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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Real World of Abuse

I do not, as a rule, give money to beggars in Canada. I know too many who need help far more in other countries; and Canada has a good welfare system. I do give to buskers. It seems to me that artists offering their work free to those who cannot afford it are worthy of support. And I do often give to the vendors of street papers.

There is less logic to this: if they want to work instead of beg, why not sell the Globe or Toronto Star, rather than a newspaper specially printed for the purpose?

But the truth is, I am curious to read the papers. Because nobody takes them seriously, they tend to be outlets for eccentric views. And, in a world that is mad, anyone considered mad by the world is worth reading.

Usually they are dreadful. Most people cannot write very well. From one column in a recent example, though, I got an interesting insight. It was by someone who claimed to have been abused as a child, who had set up her own agency, “Lovecry,” to help other abused kids or adolescents she found on the streets.

She maintained that the official channels and official agencies were mostly useless for the truly abused. For two reasons: first, because the original abusers were often on their staff. Second, because abusers tend to be socially prominent. Therefore, mainstream society is almost automatically on their side and against the abused child or adolescent. Courts and agencies will routinely, she says, deny the problem, try to make it out as something else, or blame the victim.

This seemed pretty unlikely at first reading. After all, we hear a lot about abused children these days, and so get the impression that much is being done. I saw a big poster on the Toronto Metro the same day, warning of the scourge of elder abuse. If the powers that be really wanted to avoid the problem, why publicize it?

But on reflection, I think her claim is quite probably true. And it actually tallies with my own experience.

If a person enjoys abusing others, where would they most want to be? Why, working as a counselor of the abused, of course. First, it is the perfect cover—sheep’s clothing for the hungry wolf. Second, those who come to you are utterly vulnerable, already proven abusable, and with nowhere else to turn. Third, as a society we have set up absolutely no mechanism to prevent this. Fourth, abusers are manipulators. They are therefore, as a group, especially skilled at appearing to be what they are not.

It simply stands to reason, therefore, that some significant proportion of those who choose to work professionally with the bullied and abused will be bullies and abusers.

As to abusers being prominent citizens, this is also, on reflection, quite likely. Many studies show, for example, that those holding managerial positions, positions of authority, are much more likely than the general population to be “psychopaths.” This is probably true in all fields. The formula is simple: bullies crave power over others. Those who crave a thing will work harder towards acquiring it, and are therefore more likely to acquire it. Hence, bullies will normally rise to the top.

Psychopaths, aka bullies or abusers, more or less by definition also have strong “EQ”: they are able to control their own emotions well, and to manipulate the emotions of others. This skill, as many psychologists assert, is the key to success in the social world.

Someone who can, and likes to, manipulate the emotions of one person is an abuser. Someone who can, and likes to, manipulate the emotions of many people, is a worldly success. It is overwhelmingly likely that this describes the same person.

On top of this, there is the probability that Lord Acton is right in his famous aphorism, that power corrupts. Even those who achieved power with no intent to abuse, may learn to find the pastime pleasant. It would, sadly, be no more than human nature.

Put these two factors together, and it is probably fair to say that the proportion and level of abuse perpetrated will rise steadily with any rise in social class and position.

As a result, the truly abused are indeed unlikely to get any help from society as a whole, and from those assigned by society to handle the problem. They are more likely to get further abuse. Society’s natural bent may well always be to help the abuser and harm the abused—though the overall level of abuse may be greater in one society, less in another.

This is of course exactly what Jesus says in the New Testament. The powers of this world are the scribes and Pharisees whom he condemns as abusive. The abused are cited as blessed in the Beatitudes—along with the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted.

Are all those in positions of power and authority bad people? Not at all; I know many folks who are fairly prominent, and many, probably most, have high personal moral standards and are sincere in wishing to do good. But the problem is systemic, or rather, ingrained into the nature of the world.

As to the stereotype most of us have, of abusers being working-class men, "rednecks," or Catholic priests, this is just a convenient cover for abusing working-class men, or Catholic priests. In Nazi Germany, similarly, the targeted “abusers” were invariably Jews. In the pre-civil-rights-era US South, they were invariably black men. I recall a doctor not long ago in Canada saying the only evidence of physical abuse of a child he would consider significant was cigarette burns. To him, somehow, abusing was apparently necessarily tied up with smoking; for everyone knows smokers are bad people. And that poster I saw in the Toronto subway? It defined abuse, in so many words, ignoring facts that should be obvious to all, as the “mistreatment of women and children.” Men, it seems, are never abused; men are always abusers.

In reality, of course, a generally disliked group is actually the group least likely to ever get away with abusing anyone, and so the group least likely ever to try. They are also of course the group most likely to themselves be abused.

The world is indeed mad. Abusers are most often called abused, and the abused abusers.

What advice, then, can we give the abused?

First, it is probably safest to avoid all official agencies claiming to offer aid.

Second, read the New Testament. Start with the Sermon on the Mount.

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