Wednesday, August 09, 2006

It's not what you know, it's what you don't want to know

I start this with some snark and turn dark - you've been warned

One of the tired chestnuts I toss my clients is that I’m probably the only therapist they’ll meet who is a confirmed misanthropist. A terrible joke that’s more a warning, “Run! Run as fast as you can!”

Like most things, my misanthropy is a complex construct and not just a simple reduction of “I hate people,” wherein I climb up on rooftops with a rifle to blast away at pedestrians. Anyone who has read me with any regularity (or irregularity, depending on the diet) knows I’m a liberal with a heart that bleeds like Mormons breed door-knockers. Conservatives hate humanity but love money; liberals love humanity but don’t have the money to matter. I love humanity, it’s just the member of its set that nauseate me.

As I said, it’s complex. Like most things in the universe. As a Science-head for 40-some years, my experience says that complexity increases both by nature and in our understanding of how it all works. With each answer we uncover, we discover a googolplex of questions posed by that answer, a door opening on a room with a thousand more doors. Knowledge (as we accept it) is The Red Queen’s advice, “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Simple solutions are for simple problems and unless you’re in the first grade, both of those are in short supply. Oh, there’s dominance and submission (and the tiny minded psychodrama of how that all plays out, a lot of fun if that’s the way you lean – I hear) but the belief that we can order around the pieces of the cosmos to suit this or that weltanschauung is pathological. I mean, we can build, strive, manipulate, and create but in the end there are forces – abstract and concrete – where everything gets gang aft a-gley (due to the odd batrachomyomachy, usually).

Some of you have asked what it is I do in my new job and I’ll begin my answer by saying that I’m not doing what I’m trained to do. Furthermore, I’ll admit that I’m not sure I’m doing what I’m meant to do but hey, it’s a job. Not enough to pay my bills (entirely) but it’s what has been placed on my plate at this moment and if I get really philosophical about it, it’s probably a learning experience I need right now.

I’m working with very damaged and disturbed adolescent boys, profound examples of families fucked up beyond description. Kids who, on average, have flunked out of five other programs and have been placed where I work as a last resort. Everyone else has given up on these kids (parents usually being the first) and the place I work attempts to make those kids whole again, human, show them love, give them worth, give them their first taste of being valued.

Which brings me back to the concept of ‘complexity’ and my misanthropy. I have witnessed too much pontification too many times on the net and TV and elsewhere, fucking finger-wagging and general disgust at “those people” that which just doesn’t suit someone’s sense of supercilious propriety. My misanthropy is a reaction to that simplistic (and simple-minded) tendency to think “Since I am privileged, everyone else must be that way - or else they're deficient in some way.” God Bless America and all that.

So let me tell you what I’ve seen so far and then ask you to decide for yourself.

Primarilly I work with kids who are sexual perpetrators. Really, you'd think they're regular kids, there's nothing to indicate that they are nothing but teenagers: demanding, certain that they're being persecuted and misunderstood at any given moment, surly at times but sweet for the most part. Everything on the surface says they're all-American kids. That is, until you read the case files.

There's a 13-year old who, raped from the time he was 7, he repeated what was done to him on his younger sister. He also witnessed his grandmother and four other people murdered execution-style, all because of his mother’s involvement in a gang. Unfortunately, mom's too strung out with meth and gang-banging to visit. Tell him his mother doesn't care and you'll have a fight on your hands. This is a child who first came to the facility claiming affiliation with a gang set and yet required a teddy-bear in order to go to sleep (and still does).

Then there's the 14-year old who, after being taken from his worthless (again, gang-affiliated) parents, was handed by the state to foster parents who chained him to a pipe in the basement (where he remained for 4 years) to be sexually assaulted, pimped out by the foster family to sick shits looking for sex with a young child*.

Bad kids? Out of control? Well, I think they have a goddamned reason.

The beauty of the place I work at is that they get the attention they need, the opportunity to learn a love that comes unconditionally. I suppose that should cure my misanthropy. Yet it disgusts me that certain segments of our dimwitted society says, “Oh, get over it, Tiny, and join the rest of us residing in gated communities!”

Back to complexity again. Another kid at our facility had a history of being sexually assaulted from age 3 (passed around amongst family members and friends), beaten to the point of hospitalization on many occaisions and then put out into the child-care system. As he matured, he sexually assaulted other children, violently, and so failed in over a dozen other child-care facilities. His last resort was our facility but it was clear after a few weeks that he was too out of control, too dangerous to maintain the safety of other residents. Sadly, the only recourse was the state correctional system, his world until he’s 21 which means he’ll be free to do whatever he wants once he's released

Released on all of us (as so many are every day) and all of ours and yet none of us can predict what he will do, how he'll react in a world where he has no social, economic or emotional skills. Prepare for a victim or victims. Tempting as it sounds in a (still free) society, we can't lock people up because of some professional's perception of what an offender's potential is. Chances are he’ll re-offend (19 to 1) and unfortunately he'll learn in jail that a dead witness can't testify.

