Trump, Ghomeshi, evil and the addiction to evil, privilege, and the limitations of activism
Who among us is unprivileged?
And who among us is not addicted to power?
We attack people for being privileged. Privilege is seen as the root of all kinds of evil. Activists attack privileged people.
Activists have their own privilege. This should be encouraging to activists. If an activist has privilege, they have some of the same evil root in them as is in the people they wish were not privileged, and thus by understanding themselves in a deep way, they understand evil and what to do about it, how to approach it, and how to approach people who have evil inside them.
Really unprivileged people are those who don’t have the resources to go after evil. Even if you are exhausted in the fight against privilege, you get to be fighting for good. The really unprivileged people are too weak to be heroes, or aspiring heroes, like you.
When we are young, we watch movies of the heroism of the good guy (we play video games of such). We talk about great men and women. We are fed heroes. We get into the excitement of doing good, the prestige of it. The sense that we are allowed to exert our full powers — we’re fighting for good. The sense that we can make things right in the world, if we’re just courageous, talented and loved enough by the universe (this “love from the universe” being our experience of what could also be called “luck”). And so, in becoming heroes, we get to spread our wings, we get to adopt an identity that — really — is exactly what should boost our self-image.
And of course we really love the people that we’re fighting for, that’s in there too. Every field of wheat is sowed together with weeds, and (almost) every field of weeds has some useful plants in it.
The love of power is the root of all kinds of evil. And to do good is to exert power. Some people exert power in submission to love. Some people are heroes, exert power, out of a love of power. And each of us is prone to having a mixture of the two spirits, or vibes.
Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted today. Is it likely that he is not an abusive person? It does not seem so to me. I remember listening to a few Ghomeshi interviews before I’d heard of any scandal. In one of them, with St. Vincent, he seemed kind of aggressive, yet in a light way. He pried into her in an uncomfortable way, but lightly, backing off. He had a kind of energy under control. With the other interviews (things I heard late at night on terrestrial radio, whose subjects I can’t remember), he similarly had a kind of “on”ness to him, underneath his soft-spokenness. This man is certainly “on”, no matter what else is going on in his life.
And we love “on”ness. We’re fools for it. (This goes for everyone who knew him or even got into his radio presenting style, not just the women he was involved with.) It tells us “this guy makes things happen”. We go weak for it, we want to believe it’s true, because we’re the ones addicted to power, as much as the abuser is. If we become part of him, hitch ourselves to him, we power will exert ourselves according to our merged will, because we have merged with him.
In fact, I think it’s possible that Ghomeshi was not addicted to power, not in the same way we are, but that he had given himself over to it, or was in the recurring or continual process of giving himself over to it, satiating himself with it. To be satiated on power is a form of power. To be hungry is a vulnerability. To desire intensely can drive a person to do great things (like “ending oppression” — or staying in a relationship with a difficult (abusive) person), but the process of doing great things itself is a vulnerability. There’s a courage to doing great things, putting your heart on the line, doing what matters to you. This vulnerability is what makes humans beautiful, but also exposes you to the attacks of people who play it safe, and to the temptations that come from your own intense hungers.
Look at Donald Trump. For all that people accuse him of being egotistical, he’s not a hungry man. He looks like, talks like, a reptile who has fed. His fedness somehow lulls us. His opponents have never taken him seriously because in a sense he’s never really registered, in the “underneath” part of us, as a rabid person.
Sure, he’s been called a clown. We think we’re dismissing him because he’s a clown. But the thing that allows him to be a clown is that we think he’s not serious, or that the clown persona of Trump isn’t something that he’s chosen, or which has evolved along with, his electric deadenedness, in all its danger. We’ve been lulled, which allowed us to see him as a clown, perhaps the clowning was part of the lulling, but there’s also his satiated way of talking, of how nothing fazes him, as though his big meal keeps him always a bit sleepy and thus unaffectable.
There’s a kind of emptiness and deadenedness to power which we mirror, which makes us empty and deadened inside ourselves, allowing us to give ourselves over to the powerful man. The powerful man has an “of-course”ness to him, an offhandedness, a casualness, an awareness-extinguishing power to appear, to feel, to vibe as, normal, when in fact he’s completely exceptional in ways that should make us suspicious.
Can we find “of-course”ness, “on”ness and “this guy makes things happen”ness in activism communities? Of course, that’s what gives activism much of (all of?) its electricity. (You can still fight and die for someone you love without any electricity.) Activism serves to fulfill our deep, half- or unacknowledged lusts for power, our animal craving to not only get out of our cages, but also stretch our wings and really soar. Activism is a suspicious activity.
Our age likes to accuse people of bullying. Donald Trump bullies and white male (but not necessarily wealthy) boys bully on the playground. The root of bullying is a kind of cruelty, a marginalization of the voices of others, those vulnerable. It involves a feeling that you can do what you’re going to do and get away with it. The other is marginalized because they can’t really get back at you. They can’t speak up for themselves without being exposed to the shame that you enforce. They’re helpless before you, and you know it
Can we find bullying in its inner root in activist circles? Yes. If you look on Twitter you can find people being bullies “for a good cause”, calling names, making insinuations, etc. I’m sure if you called them on it they’d bully your anti-bullying with clear consciences because they’re using bullying to fight the “real bad guys”. They have the privilege to get to punch without being exposed to punches, because they happen to be on the good side. (Of course, an activist bully may, offline, be quite vulnerable. People sometimes, but not always, do apparently cheap, “invincible” things out of fear and a deeper vulnerability.)
