Silence is far from nothing. Silence can be deadly and deadening. And silence is not a new form of violence. There is no natural silence. Even the apparent silence during a sudden solar eclipse is not silent. It is a space filled with tension of a lower decibel.
But the silence I mean is one of a different kind.
I mean the social silence. When one or more people who used to talk to you stop talking to you, that is the silence I mean. And when you are not told what the reasons may be. When you perhaps see them standing in a group close enough so you hear they are talking, maybe even throw what seems like furtive glances toward you but far enough away that you cannot hear more than the murmur. This form of silence has been magnified millionfold by what we call social media, and it has cost the lives of many. Call it bullying by silence. It also treats the victim as if it were not human, as if she or he had no feelings.
If we go back many thousands of years, really a great many thousands, we see most people living in an archaic form of “communities”. I have come to hate the word, and it will become clear why. There is something we humans have in common with rats and other warm-blooded creatures. Not only do we like (mostly) each other’s company, we need it for survival. This need for each other gives the each-other existential powers because only a few humans survive a solitary existence, like the occasional hermit or the much maligned lone old woman in the woods. By and large, you didn’t choose that existence without duress. And silence is that kind of duress.
Victimized by Nothing
Silence excludes the “victim of nothing” from the existential connections to others. Like all social abuse, it used to require a degree of effort by the perpetrators. Take turning one’s back on someone or huddling together for expletive exclusion, or spreading misinformation about a person. It’s all much easier today, it comes at the tap – or non-tap – of a finger. No blood, no risk, no accountability. The reasons stay the same, be it high tech or low tech silence, a self-righteous unwillingness to want to have an answer that might challenge one’s humanity to stretch a bit, colloquially also referred to as human courage.
Take the example of a group of children, let’s say a dozen or so, who regularly play with each other. There will be roles and dynamics in this group and there will be disagreements. On average, it will take one among them with a desire for more power than would otherwise be natural, and this one will find a second to project derived power onto the one, and this duo will then proceed to establish, and then consolidate power at the expense of the most suitable target. This target will be a child who is different or weak or merely enigmatic and the easiest object for communal action.
One option at this point is physical violence, and that may intimidate and hurt, a la “sticks and stones”. And this may be followed by verbal attacks, taunting and the like, which inflicts a double injury, because every verbal provocation is laced with the past experience of having been beaten up and the implied recognition that to react against the provocation would be more painful. This is a depression, an eating into one’s gut. In other words, words may very well break a child
A Wall of Silence
But the worst progression in this abuse escalation is the wall of silence. After sticks and stones caused bruises and words incited an autogenic depression (isn’t it always autogenic?), the silence makes the emotional bottom drop out. It injects a kind of a long-term virus of doubt. It elevates stress hormones forever and this way represents a tangible attack on the victim’s life expectancy. Why? Because it erodes the degree of trust that is required for every person to “reset” from the daily stresses of life. Very often, to drown out that latent stress, the victims will surround themselves with ambient stresses, bad global news, hardships, and people worse off.
There is little more disempowering than silence. If someone who once bought apples from me that the apples were rotten or tasteless, I can refund the money or replace the bad apples. I can remedy the situation. If the customer simply doesn’t come back or simply goes to the next produce stand and ostentatiously buys apples, and then triumphantly marches past my stand, I am left wondering, I am infected with the doubt virus. And even if I eventually think I forgot that experience, I didn’t. It is like a herpes-type virus that will break out under stress.
A Weapon for the Cowards
What makes silence a weapon of the coward is the omission factor. Silence is legal, silence leaves no tire marks, no powder burns, no carbon copies, no browsing history, and silence incurs no attorney’s fees.
