Collective Pain and the Brain on Grain

A hypothesis on the origins of human collective trauma

Anna Mercury
7 min readOct 30, 2023
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

I’ve been getting really into deep history and the eco-sociology of early civilization these days. Here’s why:

I’ve long been a political activist, passionate about social justice and collective liberation. As a good radical, I kept attempting to strike more and more accurately at “the root” of societal issues, and began to understand so many collective social ills as symptomatic of collective trauma.

I realized trauma is what’s been beating at the heart of every war, woven into the walls of every prison, trailing unspoken in every -ism suffix. Actions of violence are responses to, or reenactments of, trauma: the perpetuation of harm by those who were harmed. European colonialism, which is at the root of the majority of global social ills today, has its roots in Europeans being conquered by more localized empires and having their own lands stolen. Empire begets empire. Imperial, traumatizing social orders produce imperialistic, traumatized societies. Collective violence is a symptom of collective trauma.

Which led me to the question: how did we get so traumatized? Was it always like this?

The answer I’ve learned is: No, it was not always like this. We’re living in ways today that are…