This book was instrumental in providing me with a lot of insights that changed the way I understand misfortune.
Many intellectuals who borrowed from psychoanalysis, including Erich Fromm, Kleinians and others I read whilst studying for my thesis, implied indirectly that the symptoms of trauma were a result of moral failure. Indeed, I was only reminded of the nature of this association last night, when I watched the World War One drama, DOWNTOWN ABBEY. What can be worse that being killed? To be killed for cowardice. So a household servant is informed that her relative died in the war, but it was “worse than that”. The ideology of “moral fiber” that is central to the 19th Century has not been overturned by the early part of the next. Rather, there was a notion that some possessed moral fiber (See pp 271ff) whereas others did not..
You would be able to see this ideology regarding the all-conquering character who makes no excuses, in Nietzsche. I’d like to think that my thesis on Marechera, who also has much of the Nietzschean spirit of wanting to conquer the world, but in an entirely different context, which did not permit permanent or definitive success, corrects previous suppositions about the structures of the psyche. The ability to persist in dangerous situations is certainly laudable, however, in contradiction to the 19th Century view we must now assume that such determination to persist when all the odds are against one will take its toll on the mind. This extraction of a cost nothing to do with anyone’s innate capacity to follow through on an extremely difficult task. Rather, as we know today, everybody, even the strongest, has a breaking point. Some people may last longer than others under extreme duress, but more those of more rational views would frame this as a psychological issue, not a moral one*.
Judith Herman puts everything into context when she shows that those who suffer from trauma suffer not from their own limitations but from the limitations of those who should be part of their nearest communities. To take a brave risk is one thing, but if your community doesn’t back you up, you are probably going to suffer from psychological trauma. Herman is certainly not suggesting a hippy-dippy attitude, where “community” is the answer to all wrongs. Rather, what she seems to suggest is that we are all interconnected. If you withdraw the human connection — that is, the lifeline — from somebody who has taken a risk, they are going to feel more in danger. The betrayal of trust will compute, at a psychological level, as trauma.
It’s not that the particular individual from whom you withdrew your moral support has some intrinsic moral lack.
It’s that you withdrew your moral support.
*These days we seem to have flipped into biologism which, on the surface at least, seems exactly the opposite of the 19th Century view. In other words, biological “reasons” are invoked for people to take various chemicals to make them “normal”. The problem is no longer a moral one, but one pertaining to one’s unique, individual biological make-up. This view is as false as the 19th Century one — even if it seems to offer the sufferer less difficulty in the short-term, because the demand to unquestioningly conform to social norms remains as an unethical pressure.