Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Aggression, trauma, empathy and sex

Disclaimer: This text is full of questions I am currently exploring. Even if the answers sound assertive they are tentative. None of the material is of ethical nature.
We are violent and aggressive beings. Aggression is an action aimed to suddenly cause a major change, a trauma, in the body - one's own or another. We harbor aggression for the body of the other and, sometimes, for our own. We have the ability to deliver trauma through aggression. How do we receive trauma? We respond to trauma typically in a massive affect similar to the affect accompanying aggression. I would call this affect empathy - empathy to another's traumatic pain or to one's own.

Trauma connects violent aggression and empathy.

What is trauma? Trauma is a violent change in the conditions of the body. Sudden pain, twisted arm or ankle, limb ripped off in car accident, gun shot wound. But also closely missed contact with danger - a missed high-speed collision on the road. Perhaps also speeding on a motorcycle to twice the freeway speed? Perhaps intrusion perceived as a happy event - such as pregnancy?

Trauma is generally an intrusion of other bodies into our body.

There are types of intrusions and interventions of other bodies into ours that we have been persuaded to accept. It would be appropriately prepared food and drink and also dental or medical instruments. The introductory hand-shake is a bodily intrusion we have been taught to accept under suitable social conditions. In a reversed scenario of intrusion we have been trained to properly expel waste and keep it at a distance from the body.

Another type of traumatic intrusion are sexual acts. The chief example is, of course, the classic male-female intercourse - but there is definitely a range of activities when bodies engage each other in an intrusive way. Among those we would have passing touch (other than the handshake), eye gaze or passing glance, a dance embrace.

I cite such a wide range of activities as traumatic to be able to point out how much trauma we are able to deflect and treat as merely potentially traumatizing - such as a car ride or visit to the dentist. Sexual intercourse among long-term partners is no longer traumatizing. We normalize and habituate ourselves to trauma.

Human beings have a tremendous ability to absorb trauma and aggression. Moreover, we also desire it!

The violent fantasy of popular action/adventure genre is a proof that we imagine ourselves as violent beings. Of course, as Lacan would say, we only imagine it so that it can become real. We need the fantasy so that something can happen in the real. Men are the warriors slaughtering monsters - the heroes properly and rightfully executing their power and attracting and subjugating females. If women prefer to romanticize domestic tranquility they do this in order to be mothers - undergoing the trauma of childbirth and wielding power over the child's life and death, a child whose emerging life is trauma itself, as Lyotard has observed. And women variously accept and rebel against the dominance of the conquering warrior hero.

Imaginary violence is also pervasively present in everyday language - especially in usage related to achievement. In business talk the competition will have "their ass kicked," or you will "bust your ass" to get something done. Imaginary bodily intrusion and affect is clearly implied.

Not to be omitted should be the popular interest in sports - especially team sports - which enact a safer variant of war.

The safest way to act out violence and aggression is sex.

Sex is a bodily intrusion and entanglement that we simply survive unharmed. Sex can be practiced by a single individual - where arousal and/or masturbation can generate a strong affect. The intrusion is more pronounced when more than one body is participating. Large part of the two-body problem is related to the semantics of the interaction of two individuals - which is a topic in psychoanalysis.
Sex is the act where our innate violence and aggression is readily accepted and absorbed. Sex is trauma embodied in a basically unharmed body - opening the way for empathy. Sex is trauma we are built for. The satisfaction sex provides cannot be understood only in terms of pleasure, Freud already having discovered the limits of pleasure, but in terms of contact with the trauma underlying our existence which will often involve pain. Individuals will run extreme risks to obtain sexual satisfaction. Political power that wishes to regulate and restrict sex, because it sees it as one of the loci of aggression and violence, ought to be very careful about unleashing more violence.