PEOPLE WHO TALK ABOUT REVOLUTION AND CLASS STRUGGLE WITHOUT REFERING EXPLICITLY TO EVERYDAY LIFE, WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS SUBVERSIVE ABOUT LOVE AND WHAT IS POSITIVE IN THE REFUSAL OF CONSTRAINTS, SUCH PEOPLE HAVE A CORPSE IN THEIR MOUTHS
RAUL VANEIGEM, from THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE
I had a typical upbringing where the inner-city was Niggertown with all the customs and traditions of racism, sexism and powerlessness. You come into this kind of world ignorant but increasingly learning about people, society, roles and duties. You recognize the Supreme Authority of the Whites, the Rich and “God,” of the poleece in the streets. Of the preachers and teachers in the churches and schools, and of the parents and older folks in the home and neighborhood.
Though my first “authority” figures were my parents (and older brothers and sisters) I soon found out that beyond the world of home, there were others in authoritarian positions over me. But whatever or whoever the authority, the cultural lesson that tied it all together was the one that began in the home: Respect and Obey your Parents! Do as we Say. We know how to Raise you.” Disrespect and disobedience was not to be tolerated. Funny, you didn’t like it as a child, yet you found yourself following the same customs and traditions when you were in the role as Parent, as an Authority. It made your life as a child miserable in many respects with the roles and chores, the do’s and don’ts and all. But, it was said to be Necessary if you were going to Fit In and Make It in this society.
No child just automatically conforms to such authoritarian raising, such methods. There is naturally rebellion and resistance. But you are just a child, weak and dependent upon those around you to “prepare” you for the real world. So what can you do but eventually submit, conform to their social designs? I am certain that I had to learn through this process of instilling Fear in me, to cement each lesson in my soul. Not like I got it much, but I didn’t like to get my butt whupped, didn’t like to be shouted at, threatened, ordered to stay in the house away from friends and games and al. They were upset with my natural wild zest for life and mostly, all of their measures were designed to restrict it, that “wild zest.” I didn’t know but it was obvious that I had ongoing choices to make to please them, whether I liked it or not. Mama knows best – Papa knows best … but I didn’t know a dam thing! Hell, I guess that I was just suppose to go along with the program. It was no question that when I did, it brought more rewards than punishment, and when faced with a choice between the two, man, you get tired of punishment! Without ever fully understanding why, you come to realize that the things you truly want, desire to do, think, say, feel … have got to be repressed, hidden and if done at all, done on the sly. Just can’t be you. Why?
Once those customs and traditions become a part of a person they form a psychological “mask” quite unknowingly to the person. You come to don that mask reluctantly, as your every physical, mental and emotional fiber resists. But once its fastened on your face, on your soul, it functions just like your heart pumps blood, lungs air, or stomach digest food. You forget about, or repress the memories of, the traumatic experiences which created the mask, and go on through life not even realizing that it governs, influences, pulls and jerks your every physical, emotional and intellectual activity. It effectively cuts you off from being in direct touch with your true feelings, with your spontaneous contact with the outside world, with friends, with your energy, and with your curiosity about life in general.
Poor child has no idea that its dependency upon those who raise him/her is gonna cost him/her that natural, playful, soulful zest for life; its psychic and biological health and development twisted and suffocated by a series of traumatic experiences designed and invoked in the name of God and the American Way and good child-rearing practices to produce a powerless, dependent, fearful, self-enslaving, law-abiding citizens (first- and second-class). Its sad that parents don’t see the real damage they inflect on their children in their rearing methods, but the end-result always show in the inability of people in general to govern their own lives without an authoritarian figure hovering over them; it shows in their apathy, hopelessness and feelings of insignificance.
After the coup d’etat of the Family Institution over the natural freedom and aliveness of the child, that child is trained into an adulthood in which it will continue to repress freedom (its full human developmental capacities) and continue the whole process anew in its offspring. What was done to your parents in childhood, they did to you, and you, in turn, do it to yours.
And so on, never thinking about the harmful consequences of blindly carrying on traditions which distort our humanity. It is here, though, and in this way of words and behavior, that the sexism, racism, capitalism, the religious, intellectual and moral belief systems, as well as the lying, dishonesty, irresponsibility, emotional denial, liberalism, manipulation, egotism, slavishness, etc., are taught and passed on.
In sociology the process itself is called “socialization” or “enculturation.” The object is to “civilize” the child and keep everyone bind to the traps of tradition and belief. But what it amounts to is a vast suppression of the force or fire of life within the child or population in general, because it is that “fire” which rebels against any kind of oppressive socialization which is not in harmony with the free development of a human being’s potential for healthy, satisfying love, work and knowledge. What is wanted is a well-behaved, obedient, productive person who will NOT disturb nor question the Established Authoritarian Order, but will merely carry on as proscribed and arranged for generations.
