How To Save Democracy

“The function all expressions of contempt have in common is the defence against unwanted feelings.” 

– ALICE MILLER

I read something the other day that got the alarm bells ringing. It was a book called, The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

In a nut shell Miller argues that our childhood experience – specifically how we learnt to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their “love” – fucks us up (I’m paraphrasing), leading to problems such as depression or grandiosity later on in life. She goes onto explain how left unresolved, our neuroses get passed onto our own children unconsciously. 

She believes it’s possible that the trauma many of us have experienced may well have been passed down over generations. As in it’s not your parents’ fault you’re fucked up, but your great-great-great-grandad’s (that bastard!). 

Anyway, without getting sidetracked into the nuts and bolts of the book, the other unforeseen consequence of not properly respecting our children’s feelings, she argues, is that they will seek refuge from their painful past in ideologies such as Nationalism, Racism and Facism. 

She notes, “The basic similarity of the various nationalistic movements flourishing today reveals that their motives have nothing to do with the real interests of the people who are fighting and hating, but instead have very much to do with those people’s childhood histories… Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole, looking for a common “enemy” on whom to act out their repressed rage.” 

Now bearing in mind she wrote this book over 40 years ago she also said this, “The future of democracy and democratic freedom depends on our capacity to take this very step and to recognize that it is simply impossible to struggle successfully against hatred outside ourselves, while ignoring its messages within. We must know and use the tools that are necessary to resolve it: We must feel and understand its source and its legitimacy. There is no point in appealing to our goodwill, our kindness, and a common spirit of love, as long as the path to clarifying our feelings is blocked by the unconscious fear of our parents.”

So what can we take from all of this? 

Well my thinking is that first, we should respect our children like adults, stop trivialising their emotions and show them the unconditional love that they need. And second, in order to break the chain of neuroses that our great-great-great-grandparents passed down to us, maybe we should take ourselves to therapy and process our own unresolved childhood issues. 

Anyway I’m curious to know what you think. Is the only thing we need to do to secure the future of our democracy resolve our daddy issues?

I look forward to reading your thoughts.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

19 thoughts on “How To Save Democracy

  • Sounds a little like a trendy version of at least some of the same ideas espoused in Eric Hoffer’s 1951, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”. (A quick and easy read, BTW.) Though, Hoffer was maybe a little less concerned with the individual sources of internalized denial, fear or self-loathing, he was addressing how individuals come to support the kinds of ideological movements that arise from such feelings. Carl Jung probably had more to say with regard to the internal motivations for joining such movements, eventually recognizing the sources of his own thinking in having initially supported German nationalism. That said, I certainly can’t argue against the idea of caring for our children in a compassionate manner. But I would hope that doesn’t devalue the need for also teaching children the benefits of self-discipline, regardless of the sources of our drives, emotions or fears.

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    • “I would hope that doesn’t devalue the need for also teaching children the benefits of self-discipline, regardless of the sources of our drives, emotions or fears.” – I couldn’t agree more. I often see parent tip toeing around their children’s emotions. I can’t help but think they’re setting them up for a very difficult future. We’ve got to teach our children the meaning of no. If we don’t, society will and society won’t be nearly as kind about it. That said I believe we can say no while acknowledging their emotions. I’m a fan of calm confident parenting. I’ll look up Hoffer’s book. Thanks for such an intelligent thoughtful reply – as always. 🙏

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  • Indeed I can’t recall if this relates to Freud’s or Jung’s ideas, but I definitely agree that if you start to peel the layers of our discontent, anger or fear there is something in the unconscious driving our thoughts\behavior.

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    • I think more often than not our neuroses can be traced to our childhood but beneath that I believe it can traced to a fear of death. Either way I certainly believe we need to understand and process our own truth in order to move on from it. Thanks Andrew 🙏

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    • I would say impossible! Still, if we managed to convince a few people to see their anger is misplaced and that therapy is better option than storming the Capitol building well hey, that’s at least something. Thank Kellie 🙏

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  • AP, this is an interesting post. When I was young, I was outraged by the Bible verse that says the sins of the fathers would be visited on the third and fourth generations. As I grew older, I realized that it was not about the wrath of God, but an observation of how psychological difficulties tend to perpetuate themselves down through the generations. We should try to break this cycle, as you so wisely advise!

    Democracy is a very important concept to me. I often wonder how you are coping with the turmoil around you. I hope things get better! ❤ ❤ ❤ All the best to you and your family!

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    • Thanks Cheryl – it’s not a perspective I’d considered before which made me think that perhaps it’s been overlooked? That perhaps it can give us the ability to look through and forgive our own parents shortcomings by realising they were simply fighting demons passed onto them? Also, perhaps for many individuals, such as those who felt the need to storm the capitol building on Jan 6th, they are simply misplacing unresolved anger from their childhood/past traumas? Food for thought at least.

      For me Democracy is the closest form of governacne that represents equality and freedom. I believe in it even though it is deeply flawed. Hong Kong has sadly lost any sense of it – now firmly, simply, another city of mainland China. I’ve already processed the loss truth be told – my heart has decided that I will move on from Hong Kong and fight to protect those freedoms where they still exist in this world. When I do Cheryl – hopefully in the not too distant future – I’ll be able to stop writing under a pseudonym! Wishing you well 🙏

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  • I have to agree with the point about parents potentially passing down undesirable thoughts, emotions and feelings down to their children and to future generations. I can definitely see this in my own generation and something I consciously avoid trying to do with my little one. I do talk to someone once a month and it is very helpful. 😊 I encourage others to do so too.

    I have to admit I’m failing to see the connection between that and the future of democracy. I do feel it’s a bit of a stretch, if I can be honest. But maybe it’s been a long weekend and I’m wiped. 🤣 I’ll have to give that one a bit more thought!

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    • Hey Ab! That’s awesome that you make a point of talking to someone every month! I see my therapist only intermittently I must admit. Regarding the future of democracy: I believe her point is that if we flat-out refuse to acknowledge our own truth (childhood trauma) we will inevitably, subconsciously, find another target against which to act out our regressed rage. I guess her argument is that we need to recognise where that anger is really coming from if we are to properly resolve it – otherwise we are liable to do something stupid like storm the capitol building – or worse. Perhaps our failure to recognise the role that parenting has had to play in all of this is exactly what’s led us to the mess we’ve seen in the US? Maybe all those people aren’t really angry at their government per se but at their own repressed childhood histories? It’s certainly an angle I’d not considered before. That’s my take anyway. Wishing you well Ab 🙏

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