We Need Radical Self-Love For This Fight

As I write this conclusion in the little bedroom of the Covid-safe friend pod, Trump and his followers are waging yet another war on reality, denying the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory. More than 100,000 cases of Covid-19 are reported every day in every part of the US. The 24 hour cable news cycle is reporting every absurd event, debating whether or theorizing how a Trump coup might unfold. The atmospheric dread is thick and orange, choking us with disbelief. The democratic experiment feels more like a failure than usual, especially as so many of us lacked faith in our institutions and that old promise of opportunity to begin with. Not many people believe that a Biden presidency is capable of bringing about the deep changes necessary to confront either the viral memetic infection of Trumpism or the contradictions of racial capitalism. Climate change looms heavy in our hearts too, even as we feel confident in Biden’s ability to bring actual science and scientists to the fore in our battle against Covid-19. Where do we go next? How do those of us that believe in truth, justice, and democracy orient ourselves in the proximate and distant unknowns? What are our weapons and tools of resistance? Who is our opponent?

From my humble place in this little room, in front of a cracked-screen computer, I offer – without an grain of irony – that love is at least part of the answer. And not just any love, but the radical self-love animated in the words of Sonya Renee Taylor

Radical self-love summons us to be our most expansive selves, knowing that the more unflinchingly powerful we allow ourselves to be, the more unflinchingly powerful others are capable of being.

Sonya Renee Taylor. The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018.

Radical self-love calls us to self-interrogation in our emotional lives as well as the way that we interact with the world. It is not about guilt or self-absorption or saccharine calls for love and light, but changing our own hearts and minds so that we can see reality as it is. In that reality we find our own vulnerability, pain, and alienation – the atomic energy that shapes our own perceptions and that of other people. When we start to heal the real brokenness of our earliest relationships, we begin to break the stranglehold of pain and isolation that keep us addicted to the substances, behaviors, and relationships that keep us from giving ourselves more fully over to the work of healing making the world a better place. These material and social addictions also keep us from the work of healing our collective trauma – colonization, slavery, several wars, and now Trump and Covid-19 whenever it’s over. We need to get strong and grounded as both individuals and the collective so that we can see reality as it is rather than being blinded by our own trauma and the collective delusion of meritocracy, as well as this idea that competition and selfishness are the most important human inclinations to nurture as a society. Dr. Gabor Mate reminds us that:

The defeatist belief that all pursuits arise from a selfish core in all humanity denies the deeper motives that also activate people: love, creativity, spiritual quest, the drive for mastery and autonomy, the impulse to make a contribution.

Gabor Mate M.D. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. Knopf, Canada, 2008.

We must reach back into this core of our humanity to encounter others there as well. The ideas and politics of Trumpism are not new. They are just being weaponized in new and powerful ways because of the economics of cable news and social media, turning these ugly distortions and lies into a virus that spreads stealthily from mind to mind.

Still Waiting

When I hitchhiked from the East Coast to the West Coast during the summer of 2008, I had several long conversations with all kinds of truck drivers. By far the most disturbing conversation was with a Midwestern couple who picked me and my friend up from the side of road where we had spent the night after being kicked out of a truck stop in Pendleton, Oregon. They seemed a little weird when they pulled up next to us and offered the ride, but we were only 200 miles from Portland and there were few vehicles passing us so I made the call. I told my friend not to say anything to them about politics – just play dumb. The 2008 US presidential race between Obama and McCain had been raging, bringing the racists out of the woodwork. I didn’t want to end up dead in a ditch, as much as I was confident in our status as two young white women. Once we were on the road, the driver (the guy) quickly asked us what we thought of the election. My friend pretended to sleep while I cautiously told him that we didn’t care about politics – we were just about rock and roll and partying! Without missing a beat he responded, “Well I think Obama wants to be a ruler. We need a leader, not a ruler.” “Yeah! A leader not a ruler!” his wife chimed in. I mumbled something benign and told them I didn’t know anything about it. There was an awkward silence, and then he turned on the radio. Back in 2008 there weren’t many podcasts around and Facebook was still something the kids played with. But there was Rush Limbaugh and other Right-wing ideologues on AM radio and Sirius XM, which carried all the cable news stations, endlessly looping the small quantity of programming made available. The driver turned on Fox News and the angry voice thumping the airwaves was shouting, “Obama is a ruler! We need a leader, not a ruler,” over and over again. It was as though their free will and thought had been hijacked by a conservative zombie virus. I didn’t know that this was just a tiny glimpse of what was and what would become. Such is the mindstate of our opponents, only far more aggressive and amplified across social media, now broken into millions of mind-borne viral droplets.

Demonstrators use inflatable rubber ducks as shields to protect themselves from water cannons during an anti-government protest as lawmakers debate a constitution change, outside the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, November 17. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

I do not believe we can change their minds with facts and information. What they need is deprogramming and I do not know how to do that on the scale that is required. They exist in a context where so many of our institutions align with their ideology, even if they give lip service to things like diversity and inclusion. None the less they are our opponents, and it is imperative that we step into their timing so that we can respond to their tactics instead of reacting to their vitriol. It will be scary, but we must summon the courage to both stand up and commit to the long haul of work that needs to be done in order for true change to happen. I draw so much hope and inspiration from reading about the pro-democracy movement in Thailand. These young people – many of them not even in high school yet – continue to take the streets armed only with their courage, demands, and eachother. We might be a discordant chorus of voices, but we are in this together. The fact that we are not alone in this is one of our greatest assets for fighting this battle, as isolation and alienation are the comorbidities that make people vulnerable to fascism. If we can take care of ourselves, take care of eachother, and hold space for those who want to break out of the cult of white supremacy and capitalism so they have a clear path of entry into the movement, we will be so powerful. If those of us who enjoy greater privileges of wealth and status would give up some of their power and bring their assets to the movement without imposing their egos, we will be powerful. I did not return to the US so that I could post memes while fascism marches through the country. I came home with all my courage, love and hope to fight. Let’s get to work.

PS: here are some videos about trauma and mental health that I have found useful.