We Were Made for Unity, not Partisan Division
Six Concepts From the Baha’i Faith that Support Life Beyond Adversarial Politics
The principle teaching of the Baha’i Faith is the oneness of humanity. “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” wrote Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, over 100 years ago. Humanity is essentially interdependent; the oneness of humanity is a spiritual truth that is confirmed by all of the sciences of our era. The fundamental purpose of the Baha’i Faith, therefore, is to “promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.”
Right now in the US, the idea of fostering the spirit of love and fellowship with someone across the political divide seems disingenuous at best, and life threatening at worst. Our deepest fears and longings related to economics, race equity, immigration, and justice, are all bound into the values of our political party. Our sense of social progress and justice is tied into our hopes for victory over the other side.
But if we really want to promote the oneness of humanity, why do we accept a system of social organization that necessarily divides us into camps and pits us against each other? How can we expect to arrive at a state of unity with anything less than a process that inherently builds unity?
As a member of the Baha’i Faith, I vote, but I do my best not to identify with any political party and I avoid engaging in political activity. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a sense of justice or a vision for radical social transformation. I do. I just think that partisanship is fundamentally inimical to the principle of humanity’s oneness, and therefore it can not logically move us forward to a place where the principle of oneness forms the basis of governance.
The Limits of Partisan Politics
Political polls continually show that Americans are bitterly divided along party lines, but this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. If anything, it should confirm that the Western liberal democratic tradition of multiparty competition is working as intended.
Our system is built around enormous assumptions about human reality: primarily that humans are selfish and competitive by nature, and that it is in our own best interest to be antagonistic towards the needs, values, and interests of our political rivals. Partisan politics demands that we always have “winners” and “losers”.
Across party lines, Americans are cynical towards government and mistrustful of corporate, financial, and political corruption that serves the interests of only a few powerful people or groups. But, to many, no other way of social interaction seems possible. We are literally caught in a frantic cycle of adversarial political backlash, and social media only seems to fuel our anger, fear, and frustration.
Within this narrative, radical change is framed in terms of 1. rallying against the unfavored party or politician, and 2. electing the right party or politician who can transform society into what we want it to be.
But regardless of whatever party or politician is in power, the real root of the problem is that we are trapped in a divisive “us versus them” framework of competition, with all of its inevitable corruptions, that allows for certain voices and interests to be privileged over others, and which paralyzes ordinary citizens from becoming agents of change in their own communities. It’s the partisan political system itself, with all of its narrow, built-in assumptions about human reality that forms one of the biggest obstacles to realizing the truly united America that so many long for.
If we want real radical social transformation, we shouldn’t be looking for the perfect new candidate. We should be in search of a whole new way of relating to each other. We need a bold new vision of society to actively work towards.
The only way to really break free of the profound social disunity in our society politically, racially, religiously, or otherwise, is to find a way to build true, authentic human solidarity, in a systematic way, among all people. If we really want to see positive, radical social change, we have to learn to build unity.
How do we more towards a more inclusive reality beyond the trappings of adversarial partisan politics? The following are a few unity-building concepts that are central to the Baha’i Faith. They aren’t answers in themselves, but rather they suggest a new way of looking at the world that can allow for diverse people to contribute to a dynamic process of community transformation.
1. The Oneness of Humanity is a Universal Truth
We as a human race are increasingly coming to recognize our oneness. We are one interconnected human family in the most literal sense: genetic studies prove that every one of us is a distant cousin to every other human being on Earth. We live on one common planetary homeland and share one common biosphere, and we are now living in a moment of intensifying global interdependence. Pollution and war in one part of the world causes a ripple that effects every other part of the planet, whether by contaminating a shared water source or by displacing millions of people across borders. We are so deeply connected it is as if we are the cells of one body, and if one part of the human body is sick or distressed, the rest of the body will suffer as well. In a new model of social organization, recognizing the fundamental truth of humanity’s oneness is paramount.
2. Humans Have the Capacity for Cooperation
The idea that humans are essentially selfish and must fight for power over others is part of the fabric of American political life. But humans aren’t intractably corrupt, selfish, and aggressive; we also have the capacity for cooperation, reciprocity, and mutual service. What we need, now more than ever, are forums for community development that revolve around consultation and mutual respect. We must seek out new models of governance that reflect the human capacity for altruism.
3. Diversity is Necessary for Unity
Unity does not mean uniformity; diversity is needed to bring new perspectives and innovation to solving our complex problems. Through a Baha’i model, the voices of those who have been historically the most marginalized must be brought to the center. The colonial and imperial projects that have oppressed masses of people over hundreds of years have their legacy in social structures that still value the privileged few. Real social prosperity can’t be realized until we have a framework that incorporates diverse voices from all segments of society into the work of governing human affairs.
4. Social Change Demands Universal Participation
Americans are mired in a culture of waiting for the “experts” to solve our problems: whether we are waiting for elected politicians or other community leaders to make things right. How can we empower each other to see ourselves as agents of change within our local communities and focus on the positive change we can each contribute to? How can we break free from the false dichotomies of “the advanced” and “the backward”, the “developed” and the “underdeveloped”? All people must have a seat at the table, because each person is an expert of his or her life.
5. History can be Reframed
Just like the development of an individual through stages of infancy, childhood, and adolescence, humanity has evolved from a “childhood” of independent tribal societies through an “adolescence” of more complex and integrated national communities. We now stand at the cusp of a collective coming of age: the emergence of a unified global civilization. More and more, we can see the emergence of worldviews that emphasize humanity’s oneness. Some people still cling to old narratives that say, “it always has been and always will be this way,” but we are living through a time of advancing global interdependence that has never been seen before. It is now the choice before everyone on earth to learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.
6. Humans Have Both a Spiritual and Material Dimension
Our spiritual dimension is as important our material dimension, and we desperately need social structures that provide for the development of both. This is not an assertion of a particular religious ideology. Rather, it rather expresses the idea that many people do feel love and connection to the earth, to other humans, and to that unknowable essence that some people call God. Beyond having basic material necessities for survival, people need spiritual healing. People need to feel loved. The development of spiritual qualities such as love, justice, trustworthiness, patience, and gratitude, help us to connect authentically with each other and to contribute to social progress.
Moving Beyond the Political Divide
The solutions to the complex problems we face will not come easy, and they can’t be reduced into simple slogans. The reality of unity will only emerge organically in relation to how well we as citizens are building authentic bonds of trust and establishing new forums for collaboration.
Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, warned the world, “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective.” We can consume our time rallying against the continual assaults of a defective model of governance, or we can devote our energies towards promoting a new set of values and a new way of relating.
More than ever, we need to replace outdated modes of thought and behavior with a worldview that recognizes the oneness of humanity.
The international Bahá’í community includes roughly six million people, drawn from over 2000 ethnic backgrounds and residing in every country on Earth. This extremely diverse community uses a unique system of democratically-elected assemblies that govern Bahá’í affairs at the international, national, and local level in more than 15,000 communities.
For more information on the Baha’i Faith, click here.
For further reading into the Baha’i model of governance, click here.