Neoliberal Conspiracy & The Paradox of Trauma: Are We Ready To Be Healed?

The greatest conspiracies…. are not theories but practices: practices expressed through law and policy and systems of government, technology, finance….we become inured to it.  This leaves us unable to relate the banality of the methods of their conspiracy to the rapacity of their ambitions.
               – Edward Snowden, interview (2021), quoted in The Myth of the Normal by Gabor Maté

I see no essential difference between WWII and any other traumatic reality.  For example, I know many people whose childhood was in its own way as traumatic as that of millions of Central Europeans…I don’t believe that human experience can be graded from less brutal to extremely brutal….I think that it is childhood that is often traumatic, not this or that war.
               – Jerzy Kosinski, interview, Paris Review, 1972

If you will see yourself as part of the larger community, if you will not keep yourself in a locked compartment marked “for sane only,” then you won’t be surprised by murder, persecution, or old age.

Edward’s Snowden’s words in the epigraph above explain to me why so many good liberals can’t say “No” to neoliberalism, while people who can be so “rude” as to storm the Capitol in protest cling to a zero sum  fundamentalist religion and/or deep-seated resentments.  The Trumpies and Christian fascists fall into that pattern many of us have been familiar with since school days of those who were willing to be that taunting bad boy at the back of the class, even back when teachers could punish with rulers and ridicule.  The “bad boys” wielded such power for disorder, their motives likely coming from deep disturbances in their souls nobody was likely ever to see or to care about.  

Staying with the analogy for a bit, when does the good girl, sitting in the front seat taking notes and paying attention (or appearing to) stand up and say to all the other well-behaved ones, “Isn’t there something better we could be doing than simply being good just so we’re not being bad? Are there just two alternatives? Who said so?”  Unquestioning obedience comes from the same place of disturbance as the bad boy’s reflexive badness.  That place is the traumatized soul.  

The broad intuitive claim I make,  that abuse of a subtler kind is widespread and explains much about our politics, now is substantiated by people knowledgeable in the mental health field (i.e., Judith Herman, Gabor Maté, Bessel van der Kolk).   In a world made to serve the needs of rapacious capitalism limits are put even upon the love of loving parents, confining them to being unintended co-conspirators in neoliberalism. Non-negotiable infant needs, such as for uninterrupted  nurturance, love, comfort, constancy, emotional reciprocity, serenity and calm, curiosity and interest, etc., are negotiated routinely. Mental health problems, explained as genetic or neurobiological – such as neuroses, depressions, addictions, etc., are just a personal problem; call in the grief counselor, get the prescription. Well before starting school, many of us – white, middle class, liberal – are adepts at repressing memory of trauma; thus many of us are incapable of discerning abuses of practice that, though experienced personally, allow us to cling to our self-protective fantasy (i.e., the compartment marked “for sane only”) that the abuse of others is what should concern us.

In terms of its impact on the society, the most devastating effect of this repression is this:  it marginalizes the voice of the personal soul and thus, for individuals who aren’t poets or mystics, removes access to the soul’s powerful essence of compassion, truth, beauty, justice. Unable to sympathize with pain in one’s soul,  the innate power of moral discernment is lost; some acquire it later, secondhand, via the teachings of the church, but these are likely to be biased.  Not knowing his/her true connection with all creation the way she/he knows fire is hot, or water is wet, the child, her/his heart crushed,  is left to learn “good” and “bad” as defined by the classroom (or church) or the new secular religion of identity. 

Trauma’s lasting and profound effect, the loss of original connection, replaced by the false belief in an isolated self, is part of the basic kitbag of life in neoliberal reality, a necessary component in the waking nightmare that is the American Dream.  For most of the world’s peoples, colonized, racially otherized, subjugated and exploited, more likely now to experience catastrophic effects of climate change, pandemic, free trade, forced migration, police brutality, etc., awareness of trauma does not contradict the reality they know.  But for white, middle-class Westerners trauma remains objectified (see Jerzy Kosinski in epigraph): and thus cannot contradict the one totality as we know it in our isolated mind.  

