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Domesticated Abuse: Big Society or Overgrown Bully?

March 8, 2013

It’s been a while since I did any blogging. I’ve been working on something somewhat longer, but I want to keep up my experience in some of the short forms. I’ve been thinking a great deal about the exigencies of modern capitalism, and I’ve been wondering to what extent we’re stuck in one big abusive relationship.

Now, the last thing I want to do is trivialise the many millions of abusive relationships that people, most of them women, are stuck in around the world. It’s been described as Scotland’s “national shame” (I think we have several of those, but that’s another discussion for another day). A quick internet search on recent news on the subject, probably skewed towards results in the UK, emphasises the severity of the problem in the US (in the face of legislation designed to do something about it that was opposed by several Republicans, most of them white and male: the fact that several women voted with their ideology and against the interests of many women, partly on the basis of an objection to protections for women on reservations, suggests a deeper problem), Northamptonshire (twice), Dorset (twice), New York, Northern Ireland and Manchester. That’s just on the first page.

This is not something to trivialise. It’s something to tackle, head on.

This all emerged from what I’m going to call an effort to tackle my own, we’ll call them insecurities, although that may be being more generous to myself than I deserve. Some of my thinking has left me shocked. It has taken me several days to find the confidence to mark this up and publish it. In some ways I’ve been left with what I hope is a better understanding of both my own situation and that of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of others.

There is some excellent material available on what constitutes domestic abuse, and why people stay in abusive relationships. Not surprisingly there as been a lot of academic work done on the subject, some of it more impenetrable than the rest. I’m going to concentrate on material that is popularly available, much of it aimed at people themselves living with abuse.

Women’s Aid, the national UK charity dedicated to helping women and children in abusive relationships, has a simple questionnaire dedicated to allowing someone to work out whether or not they are in an abusive relationship. Reading it, I found all sorts of alarm bells going off. Some of those relate to interpersonal relationships. Some of them don’t. Personally, I need to address the first. But there’s also a broader question.

The third question reads: “Does your partner constantly check up on you or follow you?” Now, the world is not short of insecure partners. There is no doubt that this is about enforcing a coercive relationship.

Have you been in a JobCentre lately? Anyone who has faced constant verification of your movements and efforts to “seek gainful employment” will be familiar with someone constantly checking up on them. This article describes how people working in an Amazon warehouse have their productivity constantly monitored and how they have to pass full-body scanners in order to “prevent theft”. That’s nothing compared to the people working in a similar warehouse in the US, worked to exhaustion (complete with paramedics in the car park and a steady stream of replacement parts, sorry, employees, waiting to take their place).

I could go on, but I want to keep this under five thousand words.

Women’s Aid asks, “Does your partner constantly belittle or humiliate you, or regularly criticise or insult you in front of other people?” What about those with the influence in my economic system? I could provide you with some links to the Daily Heil, (and I’m sure I could provide you with links to torture porn were I inclined to go looking for them), but I won’t. Here are some thoughts from The Guardian on the subject.  Here’s The Indy on a similar subject, the reality of strivers and shirkers in the context of unpaid internships, asking what the motive is for employers to pay when labour is now free.

Just how many abused people out here have been accused of laziness by their partner? Demoralised as a result of feeling under-appreciated for hard work, this I understand. I also understand being demoralised through the thankless task of applying for dozens, even hundreds of jobs that prospective employers don’t even have the decency to acknowledge your interest in. Interestingly, the above article also cites an advert for such an internship calling for “unpaid interns to be available for work during all evenings and weekends required and have no other prior personal or professional commitments. Not fulfilling this will end in immediate dismissal.” Women’s Aid also asks “Has your partner tried to keep you from seeing your friends or family?” and “Has your partner prevented you from continuing or starting a college course, or from going to work?” That’s a yes, then.

Just how many abusive relationships are there around here?

“Are you ever afraid of your partner?” Am I afraid of those with the purse strings, who could make me destitute on the basis of an arbitrary decision by a faceless bureaucrat? I live in constant fear of a brown envelope. I’m writing under a pseudonym for a reason. Perhaps more to the point, am I afraid of objecting to the misdeeds of those in power? This is what can happen if you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, never mind actually protesting. Political protest is risky just about anywhere, but some examples of violence are more egregious than others. I’d be even more scared if I lived in some of the countries where hired mercenaries and government troops act in my name.

I’m just giving examples here, of course. I’m going to skip a few characteristics of domestic abuse. I probably shouldn’t, partly because the more people who know what they are the better, and partly because I think the analysis should be complete, and show how we can find examples of just about every characteristic in modern capitalist societies, including the one I live in. That said, people tend to get bored with lengthy exposition.

