Thoughts on DAPL and Siblicide

Yesterday I was in Knoxville all day for the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's fall conference with Jeanne Safer who spoke on Siblings -- the family members Freud forgot. Today I'm reading reports of ongoing over-the-top attacks by police against peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock. Mainstream media prefers to focus on Trump, journalists who try to document what's happening in North Dakota get arrested, and others at the camps report that they are under surveillance and that attempts to share reports with the world are being blocked. Many accounts of human and civil rights violations against water protectors who are being arrested -- 83 of them yesterday -- make some wonder why President Obama and the Department of Justice remain silent.

All of this has set me wondering today about parallels with sibling violence and siblicide. What connected me to Standing Rock news today was Dr. Safer's discussion on Saturday of siblings doing harm to other siblings, while, in some cases, parents make excuses for the abusive sibling or otherwise fail to intervene. (Sibling violence and siblicide have been studied in humans and animals.) Several times while writing this post I felt the undertow that taboos -- such as the power and influence of sibling relationships in our lives -- generate to keep us quiet about them.

When I see things happening out in the world that media, leaders and ordinary folks don't want to talk about, I sometimes forget to subject it all to a psychoanalytic lens. Such an omission is likely one way taboos work to shut me up, after all, psychoanalytic exploration has a pretty good track record for exposing what's unseen and unspoken.

I guess this brings up a question of how any subject gets to be taboo, and, understanding that, how to think about dismantling the ones that cause huge amounts of suffering by remaining hidden. These are questions that, when I can remember to think about them, have sustained my interest in social and environmental justice work, and using psychoanalytic thinking out in the world.

I read two books this past year that have significantly expanded my thinking about collective engagement to change oppressive systems, and, in this blog, I hope to write more about what they brought up for me: Toward Psychologies of Liberation (Watkins and Shulman) and Environmental Melancholia (Lertzman).

It's Lertzman's work that I'm especially connecting with today as I consider the situation at Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline as a siblicide-in-progress. While Lertzman uses psychoanalytic ideas to explore human response to environmental degradation, I suspect that many of her discoveries can inform new ways to think about human responses to oppression of other humans based on race, gender, class and a host of other -isms and -cides.

What's going on at Standing Rock is one of those all-of-the-above deals -- ecocide, siblicide, genocide. We, the people, need to break the taboos and bring to light all processes now operating in the shadows of psyches and systems that sabotage love and justice.


More stuff to read on this:

Protest Response Puts North Dakota on the Wrong Side of History (Grand Forks Herald, 10/22/16)

Human Rights Abuses Escalate at DAPL Prayer Services in North Dakota (Huffington Post, 10/21/16)

"It's time for a grand jury" (Tom Isern, Facebook post, 10/21/16)

Obama's Legacy Rests on Whether He Stops the Dakota Access Pipeline (Indian Country Today, 10/17/16)

Why Psychology Should Be Part of the Fight Against Climate Change (Huffington Post, 1/18/16)

Black Psychoanalysts Speak

Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing (PEP Web) has made an important film available without subscription on their website. In Black Psychoanalysts Speak, participants -- primarily 11 Black psychoanalysts who participated in two conferences focusing on diversity in psychoanalysis (2012, 2013) -- contend that psychoanalysis has a long history as a progressive movement devoted to the common good.

BlackPsyA screenshot

Screenshot from the film, Black Psyschoanalysts Speak.

Psychoanalysis, they say, asks us to look at processes of self deception that not only perpetuate individual unhappiness, but also oppressive and inequitable social structures. Psychoanalysis has for the most part, however, focused on training students and treating patients who are relatively privileged. As I have discovered, there is a fair amount of resistance to exploring what light psychoanalysis can shed at intersections with race, class and culture outside the consulting room. Hearing similar experiences expressed in this film, I felt very inspired to continue my own explorations.