Whatever happens, from my perspective he's a lost child, someone without the benefit of any chance, ever. Excuse the horrific pun but he was fucked from the start.

So what about lost children, you might ask? So he had a really bad childhood but what about the child with cancer who dies at age 7 or the child who gets run over by a car – aren’t they fucked as well (in that sad way the universe works)?

Hardly - at least not in his way. Tragic as those other circumstances are, those children weren’t subjected to trauma over and over and over again, violated and terrorized on a nightly basis. Those other children were at least loved and given some idea that the universe acts in an altruistic way. Not just told that but shown that and although they died, they died thinking the ruling principle of the world was Love. The lost child had none of that; to him, the world is nothing more where the strong exploit the weak and life has no value.

If you don’t see the difference, if you don’t see the complexity of any of this – you’re one of those persons I despise and as far as I’m concerned, no better than the scumbags who threw these kids on a course of self-destruction.

By no means am I excusing the acts of the person who, as a child or an adult, hurts another child. If it was my child who was assaulted, I’d kill em’, bare hands, if it was my neighbor’s child I’d do the same thing.

Simplistically, maybe putting em’ out of their misery is all we need to do, huh? Problem solved.

Yeah, put me out of my misery. And that’s why I’m a misanthropist. I hate myself for my own black and white thinking. If my child was raped and murdered by one of the kids I mentioned earlier, I’d be frothing at the mouth to have the vermin disposed of with a quickness (despite my opposition to capital punishment). Yet, in retrospect, I’d have to ask, who had the better life – and compare the deaths.

I hope I never have to make that comparison. It’s too complex for me.


~d (tilde) said...

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. I really should delete this and get out of here-but oh shit! I just can't. Umm. God I hope that working with these kids as minors will do something to alter their possible adulthood. Oh wow. I shouldn't be here. Kids, man. I want to give a KID a big hug and tell them its going to be OK and straighten the eff UP! I am trying to keep my mind focused on what you said: these are KIDS. Eff. I'll be back.

Carrie said...

Is it the time for me to stand up and applaud? Wow, that was a great piece you just did. I totally agree with you but my question is...What if the mothers of these kids were victims? Or the predator was a victim? Do we just write them off because they are now adults? That is something I would really like to know.

Nino the Mindboggler said...

TYVM Carrie (and ~d tilde).

Carrie you raise an excellent point and unfortunately I don't have an answer for you. The case management briefs I see aren't complete. However, I would venture a guess that many of the women are indeed victims of abuse.

My goal there is participate in ending the cycle (I'm the drug & alcohol therapist there). As such, I'm not interested in how far back the cycle of abuse reaches but only that it ends with my clients.

Thanks for adding your perspective!

Mamacita said...

As always, I am in awe of you. The good kind.

karen m said...

Oh man. That's one whopper of a job there, Jim. I read this earlier - and had no idea what to say. I've worked with emotionally disturbed kids before, and it's damned brutal. Rewarding, but brutal.

I hope it goes well there - those kids need you.

byakko said...

Apropos of nothing, or perhaps really of something, I just witnessed a play by a local troup here that dealt, however lightly, about the bigger questions about how humans react to each other. Yeah, I see how that extends to folks like you who are there to intervene in the cycle, and folks like me just breathing the same world's air. Thanks for continuing to make me think.

landismom said...

that is a pretty amazing post, Jim. I think you've made some great points here.

We've had an above-average number of murders this year--the city is going crazy--and I'm so sick of my privileged friends just turning their face away because they can. Our society is truly going to hell.

aka_monty said...

It's heartbreaking.
I couldn't do it, Jim, but I'm glad you CAN.

I, too, would kill someone with my bare hands for abusing my children, without stopping to consider a single thing.
How far does the cycle spiral back? How many generations? And why did the first of THOSE parents allow/participate in the horrific abuse of their own children?

I can't understand. I canNOT.

Lisa W. said...

I see what your saying but I honestly can't imagine working in that type of environment. I worked in a group home for teenage boys with severe autism; it was the hardest job I ever did (but I loved them to bits). I don't know if I could honestly say that I could work in that type of home. I'm glad there are people like you who do though, they need someone to teach them there's more to life than what they've experienced.

waltzingmathilda said...

I read your post the same day I finally got around to finishing Sunday's paper (read: Thursday). In the Washington Post Magazine's "Education Review" there were two articles-one about a self-described "affluent" Washingtonian "struggling" to find a preschool for her 22 month old kid and another about another affluent middle school mom fretting over which one of five excellent high schools her son should attend. The disparity between these two articles and your post was disheartening. Articles like the ones I read in the Post make it easy for people to shut out the rest of the world and the really important issues we should be working together to solve. Thanks for doing your part and good luck.