I was having a discussion about recent events last night, with some folks I normally do not engage in such discussions. I didn’t initiate that discussion, with recovery folks; it’s usually suggested to not engage in religious or political topics in our groups, in order to avoid partisan bias that could distract us from our common purpose of recovery. This turned out rather well, mainly because we were (fortunately) of like mind. All of us were appalled by the events of January 6th, mainly because of the incredibly vicious and brutal behavior of the insurgents. We didn’t really get into politically substantive issues, but agreed that climbing the walls of the Capitol, calling for death of legislators, and beating law enforcement officers was unacceptable. I surprised myself by broaching the subject of the hypocrisy inherent in the actions of the insurgents, citing a disconnect between the Christian allegiance those involved claimed, and the brutal illegal acts they perpetrated. What came to me later was that, according to the Bible, Jesus Christ became enraged that money changers and vendors were occupying the temple, his father’s house. He threw them out, disrupting business and upturning tables and merchandise. In no account does he injure the sellers or bankers, or incite his followers to do so. He destroys the means and property for the disrespectful market, and angrily proclaims they should not worship false idols, and should leave his father’s house because they have disrespected it. No beating of people with flag poles, no invectives (that we know if, anyway), no building a fake gallows outside the temple, no intimidation by hunting the offenders. How does that resemble the insurrection on Jan. 6th, or any of the other confrontations between extremists and the government (e.g. Ruby Ridge, e.g. Oklahoma City). It doesn’t. This zombie apocalypse was out of order, out of line, wrong, incorrect. There is nothing in ethical or legal discourse, history, theology, deism, theism, humanism, atheism, or common sense that can redeem the actions of January 6th. Nothing.
What concerns me more than the bad behavior of the insurrection crowd on January 6th is that, at this moment, a significant number of those who consider the results of the Presidential election illegitimate have not changed their opinion. They have not moved, have no further tolerance of other perspectives, nor acceptance of the reality of the situation. They are still as enraged as they were on January 6th, and they are still as unwilling to support anything that comes from the new administration. Playing both ends against the middle does not spell progress, it spells failure, unless you’re on one end or the other. If you’re in the middle, you’re going to have a really long day, and get bruised in the process. These folks would much rather we all sink than have the boat putter forward even a few miles, because it is better to be right than to be correct. But who gets to decide correctness?
I would contend that correctness, for our purposes in the year 2021, is more about adherence to universal law. There are some things we all have to accept as truth, like…animals want to be free. We are animals, and we all want to be free. We have an involuntary drive to be unconfined, to have autonomy. No one can argue that most animals – I personally believe all, mental health notwithstanding – will fight to survive. Until their last breath. Most animals will fight to protect their young. Desperation yields action born of immediacy and expediency rather than strategy and future success. Further, as a species, humans are herd animals. We retreat to our lairs periodically, but crave and depend upon interaction with our fellows. We establish dominance in unnecessarily complex fashion, but still find ourselves getting in line according to demonstrated power.
We are still a nation divided, and no amount of CNN special reports or AP coverage, NY Times op-eds, or lectures, workshops, and community education is going to fix that. A large number of people are simply not willing, and without the willingness, we are going nowhere. We cannot move from point A to point A.1, let alone point B. I still don’t know how to fix that, and neither does anyone else. Perhaps we can make small gains with things mentioned, but this will likel have slow and intermittent success, if any. Consistency and honesty will be required as much as willingness, and I’m not sure there is adequate capacity of any one let alone all of those things. Our sticking point is always who assumes the role of parent, and who assumes the role of child. Parent implies dominance, child implies subordination (interpreted by some as submission). No human responds well to subordination, loss of agency, restriction of liberty. Ironically, however, we willingly and repeatedly volunteer our agency to our political leaders, albeit with the proviso that we are in agreement. Does this constitute laziness on our part?
Our democratic experiment is merely one method of managing the common interest. So is communism, socialism, libertarianism. The real test of governance is defining common interest; even systems that purposely marginalize certain elements of the population have some common interest (managing the leper colonies was not done out of compassion, but to increase the quality of life for the larger population). Our democracy is no exception. Slavery was a symbiotic relationship – it was to the advantage of the dominant class to keep the slave population alive and in good reproductive health, so they were given the basic means to survive. The slaves found it to their advantage to work, despite brutal conditions, in order to ensure the survival of themselves and their loved ones. Despite the brutal inequities of the relationship, the American experiment has produced our current paradigm. This is problematic to say the least.
In the minds of many, the ends unequivocally justify the means. That doesn’t work long term, however, so here we are. Here we are, with a seemingly perpetual underclass whose unceasing cry for their promised slice of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness drives us nearly mad. Where is the milk and honey, and the chicken for every pot? What exactly constitutes liberty? What do we mean by happiness? In the context of utilitarianism, happiness is not always revelry, good tidings, positive emotion. In that context, happiness is more related to satisfaction and the associated motivation to produce, for the success of the nation as a whole. Emotional happiness is more tied to how well our individual experience meets our expectations, our sense of getting back what we’ve put in, having our needs met on all levels. If we’re not happy on that individual level, our satisfaction with the overall system wanes, and our motivation to contribute to a larger product wanes.
