I tend to think of the political as the art of the other. In just a minute we’ll look briefly at this week’s topical influence, the ‘other.’ First, in last week’s post I shared a bit about my motivation and method for this blog. I need to add one more crucially important aspect to that brief summary, and it also helps build context for this week.
‘political’ vs ‘partisan’…
Without doubt I find Jesus’ gospel to be very political. I also find people often conflate the categories of ‘political‘ and ‘partisan.’ Then, too, sometimes truth and justice [gospel] do coincidentally[?] overlap with a partisan position. Heaven forbid as that seems to be too much for many folks these days—we can’t abide the idea of god being on the side of our partisan opposite on any given issue because that would mean god opposes our partisan stance on that, that god opposes us. No, these days the mere notion of engaging with family and friends in political discussion seems far too risky. So, at the mere mention of a political topic, Fahrenheit 451 ‘burn orders’ are often forthcoming— either virtually through simple discounting and dismissal [ignoring], or actually in social media forums through active calls and demands for censorship.
Presently I feel compelled to write, to resist the idea that issues important to Jesus (and to people of every stripe, in communities of every description) are somehow off-limits because partisans are wont to rush in to difficult conversations with wedges and walls—or, failing that, requests for burn orders for Capt. Beatty to expedite (every church I served as clergy stifled difficult topics, often).
A seminary friend, Rev. Andy Bryan, recently wrote some helpful words regarding the problem of political/partisan categories being conflated:
Just a thought for Christians to think about:
I feel like there is an important distinction between “political” and “partisan.”
“Partisan” means actively and exclusively advocating for the positions of one particular political group.
“Political” means actively engaging in the world around you, its structures of power and justice, its systems of relationship, its rules for how we treat one another.
And so while I do not think a Christian ought to be overtly “partisan,” I think it is actually important for a Christian to be “political,” meaning actively engaged in one’s community, working to make things better for God’s sake.
Engagement with the political is an integral part of following Jesus. As Christians we must seek to include opportunities to engage political conversation with one another, it’s the only way to reliably gain experience of different perspectives and alternative arguments. Sometimes/often our open, honest discussions of difficult political issues are conflicted. Real conversations are always subject to devolving into partisan gridlock—parties effectively shouting past each other, and going nowhere. Still, we’re called by grace to speak our truth working to always retain dignity, honor, and respect for all of our conversation partners as we seek ever greater reconciliation.
In this blog I seek to point beyond our polarized, political atrophy. I’m convinced that a developmental anthropology (Spiral Dynamics [SD]) offers us a helpful, big-picture perspective and a way of getting past polarized partisanship, and back to more meaningful, and fruitful discourse. In a casual, facebook-group conversation, author Jon Freeman suggested three things that he believes SD has to offer:
One is understanding and explanation. How much more can you see of what the world is and does? A second would be prediction. How much better can you anticipate where events are leading? The third is tools for change. Now that you can understand and predict, what can you do to help the future be the best that is possible?
An evolutionary matter…
Our relationship with the ‘other’ is developmental. Where does the idea of ‘other’ begin? It begins in the subject/object split that occurs in our very early psychological development and essentially makes Buber’s ‘I-It’ relational stance our beginning default. In psychological development terms, the ‘other’ is an evolutionary object [breast] that becomes evolving subjectivity, expanding in complexity and inclusivity.
The Good Place…
‘Simone’ is currently a character (brain scientist) on the NBC sitcom, The Good Place. Near the end of episode three [first aired 10/11/2018] (season three), Simone explains to Eleanor why it is that she may be experiencing grief:
As humans evolved the first big problem we had to overcome was ‘me’ vs ‘us.’ Learning to sacrifice a little individual freedom for the benefit of the group. You know, like sharing food and resources so we don’t starve or get eaten by tigers, stuff like that. The next problem to overcome was ‘us’ vs ‘them,’ trying to see other groups, different from ours, as equal. That one we’re still struggling with; it’s why we have racism, and nationalism, and why fans of Stone Cold Steve Austin hate fans of The Rock.
The transcendence Simone describes is a microcosm of the ‘other’ and development.
“And once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” ~ Robert Hunter
Gag on political speech…
While it may be the case that, as Audre Lorde wrote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” that does not mean we have the luxury of just ignoring the master’s house. Please allow me to apply/illustrate.
While arguably an unconscious posture, ‘white fragility’—that is, white people’s unwillingness and inability to confront white supremacy and engage in important (political) conversation concerning systemic racism—forms a subtle strategy to keep institutional white supremacy in place. Let that sink in. That’s the premise of Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility. Only white people can overturn systemic white privilege yet, ironically, ‘white fragility,’ and its grip of silence, keeps systemic racism in place.
Empty talking points…
Partisan talking points become a place for us to hide from authentic engagement in real political discourse. We become paralyzed with anxiety regarding anything political for fear of partisan polarization taking over to the extent we risk being caught-out holding the hate bag. Our unwillingness to speak openly with each other forms subtle energy that feeds the extreme voices in our public debate. This abandonment of political dialog in the relationships of our daily lives allows even deeper entrenchment of the silencing process. The fruit of our disconnected silence results in further polarization.
The implications are clear enough. That which we are unwilling/unable to even discuss—racism, sexual/gender identity, nationalism and Empire, capitalism, greed, classism, sexism and Patriarchy, etc.—has little to no chance of ever changing. Because our life conditions are so polarized our chances of organically engaging the kinds of conversation and community building that we so desperately need right now are, sadly, slim to none.
I ran across a couple of articles this week that come to familiar conclusions, that seem to channel the same intuition as does SD. In these two articles, Robin Koerner argues that we are missing each other in our discourse because our perspectives and arguments are grounded in different paradigms. SD values may well underlie and drive the ethical intuitions Koerner describes. In any event the articles make fascinating reading. I’ll link the articles below and we’ll begin from here next week.
The Mistake You Make in Every Political Argument
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?
Note: I know it’s ambitious trying to introduce a big picture idea in a blog format, so I’m using a serial approach. Introductory post (here). First in series (here).
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