Positive Imagination Vectors Wanted

“My friends, nothing important is lost when others gain, when homeostasis occurs among humanity and compassion and opportunity are celebrated for all.”

I have been thinking about this line of thought in different ways over the past few weeks. Clearly, and depressingly, many people are opposed to the cause of achieving greater justice or equality. What is also sad and perplexing is that many many more seem just indifferent. Why? The extreme vast majority would really only stand to gain from the reforms or systemic changes that are being discussed in this wave of protesting.

But it is a similar pattern when I look back at the environmental movement, or pushes to curtail wealth inequality or whatever. I dislike lumping people in simplistic ways but it seems to be especially prominent among “conservatives” – as if what they want to preserve/conserve is the status quo, and in standing on that hill to die, they fail to have the perspective that the status quo is also a boot on their own damned neck.

The status quo so often really only benefits those at the very top. Yet the people at the very bottom protesting their plight find indifference, if not opposition, from so many in the middle. It’s as though they are suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome.

Is it something like inertia? If the oppression you experience is fairly bearable day to day, or is far enough removed from ones immediate present experience that it is hard to really imagine, there could be fear that any change may be for the worse. Many lack imagination for the positive but have an overactive one for the negative. Have we spent so much more time in fictional dystopias than fictional utopias that we have atrophied in our ability to even recognize the potential of positive change?

On the one hand Pascal’s Wager was never a very convincing argument to put your faith in something, but on the other hand, it seems rather useful to consider, “what do you stand to lose, really?”

Does a bit of increased cost or reduced convenience as a downside really outweigh all the potential benefits “going green” at a societal level? When we talk about universal health care as a policy, and the absolutely huge potential is dramatically overshadowed by some potential pitfalls of the implementation details, what is really going on there? If we fix some racially oppressive systems, improve the social services available to our communities, and reduce their capacity to harm and do violence, do the theoretical downsides really tip the scales compared to what we stand to gain?

Cruelty is the means

I have studied a bit about the sociology of cruelty, or the various ways humans come to act very inhumanely. From a couple books by Jaques Ellul, to various famous psych experiments, to recently some podcasts and a book by Douglas Rushkof. All recommended, but if you want a quick intro into an aspect in action in the present this article is worth a read. It has important implications for some current political happenings, but also some good general insight about humanity without being to long.

“Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.”

Adam Serwer

It is somewhat dated at this point, a lot has happened in Trumps circus in 9 months, but there is some fresh cruel, and overtly bigoted, remarks by the #RacistInCheif on twitter today, and I was especially reminded of this as I read some of the responses to his posts from his supporters. Spoiler, they seem to very much confirm the hypothesis that the cruelty is the point. In a way that is.

One clarification I would like to offer. I don’t think this is arguing for a people-are-just-bad-deep-down perspective. Rather, I think it speaks to the deep seated need for unity and community, in that we want or need it so much we are willing, even glad, to be cruel if that happens to be the price. In other words cruelty isn’t the point, ultimately, for trumps followers. It is the point for him as it happens to be the tool he is good at using that also serves his purpose of unifying his base of support.

If you are reading this, and still support Trump or his ilk, especially if you bristle at the above quote, I would genuinely like to hear from you. I worry I might have a significant blind spot in understanding you as a person. Frankly, I am also scared that I don’t misunderstand, but that you may have been sucked in by the appeal of community regardless of the fact that is centered on cruelty. I’m willing to have the discussion with an open mind if you are.