It is alas the truth that to be an American writer today means mounting an unending attack on all that Americans believe themselves to hold sacred. It means fighting a…..guerrilla warfare with that American complacency that so inadequately masks the American panic.
– James Baldwin
It is not through a mere idea but through a real power that the soul is converted and turned in a new direction.
– Hajire Tanake, Philosophy As Metanoetics
The fundamental principle of Christianity, that God is love, is a social principle.
This week we watched at home 3 films documenting various liberation movements (A Good Day to Die, about Dennis Banks and the AIM movement (2011), Amandla! A Revolution in 4-part harmony (2002) about South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015). Common to all three, the underlying theme in all, and the hardest to grasp for white people – I say this remembering well the impossibility for me trying to understand during those turbulent decades what “Black Power” meant – is the declaration, at the very heart of all these movements, I am somebody. In it lies the potential to see and to feel the true nature of the struggle for one’s humanity, an endangerment all people share in common – no matter race, religion, color, gender, L, G, B, T or Q – in the context of a radically evil system that values profits over people.
To know I am somebody is identity based not upon social or economic identifiers but on an ontological recognition of one’s valid being, one’s inclusion in the interdependent whole. It is revolutionary: it affirms self-worth against the identity provided illegitimately by the top-down system. And it is subversive in its refusal to accept the authority of that system that excludes our in-commonness. Instead, the authority for “somebodyhood” is inclusive, the larger Being contacted via the soul.
Whiteness & Endangered humanity
Considering the case for white – especially white liberal – people, though the struggle for authentic identity is different for us, our humanity is endangered in common with all other peoples’. Our unique challenge comes from “privilege,” our being protected from experiencing the existential bottom of “nothingness,” an experience it’s necessary for human beings to have to be centered in the heart. The whole purpose of the practice called repentance, it makes the achievement of I am somebody the ontological breakthrough it truly is. Liberals are no longer informed by (religious) tradition that’s supposed to acknowledge the reality of antinomies, non-being as real as being, evil as real as good, that teaches “I am called to be somebody,” we reduce the struggle for authentic identity to that of “becoming a better person.”
For white liberals, in particular, trained as we are to treat the soul and its poetic language as optional equipment, “somebodyhood” is beyond imagination. We’re meant not to notice that erasure of somebodyness is not limited to the oppressed people we identify as such. We’re meant not to notice that our somebodyhood, our depth and our creative souls, has been bought off by our having been granted an illegitimate identity as “white” that has freed us from the obligation of repentance at the terrible cost of knowing I am somebody.
Moreover, this struggle for legitimate identity has an additional challenge for white people: not just a struggle for one’s “rights,” the struggle must be contained in “a people,” the inclusive community to which one has a duty. White Americans, due to our enclosure in “whiteness,” can have no sense of ourselves as “a people.” We judge as illegitimate, immoral, and repulsive the move to address this social deficit by identifying with “whiteness” (i.e., white nationalism, MAGA-hat wearing). But we, too, were raised “white.” We, too, often solve the social problem illegitimately by making “identity politics” a substitute for the genuine struggle for somebodyhood. To restore the reality of “a people,” the identity must equally contain the full truth of inclusivity. Therefore, somewhat paradoxically, identity must begin in our individual, isolated selves, in a reawakened relationship to the inclusive creative souls from which we are nearly entirely estranged. In conscious solidarity with one’s otherness (the soul), one can, at last, let go of the unconscious attachment to whiteness, or liberal vanity.
The process of re-connection to the soul frees the multitudinous unity of imagination from the iron grip of ego; it is the self-discovery of somebodyhood. Only by finding and embracing my true individuality which heretofore has been bought off in the devilish bargain that is my whiteness, can white liberals put themselves on the side of revolutionary change. Only by finding our somebodyhood, can each man or woman be freed to abandon the individualist survival strategies of compliance and complacency that goes with bourgeois materialism. All we have to lose is the illegitimate social bond of whiteness; to be gained is the legitimacy of one’s self, necessarily oppositional to this complacent world, unified in obedience to the soul’s truth.
The illiberal demand of somebodyhood
Now we are being overwhelmed by multiple crises – social, economic, environmental, climactic – increasing in intensifying and now with a pandemic frosting on top! While extremists on the Right grow stronger in their sense of purpose, in part by ignoring or even cheering on the apocalypse, the Leftward side, ostensibly not in denial, is as if paralyzed. The vacuum left after the civil rights, pro-earth, and anti-war movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, into which biblical fundamentalism, conspiracy politics and hate talk immediately rushed, is due to the emptiness at the core of secular liberal white progressives. We lost (though not all of us!) our resistance to bourgeois obeisance not only because of our relative affluence and (some of us) prestige jobs, but because our resistance was on behalf of other souls and not our own. To this day we do not know the absolute nature of the claim upon us to realize our somebodyness. Unbeknownst to ourselves, we fear its absolute demand, which it has always made, against the claims of Caesar.
Writers whose perceptive political and social analysis I rely on continue to critique the problem of liberal impotence, the two parties being in reality no different, neoliberal hegemony unassailable by electoral politics, etc. The solution they propose is always the same: an uprising, a taking to the streets by the masses of people. Being far less brilliant than my writer peers, but following my duty to my soul to say something, I locate the source of the problem differently and propose a different activism.
In my “analysis” I’m quite alone, somewhere in a no-man’s-land between left and right, between secular atheism and religious theism, invisible to both sides nearly equally. Due to my enhanced isolation, the struggle to maintain my self-esteem is constant and ongoing. When I read about the “influencers” on Facebook and TikTok, many of them barely out of their teens, with hundreds of thousands of followers, I suffer further for this strange point of view of mine that includes seeing social media as an incredibly effective enabler of social isolation, not a solution to it. (As a social instrument, use of it must be condemned by society’s elders at least until the time when we have repaired our social health to the point we can use it appropriately. How’s that for a statement guaranteeing one’s invisibility?)