For generations white Westerners have lived uneasily with the unfounded hope that we might be among the saved, while insecurity has us chasing the vein of gold, the buried treasure that can distract from fear with the promise of opulence and ease.  Now we’re told, with science backing up intuition, that authentic horror underlies liberal reality; the twisted gift of trauma has been distributed evenly among us; keeping trauma objectified, ourselves “safe” is a losing endeavor.  We privileged Westerners have been handed a key to the Truth of wholeness/connectedness that’s the real gold.  Using it, we can loosen our grip on our fantasies of escape – including religious ones – and live in the world we’re placed in. 

That is, “Truth,” need not be so abstract and elusive as we’ve made it.  When apprehended as experience, in the personal body, truth is not vague and abstract, but felt, as a rush of oxygen, of freedom.  It’s the “taste of victory”  that Thomas Merton wrote one must have in order to find the necessary confidence “to gain possession of ourselves.” The price of such truth is the inclusion of trauma’s undeniable contradiction to the neoliberal conspiracy we’ve “become inured to” through our society and its practices.   Going inward to face personal trauma, evil is a thing personally known and knowable.  As well, inward healing acquaints one for the first time  with the core in oneself that is and always was whole, to defend which, countering the dominant neoliberal conspiracy, becomes basis for moral purpose.


Dr. Gabor Maté’s book The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing In a Toxic Culture, NY Times best-seller about the universality of trauma and the means opened through healing to cultural transformation, offers a paradoxical hope in troubled times. I too believe trauma  to be very much at the bottom of why our society cannot correct itself. It’s exciting to have my intuition  – which is all I have! – amply supported by science.

However, backed by science and a lustrous publishing and speaking record, the authorial voice no longer coming from the commons of (poetic) intuition,  authors can take on a guru’s voice, realer than my truth or yours. Although Maté’s careful to  include himself among trauma’s victims, the medium is still the message. The gamble I make as a writer who, like Dr. Maté, share a message of personal and social healing – is my voice has no authorization for its truth except intuition – the verification equivalent, one might say, of “one hand clapping.”   Having stayed where I’m placed, without elevation from professional status,  best-sellers or successful workshops, raised just to the broadly inclusive and bravely dissenting website Counterpunch,  I speak up for that traumatized soul  I have in common with all others, just because I must defend it or lose it.

Self-help best-sellers sell because they offer hope. Whether or not the authors intend it, hope that’s not gained by one’s own risk-taking can offer a bypass; readers may not be sure the hope is legitimately theirs, or the good doctor’s. The hope I speak from,  if it touches others, comes primarily through the “selfish” act of compassion for my personal soul that depends upon me to speak, as yours depends upon you to speak.   My writing reassures only in one sense:  other souls suffocating in places (like Utica, NY where I live)  being invaded by corporatization, their individualities unsupported by a culture, all of us being driven systematically insane by adaptation to a world made for robots, can know that help exists in the sanity of one’s own creative voice and the healthy insanity of trusting it.

Having been involved in spiritual change and in workshops directed toward spiritual change back in the 1990’s I’m familiar with the “New Age perspective” that spiritual healing brings.  My gratitude for the spiritual healing I underwent 30 years ago that re-connected me with my soul’s real otherness –  is boundless.  But before trying this at home one must understand: the very real “highs” such healing brings – moments of transcendent awareness and cosmic consciousness –   translates uneasily to living in place – at least, to living in my post-industrial, rustbelt, working class place.    

Not feeling called to professionalize myself as a healer,  but more to my writing, I stayed put in my relationships,  innocent to the a process of godforsakenning that the corporatization of places is. No one stood up for the former manufacturing places when they were promised a part  in globalization’s vision of sea-to-sea Walmarts, connectivity via screens, discardable workers and an economy not based upon making things.  Putting one’s own body on the line against the tide that is erasing culture and destroying our places, as Orin and I have done with our coffeeshop business is, frankly, desperate work I’d say hanging in defiantly as we do has the chances of a snowball in hell without either an influx of wealth (highly unlikely!) or the real confidence gained by means of the ongoing experience of the marvelous healing truth represented in the creative soul. And even then….

