How Dare They! How Dare You!

Brian Aldiss has written that his own parents never came to terms with their own anger, so were unable to come to terms with his. Small tantrums were therefore greeted with threats to withdraw their love. This sounds very normal for the English middle classes of his day and mine. He might perhaps have added that the reason why the childish tantrum is terrifying to the middle-class parent – so terrifying that it that it must always be answered with the nuclear option – lies in the prime social function of the child: namely to enhance parental status by impressing strangers.

This function can be studied in the reactions of such parents to finding a strange adult berating their kid for its misbehaviour. One kind of narcissist sees the reproaches in terms of aspersions being cast his parenting, a vicarious dissing of himself in the person of his child, and will avenge the insult with violence against the stranger’s person; this is common in the proletariat. Another kind of narcissist is equally fixated on the offspring’s function of representing his sacred Self to the wider world, except that his anger is turned against the child itself for its failure in this mission and spoiling his so carefully crafted image in the eyes of his peers; this is common in the middle classes. Such a parent lives in constant terror lest his children disgrace him in front of his visitor, whose opinion – even if he is a perfect stranger – is all he cares about. He will readily apologise to such a visitor for his children, but he will never apologise to his children for his visitor, however rude such visitor may be to them.

The same applies when the child’s behaviour was not witnessed by the parents. Some parents display a fierce and unconditional loyalty to their children, however delinquent they are alleged to be, to and well beyond the points of denial and delusion. One is even compelled to suspect that they have deliberately brought up their child as a standing casus belli, in the same way as nasty young men keep savage dogs; anyone who protests the snarling and biting is deemed to have “asked for it”. Others give indignant and unconditional credence to every calumny about their children, however innocent they may be and however improbable the calumny. The narcissism of the first kind of parent is outraged by anyone daring to criticise their alter egos; the narcissism of the second kind is horrified that damage to their reputation has occurred, and cares not a whit for justice, truth or reality. In other words, the first kind hate society, the second kind hate their children.

Posted on March 17, 2010 at 16:00 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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