So we are asked, “Have you ever changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you?” Is it really any secret that the current dominant socio-economic system is backed up by the threat and implementation of violence and embargo? In some cases there is ongoing resistance to this, such as in Cuba. The rest of us tend to conform. I know I’ve changed my behaviour in an effort to simply fit in.

We come to one that is politically current here in the UK. “Has your partner ever kept you short of money so you are unable to buy food and other necessary items for yourself and your children?” Have the capitalists running the country left people without enough money to buy food for themselves and their children? That’s a yesDefinitely.  Much has to do with not complying with conditions based on accusations of being lazy. If someone can’t prove they’ve been looking for work, they and their children end up being punished by having the means to pay for food withheld.

A good many of these people are single parents, often women who have lost (or left, or thrown out, typically for good reasons) a partner. The single parents I know are not lazy: they work themselves into the ground. As for the rest of us, Paul Lazarsfeld and Marie Jahoda showed during the 1930s that unemployment has negative effects on the individual,and that most people would prefer to be working. The fascists, fusing state and corporate power, to paraphrase Mussolini, promptly burned the book. The abusers, of course, would prefer you didn’t know that, for reasons of social control. That’s what the scrounger and shirker narrative is all about.

Then there is the vexed question of the deliberate exploitation of those with irregular immigration status. This link relates to illegal activity, but we have to ask to what extent those being exploited may be being forced into these situations by their underlying economic circumstances. This opens another can of worms, including the sexual exploitation of those without the protection of the state because they happen to have the “wrong”, or no, paperwork. Not all of those lacking the “proper” residency paperwork are trafficked. Not all of those trafficked are sexually exploited, and not all the sexually exploited are trafficked, but the overlap in these groups bears attention in the context of economic abuse and the circumstances that makes people vulnerable to it. As the above link points out, tougher immigration policy makes people more vulnerable to abuse.

This brings us to the question of prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, and the degree to which those involved are involved from choice or through unavoidable economic or social circumstance.  We have the questions of commodity-money relationships and of adverse socio-economic situations. Only a tiny fraction (less than a quarter of a per cent in the above study) engage in prostitution for their own sexual satisfaction. Delusional males take note. While there are many reasons why women become prostitutes, almost invariably to do with some form of abuse, the cause of prostitution is that some men are willing to buy sex, which is self-evidently also abusive. I’m going to leave the proximate responses to this problem to experts.

I do not accept that there has always been prostitution and that therefore there always will be. This is a logically false premise, legitimising the underlying abusive structures that lead women to a position where they become prostitutes. The notes of Women’s Aid on abusive partners expecting unwanted sexual activity seem reflected and magnified on a societal level. If you remove the proximate causes of poverty and vulnerability, you remove the supply side of the industry. At this point the demand side will be left banging their fists. Ultimately, we need to eradicate the conditions that lead to this form of abuse, and legalisation will not do this any more than legalising the conditions that perpetuate any other forms of abuse will end those – many of those are legal, and are normalised, which is part of my point.

Just who are the abusers, and just how well bonded to others are they? There seems to be a higher incidence of Antisocial Personality Disorder among successful politicians and business leaders. Many more may score more highly on the spectrum than others, simply because of the personal characteristics required to become successful in politics and business. While it may go without saying that this makes many of them antisocial such people show “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.” DWP employees often feel like grown-up school bullies whose notion of help involves a good emotional kicking, not to mention threats (and implementation) of destitution. They are “just doing their jobs” (the so-called Nuremberg Defence, a simple way of removing any right to engage in moral debate with the rest of us). The fact that they are worried about their jobs gives them no right to take it out on the rest of us, any more than a domestic abuser has any right to take out their situation on a significant other. The requirements of these jobs are based on instructions from politicians that a substantial minority of the population voted for. That doesn’t make it right either.

Meanwhile businesses are lauded for making a profit – whatever the cost to the environment or the rest of us.

I’m of the view that there is an important discussion to be had on the subject of how socio-economic abuse feeds into cycles of domestic abuse, abuse of nonhumans and abuse of the environment and the degree to which it is structural, endemic and even normalised, but this is short-form. There is probably a PhD thesis on the degree to which those who are abused economically become domestic abusers, and whether or not those who abuse through their jobs also abuse at home. I say degree, because finding a control group for direct comparison might be tricky.

None of this, it must be emphasised, excuses or legitimises the actions of abusers, although it might go some way to explaining them. Blaming others, or alcohol, is a common strategy used by abusers to legitimise their behaviour.

To what extent are we all abusers? Domestic abuse is rightly regarded as unacceptable behaviour, although it’s frighteningly common, and certainly under-reported. State and corporate coercion is normalised, and much of that is done in our names, often with our tacit support, with some of the most egregious examples going poorly reported in other countries – often poor ones, often with equally corrupt and abusive governments. In other words, if you are in a position to be reading this, then you are probably colluding with those responsible for the complex chain of resource extraction and manufacture that almost certainly involves abuse somewhere down the line.

