Ressentiment – unjust suffering

Ressentiment is an effect of detriment that is unjustly suffered, by an individual or group, or by labeling a person as ‘group’ (like black, or disabled, or mentally ill) and thus denying their own experience of how they do and do not belong. Anyone who thinks they, and not the sufferer, can decide on the quality of “detriment” is not able to learn the nature of what is suffered. The sufferer, as well as experiencing damage, however tiny that damage may seem, also suffers RESSENTIMENT (coined by Nietzche, no less).

This is cousin to the better known resentment. They are both affects, or feelings, arising from human emotional process. We think we know ‘resentment’ – the angry feeling a person or group has when it feels it has been wronged. This feeling is directed towards the source of the wrong, or the injustice. The sufferer of wrong may not be able to get redress, or revenge, but they do know they deserve better. They can voice something, even if they cannot act, and their sense of self is valid. This happened, I experienced it.

Ressentiment arises when people react to a perceived injustice by repressing their feelings of resentment and revenge. The feelings, the facts, can be inarticulate, the person can be without the verbal capability to own knowledge of what is happening (too young, too shocked, too oppressed, too bullied…). The repression occurs because of the impotence of those not only holding, but also unable to express their feelings openly, out of fear of the powerful, the authority of the oppressor. They remain passive and powerless… an abiding affect … a lasting mental attitude … ressentiment … becomes a pronounced dimension of social suffering  … that is lived experience of domination and repression and the feelings of humiliation, despair, shame and resentment … that are hidden injuries internalised because they cannot be expressed.

Well, quite. What is damaged is the core of the self. Later, even much later after changes in society may have happened, how is such a person (or people within a social suffering group) to know if they can now trust their own feeling or perception of the context that others believe – rightly – has changed? It is a nameless constellation of ??? something feeling ??? not right. NOT RIGHT. Damaged. The self’s capacity to repair has also been damaged (that follows if you can’t trust self feelings).

The politics, the authority, culture and  context change. Thank goodness it sometimes does. Then, if a sufferer is told that ‘it is all right now’ or ‘get over yourself’, insult is added to injury. How can people trust themselves to express the previously nameless and inexpressible?

Try to imagine how you would re-establish a validity in your soul, in yourself. Maybe anger and tilting at any windmill in sight helps, I do not know. I do know one thing that helps:

Acknowledge damage is done.

It is present, in the present, activated by a word or act. Compassion honours this reality.

To imagine how to re-establish validity, first see what people do. Observe, try not to think.

Get curious about what is it that is happening. Are those parts of a person that have been denied, that have had no voice with which to speak finding space? Or are they being shut down …again?

Can parts that have ‘felt they feel what they should not’ and ‘not felt what they feel they should’ reverse their enfolding into experience? (think child abuse, brutalised soldiering, victim of domestic violence, groups experiencing discriminatory treatment, etc.)

First, see what people do. Let yourself see, and be touched by what is then felt.


What is ‘culture’? How does it change?

When teaching about the possibility of change (especially being realistic about changing strong opinions and prejudice) Thompson: Promoting Equality had a very useful concept – PCS – which stands for personal – cultural – structural. Roughly speaking, if the interaction was ‘personal’ there was some probability of change, each of us could have influence; if it was ‘cultural’, change would be possible but less likely; and if ‘structural’, then change can happen, but the probability is low and change in this arena seems slow. (Internet, communication and social media may be making a difference here, we have more contact with different parts in a system.)

We feel hopeful when we think that we can act – whether on our own or on others’ behalf.

We feel despairing when we think our actions are useless, that they have no effect.

Another wise book Bessel Van der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score shows over and over that being able to act, in some way, physically or psychologically, enables us to come through difficult circumstances, but NOT being able to act where the power of the circumstance is overwhelming, is traumatic. At the time of trauma, the difference between “can” and “can’t” has effect , then later, when circumstances have changed, the outsider sees “won’t” that is actually “can’t”.  The effect lasts.

