February 02, 2006

Essays Based on the Work of Alice Miller

What follows is a listing of many of the essays I've written based on the work of Alice Miller. It is not yet complete; as I continue to repost earlier essays, I will add them here. In addition, because of the great richness of Miller's thought and its endless implications and ramifications -- and because the dynamics identified by Miller are reflected in countless events in the world today, including perhaps most notably in our foreign policy -- I expect to write a number of future essays on these themes. Those, too, will be added to this list as they are published.

The articles are not always listed in the order they first appeared. Instead, I have grouped them by topic. I hope that will prove more helpful for readers trying to find essays that focus on specific topics.

The Roots of Horror Series

Instilling Obedience and Denial in Childhood: A review of two news stories that reveal our culture's preoccupation with the irrelevant and/or the trivial, a discussion of some of the reasons such stories are not deserving of any serious attention whatsoever -- and concluding with a horrifying news story that received almost no notice at all but most certainly should have, a story that serves as an introduction to the importance of Alice Miller's work about commonly accepted child-rearing practices and their consequences.

Worth A Thousand Words: A few comments about a Rembrandt painting that captures many of the themes that Miller discusses, and that leads into the next essay..

The Institutionalized Destruction of Innocence -- and of Life: A discussion of the story of Abraham and Isaac, and an introduction to some of Miller's central ideas: how cruelty to children, both physical and/or psychological -- cruelty in the form of not paying attention to the child's genuine needs, and demanding obedience above all -- prevents the formation of an authentic self, and how that lack of a true self can then be enlisted in the service of dangerous and destructive ideologies.

Mel Gibson, A Public Case Study in Obedience and Denial: A summary of Miller's major thesis, and an examination of Mel Gibson and fundamentalist religious belief more generally as one kind of example of the mechanisms that Miller discusses.

Addendum on Mel Gibson: Some further details about the views of Mel Gibson's father, which make indisputably clear the abusive nature of the psychological dynamics in this family.

The Consequences of Denial: Some examples of the mechanisms of denial from the current political scene, and an example of how far such denial can go, using an excerpt from the writings of Carl Jung.

The Search for Underlying Causes, and Why Spanking Is Always Wrong: A description of how and why I was led to seek for underlying causes and why I was drawn yet again to Alice Miller's books, and a discussion of why physical punishment, including even occasional spankings, is always wrong -- and why it is wrong and destructive psychologically, and wrong philosophically as well.

Iraq -- The Practice of Denial: An examination of the meaning of statements from some of the U.S. military commanders in Iraq, about how we "have to understand the Arab mind," and about how "the only thing they understand is force." I explore how the obedience-denial mechanism identified by Miller leads to massive denial of the pain, and of the very humanity, of the Iraqis themselves -- and how the United States thus is driven to treat the Iraqis in exactly the same manner that a brutal, punishing parent treats a "bad" child, all the while telling the child that the parent is only doing it "for the child's own good."

The Demand for Obedience: A review of the fundamentals of Miller's work, including her definitions of "poisonous pedagogy" and of a "helping witness," with some autobiographical details to make the latter concept clearer. I also examine the psychological dynamics underlying articles by David Brooks (condemning "narcissism" and calling for a return to "a creedal order") and Joseph Farah (condemning homosexuality, as he frequently does, specifically on the grounds that God has condemned it: "There is a reason most people frown on homosexuality. It is not prejudice. It is not bias. It is not irrational. It is because God has pronounced it wrong, immoral, abomination, sin.").

The Voice of the Thug, and the Harbinger of Horrors Still to Come: An analysis of certain aspects of the psychology revealed by many hawks, and a lengthy discussion of their reaction to the election in Spain. I consider the roots of the hatred, contempt and scorn heaped upon the Spanish people by writers such as David Brooks, Mark Steyn, and Andrew Sullivan, and what the sources of that reaction are -- and what such a reaction bodes for the future. I include an excerpt from Alice Miller's Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, which explains her contention that, "The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason" -- and I explain how many hawks are now engaged in a revenge fantasy of their own, with the "War on Terror" as their supposed justification.

From Mild Smacking to Outright Torture and War: The Lie of "Well-Intentioned Violence": Some news stories that show how our society commonly accepts violence, and even brutal sadism, toward children. I also examine again the dynamics of the denial in which most adults engage, and I excerpt Miller's article, "Why Every Smack Is A Humiliation." At the end, I review some recent news stories about the Abu Ghraib abuse -- and discuss why the fact that children were also abused by coalition forces is an inevitable result of the mechanisms Miller has identified.

To Destroy the World: The Case of Saddam Hussein: Some further excerpts from Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, including Miller's consideration of the question, "What makes a person wish to destroy the world?," and a discussion of the childhood of Saddam Hussein, and how that background helps to explain the monster that he became.

To Destroy the World, II: The Case of Fallujah, and Ralph Peters: An article continuing the examination of the dynamics identified by Miller, as they are revealed in the devastation unleashed on Fallujah and in a column by Ralph Peters. I explain how Peters' article is close to a perfect clinical example of an eliminationist pathology bent on revenge for its sake, and offering only the most transparent of rationalizations as its superficial justification.

"Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill": Relying on a news account, I explore what happens when the desire for revenge is unleashed, and when soldiers begin to take actual "joy" in killing for its own sake. When the soldiers return home, the ongoing psychological damage often includes suicide and domestic violence -- yet the military fails to offer sufficient treatment for any of these problems, and hopes that they will simply go away if they are ignored. Of course, they won't, and often lead to tragic consequences.

Instilling Obedience and Denial, Continued: Another story about one of the U.S. soldiers involved in the Iraqi prison abuse story, and how he came from a military family and "knows how to follow instructions."

The Ignored Casualties of War: A news story demonstrating how the wounds of war kill, even far from the battlefield.

About Prison Abuse and Torture in the U.S., and in Iraq

The Denial Spreads -- and the Desire for Control: A discussion focusing on certain news accounts of the Iraqi prisoner abuse story: the reliance on the "I was only following orders" excuse; how a loss of autonomy, i.e., the lack of a genuine self, often leads people to pursue careers in the military or in the U.S. prison system; and how the child who was once neglected and/or abused frequently grows up seeking an environment where he can now be the one in control, and the one giving orders.

"They Don't Represent America"? Not Quite, Mr. President: An essay concerning Bush's false assertion that the Iraqi prison abuses "don't represent America," focusing on some materials from Stop Prisoner Rape that document many decades of horrific prison abuse, including some personal horror stories of prison torture and rape -- here in the United States.

The Deep Rot and Corruption in Our Nation's Soul: A further consideration of the abuse, rape and torture that are regularly inflicted on prisoners, both here in the United States and in Iraq, and the roots and significance of this routine violence and cruelty. I also discuss an unusually perceptive article by a man who was once a prison guard, and his experience with regard to the crucial question: "How will you treat those who are helpless before you?"

The Real Scandal: A further consideration of the commonplace abuses that occur in the U.S. prison system, excerpting a New York Times story about these issues. As I also explain, "the true scandal lies in the fact that, given the history of prison abuse and rape here in the United States, and given how the U.S. went about reconstituting the criminal justice and prison system in Iraq --and given the particular individuals they selected for positions of authority and power -- the current scandal was the logical and inevitable result."

The Horrors Against Women: A genuinely horrifying news story that sets forth the systematic abuse and torture inflicted on women, almost all of whom were entirely innocent, by the U.S. forces in Iraq, and the tragic results of such practices. This is an aspect of the prison abuse story that has been almost entirely neglected.

The Practice of National Self-Deception and Denial: A consideration of how the military investigation into prison abuses reveals profound systemic failures -- even as the government adamantly denies the very conclusions impelled by the evidence it sets forth.

The Causes and Dynamics of Suicide

The Suicide Taboo: A discussion of the dynamics underlying suicide, what it represents psychologically, and why it is so little understood, drawing on Miller's analysis of Sylvia Plath's writings, and concluding with a news story about the suicides in our military at present. I also offer some personal observations, based on my own experiences, about how to deal with someone you might know who is suffering from severe depression.

And Still More Death: Yet another story about a soldier's suicide.

The Dynamics of Suicide, Revisited: A detailed news story about the suicide of a young man at the age of 27, and how it tragically reveals all the mechanisms discussed by Miller in her work.

"Suck It Up": The Denial Continues -- and Kills Once More: A news story about the suicide of a New Orleans police officer after Hurricane Katrina, revealing the same tragic psychological dynamics.

Articles on the General Themes

When the Demons Come: A review of the basic principles identified in Alice Miller's work, a discussion of "hot saucing" and other currently popular and "acceptable" forms of child abuse, and how all these issues then manifest themselves in full-fledged atrocities on a much broader scale, focusing on events from the Vietnam War and their aftermath, including the ongoing, terrible psychological injuries that result.

When Life and Happiness Are Not Enough: The Tragedy of the Unborn Self: An analysis of a detailed Washington Post article about the roots of the neoconservatives' views and program, including the perspectives offered by William Buckley and Irving Kristol. I consider how their political program and their foreign policy prescriptions arise from certain psychological dynamics which prevent the formation of a self in the first instance -- and how they are then driven to seek for "mystery" and "meaning" to fill the emptiness in their lives, and how that quest can lead to destruction and death, as we are now witnessing.

The Indifference and Denial that Kill: A piece concerning a lengthy article about Iris Chang and her life and work, and her suicide at the age of 36, including a discussion of how the issues identified by Miller are involved.

The Apocalyptic Crusader: Redemption, Purification and a New World -- through Sacred Violence and Death: A discussion of some excerpts from James Carroll's work, focusing on the nature of the apocalyptic worldview -- including how that view is shared by both certain of our enemies and Bush and many of his supporters -- and a consideration of the roots and great dangers of this particular perspective.

The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face: The conclusion of my series, On Torture, explaining the vast chasm that separates the approach of a writer like Andrew Sullivan to this subject from mine, and a consideration of the ultimate roots of torture and violence in the numerous cruelties inflicted on children by the majority of parents, relying on Miller's work. All of the entries in the series, On Torture, together with brief descriptions of their contents, are listed here.