So, … how about those football games last weekend? The Jets won? Amazing. Overshadowed though. Action and reaction spiraling kind of like a football but towards which goal? How is ever increasing polarization going to make the United States a better and more united country? Mike Tanier wrote a meaningful article on point on September 26, 2017 in, of all places, The Turner Broadcasting System’s Bleacher Reports (“Have We Lost Sight of What Colin Kaepernick Was Really Protesting For?”).
NFL Protests, … but against what?
Recent events have me in a pensive mood.
I was at a luncheon yesterday for a leading Colombian presidential candidate, Humberto de la Calle, the architect of the recently signed peace accords which hopefully mark the beginning of a transition from sixty years of armed conflict towards political discourse and consensus-based democratic decision making. Earlier in the week I had social media interaction with a relative and a friend, both relatively young and fairly civically involved, both espousing the relevancy of confrontation. One, the daughter of one of my oldest friends, championed the need for relevant violence by those opposed to the current United States administration although she clarified her position by stressing that such violence involved a willingness to defend against violence from others; still, the discussion among the group alluded to a supposed rejection of non-violence by Martin Luther King, Jr., and even by Mohandas Gandhi. To me, the discussion was depressing but enlightening. The other discussion, with a very passionate relative, criticized Julian Assange as a fascist and a liar. She, my niece, is apparently engaged in some form of alternative media supportive of the intelligence community’s anti-Trump activities and highly invested in the current anti-Russian hysteria, although she perceives herself as a leftist revolutionary. Sadly for me, she considers me a naïve academic without understanding of the real world. Her transformation should not have been surprising; the Clinton-Obama, mainstream media, neoliberal-neoconservative campaign to undo the results of the last presidential election by whatever means become available has made strange bedfellows in what they hope will be a large enough tent to oust the current president and then, hopefully, convert the United States political system into a one party state rather than a duopoly. A reliable one party state guided by neoliberal-neoconservative principles based on American exceptionalism and the illusion of sensitive socioeconomic policies (such as preserving Obamacare and the Paris environmental accords, an incoherent immigration policy, investor friendly tax and regulatory policies, etc.). The difference would be hard for impartial observers to note.
The image of Alice staring out of a looking glass in a Bizarro universe comes to mind uncalled, then, on reflection, I feel a bit of awe at how the human mind can concurrently juggle such utterly contrary perspectives. The power of fiction, pure fiction, fiction without any ties to reality or goals, just the joy of controlling a narrative without any logical boundaries, a kind of discordant poetry with neither rhyme nor reason. The title of its first volume might be “Polarization for Fun and Profit”.
The drive to deliberately polarize the United States populace continues unabated. This weekend it was highlighted, as noted in Mr. Tanier’s article, by highly paid athletes (most members of minorities). The protest was heralded by the mainstream media and the Hollywood community on one side and denounced by much of the American public on the other. The theme, well it was once a protest against historic police misconduct involving violence against minorities and the failure of the American criminal justice system to police the police but somehow blamed on the American flag and the National Anthem. At first blush that reasoning seems convoluted but, as a historian, I understand that the composer of the National Anthem was a slave owner who considered blacks so genetically inferior that their inclusion as part of the human race was hardly justifiable. However, probably less than one percent of those involved are aware of that, instead, the protest this past Sunday was reflective of manipulation by diverse cross currents into an in-your-face political gesture against the current president. A strange metamorphosis for an act initially predicated on police conduct during the incumbency of the prior president, a member of the Democratic Party and of mixed racial ancestry (something he apparently remembers only when its politically convenient). Just as oddly, opponents of the protest, led by a president who declined military service (as did his predecessor), saw it as an insult to United States military personnel and their historic service in defense of American exceptionalism. Exceptional hypocrisy; strange but incoherently consistent. And of course, … polarizing.
So, about the validity of the protest in the context of building a better and more just society?
Racism, xenophobia and sexism are and have always been social infections woven as integral strands into the American tapestry. In large part that has been because, being convenient wedge issues, their resolution has never been politically convenient for either side of our bipolar political order (think guns and abortion). The only way to heal the consequences of America’s incoherent and hypocritical past is to heal existing polarization rather than promote more and deeper division but that is not politically expedient. Healing requires empathy and forgiveness and recognition that insecurity is something real with real consequences that need to be addressed in a positive fashion rather than through insult, ridicule and demagoguery. A realization that there are victims on all sides of the issue. How money votes and how much in contributions would that generate?
