Thursday, August 17, 2017

Charlottesville: Venom - Anti-venom


I am trying to fathom what is happening in my country.  When I am in the US, my home is close enough to Charlottesville, VA that I do my shopping there.  My two children attended the University of Virginia.  I know the place.  I also know that there have been discussions about the Lee statue and Lee park for years.  I am a professional historian and senior lecturer at an African university.  There have been good arguments presented on both the for and against side.  And no, acknowledging that might mean I disagree with you, but that does not make me a racist.  People from various perspectives and various ethnicities have disagreed with each other.  But they have been civil.  The past couple of years I have watched with increasing annoyance as that local and necessary debate has been hijacked by powerful ideologies, ideologies which brook no dissent.  On one side, the statue must go and the park renamed because they are powerful totems to white oppression over black people.  And all reminders of white atrocities, be they statues or buildings named after long-dead racists and slave-holders must go.  Indeed anybody who is not on the side of these culture cleansers is immediately shamed as a racist and bigot and thus toxic to the cultural progressives who control the media and trendy companies of the country.   So damn our county’s centuries-long involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, damn the policy of extermination against our indigenous people, damn the Civil War and the fact that most the people in the North were just as racist as the people in the south, damn the fact that most the people in our country were, and perhaps still are, racist through the 20th century into the 21st.  But we don’t promote ‘justice’ by erasing history and taking down monuments.  I think (hope?) what these people want is for us to learn from our past and to decide that we will do a different and better job when it comes to loving our neighbor.  Stridency may get one attention, but it doesn’t necessarily push the ball down the field.

But this is only one of a phalanx of identity ideologies that have emerged in our current generation.  And their tactics are eerily similar to those employed by the LGBTQ etc. ideologues in their similar relentless march through the cultural, political and legal halls of the country, not simply to secure their rights but to redefine morality in such a way that one’s support of the LGBTQ agenda is the litmus test of moral right and wrongness.  Shame words such us homophobe and bigot are affixed to any person who dares to disagree.  Identity politics generates its own self-righteous wrath and outs anybody who dares to disagree with their agendas, especially those in higher education and media.  These ideologies feel that the wrongs that either they or people like them in the past have experienced justifies their tactics.  Their ideas are now being parroted as institutional policy in government, education and media across the country.  There are many people who think this is a good thing.  But there are many people who are horrified and who are forced into moral hypocrisy because they are afraid of losing their jobs.  The identity social justice warriors have thus far engineered quite the cultural coup.  By specifically attacking historical Christian morality they have succeeded in sawing off that limb, but it was, ironically, the moral limb upon which they and we were sitting.  Their vacuous post-modern attempt at a post-Christian morality collapses of its own weight when challenged.  And given that they have obliterated traditional morality without any thought to a coherent replacement, they are falling back on the traditional stance taken by all tyrants, be they political, business and cultural, that of might makes right.  Their original complaints may (or may not) have been completely justified, and I for one have been in sympathy with at least some of their issues.  But in recent years they are evolving into something else.  And no one in any of these groups can seem to see that they are now beginning to treat the people who might disagree with them in the same way they claim that they or their ancestors were treated.  What is viewed as ‘justice’ to them is experienced as persecution by everyone else.  And once we are in this territory, something has gone bad, like Aunt Mae’s potato salad at a hot summer’s day picnic by the lake.  It will not end well.

And on the other end of the ideological spectrum, it is nauseating and revolting to see neo-Nazis, KKK sympathisers and white supremacists hijack the debate over the Charlottesville monument and park as a symbol for their agenda.  It beggars belief that anybody could think this is anything but evil, anybody who has taken time to understand what happened in Germany in WWI followed by the Weimar Republic and the chilling rise of Hitler and the institutionalization of his racist ideology against Jews and many other kinds of people (including Christians) and the steps he took to deal with everyone in his way.  It is more than chilling to think that there are actually individuals today who not only think that was a good thing but who will do anything to promote a similar murderous agenda today.  And to see a collection of Hitlerians and KKK-hooded losers and white people who are afraid of anybody who doesn’t look like them come to a place I know and love and attempt to redefine symbols to support their cause and then appropriate Nazi-era tactics to provoke fear in the locals and make a statement through the media to the rest of the country - these people display an utter ignorance and contempt of history and obviously don’t realise that they are playing with forces that they themselves will not be able to control and which in the end will consume them as well.

