“There is no us vs. them…there is only us.”
“It is so tempting to personify good and evil, to locate each in the person of whomever appears most conspicuously in the dramas offered for our consumption. One side holds Donald Trump in exactly the same way that the other holds George Soros and Bill Gates. Personifying evil offers the comfort of knowing at least in principle how to solve the world’s problems. There is someone to destroy, to expunge, to defeat, to cancel, or to silence. Problem solved. The standard Hollywood movie script is also the script for war and also, it seems, the script for a lot of today’s political discourse.”
By Dave Cash
I’ve been hanging around upper west side centrist Democrats my whole life, and also have been exposed to a smattering of Bernie bros, the occasional anarchist, and have even talked to a few Republicans who had some intellectually sound principles. I am myself probably a liberal Democrat, but more than that I am an Eisensteinian “who am I/who are we?” political thinker who tries to get behind the story and into the deep causes and conditions behind our collective suffering. For those of you unfamiliar with Charles Eisenstein his basic premise is that we as a culture are always at war with something, notably the self/nature, and we are always seeking to overcome something in our efforts to change, instead of working symbiotically and co-operatively with a deep understanding that making the other evil will always lead to the same problems over and over again.
For most democrats I know the Trump years were a nightmare, and the main emotional strategy I saw supposedly sane and intellectually sophisticated people put forward was blame and outrage. I found that there was really very little curiosity amongst almost all the people I talked with about the deep causes and conditions related to the extremism and division we were experiencing. People rarely asked “what is it like to be you?” when thinking about the bad people on the other side of the aisle. The main premise of that line of thinking is “I can’t afford to be compassionate and curious when it comes to political thinking because those people are an attack on who I am.” It was amazing to watch people who had spiritual beliefs such as “we are all one,” begin foaming at the mouth when the topic of Trump or Mitch McConnell came up.
And don’t get me wrong. I was upset too. If someone came into my neighborhood with a tiki torch and anti-Semitic epithets, I would most likely throw down or freak out. I am not so spiritual as to be beyond hate or terror. But at least I value the concept of not making the other evil.
How could it be that so many people who fundamentally believe that we are all in this together, and also seem to basically understand that the neo-liberal economy doesn’t work for the majority, also believe that most of America is just stupid and racist and that Trump was an evil outlier and that all would be well again as soon as we have a nice, neo-liberal normal man as President.
The media and the way it profits off of addiction to outrage must surely be partially to blame for our current predicament. Another factor is that people are just mimicking monkeys in suits who do groupthink and like to reinforce each other’s angry beliefs to be approved of and accepted. But I also believe we don’t really value a “we are one” attitude even if we say we do. Nor do we really value peeking behind the veil and seeing the humanity of the other even if we say we do. We rarely ask the question “what is it like to be you?” to those we see as our evil opponents. What we value is blame and othering because it makes us feel temporarily relieved (the grievance chemicals involved make us high, we feel we can explain the world, and we don’t have to take responsibility as much which makes us uncomfortable.) In order to fundamentally change the way we treat each other, we have to change our familiar ways of thinking even if it seems impossible to love and understand the “people on the other side of the aisle.”
Our collective trauma no doubt plays a role in the “I can’t afford to see the humanity in them,” line of thinking. My grandfather told my mom when she was as young as five that the Nazis would come for them if they came to power because my mom and grandfather were Jewish. So I don’t mean to just otherize the otherizers for being stupid and immoral. They are probably traumatized individuals doing their best. But I will point out that the pattern of fear-based othering isn’t working. It reinforces the very thing the otherizers are trying to eradicate and beyond the inefficiency of it, the energetics are awful for both the otherizer and otherized. The energy put into the air with each blame of the evil other essentially says “those people deserve to be put down, overcome, dominated.” It doesn’t see people as undereducated and underemployed. It doesn’t see people as untrusting of the mainstream media and corporate political parties for good reasons. It doesn’t see anything other than “them.”
Frequently when I argue in favor of looking at deep causes and conditions people argue back that if they are too understanding of “them,” “they” will take advantage of “us.” That argument is not entirely without merit. We can’t be too Pollyanaish these days. As I said, if a crazy anti-Semite with a tiki torch came to my house I would most likely use violence to protect my wife. But the thing is, we are almost always in situations where that is not the case. Our lives are not under attack. 99.9 percent of “I can’t afford to be compassionate to them,” arguments are made from Thanksgiving dinner tables and behind tweets. Most of the time, there is not a real threat to our person in the moment and a conscious conversation even about topics as serious as global warming and war would be more productive if we peered into our collective humanity. And so, the belief that I have to defend and hold firm or else I will die, is most often a toxic boogeyman that justifies horrible behavior unto ourselves and the world. “I can’t afford to be compassionate to them,” makes us sick to our stomachs (full disclosure I threw up during the last election) and it most certainly is not putting out energy that’s going to heal the world.