Generally, there is one brief period in the human development cycle where we are, relatively, free; when the culture has not yet restricted, twisted, or distorted the natural, spontaneous Living Expressions of a thinking, feeling and doing human being. This period is from birth to 3, 4 or 5 years old. The child is “born free”. This is when our emotional, physical and mental energies are most delightfully burning, most alive, vibrant, responsive, honest, curious, sensuous, logical rational and crazy. You fear not new things or people; you fear not adventure or trying new activities; you don’t become stuck in anxieties or depressive moods; nor worry about what others think about you.
You are open, receptive and geared to nothing else but Life itself and all its pleasure and struggle. You are just a wellspring of energy to love, to learn and to act.
Every day, every minute and every experience in the life of a child is one of curiosity and a powerful drive to learn … about things, people, self. Those eyes are bright, observant. Those hands and arms, legs and feet are moving and touching, reaching. That child, every child – a natural explorer! Eyes, mouth, ears, hands, senses. Not only does s/he learn and do from seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, tasting the objects of its surrounding reality. They also learn about themselves and the use of the capacities of eyes, ears. Hands, legs, feet, tongue, muscles, sexual organs, thinking and feeling and the whole “humanimal” range. In other words, they are on the road – naturally – to self-discovery, in its totality and on his/her own terms. Self and surroundings are ONE. But …
These days or years of “born freedom” are not going to last long in our culture. Our society is not geared nor interested in nurturing human development on the basis of natural freedom. It is geared to develop us on the basis of Authority – class, race, sex, age, etc. The need to OBEY, rather than the need to BE, is the over-riding concern. This is what makes “childhood” as we had it imposed on us, an oppressive institution. Good ole Western, U.S. child-rearing is an innocent-appearing good-intentioned Fire-Extinguisher used to put out a fine, sweet, bright and wildly burning human flame, in the person of an Uncivilized, unADULTerated child. And let it be said again and again, so that there’ll be no misunderstanding: The ground-breakers, the spirit-breakers or foundation builders of this pillar of psychological loyalty to the social system is the Family, Parents, Brothers, Sisters and other relevant figures tied to your immediate surroundings.
It is not that the child must not be taught or “raised” – it is the Why’s and How’s and what actual characteristics are being produced in us by our addiction to the traditions and beliefs that keep them alive. We are born into a society which has been in existence for several hundred years, complete with its own established way of life, life philosophy and institutions for perpetuating its existence via education and other political power institutions. Its basic ways and beliefs, as in terms of sexual and class relationships – the why’s and how’s – have roots going back 6 to 10 thousand years. One insignificant, tee-ii-iny baby, coming into the world knowing nothing of it and at the complete Ômercy’ of other people to care for it, cannot contend with society’s tremendous and awe-some cultural forces.
When society grabs hold of that child, it becomes a nonsensical one-sided battle: the Social Imposition -vs- the Natural Requirements. The former is geared towards molding you to fit a predetermined work, race, sex, age role, or roles that serve a set status quo or totem pole. If you are born into the bottom, then tuff. You will be raised in a manner appropriate to it. The social requirements for growth are tied to serving a Power Structure for ruling class, sexist and racist goals. The latter, is geared towards your need to “be”, to be in a process of “being”, discovering yourself in potentials and capacities through unadulterated interactions and interdependencies between you and your social world. Child -vs- Society? Natural -vs- Social? The Living, vibrating, flickering flame of life -vs- the fire extinguishing, repressive, life-deadening Mask? Poor child – Poor ADULT: both losers!
Where the child first lived with an abundant spring of energy, with emotional honesty, absorbing curiosity and a general openness to life per se, parents and other cultural forces have caused him/her to self-create, self-shape and self-fasten a Mask over the abundantly enlivening, human developmental energies. The dynamic aspect of these human energies is that they are always life-affirming, freedom-bound, pleasurable and empowering, that is when one is not caused to fear their streamings and unfoldings. The dynamic aspect of the Mask is just the opposite of the “free spirit.” This person is trapped in fear of deeply-felt life, of self-determination, of pleasure, of personally powerful wholeness. The person who is caused to fear those genuine outward positive streamings of human energies – under the cultural imposition of life-deadening, repressive beliefs and practices – maintains a mechanical split within him/herself between feeling and thought, emotion and intellect, intuition and reason, nature and culture.
When this person “comes up” under such a setting, the adaptive aspects of human biology causes him/her to form character or personality structures trapped and addicted to the very oppressive “life” s/he has come to accept as “natural.” Given are the basics of vocabulary, behaviors, rules, morals, bias, etc. from which you learn to express, re-enforce and reproduce a rigid split in mind/body/soul according to socially approved standards.
Whether conscious of it or not, the person accustomed to, and receptive to , the society’s authoritarian beliefs and traditions, does not normally challenge her/himself to affirm those “anti-social” deeply-felt feelings or longings for un-ADULTerated life. The beliefs and traditions do not challenge the person to consciously allow his/her sexual, emotional, intellectual and physical seeds to develop in a more natural, less culturally oppressive way. And it is rare the person who will allow the Rebel Fire of Life within to be channeled into the human developmental forms that are indicative of personal and social freedom, consciousness, responsibility and happiness. It is even rarer the person who will know HOW to follow the faintest or strongest “inklings” and desires to be free or change the circumstances of life as s/he knows or has known it.