I’m going to take a couple weeks off from doing this weekly column. It has been almost a year since I branched out from a politics-only bent to a commentary on other aspects of the human experience. One thing I notice today is the increased attack rhetoric across the political spectrum, and my filters have become clogged with the garbage. It’s true not everyone is attacking their opponent, but just the fact “the other candidate” is identified as an opponent indicates the mindset of our society. We seem eager in our culture to “adversarialize” the other person. In our psyche this seems to give us permission to use any kind of words or ideas to dehumanize the other person. We look for any flaw or past transgression about them to exaggerate their unworthiness. We resort to half-truths, deceit, and even outright lies to make sure others see their demonic nature.
It is the willingness to attack, the uncompromising attitude to negate that is the greatest threat to humanity. By attacking our opponents we create a lasting negative, even hateful, opinion of the other guy along with his or her associates. We thereby automatically eliminate working with them to solve problems or create new and beneficial adventures for our species. We’ve probably all seen or experienced this kind of behavior, sometimes in our own backyard. What we see in racial and ethnic enmity around the world exists here as well.
One way these attitudes are developed is by nurturing an attitude of fear. Our society’s skill in marketing and advertising is unsurpassed. We know how to use sound bites and 15-second TV clips to promote a product. But we use the dark side of those skills to create negative impressions about others. One danger is that some of us will believe those ads. Another, and deeper danger, is that some of us will become cynical about our fellow citizens and about our role in preserving and nurturing our society. The deepest danger is that we will see others as threats to our well-being and even our existence. We have seen these dangers materialize before. Symptomatically they appear as oppression and genocide.
If we personally invest our thoughts and beliefs with these attitudes of attack and demonization, the unfortunate consequence is that we become the monster instead. Maybe we can change the attitudes of humans toward each other, maybe not. It may take a day or it may take a million years, but if we don’t become aware of our individual role and start working on ourselves a bit, nothing will ever happen. I may not be able to change one bit of someone else’s campaign rhetoric and I won't try. But at least I can look at my own writings to see where I have been with my own attitudes. I'm sure I'll find some things I would like to change. The journey can be long and the hills often steep, but the effort is worth it.