Finding this film coincided with my launch of a new series of posts at another blog. As I mentioned in my initial post there, events that have that have unfolded or intensified in the past few months -- police brutality and resistance to it emerging with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Native American and First Nations resistance to the KXL Pipeline, corporate land grabs and other challenges to sovereignty and protection of sacred lands -- have inspired me to explore my connections to these issues beyond those that have naturally come as a result of involvement in social and environmental justice work:

Among my ancestors were settlers who arrived here on the Mayflower. And some who were slave holders. I am a descendant of colonists, people who anchored ideas and values of white supremacy into this land and built a nation upon them. Sometimes it's difficult, in light of ongoing oppression and exploitation in the United States and elsewhere, to integrate the realities of my lineage. But for reasons that I’ll explore in a future post, distancing from ancestors delays transformation and healing -- for everyone.

I'll probably cross-post or at least link to this series on this blog, since some of posts will reflect my experiences of psychoanalysis and my interest in the intergenerational transmission of trauma and social healing that has deepened over the past few years.

So, here's the first one: Truth and reconciliation, honor and healing, and another leap into the deep end of the pool

Terrorism, Shared Trauma and Citizenship 2.0

Less than two months after 9/11, I had the opportunity to hear Vamik Volkan speak on terrorism, religious and ethnic identity issues, and mourning over loss in the wake of this shared national group trauma. So, I couldn't be happier that Dr. Volkan will be in Knoxville on October 26th to present a conference on Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society – the morning session of which is open to the public. He will focus on topics from his latest book, Enemies on the Couch: A Psychopolitical Journey Through War and Peace.

The opening chapters of Enemies on the Couch trace the evolution of psychopolitical thought from its more narrow focus on individual growth and development to expansion of our understanding of large group trauma and international relations.

In his books, Volkan writes of both popular and professional resistance to ideas about how we come to identify others as enemies or friends, how we engage in relationships with them, and how the effects of external, historical trauma are passed on to the children of those who suffered the consequences directly. But the idea of historical trauma has, for some time, also been acknowledged among people and groups who have experienced its intergenerational effects.

I became aware of this when I practiced in New Mexico in the 1990's. There, many Native Americans were already working with the notion of historical trauma to heal themselves and their communities from traumatic effects of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide, endured for more than 500 years, and imposed under European and American colonialist policy.

Here in the South (and elsewhere) descendants of both slaves and slave holders now use a "transforming historical harms" framework to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States.

Professional attitudes began to change in a concrete way, says Volkan, with the initiation of a series of dialogues facilitated by the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatry and Foreign Affairs between Egyptians and Israelis from 1980-1985. He describes the dialogue process, and his participation as a facilitator, in fascinating, inspiring detail.

After 9/11, the International Psychoanalytic Association formed a Terror and Terrorism Study Group. In 2011, the American Psychoanalytic Association's outgoing president Prudence Gourgeuchon urged psychoanalysts to be more active in providing information regarding the human behavior behind traumatic events lest statements by people with less knowledge prevail. 

In a 2007 essay about my own shift toward using psychoanalytic ideas to understand the world beyond the consulting room, I wrote: "The space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and influencing social change on a larger scale has always seemed like a huge leap." 

Hearing Dr. Volkan in 2001 (and several times thereafter), I have relied on his work as a major source of information for my continuing professional interest in the transformation and healing of collective trauma. I also use it to inform my day-to-day citizenship, and my participation in social and environmental justice projects.

So, yes, I see knowledge of political psychology as having very practical applications. What attracts me or you to a specific issue or political position? Why do political relationships become so polarized and unmovable? What are the psychological dynamics that shape and drive relationships between leaders and followers? It’s possible to shed more light on such questions when a psychological perspective becomes part of the exploration.

More and more it seems to me that the space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and social change on a larger scale isn't so huge after all.

If you can be in Knoxville on October 26th, I hope you will join my colleagues and me to hear what Vamik Volkan has to say about terrorism -- a topic about which many Americans have fearful concerns -- and how shared traumas such as 9/11 impact our politics and social fabric. 

