09 April 2009

Abuse is Fractal

I should probably begin this post by apologizing to any mathematicians and/or physicists who are reading here. I've appropriated one of the most beautiful, entrancing models of reality that math / physics has ever produced, and am using it to capture a key feature of something unspeakably ugly.

I have been considering the notion that abuse is fractal.

What I mean by this is that, although abuse can be complex, the behaviors, roles, interplay that characterize it appear to be self-similar at any scale, which is a primary property of actual fractals.

In previous posts I've talked about groups, teams, cliques, and gangs, using a model that places them along a continuum of abusiveness, with gangs at the highest level of abusiveness and low-affiliation groups at the low end. I've talked about 'phony gurus' [what the AdminZone people call 'forum bullies' when they act out online] and the recruiting, inciting, and targeting tactics of such stealth bullies in realspace and cyberspace.

But I haven't talked as much about the way in which abusiveness follows similar patterns regardless of whether it is happening on a small [two children, or a husband and wife], medium [schools, churches, small companies] or large [entire corporations, denominations, or nations] scale, and regardless of the age of the abuser[s] and target[s]. [Office bullies do seem horrendously similar to bratty middle schoolers with money and cars, don't they? Yes they do; because they are.]

I have also spent little or no time discussing the way that, within the large scale abusive entities, whatever they may be, there will inevitably be smaller-scale abusive entities, whose net effect is to endorse and reinforce the large-scale abuse. You can find a good exposition of this in the TH in SoC blog, I believe, where TH talks about experiencing racism, and observing sexism, in a church small group. I believe the Blog of Lema Nal [linked through TH's blogs, and an excellent resource] also discusses this at various points. Fractal... self-similarity.

What brought this to mind was my recent discovery of an excellent summary of the Large-Scale Abuse Playbook at Derailing for Dummies [advisory: site language is not family-friendly. Very much not.] The focus of this site is on specific tactics used to marginalize and exclude members of certain groups on both the individual and collective scale; while it is amusing in a satirical way, it is also extremely sad.

Because it is so terribly, terribly familiar. These are the tactics of verbal, emotional, psychological abuse. They will be very familiar to any target or survivor.

Now, when I say this, I do not mean it to further marginalize the people who are the focus of the "Derailing" piece. Quite the opposite. I mean it inclusively...

... because what is going on when entire groups are deliberately 'cut out' and marginalized, is abuse on the grand scale. Abuse "just like Mother used to make"; or Father; or the mean boy in your seventh grade class, or the mean women in the sewing circle. The objective - to exclude, diminish, destroy - is the same. But in this case, it is an entire group, or 'cohort', or race, or faith, or nation that is the target of the abuse; hundreds, thousands, millions of human beings calculatedly, deliberately harmed;

one heart, one mind, one soul - one unique and irreplaceable human being - at a time.

Yes, I'm convinced. Abuse is fractal. And although my first reaction to this idea was a feeling of despair at the thought that something so ugly can reproduce itself from the micro to the macro scale so easily...

... my second reaction was cautious hope. Because, if it is fractal, then indeed it is going to follow predictable patterns. And there will be a limited number of patterns that need to be learned and discerned, and those patterns will be detectable at whatever scale of abuse is being practiced.

Learning and understanding and developing strategies to deal with a few patterns, that operate across an infinte range of scales, is far more manageable than trying to grasp and construct responses to an infinite variety of behaviors.

Thus the phenomenon of abusiveness, at any and all scales, becomes much less of a mystery, and much more of a puzzle. And puzzles can often be solved far more readily than mysteries can.


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