Many of us are dissatisfied with our experience of the world. We say we want things to be “better”. If we really want this “better”—whatever that means—of course we need to step up and make it happen. So what should we be doing as individuals, as a nation and as a world society? In the trenches activists like Sophia Burns urges sound strategy and tactics if appropriate change is to be achieved. Others like a blogger who goes by the moniker “Tisias” encourages left-leaning folks to step up their verbal game in order to engage “the enemy” effectively. Others stress sometimes more and sometime less radical approaches to change. All of these actions are absolutely necessary or at least potentially useful. But we should also be taking a long, hard look at who is engaging or should be engaged in such noble civic actions. Before we can answer what we should be doing, perhaps we should first answer the question “Who is ‘We’?”
Who is “We”
As a continuation of our Perspective Series (sG: Perspective I and Perspective II), here are a couple videos of well-known journalists Glen Greenwald and Naomi Klein. Each addresses a series of topics, both highlighting various aspects of self-recognition we all might consider as ways of understanding who “we” really are as we express ourselves through individual and collective choice, tolerance and preoccupation.
An Unhealthy Mythology
Consider this presentation by journalist and award winning author Glen Greenwald. (The video last approx. 25mins.) When we observe various unsavory actions by prominent individuals, particularly those holding key political offices, we tend to express outrage such as “This is not what we are about. This is not who we are”. Glen Greenwald’s response: “Really? Sure it is! This is exactly what our behavior is about.” While such behavior might not reflect the general ideals nor the idea of America, our individual, collective and governmental behavior has reflected exactly those unfair, divisive and exclusionary attitudes and resultant behaviors which have so reviled us of late. Outrage toward current political officials can, too often, express opportunities to scapegoat, to off-load our own culpability onto “him” or “them”. Believing that current behavior by governmental officials and the Oval Office occupant in specific represents a departure from or violation of American norms rather than a reflection of them is, in Mr. Greenwald’s words represents “a very unhealthy mythology to believe”.
Expressed Collective Identity
This second video is an interview with Naomi Klein, Canadian author, journalist and environmental activist. Unlike Mr. Greenwald’s prepared speech, an interviewer from Intelligence Squared focuses on themes from Ms. Klein’s new book, No is Not Enough. Although the topics run somewhat far afield, Ms. Klein reinforces Glen Greenwald’s point about our taking seriously the events we see unfolding in the world and in the country as expressions of ourselves. Specifically, Ms. Klein returns to similar ideas about identity and self-recognition, particularly when she stresses the need for “killing our inner Trump”. (approx. 50mins)
Additionally, Ms. Klein suggests that “we need to find a way to speak about systems” rather than individuals. Last week this blog focused on “paradigms”—the “systems” of which Ms. Klein speaks. We need to work toward depersonalizing the debate about practically everything, remove the cult of personality and spectacle (perhaps triggered by but certainly characterizing the presence of Barack Obama in the U.S. presidency as well as the current Oval Office occupant). We must begin to step past the need to continually imbibe, support and defend the “infotainment” industry that masquerades as “news”—chronicles described by Ms. Klein as spectacle akin to “professional wrestling”. Continuing to pay homage to such spectacle allows us to sit passively, drinking in the drama enacted by others, enjoying our ability to abdicate our own personal responsibility to instill and preserve the “Good” in life experience.
In this regard, we need to transcend our inveterate consumerism which feeds our appetite for vicarious participation in paradigms of wealth and power—the brand promoted by past and present shenanigans of individuals in Washington D.C. We “buy” this brand with our support, toleration as well as our preoccupied maintenance of the spectacle that hangs on scaffolding words like “Russia investigation”, “impending war”, “Daniels” and “Comey”. Such behavior expresses identity—our collective identity. Such behavior shapes who we are and who are becoming as individuals and as a society.
Casting the First Stone
When we think about the behavior of others, attempting to pin the blame on them for this or that, too often we are merely attempting to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our similar actions. Doing this, we miss opportunities to ferret out tenets in ourselves which could use a bit of alteration. Without such change, we—unexamined and wanting in certain ways—are likely to miss the mark as we launch some civic action in the world in an attempt to transform into our own image. This is not at all to suggest that we are terrible people. We are neither good nor bad—wearing exclusively black or white hats, the “good guys” or “bad guys”. We do tend to accept acquiescent answers to major issue not so simply solved. We do tend to settle for a social tribalism that expresses fear more than conviction. One way to insure that the world automatically becomes a better place is to seek the Good in ourselves—to seek and to voraciously express that Good. What we are and what we can be need not be the same. We need to aspire, to reach, to continually attempt to be more than we are.
A Personal Stake
Do your conversations dwell on illicit love affairs of famous people, wars in distant lands, troops on the border or election meddling? If so, why? Who are you that such topics are your personal concerns? Why do YOU focus on these things? In so doing, what can you contribute to the situation in order to, if not eliminate, at least ameliorate the negative effects?
We can do better. We need to do better. Ms. Klein highlights a popular idea in some circles which suggests we should keep trying and that failure is completely acceptable. We just need to “fail better” each time. However, she continues, “we don’t have time to keep failing better”. It is time to get it—to get us—right!