read > college papers > trauma & lit. > the philosophy of trauma
The Philosophy of Trauma
- This text is copyrighted to Chirag Mehta, 2003.
- For reproduction / copyright information contact me.
- I've tried my best to make sure that all the information herein is 100% accurate.
- But you can't sue me if there are some discrepancies.
- And remember... Plagiarism is uncool.
- Chirag Mehta
- Trauma and Literature
- Prof. Martin J. Gliserman
- 8 Mar. 2003
- Grade: A-
The Philosophy of Trauma
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that explores the theory of knowledge and attempts to answer the basic question of what distinguishes adequate or true knowledge from inadequate or false knowledge. Taking a similar epistemological view at trauma, let us explore what exactly is trauma and how it might differ from grief, shock, and wounds. In other words, we shall attempt to provide an absolute definition of trauma; absolute in the philosophical sense that if anything possesses the necessary and sufficient conditions for trauma, then it most definitely must be trauma, otherwise it is either grief, shock, or anything else but trauma. However before we discuss what trauma is, we need to examine the life-cycle of trauma - some necessary conditions:
1) Trauma must be borne (caused): Trauma is an effect, hence a cause is necessary: Trauma must arise from some cause and without a cause, it cannot arise. Further, trauma can itself cause more trauma and that means the cause of trauma could be some other trauma. However tracing back time to the creation of the universe, there must have been a time when there was no trauma. This leads us to the next condition:
2) Trauma continues to increase: As long as there are causes for trauma, it will continue to increase.
3) Trauma lives even if the cause not longer exists: In addition to perpetually increasing trauma, even when the element that created trauma ceases to exist, the effect continues to reverberate for a long time. In other words, trauma does not end immediately. As long as the victims and their descendants live, trauma does not die, albeit fades obliviously into the subconscious with time.
4) Trauma haunts eternally: But even with the end of all direct and indirect sufferers, trauma still does not die; rather transmogrifies into tragic ancient legends and continues to haunt till posterity all those who dare to seek the cause.
5) Victims are necessary: Just like the cause, trauma must also have victims. Without victims, there is no trauma.
6) Victims are human: While it cannot be denied that all forms of life might experience some form of trauma, in the strictest sense, trauma defined herein refers to that felt by human beings and is limited to human beings only. While the victims have to be human, trauma does not necessarily have to affect some specific number of victims. It could be just one person, a whole village, an outcaste race, an embargoed nation, or humanity as a whole.
These provisions suggest that our definition of trauma will not be a simple precise definition, but more like a complex list of parameters. So let us add two more necessary conditions:
7) Trauma is intangible: It is not a physical entity and hence cannot be seen, touched, captured, or killed by brute force. The cause, nevertheless, could be material (e.g. a virus or nuclear bomb) or immaterial (some other form of trauma).
8) Trauma is a feeling: It affects the human mind and influences emotions; either exciting or diminishing these emotions.
Toni Morrison's Beloved comes to our rescue here, a story of a mother forced to commit infanticide to save her children from slavery. As Morrison shows in her book, the trauma of Beloved's death resonates through the time-barrier and manifests itself in the hearts of oppressed millions who are, to this day, forced to commit grave sins with the hope of eventual freedom. Moreover, each such incident, be it infanticide or selective abortion, adds a drop into the bucket of human sorrows. With time, the bucket overflows, and results in the same mass trauma as polio and small pox that took the lives of millions of infants in the past millennia. That is, isolated traumatic events, though seemingly insignificant, jointly fulfill the condition that trauma is eternal. Holocaust survivors suffer from the trauma of witnessing the confluence of humanity and bestiality; seeing millions of human beings morbidly slaughtered like poultry day and night for months and years, rendered these witnesses emotionally comatose. Does our model take into account this grim trauma? In fact it does, more so than any other form of trauma, mainly because of the immeasurable scale of the events and the suffering that permeates the hearts of millions till date.
Before we can conclude that we have defined trauma as anything that fulfills the necessary conditions, we need to prove that these conditions are sufficient, that is if anything meets this criteria, it must be trauma and not anything else. If we think of laughter (not the action, but rather the uncontrollable desire to laugh) as being a form of trauma, it surprisingly fits our model, since it has a cause (a joke), has human victims (those who laugh), increases as long as the cause is alive (more jokes elicit more laughter), continues beyond the length of the cause (laughter continues long after the joke was said), and lives beyond the victim's lifetime (jokes from a hundred years ago are still told). Obviously, nobody would consider an evening of standup comedy as trauma. So apparently, our model is still flawed. However, upon examining the key conditions, it seems that we have taken one implicit assumption for granted. And that is, trauma is sorrowful and causes sadness. We have not specified anywhere in our model that trauma must create a sad or desolate feeling in the heart of the victims. While we can add another condition that states that trauma must make the victims feel joyless and unhappy, we are then left with defining what unhappy is. Moreover, trauma might not be unhappy all the time, for there are myriad types of emotions that can arise from trauma. The underlying emotion is however negative and depressing, which no human would willingly want to suffer.
Thus if we take the definition of sad for granted and assume that trauma must be sad, then our conditions are necessary and sufficient. For anything that has a cause, make humans suffer for a long time, makes them feel sad, and haunts future generations, is most definitely traumatic. It might be child abuse, slavery, poverty, or wars; it is inherently trauma.
- The Concepts of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions - Norman Swartz
- Greek Philosophy - Richard Hooker
- No Escape from Philosophy in Trauma Treatment - Jonathan Shay
- Descartes' Meditations