“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Source: Douglass, Frederick.  (1985). “The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857
The Sisyphustic Battle for a Sense of Control
I have spent many years rebelling against a culture that encourages people to quietly submit. Women, students, children, the poor, the sick are just a few of the billions of underprivileged in this world that are encouraged through the use of psychological violence to sit down and shut up. Psychological violence is inextricably linked with the power of control. It is the willingness to battle for control that sets the limits of psychological violence and real violence that will occur in a given situation. As an ongoing proponent for the underdog, I grow increasingly familiar with the truth of Frederick Douglass’ statement. However, I am tired at the end of the day. What more can I do? Last week a student from the inner city high school where I teach was gunned down. The week before that a young girl revealed to me the history of incest in her family. Last year, around this same time, holiday season, I found myself leaving school in tears. In my tears was the realization that my yearnings to be a “catcher in the rye” were essentially egotistical in nature. It is an internal conflict that plays out, and is still playing out, painfully in my psyche.
After a long day at work I like to relax by watching investigative crime shows. One of my past favorites is “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” The SVU detectives investigate sex crimes, usually rapes, rape-homicides, and various forms of child abuse. The voiceover at the beginning identifies such crimes as “especially heinous,” and the show often focuses on the characters’ struggle to deal with unspeakable crimes and living victims. While I prefer not to watch television, crime shows have been my habitual fare dating all the way back to “Quincy Jones” and “Police Woman.” My mother is astounded that I can tolerate the frequently graphic violence of 21st century crime shows. She prefers family movies and films dating from the 50’s. I wonder why it is that I find it relaxing to contemplate the crimes of serial rapists and of murderous pedophiles.
As the economy spirals out of control and the District Superintendent warns of next year’s budget cuts, I predict the culture of violence in which I struggle to maintain a safe zone, a learning environment will become more violent. Therein is the answer to my fascination with “SVU.” Detective Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, always gets her “perp,” thereby restoring order and leaving me with a restored sense of control. The ordinary citizen maintains little to no control over many factors in our world. There is real violence in my school and administrators appear to be at a virtual loss as to what to do about it. There is real psychological violence in the learning environment and this proves to be an even more illusive enemy to the safe zone.
Psychological violence is used by the perpetrators in the “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” episodes in the form of threats, harassment, and the invasion of privacy. These are the tactics of the tyrant. These are the actions of terror that power utilizes to maintain control. Threats are made both verbally (late night phone calls, strange and frightening statements) and physically (staring, aggressive gestures). Harassment is another tool used by the perpetrator to gain control. The attempt to undermine the victims social standing, ceaseless insults, gaining the assistance of others in the form of gags and taunts thus creating a pack mentality are all tyrannical behaviors designed to dehumanize the victim. If the perpetrator can take the humanity from the victim then the perpetrator has a sure win. Once utterly dehumanized, the victim will not defend his rights. The invasion of privacy is a particularly effective manner of dehumanizing the victim. By taping phone calls, searching the victim’s room, secretly filming the victim, and stalking the victim, the victim is overcome with fear. This fear can escalate to disabling proportions rendering the victim powerless against the perpetrator.
The tactics of terror are not used by the perpetrator alone. The investigators use many of these same tactics to defeat the perpetrator. Officer Elliot Stabler, played by Christopher Maloni, is ironically named for he is not emotionally “stable,” and occasionally verbally and physically threatens violence against the accused perpetrators. In one episode, he even went so far as to deliver a bare fisted, brutal beating to a pedophile that had posted a photo of Stabler’s daughter on a pedophilic web site. Stabler is not the only investigator that occasionally bypasses the restrictions placed on defenders of the State. While the investigators typically get a search warrant before invading the privacy of the perpetrator, Detective “Fin,” played by Ice-T, frequently finds a way to get around such “technicalities.” These detectives are well meaning extremists and they allow me to vicariously circumvent the “catch-22” elements of big government. I eagerly pray that educational administrative teams everywhere can find such inventive ways to get around the punitive nature of NCLB. The psychological violence of reality is overwhelming. From the unjust edicts of the State, to the boisterous and belligerently vile threats of adolescents in hallways, I am not in control.
I do what I can to create a safe zone within this treacherous existence. And when I grow tired, and the time has come to restore my soul, I can lay back on the couch, remote in hand, and vicariously take on the world. Detective Olivia Benson stays up for twenty-four hours maintaining cell phone contact with a captive child. [Episode 911 http://video.aol.com/video-detail/det-olivia-benson-in-episode-911/1119024999] She works for days on end in pursuit of the “perp.” She digs the body of the victim up out of the ground and breathes into her frail and flaccid body, the breath of life. For tonight, I can rest soundly with a fleeting sense of order restored.