IVAT 24th International Summit on Violence, Abuse & Trauma

This past Saturday (September 7, 2019) I attended the IVAT 24th International Summit on Violence, Abuse & Trauma Across the Lifespan in San Diego CA. According to the event overview, “This Summit is a unique forum for professionals across all disciplines and philosophies to gather for in-depth exchange of current information on all facets of violence, abuse and trauma prevention, intervention and research.” I attended this event because of my interest in and knowledge of conflict resolution. I thought some of the information I could gather here would be germane to my academic interests. I was correct, but not in the ways I thought beforehand.

Though the summit started on Wednesday, September 4, I attended only on Saturday. I had to work at my day job and lacking any prior experience with this event I did not want to risk my precious time-off to be disappointed. I attended three workshops.

The first workshop was the reason I decided to attend this summit to begin with. Using Film & Storytelling as a Community Engagement Tool for Prevention Efforts, presented by Meghna Bhat, was an overview of the uses of film, cinema, and Digital Story Telling (DST) within the context of community activism. Though the presentation was ostensibly about prevention efforts, the information provided seemed applicable to any community activities. I have been dabbling with video for the past year or two; this workshop gave me ideas that will help me further along on that journey.

The next workshop was a panel entitled Effects of Junk Science on Attitudes and Beliefs. The panel featured Kathleen Faller, Viola Vaughan-Eden, Charles Schudson, and Seth Goldstein. The moderator was L.C. Miccio-Fonseca. I was surprised that the discussion centered on abuse within the context of the courts; however, I suppose it makes perfect sense given the venue. There was a gravitation toward discussing parental alienation syndrome and how it has affected custody and abuse cases in the courts. There was quick discussion of front groups, e.g., the Heartland Institute. This discussion of front groups was interesting because members of the panel predicted the introduction of treatises (published works) from these ideologically driven organizations as evidence in future court cases. The lessons of this panel are to always review the methodologies behind anything you want to accept as truth/evidence and make sure you educate your audience to the realities behind the scenes of what you are presenting.

The final workshop was a twofer entitled VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA: THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SUPPORT. The first presentation, by Christa Nettles, was Community Violence, Victimization & the Urban Community. Nettles described the conditions that create crime-ridden communities, making the point that many, if not all, of these conditions are outside the control of the residents of the community. She painted a picture of a despairing community that lacks the power to solve its problems (which is an excellent example for my own interests in structural violence and social capital).

The second presentation, Postvention After Mass Violence: Providing Trauma Informed Community Support, by Fiona Vajk & Anneka Busse was an overview of how a more privileged community (a college campus) can deal with the aftermath of a mass casualty event. Busse is a survivor of the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas (1 October 2017). She provided insights into the communities of survivors that have coalesced from the mind-numbing litany of mass murder events in the United States. Busse also shared personal anecdotes about her coping mechanisms and the support she has received since that incident.

What struck me most about the final workshop I attended was the transition from the description of a helpless community unable to provide basic necessities for its residents beside the description of a privileged community that has the resources to provide basic necessities, as well as educate and support the survivors and bystanders, and others, of traumatic events. The first presentation described an existence that is traumatic. The second described an intrusion, however profound, into an otherwise contented existence. I felt like I experienced a kind of a cognitive whiplash. I am not sure how the two were connected except as an explanation of the extremes and disparities of care offered by the two types of communities.

I enjoyed this summit. I learned about some familiar things in ways that I have not considered before. I was intrigued that some of the presenters I spoke to were unaware of the concept of structural violence, even as they dealt with it regularly. All in all it was a good experience. I think I will probably attend future summits.

An Introduction to Maya

Maya is a big deal for me. I discovered maya years ago when I was taking a comparative religion class. Maya is a Hindu concept that loosely translates as “illusion.” However, as is true with many religious concepts, there is far more to maya than mere illusion. I will now attempt to make the case for why maya is a concept I use to make sense of the world we live in.

Ellwood & McGraw (2002) define maya thusly, “Brahman manifest in the world of forms; illusion when these forms are seen as other than Brahman” (p. 500). In this definition, the illusion mentioned is maya. To understand this definition you have to know that “Brahman (always with a capital b)” is tantamount to existence and reality. We humans have imperfect perceptions of reality and thereby we misunderstand our existence. The patterns and belief and experiences we possess trap us in this state of illusion. Consequently, we do not see the world as it is.

John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live provides an adequate representation of the concept of maya. In the film, a drifter played by (Rowdy) Roddy Piper discovers a box of sunglasses that allow him to see aliens when he wears them. The sunglasses allow him to pierce the veil of illusion that exists around him. While wearing the glasses, he also discovers the consumerist messaging hidden within advertising.

I reiterate that this is an adequate representation. The issues that the movie explores: class, social control, consumerism, colonialism, and others are all fodder for consideration of maya, but do not completely explain its scope. The forms that Ellwood & McGraw reference in their definition encompass everything in our lives and experience: childhood, education, socialization, that is, everything that we do and say in order to live our lives as comfortably as possible.

There are aspects of maya that seem easily discernable; propaganda and marketing being prime examples. However, propaganda and marketing are only discernable if we realize what they are. If we view them as types of information, such as news and entertainment, what motivation exists for us to seek out their meaning?

The context of maya that I find most relevant is in its role as a deceiver or a limiter of knowledge. A Christian theologian might link maya to the works of Satan. I think this is reasonable but misses the point; maya as a concept is based more on self-deception than the evil intent of outside beings. This is also the weakness of the They Live analogy.

However, I cannot argue that outside intent precludes one from labeling something as an aspect of maya. Consider the field of agnotology, which is the study of the cultural production of ignorance. This ignorance can be produced as a result of what we are told by the media or in our education. The technical term for this type of ignorance is an information asymmetry. One of the biggest reasons that information asymmetries exist is that they can be exploited for profit. Advertising is a prime example of this; if two products are indistinguishable then branding can help push a consumer to buy one over the other.

Anyway, this is meant to be an introduction to the concept. It is important because I intend to reference maya often going forward. I don’t want to just spring it onto people whilst I write on other topics, so, here it is. This explanation is woefully incomplete, but it is enough to allow you to know what I am talking about when I do mention it in the future.

References

Ellwood, R.S., & McGraw, B.A. (2002). Many people, many faiths: Women and men in the world religions, 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.