Posts Tagged With: abuse

Why people do the things they do, for better or for worse

This post has been bubbling under the surface for a while, but it’s been hard to figure out how to really put it into words. However, a reader recently contacted me about a shame she had been holding in, and though I may not have been able to complete my thoughts on this, I think that it is important that I get this out. This is a post about why people make the moral choices they do. This is an explanation as to why people do some very good things, and why people decide to do some very horrific things. Originally, this was meant to try to get people to look inwards at their own actions, words, and choices, But now I am hoping it can also help people to let go of the shame that they may be taking on.

To ask the reason for an action is deceptive. The assumption is that there is thought process involved, that the reason involves reason. We like to believe that we use a sophisticated logic to carefully control the decisions we make. But the truth is the contrary: we make decisions based on emotion, not logic. This emotional decision making was uncovered in the research of Antoine Bechara and Jonathan Haidt. Bechara’s research on individuals with a specific brain damage that inhibited emotional expression showed that without emotion, even the most basic decisions were also inhibited. Haidt’s work showed that people make moral decisions first and then add logical explanations afterwards. According to Haidt, certain actions are encouraged by the “moral elation” done by the decision, and inhibited by a “moral disgust” against the decision. The decisions we make are dependent on the emotional weight we give them, not the logical weight. A decision is encouraged if there is an emotional reward, and discouraged by the emotional revulsion. Logic can play a part, but only in that logic can change the meaning that trains emotion. Ultimately the decisions are emotional. The reasons people report are developed as an afterthought.

But what does that really mean?

When a person decides to do something, the decision is based on their anticipated emotional response to the act. An act is not caused by a reason, but rather the person acts according to how they think they will feel after the act. Two people can face the same screaming child, for instance, and have totally different responses. People can slap the child, not slap the child, or beat the child viciously.  The option they choose depends on their emotional reaction to the concept of hitting a child. A person who feels a sense of wrongness, disgust, or revulsion to the idea of hitting a child will do anything they can to not hit the child because they know they will feel horrible after striking the child. A person without this disgust will be more likely to hit the child to get the response of quiet they want because they will not anticipate feeling bad about hitting the child. But a person who feels a sense of reward over exercising power through abuse will not only be more likely to hit the child, but will look for reasons to hit the child because they anticipate feeling powerful and “good” after striking the child. So when it comes to whether or not a particular person will hit a child, it has less to do with the actual screaming of the child, and more to do with the person’s feelings about the action of hitting the child. The person may talk about styles of discipline, but the prime motivation behind the action is that emotional response. Similarly, two people can see the same child with a spilled ice cream cone and decide to either buy the child a new ice cream or keep walking. The person who stops and buys the child a new ice cream cone either anticipates an empathic reward for the generosity or a sense of revulsion of leaving the child in that state of suffering. The person who keeps walking lacks that sense of revulsion for allowing the suffering to continue and does not share that same anticipated reward for helping. Again, any explanation give for the choice is an add-on.

This principle of decision making is extremely important when seeking to understand sexual assault motivation and where the blame needs to be placed. A person rapes another person because the rapist lacks the emotional disgust associated with the act of rape, and gets an emotional reward from the act of the rape. It does not matter what a girl was wearing or how much she had to drink, because a non-rapist would feel revulsion towards the act of having sex with the woman without consent, and the rapist will not only lack that same disgust, but will feel as sense of reward from it. The decision to rape lies not in the circumstance or the victim, but in how the person feels about the action of the rape. A woman could be passed out, naked, and spread eagle, and where one man could have the overwhelming urge to violate the woman, another man would have the overwhelming urge to cover her up and make sure she stays safe. And when a person has no revulsion to the act, but gets a reward from the sense of power, they will seek out a victim to rape based off that anticipated reward. The only victim characteristic that plays a factor is availability. If the one victim were not present, another one would be sought out.

For the readers who are taking on the shame for their abusers, I am hoping that this explains why no fault lies with you. Your abuser was primed to abuse someone before you came along. They just happened to find you first. It was not about your clothes, your body, what you were drinking, what you said, etc. It was about the abuser’s own feelings about the actual behavior that constituted abuse. Had you been dressing or acting the same way around a decent person for whom the idea of such an abusive behavior was abhorrent, you would have been left alone, and had you not been there, the abuser would have found someone else.

