That creaking sound you hear in the background as you start reading this post is the sound made by the runners of my Hobby Horse rubbing along bad kitchen tiles as I climb into the saddle and prepare to ride one of my favourite pet theories into the ground. The fact that this theory springs from my view of the world should be warning enough that it will be one-sided and completely biased, unlike the even-handed and rational approach that everyone has grown to expect from opinion pieces on the Internet.
Those of you who have read my writing with anything approaching regularity will know that I make no secret of the fact that I'm a survivor of incest – sexual abuse by my father – and a recovered substance and alcohol abuser. Thankfully, while I may have emotionally abused some people along the way, the majority of my abuse was self-directed.
Unlike my father, or his father before him, my self-loathing and fear never found focus on an external target. What damage I inflicted on others was caused by the inevitable backwash of somebody hitting bottom; imagine a whirlpool created by a boat sinking and the damage caused to those craft at the periphery of the vortex and you'll get a general idea of what I'm talking about.
I've done my best to make my peace with myself about that by understanding why it happened. Not using the abuse as an excuse, but finding in it for myself the explanation for abhorrent behaviour that I was never able to understand, was a huge relief. There can be no feeling worse than not knowing where a compulsion comes from, or doing something in spite of the voice in your head yelling, "It's wrong!"
As to what causes somebody to abuse another person, either sexually or otherwise, there are certain generalizations about the character of abusers that I think are safe to take as givens, one being that the chances are that the abuser had him- or herself been abused without ever having been treated for it.
This would create a person so full of resentment, anger, and the need to exert power over someone else, that at the first signs of things going wrong in their life they would find a target, or object of blame, who would become the outlet for all those emotions. This goes a long way towards explaining why men, who are conditioned to repress their emotions, are most often the abusers, and children, the most vulnerable people in society, are most often victims.
Sexual orientation has nothing to do with sexual abuse. It's about exerting control and power over something in your life because you have no control over how the world makes you feel. Resentment at having been treated badly and what you perceive as repeated slights against you gives you the justification for your actions.
"If they can do this, I can do that" is taken to extremes a rational mind wouldn't even consider. Think about any time you have felt resentment toward another person, or about something that had been done to you, and magnify those feelings by the largest number you can imagine and you might get an inkling as to what goes on in the mind of an abuser.
Having experienced those feelings myself whenever I used to justify doing the things I knew would hurt another, I can vouch for their seductive qualities. Even now it can take some effort on my part to overcome the path of least resistance that it allows. You never have to worry about standing up for yourself, fear being rejected, or have the validity of your feelings questioned. You just wallow in feeling hard done by until you find a means of venting that repression on someone else.
After I was well into my recovery process and was able to start talking about my father the person, beyond just his role as abuser in my life, I began to remember things that happened to my father as a child, and what his father (my grandfather) had experienced as a young man. I started to formulate a theory about the interrelationship of abuse with the last 150 years of history.
The world my grandfather was born into in Europe of 1898 (family history note: my father's family name was Chalmers and his father was born in Scotland; my last name is different as I legally changed it to my mother's last name of Marcus) bore eerie similarities to our current world situations both socially and politically. Nationalism had been on the rise for the previous fifty years as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was beginning to come apart at the seams.
Italy and Germany both had become unified countries, instead of a collection of independent city-states and regions. Russia was a seething mass of discontent as the many were becoming tired of the few controlling their lives. The Balkan states were in their usual state of unrest as the myriad ethnic groups all had their own nationalistic desires.
While this was happening politically, the world was also trying to come to grips with what at that point was the most accelerated rate of progress ever experienced. The Industrial Revolution was the birth pangs of our free enterprise system of capitalism and although it increased the fortunes of some individuals, and solidified the middle class, it created a vast underclass of working poor.
With coal providing fuel for everything from home cook fires to factory furnaces the air quality in major cities like London was worse than any contemporary circumstances one can consider. Most of the working class lived in a squalor of raw sewage, unsafe drinking water, and violence that we can't even begin to imagine.
For a society that had been mainly agrarian-based, the rapid shift to industry and commerce was far more traumatic than our current progression into the automated computer age. I can't even begin to imagine the levels of stress this must have induced in people and the long-term implications it must have had on family life.
In 1914 the first Great War began, and at 19 my grandfather was a medic at the Battle of the Somme in 1917, when he was wounded in a gas attack that cost him a lung. In those days the closest term they had for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome due to war was shell shock. Even that was so suspect that people suffering from it were on occasion shot for treason as deserters because they were unable to fight anymore. They were able to do a decent enough job of patching people up physically from their wounds, but nobody received any mental medical treatment for the trauma of seeing destruction on such a wide scale.
My grandfather was one of those who could have used treatment, because after my father was born in 1929, he never worked another day in his life. I don't know the extent of the abuse my father suffered at the hands of his parents. At one point he did let slip to my brother that the only memories he had of his childhood were being beaten by his father.
My father's abuse of me was only the continuation of the abuse that had begun back in the 19th century where the conditions that made abusers possible were fermented. Treatment for women who suffered from sexual abuse only really began in the 1970s, while it's probably still not commonplace with men.
We are the first generation of people who are dealing with the fallout from the birth of contemporary Western society. The mantra that is common to all of us is "The Abuse Ends Here". Instead of passing on the legacy of our sick families, we are seeking to change that inheritance. Not only are we willing to deal with these circumstances, but there are also people and facilities available to treat us, as never before.
Unfortunately that won't make much of a difference for the rest of the world, aside from our immediate families and friends. Conditions in the world haven't changed all that much in the last 150 years, except for the scale of how things are done and the increase in numbers of people affected. Are we planting the seeds of abuse in the mind of some child that will germinate over generations like so many others before him? Think of the young men and women who detonate their bodies as bombs, the children being turned into soldiers, and the ones surviving the bombings everywhere from North America to Indonesia.
We would never dream of allowing conditions to exist that allows the fermentation of disease, but that's exactly what we are doing with the current path our world is following. If we had set up a Petri dish in a laboratory we couldn't have created conditions any more ideal to create abusers.