The devastating problem nobody talks about, the noxious source for liberalism’s inescapable banality, is that which I confront in every piece of writing: that is, the obliteration of my somebodyhood that only I can resist because its negation exists in me. No existing social movement can take up this cause if I have not identified it first myself, for true comradeship, true revolutionary solidarity is precisely the unified voice made up of individuals collectively insisting I am somebody. Until a white man or woman can find his/her way to connect with the invisible, inward source of his/her somebodyhood, all efforts to be “for the good,” on the side of anti-white supremacy, pro-BLM, pro-environment, pro-peace, will end the same way, with the lesser-evil Biden-Obama “saviors” actually worsening the plight of common humanity and of the precious biosphere we depend upon in common.
The way back is not simple. Both left and right ends of the whiteness spectrum are saved by our whiteness from both the terrifying depths of nothingness and from the spiritual transformation (salvation) gained by repentance. This is the ontological function of “white supremacy.” Even people who consciously seek salvation (in Jesus) have not necessarily faced the full “anti-being” of worthlessness. Thus, for people who’ve not faced nothingness, salvation by Jesus’s sacrifice risks being ego-supportive rather than transformative. In its most extreme version, salvation based in white supremacy, as Chris Hedges astutely predicted, leads to Christian fascism.
However, for those in the powerful liberal class who are unlikely to seek salvation through religion, their terrible-but-denied proximity to nothingness exerts an absolute influence that makes positive individual identity (salvation) impossible. The secret nobodyhood of the secular liberal makes her vulnerable to social salvation “by any means necessary.” Thus the drive for a career in the competitive professional class becomes irresistible for many if not most, regardless of the evil of the system that job secures them within (I think of Ward Churchill’s “little Eichmanns” insight, for which he was thoroughly reviled by the liberal establishment).
The liberal’s dependency on a career is more than the legitimate need for financial security. It gives us our self-identity as “somebodies.” At no point in our development to adulthood in liberal society are we encouraged, or rather admonished, to take a walk outside the system and find out who we are apart from it (i.e., to be a poet). If fact, we come to fear that sort of freedom and have a thousand guilty pleasures to pursue rather than discover that, truth be told, we cannot abide our freedom. This is the abyss from which escape is cut off by whiteness.
One part of the regaining of somebodyhood is inner and individual: it includes facing the terrible fear that is proximity to nothingness and non-being. Taking that on may require help from a healer, a therapist or shaman, but it always begins in honest confession, in self-despair (in letting go into nothingness), in refusing the balm of illegitimate, incomplete social approval. The literature known as religious myth assists with this journey into the unknown of one’s interior, the Unconscious, that’s also the realm of poetry and the creative soul. For me, fairy tales have also been instructive. This way of authentic, absolute repentance leads to the experience of “Other-power” (Hajime Tanabe in Philosophy As Metanoetics also calls it “the Great Compassion”) – the power which can subjectively confirm my somebodyness.
Because it is of and for “a people,” somebodyhood does not exist as a private knowing. It must be expressed. Not evangelically, but purely for the sake of the meaning – Hallelujah! – revealed through self-expression, and the trembling hope that what’s true for me is also true for you. The truest language – the language of freedom – is not that of politics but of poetry and song. Eventually, if we persevere in somebodyhood, the recognition of our imperiled humanity and the need to sustain it in each soul, grows. It may be expressed collectively, in song and movement, its unison truth coming from inward, poetic depths of individuals, as, in the songs of anti-apartheid, or in Wobbly anarchism, all the words were poetry.
Though increasingly we live in fear, we must recall, the triumph of fear is not inevitable. It’s possible for each of us to be confident in the knowledge it’s better to live humanly, a man or a woman, than a complacent American, obediently keeping the doomed ship going forward. The difference in perspective such confidence makes is revelatory: Those of us who were alarmed at the Capitol riot and its display of divisiveness and hate, might rather be appalled at ourselves, for not having been first to storm the Capitol on behalf of love and unity!
Black South Africans sang in defiance of apartheid, aiming at its chief defender: Look out Verwoerd, the black man is coming to get you, Look out Verwoerd the people have taken up the song. So we might sing, Look out all of you in the pockets of corporate interests, you lesser evils who still serve evil, who serve the war profiteers, the exploiters, the extractors and plunderers, the super wealthy instead of all of us; We’re coming to get you. Look out all you too-big-to-fail people, you need us we do not need you.
Besides storming the Capitol another, equally valid way exists to serve the inclusive truth, to warn the oligarchs and plutocrats “We are coming to get you.” That is, to defy our fear of losing our unsustainable middle-class way of life and its derived, inauthentic identity by fiercely practicing in our local communities the lost arts of being intergenerational families and community, of mutuality and loyalty over time. By rebuilding self-reliance through local agriculture and a local economy made up of many small businesses rather than ugly rows of big boxes, now themselves being replaced by Amazon Prime. People whose identities are based not in establishment approval but in their own depths can sacrifice to this kind of non-marketable, quixotic, revolutionary, and entirely sacred cause.
By knowing I am somebody – perhaps a real first – a legitimate “white power!” – we can, at last, reject the powerful, introjected instruments of our subjection. We can reject lawless, amoral capitalism, obedience to which obliterates our precious humanity. Living disobediently, practicing our art in obedience to Absolute Love, re-learning the lost arts of living in common, it may not be too much to hope that joy will return to these white bodies for whom joy is a suspicious, if not prohibited substance; the people will take up the song.