Friday, July 6, 2012

Postscript to "Am I a Criminal?"

     I am aware of the ellipsis in "Am I a Criminal" between the one feeling-state spurring me to challenge the lead FBI agent to handcuff me and take me away--if I were really such a criminal as his malicious raid on my office imputed--and the feeling-states that followed, causing me to doubt my perceptions, my sanity, and my understanding of myself.  As I wrote that post I wanted to bridge this gap so that readers could experience a satisfying transition, a sense that even as I was disintegrating into self-questioning I still had in force an objective identity that could process what was really happening and hold onto it as "the truth."  But I couldn't bridge it and--ending a nice, neat, essay that comes full-circle for the reader--remain honest to the cacophony of voices shouting from my inner world.
     The FBI raid capitalized on a degree of self-doubt that resides, in most reflective people, not far below the surface of our public selves.  I don't think a person can be truly intelligent if he is not constantly asking himself, about his stated opinions and feelings, "Is this really true?  Is this how I  feel, or am I simply posturing?"  It is easy to discover, in the act of self-reflection, that our feelings are many-layered and that the more we focus on them the deeper the layers go.  
     Most of us respond to big shows of authority with either anger and rebelliousness or instant submission.  Our immediate rejoinder has to do both with early childhood programming and with our inherent temperaments.  Those of us who get belligerent demonstrate the sublime survival response that preserved our individuality against authoritative parents.  Those who bow immediately to a show of power reveal extreme sensitivity to "otherness," and the admirable capacity to consider different points of view.  These two reflex responses have their respective merits.
     But what follows in the wake of automatic behaviors is usually, in brave, thinking people, a long path of inquiry.
    "What happened?" we ask, our hearts still racing.  "Who is right?"
     Then, "Why did I act like that?" and "Am I really angry, or is this feeling a cover for fear?" or "Am I really afraid, or is this a defense to keep me out of harm's way?"
     I happen to be one of those people who react immediately with quarrelsome anger.  It keeps me from experiencing helplessness in the face of an overwhelming threat.  "Go ahead," I challenged the FBI agent, "Handcuff me, if you're so tough!  Let's see what you've got under all that leather and metal!"
     My bravado felt real at the time, but I understood it later as a way of keeping the enemy at bay.  I knew, in a corner of my mind, that the FBI agent didn't have enough evidence against my clinic to arrest me.  He had to have trumped-up the facts, such as they were, in his secret affidavits in order to have gained so much access to my office, and this made me mad.  It was clear to me--though irrelevant to him--that many people would suffer because of his rabid self-certainty.  I would be left to clean up the mess, if I could, in the aftermath of the raid with its negative publicity, and carry on my mission as a physician and business-owner, while he moved on to other clinics and businesses, breaking down doors, confiscating possessions, wielding his weapons, protected by a long list of federal statutes and by his unwavering assumption of righteousness.
     It was that unquestioned belief in his power that got me.  I guess it reminded me of all the men who seemed to be in power as I was growing up in the 1960's.  Yes, there were the incipient, electric voices of women like Betty Friedan and Jane Fonda, but they had not yet gained ascendancy in my world, and I railed against my entrapment in feminine acquiescence.  I was not docile by nature.  My father had used his privileged position to crush my tenacious will with punishments for "insubordination."  But instead of crushing me, his denunciations strengthened my energy against "people like him."  Hence my immediate need to attack the FBI official, as a matter of survival, and to tear at the platform on which he stood.  I fell back into the riled-up response-system of the mistrustful nine-year-old girl.
     A father's exercise of power, however, is not without its consequences, and neither is that of a paternalistic culture.  We are so guileless as children that we first assume our parents are correct in all things, and only later see their errors.  And like guinea-fowl we have by then been imprinted with their judgments and with our habitual course of behavior.  Any rebellion henceforward against our parents' viewpoint is regarded with doubt, even if we think we have matured into our own.
     "Yes, I stood up to the FBI agents, but could they be right?" I asked myself in the same way adolescents are loath to give up their parents' assessments of them--in fact, never completely give them up.  Hence the almost childlike doubts that pursued me for months after the FBI raid:  Could I be a criminal?  Could I be schizoid?  Am I really bad?  I had these doubts in the absence of any evidence whatsoever to support them.  I had these doubts even as I conducted myself with absolute professionalism in the arena of the office, with patients, with solicitors, with those who asked, "What happened here?"  I had these doubts about myself not because there was a single fact to substantiate accusations of criminal activity or fraud in my clinic or in my personal life, but because I had been raised in a tradition that trained me to question my validity as a person, and especially as a woman.  I had been inculcated with the belief that my success in a male-dominated world should be marginal, and would always be suspect.  The fact of my eventual success, therefore, always made me feel a bit guilty.  I was challenging the status quo.  It was a hazard.  I would pay a price, wouldn't I?
     It is regrettable for women in an authoritarian world that we question our right to success--however hard we have worked for it--and that in many ways we are willing to hand it all over to others, if only psychologically.  Perhaps it isn't only women, but also men who may be sensitive by nature and were offended early in life by parental forces that judged them harshly, making them question their self-worth.  Maybe it's all of us who must contend at all times with the programming we received before we had a choice, and argue against it when outer forces rally against us, argue against it as a matter of principle but also as the key to our survival as unique and deserving individuals in a bewildering and sometimes corrupt world.

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