Silences dehumanizes. If we consider the little gang of children or the neighbors along a suburban street who for no known reason cut a person out, they implicitly treat their victim as if they had no feelings, as if their days and night were not affected, their weekends, their trips to the market hoping for and dreading encounters with members of the wall of silence. Maybe, eventually, rumors trickle down of rumors having been disseminated by mostly unknown sources, with specific content being disclosed. But rather than ameliorate the stress, the rumor of rumors adds a further layer to the unknown threats: Who? Why? What did I do to them or did I do anything to anyone at all? Even rumors of the nature of front-page questions like “Is XYZ in reality the wanted murderer ZYX?” It will leave many readers convinced that the answer is affirmative. XYZ’s reputation is likely destroyed. No facts are needed, no investment, no risk. And the perpetrators sleep like angels and go to church every week and are considered the pillars of society.
For a quick excursion to the word “community”. Many people who have been around public or even limited group issues, have experienced how the term “community” is appropriated by some who in order to bolster their personal validity claim to represent a grouping. Most often, that effort is directed at one or two people who might question the validity of the alleged mandate. And the result is that the victim of the false community claim is left outside. Ironically, most such “communities” wear progressive, enlightened, or spiritual badges while, in reality they agglomerate and operate like any hierarchical little fiefdom, where one or a small group establishes themselves at the tip of a pyramid and kicks anyone possibly endangering such a top-of-the-heap position down the hill or out the door. Especially when this type of ostracizing is done under some sort of pseudo-spiritual peace flag, the existential devastation inflicted on the victim becomes unspeakably cynical. After all, the messages, verbal or silent, are clad in a terminology of love and peace. Add to this the implied hope raised by the word naming something we all desire, a hope that will more often than not be abused and then disappointed.
The 21st century variety silence adds two vastly magnifying dimensions: Invisibility and quantity. What is called “social media” allows perpetrators of silence to remain invisible and multiply exponentially overnight. The invisibility is “in plain sight” so to speak because the entire exchange – or lack thereof as in case of silence – is “mediated”. People don’t talk to people but chat or tweet or message or email and imagine the rest.
This is a perfect playing field for the withholding. I call it withholding because withholding is what silence is. If the interaction with people is experienced as a component in the balance of life, then its more-or-less sudden removal will destroy that balance. If we experience a power outage, we assume that the people on the imaginary other side of a communication would if they could. Not so with apparently intentional silence. The victim can for awhile make up excuses to soften the blow of nothing. But eventually nothing will become too evident. The disruption of the assumed balance can take on many shapes. But one thing is clear, the stresses as alluded to under “Wall of Silence” will set in, sometimes temporarily but sometimes triggering a downward spiral. This downward spiral can be fatal.
Indigenous Death Sentence
There are indigenous societies where there is barely ever a need for “justice”. Any transgressions are settled by elders and the transgressors are given a way to see their wrongs, make restitution, and learn to change their ways. Only in the rare case that a person perpetrates a hugely grave and irreparable transgression and refuses to reintegrate into the society will there be such a thing as punishment. And in the rarest of all such rare cases will there be a kind of death penalty, but not by way of the person getting actually killed. In cases like these, the perpetrator is “condemned” to removing himself from the society and go away and die. And they do. The life energy required to function in that society incorporates the community to such a critical extent that a withdrawal is experienced as termination of life.
Of course, “death by power outage” (no phone, no internet, no email, no facebook) would be an extreme occurrence, but if we take the metaphor a little further and contemplate the communal energy in an indigenous tribe like a life support system – which it is –its withdrawal would be akin to “pulling the plug”.
This heading has been used before. to describe astronomic phenomena, for example. In our case, “nothing” can become a deadly weapon. In fact, there have been cases where teenagers, whose emotional stability depended on their internet “community” did take their own life when that life-line was cut.
What I’m trying to get across is the responsibility each participant in the core of what we call our age, the “age of communication”, has for maintaining their thread of the web. Other than in the case of abuse, we cannot, instead of dealing with a conflict, wash our hands of a relationship and simply drop the communication. The other person is a person, a human, with feelings like ours, fears, hopes, desires, aspirations like ours, and fallibility like ours. She or he is not a cartoon, not an administrative entity, not an applicant or a defendant, let alone “the enemy”.
