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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What We See Isn't Always What We'll Get

The people in the following 3 situations have something in common. Once at Occupy, I was telling some fellow activists who are Black and live in New York City about how protesters were arrested in some of the suburbs where I was protesting. The police were gentle and respectful when arresting those protesters and the people I was telling this to could not believe it.

I was talking with a political conservative friend of mine. We did agree on somethings, but one thing this person was adamant about is that this they did not trust the government at all. Therefore this friend wanted the government to have as little power as possible.

 
When writing about religion, Vladimir Lenin wrote the following (click here for the source):
Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze,   in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man. 

What the people in these stories have in common is that they generalized what they had personally observed to all cases. My fellow activists who were Black were experiencing a different relationship with the police than what the protesters whom I witnessed protesting in the suburbs experienced and therefore they could not believe what I witnessed. Suppose they had had better experiences with the police, would they have a better view of the police? And turnabout is fair play here. Suppose those of us who like the police saw how some minorities who live in the cities are mistreated, would they see the need for movements like Black Lives Matter? Likewise, if my friend had lived in a nation where the government was responsive to the needs of the people, would my friend have fewer qualms over the government gaining some power? And suppose Lenin had witnessed Christians or people from other faiths who helped free workers from exploitation, would he have a more nuanced view of religion in general and Christianity in particular?

Sometimes what we believe to be possible and impossible depends on the size of the circles in which we travel. However, there is a growing trend that is threatening us from thinking about expanding those circles. That grow trend is the current increase in tribalism. We are witnessing a tribalism on a national level in some Eastern European nations, England, and the US. This national tribalism exalts our own groups as being superior over others. And this exaltation, which is really a search for personal significance through group association, is not going to encourage us to expand the circles in which we travel nor is it going to spur us on to learn from others. 

We should note here that tribalism is not restricted to national identity. Tribalism can exist in any group to which we belong. I know from some of the groups I belong to that there is a fair amount of tribalism. Take Christian fundamentalists for example. Tribalism has hit many of my fellow Christian fundamentalists hard with the result of making us more insular.

But we should also note that nationalism is not the same as self-rule. The current British exodus from the European Union is often listed as an example of economic nationalism. That means those who favor a more global economy are going to associate tribalism with some attempts at self rule by calling it economic nationalism. This is done in order to persuade others into agreeing with them. But here, we need to remember that there is in any form of tribalism, a sense of superiority over others. Tribalism, on a national level, resorts in a search for more than just self-rule. Meanwhile, self-rule can simply be a yearning for democracy.


But getting back to the subject, it seems that before we so easily arrive at conclusions about people, groups, ideas, and so forth, we need to expand the circles in which we travel. We need to widen those circles  in order to see if what we think is impossible is actually possible. And we need to discover if what we know is the rule for us could be an exception for others. Once we travel in wider circles, either we will have our previous beliefs confirmed or we will be surprised by what we see. And not only that, we will be making dents into the advances tribalism is making in the world today.


 

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