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Inoculate Yourself Against the Republican Plague
Stand Up. Fight Back.
That’s what we do – it’s what we’ve always done -- when our rights are under attack. And make no mistake, everything we hold dear is under attack. In just the past few weeks, the coordinated onslaught of the right-wing fascist machine has intensified, with reactionary forces across the United States attacking transgender children, banning books, rolling back LGBTQI rights, announcing the end of Roe v. Wade -- and foreshadowing far worse.
Everywhere you look, the white Christian nationalist authoritarians are winning. So, what are we going to do about it? The answer to this question has never been more urgent. Without a coordinated response and without strategy, we will lose, and the consequences will be catastrophic. In this week’s newsletter, we delve into the underlying dynamics that animate the right and its opponents. Then we detail specifically how we stand up and fight back to inspire, re-energize, and restore the right kind of faith in this great nation and its people.
“The Never Ending Story”
Modern America is rapidly turning into Fantasia from “The Never Ending Story.” “The Nothing” in that story is a perfect analog for the nihilism, anomie, hopelessness, and faithlessness sweeping the country. The Nothing was the same sort of shocking, overwhelming, unstoppable yet nebulous force we face here today -- one that stems from our wicked systems problems and subsequent vicious cycles being spun out like so many tornadoes from a hurricane. The key clue to The Nothing’s effectiveness was clearly articulated in the movie by the beast Gmork – who served as the servant of the power behind the nothing: “those without hope are the easiest to control.”
Hope is required both for societal health and to generate effective action, but, back of that, faith is required to sustain hope. Faith requires a discipline and a program, which have historically been supplied and fueled by religion, ideology, patriotism, or a combination of all these nested within a national and/or regional culture. As the power of American national culture and number of organized religions’ adherents have waned dramatically since the 1960s, ideology has risen to the fore, hijacking patriotism along with it -- with its major line of action the weaponizing of Christianity as a political force while stripping it of any positive moral power. This is, indeed, quite a trick, having previously been pulled off only by the Pharisees, Nazis, Communists, and the devil -- if I have my history right.
Anyone watching Evangelical Christians lying prostrate before Trump knows that they do not possess any faith in Christ, indeed, have any faith in what we have characterized as religion historically. The people who proudly wear “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets “honor” Christ’s life and death with the following contradictions:
What they’re supposed to be doing: Jesus said: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” Matthew 22:37-40; “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” Matthew 6:33; “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44; “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” John 8:7.
What they actually do: The right honors these teachings by: demonizing immigrants, denigrating democratic voters, and disenfranchising people of color; abandoning the New Testament for the gospel of prosperity; praying that God will persecute their enemies -- and voting to do the equivalent in case he fails to listen; blaming and shaming women, and systematically reducing their power and rights, because of their inability to look at themselves and the patriarchy they uphold as a root cause of social pathology.
The right has become totally secular and political in orientation individually and collectively – and their constant screaming about the nation losing its faith is their meta-projection – but of course this specific projection is only one amongst many. For a specific example, check out this link to a recent article on MTG and her own brand of religious lunacy: https://www.salon.com/2022/05/11/how-mtg-and-other-christian-nationalists-use-their-power/
Most liberals have similarly lost faith, in the nation, in their fellow Americans, and in their ability to influence outcomes much outside of themselves and their immediate circle -- and have thus turned inward. And in this inward turn is the right’s true victory, perhaps best captured in this John Stuart Mill quote: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”
Worse, in some sort of bizarre political suicide, the Democratic Party is constraining -- and in many cases actively trying to beat down -- progressives, who paradoxically represent the only energy, program and faith remaining on the left. For instance, in response to falling poll numbers, caused by the utter failure to keep faith with the young, diverse, and progressive crowd that ensured his victory – President Biden recently decided to move (further) to the center and abandon the progressive agenda entirely, in vain hopes of placating Senators Manchin and Synema and improving his party’s chances of retaining control of Congress in the November elections.
So, what we have is essentially a faithless nation with two sides screaming their faithlessness at each other, blaming each other for their own faithlessness, and failing to come to grips with the reality that both suffer from the same disease that simply presents differently based on political viewpoint.