When there is a high rate of joblessness, there is greater unhappiness in the population, at an individual level. People cannot produce what a consumer economy requires – no money to pay for shelter, food, clothing, transportation. In turn, the system itself grinds to a halt, with no fuel. And when momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. Is the system our mother? You betcha. We suckle at her breast for food, sustenance, shelter, and education, for learning how to get along in the larger world. When we’re old enough to make our own way, we don’t stray far, but simply multiply under her wing and emulate the paradigm we have learned. We all uphold the status quo. We don’t have a better way to provide for our common interest, and seeing as how we’re all living under roughly the same roof on this planet, it seems far safer to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We don’t quite know what might happen if we didn’t, so let’s not rock the boat.
All that utilitarian iconography is just dandy, and sometimes we can figure out why we’re doing what we’re doing, but we always come back to the quandry of … who gets to decide what exactly it is that we’re doing to ensure the common good, the base level survival? So how does that happen? How does a pride of lions decide who’s in charge? How does a pack of dogs figure out who’s at the top of the heap? Dominance, or by any other name, power. Two male lions who see to lead the pack will eventually fight it out, and the winner is recognized as the alpha, the pack leader. Repeating – ALL the other members of the group recognize the winner as the more powerful and dominant member, and they fall in line. The alpha usually gets to eat first, gets his pick of females, and so on. Nobody challenges that unless they want to take on the dominant for a physical fight, and tht doesn’t always go well for the contender. Everybody knows the rules, and they march on. The success of the whole group is contingent on that social order, since they stick together. Too much squabbling in the ranks would be distraction, making the group far more vulnerable to predators. So, Mother Nature provided tools to give them a fighting chance at success.
We humans, especially first-world nations like those in America, like to pretend that our societal order is far elevated from the brute force and non-intellectual paradigms of lower animals, but that really doesn’t seem to be the case. When it all boils down to gruel, we respect power. It’s a universal language. Power is the ability to get work done. It is not the ability to think about the work that needs to be done, or define the work, or research the work. It is the ability to get it done. That’s the language of corporate management, but power is far less complicated. It’s the basic “Hey, you wanna do something?”; “Yeah, let’s do something. Whatchoo wanna do?”; “I dunno, whatchoo wanna do?”: “I’m hungry, let’s go eat.”; “OK, I am kind of hungry…you pick where.”; “OK, I want Popeye’s, I can drive.”; “OK, Popeye’s it is, let’s go.” Ta da. Complete. That is how power WITH someone functions, as opposed to power OVER someone. Both parties have agency, and choice, and can bale at any time. But together, we’re gonna get fed, and still enjoy each other’s company (common desire for community). Both of us are satisfied, neither assumed more power than the other, and we’re not still there negotiating while starving.
Well, that sounds great, but…this is not an afterschool special, or a rom-com with a happy ending. And stuff like insurrection is about more than fried chicken and a biscuit; it’s just not that simple. When a toddler is having a meltdown over a broken toy, or refusal of a privilege or activity, they are not able to hear reasonable tone, or promises of better times, or respond to a hug and kiss on the forehead. In many cases, they are going to want to break things, scream as long as physically possible, and say mean things. They have lost something they had, or not gotten something they wanted, sometimes both at the same time. They are inconsolable. Big people are not much different, they just have guns and cars and knives and enough muscle to change things. That’s what January 6th was about. Big people who felt as though something they had was taken away, and they were not going to get what they wanted to return that, so … they had the means, motive, and opportunity to attempt to change that. Same mental process.
The only difference between toddlers having a tantrum and zombies in moose horns and face paint trying to perpetrate a coup d’etat is the ability to cause damage. A toddler having a fit may break their toys, or a dish, throw food on the floor. When an oversized and overprivileged adult has a fit, they may arm themselves with weapons that can end someone’s life, destroy an entire building, commandeer public resources so that others can’t utilize them. They may poop on the floor (which the insurgents did on January 6th) and spread all manner of germs. They may take other people’s property. They may break laws and set precedents for dangerous behavior that will survive longer than a lifetime. What they did on January 6th was to rip the common garment of our American identity, with all its contradictions and heartbreak, and expose something underneath that is no different than a brutal and lawless anarchy, where people are allowed to take what they want, however they want to, and shit on the floor while doing it if they want to. The brute strength that enabled people to scale the walls of the Capitol and break windows to storm inside was not power, but powerlessness. That was toddlers with better weapons and bigger muscles, bigger mouths, larger bowels. They got no work done; Congress re-convened hours later and did what they set out to do before the violence. The only result was chaos, and some people were killed. What the rioters also got, what WE got, was the sickening realization that we’re all handcuffed together on this ride. What you do affects us over here, what we do affects them over there, and what they do let’s us know that we don’t know what in the hell any of us are doing. We’re very intelligent, but we’re not gods. Right now, we have no humility, and we’re operating in hubris, believing that we’ve produced this entire experience, with our own little hands, and that we can re-create it at our leisure. Mother Earth has been bitch-slapping us for a while now, trying to remind us that whoever we are, we need to be living in harmony with Her (or, as some of us heard from OUR mamas…I brought you into this world, and I can take you out). Forces way more impressive than us have the power to get work done on a global scale, with or without our approval (to wit, viruses). so, we’d best get in line behind the alpha and understand where we fit into things. And remember…
Just whistle while you work
And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place
So hum a merry tune
It won’t take long when there’s a song to help you set the pace
And as you sweep the room
Imagine that the broom is someone that you love
And soon you’ll find you’re dancing to the tune
When hearts are high the time will fly so whistle while you work
So whistle while you work