Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 17.12: America, Under the Spells of Contempt and Idealization
October 7, 2022
Contempt hangs heavy over us in our psychic skies, a false sun with great gravity, whose purpose is to mislead, and in misleading, lead us to a world of hate, violence, and the death of our human bonds. Contempt leads us to hate ourselves. Contempt proclaims its supremacy, and from that vantage, judges all. In its eyes, all have come short of its self-proclaimed, imagined glory. Contempt solidifies its identity by withdrawing into narrowness. It becomes incomprehensible and untenable outside its border walls, thus it demands that all conform to its self-serving boundaries, or risk all harms. Punishment. Exclusion. Blame.
Contempt pushes out, pushes down, and subordinates, and always leaves out those for which it cannot account, those with whom it cannot contend.
Contempt betrays. Contempt forsakes. Contempt misunderstands. Contempt acts on pat understandings of complexity beyond its ken. We are left contemptible in its wake of judgment, withdrawal, and cruelty.
Contempt is masterful at making outcastes and scapegoats, to fortify itself, draw itself to formidable heights, which are always, upon examination, the low points of human history and consciousness.
We are at the nearly impassable precipice of such a low point, but I fear we are not at the nadir. We must pull ourselves out, with insight first, and then action.
Contempt sits on throne, with crown and rod. A King. Monarch above us all. Content only with permanent authority and rules that favor its sovereign command. Contempt shoots the messengers, and plugs our ears from hearing.
Is our play enough to catch the conscience of the King?
Will we someday view Contempt as a great yet terrifying teacher? Will it always view us as perpetually failing students? Will we continue to be its victims?
Is Contempt the unsatisfiable parent of our psyche? An eternally disapproving and inescapable god?
People with mental health challenges experience prejudice, stigmatization, and contempt, leading to self-contempt and increased suicidality.
Philosopher and bioethicist Yolonda Yvette Wilson writes, “the very foundations of medical discovery, diagnosis, and treatment are built on racist contempt for Black people and have become self-perpetuating.”
Contempt takes our lives.
Contempt is a gaslight that despises our very humanity: our vulnerability, our youth, our distress, our insecurity, our doubt, our incredible, indescribable, multiform, creative, beautiful and awe-inspiring processes of change and growth and adaptation. Contempt despises the possibility that we will outgrow it entirely, and when we look back, be ungrateful that it was ever amidst us.
Contempt has us under its despising spell, and erects a dangerous cartoon Ideal. In our love of this mirage, we think we can avoid persecution, and instead, embolden punishment of those whom the Idealized Mirage criminalizes and holds in its jailhouse of Contempt. The Idealized Mirage says they deserve it, and the followers of Contempt nod their heads in assent.
American politics is the our most current example of the power of the spells of Contempt and Idealization. But these spells play out in religions, couples, families, cults, organizations, and in our own psyches, as we sort out our identities and relationship to authorities, “higher powers,” spiritual figures, and gurus. Contempt has been shown to impact the immune system. The majority culture’s contempt of “the other” can become baked into institutions and ideologies, causing great harm.
Papal bulls issued in 1455 and 1493 are prime examples of the creation of a Christian Ideal holding non-Christians – Indigenous, Black, and Brown peoples – in Contempt and subject to theft and abuse of their bodies, humanity, land, and resources.
“From the mid-fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the first principles of international law Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize investigating, mapping, and claiming lands belonging to peoples outside Europe. It originated in a papal bull issued in 1455 that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa. Following Columbus’s infamous exploratory voyage in 1492, sponsored by the king and queen of the infant Spanish state, another papal bull extended similar permission to Spain. Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the papal-initiated Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the discovery doctrine. This doctrine on which all European states relied thus originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies’ exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized by other European monarchical colonizing projects. The French Republic used this legalistic instrument for its nineteenth- and twentieth- century settler colonialist projects, as did the newly independent United States when it continued the colonization of North America begun by the British…”
“The World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Episcopal Church, and other Protestant religious institutions, responding to demands from Indigenous peoples, have made statements disassociating themselves from the Doctrine of Discovery. The New York Society of Friends (Quakers), in denying the legitimacy of the doctrine, asserted in 2012 that it clearly ‘still has the force of law today’ and is not simply a medieval relic. The Quakers pointed out that the United States rationalizes its claims to sovereignty over Native nations, for instance in the 2005 US Supreme Court case, City of Sherrill v. Oneida Nation of Indians. The statement asserts: ‘We cannot accept that the Doctrine of Discovery was ever a true authority for the forced takings of lands and the enslavement or extermination of peoples.’ The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) resolution regarding this is particularly powerful and an excellent model. The UUA ‘repudiate(s) the Doctrine of Discovery as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases having no place in the modern day treatment of indigenous peoples.’ The Unitarians resolved to “expose the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery and eliminate its presence in the contemporary policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism; and . . . invite indigenous partners to a process of Honor and Healing (often called Truth and Reconciliation).’ They additionally encouraged ‘other religious bodies to reject the use of the Doctrine of Discovery to dominate indigenous peoples’ and resolved to collaborate with groups ‘to propose a specific Congressional Resolution to repudiate this doctrine . . . and call upon the United States to fully implement the standards of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. law and policy without qualifications.’”
– Both quotes from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
“The Bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be ‘discovered,’ claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion. In the US Supreme Court in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the unanimous decision held ‘that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.’ In essence, American Indians had only a right of occupancy, which could be abolished.”
– Gilder Lehrmann Institute of American History
These bulls became the doctrine of discovery in international law, and found their way into the creation of American Empire and hegemony. Even today, some Christians find fulfillment in converting others to their views, a form of cultural imperialism, spiritual subordination, and self-idealization.
The Doctrine of Discovery is a Doctrine of Contempt and a Gaslight of Idealization in a religion. It buttressed hierarchical rule that continues in the way some modern Christians, politicians and partisans assert their primacy and suppress dissent, doubt, and questions. The Doctrines of Contempt and Self-Idealization are Doctrines of Control that have amplified the irrational, the absurd, and the abusive, because they neglect the reality of human relationship.
The doctrine of original sin (“all men are sinners”) holds humanity in Contempt, proposing a religion as the solution for the resulting shame. These doctrines of Contempt create and amplify sexual and racial paranoia, and grant power to the most paranoid and manipulative leaders among us, convinced of their paranoid “truths.”
BIPOC people have been subject to a Blatantly Ignorant Project of Contempt for hundreds of years. That Contempt is still upon us. We feel misshapen and misunderstood because of it. Our truth and light are denied because of it.
There is controversy over the Doctrine of Discovery even now. Representatives of First Nations in Canada, among others, have called for an official apology and denunciation of the Doctrine from Pope Francis. Defensive forces claim that the Church washed its hands of the matter long ago. The latter group tends towards Idealization, not recognizing the Contempt that spilled from it. (See references.)
We cannot recover ourselves without dispelling the ways we have been “discovered,” made other, and made into utilities for the Empire of Contempt.
The spells of Contempt and Idealization are inherently schizogenic. They create an antagonistic split of acceptability: all or nothing, black or white, us versus them. Accept me and reject all others. Subordinate and silence all parts of oneself that challenge the spells. Hide every part of yourself that doesn’t conform. Fit in. Squelch alternate signals. Transmit Contempt, transmit trauma. Do not transform them. Be spellbound. Let yourself die inside. Let Contempt kill you.
Can we break the spells, and see ourselves and each other more clearly? Can we rub the mirage of the false sun from our eyes, and find the true gravity of love, compassion, and common humanity? Can we create safety and well-being for our complex identities and our essential needs to belong, create, and nurture? Can the dance of Contempt and Contemptible turn to Compassion instead?
Our future depends on this struggle, what song we sing to awaken from the spells.
(A version of this article appeared at Psychology Today on October 5, 2022.)
For further reading:
Rüsch N, Oexle N, Thornicroft G, Keller J, Waller C, Germann I, Regelmann CA, Noll-Hussong M, Zahn R. Self-Contempt as a Predictor of Suicidality: A Longitudinal Study. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2019 Dec;207(12):1056-1057. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000001079. PMID: 31790049
Wilson YY. Bioethics, Race, and Contempt. J Bioeth Inq. 2021 Mar;18(1):13-22. doi: 10.1007/s11673-020-10070-3. Epub 2021 Jan 7. PMID: 33415595; PMCID: PMC7790350
Doctrine of Discovery. Gilder Lehrmann Institute of American History accessed 9/27/22
Stosny S. The Social Disease of Contempt, Psychology Today, September 12, 2018
Stosny S. Compassion and Contempt. Psychology Today, June 21, 2012
Pope faces calls to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery at the heart of colonialism. CBC Radio, July 26, 2022
Boyd A. Papal Condemnation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Church Life Journal of the University of Notre Dame, August 30, 2022.
Dunbar-Ortiz R. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2015