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  • Writer's pictureBrian Gómez

On Dichotomies, Duality, and Justice: The Danger of Trauma and its role in Perpetuating Violence

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Last night, I took my weekly pilgrimage down to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the new movie, Dream Scenario. In this movie, we see Nicholas Cage become canceled online due to his recurring role in people’s dreams. While initially, people are curious about his lack of action in people’s nightmares, he is vilified as he becomes the aggressor, with many claiming that his dream behavior must reflect his behavior in real life. Slowly, we see the self-fulfilling prophecy in effect as he ends up slamming a teacher’s hand as she is trying to bar him from seeing his daughter at the school play in real life.

While the movie provided a great critique of cancel culture, it also showed the increasingly dichotomous nature of politics, culture, and belief. In American society today, public opinion has become largely polarized, and this black and white thinking has led to a widening division of beliefs towards conspiracy theories and justifications of violence towards human life.

In the same way lately, I’ve seen the struggle many are taking at striking the “right message” on genocide. And the reason being that the narrative is fractured at deciding who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed, on whose feelings and trauma matter the most, and how to deal with conflicting claims of harm. Dichotomies are false, but they can seem real for a while. They act like a rubber band. As people become more and more divided, the band will stretch until it snaps.

Because the truth is firstly that all people exist in multidimensional space. They’ve caused harm and been experiencers of harm. This is because our actions don’t determine either of these truths. Rather, our interactions with others bounce off each other like light hitting water. The physics of light explains this well: Light, like people, is not dichotomous but rather exists in dualism, at times being a particle and at times a wave. And, while its state is not determined by its environment, it is heavily influenced by it.

When someone is claiming the emotion of fear, that emotion is a lens determined by a variety of factors. The role of a community is not to legitimate every emotion that comes our way. We are not responsible for others' emotions, and yet how should we respond when heavy emotions plague the community we find ourselves in while fighting for the liberation of all people? We must be able to and have relationships strong enough to be able to move through these pieces in order to move towards collective liberation.

A few years ago, I was involved in a situation like this, at a much smaller scale. Using the erroneous lens of dichotomy, a progressive organization was struggling to come to a decision. A person had claimed they were being harmed due to their gender, while the accused claimed their disability had caused them to be absent from spaces the accuser was presenting in. While the impact this had was real, it was created by the accuser. Their traumas had manifested into fear, anxiety, and anger where there was no ill intent. But using a dichotomous framework, one person had to be ejected from the organization. Their “cancellation” ended up completely disassembling the organization at large. It's in this way where a dualistic framework can be of use. Recognizing that this feeling of harm was real, and it also was not. We think by doing this we will delegitimize the person experiencing harm, but rather it provides a framework in which we can acknowledge our feelings and move through them. Emotion can become not only a crutch but a deep pit in which we continuously relive trauma instead of addressing it. And that can be deadly. In the movie, the public becomes furious at Nicholas Cage, to the point where someone breaks into his home and attempts to murder his family. The reason being that the attacker was violently attacked in the dream by Cage. His emotions and trauma manifested towards violence.

What we are seeing today is just that: The collective generational trauma of the Jewish people weaponized towards the justification of violence. Last year, I entered a Purim celebration, adorned in a Luigi onesie, alongside my beloved Waluigi. In that celebration, we recounted one of the original genocides against the Jewish peoples in Babylonian antiquity. After Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, the tribe of Judah was deported and exiled to Babylon. There the book of Esther recounts the tale of the strength of the Jewish people in another attempt to kill them while under the rule of Xerxes the 1st. As we were furiously making noise in the auditorium with our rattles, or ra'shans, the trauma of those very real events is glossed over into the historical fiction of the Jewish people triumphing and saving their people. It’s a celebration that likely never was. And in this same tradition, the religous scripture that reads “blotting of Amalek’ was called upon in full force as we stomped against Haman, the Persian court official that is looking to kill the Jewish people. The story ends with the triumph of the Jewish people but also as a lesson to the very real genocides that Jewish people have faced.

After the Babylonian genocides , we see persecution of Jews in the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Christian Crusades. Shockingly, or rather not if we are looking at this through dualism and not dichotomy, the only periods in which we see the flourishing of Jews during this time was during the Muslim Caliphate in between the Byzantine Empire and Christian Crusades.  However the situation deteriorated again the beginning of the 11th century in Muslim lands and we saw yet another exile of Jews. This is when the poet Yehuda Halevi traversed from Spain to Israel. While he might have never made it, his poetry includes Zionides, where he writes with the yearning of land where his people can be free.Finally while the 19th century saw the emancipation of Jews across Europe, partially due to the Enlightenment and secularization, it saw the births of the racial antisemitism that came to a head in the Holocaust half a century later.

I write all this to say that this is the trauma that is present in the last 2,609 years since the first destruction of Jerusalem. And it is this fear that is being weaponized today towards a repetition of violence. The same quote, that speaks of Amalek and his symbolic counterpart Haman being blotted out that we celebrated during Purim, was used by Benjamin Netanyahu to justify the killing of Palestinians which I write about in depth here, offering an approach rooted in scripture. This is what happens when this trauma, and emotions, are magnified, and weaponized through lobbying, financial support, or calls to boycott people and groups that don’t believe in the right of Israel to exist. Because the truth is that antisemitism has led to the moment we are in today. However, our responsibility as a society is to acknowledge the harm and the fear - and like with the individual at the organization - understand the emotions that lead to weaponization, that lead to violence, that lead to carrying out a genocide. And we can't do this without community, without coming together, and without conversations between individuals on either side of this double-sided trauma.

We also need to acknowledge that decades of apartheid have birthed a generation of Palestinians that also carry trauma and emotions that have lead to the violence in Israel. I've seen friends on both sides use their emotions to justify murder, including the murder of children or civilians that I cannot support. And so, we can hold the emotions of people, communities, and nations with us, and at the same time hold people through the emotional work that can prevent calls for violence. Yes, revolutions have been bloody and while that is our past as humanity, that is not the way forward. What is needed is to move through generational trauma if we ever seek to stop the cyclical nature of violence ever present in human society.

A couple of weeks ago at the Miami Book Fair, I heard the Spanish author, Julia Navarro, talk about writing her book, From Nowhere, on the ways that violence reverbates across generations focused on Islamaphobia and the creation of terrorists in Europe and Israel, and how it creates new generations of people that are looking to avenge their pain through violence, and terrorism. This is the danger that exists for all people carrying a legacy of trauma if we can't move through these emotions; generations of violence are to come.



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