Cultural Codependence

Under the progressive worldview, the ostensible oppressors – the pseudoppressors – are not really oppressors. They are innocent of that charge. But, to some groups that were historical victims of true oppression, newthinking pseudoppressors are actually enablers in a codependent relationship.

Codependence is a dysfunctional psychological pattern between two individuals: a victim (often an addict) and an enabler. It is a relatively new psychological paradigm, and while embraced by many doctors and psychologists, it is not yet fully accepted by the mainstream of psychology. Cultural codependence (an idea likely to be even less warmly embraced) involves a similar dysfunctional relationship, but on a macro scale, between groups.

cultural codependence n : a primary, chronic, increasing and dysfunctional group relationship between an enabler group and a victim group which is acquired through the process of injury, manifested in the victim group through low self-esteem, fear, anger, confusion and relationship difficulties, and perpetuated by the actions of the enabler group

This definition of cultural codependence is indebted to those cardinal characteristics of codependence delineated by Charles L. Whitfield in his book Co-Dependence, Healing the Human Condition* which I believe also apply to cultural codependence. I treat these as group dynamics which are roughly analogous to the intra-individual dynamics.

Cultural codependence is learned and acquired through the process of injury on a social scale. Here’s how it works: a social group is psychologically wounded by another group through a process of true oppression and exploitation. Why does one group oppress and exploit another? Obviously – like Willie Sutton robbing banks because that was where the money was – a true oppressor group exploits another group because that’s where the money and power are. But beyond that, the true oppressor group may have a group psychology characterized by feelings of inadequacy and lack of fulfillment. They may need to project grandiosity as a counterbalance to those feelings. Thus, their primary message to the group they are oppressing is that they are inferior and unworthy of respect. Like a bully, their exploitative and hurtful relationship allows them to bury the inferiority they fear in themselves.

Like a neurotic who recreates his painful childhood in his adulthood in an unconscious attempt to resolve it, some groups who endured true oppression in the past psychologically recreate that state of oppression in their current culture as pseudoppression.

The pain of oppression to the wounded group is beyond conscious endurance, so they repress it and continue to survive. The most hurtful messages to the oppressed group are deposited unconsciously with the wound. Time passes. When the group is no longer truly oppressed, it tries to move on, but the repressed cultural pain and negative messages continually sabotage it. Pseudoppression can be seen as a social neurosis employing neurotic defense mechanisms such as emotional reasoning, blaming and control fallacies on a macro scale. Like a neurotic who recreates his painful childhood in his adulthood in an unconscious attempt to resolve it, some groups who endured true oppression in the past psychologically recreate that state of oppression in their current culture as pseudoppression. To top it off, the actions of the enabler group exacerbate and prolong the condition.

…the actions of the present-day enabler group, progressive European-Americans, exacerbate and prolong the situation by treating African-Americans disrespectfully, as if they were backward children who they must cater to, condescend to and nurture because they’re not capable of competing with everyone else on equal footing in real life.

Now see how this applies to a specific case of cultural codependence, that of the European-American/African-American relationship. African-Americans were psychologically wounded by the brutality, oppression and exploitation of slavery at the hands of European-American slaveholders. The European-American slaveholders had grandiose perceptions of themselves as superior to the African-Americans. The psychological pain from the lack of freedom, the brutality and the disrespect of slavery was beyond the African-Americans’ conscious endurance, so it was repressed. It didn’t go away, but became buried in their psyche. The most harmful messages that the European-American oppressors were sending – you are inferior, you don’t merit respect, you exist for our exploitation – were unconsciously deposited in their buried psychological wound. As time passed, slavery was abolished and civil rights for all people became a social reality. But even though African-Americans are no longer truly oppressed, their repressed pain sabotages their free life. The negative messages still at work in their unconscious continually sabotage them. The negative worldview – newthink – which most of them have adopted directs their lives in unhealthy ways. Moreover, the actions of the present-day enabler group, progressive European-Americans, exacerbate and prolong the situation by treating African-Americans disrespectfully, as if they were backward children who they must cater to, condescend to and nurture because they’re not capable of competing with everyone else on equal footing in real life.

It would be possible to make cases for other group relations that fit the pattern of cultural codependence, such as the relationship between European-Americans and Native Americans, but the point is made.

* Charles L. Whitfield, Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition, (HCI, The Life Issues Publisher, http://www.hcibooks.com, 1991).