Thursday, April 17, 2008

MAD

Suzy said, "There are no accidents" in reply to a post of Doug's.

I have been worrying, off and on about the activity of blogging. I've been writing less in my diary; sometimes I'll be writing there and feel an impulse break off and take the theme I'm writing here. I've not been sure if that's a good thing--if blogging represents a distraction from more "important" work. Often I feel restless inside, with the result that I simply have not been drilling as deeply in my journaling. And I miss the feelings of warmth and pleasure as I did so. I continue to wonder if some of the restlessness has to do with no longer augmenting my explorations, and if blogging has been the default distraction.

But now I'm getting a hint that blogging may be expanding and enriching the search. Today I realized that some themes that have come up in blogging have been informing some fruitful movement in my counseling.

The approach of the type of counseling I've been doing, Archetypal Pattern Analysis looks at patterns, how they influence and perhaps ensnare us. Thoughts and feelings that we may believe arise from within us may instead be part of a larger pattern of energy whose influence we're unaware of in shaping us.

Last week in my counseling session I told Sharon about a dream I could only remember the smallest bit from: my father had tickets to Olympic events in the Soviet Union. It was snowing and he was driving us in a car on winter roads. It was very slippery. Perhaps this is what initiated the talk about my father having been a bombadier aboard one of the planes that circled the globe, carrying a payload of nuclear weapons.

A direct result of this conversation with Sharon was my mentioning it in my blog to Doug, who reminded me of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). I did a little reading at Wikipedia this morning about MAD, and entered the world of tortured logic of nuclear deterrence. I see that my father was part of the doctrine of "Second Strike", which was the deterrence part. He was to be the 'consequence/punishment' of a Soviet "First Strike"--which was meant to keep a First Strike from happening. If my reasoning is correct the logic of 'second strike' required that a certain tonnage of bombs that had been calculated to 'assure' destruction had to be in the air at all times. (This must have been wild logistically to coordinate.)

I think this is the first time I've come to grips with the fact that my father was trained to drop a nuclear weapon and was prepared to do it. I think I'd had an idea somewhere that his planes carried conventional bombs.

I've in my conscious mind felt very separate from my father's profession. I see now the contradiction in this: it put food in my mouth and put me through college. It's an illusion that it had nothing to do with me.

Years ago I asked my father if he'd felt any personal repugnance at some of the CIA personnel he must have had some contact with. This was in the 80's when it was becoming public the role that the CIA had played in South America, in propping up dictatorships that had resulted in the 'disappearing', torture, and murder of thousands, tens of thousands. I don't remember how his reply led to his disclosure that he, by himself, in one of the planes he crewed on, could have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and he was fully prepared to do this--and was convinced that this was not immoral. Even then I did not connect nuclear weapons to him.

I was a weird kid. I felt connected to living things like animals, to plants, even to inanimate objects. I felt nagged by a sense of responsibility for suffering, and it was a very heavy weight. Turning away from suffering I think was the crux of this. I could be reading a book, and remember that there were plants outside that hadn't been watered for a while. I would feel nagged by this, the personal feeling that these plants were thirsty and I could not rest until I'd (unwillingly) gone to them and watered them.

I suppose this is why the whole issue of 'collateral damage' has been looming so large for me. It's the idea of acceptance that some suffering is inevitable and must be turned away from in order to accomplish a greater objective (while ignoring that it is someone else who is paying the price for this greater objective) that I'm stuck on.

At 12 and 13 I was tortured by the feeling that insects might be in pain. Along any sidewalk I might travel would be bugs that had turned onto their backs and their legs were flailing. I couldn't turn away and I often felt paralyzed by this responsibility. I felt I had to kneel beside them and gently (so patiently and carefully) turn them back over onto their legs so they could go on. But then sometimes they'd flip back over onto their backs. Generally by now there were people calling to me impatiently: "Come on!" "We're waiting for you!" This was a very anxious time. I couldn't stay, my sense of responsibility wouldn't let me go. I might give the bug another chance, and if that failed my final responsibility was to euthanize it. I'd place a leaf over it and step on it as quickly as I could to give it an instant death. I hated this. I hated the feeling of the exoskeleton crunching underfoot.

To anyone who may have been off observing I probably appeared to be cruel and cold-blooded.

