Hope is the Bravest Rebellion: Cultural PTSD and the Challenge of Our Age

As we struggle to confront a range of impulses in this global revolution of ideas, we must confront above all else the idea that “Life is a war, and winner takes all.”

While this isn’t a new idea, it has gained such traction in our world, in our governments, in our discourse and our minds that as non-violent protests are met with verbal, physical and philosophical bloodshed, we must look clearly at its roots.

We are, always have been, and always will be a species of compassionate predators. We kill more readily, more willfully, and more consciously than perhaps any other animal… and yet we also show the greatest degree of altruistic compassion as well.

(This isn’t to say that other species are not cruel or compassionate – they can be both. But we institutionalize kindness and brutality as spiritual-cultural paragons, and gauge ourselves and our fellow humans accordingly.)

Right now, today, we stand at the culmination of two diametrically opposed ideas:

* A global “apocalypse” [1] in which all things (save the chosen few who follow the [fill in the blank] godhead) will be destroyed/ damned/ cast into everlasting fire/ whatever. Such devastation is divinely sanctioned and ultimately desirable; or…

* A global redemption in which we stop short of self-demolition and reverse our current course of careless worlwide exploitation.

Both ideals have been struggling with one another for decades – since at least the end of World War II. Yet to understand the driving force behind the “compassion is for pussies” [2] impulse, we must look at one resident elephant in our global living room.

A massive case of PTSD.

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A kill-or-be-killed mentality that keeps driving us to the brink of self-extinction… and, as our Apocalypse fascinations show us, we feel on some levels we deserve.

A trauma-induced reflex that has us leaping at shadows until everyone looks like an enemy and everything seems like a threat.

A fight-or-flight drive to exterminate that which we fear threatens us.

It’s not a new part of the human condition. But the last five centuries have brought our inner demons and angels to the fore. And the fate of the next century may be determined by which one we choose right now.

Although there has never been an historical period without any form of war, the titanic global conflicts that began with the Colonial Age in the 1600s and culminated in the three world wars (WWI, WWII, and the “Cold War”) of the 1900s unleashed a staggering case of worldwide PTSD upon almost every tribe and nation.

As the empires of that age grew larger, expanded further, and spent more time “pacifying the natives” (read: “killing people who didn’t want them there”), the majority of men from each culture were REQUIRED to spend some period of their lives in military service. Those who managed to make it home alive were marked by the traumas of those wars, and passed down a legacy of harshness and cruelty to their families. The idea that “A Real Man(tm)” must be a brutal, ruthless bully was solidified as cultural identity during this period. It had existed long before then, of course, but was embraced and propagated by every cultural institution – and, since the Industrial Revolution, mechanized as well… thus spreading and intensifying the cycle of abuse to every facet of our world.

The climax of this idea reached its near-ultimate form between 1915 and 1970, when more people were killed by war than had existed on earth for all of human history before that time. (Well over 200 million by the most conservative of estimates, probably far more than that.) We’re still dealing with the “Kill ’em all” attitude, but in the shadows of Hiroshima, Dresden, London and Stalingrad (not to mention Auschwitz, Nankeen, Bataan, and so forth), we saw the very real potential for human extinction.

From there, we as a species began to try and FIX the problem, to address it as a PROBLEM, and to find solutions to our self-destructive urge.

There are still FAR too many people working under the old set of ideas, but the potential for something better is finally emerging: a therapy for the human spirit which it’s not too late to embrace.

That infamous act of global performance art we call 9/11 may have brought the issue to a head. In the short term, it unleashed America’s demons and brought us face-to-face with our worst aspects; those aspects – both in the States and overseas – are now face-to-face across the barricades. In the streets, in our homes, on the internet, we realize that something implacably vast is at stake.

It’s heady. It’s terrifying. And it’s very, very real.

Our species stands at the crossroads of Hope and Fear. One will allow us to survive; the other – regardless of ancient revenge fantasies – will not.

A Big Daddy God will not swoop down from the sky to save us. To trust in this idea is as insulting to Divinity as it is corrosive to our existence.

It’s up to us to save ourselves. We made this mess, and it’s up to us to fix it.

I believe we can. And yes – that’s a revolutionary act. As I’ve written elsewhereHOPE IS THE BRAVEST REBELLION. And it is in our souls to be brave.

As human beings, we must mature beyond our childhood fears and impulses before we can function as adults. As thrilling and worthwhile as some aspects of childhood can be, a child is incapable of certain essential acts of survival.

Without losing the best elements of our spirits, or losing compassion for the wounds that pain us all, it is high time for us to grow the fuck up.

To take responsibility for ourselves. To heal. To grow.

We can do it if we have the will to do so.

And we MUST. Because a wounded child in the body of a furious adult is a danger to himself and everything nearby.

If for no better reason than that, we must win the challenge before us now. It’s not just the banking industry or capitalism we need to reform right now: It’s our self-inflicted global PTSD that we will either treat and move beyond, or embrace and be, by that, destroyed.

———————–

1 – The word actually means “revelation,” not” end of the world”; still, thanks to a certain ergot-tripping Roman exile, the two meanings have become intertwined in our cultural vocabularly.

2 – The denigration of women and femininity – especially as a mark of “manhood” – is part of the baggage we really need to junk if we’re to survive as a species. It’s never really served us well, but it’s long past whatever shelf-life it once might have had.  

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About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
This entry was posted in Politics & Society, Spirituality & Reflection. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hope is the Bravest Rebellion: Cultural PTSD and the Challenge of Our Age

  1. Pingback: Not Sanskrit for “Doormat” | Satyros Phil Brucato

  2. Pingback: Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence | Satyros Phil Brucato

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