For more information on the conference:

If you are on Facebook, you can go to the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's event page for Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society. People may register at the door, but can take advantage of a lower registration fee if they sign up by October 22nd.

Download the registration form for the public session, or

Download the professional participant brochure and registration form at the APS website: scroll down to the link under Part 2. (CE's available for professionals attending the full conference!)

Here are some links to Dr. Volkan's earlier books:

The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: From Clinical Practice to International Relationships (1988),

Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism (1998),

Blind Trust: Large Groups and Their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror (2004), and

Killing in the Name of Identity: A Study of Bloody Conflicts (2006).


Embedded link correction, January 24, 2015.

"Dakota 38" calls from the shadows to move us toward the light of peace, love and reconciliation on Earth

Dakota 38 is one of the most profound and beautiful films I have ever seen and I wanted to share it today, Christmas Eve 2012. For me it reflects the spirit of the season, the year ahead, and what I hope will be a more conscious, intentional focus of the human collective for many years to come.

In 2005, Jim Miller, a Native spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran, had a dream in which he was riding on horseback across the great plains of South Dakota. In the dream, he came to a riverbank in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged. At the time of his dream, Jim didn't know that on December 26, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln had ordered the largest mass execution in US history in the town of Mankato, Minnesota.

Four years later, Jim and a group of riders planned a 330-mile horeseback ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato. They planned to reach the site of the hanging on the anniversary of the execution. The film -- Dakota 38 -- is the story of their healing journey.

I find this story timely and remarkable for several reasons.

Closest to home is the spotlight on the culture of violence in the United States, illuminated by the events in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th. The massacre in Newtown has drawn global support and solidarity for the healing process that is now underway. As the national discussion grows, many articles reflect that at least some Americans (including me) place this tragedy in a larger context of the violence that we as a nation perpetrated against Native Americans, and Africans torn from their homeland and forced to become slaves to European colonials in the New World.

Consider also the emergence of the Idle No More movement just four days earlier on December 10, 2012. Four women from Saskatchewan -- Indigenous and non Indigenous -- decided that they could no longer be silent about Bill C 45, legislation (later passed by the Canadian Senate on the same day as the Newtown massacre) that they consider an attack on First Nation people and the lands and waters across Canada. This grassroots movement aims to "repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth". In just a short time, the Idle No More has also attracted support and solidarity from people around the world.

As I queud up Dakota 38, I was not certain I would end up sharing it, at least not until after Christmas. In the face of so much national trauma lately, I have mainly been listening to as many voices as possible. I brought my sharing on social networks under the scrutiny of "right speech" -- a principle that considers, among other things, the right time and place to speak or be silent and just listen, witness, and hold the field steady as people come to grips with its horror, try to sort things out.

What became clear in my heart during the first few minutes of the film, hearing people speak of their experience, is that sharing Dakota 38 on Christmas Eve felt right. This mass execution spoke to the shadow, the darkness I feel as a descendant of European colonists. But as I listened, I could hear the profound gifts of peace, love and reconciliation that these descendents of the Dakota 38 have to offer all of us.

What they speak to is not just an "Indian thing". It reflects a process of healing and transformation that is at the core of celebrations like Christmas, a process that I see spreading across the global range of the human family. It requires reconnecting with our dark and painful past to find what was lost or forgotten so that we can move forward or birth something new in the present with greater peace and wisdom.

In African culture this is the concept of Sankofa. It is also an idea found in the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and other psychological models of healing.