Is all this being driven purposely by some sinister conspiracy? The answer is that it’s complex. But if you want to help fight back you’ve got to struggle through the complexity to reach the simplicity on the other side. Too many of us are trying to either ignore the complexity of our world, or artificially reduce it to fit simple but outmoded worldviews. This is one of the primary reasons we’re losing.
Here’s a taste of the complexity involved. Loss of faith is a side effect, or more accurately a second order system effect, of a vicious cycle in which loss of national purpose and focus, lack of galvanizing national objectives, weaponizing of ideology, monetization of personal sentiment, late-stage capitalism, declining faith in all things, denial of reality, greed, selfishness, anomie, psychological projection, and lack of accountability feed off each other in a sociopolitical race to the bottom. Some of these things just occurred without anyone intending them, which is what we mean by the term second order effect. You have likely heard the term “unintended consequences,” which is the more general term for this phenomenon.
To the degree that these trends are discerned, manipulated and accelerated for political and economic gain, the answer then is, to some degree, yes there is a conspiracy afoot.
Tangible benefits from this dynamic do increasingly accrue to the unscrupulous, unprincipled, and well-positioned, and intangible benefits are provided to the unwitting dupes whose votes, acquiescence, hatred, and ignorance enables this dynamic to proceed. These people are culpable, but we’ve not mustered the political will to hold them accountable -- because we lack the courage of our own convictions.
From a systems perspective, the leverage in arresting this vicious cycle, and eventually generating a virtuous cycle, is to restore hope to the polity, which requires faith to nurture hope along. Aye, and there’s the rub. Faith in what, exactly, and how to enable its generation and widespread adoption?
Religion is a divisive and largely spent force, so from a systems perspective is not an answer. This does not mean that religious belief is itself problematic and must go away, it simply cannot be relied upon as “the answer” to the hope problem.
Ideological orthodoxy, such as that advocated by authoritarians on the left and right, is clearly not the answer, because all ideologies -- by design – are much too simple to address the complexity of the modern world and the needs of diverse societies. They purposely but artificially and unnecessarily create winners, losers, classes and hatreds, and directly contradict what we know from Abraham Maslow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and K. Anders Ericsson about human potential, flow states, and flourishing – about human wants and needs basically.
The right type of nationalism can be a part of the answer, if it is nested inside a multi-faceted solution in which nations leverage their collective resources -- the northern European democracies are good if imperfect models.
But the bigger part of the answer is, for the first time in history, going to be determined by the people themselves, not imposed upon them by even the most benevolent of representative democracies.
Participative Democracy is the framework that can guide us to the answers we seek. It will be augmented with Systems and Design Thinking, and there are multiple useful models for these as well that can be tapped into, although we’ll have to create new models and frames as we move forward into the great unknown.
How might we begin movement towards this new direction in the U.S?
We require a movement to generate sufficient sense of urgency, understanding, energy, participation, and direction to drive change. We have been advocating for such a movement for some time, which we call Just Nations. Its initial purpose must be to secure democracy, which will itself re-constitute hope to some degree. Having done that, it can pivot to creating a socio-political pathway to a better society. Both efforts will allow people to generate faith in themselves and provide them a powerful sense of agency that will snowball into the virtuous cycle we seek, so that we can live our daily lives knowing that democracy is secure and that our societies are finally on an unstoppable improvement path.
Paradoxically, this vector is also the only way to sever the psychological link between authoritarians and that sizeable minority of citizens open to their call. By encouraging robust participation in this movement, and through the improvements themselves, we eliminate the sources of grievance that currently fuel this contingent.
At the end of The Never Ending Story, our reluctant hero Sebastian saves the day by realizing that however ugly reality is, and how hopeless things may appear, victory is up to him, the fight is worthwhile, and that his fears can only be overcome by action. And so it is with us all here in America. Is the last best hope of earth to end with a whimper, or will this challenge bring out the courage and good heartedness that has historically saved this great nation from similar peril?
If you’re looking to join a progressive organization and engage more decisively, the list below should get you started: