“I wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me like that. Soon as someone put their hands on me, I’d be out the door”. This is one of a few standard responses I hear when I first tell someone that I work for a domestic abuse project. And I always respond with the same thing. “You probably wouldn’t”. The reason for this, is that being assaulted by your partner is never how domestic violence starts. If you went out on a first date with someone and they hit you, or called you disgusting, derogatory names, or forced you to eat your dinner off the floor with the dogs, would you make a second date with them? But that is never how domestic abuse starts. First it seduces us, then it sabotages our fight/flight responses so we react quite unlike how we think we would in dangerous situations. It is so subtle at first that we never see it coming and perpetrators do a very good job at making abuse look a lot like love in the first flush of romance.
So too is our relationship with the state. Have you ever lamented that the party you voted for let you down badly, only to immediately vote for them again once the next election has came around because you believed it would be different this time? Or been presented with damning evidence about the politician you chose to represent you, only to immediately dismiss it as ‘fake news’ with no grounds to do so, because accepting it as true would mean you had to completely reevaluate your world view?
Domestic abuse and state abuse are not the same thing. That isn’t what I’m here to say today, and our strategies against it need to be very different. But they do work in the same way, so it is important to understand the parallel between two bodies that control every intimate part of our lives.
Our relationship with government begins when we are so young that we don’t even question it’s existence. That’s just the way things are. Sure, most of us might go through a bit of a ‘fuck authority’ phase in our teens after listening for a bit too long to Rage Against The Machine, but that is usually tamed out of the majority of the population by the time they reach 30.
We are constantly belittled and looked down upon by those in power. How many times are we told that we couldn’t possibly look after ourselves and that we’d all be killing each other if we were left unsupervised for even a day? That our children are dangerous and have grown feral? After the August riots of 2011, politicians were practically lining up to give long sermons about how young people had no respect and had become too entitled which led to the situation boiling over. They told us that kids these days didn’t fear any consequences and described the rioting was ‘anarchy’ rather than a byproduct of capitalism. I don’t know about you, but I had to rub my eyes a few fucking times at that one, as even just ten minutes of watching BBC parliament will provide more than enough evidence that you couldn’t find a more accurate description of themselves. Seriously, imagine going into work tomorrow and jeering at your colleagues in the staff meeting. Or maybe turning up pissed and then falling asleep. George Osborne and Maradona can go to work full of cocaine it seems, but not the peasants.
We are constantly told by politicians vying for our votes that only they can take care of us properly. That the other politicians don’t care for us the way that they do. That we should trust them and they shall protect us. Yet inevitably once we let them through the door, things start to go wrong. They let us down again and again, but never own their mistakes or try to make amends. Because it’s not their fault. Sometimes it’s someone else’s, but usually it’s ours, and we find ourselves trying to amend our own behaviour before it dawns on us where blame really lies. Ruling parties just love to tell you that they aren’t responsible for their own failures. It was those other people we voted in before, like a never ending political dick measuring contest that ensures we are never allowed to forget that we voted someone else once and they never treat us as good. Flick back then, quickly, to BBC parliament again and you will see them sniggering at tales of food bank users left impoverished by the bedroom tax and cheering when they vote not to give a fair pay rise to workers such as nurses and firefighters. That is the sort of love your government has for you.
Then they start monitoring your every move, checking your phone, listening to your conversations telling you how you can interact with others. Then they literally remove your human rights from your very eyes, and what is worse is you thank them for it. Because, oh! It isn’t you that they don’t trust, its other people, they tell you. This is love. They are taking away your freedom of movement because they love you and they want you to be safe and happy. You’ve never had it so good. You should see women/brown people/poor people in other countries. That’s oppression. You don’t know how lucky you are.
It’s state Stockholm syndrome. We are put in constant fear of whoever they have told us is our enemy today: Muslims, antifa, feminists, Neville Southall. People who may have been our allies are under our eye of suspicion when we are told they are coming to overpower us and want to ruin our wonderful way of life. We believe it every time and turn on each other in the thousands of little cliques and gangs that we are actively encouraged to form to assure ourselves of how special and different we are from all the rest. This is quite common in children growing up in abusive households. As everyone living under tyranny scrambles to find the safest place, many find that colluding with the tyrant gives them some sort of respite. Keep in their favour, and they won’t turn on you. Or they will, eventually, but by that point they have exploited the Just World fallacy in our own cognitive bias so much, that we think we deserved it anyway.
Just World hypothesis is a strong human desire to believe that the world is just and orderly. During experiments, participants were given details or footage of different scenarios, such as a collision and told who was hurt during the incident. They were then asked who was to blame. What they found was blame was attributed to whoever they were told was hurt. The more hurt they were told the person was, the more blame they were given. Why do our brains do this? For self preservation. For if we believe that this could happen to innocent people, then it could happen to us. So we tell ourselves the victims must have done something to end up in that predicament. This is why there are comments sections on social media full of people screaming “sink the boats” gleefully at the sight of desperate refugees stranded on the Mediterranean. It’s why so many turned on the residents of Grenfell Tower. Good old fashioned racism comes into play with those two examples as well, of course, but there are other forces at work here also. Melvin Lerner, a psychologist who has studied the phenomenon hypothesised that belief in a just world was vital for people to maintain their own well being, but it also explained how people come to accept laws or regimes that produce misery and suffering to others.
Another thing to consider: we always believe that domestic violence will happen to other people. We never think that it will happen to us, until the day that it does. While there are quite a few of us who believe that our government is more than capable of doing wrong by us, we usually think of our own selves as being immune to manipulation by them. That we are so woke and emancipated from their trickery and only the poor masses are dumb enough to fall for it. But all of us are susceptible at differing levels.
Love is supposed to free you, not bind you until you become invisible. We become the statue of Venus, with ivy creeping up her leg. You leave it, because you think it looks beautiful, but it quickly grows and envelopes her until she is completely smothered in leaves and you can no longer see any part of her.
We need to remove the ivy and start believing that we all deserve better. The current system works for no one who isn’t massively wealthy. We are allowed less and less control of our lives. We have the illusion of connection through the medium of modern technology but we are slowly becoming more alienated from each other than ever, and this is exactly what allows state abuse to thrive. It’s a relationship we can’t fix and one that will get worse rather than better if we don’t care about ourselves and each other enough to reject it and leave it behind. We don’t need to be warring children encouraged to fight by an abusive head of the household anymore. We can start by refusing to attack each other and not feed divide and rule. Migrants are not to blame for the problems in the NHS. The firefighters are not responsible for the deaths in Grenfell. While ‘terfs’ and trans activists war with each other, our prime minister quietly pours petrol on the human rights act put there for all of us. Hold hands and go out and play.
So with all this talk of taking our power back whether politically or domestically, there is only one choice for my speakers tonight. Old but gold….