From Mimi and Eunice.
A while ago, I wrote a number of entries about various verbal mechanisms of control used by others and, more insidiously, against oneself, to suppress dissent. This entry is definitely part of that category.
One of them was about using personal responsibility as a way to pre-emptively place blame on the victims of a system. But this mechanism is about putting blame on the victim after the victim has told eir personal story. The following examples all come from qvaken (thank you to qvaken for giving me the idea for this entry). They were applied to issues of women-hatred, but can be applied to a wide variety of situations; anyone who’s tried to put forward an ideology will have had at least a couple of these fostered upon them.
* You teach people how to treat you.
(as if the way others treat us is under our control, and we’re victimizing ourselves by “making” people dislike us)
* You’ve got to respect yourself first, and other people will follow.
(there is more truth in this proposition than in the previous one, but everyone who is worthy of respect should receive it regardless of how much they value themselves)
* If you keep on talking about the bad things that have happened to you, you’ll only let them control you forever. You need to forget about them.
(the events in our past, whether positive or negative, do control who we are whether we talk about them or not)
* Did it ever occur to you that if you’re always having problems with other people, then it’s probably you who needs to change?
(sometimes this is true, sometimes it isn’t… but this can be used against people in either situation)
* Your thinking is maladaptive. You need to change it.
(this begs the question: what is one adapting to? the status quo, of course)
* Be careful – you’re burning all your bridges.
(the proposition assumes that this is automatically a bad thing, and like the prior one, assumes the need to conform)
* I know that you’re trying to assert yourself, but you should be more nonchalant/gentle/humorous/clever/obstinate/tactical about it.
(that is to say, you should stop telling the truth clearly)
* You’re emotional and you’re overreacting.
(see Derailing for Dummies on this one)
* He [this]’d you? Why didn’t you leave before it got that far? (to which I would add, in the case of cults: they [this]’d you?)
(this betrays a slavish adherence to voluntaryism… sometimes people just see no other alternative)
* [That] is such a strong word. Be sure that you KNOW that that’s what it is before you go around saying it.
(do not name your experience, because that would let you relate it to other people’s experiences)
Qvaken further points out:
It’s like, “I’m your friend, and this is going to be really profound and helpful for you, so take heed: If anything bad ever happens to you then it’s your own fault, and it’s a sign that you’re crazy. If you talk about it, then you’re creating the problem or making it worse. If it’s really really bad and you talk about it, then you’re being insincere or inappropriate (and disrespectful to people who have been through horrible things). If you stand up for yourself or try to leave, then you’re making something big out of something small (and you’re being hurtful to somebody). If you don’t leave, then your choice not to leave is incomprehensible, because it should have been obvious to you all along that it was as bad as it was (and that leaving is easy).
Basically, the only option left here is for the person to shut up about eir experiences, thus reinforcing the status quo by silencing its critics. I refer to the status quo in the title because this is really about suppressing or isolating the expression of any experience that goes against the status quo, i.e. any experience of being oppressed or exploited.
The normalization of oppression is an extremely powerful mechanism: when most people are subject to something, calling it oppression of exploitation is inherently anti-social. This is especially true when that something is part of one’s childhood, such as religious indoctrination and other forms of child abuse, the institution of parenting, gender roles, and so on. A person may be able to look critically at something that happens later in life, especially if it is not something widely accepted, but it’s nigh-impossible to look at one’s own childhood objectively (for more on this, see Thou Shalt Not Be Aware by Alice Miller).
This mechanism is similar but not the same as invalidation. The other person doesn’t necessarily want to invalidate you, especially since it’s pretty hard to invalidate an experience, but it still serves the role of normalizing the individual through self-censorship. The natural end point of allowing the status quo to frame discussion is to turn people into Fake Dissenters: people who claim to be critics of the status quo while adopting the core premises behind the status quo (patriarchy is bad, so give it the middle finger while you enthusiastically fulfill the fuckability mandate and seek capitalist success).
What we’re basically talking about here is severing the relation between the internal world of ideas and the external world of acts and facts. This relation has to be made and remade constantly in order to keep one’s ideas connected to the knowledge we receive from other people and the events in our lives, as well as to keep our conception of what happens around us grounded into an accurate theoretical framework. Without the relation, we end up with theories disconnected from reality and structureless thinking about real life, the latter inevitably leading to accepting whatever mainstream interpretation is put forward (as I’ve written about before, structurelessness in any area leads to tyranny).
If you can’t confront the act, you can’t name the act. If you can’t name the act, you can’t integrate the act within a larger framework. If you can’t integrate acts within a larger framework, then you can’t formulate a coherent account of reality or make sense of its workings. You’re stuck with isolated events and isolated people.
The most cruel thing about this mechanism is that it relies on people’s powerful need to belong and to check their behavior on that of others. It is very much part of enosiophobia. In order to get people’s attention, we have to speak to them in terms they understand and sympathize with, and speaking the truth about one’s experiences is unlikely to do that. It’s a very isolating feeling. The simple solution to this psychological isolation is to have safe places where people can express themselves without fear of ostracism or disapproval, but this only leads to a form of group isolation. As for enosiophobia, there’s no easy solution.