“An eighty-two-year-old demented American (Jewish) sniper is allegedly being pursued by Korean assassins across Norway (with a seven year old) after fleeing a murder scene.”
I’ve read a bunch of stinker, pretentious novels recently and almost lost my faith in novels until I read “Under the Skin” and now this novel. It reminds me of the Japanese movie Kikujiro, about some oddball loner dude who has to schlep some unwanted kid across Japan. I guess I identified with the kid in this novel, bewildered but thrown into a crazy odyssey with some old dude with issues. The book, of course, goes deeper and we jump around to the old man’s service in Korea as well as his son’s service in Vietnam. His son died in Vietnam, so there’s the idea that in saving this seven year old kid, he is saving his own son. The villains are Kosovans who get to Norway via political asylum despite the fact that they committed war crimes in addition to being victims of Serbian war crimes. I guess the one thing Americans don’t understand about Europe is how their immigrants are not like Mexicans. While certainly many Mexicans come from extreme poverty and are exposed to drug cartel violence, it is nothing compared to what refugees in Europe have faced. Then again, we do have our groups of immigrants like El Salvadorans or Cambodians who have seen some pretty horrific stuff. The bloody, ruthlessness of the Kosovans is contrasted against the relatively peaceful and wealthy Norwegians. The hero, the old Jew is different in that he survived the Holocaust as a kid and was in the Korean War.
Throughout the book, I was thinking about what makes people control freaks and how they enjoy, almost sadistically, exerting power and control over others. The answer is simple. At some point in their lives, they experienced traumatic powerlessness. It’s the old Star Wars thing with Anakin feeling powerless to prevent Amidala’s death so he turns to the dark side. Although, it’s absolutely unconvincing this would be the motive. It takes a huge amount of trauma to get people to develop a power fetish. When we suffer and feel powerless, we start to become overly convinced that someone kind and benevolent should have power to stop what happened to us, but we forget that power corrupts, and once they get power, they suddenly lose interest in helping others. When we are traumatized, and we gain power, we can sometimes wield it inhumanely to achieve what we consider a greater good. We fail to realize that this is what most all people corrupted by power are thinking, and that feeling powerless is what makes people harm others in the first place, making them feel powerless, and the vicious cycle continues. And this is why traumatized people must come to the realization that protecting yourself against future harm is not about acquiring power over others but rather developing social skills and networking so you have allies to protect you from harmful people. Pursuing power to protect yourself is chasing your tail, because no matter how much power you acquire, there will always be someone more powerful, and when you fight with others for power, you expose yourself to harm constantly. Every relationships you enter, you try to acquire power over the other person, because you do not want to be hurt by them, and in your small, damaged mind, the one with more power or rank is protected from being harm from the one with less power or rank. This is a toxic attitude which will cause countless arguments and fights, because arguments are cloaks for power grabbing. The more arguments you win, the greater power you think you have. If you’re constantly correcting the other person, in your defective mind, you’re better, smarter, and more powerful than they are.
The real antidote is socialization, but unfortunately, when you get traumatized, your more advanced, social mind gets constantly hijacked. Your mind always seems to float away from your body, and people around you feel that you are disconnected, distracted, not there, not present, etc. and they don’t like that feeling. Even worse, you start to become attracted to other people who have suffered traumas and more likely to fight with you for power. It is absolutely critical to believe in social equality and ditch the hierarchical view of social order. Certainly, I respect the elderly and those who have greater skill or experience than me, but if we were all on a ship and there were insufficient lifeboats, I would expect the elderly to let the younger ones live since they’ve already enjoyed their lives. I would expect those with greater disaster management skills to help others instead of jump in the first lifeboats.
Unfortunately, when a kid is traumatized, especially by someone who is supposed to love them and protect them, they lose faith in relationships, the very thing that will save them. They become overly sensitive to people asserting themselves over them for fear of being hurt later and feelings of powerlessness. At the same time, they have this odd love-hate relationships with powerlessness just as they do with other trauma victims. They are both drawn and repulsed by them. They are drawn to situations where they may be traumatized or become completely powerless like blacking out or going to prison. The body is a crazy thing that regresses when the going gets tough, but it can be both good and bad. Our consciousness is a new survival mechanism for mammals that also accompanies our social skills and may be deeply interconnected. But when blood is in short supply, when we hold our breath in panic, the first thing to shut down in the brain is the frontal lobe where consciousness and social considerations occur. In a sense, we become solitary reptiles. And depending on the extent of the trauma, the solitary reptile constantly takes center stage in preparation for another trauma. History has taught our DNA that where there is one trauma, there is likely another, and this is unfortunately true. So the solitary reptile keeps getting activated, and we keep having panic attacks and anxiety and a desire to get drunk or high and black out. It’s like a fire alarm drill. Your house gets burned down once, and you do fire alarm drills constantly compared to someone whose house never burned down. Whether we like it or not, our body is prepping us for another trauma, and I would bet that people who have this kind of prepping are more capable of coping with follow up trauma than others. Studies have shown that if you mentally envision a worst case scenario, you react better to bad news. It’s works the other way too. Athletes use positive mental visioning which leads to better performance.
But not all trauma victims are doomed to a life of constant flashbacks and solitude or constant fights. If you simply make the realization that a close network of friends will protect you and buffer you from harm, you start to work on your social skills. You stop engaging in unhealthy, harmful, destructive behavior through the role modeling of your healthier, less traumatized friends. In stressful situations, they remind you to calm down, think of others, quit being an ass, etc. Of course, it takes a lot of good friends to make a positive impression on a few traumatized friends, and those traumatized friends will always be drawn to each other more. Perhaps that is one reason why traumatized people also tend to become less social. Chances are your trauma is related to your environment. Poor, distressed people tend to live in the same neighborhood, so if you get abused by your parents, chances are, your neighborhood kids are also getting abused by their parents, so making friends with them won’t help your cause. When I was a kid, the troubled, damaged kids were the minority. Most of my classmates had relatively functional, supportive homes. What is shocking these days is that it seems the other way around. The vast majority of kids these days seem to be troubled and damaged, and even worse, they are drugged for it.
While the novel contrasts the mentality and lives of the Kosovan refugees with the 1st World Norwegians, what is overlooked is the fact that 1st World people tend to be more solitary and have lost their familial support networks. While second and third world people may be ravaged by conflict rooted in their oppression by Europeans, they also have a stronger familial network system where aunts, uncles, and grandparents look out for each other’s children. In the last book I read about microbes, they said that back in the day, female relatives would nurse anyone’s babies, so the babies benefitted from a vast array of diverse bacteria.