Sankofa Bird street painting in Kumasi, Ghana [Photo credit: Gorodilova]

So, in the spirit of the season, however you celebrate and understand it, I offer this gift via Chief Phil Lane who first shared a related link, and Jim Miller, and Smooth Feather Productions who offered the full movie to everyone at no charge:



Also see:

The Light of Humanity in the Darkness: Reflections in the Shadow of Sandy Hook (Phillip Hellmich, 12/20/12 at Huffington Post)

Idle No More is not just an "Indian Thing" (Wab Kinew, 12/17/12 at Huffington Post)

First Nations prepared to fight Harper , Enbridge in international court (Erin Flegg, 12/23/12 in the Vancouver Observer)

Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Therese Spence's hunger strike (Greg Macdougall, 12/22/12 at

New documentary remembers largest mass execution in US history (December 23, 2010, Minnesota Public Radio)


David Palumbo-Liu: The need for the other narrative in Gaza

Cross-posted from my Raising Cain blog.

I keep a framed print in my office: It depicts a cat just sitting peacefully (I can't remember the artist). The caption is: "What people need is a good listening to."

I have proven this true time and again -- at least for myself -- not only in my healing practice but in the practice of peace work and justice activism out in the troubled world beyond my quiet holler here in Tennessee. Thus, I was happy to find an amazing OpEd by David Palumbo-Liu at yesterday.

Since then, I've spent quite some time deciding where to share it. The thoughts and feelings that have prevented a quicker sharing relate to an indepth (and ongoing) contemplation of the fractured communities, the violence, anger and hate that currently blinds us as a human collective to our essential oneness, our peaceful, loving and cooperative nature.

I think a lot about how we can ever heal all the wounds that keep us from a reunion with the Self and the Source that we as a human race abandoned so long ago. I think we will figure it out. Social healing is a complex process, but I am confident that one of the skills we'll all need is an ability to listen through the heart first, and only then let the words pass on to the head through that powerful field of compassion that allows us to hold extremes simultaneously in one center.

Palumbo-Liu's article offers an opportunity to practice such a thing and to learn more about it, I think. He speaks here about young people in Gaza, but it's clear to me that we could take such an invitation to deep listening anywhere on Earth right now and move ourselves toward something better:

Believing their story is never allowed to be heard, Palestinians have a feeling of dispossession described most eloquently by the late Edward Saidi.  Now Gazan youth are pleading for the world to listen to their rage, sorrow and frustration, and their commitment to a cultural and political project that will endow them with rights and possibilities for life.


I discovered more great posts at David Palumbo-Liu's website. He also has a Twitter feed @palumboliu. When I get a minute, I'll add his website URL to Raising Cain's News and Blogroll in the sidebar.


Sharing Atoms in the Fire of Light

"So many millions of info-bits on the Internet," I'm thinking, and then wondering, "what led me to this one?" Maybe a more important question: what made me zero in on this one and let all the others move in and then out of focused attention?

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto's time-lapse map of the 2,053 nuclear explosions that shook the Earth between 1945 and 1998 certainly set off a lot of thoughts, feelings and questions for me this morning. None of them were things I had not thought, not felt, not questioned before. (See my August 6, 2010 post: "The Bomb"s at 65.) In a way, perhaps, Hashimoto's art has brought it all more profoundly into my body.



A couple of experiences with this video today stand out.

The flashes of light and sound representing each detonation evoked the feel of a gaming arcade, or maybe a casino, pure entertainment in the zone of things imaginary. At the same time, the connection of the flashes on the map to another human being's home place was not lost on my heart. The white-light flash on the screen beneath the cross-hairs over Hiroshima sucked time, along with my mind, into a six-decade implosion. For a second I was simultaneously in the rooms where generals gave the destruct order, in the cockpit of the Enola Gay, and on the ground with WTF-amazement at my fiery ascension into the poisonous mushroom.

A few years pass in the upper right hand margin of the video before I can make sense of the flags, beeps, tones, pulses, flashes and numbers emerging in front of me.

My mind reorganizes. It occurs to me how far some of the flashes on the map are from the capitols of the countries that exploded them. How foolish to think that a nuclear explosion in a sparsely populated area would not have consequences.