So why do we put up with it? At least one of my friends argues that “they” (for which read those in power, both political and economic – a set with a lot of overlap) are keeping enough of us just comfortable enough, backed up by a few promises of the rewards if we work hard enough, that we won’t revolt. I suspect there is at least some truth in this, but Hidden Hurt provides a summary of our current understanding of why abused people stay in such relationships. The parallels are frightening.

The one that turned my head over relates to how victims of abuse end up blaming themselves. According to Hidden Hurt, “we somehow buy into the myth that the abuse is really our fault, that we somehow provoked it, deserved it, or are otherwise responsible for it. Most abusers shift the blame onto their victim.” Yes, and then some.

Even when there are a dozen or more people just on Jobseeker’s Allowance (never mind looking for a second or third part-time job just to make ends meet or who otherwise can’t or won’t claim) for every available job, those of us who can’t find a job still get the blame, buying in to the fantasy that all it takes is hard work and determination: that, after all, is how the people on top of the heap got where they are.

I have a strong suspicion that most of them got there due to pre-existing advantages  (being born into the “right” family helps), a certain amount of luck, and ruthless exploitation of the natural environment and anything else they could get their claws into or kick down on the way up. I leave it to the reader to decide which of their own political and economic leaders got to where they are by hard work, and which got there by dint of their dubious parentage (how did their parents get to the top?), being smarmy, mendacious bastards, and not caring who else got hurt on their way to the top.

I’ve spent many long hours trying not to blame myself. If I hurt someone else – yes, I’m responsible. I’m responsible for my own acts of abuse and have a responsibility to do something about them and, yes, that’s harder than it sounds. The first stage is acknowledging that most of us are abusers to one degree or another. The second is working out what we can do about it.

I’m responsible for the failings of the economic system if I don’t speak out them.

Consider me speaking.

I suspect that the question of blaming oneself may be related to traumatic bonding. One of the beliefs of the established system is that my position is my fault for being incompetent, lazy and so forth. How did I come to believe this in the face of the evidence? In cases where the abuser is also the means for basic means of survival (through social security, or what they persist in calling “welfare” – a deliberately derogatory term – or through a basic wage) the victim may come to identify with the abuser’s worldview. This is traumatic bonding.

Then we come to identify with other aspects of this worldview, about how “growth” and “competition”, even “the market” are inherently good, again in the face of basic reason. These things cannot be good when they lead to our own exploitation, and that of others and the natural environment.

Of course, this financial security is one reason we stay. The opportunities for most of us, beyond those with the right mentality for going into business for ourselves (which may turn us into abusers, especially when we start employing people), for alternative employment, or even access to the resources required for survival outside the abusive system, are extremely limited. In effect, those in control have enclosed the land and the labour market. This is particularly the case for those for those of us with children, or physical or mental health problems.

Meanwhile we are told that “they” are rich because they worked hard and therefore deserve it. The rest of us therefore deserve to be poor. Many of us have internalised this view. No, they are rich because they have bullied and exploited. Being generous, they need help.

We may also have internalised the notion of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. Even New Labour is buying into this, betraying the rest of us. To put it another way, those “deserving” are those who co-operated in their own exploitation, whether in working for minimal wages for an employer or submitting to the ministrations of a DWP bully.

There is an element of shame, too. I know that I have a sense of not wanting to give up. To use an extreme example, even my staying alive, and not doing what I have felt is the “decent” thing to do and jump off a cliff or a bridge (I most recently found myself facing this urge last week) is a desire not to give up. Continuing to live is a matter of spitting in the eye of David Cameron and DWP-ATOS. Even my GP asked if staying alive was not a suitable act of defiance.

Then again, perhaps this is a reflection of abuse. Am I abusing others by expressing a wish to end it all? There is no doubt I want it all to stop, but “threats” of suicide (how can it be a threat when nobody wants you around anyway?) can, it seems, be a form of abusive behaviour. Then again, that level of self-hatred can be a reflection of being on either side of it – or both, since that’s part of the cycle of abuse. Between the feeling of having no place in society, the deserved isolation and the people I’ve hurt, I have plenty of reasons to hate myself. Has my own experience of abuse led me to become a perpetrator? It would fit the data.

The fact that I have got to this point suggests that I have lost most of my hope, but the fact that I haven’t followed it through suggests there is still some there. People in domestic abuse situations often try to persuade themselves that it might get better, knowing rationally that it rarely does.

It’s difficult to work out to what extent addressing the problem of domestic abuse relates to the socio-economic question of abuse. The former mostly seems to have to do with getting out and having the support to stay out.

To what extent, then, can we get out of the current abusive socio-economic system and stay out, and deal with the inevitable attempts at repression?