To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle whom I visited on a retreat to Greece two years ago: “If you are testifying in front of Congress that’s one thing, get your arguments together. If it’s more a matter of arguing with your friends and family perhaps you can afford to be less defensive.” It shocks me to observe how much people forget that basic fact, and how their physiology reflects that in the midst of an otherwise normal day. I can’t tell you how many spiritual people I know, people who go to 12 step programs and therapy and meditation retreats, turn into the Incredible Hulk when the subject of Mitch McConnell (or Nancy Pelosi as the case may be) comes up. And the funny thing about that is, blame is almost always completely ineffective. To blame is to be lame. These same people who love to blame and outsource responsibility for the state of the world almost always go back to being docile and forgetful whenever it comes to actually making changes they can make (let’s say for example the ways they eat or the clothes they wear) but when it comes to having opinions they are suddenly Malcolm X.
Opinions are not going to heal our world.
And let me be clear lest I be accused of being a-political or making false equivalences. These opinions are valid. If someone is a white supremacist-in-chief coming for women’s rights and health insurance and democracy and the environment, it’s absolutely ok to have strong thoughts and feelings about it. What’s not productive however, is the energy of constant blame and othering. I do not think that the right strategy is to see both sides as equally valid and become an independent halfway between Biden and Trump. That is actually what has happened more and more since FDR and the results have been disastrous. Likewise turning our noses up at “politics” has just made those who do show up to run the world more powerful. So I am not proposing being apolitical or amoral, or seeing everyone’s ideas as equally valid. What I am proposing is that we stop othering and invalidating and dehumanizing those we don’t agree with even as we use our discerning minds. That energy is the exact opposite of the change most of us want to see in the world. I propose that it’s more efficient to have compassion for the other AND disagree. I propose that we can be stronger in our backbones if we are stronger in our hearts as well. I watched my intellectual mother freak out and squawk for four years in a state of tremendous agitation, anger, and suffering over Trump; and besides giving money to planned parenthood and a handful of other organizations, and making a few calls for Biden, she took very little real action. What she did do is put out energy into the quantum field that is really not so different from the motherfuckers with tiki torches. Of course my mom talking to other liberals is not nearly as bad. That would be a false equivalence. But if anger and outrage is all anybody practices, it’s all anybody practices…and the world stays stuck.
My half-brother was a communist revolutionary in El Salvador who was shot and killed in 1992. We don’t know by whom. He would probably be horrified with my peacenik words (unless his soul has evolved and is maybe even writing through me?). For him it was revolution or bust. I know others who agree. I have a Marxist billionaire friend who thinks everyone other than the righteous few Marxists are the enemy. I have an anarchist friend who informs me “if the revolution comes I will have to kill you.” Who knows. Maybe they are right. But having seen the wreckage that my brother’s behavior wrought in his lifetime, I highly doubt it. For me violence always begets more violence and ahimsa is the way (full stop). I still eat meat and wear sweat shop labor clothes and drive a car so there are of course levels…but when it comes to fellow human beings, I am interested in practicing nonviolence as much as humanely possible in this lifetime.
For me it’s not Bernie or bust, nor Democrats or bust, it’s Martin Luther King or bust. To quote Eisenstein quoting Martin Luther King in one of his last essays: “Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”
I can always afford compassion. At least that is one of my values. I can always afford to peak behind the veil and see behind the story into deep causes and conditions. I can always afford to see everyone’s perspective as valid even if I disagree vehemently. I can always afford to see people, most especially Donald J. Trump, as traumatized rather than evil.
It’s amazing how many people actually agree with me, but feel so threatened by “them,” when they turn on the news, that they will go back to their conditioned responses even as it poisons them. Well, all I can offer is some new ideas with a strong backbone. You don’t have to agree with each other’s hatred and blame and lies about the “them.” You can afford compassion. And you can also disagree. You don’t have to make false equivalencies or become apolitical to ask “what’s it like to be them?” You don’t have to keep fighting the war to end all wars, especially when you know in your heart that that is not a helpful paradigm to live in. Who are we? We are one connected unified field. That’s not just a belief that holds up in mysticism or quantum physics. If it’s as true as the scientists and mystics suggest it is, it would make sense that that’s a belief you ought to take with you everywhere.
During the last election, my mother quoted a French essayist named Charles Pierre Péguy who said: “Everything begins with mysticism and ends with politics.” I would argue that the theme of our time, the theme of the new horizon and the new spiritual frontier, is returning to mysticism again and bringing that into our politics. Let’s stop pretending we can’t afford to see each other as one. Let’s be a little bit nuanced here. Let’s be principled AND compassionate, AND socially active, AND connected. The false narrative of us vs them and either or thinking needs to die if humanity is going to live. If you think I am wrong you can keep living in the old paradigm. You will probably suffer and cause more suffering. But I won’t otherize you for it as we are all one and I often do the same thing.