In the liberal mind unfettered by contradictory truth,“living in place,” or “living locally”, or “indigenousness”  can be nuanced to mean a little hope for temporality – for escape.  Being placed, on the other hand,  the avenue of escape is cut off! Existing as an “other” in the dominant banal reality,  one has no choice but to obey the soul’s call to create. Over and over I’m called to stand with my otherness that without my personal effort dissolves into the ready-made containers of banality, and my personal depression.  Traumatized otherness – the artist in me – deserves its voice.  To have it is not a simple thing as we might gather reading the NY Times Arts pages.  Most of us can have it only inasmuch as we(I) acknowledge that the traumatized voice is Supreme and demands my particular expression no matter how unworthy I know myself to be. For this, science is not needed, only surrender to the higher truth (love).


I write, besides for myself,  for my extended family members, all carrying the trauma that could, if healing were undertaken,  lead to release from the bind that keeps us being “good”  so we’re not bad.  In so doing, I take the part of the elder that was missing in our families in 1950’s suburban upstate America, who wept for the cruelty she saw being done and could not prevent.  The part remains “offstage” for it has not been written into the play yet.  It remains the voice of the pariah, the Cassandra, the 13th fairy left out of the christening, the ghost of Christmas past, present, future that got Scrooge’s attention, but only fictively. 

The good news is art practiced in consciousness of real trauma negates neoliberal banality.  Its awareness of existential terror that recalls the threat of death itself,  represented in all the monsters, trolls, wicked giants and ogres,witches and wolves the mythic imagination produced for human benefit – which the culture industry (Disney) has thoroughly banalized  – is basis for a real counter-practice of health and wholeness.  It is a force for utopian transformation that would allow us to vacate our place as colonizers and white supremacists and drop down into the one labeled simply human and all one

However – very daunting! –  there may be no place in which a prophetic voice is less wanted than at home.  Up close, in the exchanges of daily life, being neither guru nor “Wise Woman,” just Mom, Grandma, coffeeshop owner, etc., intuitive knowing remains a strangely undisclosable secret. Forced to keep one’s otherness closeted, as it were, with few giving the slightest hint that their souls long for more, beyond their jobs, their efforts to live good lives, their dietary and nutritional struggles,  the conspiracy, the “myth of the normal,” appears impregnable. Very little in my environment tells me what I want to/long to hear. But now, when many of us believe that for there to be a livable future, contraction – rather than limitless growth – is necessary, that voice coming from the wholeness at the personal core  must be practiced – one hand clapping away! – or we will lose our places, not to mention our humanity. It has to be practiced by each one, not just “the hired artists,” in one’s place, without escape to artist enclaves in Brooklyn or LA, keeping local places for art and art-making whether or not we completely comprehend the jazz’s improvisation or every difficult line in the Tennessee Williams play, or in Kim’s abstruse essay! 

Despite these brave words, optimism is hard for me, as it perhaps must be for anyone unless you insist on staying in that compartment marked “for sane only!” I like the way Antonio Gramsci put it (here paraphrased): I’m a “pessimist of the intellect, and optimist of the will,”  the will being, as I believe and Dr. Maté also believes, born of the heart and soul. Optimism, then, is fed legitimately only by the alive soul, an oh-so-vulnerable garden that must and can only be tended by each person, voluntarily, without expectation of certain outcomes.  

At the most recent board meeting of the little independent nonprofit arts space connected to our coffeeshop in Utica, a couple of people remarked how so many of the local arts-related non-profits are drawing mainly old people to their events and their boards.  I don’t have my hand on the pulse of young people today, but I can well believe they are not “easy optimists,” given the bleak outlook for the earth, for human cultures, for peace,  etc.  I observe many of the idealists among them get caught up in “localism” as a kind of brand for unreconstructed “good guys.” A handful, however, are drawn to us, to our small struggling Cafe and our non-profit, perhaps readier than most to harken to that offstage elder  that wants their precious souls to speak.  Unalarmed by my “otherness,” even comforted by it, maybe, they practice their own. 

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: