An Appeal To Our Common Humanity
It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. It can be all too easy to hate and despise those who are different from us. Those who come from different lands, have different skin colors, believe in different gods, identify by different genders, or agree with different politics. It is an easy thing to love your friends, family, and spouse, those close to you, but it is not so easy to love those outside of those circles. Nor is it always rewarding. When I say “love”, I refer not to “philia”, or the love between friends, but to Martin Luther King’s “agape”: the transcendent love for the human race. While the friendship between peoples of different backgrounds is a rich and powerful thing, we need not be personal friends with everyone we meet to respect their life and liberty, to permit them to pursue their dreams, and to do justice to them as we would want justice done. We need only recognize their humanity, the humanity we all share.
Hate is a strong word and often confused with anger. Anger, when it is righteous, can be a positive force in the fight for justice, but anger properly implemented does not work alone. It is a feeling that works in tandem with sadness for our loss, joy for our triumph, and empathy for those against us. Hate has no such balance. Hate is a state of mind that brings all other feelings under its heel. It is an ugly, selfish emotion, one that never seeks to satisfy justice, but only its own avarice. It demands nothing less than the complete humiliation of its object, and is almost never satisfied. Hate is the most deceitful emotion, because it hides under the guise of anger, but it hides not only itself. It hides revenge under the guise of redress. It hides injustice under the guise of justice. It hides pettiness under the guise of wisdom. Too many in our country, and around the world, are diseased with that hatred. They cling to it at their own peril, and degrade their own minds.
Whereas hate subjugates and cheapens knowledge, love embraces and elevates it. Knowledge, without love, gave us the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger and the chemical warfare of Bashar Al-Assad. Love, without knowledge, gave us the socialism of Hugo Chavez and the ineptitude of Mother Teresa. Love must be the aim of knowledge, and knowledge must be the guide of love. To quote the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, “Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love. But if people are not intelligent, they will be content to believe what they have been told, and may do harm in spite of the most genuine benevolence.”
Loving wisely doesn’t always mean debate and discussion with fascists, racists, and communists, whose ideas are already far from decent humanity, but it also doesn’t mean preemptive violence against such people. Our honor must shame their dishonor. Our humility must shame their arrogance. Our compassion must shame their spite. It is critical that we continue to criticize falsehoods and dismantle wicked ideologies, but more so than this, we must also present alternatives. If we only attack those who falsely attempt to answer problems while refusing to present our own, it is of little favor to those who continue to suffer from the problem. If there are better ways for the righteous to live, then we must be the first to show them.
Our souls have been rattled by the acts of political cruelty and violence committed over the past few weeks. Envelopes containing raw materials for ricin were sent to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Admiral John Richardson, and President Donald Trump. Pipe bombs were sent to many prominent Trump critics, President Barrack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Philanthropist George Soros, Senator Kamala Harris, Lobbyist Tom Steyer, Representative Maxine Waters, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Senator Cory Booker, Actor Robert D. Niro, CIA Director John O. Brennan, and NSA Director James Clapper. Two black people, Vicki Lee Jones, and Maurice E. Stallard, were shot in Louisville, Kentucky by a man who had earlier tried to shoot up a black church. Eleven elderly Jews were massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in what is now the worst antisemitic attack in American history. Their names were Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. In Florida, an open misogynist slew two women, Maura Binkley and Dr Nancy Van Vessem, in a yoga studio. That such levels of hate continue to persist in America saddens me beyond measure. We’ve come so far, and yet are still so far behind.
A great deal of media commentary has revolved around the rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan and Donald Trump. Specifically the role that these figures have played making our atmosphere so toxic. We should refrain from holding Trump and Farrakhan personally responsible for every wicked act done in their names. Some people would be hateful and deranged regardless of whether or they not followed these figures. Trump and Farrakhan are symptoms of larger problems, problems that have long predated them and will long outlive them. That being said, their hands aren’t exactly clean, either. Trump and Farrakhan are two sides of the same rot. It is the height of hypocrisy to support one while criticizing the other. Both figures thrive on an identity politic that appeals to people’s worst fears as means of solving their most persistent problems.
Farrakhan came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, speaking to the racism and poverty that still ails black people to this day. For these grievances he blames the devilish whites and Jews, nor was he kind to dissent, leading the demonization of Malcolm X after his apostasy. Trump became a serious political contender in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the debacle of the Iraq War, and a historic decline of manufacturing jobs. He spoke to the economic frustration and anxiety that many had with neoliberal and neoconservative leadership. He also spoke to the fears of immigration and terror that seized many in the white middle class. His proposed solutions to these fears were xenophobic, a wall on the border of Mexico and a ban on Muslims entering the country. He also empowered the backlash against liberalism and a black president. Is it so odd a coincidence that Obama’s successor is one demanded his birth certificate? Is it a mere accident that Hillary’s opponent was an open misogynist accused multiple times of sexual misconduct? Is it a pure act of god that Trump began his 2016 campaign by maligning undocumented immigrants from Mexico as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists?
What Trump and Farrakhan spread is a spiritual poison, and those who accommodate it shame only themselves. Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour cannot present themselves as activists for racial equality while they praise and associate with one who spreads conspiracies of the Synagogue of Satan. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. can’t say with a straight face that they defend family values while supporting one who boasts on tape of groping women and kissing them without consent. I understand that there are those who have joined hands with these figures for purely political reasons, but such actions must be put away into the past. There remains hope, even, that supporters of Trump and Farrakhan can be brought out from the abyss. My own life is a testament to this. For ten years I was an ardent follower of messiah claimant Rev. Sun Myung Moon. His religion preached bigoted and authoritarian demagoguery little different from the bile of Trump or Farrakhan. However, once I was introduced to the critiques of his falsehoods, and saw that better ways of living were possible, I turned towards the light. Minds can still be changed and hearts can still be moved. If people can exit Neo-Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, Scientology, and the Westboro Baptist Church, then surely there is liberation for the followers of Farrakhan and Trump.
However, in terms of damage wrought to the nation, Trump and Farrakhan are not equivalent. Trump is the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world. Farrakhan heads a minor junk religion in Chicago. Farrakhan isn’t crafting policies that effect millions in America and millions more across the world. Most intelligent people don’t expect much from crackpots like Farrakhan, but we do expect more from the commander-in-chief. The Trump experience has given us all a greater appreciation of the symbolic power of the president. The president is a leader who not only represents the nation, but sets an example for all citizens to follow. The example of Trump is far from the spirit of George Washington, who famously wrote in defense of religious minorities, “To bigotry, no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.” Alas. We must not wait on Trump to be the model citizen he will never be. It is we, the citizens of good conscience, who must inspire our fellows to be better. Think of the Tree of Life, for which that synagogue was named. The root from which, out of Africa, we have all sprouted, the very stuff from which we understand the universe, and our place in it. We are the fruit of that Tree, and it is to that Tree we must return. We must return to our common humanity.