|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Events and Society|
Protests and out of control emotions
Parish priest of St. Matthew Orthodox Church in Torrance, California
So, to follow on to my previous posts about out-of-control emotions, let's take a look at the protests going on right now across the country. There is something missing from them. Let's see if you can spot what I am talking about.
Dr. Martin Luther King defined the civil rights movement of the 1960s with his (deservedly) oft-repeated "I Have A Dream" speech, which presented a view of an integrated society. He presented a vision of a 'post-racial' society where interactions between races was done not on a group-to-group level, but at an interpersonal one.
Over forty years later, this concept is virtually forgotten. Everything is about the 'police,' 'the _______ community,' 'the poor,' 'the rich,' etc. We are discussing group dynamics, and group dynamics alone. The voices of the few people who see the problem here of lumping everyone together are lost in the roar of the 'collective bargaining collective' that our nation has become.
The individual, good or bad, is obscured by the group. Everyone becomes a faceless mass.
And, this makes getting angry with other people really easy, because there is far less to think about and fewer of those distracting facts about *that person* rather than being able to dismiss everyone as the same. We call it 'stereotyping' when it is done to us, but can't avoid it when we start talking about social issues.
If everything is about the group, the group's size is critical. After all, group dynamics are power dynamics, and so the size of your group determines your seat at the negotiations table. With this comes the fear of excluding members of the group that really are, in all other ways, a complete liability. After all, we have a need to identify with them in order to bolster our own self-perception as a group.
Thus, we are stuck defending the actions of people within our group. So, a man murders two NYPD cops that have nothing to do with any of the subjects of the protests, and there is only muted objection to his stereotyping of 'all police' and the protest-machine acts as if nothing happens.
Because everyone would stop having to be angry and start thinking. Maybe this is going too far. Maybe we need to recognize that the police are as diverse in attitudes as we actually are if we allow ourselves a moment to stop chanting slogans and really think.
Of course, once you take the emotions out of the equation, then you are left with the harder tasks of thinking and reasoning, which are never popular because they don't have all the fun adrenaline and dopamine releases that torching liquor stores gives you.
Again, the same thing can be found in the Church, where there are people who pose as being thoughtful by having a ninety-seven syllable slogan, but in the end are just as wrapped up in their emotions and stereotypes as the "Burn this @#$%& down!" guy with the ski mask and a Molotov Cocktail. We often identify it as sentimentalism, but it inevitably devolves into group dynamics with 'Us-Versus-Them' defining the thought process.
As a larger community in the US, we have been forced into prison camps of group identities that keep us separated and antagonized. So long as the group identity is preserved, the antagonism will continue. After all, one bad experience with one member of the group must mean that they are all bad, right?
If you cannot make a differentiation between groups, and the other group knows it, don't be surprised if they give up trying to reach out. After all, when you have a person who refuses to deal with the present moment and instead chooses to always act like he is dealing with a group-to-group confrontation, it gets frustrating. As a rule, I don't talk with people who refuse to agree to the basic facts of a matter before indulging in conversation. It is pointless.
And, so, if you are going to get upset at me for things done by another priest 30 years ago that I have never met (and probably would not like if I did), there is simply no way for me to really get past that. Well, there is one way: decide to inhabit that identity you have created and let you do whatever you want to me that you really want to do to that other guy.
I've done that. It sucks and it doesn't work. In fact, some people just get angrier because we got their hopes up and then dashed them.
That's the real deal in the protests. These are not about healing, but about wanting revenge. The burning, the looting, the chants of violence... social justice is no longer about everyone getting the same deal as it is about exacting penalties and avenging hurt feelings.
All the talk about 'empowerment' is about striking back. It is violent, and thus, by definition, there can never be peace. Peace means there is no need for violence. Peace is, well, peaceful. Peace does not need agitation. Thus, a 'peaceful protest' is an oxymoron, which is why the peaceful protesting down not work for the 'peaceful protesters.' It becomes a matter of violence by degrees.
Once you draw a distinction between two groups, then there must also be violence in order to 'preserve' that identity. Those who violate the 'borders' are punished. Call them 'traitors' or 'heretics' or 'Uncle Toms.' Thus, we see the internal violence of the group dynamic, which is aimed at those who call into question the need for borders at all.
And so, we are all prisoners of a world that demands of us anger and agitation. We are led by those who can agitate us the best, and who can arouse within us the emotions necessary for us to keep the identity-discipline while refusing to betray our tribe.
We are scared and angry and resentful. And, we must remain that way in order for the system to continue. We take away the individuality of others, and find that we have also lost our own.
Article published on: 29-12-2014.