To Cast a Stone or Vote or Not
Many of us live in a country or are from a country that has been going through and is still going through a wobbly, tilting, boxing ring of political and social intolerance. Racial intolerance has been around since time immemorial, but the past decade has shown a complete instability in stone-throwing and vote-casting led so much by hate and fear.
Being a philosopher, I believe everyone should be a philosopher, especially by those that vote or who are voted for. But whether you call yourself a philosopher or not, how we approach and respond to the current political and world climate requires considerable wisdom.
Many, if not most, will not respond at all. But some will be ‘shaken awake’, like Evey in V for Vendetta or many other reactionaries throughout history ready to fight their perceived enemies, the orchestrators of evil and intolerance (‘Nazis’ being the preferred term) with a zealous spirit of vengeance.
But how ‘awake’ is it to be so reactive? Is Malcolm X correct in saying, ‘by any means necessary?’ Should we reach back to Jesus and ‘turn the other cheek?’ Is there another option?
The Bleeding Heart of the Reactionary
The main argument for accepting violence is in the name of stopping violence. Using fascism to stop fascism, using intolerance to stop intolerance.
‘Si vis pacem, para bellum.’
‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’ I almost got this as a tattoo when I came back from Iraq at 20. I was quite the gung-ho, fighter of freedom, and destroyer of injustices around the world then. I’m a bit older now (and injured from my soldiering days). So, in other words, I am calmer. And though I still have a fire in my pit, I now have the wisdom and life experience to stop and think before reacting… mostly… most of the time.
Yet, I can understand the reasoning behind the motive and passion of those ‘fighting’ for what they believe in. That one can take a side without actually taking a side is an illusion they say.
Furthermore, a person can’t be blamed for reacting negatively to hearing or seeing negativity. In a sense, we are all reactionary. Classical physics or behavioral psychology can back this up. We all react. For every action there is a consequence, an opposite and equal reaction (Newton’s Third Law of Motion.)
Ultimately, whether it is on a world scale or in your own home, we ‘blame’ the external for how we feel inside.
Violence Begets Violence
But Malcolm X did fight knowing the consequences and violence he was causing because he believed it was worth it. Was he right in saying Jesus ‘was wrong in turning the other cheek’? Was the violence worth opening the door wider to a ‘privileged, white-only’ environment that was already extremely flawed and infested with its own social neuroses, frustrations, and discriminations? Did his violent approach create more change and good than King’s non-violent approach? Didn’t people hate MLK in spite of his nonviolence?
Looking at (the United States of) America today, yes, change was made in some direction for non-whites. But relatively speaking, in peaceful or not-so-peaceful ways, how much change was made on the entire population?
To reach back to MLK and his speech at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963:
‘May I reiterate the problem will not work itself out. May I reiterate that it is not a sectional problem. No area of our country can boast of clean hands in the realm of brotherhood. If this problem is to be solved there must be a sort of divine discontent all over this nation.
I say to you, my friends, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.
I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence. No nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. The alternative to disarmament, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation.’
Vamos a la Playa
Philosophers love their thought experiments. The metaphors help to see things as they really are by avoiding the natural kickback and hostile reactions to certain words. It’s imagination used to investigate the nature of things.
So let’s create one at the beach. We all love the beach and naturally see it as a utopian type environment with sunshine and beautiful, happy people.
You can choose whatever intolerance (racial, political, sexual) you wish, but for this example we will have 3 groups of people: the Averys, the Baileys, and the Charlies. Notice they are all unisex names, so do your best to not have any bias or stereotypes while entertaining this thought experiment.
The beach is the dream location to be, especially by those not there. Unfortunately, the Charlies of the world are not allowed on the beach. This ban is due to the opinion and enforcement of the Baileys. The Averys are allowed on the beach, but also believe that the Charlies should be allowed on the beach.
For this reason, the Averys have aggressive feelings toward the Baileys. To express these feelings, the Averys throw empty beer cans at the Baileys every chance they get.
Obviously, this pisses off the Baileys and they start throwing beer cans back. Nonetheless, the Averys throw so many beer cans that the Baileys eventually raise their white flag and allow the Charlies on to the beach.
Yay! Victory! Or is it…?
Sure, everybody has access to the beach now, but it is more of a garbage pile than a beach at this point.
That’s sad. But telling someone they can’t have access to the beach, no matter how trashy it is, isn’t going to make people feel better about not going to the beach, is it?
So how can the Averys have addressed the situation more wisely?
Well, there may not seem to be a simple answer, but we should be able to agree that turning beaches into landfills is not a desirable solution. It may be instinctive and reflexive to fight back, but it creates as many problems as it solves, even if they are different kinds of problems (i.e. everybody swimming in beer cans rather than a specific intolerance).
The Startling Truth
Despite our best efforts for a better world -- be it social justice, worldwide peace, conserving natural resources, or putting a secret universal birth control in food to prevent more mouths to feed -- we will destroy more than help if done in the current spirit, no matter how urgent the matter may seem.
Yes, this excitement about these issues can give a jolt of energy like your favorite drug, prescribed or not, can do in extreme fatigue. But peace can only be made by those who are peaceful. Love can only be shown by those who love.
We have nothing to give right now if our wealth and way of life in this moment is not enjoyed in this moment. Nothing good will come of our work and efforts if it is done out of guilt or fear or destitution of heart. No real change or plans for the future can be made by those who have no ability to live now.
‘When it comes down to it, government is simply an abandonment of responsibility on the assumption that there are people, other than ourselves, who really know how to manage things. But the government, run ostensibly for the good of the people, becomes a self-serving corporation. To keep things under control, it proliferates law of ever-increasing complexity and unintelligibility, and hinders productive work by demanding so much accounting on paper that the record of what has been done becomes more important than what has actually been done. [...] The Taoist moral is that people who mistrust themselves and one another are doomed.’
― Alan W. Watts
There will always be thousands of people who hate or are intolerant of others: LGBT, Jews, Muslims, socialists, capitalists, blacks, whites, male or female. The negativity won’t be healed, but only inflamed, by ‘throwing beer cans’ at each other and calling each other names, be it Avery, Bailey, or Charlie.
These insults, these names, may as well become flags for the so-called 'troops' to rally behind and bring their forces together to fight a common enemy. And as admirable as it may be to make public speeches in nonviolent protests or demonstrations, we must be wary it is not a boost to our public ego while insulting those we protest in private.
To have peace with our sworn adversaries, to have equality for all minorities, human or not, we have to start with ourselves. As quoted earlier by King, ‘No area of our country can boast of clean hands in the realm of brotherhood.’
We must face the minority and enemy in ourselves and the darkness in our own hearts first. This becomes more clear when you realize that the world outside your skin is a much you as the world inside.
Be wary of those that preach peace, because they are the most violent. Start with yourself and I’ll start with myself. If we all just work on improving ourselves rather than focusing on correcting the other person, we may just resolve the big issues by focusing on the small ones.
There is no blaming here, only an attempt at understanding the whole happening.
‘You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.’
― Charles Bukowski, Women
That one person is you.