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The High Human Cost of Liberal Resentment

[About Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an opium addict] He was living out what many people experience, in the dark disorder of their hidden lives, but living it on the surface and with astonishing, even alarming candour…His greatness lies in the understanding of these struggles,… not in their solution. Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections

[Thinking men need habitually] to look into their own souls, instead of always looking out, both of themselves and of their “nature.” S. T. Coleridge

Ultimately, according to the technosolutionist orthodoxy, the human future climaxes by uploading our consciousness to a computer, or…accepting that technology itself is our evolutionary successor…The mental gymnastics required for [the ongoing] profound role reversal between humans and machines all depend on the underlying assumption that human beings suck. Douglas Rushkoff, Survival of the Richest (Medium.com)

What’s left for people in…miserable inner states is, then,…“compensatory consumerism” and resentments …Very literally, these strategies are what makes it possible for those who have very little autonomy or dignity to make it through their days. Sadly, both consumption and resentments are useful for the political class of the powerful, as they keep people distracted from what’s really going on, which is that their life energy is sapped and stolen in support of the material well-being of the ones on top. Miki Kashtan, reviewing David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory in Tikkun magazine

“…the white moderate…was more of an impediment [to justice] than the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

Liberal America is now running not on spirit, not on “can-do” energy and enterprise, but, like the Trumpites they abhor, on the negative motivation of resentment. Everyone is resentful. Among liberals, there is a pretense of a spirit of brotherhood, or justice, but it is strictly limited to defense of a wronged group of ‘third person,’ minority, others. Their causes don’t radiate from “looking into their own souls,” but from “bleeding heart” identification with the group of wronged people. The MeToo movement, as politicized and circus-zed by media, does more to deepen resentments than to espouse an ennobling hunger for justice. Not being based, as in the example nobly set by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the spirit of love big enough to both forgive and to stand strong against injustice, it feels divisive rather than healing. MeToo exacerbates America’s sickness rather than treating it in any kind of health-restoring way.

A friend and customer, Clare, reported to me recently the news that the new director of a local citizens action organization left her husband because “he was abusive.” She said this matter-of-factly. On my end, anger arose so instantly, mystifyingly and “unreasonably,” that I concluded it must be unjustified and held my tongue. A few minutes later, in a slightly different context, she said it again. This time I lost my neutrality and blurted out: “My training as a minister taught me it is not possible to know the truth of a relationship having heard just one side.” Though I felt silly deferring to a professional authority I no longer profess, as a strategy, the suggestion of the idea of fair play allowed me – a writer, not a debater – to get my foot in the door. I reminded Clare of her words to me just a few days earlier when she had refused to judge a friend, a recovering alcoholic who recently lost her sobriety. Might not this marital crisis, with a young child involved, be another such misfortune best for the community to delay judgment on?

I ask: is such a rush to judgment, the implication of a man as an “abuser,” upon hearsay alone, not divisive behavior? And who, ultimately, is harmed by a closed thought-system that has no qualms about so assigning guilt in these terribly fragile areas of relationships? It seems to me that every honest effort to bring relationships between men and women, the inescapable duality of our human social and biological life, into a higher level of conscious understanding, is harmed by such knee-jerk nonthinking. Are not families and communities harmed by this automatic deference to a concretized formula of good and evil, that is as questionably accurate as the assumption that prisons contain the bad guys and therefore make us safer? How is it better to assume that men are naturally inclined toward brutishness, “toxic masculinity,” and can be reclaimed from that state only if they agree to be subordinate to – i.e., not on equal footing with – feminine power? The resentful woman is every bit as dangerous as the resentful and angry man, and probably at the same time less honest. The husbands/partners of liberal women I know being uniformly nice, unobjectionable and feminist, who are these abusers being righteously brought down? Are not “they,” for most of us, as vaguely defined and omnipresently threatening an “other” as the immigrants and refugees crowding our borders, or the 16th century witches? The liberal progressive left harms itself by such divisiveness; if neither gender can respect the full gendered difference of the other, how can their unity be a unity of strengths? Rather, there can be only a pseudo-unity of weakness built on buried resentments, which is what we have.

Returning once again to my experience in 12-step recovery groups in the 1980’s, I learned then that resentments are a major obstacle to sobriety. The program’s focus on individuals leads each person, perhaps for the first time, to honestly appraise her/his hidden-from-view side, the aspect unseen by society and friends, the “wretch” one secretly assumes one is. In order to put oneself on the path of recovery, a “fearless self-inventory” has to be made in order to let go of resentments and their festering, destructive infantile animus. The purpose of letting go of one’s resentments was not to free the object of one’s resentment, but to free oneself of the toxicity inherent in resentments, regrets, shame, blame, etc., all those habitual thoughts that keep one in wretchedness.

