By Jesse D. Palmer
Our response to the daily tsunami of distraction, lies and contradictions has to go beyond just resistance, because that gives our oppressors the power set the course, and puts us into a defensive and ultimately inferior position. History is about stories and what we desperately need isn’t just to gum up the works of petty tyrants and fools. What we really need — and what has been hard to formulate — is a powerful, clear, inspiring counter-narrative that meets fear with hope, hate with love, confusion with calm, and selfishness with community.
What got the world to this place with nationalism on the rise is a striking vacuum of vision and positive options. While it can seem like climate change is off the political radar and almost invisible in the US, perhaps on a subconscious level the dying world is preventing us from believing in the future itself — pushing people towards giving in, isolation and tribalism.
Or maybe it’s the way capitalism and high tech keeps a lot of people very busy but can’t supply the psychic and spiritual things humans need. Gentrification, smart phones and all the rest of it systematically tears up our neighborhoods, our time to sit and think, families, culture and traditions — and we get no sense of meaning, place or direction to replace what we’ve lost.
Whatever is missing that is driving so many of us to lose our way, our best defense against these forces is a good offense — and that is mostly about ideas, the conversations we have and the communities we build, not about protest marches or scuffles with flag-carrying morons.
I don’t have the answers and I strongly suspect no one does right now. Sitting with so much uncertainty is profoundly uncomfortable. I hope we can stay present with our fears and confusion rather than running away or trying to distract ourselves, because staying present may lead to growth and insight. It’s also an important time to hold those close to you and find community, find time to talk to each other, listen, pose questions and try to figure things out as best as we can. I hope we can have compassion for ourselves and those around us when we feel lost, scared, or hopeless, but let’s not succumb to these emotions and become paralyzed with despair.
We need to be much better at saying what we’re for because you can’t beat something with nothing. This was where the Occupy movement in 2011 hit a wall — many of us had pieces of a program but we couldn’t articulate it clearly enough so that it could become a viable alternative. We weren’t focused enough, numerous enough and socially diverse enough to put the solutions we were able to articulate into practice.
The slogan of Resistance is helping people unify, but there are fundamental limits around organizing against a single distasteful individual. We can start by understanding the social forces that are on the rise and then follow through to see how they relate to the colonialism, racism, patriarchy and economic
inequality that have plagued us for centuries. Out of this, we can offer both general and specific alternatives and solutions.
It has been pathetic — sad — to see certain politicians’ deep insecurity around the idea of masculinity. They’ve tried to mask their fear by seizing on simplistic macho signifiers — increasing the military budget, building walls, dropping the biggest bomb — and attacking anything they associated with women — “weak” things like healthcare, food for kids and the elderly, science, the arts, the humanities, schools and anything that reeks of tolerance, cooperation, empathy or caring. There is something paradoxical about the most powerful and privileged feeling so threatened and under siege.
Perhaps our counter-narrative can address the psychological aspects of what’s going on by providing more cheerful alternatives to the deeply unhappy and unsatisfied — unsatisfiable — world view of right wing movements. There is still a lot of joy we experience in the world even amidst so much inequality, oppression and environmental damage — I want us to own that, breath it and broadcast it. Perhaps our positive life force — our existence, our communities and connections, and our creative actions to make the world a better place — can counter our oppressors’ insecurity and emptiness. The best way to defend diversity, liberation and sustainability may be to live it, make it and grow it.
On a concrete level, our articulation of what we’re for needs to engage with wealth inequality and injustice — concerns that transcend political divisions but have been harnessed by nationalists to divide rather than unite people. The threat of environmental collapse is a secret, invisible core of the spiritual collapse that has opened doors for fear and hate. It is no coincidence that right wing movements love coal and pipelines, and deny climate science. The realization that we’ve reached ecological limits is scary and it’s relatively recent — we’re still adjusting to the idea. Some people have achieved acceptance and are seeking ecological sustainability, but many others are in various states of denial, anger or bargaining.
There will be comeuppance. While it may seem as if those in power are acting with impunity and control all the structures of power, the status quo cannot be maintained. There are too many contradictions between fact and fiction, promises made and promises broken, the interests of those in power and the interests of regular people. Industrial society as it is currently organized and endless economic growth under capitalism are incompatible with the earth’s survival.
The fight against capitalism pits the 99% against the 1%. Nationalists and their supporters from the capitalist class are eager for the 99% to fight amongst themselves — race against race, nation state against nation state, rural vs. urban, coasts vs. flyover states — division and polarization are a goal in and of itself.
We need to stop playing into this game by unwittingly escalating false divisions, and try to focus on unity, listening, healing and solidarity. When we’re tempted to dehumanize people with whom we disagree by assuming we understand what’s motivating them or what’s in their mind, maybe it’s time to step back and see each person as an individual capable of change and growth, and deserving of empathy. A lot of people who may have picked up right wing ideas are suffering from disorienting social and economic change and our love might help them change more than our hatred.
If solidarity has any meaning, it doesn’t just mean solidarity within a tiny politically air-tight clique eager to give the middle finger to everyone who hasn’t learned our code language. Solidarity is big, broad, messy and hard because it means working out differences that threaten to divide us so we can focus on the real enemies and the more fundamental contradictions and problems confronting human society and the planet.
Ideally, we need to unite and bring new people into our communities while those who defend authoritarianism and the status quo fractionalize in their struggles for power.
The existing structures are crumbling around us in ways we can’t predict or control. Something will replace what is being destroyed so now isn’t the time for despair or retreat, which turns decisions about the future over to corporate and governmental authoritarians. It’s up to us to exist and create for beauty, sharing, justice, freedom, sustainability and love with all the fiber of our beings, while still retaining our modesty, willingness to listen to others and time to experience wonder.