Apr 4, 2010

Rape and Easter II

A detail: If the little boy didn't pull away, the priest would say he wanted it.

A detail: The woman said "no," but the cop accused of rape said, "you know -- you know -- girls like that are always embarrassed. They just lack self esteem."

Rapists, of all the kinds of criminals, are different. They just have a different logic. Murderers sometimes say they're sorry. The reality of it overcomes them, remorse rolls like waves and they weep and say they're sorry. Even though the word sounds weak and they know that and know it doesn't fix anything, change a thing or redeem anything, they say it and say it again, they're sorry. Thieves sometimes take responsibility. Embezzlers often feel bad afterwards, a little queasy inside, and wife beaters almost always want a chance to apologize, or at least explain. But not rapists. They seem to be remorseless. But more than that -- it's as if they've sealed themselves against even the possibility of remorse.
They've hermetically sealed themselves against guilt.

It's not just that they don't take responsibility, though, but that they've structured their thinking so responsibility isn't even possible. It's always displaced. It's always someone else. Apart from the crime, there's this pernicious logic. They can't even see how they might be responsible.

"Most are highly narcissistic," Fr. Thomas Brundage wrote of those who abuse children, "and do not see the harm that they have caused ..."

It's weird how this narcissism works, though, because it doesn't just reorient the world and warp things so they're all about the narcissist, it also serves as a shell. As protection. Narcissism, as we normally think of it, is how a person lays claim to everything, always conceiving of themselves as the center of everything, but here, with rapists, with abusers, it actually means conceiving of a crime, of this horrible event, as if it had little or nothing to do with them at all.

Look at the logic at work: In a Texas prison, a guard forces a man's face into the laundry, hand cuffs him and holds him down with his weight. The man is thin, the guard, heavy. Afterwards he uncuffs him, and the man pulls up his boxer shorts and the guard says he should be silent, because this was nothing. He shifts the criminality, displaces the rape. He makes this move, this rapist's logic. This was nothing, he says, and the raped prisoner should be grateful, actually, because the guard could send him to a rougher section of the prison and there they'd rape. The gangs there would rape him "all the time."

This structure of thought is pervasive, though. It isn't just limited to rape. We commonly think in a way, and structure our thinking so it's always someone else who is guilty. Our crimes are always justified. The worst thing we do, the worst thing we imagine, is always justified in our own mind. We shift and displace and it's someone else who's to blame. It's always someone else who should feel remorse, never us, never me -- I can't even understand why I might possibly be guilty.

It's not just rapists who do this displacing. Cops, victims and even average citizens semi-regularly wish for violence and retribution, but with this logic, so they’re not the ones carrying it out, not the ones responsible for what they wish would happen. The father, for example, of a murdered girl south of Atlanta had one chance to say something, to make an official statement, a victim's statement, and he said, "I hope they rape you every day for the rest of your life." What’s horrible, here, is that out of his pain, into the emptiness of the world without his daughter, he wishes for the same sort of violence that caused his pain. This is a wish reenacted regularly on TV. It's what we want to see. It's almost a trope on cop shows, telling the criminals they'll get what they've got coming. Whenever there's a story in the paper where something heinous has happened, the commenters always turn to rape. It’s almost immediate. And always it's done, whether by cops or commenter, by victims or on TV, so that we will feel no blame, so we're sealed off from guilt, and can feel it fully justified.

"Look," we can say, "they were asking for it."

We see the same thing in the the common critique of psychoanalysis, and actually here the move redoubles. The common critique is that psychoanalysis is just a way of avoiding responsibility. I have a dream about my mother and the analyst tells me it's my mother, it's her fault and that's why I am the way I am or do what I do. But the whole point of the counselling is to get me to take responsibility, to own whatever it is I've refused to own, and have instead suppressed. Slavoj Zizek writes, "the common misconception (is) that the basic ethical method of psychoanalysis is, precisely, the one of relieving myself of responsibility," but, he says, "responsibility is a crucial Freudian notion," and "responsibility" is actually the basic move, the "procedure of analyzing dreams." The point about me having this dream about my mother can't be about my mother. It has to be about me, having this dream, displacing whatever this is onto my mother and my subconscious and my dream. But the misunderstanding is crucial here because it's a redoubling of the whole point: the dream is a displacement of responsibility, but rather than taking responsibility, I dismiss the whole thing again, accusing psychoanalysis of doing exactly what I'm doing now to the second degree, refusing responsibility, and sealing myself off from any guilt.

Structurally, we think exactly like the rapist guard who warns of rapist gangs. Distracted by the horribleness of the child-abusing priest, we're unable, just like those priests, to see the harm we've done to others.

This is why Peter's betrayal of Christ is so critical. Christianity, with this story, contains the logic that undermines this logic of displacement and self-justification. If Peter had just been faithful to the death, following Christ to the cross and never wavering, never leaving his side, then he and the other apostles, the other Christians, could have dedicated themselves to the justified persecutions and punishments of the people who killed God. This was how the medieval Passion Plays functioned when they provoked pogroms against Christ-killers. This is essentially what we see and how we feel at the end of Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, when we, the viewers, have faithfully followed Christ to the grave, and feel not that he has suffered because of us, but that we have suffered along with him. The very last scene of the movie is Christ's resurrected feet, coming back, and there's an action hero swell, and we prepare for Christ to kick some ass. This isn't what happens with Peter, though. Peter betrays Christ, and because of that, cannot morally distinguish himself from Judas, or the ones who killed Christ. Instead, he has to take responsibility. He did it. He's responsible. There's a moment of realization, and, the Gospel tells us, "he went out and wept bitterly."

Christianity, at this moment, becomes an association of those who take responsibility for the brutal death of Jesus. It is here that the entire narcissistic logic is interrupted, arrested, and we're invited not to avenge or join the avengers, but to confess. We can use this moment, sure, to justify and assure ourselves of our self-righteousness, to continue what has always continued as we scapegoat scapegoaters, rape rapists, and kill killers, leaving the logic of their evil intact.

Or we can follow Peter outside.

We can let the remorse roll over us, own it and cry and say, for what its' worth, that we're sorry.