MT and ACEs

“It’s not what’s wrong with you — it’s what happened to you.”

Resilience still 06Last week I attended a community event to learn about Adverse Childhood Experiences — ACEs. The featured activity was to view a recent documentary by James Redford (Robert’s son) called Resilience, which primarily told the story of both the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) original, groundbreaking ACE study (see the CDC website for more info) and a major application of that study in practice — the story of San Francisco pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris (who also has a “must see” Ted Talk telling her story).

There are many angles and vocations from which to address the health phenomenon of ACEs. I would like to offer here the perspective of anthropology in the way of Mimetic Theory (MT). ACEs represents a scientific study that offers a potential goldmine for human healing on so many levels. But we can also count on massive resistance. Why? From what perspective? From the default cultural perspective of our original anthropology, namely, a way of being human based in accusation, blame, and scapegoating. In our current iterations of this deep enculturation, we are a society of laws centered on retributive justice. In short, our deepest enculturation rebels against an approach that can be summed up,

“It’s not what’s wrong with you — it’s what happened to you.”

We need to find blame either in someone else or in some aspect of ourselves. Having bitten from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our standard way of thinking divides all of the world into Good and Evil. We resist a knowledge that seeks to suspend such judgments and instead to know simply what is. In other words, we resist scientific knowledge when it comes up against our most Sacred views that are rooted in a scapegoating-structured sense of societal order — when it comes up against good old-time religion as the center of culture.

We’ve seen this since the beginning of modern science. The church defending its earth-centered view of the cosmos against Copernicus and Galileo. Biblical fundamentalists defending the six-day creation story of Genesis 1 against Darwinism. Currently, we are witnessing an interpretation of Genesis 1:26 that continues to justify humankind’s imperialistic dominion over the earth in the face of the scientific community’s dire warnings about climate change. Yes, sadly we can expect resistance to the wonderful potential to revolutionize health care in light of the ACEs study because it goes against our enculturation around blame, accusation, and punishment — a justice system focused on retribution. It is an enculturation that even carries over into the popularized views of modern health care: find out what’s wrong with someone and fix it.

Mimetic Theory offers the revolution in understanding human enculturation that can support the scientific revolution of knowledge, summed up in the simple phrase,

“It’s not what’s wrong with you — it’s what happened to you.”

This is not a revolution that absolves anyone of personal responsibility — as would seem to be the case from the perspective of Retributive Justice. On the contrary, it leads to a more true and healthy sense of personal responsibility, precisely because it begins with simply what is rather than with blame for what’s wrong. The latter is usually the prelude to some sort of violent expulsion or death. To begin with simply what is, on the other hand, is the gateway to a resurrection response, a Way that seeks to respond to a situation of less health and aliveness by marshaling communal resources to pursue a path towards greater health and aliveness. The ACEs study and the health strategies it is spawning are a brilliant example of this.

Alison - The Joy of Being WrongMimetic Theory can lend support by helping us to understand that any cultural resistance to it is the essence of the Original Sin — the Sin of culture founded in our deadly Order based on our own fallen Knowledge of Good and Evil — the Sin from which Jesus’ loving submission to that Order liberates us. In the revelation of Jesus Christ, we begin to have our experience of God transformed from one of wrathful retribution to one of loving restoration. We are met by a God of healing, not punishment. We encounter a God who says to us, “It’s not what’s wrong with you — it’s what happened to you. … And I am here with you to help you respond with courage and healing and new life.”

(For more, see the brilliant work of James Alison, especially The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. Alison’s entire theological program could be said to be an elaboration of the last paragraph of this blog.)

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