This isn’t to say that white male privilege is better than activist privilege. It’s not to say that activists should give up. But activists, I think, make a big mistake by otherizing the evil and the slavery to evil which they perceive in their enemies.
In our day, activists tend to think in terms of warfare. It used to be that we’d demonstrate in the streets, and we still do sometimes, and this was meant to be war, so show the other that we could fight. We want to fight in our laws, to make illegal what used to be legal, and to legalize what was once illegal. We want to fight in our culture, fight language with language, concepts with concepts. As a result, we have to otherize and demonize the opponent. Give no ground, even to what might threaten to be truth or logic, because to do so would be to open us up to our rapacious (yet well-fed) reptilian opponent.
We tend to want to fight in the courts of justice, whether formal courts or informal. Consider the case of Ghomeshi. The justice system acquitted him because it was impossible to prove the testimony of the witnesses against him. Sometimes sexual assault cases lead to conviction. But it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t. The presumption of innocence, which seems to be a good principle in general, combined with the difficulty of proving consent, leave it wide-open for contests like the one against Ghomeshi, in which it’s the word of one person against another (the word of one person who’s had their voice half-robbed against another who has been practicing his voice for a long time), and when in doubt, the accused goes free. It seems to me unlikely that most sexual assaults can be successfully prosecuted in court.
What does this mean for women? They can carry pepper spray (but a charming person could talk them around that). They can learn self-defense moves, but then, so could a man, and he’d be stronger. They can be even more afraid and suspicious of men than they already are (and yet sometimes they’d let their guards down, to a skilled man). It doesn’t seem that empowerment and fighting are enough to solve the whole problem, or at least, the fraction of the problem that can actually be solved.
Given that problems usually aren’t completely solved, it becomes important to open up more fronts against them. Consider this: people are born neither rapists nor victims. Over time, they develop into adults. Some adults are rapists, some are victims, some are neither. But, at age 18, how many people are rapists? Yet, some of those 18 year olds later become rapists. At age 25, how many are? Some are, but most aren’t, and some will later become rapists. At age 35, some are rapists, some are not, some will be. So on. How can you tell who is going to be a rapist, at age 18 or 25 (or 10 or 15)? How do you know that you won’t become a rapist? You may be unable to foresee yourself being such a person. But human becoming is sometimes strange. How many of the Presidents of the United States looked presidential at age 18? Perhaps some of them did. But I would guess some of them wouldn’t have been the first ones we would pick out of their peers, to become President.
You don’t really know that you’ll never become a rapist. It’s a progression to become a rapist (or, to broaden things, a bully, an emotional abuser, etc.). You don’t know the future. Who are rapists? Are they people who master everything, including other peoples’ bodies? Or are they the slaves to their sexual desires? Or are they the slaves to their desires to power… their tendency to master… But you do know if there’s something inside you which works against evil and slavery to evil, if there’s a living tendency that frees you and convicts you and leads to repentance.
This inner seed, plant, leaven, direction, is something that can be taught to or encouraged in a young person, to keep them from even coming close to being a rapist (or bully, or emotional abuser, etc.). This inner growth speaks even if they take a wrong turn, to tend to push them toward health and purity of heart. It can’t guarantee that a person will never be abusive. But it’s good reason to have some (but not too much) confidence in your own future becoming being a good thing. It involves an anti-complacency, and a growing love for other people. It’s a good velocity more than a good position, and a good acceleration more than even a good velocity. So it has to be deep in a person, a movement away from fakeness and cheapness, and toward the reality of the other person as one like yourself.
The education of this is something that’s under the power of women, because women tend to be given care over children. Women (and men) have an opportunity to raise their sons so that they do not grow up to be Ghomeshi, disciplining them and providing them encouragement when they do right, loving them when they do wrong, both to accept them and to hold them to a higher standard. Men can be role models to their sons and nephews. Friends can confront friends — as friends, not as others — and remain friends and accept each other back. This requires that we look on each other with love, as people who belong to each other, and come from the same place spiritually (dismal, callous and vulnerable) and are going to the same place (truth and maturity). You have to work on the root of evil within yourself. As you struggle and grow against it, your sons, nephews, friends (husbands? Though husbands are sometimes a burned-out and overly contested field) will have the chance to see it in your face. You can be the opposite of a well-fed reptile, facially and in your direction and vibe, you can be hungry and yet not rapacious, hungering for something it’s beautiful to hunger for.
The stance of “You are privileged, I demand you to be taken to account, no, you can’t make this be about my privilege, you’re the bad guy (I’m the good guy)” is sometimes effective in producing repentance (I suppose?). But I don’t think it’s how you’d talk to your son or husband or nephew or friend, and these are the people who actually “have to” listen to you, the ones who are least likely to look at you as “dismissable other” in turn. If you want to head off evil at the root, you have to be like a gardener who gets in between every plant, careful not to disturb the nearby plants, and pulls weeds, one at a time, by the root. The activist, Internet, demonstration, petition approach is like using an edging tool because you don’t have the time, and some collateral damage is fine by you. The root remains, and you embody weedlikeness in your hastiness and callousness, the root remains in you.