I think it was this part of me that resonated in reading McCarthy's The Road.

Some weeks ago I told Sharon about some family folklore. My mother laughs and tells the story of when she nearly divorced my father. I don't remember in the story if I was newborn or a few months old, but she said my days and nights "had gotten turned around". I slept in the day and cried at night. This was during the times my father worked on the flight crew holding the threat aloft. I suppose his hours may have been punishing, and he needed his sleep. My cries must have been very frustrating for him. It's so sad that there was no flexibility in those days to the rules that a child must shape his/her behavior to the convenience of the adults around. It's so sad that there was no place for exception in the belief that a "child must sleep in his own bed". Mom said one night my father got up and came into my room and spanked me. Later she amended the story to say that he 'patted' me, once, through the diaper on my butt. She said she was so furious she wanted to leave (which is saying a lot because my mother has always adored my father and has always been very dependent on him). The caveat of the story is that I "never cried at night again"--what's implied is that he was vindicated and she was a fool to have been so angry.

That story was part of family lore and would be told spontaneously. For me to ask for it to be told now would have to be approached carefully--my family has learned to be wary of my 'excavating', even though I try to exclude intimations of blame. The point is, I never really thought much of this story, besides the merits of it: how would a baby know to not cry again? Surely a baby wouldn't have the wherewithal to realize cause and effect in such a sophisticated way?

A week after I told Sharon about this she said she was still trying to 'get her mind around' the idea of someone spanking a baby--for crying. That's when I thought some more about my experience with my children. I was very lucky to not be challenged with colicky infants; my guys soothed pretty easily. I think this is because going in our favor was a relaxation of some of those 'rules' I referenced above. They slept in our bed so I hardly had to awaken for feedings; I never felt sleep deprived. There was a lot of peace that we wouldn't have had had the old rules been in force. There was also a general cultural awareness that there were certain expectations of baby behavior that were unrealistic and cruel.

That said, I still can't blame a parent who might want to spank a baby. I had plenty of friends who did have colicky babies. One friend of mine, a psychologist said she'd had a fantasy flash before her eyes on yet another night of needing to walk a wailing Nathan, of dashing his head against the wall. Another talked about wee-hours walking around and around four floors above a motel courtyard that surrounded a pool, looking down at the pool, and then at her son's screaming face, back down at the pool.

They thought it, they didn't do it. They got support, they redoubled their efforts to give this baby what it needed.

With that in mind I looked at the family folktale with a different eye. And it's hard to imagine a circumstance where it would make sense to apply a doctrine of punishing a behavior in order to shape it, to an infant. How cruel that would be, to not only leave an infant with the pain of an unmet need, but to punish the expression of need.

My father was very young, 23 when I was born. He probably needed the precious few hours of sleep he could get, because he was expected to wake up in the wee hours and get on a jet that was going to circle the world with a monstrous payload that he'd already rationalized to himself its use. Perhaps whatever it took to reconcile this to himself, denial, compartmentalization, rationalization, minimization (of whether or not the suffering of the 'enemy' even mattered), disabled the moral sense that might have kept him from hitting a baby. Results were enough.

And to get back to the idea of patterns, and energy behind patterns, is it possible that his pushing his responsibility to other living beings into his unconsciousness pushed that same responsibility onto me? Or, is it like a child wandering into a room and finding some adult material there--a gun, perhaps, or pornography--and picking it up?

Perhaps I've been wondering what to do with it ever since.

3 comments:

Douglas W said...

You have covered many themes here Debora, and each of them deserves careful thought in replying.

Blogs, Journals & Diaries

I think it is possible to use your blog as your journal or diary. Blogs don’t have to be any less “serious” than writing in any other format. In fact, as I think you have discovered, there is the opportunity to expand and enrich your thoughts through the interaction with others.

I must admit that I am not very familiar with the Archetypal Pattern Analysis approach to counselling and will read the descriptions given on the Therapy web site. However, I am very much aware of how a multitude of external factors may consciously and subconsciously influence what we say, think or do.

MAD

You’re right about the “tortured logic” of the mutually assured destruction doctrine. “If you attempt to destroy us we will ensure you are equally destroyed.” Not only did that require the necessary tonnage of nuclear weapons to be flying around “out of harm’s way”, but also within reach of the intended target at all times. Of course, “the necessary tonnage” was enough to destroy the “enemy” several times over.