My intention is not to idealize AA or argue for its effectiveness, but to illustrate what we seem collectively to have forgotten: communities require the practices of self-examination, amends-making and forgiveness in order to mend a fabric that is constantly being torn. One does this in service to a greater good, the good of the whole. The 12-step process is initiatory; inasmuch as one works it, the individual is brought to face and acknowledge all that is darkest and most objectionable in him/herself making a greater personal integration possible, as well as a greater likelihood that one will not continue to blame and resent others for conflicts that have at least an equal source in oneself. This attainment may sum up most of what we mean by the term “maturity.” The goal of recovery, called sobriety, could equally be called the emergence of “a human adult.” This new experience of adulthood (inner authority), is real but precarious; it needs a community of support, and is harmed by the old divisive patterns of thinking.

With our pathology of holding onto resentments now fully normalized, it would appear we are a nation of inveterate addicts, having not the least interest in admitting our powerlessness over our destructive habits, let alone confessing our “wretchedness;” thus we leave unchallenged the assumption that human beings have no intrinsic worth (i.e., we “suck.”) The refusal to “mature” is reinforced as we socialize exclusively with our own kind, buttress our certainties by tuning in daily to NPR and MSNBC, participate in the politics of “dump Trump,” election reform, lesser evilism, etc. Never do we ally with the naive anarchist fantasists who tilt their swords against the common enemy of capitalism. In this nicer, liberal way, we hold as tenaciously to divisiveness as the right wing proto-fascists we deplore, but with different targets, their true function as targets of our resentment disguised behind virtuous identity politics. Ultimately neoliberalism and its other face of white supremacy is a system within which one never has to face the demanding “fuss and bother” of the effort to be human, the logical conclusion of which is, that “human beings suck.”

This underlying assumption of neoliberalism, that human beings have no intrinsic worth, the overriding obstacle to agency on behalf of a juster, kinder society, can only be challenged inwardly, in the psychology of the individual where it abides. It remains invisible and unchallengeable unless/until a person takes up a genuinely initiatory experience, such as recovery, or the commitment to one’s creativity, or a living religious faith, that can reveal and thus provide opportunity to integrate the darker, nastier, denied and unacceptable side of her/his being.

In January the nation joined in admiring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who refused to be limited by resentments we might well have called justified; because of that, he had the capacity to be visionary and increasingly radical, not merely reformist and gradualist. His foundational belief in the worth of human beings was not a “liberal” kind of belief; he could not have acted on it unless he had an experience of knowing his own worth; in Christian terms, he knew himself to have been saved. Though trivialized in bourgeois liberal white reality, it is no less a fact: the need for salvation did not disappear with the Enlightenment, or with the atheization of the liberal class. In the contemporary context in which humanity is routinely demeaned, to the great advantage of “the material well-being of the ones at the top” salvation depends upon listening to, and taking the side of, not oppressed minorities, but the minority of oneself in blind trust that the wretchedness of one’s secretly despised self is not the last word. Liberals are careful always to refer to MLK as “Dr.” King. But, as our argumentative and unconventionally theistic friend Louie loves to point out, King is universally admired not because of the “Dr.” in front of his name, but the“Rev.” – he served God, not a profession.

Though this fact is hard for secular liberals to swallow, it’s no harder than for them to have a concept of what it might be to truly honor Rev. King now. During King’s birthday week, we visited a local college to see the movie they offered in his honor, “King in the Wilderness.” We were lured by its focus on the final 18 months of King’s life, after he came out against the Vietnam war and against Capitalism. I will credit the film only with this: the effort to go out to see it brought King, his bright star, into my consciousness during the month of his birthday. On the way out of the auditorium afterwards a friend muttered predictably, “This should be required viewing in every classroom.” No, it should not. The film made no effort to relate Dr. King’s prophetic stands against the militarism, inequalities, and systemic cruelties ongoing under capitalism to today. To me, everyone involved with the movie, including his friends from the Civil Rights movement, should have been ashamed of themselves for participating in a whitewash, robbing his spirit of its power and its evidence of a legitimate authority so desperately needed today.

Liberals allow themselves the comfortable assumption that the fascists are those wall-supporters, those disrespecters of native Indians, etc. But is fascism not discernible in a system that purports to be about a fairer and more humane world while in reality it is premised in the sick belief that human beings have no intrinsic value, and that resentments – rather than vision, or love – can be allowed to determine attitudes and behavior toward others? It’s easy to deplore those self-interested 1 % venture capitalists whose entire concern is how they might escape the coming collapse or global disaster in whatever form it comes. At bottom, however, our fatalism toward the future is like theirs. We cannot find our inner authority; the proper way to honor Rev. King is to do what he did, and find it.

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Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.

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