Why haven’t cultural level trauma based responses been recognized before this?
First and foremost, recall that an entire category of symptoms of PTSD revolve around avoiding the subject of trauma.
Why would we expect this to be different on a group level? Individuals with unresolved trauma often construct stories of their lives that avoid much -or any- emphasis on trauma, so it makes sense that we would do something similar on cultural levels.
Cultural Levels of Denial
We have not applied much deep psychology to our current cultural contexts (in the form of a field I would like to call Cultural Psychology). Why not? Well, when we do look at our history as a species, one of the first things we can’t help but notice is the extent of the trauma and our violence. The degree of past and current violence in human history has produced an incredible amount of trauma. As individuals and as a species, examining and resolving our own trauma based responses is very difficult to do. Avoidance is a natural response.
On an individual level, people will go to extremes to not have to face their own histories of trauma because it can be incredibly scary and painful to do so.
Why would we expect this to be any different on a group level?
People mistakenly think they are protecting themselves when they refuse to look at the impact of trauma on their lives. By ignoring past trauma, people are simply attempting to protect themselves from pain and suffering. Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works. In fact, people’s lives most often remain extraordinarily painful when they do not look at the ways trauma has impacted their lives. Left untreated PTSD often gets worse, not better with time. And again, why would we expect this to be any different on a group level?
Fear Causes Us To Become Irrational
It really cannot be overstated: Fear evokes a primordial response in humans, mitigating our fears will always be the largest consideration for humans when faced with a confusing world. Whether or not we acknowledge the fear is irrelevant, we act in ways that serve to protect us in the best ways we know how in the moment at hand. Whether that’s acting macho and buying oversized trucks or hyper masculine toys, (Semi automatic assault rifles anyone?) or whether it’s by denying science, these are at their roots, fear based responses to our uncertainty about our environments.
Once we see the denials and the reckless actions as symptoms of a larger illness, they can be easier to account for and eventually circumvent. More on that here . However, the denial is an integral part of our problem. It’s the inability to see how trauma based responses and decision making have further compounded our problems that is probably the largest stumbling block in resolving or mitigating the cultural level problems we face as a species. When we do not link our fear and greed (reckless behavior) to the effects of the trauma, we will be inevitably unable to fully learn to control those things effectively. The problem is so large that in earlier drafts of my outline for this theory I wrote this:
1. Humans have endured a tremendous amount of trauma as a species.
2. The extent and impact of this trauma is not recognized at all in our cultural level thinking
3. Trauma can and does by its nature produce altered ways of perceiving in individuals and in groups (fear based thinking prevails: the world becomes divided into safe and unsafe).
4. As a species we are acting in ways that very closely resemble how people with PTSD act. Many of our cultural norms also mirror how people with PTSD think and act (arms races, building walls, xenophobia, reckless acting out, etc.).
5. We need to recognize this and begin to treat ourselves as trauma survivors recovering from cultural level PTSD.
6. Some people (caught up avoidance symptoms) will not be able to understand or accept a word of this.
7. It’s still true anyway.
I still think that sums up our problem rather neatly, but I have altered the outline to its present state to further the theory so that it produces the beginnings of how to address the issue.