This may prove to be about hanging together so that we don’t hang separately. I’m dubious of the guy round the corner, the one called socialism. He seems to have a good record on some aspects of social egalitarianism, but he’s also got a record of some other unacceptable behaviour, not to mention a sometimes dubious environmental reputation: Venezuela is its region’s top carbon emitter. A socialist oil man is still an oil man. I care what he did with the proceeds. Mother Nature won’t. This may, to move away from our metaphor, have to do with individual personalities – with Pol Pot or Stalin – more than something inherent to socialism.

I’m not sure I want to take the risk. Those on the top of the crap-heap that is capitalism need to come home to find us, and a rucksack full of our stuff, missing. Going round the corner may not be the best idea either. Plenty of abused people have gone from one abusive relationship to another.

There is no doubt that there needs to be systematic support and refuge for everyone in domestic abuse situations (not just women, although women and children are without doubt the most vulnerable). There also needs to be more help available for abusers to make changes in their perceptions and behaviour. In the UK the one openly available service links to a phone line rather than directly to meaningful support for change, although there is a source of useful information (I find Blain’s work interesting and frightening, because it shows how I’ve been on both sides of the abuse fence, which I suppose is what got me started on this question) and an online course, which I don’t yet know enough about to recommend or otherwise, but is almost certainly better than the alternative (very little). The Alternatives to Violence Project works with around 500 people a year in the UK, many of them in prisons. It’s worth asking for a concession, but it’s a drop in the ocean, and probably does little to combat socio-economic abuse. Locally, there is help for victims, but not for perpetrators who wish to regain control of their unacceptable behaviour. Of course, abuse by the system is culturally normalised. There is almost no recognition that there is even a problem.

This is not enough, especially when support services are being slashed  under an artificial “recession”, being used by the already rich to profit further, and worsen the exploitation of the rest of us. Support for abusers to change has always been, at best, patchy. In short, there may be more than parallels between domestic abuse and socio-economic abuse: there may be links.

Are others safe from me at the moment? Well, I’m single, and there are no prospects for that changing. Am I safe from others? In terms of domestic abuse, probably, for the same reason. There is something else I do find very frightening, however, and this is the fact that there is a very strong instinctive drive for intimate connection with another person. I’m trying to resist that until I can work out my own insecurities, which may not even be possible. I am of the view that it is better for me to die alone than for me to inflict myself on others (or, more pertinently, a significant other). I have a grip on this, trying not to get too close to anyone else. I have no idea what proportion of others might succumb to that urge.

In terms of economic abuse, that’s another matter. I have an (untreated, thanks to the cuts) mental health problem, which means I join the ranks of others in a similar situation in being a target for government-sponsored dehumanisation and forced labour.

Individuals who deal with domestic abuse often stay because they have no other option, because there are no alternatives. That said, there are growing women’s movements around the world showing how they will no longer, collectively, put up with it. There is evidence that declines in domestic violence are linked to the existence of improved services for women and improvements in the socio-economic status of women. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that these are directly related to the existence of active women’s movements. Us blokes might benefit from the same, and we might all benefit from an increased sense of socio-economic security. We won’t get that from the abusers without a fight.

The answer in terms of socio-economic abuse may be similar. We, collectively, need to stand up and say that we will no longer accept the present situation. We need to declare that just because one group who work for minimal pay are being abused does not legitimise the abuse of those for whom there are no jobs or those who cannot work (or will not be employed: let’s be honest here, a declaration by an ATOS “doctor” (they are not doctors: doctors help heal the sick; ATOS employees just declare that they are not sick) that one is “fit for work” is a long way from an employer agreeing with that assertion). We need to declare that all abuse is unacceptable.

The alternatives may lie in systematic development of alternative economic modalities – in fair trade, co-operatives, mutuals and so on. These are not immune to abuse, but abuse is harder to perpetuate in less hierarchical systems. As the results of the study cited in this article show, a guaranteed income removes many of the circumstances that lead to poverty. There was also a drop in hospital visits as a result of domestic abuse during the course of this project. Mental health improved too. There will be those who object that this removes the incentive to work, but the above paper, backed up by the work of Marie Jahoda indicates this view is blatantly counter-factual, if not deliberate manipulation by the exploiting groups. In the (suppressed) Dauphin study, employment levels dropped in two groups. These were new mothers, who preferred to look after the children, and teenagers, who preferred to study. I have a problem with anyone who has an issue with this. This is about living in a mutually supportive community.

There is, then, hope. Victim support services are a vital sticking plaster while we deal with the underlying causes, but they remain a sticking plaster. It is also too simplistic to simply blame the abusers for their behaviour. It’s easier to insist that the abuser is simply inherently mad or bad, but this doesn’t address the problem. Ending the problem of both domestic and socio-economic abuse, two sides of the same coin, will involve radical structural change.

Seven billion rising.











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