༺ blog - essays ༻


2022 Aug 11

“Your triggers are your responsibility. Don’t expect the world to tip-toe around you”
(from ifunny)

On the face of it this meme is telling the truth. Why should the world tip-toe around my sensitivities? I am indeed responsible for, or at least to, what goes on in my mind. The actions of my body, my speech and my mind belong to me, true. When I heard it first I questioned the person posting it to find out more about what was going on beneath the surface. It turned out to be a litany of begrudgings about ‘cancel culture’, ‘free speach’, ‘wokeness’, ‘oppressive diversity’ and so forth. These are, of course, the propaganda talking points generated by the right wing.

This talk of ’triggers’ is now used in at least two ways. In the propagandistic sense it is a term of abuse used against political enemies, a way of ridiculing the sensitivies of the ‘woke’. In the mental health sense it is a way of describing the causes of a flashback to a traumatic event.

You see, I have PTSD. I was diagnosed by the guy that first looked after Terry Waite when he was released from his awful prison experiences. That guy was Gordon Turnbull, the early theorist of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He told me my case was both chronic and acute. The classic ‘flashback’ is the Vietnam Vet thinking he’s back in the jungle, fighting for his life because he’s heard a car backfire many years after coming home. It has become a trope.

For me there are situations that spark off something similar. For a while after a fall in 1991 when a circus stunt went wrong, seeing people fall on TV, or certain patterns of yellow and red that reminded me of the tent I used to work in as a juggler, actor and musician, would send me into a seething hot mess of rigid panic. My body would convulse and I would feel that I was endlessly falling into an immense abyss of dark terror. Intense!

Hughie 26 years old
(Snapdragon Circus 1990 - Hughie at the rigging bar)

Now when I see that word ’trigger’ used as an insult as in this meme, it triggers me in a different way again. It triggers the way I feel reading Primo Levi and his lifelong effort to understand the mentality of his persecutors in the concentration camps of the Second World War. I’m reminded of the tribulations of my dad during that war. Of that whole generation and the scars that fascism left behind.

In this apparently innocent quote I fear it is an echo of that mentality, a return of the ‘othering’ of hated out groups. My friend who posted it is not, I trust, an actual fascist, I think it was more of a curmudgeonly, Victor Meldrew sort of joke for him, but the propaganda machine that has got a head of steam up at the moment is heading full speed towards out and out fascism. The deliberate cruelty, the spectacular hypocrisy, the shameless twisting of meanings into their reverse. For them the abomination is not slavery, it is the protests of those opposing racism. It is not the brutality of that racism, it is seeing black faces in adverts. It is not the pompous stupidity of machismo and sexism but the attempts to treat each other in kinder and more sensitive ways. And thus the fever returns, the attempt to turn the Victor Meldrews into brownshirts. The cult of the powerful leader, the rise of ‘patriotism’ and flag waving. The nationalist’s attempt to annihilate all that makes them afraid. The attempt to get back to an earlier golden age when people knew their place. Heirarchies to be maintained at all and any cost. The weird obsession with other people’s sexuality. The pervesion of Christianity into a domination/submission dynamic. The over simplification of contentious issue’s nuances and complexities into seething outrage.

Have you noticed that the right’s accusations always turn out to be confessions? It’s a process of projection. What is going on inside is believed to be coming from outside. When caught stealing the thief accuses the owner of taking it in the first place. They NEVER take responsibility and ALWAYS find a scapegoat. The views expressed in this piece will be skewed to mean that it is really ME that is the fascist. Always the reversal, always playing the victim. To those who have been in a dominant position and see that as natural and ‘right’ will see any attempt to change that situation as an attempt to dominate them! The world view seems to be based on this dominance model. One is either superior or inferior. It’s a dog-eat-dog mentality in an ‘us and them’ world of conflict.

The irony in all this is that it is the Daily Mail crowd who are really being triggered. Watching a live-stream of an Extinction Rebellion street protest in 2021, I saw the live comments scrolling by. It was, predictably, along the lines of ‘get a job’, ‘benefit scroungers’, ’entitled students’ etc. Witness Twitter go mental when someone comes out as gay, or Oh My God, trans. One has to wonder what is being triggered by these things. What trauma underlies such emotional outbursts? Perhaps it is simply a fear at losing control? A ‘where will it all end?’ reaction to a change in previously stable social structures. They too are trying to save the world. The problem there is the view of the ‘world’ and what ‘save’ means!

Disaster cannot be averted by attacking anyone, by ‘othering’ those seen as an enemy. It isn’t an accurate analysis of the problems we as a species face.

Here I must confess that I too feel a deep disgust and a desire to ‘other’ the right wingers. I can’t help it! At the same time I feel a vast, heart-broken and tearful pain when contemplating this political conflict at the very moment that we teeter on the brink of a disaster too vast and too final to countenance. The extinctions of entire species, the displacements of countless millions, the untold sufferings of a future that need not be if we could only make decisions based on long term and universal thinking. The ‘council of all beings’ will not look kindly on us I fear, if we don’t stop squabbling, if we don’t stop putting our own interests above everything else. If we don’t recognise our interdependence with each other and all of nature.

My patriotism is to the entire planet and to everything that lives here. So many solutions already exist but the powerful do not have the will that they be acted on. No one can win if the environmental challenges we all face are treated as a power game. What can we do to change that? First, we have to see the rage as our own.