A friend and colleague, Bruno Boccara has been working for over a decade on a hypothesis concerning psychosocial disease in societies in transition. His hypothesis seeks to utilize psychoanalytical techniques to deal with resistance to positive change, a concept he refers to as Socio-Analytic Dialogue. While most of his field work has been in Africa, Asia and Latin America, it really has universal applicability. I’m seeking to introduce it into current political discourse in the Republic of Colombia (which Bruno has visited and studied) in order to help analyze and understand how an important segment of a purportedly war weary public can so vehemently oppose the peace process it seemed to crave until it became a reality, and to help minimize resistance to the recently signed accords ending the bulk of the sixty year old conflict during the upcoming elections. Opponents of the accords, a not insignificant segment of the Colombian political spectra, promise to ignore the agreements with former insurgents (kind of like President Trump promises to ignore the Iranian nuclear accords) if they win and to then impose “peace” on victors’ terms. Seems like there’s an anti-peace virus spreading but then, when have we ever really been at peace?
A bit of personal context, always important in evaluating an author’s credibility. First, albeit not foremost, I really am a football fan although with respect to the NFL, a Cubs’-fan-analogue. I confess it. I’m a Jets fan; balanced, however, by being a Yankees’ fan in baseball. Perhaps more relevantly, for better or worse (I think better), I’m a dual national, a citizen of the United States as well as of the Republic of Colombia and love both countries. While I’m currently residing in Colombia, all of my sons and most of my friends reside in the United States. As a Colombian, although I was born there, I’m fairly new; I was brought to the United States when I was six and only returned to Colombia after I was sixty, thus, my perspectives with respect to Colombia are somewhat novel there, my main fields of expertise involving United States and international politics and history. Still, “perspective” is the operative word as my views have garnered quite a bit of interest in Colombia involving someone with perhaps a bit of objectivity. To some extent that’s also true with respect to the United States. While I arrived as a legal immigrant and thus never experienced “Birthers’ trauma (in reality I was always blessed with acceptance rather than the rejection or condescension common to so many immigrant experiences), I always had a somewhat alien outlook. Perhaps my heritage added to that as my ancestry was French and Spanish but I was raised by a Greek stepfather. Consequently, to me, John Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” pretty much represents my aspirations; had I a choice I’d consider myself a citizen of the world, a world without boundaries or discrimination based on religion or politics or sexuality or race. Of course, we seem to be as far from that world as it’s possible to be. The point is that I’m even more closely tied to American politics and American problems than I am to what is going on in Colombia although my ability to impact events seems much greater in the latter case, thus, my efforts to impact events in the United States require much more serious effort.
Hence this article/essay.
In the United States massively increasing polarization seems deliberately induced for blatant political purposes rather than a naturally occurring social phenomena, perhaps it’s both. According to Dr. Boccara’s Socio-Analytic Discourse hypothesis, change usually generates insecurity-based resistance and reactions that must be diffused through empathic dialogue if positive change is to be attained and maintained. When instead of empathic dialogue different and conflicting social segments are manipulated into increased and increasingly violent confrontation, rather than resolving old differences, new ones are created. Religion is manipulated so that practices it condemns become commonplace. Violence becomes the means to attain peace. Divisiveness the method of choice to attain equality. Economic deprivation the road to prosperity. Incoherence become divinity as chaos looks on appalled.
Like most innovations, Socio-Analytic Dialogue can be used positively for conflict resolution or negatively for conflict exacerbation. The studies that lead to discovery of the causes for negative reactions to positive change reveal fulcrums where pressure can be applied in either direction. Sadly, in the United States (even more effectively than in the Republic of Colombia), the dark side is overwhelming the light in a raw, no holds barred battle for control of political institutions, no price, even the annihilation of the human race, being deemed too high. The foot soldiers, as in most wars, are naïve, easily manipulated well-meaning people, many very young and inexperienced, many victims of injustices conveniently retained by amoral power addicts. Perversion of social values, institutions and societal mores are weapons of choice, distortion of the truth perhaps the most effective, using false narratives to generate increasing fear and insecurity and phantom enemies to distract the most vulnerable from the real threats they confront on a daily basis.