The “collateral damage” from such a strike would not only have destroyed the immediate enemy, but would have poisoned the atmosphere for all of the friends, allies and non-aligned nations as well – for quite a long time to come.

But then, the collateral damage was quite justified in the minds of those who devised and supported the strategy. They relied upon the notion that people would not do anything that might end up in their own destruction. It ignored the fact that it was quite possible to make a mistake and push the red button. With only 30 minutes warning the other side had to instantly decide was it a mistake or was intentional and should they also push their red button – if they’re going to destroy us then we may as well destroy them – and the rest of the world along with it.

The MADness of this doctrine was brilliantly satirised in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “Doctor Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb”. If you haven’t seen it please do. There is also a frightening collection of Nuclear Explosion videos on YouTube here:- Nuclear Bomb Tests

The crying baby story fits the same mould. Instil enough fear and the resultant behaviour will be acceptable – whether that be by threatening a whole nation with destruction or threatening a baby with a spanking.

I think your use of your blog to contemplate life out loud is great. Hopefully you will find some of the responses you get to be helpful in that search for what it’s all about.

excavator said...

The little bit of research I did is demonstration of how logic can be a cruel tyrant; under the guise of reason it leads to madness. Conservapedia says (I'm interested in the conservative perspective on this, since MAD seems like a conservative-sort of formulation, and conservatives complain that wikipedia is biased against them):

"As a general rule, a 400 megaton supply of nuclear warheads is sufficient to assure the destruction of large nation, so in calculating nuclear stockpiles to determine if "M.A.D." exists, the goal is to see if you can eliminate the opposition's stockpile in a first strike to below 400 megatons. If you can, then, in the grim calculus of nuclear war, first strike becomes an option."

In this scenario, MAD is *desired*. And in fact it appears that all of the negotiations (if you can call it that) were based on keeping MAD as the default state. So, development of defensive weapons that could protect a nation against the effects of another's missiles, or bombs occasioned the cry of FOUL, because that altered the balance.

OK: a nuclear weapon is meant to defend a nation against aggression. However, another nation successfully obtains one. Therefore, in order to prevent the use of one, that means an amount must be produced by the nations in question to be sure that each would have enough to totally destroy the other. Then logic dictates that if one nation can destroy another without fear of itself being destroyed, then there must be enough weapons around to ensure that the bombed nation could retaliate and destroy the aggressor. So, 'logic' dictates that a certain number of weapons would be destroyed in a first strike, so there must be enough left over, hidden in various places (up in the air on bombers, under the sea in submarines) to be able to destroy the first-strike nation in a 'second strike'.

This 'stability' becomes a sort of article of faith, again, which reason takes a back seat to. Anything that might make it possible for a nation to survive a first-strike would be considered cheating, since it would tip the balance in their favor. So agreements were made to prevent nations from having the capability of survival.

Wikipedia says:

"Since the credibility of the threat is critical to such assurance, each side had to invest substantial capital in their nuclear arsenals even if they were not intended for use. In addition, neither side could be expected or allowed to adequately defend itself against the other's nuclear missiles."

This just blows my mind.

What really amazes me about the tortured path of MAD is that instead of laughing incredulously and saying, 'what a ridiculous avenue' and shutting the door on it (i.e. destroying the weapons and the plans), humans ventured down this path of absurdity and called it 'reason'. Wouldn't that have made more sense than spending trillions that could have been improving the agricultural productivity of the world, ending hunger, poverty and disease?

Let's see, in order to be "safe" we're required to create massive stockpiles of extremely destructive and toxic weapons: in order to not use them? In order to be safe we have to rely on them not being mishandled (like the nuclear warheads that were just flown, unaccounted for by the US air force
across the country), stolen, or detonated in an accidental event? We have to rely on them being perfectly secure, perfectly handled, perfectly deployed, and we have to rely on certain assumptions that may or may not be true of human beings?

And enough people took this seriously that we're in the state we are now.

It is what it is, but how can this be?

Mercurious said...

Sounds like you're on an interesting journey, and I wish you luck with it. That's the value of therapy--you begin to see your own history through another's eyes and discover that things you took as normal are by no means normal.

Good luck with your journey of discovery.