Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lies and Self-Deceptions

Meredith Maran is an American feminist writer who eventually decided in middle age that her father had not sexually abused her in her childhood after all. But by that time her allegation had wreaked all manner of silliness, sorrow and alienation. She had severed relationships between her two sons and their grandfather, to say nothing of her own bond with her father, for some eight years. She had devastated other family relationships in the process. Her own marriage had fallen apart, and then her first lesbian partnership... That happened because the lesbian partner saw herself as another horribly abused female, and to throw doubt on any of this was to commit treason against the Cause.

But by the time Maran makes up her mind whether she was abused or not, a good bit of the damage she has done is beyond repair, and her father is developing Alzheimers. It’s difficult to know whether he understands her apologies.

This was all in the 70s, 80s, 90s... when else? Hysteria about sexual abuse of children spread across the USA and far beyond. Then it got flavoured with allegations of satanic abuse and much atrocity. Parents everywhere, but especially mothers, went on red alert, imagining and fantasising, listing “symptoms”, having meetings, writing and reading books by women, looming over their children’s every thought and action, prying and prognosticating... Much of this is now concealed behind a veil of embarrassment.

Kindergartens and other places where children were supposed to be cared for came under the scrutiny of the abuse warriors. New Zealand’s classic example is scrupulously documented in Lynley Hood’s book, “A City Possessed”. The city was Christchurch. A kind of Salem-madness swept the place, and the lives of good people were destroyed.

As a minister through that time, I had several instances in which distraught adults came to say that son or daughter had generated recovered memories of sexual abuse against a parent, teacher, minister. These emerging memories assumed, one way or another, that other surrounding adults are all stupid, blind, or complicit; that dreams and fantasies and various symptoms amount to fact; that known and respected people are crypto-abusers and criminals; that males are constantly needing and seeking sexual release...

The sexual abuse of children does happen of course, and is inexcusable. See http://rosssmoment.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html But the hysteria of the 80s was also itself destructive, the mad and militant feminists who decided all men were a danger, the fantasies of recovered memory and satanic rites. This silly and strident thing eventually subsided, like a collapsing hot-air balloon, as did the witch hunts of old and the McCarthy paranoia of the 50s, under the weight of its own manifest untruth.

You have to wonder now how many Catholic priests and others have been destroyed by recovered memories that are actually fantasy. I accept of course that much abuse has occurred.

In NZ this kind of allegation was dangerous enough, heaven knows, but in the USA... ye gods. It seems that the whole population of the Land of the Free, committed to the Pursuit of Happiness, is into “therapy”. The “counselling” industry grew to monstrous proportions. “Therapists” specialised in “Recovered Memory”, now largely debunked. I had a friend who used to be a nun in the USA, but who left to get a PhD so that she could become a therapist.

Maran writes about being constantly in therapy -- personal therapy on Monday, special therapy to prop up her new lesbian relationship on Tuesday, Wednesday free perhaps, Abuse Survivors’ group therapy on Thursday. And then, when she decides she is diving into insomnia, it’s off to some psychiatrist to pick up a prescription for Halcion. And in the American urban culture none of that is abnormal. It’s a kind of addiction.

One mystery: How do they afford it? Like, how do the characters on Coronation Street afford the amount of boozing they do in the Rover’s Return? US$80 an hour seems to have been the going rate in San Jose in 1990 for a caring therapist.

Ego is the key here. I would think that the chief assumption of the normal secular culture, and certainly of the counselling industry, is that Ego Rules. The main task is to find and free up Yourself. Putting Self aside would be a total No-No, incomprehensible. Exercises and rituals and disciplines are all to release and expand the Self, to recover the Ego.

But the teaching of contemplatives is precisely otherwise. You receive, not give. You lay the voracious, demanding Ego on the altar. You are the person God sees, not the one you want constantly to protect, feed and enhance. Happiness is not the goal.

Meredith Maran: My Lie [Jossey-Bass, 2010]

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