I am not fond of Thomas Jefferson or, truth be told, of his nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, although Aaron Burr seems very interesting, especially as portrayed by Gore Vidal (damn him for dying, Vidal, not Hamilton). Although Jefferson’s intellect was undoubtedly astounding and his writing inspiring, he was a liar and a hypocrite and a coward; a racist, a sexual predator and a child abuser, a collection of almost every vice we claim to abhor but in which we too often engage. Perhaps the reason I so despise him (after all, history is crowded with many other hypocritical villains) is because he best symbolizes those we unwittingly maintain in power and somehow find the foolishness necessary to continue to admire. We have two horrible mainstream political parties which rather than exercise political power are tools used to keep us deluded and in line. We have a completely dishonest cultural-entertainment-propaganda complex even more dangerous than the military industrial complex Ike warned us about three score years ago; fake journalists reinforced by faux literature and films and television generating a fictitious reality we’ve bought into (have you seen the latest Vietnam epic?). We have an intelligence community whose primary mission is to keep us deluded as it keeps track of everything we say and do with omnipresent cameras and drones and intercepted communications that Big Brother would have given an arm for, or an army. Our military forces, comprised of earnest young men and women prepared to give their lives to protect us, are abused to create more and more enemies who then justifiably threaten us, justifying our multigenerational reactions (ohhhh, the profits, the profits). More and more of our bravest and brightest are wasted, their lives physically, psychologically and morally wrecked while the children of those who send them to misery are safely ensconced in Ivy League schools and country clubs and Wall Street jobs as hedge fund managers. Thomas Jefferson would be proud, a country sculpted in his image, … we the Sally Hemmings.
George Orwell saw it coming and warned us, especially with respect to how the mainstream media would morph from a journalistic institution designed to inform and facilitate the exercise of democracy into a fusion of propaganda and entertainment used to tame us by setting us at each other’s throats as well as against constantly shifting foreign adversaries while our life’s blood was efficiently drained, leaving us with just enough to continue to serve our hidden masters (picture prudent vampires, my apologies to vampires everywhere). A nightmare; like age stealthily creeping up on us until one day we wake to find it has long been the norm. A horrible stasis maintainable just as long as we’re not drained too much. The traditional balancing act of divide and conquer as a political strategy both internally and externally.
Fish and chips and we’re the chips.
“Jump chips jump!!!”
“How high sir; how high???”
Socio Analytic Dialogue is probably only one in a myriad of societal therapies that could cure us, or at least the therapy we need to function. There are answers to all of our problems many of which are not unpalatable. But we need to collectively wake from our induced stupor, see what we’ve become and decide that it’s something we can overcome. And having decided that, assuming that we do, we need to break free of our psychosocial chains and act, not violently either physically or psychologically, but rather, in the mold established by Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus Christ, act based on empathy and brotherhood and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Nothing new, … the values most of us were taught as children but have somehow been induced to forgot.
So, … Act? …. How? Hmmmm.
Well, … by assuming our political responsibilities seriously and responsibly voting for that in which we believe instead of against that which we’ve been manipulated into fearing. Discarding hate and disparagement and insults as our reactions of choice. Collaborating instead of competing. Assuring that politics is a civic duty and a service rather than a profit oriented career but realizing that without our constant vigilance and supervision over those whom we elect to manage our collective undertakings, corruption will quickly become the norm.
Are there really those among us who in good faith don’t agree with the foregoing?
Of course there are. They’re the ones from whom we need to escape.
So, about protests.
They are important, a healthy sign unless perverted. But protests are never enough. Protests are too often attempts to induce those whom we are criticizing to do what we think is right rather than doing what is right ourselves. And too often, all too quickly, they’re subsumed into causes alien to those their originators espoused, all too often not causes at all, just vehicles to corner and attain or maintain power. Thus, while protests all too often become self-perpetuating mechanisms unhinged from their roots, as Mike Tanier noted, they rarely resolve their underlying causes on their own.
Thomas Jefferson would be proud.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.