This is one of the messages from Black: Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires, that the effects within cultures and structural institutions last. History repeats, long after the initial lurch to destructiveness. It seems to be “can’t” rather than “won’t” that ties the actions of politicians and decision makers.

What would allow a change from “can’t” to “can” and then to “will”?

As one thing known is that future cannot be planned and controlled (though the notion that it could be is one of the toxic cultures that ruins planning of all kinds) the question is more “What will increase the probability of the change we want?”

Where does any one ordinary person have the greatest effect? First, within self, often neglected as the space for action towards change (who is this for?). Second, within their own sphere whatever that sphere is as related to this change (understand your role and your power here, means see how others see you). Third, look what just happened, where did the ripple from this go, how did it spread beyond oneself.

However small this seems to be, this shifts despair into hope, and that is a big change.

From here, the process becomes “can”, and the what, becomes where one works. Push the boundaries there, influence as one can. Remember, memo to me: others may see me differently from the way I see myself, so I take what they say – not as gospel but as information, feedback about what is going on in the holosphere that is a h**l of a lot bigger than I am.


Money: Do we have to have a debt system?

I follow a group from UK called Positive Money. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I do agree with the way they are asking questions about the way money / economy works. Or, I agree with some of the questions. However, I feel that like many others within a hegemony of thought, that it is hard to get outside the status quo to ask the questions more relevant to all those who are not in the positions of power – for example it is notable that within the Positive Money debates, so far I have heard from only three women, including me.

So I spent most of yesterday trying to think out how I could engage, stay within focus and at the same time open up a different angle. And to some it will be obvious that I was writing with Bion’s basic assumption groups in mind. [and of course I have not yet done a post on that – you will have to google.] What I did with them, is down to me. This is what I came up with:

To further Positive Money thinking

I am very much in support of Positive Money ideas, but have problems with aspects of the reasoning in its various videos, blogs and threads of conversation. Although worried in a minor way that we might be considered utopians, I am more concerned that the contributions to the debate can become (or are becoming) encapsulated within a theory of monetary exchange and rational argument concerning it, as though the answer was already known and has only to convince others. This is to the detriment of seeing how lives are really lived and how the best of Positive Money thought can indeed be furthered and taken on board by all, be they individuals, communities, governments.

Read on so that hopefully what I mean becomes clearer.

First – the Market Dimension
By the “money exchange” I include barter and saving, or any ‘token of value’ as this is how people operate. The miserly hoarder is bartering his pile for something he values, security, feeling of triumph, whatever. And so on, there is not a requirement that any exchange is rational, nor any judgment that the irrational is somehow a poor bargain. Did I buy an American doll outfit for my grand-daughter that cost more dollars than my own jacket? Yes I did, and the hours of play she has spent say that on this occasion at least, I used my money well, but not rationally. Thinking also of Arabian souks or Chinese streets, “money exchange” could be seen as operating within a “Market Dimension” one aspect of life.

We all live in such a Money Market of one kind or another. The system is transactional, something of value X is exchanged for something of value Y, and either it is even, or some other value Z is owed by one party to the other. Then, if we stay in this dimension, we notice, indeed know, that X, Y and Z fluctuate, as well as knowing that their supposed value has only sometimes got a relation to intrinsic worth. We also know that quantitative value changes frequently, and might be bargained to change to our advantage. [My grand-daughter might show that she loves me, as well as the American doll, so the worth of that plastic outfit changes for me, but be the same as it always was for others.] The changes of value are multiply determined by factors outside the original transaction.

A phrase (here taken out of its context) pushed me into writing this essay: they’re free to spend LESS on booze, holidays, clothes or whatever. This too popular notion of freedom to choose A or B according to a quantitative balance, is just NOT how people live. Quantity transaction cannot show how people choose between options in multiply constrained contexts, nor can it show present versus future, nor does it show how a past decision is now affected by factors quite randomly beyond the rationality of the original decision. For example, choosing a holiday, is that an inessential? It isn’t if you are carer for a disabled family member, and you are exhausted, and the other members of the family, all in work, club together to send not just you but also one of your sisters on a holiday. If you do not get a rest, they know both mum and dad will be needing care next. Etc. Think of real people, real examples. There are not only multiple determinants of choice, there are also many delimiters of choice. Some choices are simply not available in a transactional balance. Life does not provide free choice except in its most trivial matters.

