A fundamental part of our humanity is our visceral experience of the world which becomes naturally desensitized over time. Specifically as this relates to The Road and The Black Hole of Trauma, experiencing continuous traumatic triggers can lead to two paths for a traumatized mind. The first is the increasing insensitivity to these events as the mind becomes less and less effected in order to protect the subject of the trauma, or the mind becomes overwhelmed by its experience and the trauma becomes the new paradigm for the brain’s view of the world. From that point on all experience will be filtered through or shown in the light of the defining traumatic experience of the individual’s life.
Clearly in The Road, the man and boy have reacted to the collapse of their world and the daily fight for survival by reacting in the first pattern, desensitization. As has been stated earlier by Pierce I believe, on p. 12 , “You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.” This phrase provides an intriguing view into the otherwise ironclad psyche of the central character who’s wishes and desires are simple and known, to get his son to a safer place, but whose actual thoughts about his world and life are more ambiguous. In this sentence on p.12 when faced with a rotting corpse in a rotting world, he wraps himself in a steely facade of indifference, but in his words we see deeper into his mind than anywhere else. He makes it clear that he wishes he could forget all the traumatic things that he and his son witness on a daily basis, but he can’t, and so he falls into the second category from above as well: the trauma has become the paradigm for his experience of life. He expects it and so is no longer surprised by the horror and devastation around him, but what if the bodies disappeared and the world returned to sunshine, parks, and dogs chasing cats? Or even just dogs for that matter? I don’t think the man would be able to cope in a restored world where his trauma had no context or application.
This hypothesis is corroborated by Van der Kolk and McFarlane on pp.5-6, where they say, “…it is the persistence of intrusive and distressing recollections, and not the direct experience of the traumatic event itself, that actually drives the biological and psychological dimensions of PTSD.” As I have said in previous posts, it is our worst moments and most traumatic experiences that truly define who we are, or at least how we react to such life events defines who we are. Professor Sample questioned this claim in my blogging audit and so I find this is the ideal time to support my argument given the context. The reason going out for coffee or walking your dog does not define who you are is because those events are commonplace and do not require serious mental application. It is the situations that effect our emotion or place us under great physical and/or mental strain that give us the opportunity to discover for ourselves who we are. A person only knows how they react in the split second of decision when they decide to save their own life or that of another.
The world of WWII did not have to turn a blind eye to the Holocaust, the information was available regarding the Nazi’s atrocities but people disbelieved it and discounted it as exaggeration, and thus 11 million people died horribly. But some people did not turn a blind eye and instead risked their lives and often paid the ultimate price to right a terrible wrong. These are the people we remember. Oskar Schindler. The Warsaw Ghetto that held out longer than France. The Danish people and government. The Holocaust is possibly the most internationally traumatizing event in recent history, and now we live in a world where genocide is seemingly commonplace and widespread from the Middle East to Africa to Indonesia. Our global trauma has become a self-perpetuating experience. What would this world be like with out the mass murder we have come to expect from the evening news? That has so recently come home to us in our own schools and towns? What would that world be like? We are defined by this violence now, it is the prime characteristic of our world.