The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More on Politics and obsession

Recently on my blog we began a conversation about extreme political positions and mental illness—or drug addiction.  The way that people who hold very strong positions on the Left-Right continuum are using their brains the way junkies do, filtering out conflicting data, rewarding themselves for behaviors that connect them to their political group.  One of my readers  noted quite accurately, that this can also be applied to relationships, exercise addiction, etc.  Excellent thinking!

The original Washington Post article didn’t go into the detail you can find with a little Googling.  The original study seems pretty straight-forward, and simply begs replication.  I think a LOT of people, Left and Right, are going to be unhappy with the results.
The Left (on Air America, for instance) is trumpeting this as evidence of Racism on the Right, without noticing that the study also calls them to task, and in fact suggests that all strongly partisan behavior contains elements of madness.
Religion and politics, right?  Those who follow this blog know that I think they are closer together than anyone wants to admit.  Instead of “Religion” what if we were to say “Transexistential philosophy”?  would that be better?  Specifically that (and these are vectors, not absolutes):

The Right tends to believe that Essence precedes existence.  The soul enters into the world relatively whole and expresses itself.  Thus, the opposition to abortion, and the support for the death penalty. Also, if nutcase religious fanatics bomb buildings, it must be because they are, by nature, corrupt and insane.  Also, they support building prisons more than supporting after-school or “Head Start” programs.  After all—the way we manifest in life is an expression of our “is-ness,” our basic nature.  If it is good, we will thrive and be good people, regardless of the environment we find ourselves in.  And if it is corrupt, well…to heck with rehabilitation, or blaming society!

The Left tends to believe in the opposite: that Existence precedes Essence. That we are relatively Tabula Rosa, or that the soul is like a reef created by our experience in life.  Thus, the support for Abortion rights and the opposition to the Death penalty.  How can we execute someone if society is responsible for what that person became?  Why bring more babies into the world if we cannot care perfectly for the ones we already have?  If terrorists bomb us, we must understand their motivations, right? 

Of course, a sane person can have a serious left or right tilt, and still be open-minded.  But Lord God—if you listen to the dialogue on either side, it’s pretty obvious that sanity is in shorter supply than we might wish.
     I’ve noticed, in a VERY informal non-scientific survey (hah!) that the more balanced a person is in his or her personal life (healthy body, healthy relationship, healthy career) the more likely they are to have a genuinely open mind politically, even if they have strong affiliations.  But a person who is wrecked physically, is in a dysfunctional or defunct relationship, or is financially challenged is far more likely to exhibit rigidity of political or religious thought.  To me, this suggests that they have “stuffed” their pain in one arena, and don’t look at it. This creates a rigid “no-man’s land” in their psyche, an entire arena in which they cannot look at their own garbage, so they externalize their fears into the external world.
     A primary arena of this is race.  EVERY group has the myth that God created them first, and that they are closest to the divine (that is, every group except American blacks, who had their mythology stripped away from them. But that’s another subject.  Perhaps.) Racism, the “we’re better than you are” attitude, is as human as breathing.  If you think you DON’T have it, you’re part of the problem—your racial attitudes are sitting at the level of Unconscious Incompetence, and will influence everything you think and feel about whole groups of people without your conscious mind ever engaging.
     Black Intellectuals get very frustrated with me because I won’t go all Afrocentric with them.  White Conservative Intellectuals get frustrated with me because someone as “intelligent” and “well spoken” as I am should surely see that I have more in common with them than with, well, ahem, “those others.”  Cough.
     I remember a political cartoon by Jules Feiffer, many years ago. In it, a black intellectual and a white intellectual are sitting across the table from each other.  The black man says: “you have your history.  White history.  Written by white men, to promote white power.  We want our history.  Black history.  Written by black men, to promote black power.  Our demand is separate but equal lies.”
     And that’s it right there.  Substitute ANY duality for the words “white” and “black” and you will  touch the core of a serious human problem.  Everyone thinks their right.  The problem is that they can’t see that THE OTHER PERSON CAN BE JUST AS SMART, JUST AS GOOD, AND EQUALLY CORRECT.  They cannot resolve the duality.  Male-Female, Black-White, Conservative-Liberal, Christian-Moslem, Gay-Straight…all sides believe themselves “right” and are locked to the death in a struggle to prove it. All they are really fighting is their own terror.  If I can be “correct” enough, maybe I won’t die, or burn in hell.
     If I can hide in the strongest group, maybe I’ll be safe. 
     No.  There is no safety. There is no salvation.  There is no way to get out of life alive, save in the unity of man, and in love.
     I’ve never suggested that we not defend our country.  Or our families.  Or ourselves.  Or our beliefs.  But beware the leaders who will lie and exaggerate to get the troops riled up to march off.  If they will lie to you about one thing, they will lie about another. 
     And it’s even worse when they don’t know they are lying, or cannot admit it to themselves.  That, in a post-nuclear world, is suicidal insanity.
So I ask you: are you balanced?  Is your body healthy?  In a healthy relationship?  A healthy career?  No?  Then PLEASE entertain the possibility, just the possibility, that your brain isn't processing reality optimally.  That there is an entire corner of your 'living" room where crouches the dustiest mammoth imaginable.  That you can't be certain that your map of reality is accurate at all.  Even if you HAVE these three things cooking, you can't be certain...but isn't it obvious that if you're "blown out" in one of the three, your chances of having a warped lens skyrockets?  Please...just consider the possibility, before you are so damned certain that you see life as it is.  If you did...mightn't you have more love, more health, more success?

Just a thought.

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