There is no need for an extensive excursion into how, for example, the National Socialists in Germany systematically dehumanized members of what they considered inferior races or segments of society, like Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals or communists. Neither is there a need for a similar excursion into slavery in the US and its dehumanizing of black people, for example, which lasted into the 1970’s and is still well and alive in some notorious minds.
Neither Enslave nor be a Slave
What’s going to be my elegant wrap-up here?
There isn’t going to be one, because none of the above is about “them” or is suitable to provide a sense of relief. This little essay just may make things worse, whether you agree with it or categorically reject it or maintain a safely “yes but maybe” stance.
Silence Fiction is but one strand in the rope of dehumanization that is slowly draped around our necks. On the one hand, people become more dependent on the amorphous mass reflection or the approval of fictional “friends”; on the other hand, the stress of that dependency often makes them act out their power – that of silence, for example – against others. Everyone of us is potentially both, slave by way of having made ourselves dependent and slave master (abuser) by way of assuming a place of accuser, witness, judge, and jury in an everything-goes jungle of disempowerment.
So the question remains: will any of the readers apply any of this to themselves?
A few thoughts on the recently issued Statement of Solidarity with the NWSA Trans and Gender Variant Caucus. (see also )
Why Academia has Always been At War with Women
The Women’s Studies community has been targeted for take-over by patriarchal interests in many guises for several decades. One such approach uses the academic backdrop itself and perversely turns it into a poison pill to liquidate original thought, creativity, diversity – and I mean DIVERSITY rather than multiple choice. Why do I refer to patriarchal interests?
While science – all science – has its origin in women’s bodies, women’s bleeding with the moon, the whiney male of the species has long been jealous of Woman and more-or-less successfully tamed Woman’s knowledge and insights into what is today called “classical science and philosophy”, thought up by men and disseminated – pun intended – among men of the upper classes. In later millennia, the church appropriated rudiments of science, turned it into kitchen Latin (really is lousy Latin) and kept it from the non-ordained common folk. But since the church held not only the key to eternity but yuuuge amounts of land, resources, and power, that church monopoly was used to eliminate dissent, and especially female dissent, and especially property owning female dissent.
The Academic Company Store
Monopoly in knowledge, that means there’s only a single “company store” for knowledge. Which is why, in order to succeed in academia, original thought beyond a small new wrinkle in the well-traveled and non-threatening regurgitation of established doctrine is discouraged.
Now, when you go back to how Woman receives her knowledge, you immediately see that the two, academic company store and home-grown fare, are fundamentally incompatible.
Academia has never, ever been equipped to deal with anything that is as uncontrollable as Woman, except for claiming the ability to measure the uncontrollability. You get the drift.
Anyone invested in any academia-based entity therefore can be blackmailed into compliance . . or else, be branded and exiled into the academic desert.
The reason this matters is that the signers of the “Statement of Solidarity with the NWSA* Trans and Gender Variant Caucus” are all beholden to their status with the NWSA. Some not very kind metaphors come to mind but I leave it to the readers’ mind to come up with them. (*NWSA stands for the National Women’s Studies Association.)
Why All Hierarchies Always Had to Have Been At War with Women
In my childhood, long before electronic games and without the means, even had they existed, among our various toys, there were little tin figures, about one and a half inches tall, and miniature toy cars, all of which were moved by means of magnets underneath the table. What made these toys move on top of the table was an invisible power below. This is a relevant metaphor because in the conflict about the trans issue, we often seem to deal with motivation we cannot address, motivation that is unknown to the other person, i.e. under the table, and cannot be addressed. And we are frustrated beyond belief for trying to argue against a framing shell game where, whatever we answer or propose, the main issues remain framed in such a way that they remain untouchable by any discussion.
A look in that direction is helpful when we try to understand why especially school administrators, school nurses, psychologists, and any number of mid level administrators in many fields so staunchly undertake the crusades on the side of an allegedly unquestionable validity of anything the trans lobby demands. The trick here is to see whose validity is really at issue. Like most wheels in the works of patriarchal hierarchies, people at work in low- to mid-level administrative jobs live with a deep desire to feel meaning in their job; that they are mostly conscious of. But they also experience a deep powerlessness and – mostly below the table top of conscious awareness, a corresponding need for validation and power. By nature, this power has to be derived. It is the opposite of self-arising, It is, again, fundamentally incompatible with the essence of Woman’s relationship to life.
This makes low- and midlevel administrators very susceptible to the temptation to exert power and derive validation by way of directives, guidelines, laws and ordinances over those, whose power exists regardless of their professional validation or lack thereof: Women. Perversely, since an increasing number of women are stuck in those low-to mid-level (underpaid) jobs, it amounts to what appears like a war by women on women, especially in the matter of trans issues. Add to this the “sexy” look of it being a civil rights issue, and the official advocacy against biology becomes dogma.
Victim Status to Fuel the War on Women
Now to the trans-megaphone at hand. It is riddled with assumptions, self-importance, and entitlement, implied lies and deceptions. A flood of buzzwords, my friends, does not make for content. The assumption that a “statement by NWSA Trans Caucus co-chair Cael Keegan” (check the dude out) has us shake in our boots is a clinical sign of male-identified grandiosity. On the other hand, fascist propaganda always, really every fucking time, dresses itself up in victim garb. I’m sure Hitler did not invent that, and neither did “the Senator from Wisconsin” and neither did Bannon and Spencer and the soon to be second-shortest POTUS. (I give him two months.) Hence the framing of an openly expressed difference of opinion as “blatant hostility” and a questioning of some physiologically questionable premises as oppression and exclusion.
Self-Importance Proves this Crusade to be Male
But let’s look at the snow job from the other side. Actually, there are two other sides.
First, the implied claims and assertions:
Trans-scholarship is being excluded, probably for the very reason that we don’t really know what it is other then narcissistic umbilicus picking. Hollywood has covered it in “The Danish Girl”, yes? The real issue is that, from the male p.o.v., women’s studies urgently needed to be cut down to being as much of an adjunct to gender and anything-you-want studies as women were considered adjunct to the male, ever since she was made from Adam’s rib or climbed out of Zeus’ head, whichever came first..
(As I said, academia is more than systemically vulnerable to that crap.)
This scholarship claim as well as that of a validity of the “careful and critical engagement with intersectionality and privilege” cleverly bypasses the opportunity to actually question that very validity by framing it as the victim of oppression. So we are called to address the alleged oppression without asking “of what?” And tucked in here is an open threat: “cannot go unchecked.” The impersonal “cannot” creates the divinely ordained crusade-like righteous justification, and “unchecked” translates as a call to armed action. I don’t literally mean guns and knives but militarism and intimidation. “Agree or else.”
The Fingers Pointing Back
The other other side is the one where three giant fingers point back (ouch) at the source of the index finger pointing and screaming accusations of oppression, exclusion, invalidating, hostility and any number of phobia labels. (I, for example, have some very helpful ones, such as idiot-phobia, phoney-phobia, self-important-little-shit-phobia, all nothing fatal but annoying – where is my fly swatter.) But back to the three phalanges. To save some time here, I recommend videos of how trans lobbyists and their bussed-in foot soldiers harassed and verbally abused totally peaceful female participants in various events. Maybe I’ll post them here later. The bottom line of this other other side is that you will find hooligan behavior that makes a beer inundated soccer match pale by comparison.
And yet another other other side, the kind of stuff that happened in response to the claim of oppression of the Arian race as alleged in Mein Kampf:
Action Plan: Comply . . . Or Else
What to do with “individuals who have [perpetrated] this oppressive behavior on the listserv and in other academic settings”?
This is where the McCarthyism of the action plan comes in., which boils down to excluding (oops) and deplatforming (=excluding) and punishing those who “were warned, given an explanation, but nevertheless persisted.” After all, the purpose of the job listing links is to monitor all applicable job offerings and come down on any entity who is hiring a person who is not “certified trans-friendly”. The result will be a militant censorship against anyone getting any academic job who is not trans-conformist.
“Are you now or have you ever been. . ?“
Go ahead. Ignore history.
Go ahead. Ignore the dots, and, for chrissakes, don’t connect them!
If you are a tolerably intelligent and creative person, which I assume because you’re reading this, you will be surrounded by people who don’t dislike you but who are not really sure they know where to put you. Maybe it’s that you speak another language. Maybe you have interesting pictures on the wall. Maybe you don’t barbecue and guzzle sixpacs every summer weekend. Maybe you are Lesbian or just not safely tucked away in a conventional marriage. Maybe you and the person(s) in your household have different last names. Or maybe you merely drive an old car that you actually own. The list could be extended.
Any and all of these characteristics make John and Jane uncomfortable. (If you change the particulars in the above list, you can also migrate the situation down decades, centuries or millennia. But let’s stay right here, at the onset of the new dark ages.)
People do not like to be uncomfortable. People do not like to not know if the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence or the grapes really really sweet where they can’t reach them. People don’t like that. People will develop a resentment, but in most cases not be aware of it. They will chat will you across the fence or from driveway to driveway. Hubby over there may actually lend you some tools or explain how to swap a faucet. Nice neighbors.
But why is your TV not on? Why don’t you even have a TV? Why don’t you get drunk on the 4th of July? People don’t like to be uncomfortable, and you make them uncomfortable!
Worst of all, you are a nice person, a helpful person perhaps, caring and supportive when you sense a need on your neighbors’ part.
But there is nothing you can do. Your neighbors’ discomfort is a powder keg. Whatever they don’t know about you will be used against you. When the time comes. And the time may be now.
The only thing people in unconscious discomfort need is the relief of a common denominator, a führer or some such who taps into that discomfort and triggers a long suppressed reaction. Happened to J.C.. Will happen to you. How many fingers do you think are already pointing at you? What rumors do you think are circulated about you?
When things all over are bad enough –unconscious discomfort included, people need scapegoats. It is the nature of these animals, that we know nothing about them. Actually, it is required, that we know nothing about them. Because if we did, we would understand them to be no more than the most personable ruminants with no more interest in harming you than your pet rabbit. But because people don’t know anything about these critters, they can blame them for whatever makes them uncomfortable or scared. And once you know what’s “wrong” – even if it is total fiction – you can take care of it. Pop-pop fizz-fizz.
This dynamic may also explain why, to many people, fear, perversely, seems so enormously empowering. Which explains the humungous success of sickness advertising. The more unconscious a person is, the more the “unbearable lightness of being” – a.k.a. life – seems to seek relief by way of beer or an illness that presumably can be fought, or any other variety of scapegoat. “Now I know why . . .” even if it is bullshit.
All this explains why people join armies and put their lives on the line – senselessly – as long as they are sold the story that an eradication of “the enemy” would make it all alright. This is the rhetoric that made people vote Donald Trump into office, a cowardly bully, who pretends he knows how to make the discomfort go away.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here because how he promises to do that depends on enemies that he will defeat. Like China or “the Chinese” or “the Mexicans” or . . . but wait! Since your neighbors’ aspiration for discomfort removal are now hitched to that “successful” leader, your neighbor will join the scapegoating party and add you to the enemies. After all, “1984” has, in recent weeks, been the top bestseller on Amazon. But go ahead. Ignore history. Go ahead. Ignore the dots, and, for chrissakes, don’t connect them!
Maybe to be continued . . .