Been thinking a lot about birth trauma. Things like crack babies, fetal alcohol syndrome, insufficient bonding with the mother and the like. If a human being misses nature’s window for proper development in the first year or is born already tainted by drugs and alcohol, they will be fighting an uphill battle their whole life. They’ve started out with two strikes against them and the third strike halfway to the plate. Because of the remarkable plasticity of the brain, there is still some hope to survive and partly heal the trauma. But it takes lots of support, tender loving care, time and patience and always with the default wiring tripping up progress.
And that’s what I’m thinking about our country at the moment. We were born with such high ideals and hopes, but there were two unnamed traumas at the root that have kept us from flowering into the full promise of our ideals. As described by Tim Wise in his excellent book Under the Affluence:
“During a time when millions of Africans were enslaved on these shores, the idea that anyone could make it if they tried (meritocracy) was widely trumpeted, as was the notion that those who did make it (almost exclusively whites) had actually earned what they had, rather than being unjustly favored in every arena of life. Even during a time when indigenous land was being stolen and indigenous cultures uprooted, most believed that anyone could make it if they tried and that those who had managed to do so, had done so by dint of their own talents and efforts, owing nothing to the stolen land and resources upon which their newfound wealth was based. (Boldface mine)”
In other words, the glorious promise of “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and life, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had a hollow ring when women, Native Americans and 3/5ths of a person slaves were left out. Why would a Creator not endow them as well? And the notion that those who rose to the top of the economic and political pyramid did so because of superior talent and hard work continues unabated in today’s Fox News rants about government handouts. The real story is wealth that came from dependency on stolen land and stolen labor at the cost of untold suffering—that is the birth trauma of this nation and we still haven’t recovered.
Of course, the analogy can only go so far, because human beings born with trauma have its effects physically wired into their brain. Our collective national trauma has no physical residence in a single brain, it is more abstract, in the air of ideas and ideals. Or is it? We breathe its air in our arrogance of repeatedly proclaiming us as the greatest nation in the world, a claim dubious during many historical periods, but downright laughable today when it comes to statistics about health care, education, murder rates, poverty, civil rights and more. We are so far behind so many nations in so many areas. But we repeat the mantra of our greatness and the just desserts of the “losers” enough and the lie settles into our synapses and prevents us from seeing anything but our delusion, fed by right wing talk shows and now our President and his cronies.
And I believe it is our stubborn refusal to apologize, to name our trauma, to look it square in the face as the Germans have done so impressively in Berlin and beyond, to confess that our wealth and power came from practices in direct opposition to our praiseworthy “Mission Statement” in the Declaration of Independence, that keeps us in some infantile state unable to move forward. Our ideals are unreachable, generations of crack babies (inheriting the cracked Liberty Bell) incapable of living the full lives available to those who understand our deep need to heal our national trauma rather than hide it under a flag or a Tea Party slogan.
I haven’t said this as well as I’d like to, though I’ve said many similar things in other blogs. But now I have Tim Wise to agree with me. Without changing the story that people unquestionably accept, the narrative of meritocracy and white supremacy and privilege, ain’t nothing gonna change. Go read his book for the details of the people in power who have a vested interest in keeping these harmful narratives going. But heck, if Australia, South Africa, Germany and other nations can do it, why can’t we? The ideal is still worthy of aspiration. Let’s “mind the gap” and work to reduce it. Which means looking both ways before crossing—to one side, the Native Americans, to the other, the Africans. Othewise, we’ll keep getting run down.
Just imagine if our forefathers had had the foresight and wisdom and compassion to immediately free the slaves, invite them and the Native Americans and their wives, for starters, to the Continental Congress and draft those documents all together. To have said it and meant it. That would have been a glorious national childbirth and I believe that healthy baby would have thrived and helped populate this country with people and practices worthy of pride.
But since it didn't happen that way, let's go back to Tom Robbins: "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." Let's get to work.