now why does that sound familiar?]
The Oglala man Red Cloud spoke of this insatiability of abusers another way: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they only kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”
And George Orwell described it again: “It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation.”
Abusers, and abusive cultures, are insatiable. They can ultimately brook no impediment to their control, to their destructiveness. Harry Merlo, former CEO of the Louisiana-Pacific timber corporation, articulated this mania as well as possible. After logging, he said, “There shouldn’t be anything left on the ground. We need everything that’s out there. We don’t log to a ten-inch top or an eight-inch top or even a six-inch top. We log to infinity. Because it’s out there and we need it all, now.”
The question becomes, do we have the guts—and the heart—to stop them? Do we care enough about our landbases and the lives of those we love? Do we dare to act?
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."