Second – the Dimension of Dependence and Support
This is affected by money, as nearly everything is, but cannot be adequately addressed by a transactional or quantitative discussion.  As suggested in the purposely chosen carer example above, dependence and support are huge delimiters of choice. This dimension also illustrates how who owes whom what can shift momentarily or over time. Example, parent cares for child, both age, child cares for parent, further aging, grandparent helps care for grandchild, then grandchild becomes carer. Not always, not every way of living a life, but a fluctuating dependent /support /care system. We are ALL, whether we acknowledge it or not, in dependent systems. They are not just about childhood, illness or old age. Whether we live in urban or rural areas, whether we heed it with awareness or not, we live in inter-dependence with each other’s skills, work and behaviour.

Considering parenting a human baby as an example we all know: Parent cares for child, child smiles at parent. Both are enriched by something quite other than money, or any other form of bartered value system. The interaction is transformational, rather than transactional. We are all so used to everyday transformational interactions, that we almost forget how important they are, the good, the not so good, and the bad. In the not so good, a parent might care for a child hoping to feel good, so that she will feel like a good parent. At an extreme, this parent requires that the child makes her feel good. This is exploiting the child, and what might have been a transformational exchange has degenerated to become a transaction. Car eis bargained or is emotional blackmail. We can ask if there such a thing as a ‘pure’ transformational interaction where the care is unconditional, a gift? This is a different debate. It is enough to consider here that most of us will have millions of experiences that lie somewhere in between, in an ordinary life, an intermingling of transaction and transformational exchange.

What the dependence/support system has to do with economics, is that it says clearly
•    the quantity in the exchange may be necessary but it is not sufficient, the QUALITY has also to be considered
•    the quality of the dependence support system is a strong delimiter of choice in economic decision-making
•    poor quality leads to exploitation. For example, slavery and serfdom have high co-dependence between master and servant, but very low quality. It would seem that many loans to poorer countries, grossly mis-identified as ‘aid’ have the same low quality and are in fact forms of exploitation.

Any discussion of economics has to ask reflective questions of itself that take in from the beginning its effects on the qualitative dependence /support interactions, asking: How does this money production, control of supply etc support better quality of interaction? Will the quality of interaction be enabled or disabled (for example, how would aid to other countries be given?). Very few national or international discussions start from the plight of those who are disempowered, the disadvantaged groups, the women, the disabled. Ask the question: Who is this for? Is it for the person in control (the exploitative parent) or the person with whom we interact and on whom we depend for qualitative satisfaction?

[To me, the ‘Who is it for?’ question stops most debate about details like QE from further development.
if it is not for the people with whom we interact, we have become encapsulated in an already failed system.]

Third – The Dimension of Future, or Leadership
Transaction and transformation are both part of economic systems of thought, so also is transition. [Note also that economics is a system of thought, it is not food or shelter or other need.] Evidence, both historic and current, abounds to demonstrate that the current loan/debt/money system is failing abysmally, whether considered from the perspective of corporate world, nations, individuals or planet. It is ironic that the one that was not thought about until relatively recently, the planet, is the one that will take all the rest to extinction if we do not change the way we live on it. This third dimension has one obvious difficulty, we do not know what the future will bring. Therefore, what we can know is that we certainly do not need hero leadership, the narcissistic, I know and you follow, way of leading. We have had more than enough of that already. I do applaud the way Positive Money has worked to engage UK elected representatives, and has set up local groups.

We need unlikely leaders (see an Open University course on this). Positive Money could lessen its tendency to encapsulated thought (aka isolated economic dimension) by seeking the views of unlikely people, those who are poor, those who are disadvantaged, possibly ill-educated in standard qualifications, those who know a lot more than we tend to think. Why, for example, do so many voters in UK from typical lower income backgrounds, support conservative fiscal austerity or UKIP isolationist policy? They are not ‘just stupid’, turkeys voting for Christmas, or selfish racists. This seems to me to be a labeling assumption. Could they instead have responded to some aspirational hope that has been tapped by the appeals to austerity or nationhood? Is it because their lives are already austere? I do not think that we know, but could we not find out? These are the same kinds of places where Credit Unions once flourished, and probably Christmas clubs still do.

