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Excerpt from Endgame

Operating in Trauma (p. 791)

From chapter "Like a Bunch of Machines"

My friend and I talked often about the implications of all this. Clearly the clients were cognitively incapable of consciously perceiving the weak points of every person in the room, consciously creating plans of attack, consciously cre- ating simple declarative sentences that would most effectively pit three or four people per sentence against each other, consciously anticipating each person’s response to the attempted manipulations, consciously planning counter responses, and consciously keeping track of all this. To do all of this consciously would require a lot of cognitive facility and energy. Just listing it out gives me a headache and makes me tired.

My friend and I soon began to talk about the psychoses somehow having intelligences and energies all their own, almost independent of the individual’s native intelligence and energy. Ted Bundy spoke about this. He was asked by police to help them profile the Green River Killer. He said that many serial killers in some ways have a certain clarity and awareness, an ability to read people and situations instantly, “not in an analytical way but in an intuitive way.”

I recently called another friend with a Ph.D in psychology to ask her what’s behind all this. She said, “You have to go to the neurological literature, but basically what you’ve got is someone whose brain has been trained to live and operate in trauma. In order to survive trauma you have to have an extraordinary ability to read and respond to others. Not in the soft way lovers read and respond to each other but in a fear-based way: if you don’t read the others accurately you could be beaten, raped, or killed. If those are the conditions under which you’re living, those are the rules you must live by. If you’re living in a place where you’re constantly under threat of attack you have to learn to outstalk or outfox your attacker. It’s not about morals. It’s about what works. Their behavior looks and is perfectly normal and functional when they’re in a room full of people who actually could attack at any moment, but when you put them elsewhere, their behavior looks and is really odd. You can tell them that they’re no longer under threat of attack but their brain is wired for threat. And to actually retrain the brain is very difficult.”

I thought about Lauren, and how her behavior was adaptive to the circumstances of her childhood. Her father often beat her mother, her siblings, and her. He often raped her. Her mother often beat her and her siblings. Her brother often raped her and her sister. A neighbor raped her and her sister. And she was raped by others. It’s no wonder she came on to every man she met: not only is that how one interacts with men, but if they’re going to take it anyway, you may as well maintain control by giving it first. It’s no wonder as well that she became brilliant at pitting people against each other: If Father is mad, better his anger is directed at Sister or Brother than me. Within that context her behavior not only made sense but was inspired. Out of that context, it drove me and her other friends away.

What does this have to do with civilization killing the planet?


Let me tell you another story.  My old friend the forest activist John Osborn has long said, “The reason we always lose is that the other side knows what it wants, and we have only the faintest clue what we want. They want every last tree, every last stick, and they want it now. We don’t know if we want smaller clearcuts, fewer clearcuts, better clearcuts, or what. They are driven to deforest, and are rewarded financially for doing it. Most of us are not driven in the same way. For most of us it’s a sideline to our main career, and certainly doesn’t pay our bills.