Saturday, May 27, 2017

Let's Stop Circling Those Wagons

The left has long been hit with the criticism that they are obsessed, to their detriment, and the detriment of all, with identity politics and victimology. While there's plenty of truth there, the irony is that now it is the right that appears even more obsessed with identity and victimology than the left is. Just look at all those Sarah Palin Republicans, those Evangelical Christians, and those Bannonesque white nationalists whose vociferous rallying cry is that they get always the shit end of the stick in a nation dominated by liberal coastal elites.

The victim status claimed by so many identity groups isn't just pure paranoia, of course. Virtually every group is treated unfairly some of the time, and some more so than others. The trouble occurs when any questioning of one's own group is seen as a slippery slope which will result in that group's annihilation. This is the "circling the wagons" approach to identity, that idea being that closing ranks in the face of criticism or threat, hardening the borders of identity, is the way to avoid losing identity completely. Thus a Christian can't admit that they suspect their religion isn't superior to the other religions, a "straight" person can't admit to having a homosexual thought, a liberal can't question Black Lives Matter, a conservative can't question police behavior, the wealthy can't admit their status rests on a dubious foundation, and so on.

It should be acknowledged that given social power dynamics, the risk of un-circling the wagons is greater for some than others. Yet there is no other option if we are to succeed and thrive, both individually and collectively. The Buddhist concept of No Self is useful here. While we function as unique individuals, ultimately when we think of identity there is no static entity that just exists "as is," that can be held in one's hands or set upon a shelf. What we call "self" is always in flux, and there are no real boundaries. The task then is to accept this truth and consciously see that one is always morphing in directions that are creative, nonviolent, and poised to further the growth of not just oneself and one's group, but also of those others.

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