There is nothing wrong with detailed discussion of the market system of transaction and commerce, such as Positive Money is engaged in, provided that we know we are operating in a system that is not closed, and that concentration on this theory as transaction only will put people off engaging with it.

“I know it is not about me.” Dependency on others, and qualitative transformation, affects transactional market choices whether made rationally or irrationally. None of us are informed enough to grasp all our need for what the planet provide, and can continue to provide, as well as our needs in relationships with each other, but we know that this dimension is as real as the transactional. Then, we also know that the dynamics of time affect both, economic reality is three dimensional, contains transaction, transformation and transition no matter which is in the foreground.

The effects of dynamic transition, change to a different system, is where leadership lies. Given the way governments of the present are embroiled in holding on to the debt money system, we do need to continue to contact our representatives, but we also need to spread different kinds of knowledge. Bill Still’s documentary [] shows us past as well as a possible future. It does not show us how to act with regard to our own money now.

With regard to the future, and leadership, I have to move to the personal, asking questions that show what I need to know, and hoping others will respond similarly.

Conclusion – up for debate
Positive Money and the Still documentary have already shown me the difference between a commercial bank and a national government owned bank. Could someone start exploring and informing us of the differences between mutual societies (if there are any left) building societies, co-operatives etc. Could a bank like that of Dakota State (see still documentary) start up where I live and would it cope with my money needs (which happen to be multiple online management and foreign exchange, all on a teacher’s pension.) Can you help individuals show by their use of institutions, that hey care where they put their money, that they care how their money is handled? Also, has anyone analyzed the current interaction between Greece and the Eurozone with regard to closeness to Positive Money suggestions or indeed irrelevance? What is the role of micro-finance institutions? How would the ethics of Islamic banking support or not the perspective of Positive Money?

We should of course be interacting with the Green Party and other green organizations, particularly the transitional groups.

I personally want to see an approach that acknowledges these three dimensions of everyday life that I have very briefly addressed, and that reflects on how each of these is enabled, or not, by the details of the discussion. I write because I have felt too much discussion within the ivory tower of theory has taken place and I have felt confused rather than informed by it.

Am I wrong to ask this? No, I need to feel that I am enabled, helped to make personal decisions, however constrained they may be, and helped to become part of a movement towards something better. For Positive Money ideas to develop well and make a good change in the UK and hopefully in the world, it needs to feel less that it is providing an answer if only people would listen, and more like a community that seeks wider perspectives. Acknowledge how interdependent we all are, and how leadership might be found in unlikely places. Wonder what questions have not yet been asked.

Thanks for reading.


Discriminatory practice is the treatment of one particular group of people [or individuals belonging to that group] less favourably than other groups – on grounds such as colour, nationality, class, gender, ability, sexuality, wealth, etc.

Discrimination is NOT about difference, it is about POWER and the exercise of power (often unexamined) which harms individuals. And, whether liked or not, it is the harmed individual who can state categorically that discrimination has happened! Not realising this is why white people may be unable to see racism, when they can’t see that their own whiteness gets in the way of their vision of not-white; similarly for other differences where a cultural history of unexamined harm has existed. It seems to me, coming from a psychodynamic point of view, that looking at what happens unconsciously in an  active inner world affected by a context, allows a helpful distinction between the ‘normal’ hurt which enables growing and adapting from the hurt which harms. So, though conscious feelings might be pretty similar, there is a way to tell one from the other. It might not be easy, but it is possible either by

  1. looking at the effect on the person suffering, or by
  2. looking at the motivation behind the hurtful event.

Incidentally, isn’t ‘hurt’ one of those interesting words which can be passive or active. I hurt, I am hurting… depends on what follows … I was hurt by you, or I hurt you.