So on the one side, the ‘hatred’ of the others justifies taking whatever steps to silence and force them into submission for the sake of the movement.  And on the other side the perceived injustices against our people and the demonization of the others and the existential threat they pose to our way of life and our culture justifies taking whatever steps to silence and force them into submission.  I am not creating some sort of moral equivalence here.  Instead this is called polarization. 

But, but, but - those other people do this and say that and stand for this and it’s terrible and it’s wrong!  But when has violence ever solved the problem?  Violence, or the threat of violence may force opposition underground due to fear.  One may succeed in silencing or even killing most of one’s enemies.  But recent history shows us again and again that once one resorts to violence, either as an individual, as a movement or as a state, it almost never ends well, for anybody.

As matters polarize, people on one side tend to view people on the other side not as people, but as enemies.  And it is a short step from viewing one as an enemy to viewing one as less than human.  And it is an even shorter step, when one views the other as less than human, to treating the other inhumanely.  Think Rwanda, think the partition of India, think the ethnic violence in Kenya, in the Balkans, in Turkey/Armenia, in the so-called Caliphate, think of our own indigenous people in North America.  Things are polarizing right now in my country, and the ones doing the polarizing all think that they are completely, totally, utterly right and justified.  But their collective postures of moral superiority are simply shams in light of their utter individual and collective hypocrisy.  Both sides are self-seeking and self-justifying.  The way they treat their enemies is actually the proper measure of their morality, or lack thereof.  And both sides, by that criteria, come off as moral pygmies and just as selfish and obsessed with power as every other political movement.

What is needed, in my opinion, on the part of people on all sides, is not power over others to enforce our views, or to retake what is rightfully ours, or to ensure respect for our way of life.  What is needed is something that has, to this point, been totally lacking in any of the debates on all side, at least those debates with which I am familiar - what is needed is humility.  Humility is impossible  in a heart that is motivated by hatred of other individuals or groups.  Humility is impossible when one is seeking to advance one’s own position or agenda at whatever cost.  Humility is looked on by so-called powerful people as weakness.  And it is true - humility cannot silence anybody; humility cannot remove obstacles (read: people with whom I/we disagree) from the scene; humility cannot force people to do things they don’t want to do.  But none of those things can change a human heart.  And that is precisely what humility, when paired with love, can do.  Too many people have been seduced into thinking that it’s power that will bring them what they think they need or want.  This is certainly the case in my current home of Kenya, just as it is in the United States.  But to believe this is to build one’s life on a lie.  Humility on the other hand treats the other as a person just like me; listens to the other the way I want someone to listen to me, cares for the other as if their life is worth something; works to find a way to resolve differences and conflicts to the benefit not just of one party over another, but to the benefit of all.  It’s simply a life lived by the golden rule - Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.


Charlottesville this past weekend was an unveiling to many of us of the tactics and agenda of the Neo-Nazi/KKK/White supremacists who decided to use that place and that moment to make a statement.  And their agenda and tactics resulted in the deaths of three people and left nearly 20 others injured.  And their collective posture of unrepentance shames them all and reveals their true heart.  But Charlottesville is also a symptom of the even bigger ideological wars threatening to tear our country apart.  Our current world gives us hundreds of examples of people who think that power give them the right to squash others who disagree with them.  But they are wrong.  And they will all be proven wrong in the end.  

The vast majority of Americans are not the ones driving the current polarization of our society.  Our silence, our fear, however, is enabling those who are.  It is possible that those doing the polarising may learn humility.  But I am not holding my breath.  We, however, who have chosen to step aside from the rush of ideologies of right and left, we have the power to make both sides irrelevant, and to defang their tactics of intimidation and fear.  Jesus shows us what to do.  We know what to do.  We have in our hearts, those of us who know and love Him, the anti-venom.  When we take courage and do what is right and love our neighbour as ourselves, we will find a nation so transformed we will wonder if heaven has come to earth.