Today, the study group began with a case of a boy who by 13 was considered a sexual predator. A smart kid with an elaborate explanation for his actions, he seemed unmoved by scorn or guilt. A small bit of context. He is growing up on the outskirts of a mid-sized New England town in a family that for a number of generations have been considered a clan of deplorables.
Well known and ridiculed, their name is a dis among grade school children. I knew a few children from families of that sort when I grew up in a similar city in the South. Those kids never stood a chance. Born to lose; treated as losers. As far as I know, none of them did well. Most are now dead.
So we got to thinking about the understandable and likely consequences of being born into a degraded social status. As a Southerner, I am familiar with the lore of Kallikaks and Jukes, not so much as a sociological tale or arguments regarding eugenics, but as an image of marginal white families with yards filled with soiled diapers, chained mangy dogs, broken car parts, and rusted wash machines. People thought trashy, uncouth, incapable of civility or redemption. Inbred, violent, and sexually wanton. A danger to society managed through ridicule and arrest.
Depression and mental illness follow families who never have a chance to become members-in-good-standing with people they otherwise share ethnicity and religion. This is different from the degradation that attends racism, sexism, and these days, Islamophobia. The difference is profound.
Here’s some of the difference. One of us this morning pointed out that “everyone needs a code to live by.” A person need a code, a set of significant values to enact that serve a through-line providing evidence they have integrity. An integrity honored and witnessed.
Communities have their honored and required social practices, the policies and choice principles people follow if they are to be recognized as authentically one of us. With sufficient shared identification, people in marginalized communities have the potential to celebrate their own values required for good standing. So it may be with the deplorables. Their code will likely involve values and practices at odds with those with the power to inform and remind the broader culture of what is acceptable and treasured. Those deplored naturally resist degradation and know they cannot expect the establishment, the elites, and the established media to help them feel good about themselves. The code most useful for them may be pointedly different and perhaps necessarily so. What had been deplored becomes a source of pride, of membership, of righteous indignation and opposition. Collectively saying fuck you becomes defining and establishes the boundaries of community. This works when there are sufficient numbers to effectively affirm actions that reflect values of difference and opposition. In your face anger, rage, protest, and indignation become an antidote to counter depression and demoralization. But it takes a community.
Depression and demoralization go hand in hand with isolation. Isolation makes it hard to establish a code to live by enacted successfully and witnessed by others who share those values. It matters what other people think, how we feel we look in their eyes. Like it or not, some of what we require to feel good rests on significant others seeing it so. I am thinking of depression and demoralization as the consequence of a degraded personal world, of a severely restricted expectation and achievement of the satisfactions of successful engagement in the world of the valued community. Still, even here there is an alternative in a sort of lawless indifference, a guiltless disregard for other people’s established values. This is a fuck you; a version of if I ain’t got nothing, I’ve got nothing to lose. I wonder if this speaks to the adolescent boy we discussed today. It may take an affirming village to become a regular citizen. An isolated and degraded family is insufficient, although a tea party might do.
A link that further elaborates: On the Degradation Ceremonies of Everyday Life.
Written By Wynn Schwartz Ph.D
Degradation, Accreditation, Isolation, and the Deplorables. was originally published @ Lessons in Psychology: Freedom, Liberation, and Reaction and has been syndicated with permission.