1. When I am suffering/being hurt, is it because I have been denied something I want, or something I need, or has something been done to me which I did NOT want or need? Anything withheld by the powers-that-be, that is someone in authority over me (in this context) or, something done to me by them in this context, could be something wanted or something needed, or something NOT wanted or needed . What does ‘want’ mean? “Want” – if I get it, nice, but has it maybe bothered/hurt another, or does it help me really, a ‘want’ might be another chocolate, etc etc, so it is that old gratification thing, delay it at least until effect can be judged, and then maybe do without. So the ‘hurt’ from not getting what I want is just a feeling, not something which harms. Need is different, as if I am denied a need, I am then in trouble of one kind or another, less able to thrive. (Need could be respect for something I want, even if I can’t actually have it.) Without my needs being met fairly well, I might of course grow tough, but that is not the same as growing strong. Etc Etc, the psychospeak would talk about whether being gratified feeds narcissim or development, or something like that.

What if something is done to me which is NOT wanted – any sort of negative feedback, information, discipline etc. which allows me to carry on doing whatever regardless of reality or the needs of others or the needs of the job I am supposed to be doing? (Suppose I am always late, and no-one says it matters? Suppose my doctor just gives me a medication, doesn’t help me change something about my lifestyle?) If I do not get feedback (given in a respectful manner), however much I do not want it, I am actually being denied a NEED! Maybe I am being patronised, infantilised, pushed into a stereotype etc.

NOT needed includes another kind of not wanted and is possibly the most harmful category of all. If I am given something NOT needed, then something is forced upon me. This is on a spectrum going all the way from psychological projections – ‘dumping feelings’, ‘messing with my head’ – to physical violence, killing, and torture. NOT OK!

The great thing about this distinction if I am the one being hurt (except for violence, permanent harm, though if I am still here, I can still make the distinction) is that I take back my own authority. Asking the question: can I learn and grow from this, then HOW will I learn and grow, enables me to stay with the context or get out of it, whichever is the direction where I am more likely to be enabled and strengthened (not a certain outcome unfortunately), and away from the context where I am more likely to suffer more harm, even more violence. Stories of torture, war, ethnic cleansing, slavery and other dreadful contexts make this choice desperately stark, as the choice ‘more likely’ is so very very small that nothing seems right, it seems too near to zero. Someone like Nelson Mandela, or the less well-known Brian Keenan, shows that ‘taking ones own authority’ and becoming a hugely strengthened person can happen even in a dire context which lasts/lasted a very long long time.

2. If I am the one doing the hurting, maybe the one in authority over someone else, the motivation matters: does my action/behaviour feed my narcissism, my want, or is it about doing my best to co-operate with the job I have authority to do? The template of authority is ‘parenting’, and a parent does have to withhold, discipline, etc etc., not doing so could be dereliction of duty, abdication of responsibility and all sorts of other pompous sounding bad things. But good parenting is never never the ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you’ variety, that is just the parent serving self. Try the Who is it for? question, with the aid of the UN Rights of the Child wisdoms: Does this PROTECT, PROVIDE or enable PARTICIPATION? (Note the first two have to happen because the child=person with less power is genuinely dependent, while the third is about respecting the dependent person’s understanding and hope in order that s/he will grow into personally authoritative independence.) Who is it for? Answer, my dependent, or really, more for me? The authority does not have to be parent, any other kind of role relationship (boss, police, doctor, bank manager, teacher, receptionist, shop assistant, whatever), can ask the same question: Who is this action/behaviour for? Does it protect, provide or enable everyone to participate in doing the job we are all here for?

Does this sound confused, complicated, even contrived? It always seems to when writing. When in the middle of ongoing events, momentary time to make the enquiry: Who am I doing this for? even if it is hard to answer, moves the event from the discriminatory harmful hurt zone, towards the help people develop, grow, co-operate zone.

The atmosphere shifts with this directional change.

What a great use of internal authority and personal power!

You might even be prejudiced – aren’t we all in some way – but you won’t discriminate.

Reading: Thompson, N.  (1998) Promoting Equality  Macmillan