In terms of “most popular post”on this blog, the “old” winner (“Are Suspenders Sexy?”) has long been replaced by “Adult Oppositional Defiance Disorder.” I speculate on why. Instead of joking about suspenders, being suspended, or the nature of suspension, I’m approaching AODD ( Gotta have an acronym !!!) as a serious philosophical issue.
Forget the “Disorder” thing. The shrinks are constantly trying to define, confine, publish, claim knowledge, and make categories. Reality simply defies them. Going to the other end of the phrase, forget the “Adult” thing. There’s no such thing. A human being is never “finished”, “mature,” or “adult.” It’s a legal category, entirely negotiable. Often used as a club: “Will you grow up?” “You don’t need help because you’re an adult.” “You’re just immature.” When society isn’t trying to push the age of maturity up past 21, they are trying to push the age of senility down past 65. Why? Because there’s control and money in it.
So we’re left with Oppositional Defiance. “OD.” (“Oh, Dear.”) It’s the same old individual-versus-group problem. But there are many variations of strategy and no stable state where the dynamics are resolved -- this is a syndrome of dynamics. That’s the definition: a process of defying. The only way to reach resolution is not to care -- to withdraw. That only seems like resolution. Not all withdrawal signals a lack of caring. It might be matter of self-preservation or it might be a way of protecting the opposition or it might be a temporary strategy. Only time will tell.
In the public realm the shrinks want to connect OD to antisocial (criminalized) behavior and rage. They represent themselves as able to use cold and scientific methods to confine or even extinguish hot, indignant, passionate OD. (They supply lots of statistics, like claiming ten percent of people have OD -- about the same as the percentage in every mammal species that is defined as “gay.”) This is justified by university degrees, professional certification, institutional affiliations and commercial viability that promise to control those who are outside the larger social group -- to either bring them IN to the group or banish them, maybe extinguish them. These hot OC people are presumed to engage in terrorism, mass murders, abuse of many kinds. Fear is always an effective justification.
In the private realm -- on the couch -- the shrinks will try to “resolve issues” so the OD person won’t care so much. This is probably a doomed effort. Even when a person falls in love (why? how?) with someone so different as to guarantee constant conflict, the desired [sic] outcome is not to achieve flat affect, which might mean to shrug and walk off. So what is the benefit of the domination/submission relationship that keeps it together?
A quote I read once decades ago has always stuck with me: that two people who are “crazy” in ways that fit together like jigsaw pieces, can achieve far more intimacy that two “sane and mature” people. Over the decades I’ve thought about this a lot. Two concave/convex people are not necessarily in a consistently dom/sub relationship on all issues. They may eat the same way but sleep in opposite ways; housekeep in different styles; want sameness or want variety -- and so on. C.S. Lewis said the ideal friend is one who has opposite opinions on all the same beloved subjects. People who have no opinions are not worth struggling with. (Of course, Churchill said a fanatic is someone who will neither change his mind nor change the subject.)
These forces -- centrifugal and centripetal -- are as biological as the developmental stage when a maturing cub leaves to find a new territory. If it doesn’t, the mother forces it out. The two forces persist in tandem because this is how evolution goes forward, how people go through life -- constantly being forced out of their comfort zone and then creating or finding a new one. If they don’t do this, nothing changes and deterioration sets in. Eutropification. Luckily, the planet is so much bigger than humans that the terms of survival -- hurricanes and earthquakes, tsunamis and epidemics -- force change. Humans never achieve homeostasis for long. A couple of millennia (Ancient Egypt) is the limit.
Schools don’t like change. Government doesn’t like change. Institutions of all kinds do not like change. They manage by channelling opposition -- building dams and moats like the one that protects Winnipeg from the Red River floods or sea walls like the ones in the Netherlands now proposed for Long Island -- the same idea that didn’t work in New Orleans. There is an awakening in the Netherlands that may affect Long Island -- the idea that it’s better to adapt, to dance with change, to use culture to fit into nature instead of opposing it. Similar reflection is questioning the way we handle criminal behavioral nonconformity: putting everyone in prison doesn’t work. So maybe we should change the definition of criminal. What percentage of a population can be defined as criminal without them becoming a political entity forcing change?
In personal relationships based on intimacy-across-difference there is a lot of pain even without breakups. One hates to move on. The factors of feeling inadequate or needing to blame the other or being jealous, all interfere with understanding -- even more with forgiving. One begins to act badly, which has the effect of enforcing distance. It is both better and worse to have a “cause” to address together, so the rage can be focused outward, rage used as constructive energy. Oh, the possibilities for story!
The truth is that many people fear intimacy -- maybe defining it as capture -- and can only feel safe in a context of opposition. So then the problem becomes one of management, tolerance, or benefits to the shared cause -- might be children or politics. (Ask Hilary Clinton.) It appears that having the genetic formula for a temperamentally “hot” style might cause a person to choose a “cool” partner -- a sheath for the sword. This is a benefit to the individual if the cool person will be an enabler, a compensator; and it is a benefit to the larger society because persons who might otherwise start revolutions preoccupy themselves with kitchen wars. Maybe fatal.
My choice to remain solitary is partly guided by not wanting energy I use for writing diverted to being on committees. One of the most effective ways for society to handle Oppositional Defiance is to put people on committees so they fight each other, blind to any issues but the ones their teeth are sunk into. The result is not insight but regulations. I see at our local town council meetings that the “social challengers” -- who evidently have only phony issues to quarrel about -- merely drive the real business underground into secrecy. (Council members agree among themselves before the meeting.) The hours wasted listening to irate one-issue people are innumerable and, well, maddening.
Another “energy and anger sink” is social networking where people twitter steady streams of “Ain’t It Awful” and “Now I’ve Got You, You Sonofabitch,” those famous games described by Eric Berne. Everyone sorts themselves into like-minded polities so they can go sit at a seminar table somewhere and produce papers to put on their resumés. It beats spraying people with bullets, but does not promote innovation and progress. Evolution will seek its growing edge somewhere else. Maybe among the solitary nonconformists.