During the Trump presidency there has been much talk about the lack of civility–the nature of discourse infecting the nation. There is a surreal sensation to it—that this is somehow new, but the only thing new about it is that the naked hate is just a bit more evident now. Are there more raging racists mouthing off or is it just that we now have phones to capture the behavior? A nation with a history of slavery and lynching doesn’t seem like one that has a happy golden hour to long for. True, something is clearly malevolent and addictive currently, but to confront where we are now, we must look at where we came from.
What was present in that germinating seed?
Trump didn’t emerge via spontaneous generation from a pile of gambling chips, used condoms, crushed Adderall, and interest on grandpa’s bordello. Well, maybe he did. I don’t know for sure regarding the science of him, but the framework in place to allow such a person to be “in charge” of all of us is certainly a study in civilizational lunacy. And the very nature of addiction needs to be looked at in terms of just why this type of person is so appealing to a frightening number of people.
From the moment we are born, there’s a good chance that we will start feeling the affliction of abuse, for some in a blatant physical manner, for others it’s an insidious emotional abuse. How else do damaged people raise children? It’s what they know and though we have free will to stop these cycles, most do not. The larger society we are part of (it takes a village and such) tells us we are but commodities. We are set up to fail without enormous luck or perhaps a touch of ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) that we use to question toxic norms. But for most, during childhood, play is phased out of the schools; standardized tests begin hammering that creative square peg into a round hole. The joy of being alive and cooperating with others is replaced by unending competition. A race to the grave.
As the lyrics from “At the Bottom of Everything” by Bright Eyes state:
“We must blend into the choir
Sing a static with the whole
We must memorize nine numbers
And deny we have a soul”
It is relentless. We all have the need to be creative, to love, but things go awry in this crucible of stress. To feel inadequate the way we all do and to not be able to wake up with the sun–to face challenges every day that actually make sense. People self-medicate, buy things relentlessly—whatever can numb the pain. We navigate a maze of bureaucracy and rules that seem (and generally are) arbitrary. The mixed-up psyche looks for reason and coherency. Charlatan philosophy peddled by the likes of Ayn Rand can fit the sick situation. Selfishness begins to seem like the only way towards sanity. Patriarchal jerks seem like they have the answers.
It takes an enormous level of selfishness to believe borders really exist–that we aren’t but a simple earth organism–a blip on the cosmic timescale. Our souls may be timeless, but they are connected to every other living thing. To believe that our rights are paramount to others because they were born at a different latitude, because their skin is darker…..so many who believe this kind of thing (whether they admit it or not, their actions and who they support are the proof)—well, they seem to subscribe to a religion of choice that they loudly proclaim to all (well not really a religion of choice, but the one prevalent in their geographic location upon their birth). My favorite historical sassy deadbeat, Percy Bysshe Shelley calls religion the twin-sister of selfishness. They do seem to connect, the zealous snuffing out of other’s humanity and the self-righteous mark of approval because you are a “insert sky daddy club membership”. There are always exceptions because the world isn’t clearly delineated, but religion is a very convenient wallpaper design to paste over pure unbridled selfishness. How many more Evangelical pastors do we need to hear about who seem to love child porn? How many more relocated priests? Or those rules that require you to kill off your sister if she causes your family embarrassment…… the list goes on and on with religion being the title of the book. All involve placing yourself above others and taking away some form of their humanity or even their right to exist. We don’t need to subscribe to superstition to find beautiful meaning in our lives. It’s all around us, by those we love and those who love us– the ripples of good that can extend from our actions. Those ripples can extend into infinity.
Beyond religious aspects, the selfishness can even take the form of an addiction. Gabor Maté is a physician who studies and treats addictions of all kinds. He states: “it is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find in the addictive behavior.” Americans lost in selfishness find psychological relief, societal, and economic benefits. This is not a culture that respects or rewards the kind and benevolent. The incongruity of our upbringing, the desire for connection and creativity gets pushed out, and the only way for it all to make sense is with a new worldview of selfishness. When you believe that we are all here to compete and to stand on top of the eventual body pile—well, the messy feelings can then coalesce into a clear goal—to get what you can, all at the expense of others. This leads many to troubling personal relationships hindered by fear—a fear that the other is going to hurt you, so many try to hurt the others first. These problems stem from experience and learned behaviors.
On an even larger scale, considering issues like our nation disrupting the lives of Central Americans decades ago—the fact that this has led to chaos and misery in the present causing people to flee those areas now—well that’s complicated. It is much easier to just thump the chest and pursue what feels like an immediate hit of a drug, but the drug is selfishness. Deny the rights of others and proclaim your special rank. Long term, any addiction is going to harm or kill the host, but in the short term it feels like relief. Placing children in terror, removing their parents and placing them in cages is not the behavior of a sane and just society.
But blaming Trump alone and demonizing all his followers may be folly. I’m not saying you can reason with a fascist coming at you with a gun, but if any of this is to be solved, we will have to dismantle the foundation that allows for all this collective mental illness and the gross manifestations (Trump) that emerge. We need to realize our own affliction and work to heal, micro and macro.
That lovely song I mentioned…it has an answer:
“We must hang up in the belfry
Where the bats and moonlight laugh
We must stare into a crystal ball
And only see the past
And into the caverns of tomorrow
With just our flashlights and our love
We must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge
And then we’ll get down there
Way down to the very bottom of everything
And then we’ll see it, we’ll see it, we’ll see it.”