The Second Path

dormant animosities, genocide, Holocaust, survivor guilt

I.   Individual manifestation

[a] A case of Holocaust survivors: I have  a list of six Holocaust survivors who became very successful writers after they survived the Holocaust.

— They achieved considerable fame and acclaim.

—Yet all of them, at the height of their fame, committed suicide.

—They surely had survivor guilt, feeling that they should not have survived when so many of their loved ones did not survive. That feeling of guilt was usually shunted into a Second Path within themselves, away from public visibility.

—However, I believe there is something else at work: not only  their memory of a terrible past, but something in their present situation that makes it impossible for them to continue to live.

——–They regard each new acclaim, each award they are getting, each success,  as indication that they are dancing on the grave of loved ones who did not live to have success.

———Each new “success” becomes more unbearable, until it becomes impossible to continue. Their survivor guilt no longer remained safely stored away in a Second Path.

——— It was now fully activated, generated by a new toxic item in their present  situation.

——— Their Social Space is now malignant. This was documented in the life of Primo Levi, the most famous of these writers.  Shortly before his suicide he tells a friend, “I can’t continue with this life, this is worse than Auschwitz”.  I ask, what made it worse than Auschwitz, did he win another award?

[b] The larger picture:

— In the everyday life of most of us there are daily Unmentionables: annoyances, fears, rage and, sometimes, real honesty that  we cannot express in public, especially in our work settings.

—They tend to be safeguarded by being shunted into a Second Path within ourselves. (That Second Path is a bit similar to the Freudian view of the subconscious.  But unlike Freud, I don’t claim that it all begins with early childhood experiences. Instead, I am convinced that the subconscious receives input from current, everyday experiences.)

—That Second Path is one of the components of Social Space. It is a safety valve for participating in Social Space.  But occasionally its content may erupt, transforming that Social Space.

II.      Community manifestation:

[a] A case of genocide: Rwanda in 1994 “…the ruling Hutus did it to the minority Tutsis. Close to a tenth of the population was destroyed….How was the slaughter done? By machete and nail-studded club, mainly. By hacking and slicing and pounding, essentially. Who did the work? This is perhaps the most unimagined part. The killers, by and large, were ordinary people – not jack-booted   representatives of the state. Neighbors did it — to neighbors. Pastors did it – to parishioners. Doctors did it – to patients. Schoolteachers did it—to pupils. In-laws did it – to in-laws.   Workers did it – to fellow workers at the township office of the local tire factory.”   (Cited in my book, “Confronting Evil” from Paul Henrickson. “Witness to the Unimaginable,” Washington Post, 15 November 1998.)

[b] The larger picture: Deep hatreds and animosities among people who live with each other, who have dealings – even close, intimate dealings – may ordinarily exist in dormant, subterranean form, shunted into a Second Path.

— Occasionally the content of that Second Path may erupt, resulting in totally unexpected levels of violence. It may also erupt in the form of individuals being merely complicit to violence – as among countless Germans remaining silent in the face of mass assaults on their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust, which I experienced personally.

In short, thanks to the Second Path phenomenon, Social Space can contain dormant as well as overtly active components.  The dormant ones, being unconfronted,  can nurture horrendous levels of animosity.