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Constructing Our Sins: How social problems are a product of our beliefs about them – Part II: Real World Examples

It may confuse a lot of people to know that I was once a victim a violent gay bashing a number of years ago. This confusion would come from the fact that I am not actually gay. I do, however, have long hair, which still may cause some confusion, because long hair is not actually a sign of homosexuality (though long hair is shared by many very heterosexual pro-wrestlers, martial artists, and rock and roll legends). The assumptions that lead to the attack not only illustrate how homophobia is a product of belief over fact, but also illustrates how belief can create and promote a real social aggression and real abuse in the world.

Homophobia is a form of abuse and social aggression that follows the belief pattern reflected in Part I. The abuse from homophobia is not just perpetrated in the form of physical violence, but through the denial of social rights, such as denial of marriage, denial of social representation, and denial of protection from harassment. The origins of homophobia lie in beliefs of rigid gender roles: that there is a specific gender based hierarchy. Homophobia is a reaction to perceived violation of gender roles (which also explains why long hair in men is often mistaken as a sign of homosexuality), and men, who maintain control in most modern gender hierarchies, are more likely than women to be homophobic. Homophobia, then is a response to a perceived threat to the social hierarchy and power structure. When opponents attempt to make their main argument against homosexuality, they generally couch it in terms of homosexuality attacking or destroying the heterosexual culture. The arguments claim there is a “gay agenda,” that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage, that acceptance of homosexuality will lead to homosexual conversion, that homosexual parents will raise deviant children, and other claims that defy the facts. These claims do make sense, however, if the guiding assumption is that if you are not the aggressor, you will become the victim, and this creates a desperate struggle that doesn’t need to exist. In addition, in those environments where homophobia is present and accepted, the three role structure emerges: the aggressors (those who oppose gay rights), victims (homosexuals), and bystanders (those who say nothing because they feel it is not their fight, or out of fear as being seen as gay). Also, artificial flaws have been created to portray homosexuals as inherently morally flawed, either through pseudoscience that portrays them as dangerous deviants, a former DSM classification that described their sexuality as pathological, or through mistranslation and misinterpretation of scripture aimed portraying them as inherently sinful. Finally as homosexuality is being stigmatized and made the blame for the aggression towards homosexuals, the homophobic groups are being portraued as sympathetic victims, who would be injured should homosexuals be given equal rights in our culture. During the recent battle for gay marriage in New Jersey, for instance, gay marriage was equated with a violation of equal rights, and that the attempt to allow for marriage equality was pushing heterosexual marriages “to the back of the bus.”

When people drop this mindset, however, the issue does completely disappear. The greatest predictor for people not to be homophobic is whether or not they have had homosexual friends. When people don’t view homosexuals as a threat, when they humanize the homosexuals in their environment, the homophobia disappears. The threat, fear, and need for aggression disappears when you learn not to see homosexuals as a threat that needs to be oppressed. The feared consequences: becoming gay by spending time with homosexuals, the breakdown of relationships, the encouragement of abuse of heterosexuals, don’t appear when an individual drops the aggressive belief system. The terror of the homophobic system, then, is actually not caused by the presence of homosexuality, but by the homophobic belief system itself.

Poverty is another example of how the belief system not only reflections a mindset of social aggression, but also perpetuates the problem. The aggression here is economic; upward mobility is limited by the denial of access to economic and educational resources, leading to seclusion to violent environments, exploitation and starvation. The aggressors do find economic benefit in this abuse: the impoverished are willing to work for less payment, impoverished communities have fewer safety and environmental regulations enforced, when work is harder to find, the impoverished are more willing to put up with employer abuse, and certain illicit activities, such as prostitution and drug sales, flourish in environments where legitimate forms of income are more difficult. Often times, the oppression is justified by portraying welfare programs as a form of aggression perpetrated by the poor. Welfare programs are often described as scams, with the question of “why should my money go to them?” Often times, welfare programs have been compared to theft; the taxes paid are stolen and given to “those people.” The social roles also breakdown into the those of the aggressors (the corporations make money off of the poverty), the victims (those born into poverty) and the bystanders (for whom attempts to correct through handouts and charity are wasted and foolish). Those in this situation become blamed for the circumstances of their birth, their poverty being seen as caused by lack of moral character rather than birth into a world of extreme violence, starvation, under funded systems, and policies designed to keep them from moving out of their urban squalor. Finally, sympathy is built with the aggressor, people seem to plead the side of those who make over $250,000 a year, far above the  income of 90% of Americans. When this debate is entered, you consistently hear the top 2% made to sound like the underdog, and the impoverished is demonized as a collection of scamming criminals looking to be dependent on hand-outs.

