Saturday, December 31, 2011

"DANCING ON HIS GRAVE": A Montana Testimony

Barbara Richard is a female Montana writer you may not have heard of since she doesn’t fit into the pretensions of the Montana bourgeois gatekeepers. She wrote a powerful trio of books with gerund names: “Dancing on his Grave,” “Walking Wounded,” and “Chasing Ghosts.” The first is relieved testimony from a family of five girls and their mother at the time of the father’s death. They had been terrorized, scarred and nearly murdered by that narcissistic sociopathic grandiose man. The phrase is not careless: it is a scientific category for a certain kind of person, usually a man.

The second book is about the girls and how they became competent women with happy children of their own. The mother did as well once she broke the “battered woman syndrome” enough to escape. The third book is in part an attempt to understand where such sociopaths come from, what makes them tick, and -- if possible -- what can be done about it. I’ve only read the first book and gave it away to someone who needed it. Now I’ll order the others. If you want to read these books, go to to order them, or go to Barnes & Noble. Amazon, for once, is not selling this book. There are excerpts on Barbara’s website.

When I was writing about Bob Scriver, I did a lot of reading about narcissistic sociopaths (people who think only of themselves) and Barbara has also done a lot of research. There’s a huge body of stuff out there. Bob Scriver was only mildly touched by this syndrome but Barbara’s father was extreme, whipping them bloody. He bashed his wife into unconsciousness. His mother died under ambiguous circumstances as a result of violence. There may be a genetic component to this, probably on the Y gene, and it is aggravated by hardship and violence, like dryland homesteading or combat.

One school of thought is that all this should be hidden, repressed, and erased in the hope that it will go away. It’s bad for sales. The impulse to achieve prestige by being irreproachable is a strong one. But, as the saying goes, it will come back to bite you in the butt. Anyway, I just have this craving to KNOW in order to do something about it. It’s intolerable to let it keep on happening without at least responding to the victims.

Another problem is raised by the worship of genius and a willingness to excuse all shortcomings in the interest of exceptional achievement. One of the publisher’s readers for my bio of Bob wanted me to remove any reference to him being narcissistic (I didn’t say sociopath -- he wasn’t that) because she said it undercut his artistic genius. Such ideas make good media fodder, but there are plenty of mild, generous achievers with major talent.

The next place that I think the public has a mind-skip is confusing a person who has this personality dominated by "narcissistic grandiose sociopathy" with the character of their offspring, damaged by growing up with such a man. They may have some of the markers of their fathers without suffering the whole syndrome. I don’t think there is much research on people like Barbara Richard and her sibs who have mastered the damage. If it is heritable, then females may escape the genetic component but will still be imprinted by violence. Barbara suggests that women who seem to have this syndrome often work to express it through their children, esp. their male children, to act out their abusive attitude towards others, esp. other women. That sounds right to me. Maybe a source of mother-in-law mythology.

And the next element I would add is grandiosity, the drive to be dominant and also to have exaggerated respect and status in a community. We see it in these Middle Eastern despots recently thrown out of power. But it’s not very hard to find in American cities and small towns. Consider our admiration of “Godfathers” in the Mafia or J. Edgar Hoover on the other side of the sheets. Barbara muses about Hitler, who was clearly a sort of Charles Manson -- not at all attractive or capable of force, except that that both somehow had the charisma to attract big powerful and yet controllable men. I think it is so deep in the brain that it even pre-dates the mammal brain. Much of evolution consists of a powerful drive that is then modified by the addition of controls or converters. At the heart of an engine is an explosion. It is guided and controlled in order to go forward. I suspect that the model is not an intruder mutation that can be somehow extirpated with drugs or punishment, but rather a drive close to the heart of biology that is missing the evolved controls that mutations had gradually built in, making space for civilization.

These men are notorious through history for their power and effectiveness. They occupy the bleeding edge of what makes us human, shading into the force that allows a chimpanzee to snatch off a human face. But we don’t think of them as SUB-human -- we admire them as SUPER-human, potent. Old age mellows some of them. Some become zombies. I’m not guessing: I knew some of these men on the rez in their young and rampaging days. Most were killed, accidentally or on purpose. Some women (co-dependent, enabling) fit into relationship with these men.

Barbara hand-sells her self-published books and travels around the territory being on panels and speaking. The result of this is low sales (there just isn’t the population density in Montana) and a bulging file of women testifying, “Oh, I recognize this! This is ME!” What does one do with this? Go on Oprah? (It’s an idea!) On the one hand the Big Media love shocking stories like this -- on the other hand, it scares them. And there is a small element that will blame Barbara herself for tolerating it or writing about it or thinking about it or doing anything that admits such people exist.

But some researchers suggest that as many as three or four in every hundred people is carrying at least the potential for these acts. Shouldn’t we be looking for markers, especially in this age of sudden berzerk attacks on innocent people in public places?

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