As the Cold War ended in the early '90's, a lot of us on the left celebrated the fact that conservatives were relieved of their overarching villain...communists. Of course, it didn't take long before communists were replaced by terrorists and now, for some, that has morphed into Muslims as the villain in our world today.
But make no mistake about it, liberals have their own villains. These days they go by names like corporations, corporatists, plutocrats, etc. The same anger and fear that drives conservatives to blame the world's woes on Muslims drives liberals to do the same with corporations. Of course, there is an element of truth in both of these when it comes to certain specifics. But it is the demonization and labeling of whole groups of people as "villains" that is the problem.
And so today I began reflecting on why it is that we are so drawn to narratives that oversimplify things in this way. That's when I remembered the quote I posted yesterday.
Though his politics went off the rails a bit towards the end of his life, this quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn captures a profound truth about human nature.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?I promise not to go all Jungian on you, but the reality is that the search for heroes and villains is actually about our own struggle to embrace the fact that we inhabit both within ourselves. We attempt to avoid that struggle by projecting it out onto the world.
Arthur Miller's play, After the Fall, is a wonderful story about humans coming to grips with their own heroic failings and villainous capacities in the midst of the McCarthy era not long after WWII. In terms of heroics, he has a wonderful line: "To go to someone with the lie of limitless love is to cast a shadow in the face of God." But the most profound moment of the play for me was when the main character Quentin (who is Jewish) asks a German woman how she lives with herself after the Holocaust. Here's what she says.
I think it's a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one's self. One day the house smells of fresh bread, the next of smoke and blood. One day you faint because the gardener cuts his finger off, within a week you're climbing over corpses of children bombed in a subway. What hope can there be if that is so?You may think by now that I've wandered way off the field of politics. Perhaps that's true. But as a feminist, I'm one of those people who believes that the personal is political and the political is personal. And so, when I see people rushing to demonize their chosen villains and desperately search for a hero who can fix everything for us, I'm reminded that we're still not sleeping very well because we haven't had the courage to take that broken horrible face into our laps and kiss it. Just as we haven't figured out that anyone promising us limitless love is a hoax.
I tried to die near the end of the war. The same dream returned each night until I dared not go to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible...but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one's life in one's arms.
Melissa gets it.