What is the source of this privilege, this arrogance (or pathetic mindlessness) that could possibly endorse such destruction inside or outside of its own boundaries, against its own (or other) species? It would have to be people who are totally disconnected from laws of nature, people who, blinded by the superpower of fear and loss, have forgotten that what we do to others, we do to ourselves.

Perhaps it's not that Hashimoto's art brought my nuclear thoughts, feelings and questions more profoundly into my body, but that his interpretation put me more profoundly in touch with something that was already there. After all, the atoms in the bombs and the atoms in my body are the same, all connected, all communicating, all the time.

When the US dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, it dropped on me, though I wasn't yet born. The cells that would grow and develop as a vessel for this local self I know as "me" already held the memory of that nuclear holocaust, and have no doubt reverberated with every explosion since, though well beyond conscious awareness...until now.

Sunset at White Sands National Monument, south of the "Trinity" site in New Mexico where the United States detonated the first atomic bomb in 1945. [Photo credit: Cathie Bird]

And so I renew my questions with a louder voice: Who is really the scariest bomb maker? I think a case could be made that it's the folks who have exploded the most bombs, the people who dropped the first ones on unsuspecting citizens of someone else's country.

But here in this first week of 2012, another question comes to mind: What if we as a species misread the impulses that led us to build such things as bombs in the first place? What if the seed of the bomb is our own atomic not-yet-conscious memory of the life-giving Big Bang? It wouldn't be the first time that humankind misunderstood the cohesive evolutionary forces of love, light and life and chose instead a path of undoing.

What if the explosion of light we are driven to seek and give form on Earth is the spiritual fire, the atomic essence of our true Selves?


Intergenerational transmission of trauma: an epigenetic process?

This article from Dave Belden at Tikkun (December 28, 2010) is part of the reason I've been busy digging deeper into notions of conscious evolution, evolutionary biology and epigenetics with respect to attachment, affective systems and other points of interest to me as a psychoanalytic practitioner. Here's an excerpt:

A major milestone in the development of evolutionary science was the defeat of the idea held by evolution’s first great theorist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744 – 1829), that offspring could inherit the characteristics that their parents had acquired during their lifetimes. This was before it was worked out that biological inheritance works through genes and the language of DNA. While your DNA can be damaged, there is nothing you and your mate can do to otherwise change the genes you pass on to your biological kids. So if you learn to live in the desert or play the violin, you can teach the desert or violin skills to your kids but they won’t inherit them.  “Lamarckism” became a major heresy in evolutionary science.

There is a great deal of hope and comfort in this for anyone who has lived through the worst that humans can do to each other: war, genocide, famine, prison, or other horrors. At least your kids can get a fresh start, if you can raise them somewhere safe. Yes, your own fears and trauma will inevitably be transmitted to them in some ways, but that will happen culturally, not, thank goodness, biologically. Biologically they will be a blank slate.

Now it appears it is not as simple as that.



See also: A Writer Traces Illnesses Back to the Womb

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: A Perfect Storm of Prejudices

[Cross-posted from Raising Cain.]

Recently I discovered a great blog -- Who's Afraid of Social Democracy -- by psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Today she posted an article on the subject of prejudice, and I thought I'd say a few words, toss in some quotes and post a link to it here at Raising Cain.

On her blog, Young-Bruehl writes about current affairs and reflects on contemporary political issues and questions. Prior to her psychoanalytic training, Young-Bruehl was a doctoral student of the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, and eventually wrote her biography. Young-Bruehl has also written many papers and books on gender issues, as well as a book very relevant to her blog post today, The Anatomy of Prejudices.

Since I formalized my anti-racist journey by becoming an activist in organizational anti-racism transformation, I've spent much time integrating what I'd previously discovered about human relating and relationships from my psychoanalytic training and practice. The intersection of the individual psyche and the collective mind of society has become an edge of tremendous interest and discovery for me personally and professionally.