The facts of poverty often do not match up with the claims made by the abusive environment. Welfare, for instance, actually works in getting people out of poverty. Over 80% of welfare recipients are stable enough to leave welfare on their own in less than five years, contrary to the claim of welfare encouraging perpetual hand-out seeking. In addition, not addressing the homeless problem will not cause less of an economic burden. Poverty does cause crime, as people will steal to meet basic needs when they cannot meet basic needs through legitimate means, and failure to address poverty would create a stronger burden on our already overtaxed legal system. In addition, starvation creates a second financial burden due to health related problems associated with poverty. This burden could appear through a huge overtaxing of a health care system, if they are given access to the system. If the poor aren’t given access to the health care system, impoverished neighborhoods would become disease incubators as starvation fosters disease and illness, that would eventually spread into the rest of society. Finally, poverty disrupts economic growth. People who don’t have a lot of money tend to spend that money, reinvesting it into the economy and stimulating economic growth. People with large amounts of money tend to hold onto the money, removing that that money from the economic system, restricting economic growth, and creating the incredibly unbalanced financial concentration we see today where the top 10% of controls 80% of American wealth. The larger the impoverished population, then, the fewer the economic participants, and the more restricted the economic growth.
But this information gets obscured by the corporate interests who are both propagating this disparity and yet are, themselves, receiving billions in government money in the forms of special tax breaks and subsidies. These government funded corporate entitlements and corporate welfare funds enable them to then muscle out smaller business owners and entrepreneurs, and create more poverty. Despite this, when the argument is being made the sympathy is sent towards the aggressor. Thirteen million children are on the verge of starvation in this country, a number that reflects 4% of our population. And yet, when it comes to argue about the national budget and the cry for tax relief, the taxes for the top 2% are where the battles are fought, and the actual tax breaks to the majority of Americans are negligible. And when an attempt is made to require a bit more of the top 10% who are still controlling 80% of the wealth, the other 90% seems to feel it affects them too.

The irony is, framing of the debate in this way, that the poor are at fault for their own poverty, or that helping the poor will result in hardship for everyone else, you actually end up perpetuating the problems of poverty. This is because throwing money at a problem is the second worse thing you can do (the worst thing is doing nothing). Any real solution requires addressing what the causes of the poverty are. As mentioned before, most welfare recipients are off welfare in five years or less, so the issue is not the people on welfare, but the people coming into welfare that makes it a perpetual problem. As such if you could address what causes the poverty, the need to provide the welfare would shrink and  disappear on its own. Programs that focus on community development, such as small business development and volunteering to close gaps caused by social inequalities would do far more than any financial bandage. This is actually how America used to take care of poverty: when a neighbor had problems, other neighbors pitched in to help out. This used to be a natural protection provided in the environment. But in the belief system that has formed, we no longer see the poor as our neighbors, but as immoral others, and we see poverty no as imposed upon them, but invoked by them, and so we choose to act as bystanders and not help. The old natural protection has been removed. If people were to reestablish the old natural protections, such as through volunteer work, such as in volunteering for jobs like community center or after school programs, parents would have safe environments to send kids to while working. If people spent more time volunteering to educate impoverished youth and families, they would have the abilities to make the same choices and access the same resources most others do, such as nutrition, family planning,  education and training, etc. there would be a severely reduced need to provide extra resources though taxation. If we truly focused on small business development, such as through business planning or opting to buy from small businesses despite a slightly higher price tag, we would not only create higher paying jobs, but also keep money within the local economies, giving people a chance to actually have gainful employment, and promoting local economic growth. But for this to happen, there needs to be a system that removes the unfair advantages and guards against the unscrupulous tactics of big business. These are the alternatives that would alleviate the poverty without increasing the tax burden, but they never get done, because the people opposing welfare generally don’t reach out to those whom they’ve labeled as lazy, immoral, or corrupt. And so the core beliefs surrounding poverty actually, in turn, contribute to the perpetuation of the poverty.

To Be Concluded…

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