Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies
The subject of this book may seem extremely narrow but revolves around the most universal question of all: What must we do to repair the social and physical fractures that threaten to kill us all by means of climate change, nuclear holocaust, or the irrevocable poisoning of the water and air we need to drink and breathe? Thus this book is not only for progressive activists of all stripes and therapists who treat trauma, but also for anybody who wants help to repair the damage we have done to ourselves and our world.
Aftershock is my own term for post-traumatic reactions experienced by activists. Since I coined this particular use of the word, I get to decide how it can be used. I use it not only as a noun but also as an adjective.
Activists, this book is for you. You may not agree with me about some things. (Do we ever agree with each other about everything?) Throughout my activist career, it seems to always fall to me to say the things that nobody wants to hear. I have to do a little bit of that in this book, but mostly I am saying things that I think you will be glad to hear, once they sink in. Mostly, I am trying to communicate practical information that I think will be useful to you and to our shared struggle for peace and freedom. The practical applications of some things I say may not always be immediately evident. When that happens, I hope you will extend me a little bit of patience and trust that I will get around to explaining why I think an idea is important and what I think we should do with it.
Therapists, please resist the urge to skip right to the section of Chapter Five that is addressed to you. If you don’t want to read the whole book, please try to read at least chapters one, three, six, and seven. Trust me, they are relevant to your work. Whether or not you end up agreeing with me, I hope you will consider them. If you do end up working with activists, you’ll also want to be sure to read Chapter Two.
Of course, I hope that everybody will read the whole book. Whatever you do, don’t skip the chapter on animal emotions or the section on trauma culture, because, whoever you are, they are for you.
A Word about Sources
The history of psychological inquiry has been marred from the start by cruelties inflicted on animals and on non-consenting people such as slaves, prison inmates, and institutionalized people with disabilities. In one famous experiment, dogs were repeatedly shocked in order to “prove” that animals eventually stop trying to get away from things from which there is no escape. (This was supposed to tell us something we didn’t already know about human depression.) In another famous experiment, baby monkeys were taken from their mothers and raised in abject isolation in order to “prove” that mother-infant attachment is an important aspect of development. I wonder if you can imagine the sadness of these lonely monkeys, or what it is that their torture could have told us that we didn’t already know from the observation of babies in orphanages. Speaking of institutionalized people, until relatively recently in the history of psychological inquiry, prisoners and locked-up people with diagnoses of mental illness or mental retardation were subjected to similarly cruel and stupid experiments.
The history of neurobiology also has been and continues to be marked by hurtful and nonsensical experiments such as cutting away parts of an animal’s brain and then pretending that the behavior of the mutilated caged animal can tell us something about normal human emotions. Of course, the only thing that such experiments can teach us about human feelings is that people are very good at deadening our natural sympathy with other animals! Again, institutionalized people have fared little better than nonhuman animals and, until relatively recently, could be and were subjected to experimental psychosurgery without their consent.
In writing this book, I have not knowingly drawn directly from any kind of animal research other than non-intrusive observation of free animals. Nor have I knowingly used the results of any experiments perpetrated on non-consenting human subjects. I say “not knowingly” because general reference works sometimes do not state the sources of generally accepted facts, such as the functions of the limbic system. Unfortunately, the results of unethical human and animal experiments and ethical research with consenting human subjects may be intermingled in the process of achieving scientific consensus.
Thus, a simple and seemingly uncontroversial statement such as stress can damage the hippocampus might be indirectly based on both ethical measurements of the brains of consenting adult survivors of traumatic events, and horrific experiments involving the deliberate mutilation of the brains of non-consenting human or nonhuman animals. When talking about physiology, I have done my best to only make statements that I believe to be backed up by ethical research on consenting human subjects. I regret that our pool of general knowledge is tainted by the unethical methods of some past and present researchers.
The references section includes all of the works I consulted when writing this book. The notes for each chapter provide citations for key information as well as suggestions for further reading on selected topics.
A Note about Pronouns
Besides using neutral terms like "one" and "they," I also alternate feminine and masculine pronouns in order to avoid sexist language. So, don’t be surprised or angered if you see a stray "he"—wait a few pages and a "she" or "her" will pop up to balance the scales.
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