That edge is not an either-or space: we need to know a lot about how people come to be who they are AND how the collective mind and societal systems come to be as they are if we want to get beyond racism. The individual and society co-create each other psychologically just as, in a parallel process, a baby and her mother co-create each other. If we would like to change ourselves and the systems in which we live, I believe we'll have to become aware of these complex dynamics.

I have a sense that Young-Bruehl's last two blog posts have opened doors and moved my thinking about all of this forward.

Speaking about a changing view of the nature of prejudice after World War II, Young-Bruehl says:

That decade of psychoanalytic work was extremely important because it opened up for exploration the whole domain of unconscious motivation. But, to my mind, it was also very flawed and replete with misleading generalizations. For example, in Adorno’s and Allport’s books, there is no prejudice against women because all prejudice is against minority groups and women are not a minority group. (By the same crazy logic, there would be no prejudice against blacks in South Africa because the blacks are not a minority group there…) During the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s, the ethnocentrism synthesis began to unravel under pressure from people whose victim experience it misconstrued or overlooked. People of color pointed out that racism is not just like anti-Semitism. Look, they said, did the white people who invented tests to show the inferior intelligence of people of color also try to show the inferior intelligence of the Jews who supposedly masterminded the international Jewish banking conspiracy?

She follows the evolution of this notion further into the feminist "gender-race-class" discussions of the 1970's, but notes:

Meanwhile, prejudices continued to flourish in ever-changing appearances. Nonetheless, many hoped to be able to interpret America as a nation marching in the direction of being “post-racial,” and many hoped a “post-feminist” era was dawning because women have made considerable social progress. These hopes, it seems to me, reflect the still-prevalent confusion about prejudices and how they operate. Even if the acts and appearances that are typical of a prejudice do abate or ameliorate, the needs or unconscious purposes served by the prejudices remain –and can rise up again or reassert or take new directions as circumstances change. There’s not much lynching going on now, but huge numbers of black men are hung up in jail, and that is not very “post-racial.”

With that, I'll leave you to your own investigation of Young-Bruehl's ideas. I get uneasy sometimes excerpting from pieces that seem so coherent as Young-Bruehl's impress me, so I hope you'll read her entire article.

She references her previous post as well, and you can access that one here.

The Unconscious Politics That Shape Our World, Choose Presidents and Save or Destroy Lives | | AlterNet

Scientists are finding more and more evidence that human behavior is not rational, not conscious and may be completely programmed without logic or knowledge. These unconscious drives affect jury decisions, elections, wars, our everyday experiences and can sometimes determine life and death. This is the subject of two recent books: Shankar Vedantam's The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save our Lives, and Guillermo Jimenez's Red Genes, Blue Genes, Exposing Political Irrationality. Both demonstrate irrationality but from slightly from different places. We recently discussed these phenomena with the authors.


Cathie's notes: Lots of articles and books popping up in the past year or so on the unconscious side of life. It has been my contention that for the past decade or two, the human collective has been living the unconscious from the inside out. When such a shift occurs (if it does) the notion of the unconscious itself becomes hidden or dismissed as relevant.

I think that the election of Barack Obama signalled a collective return to a more conscious track of awareness and expression. I'm thinking that the notion of an unconscious side of life, in such a circumstance, would become more interesting to mass consciousness, and thus enjoy more coverage by the media, which in many ways acts like an instrument that picks up on the collective thought and emotion and, in a sense, puts it into words.

I'm working on a longer piece related to these ideas.

What White People Fear | | AlterNet

Understanding the fears behind the racial politics of both conservative and liberal whites can help change a society in which wealth and well-being are still tied to race.


Cathie's notes: [cross-posted from my Raising Cain blog.] This article by Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, Austin, was written for the Spring 2010 issue of Yes! Magazine.

As a white liberal on an anti-racist journey, I found it to be interesting, informative, challenging and inspiring.

Read the whole article here. Read more in the America: The Remix issue at Yes! Magazine online here.