Don Rogers: The gritty middle way
Humans live in tension between the collective and the individual, neither ant drones nor lonely snow leopards.
We lived this way hunting and gathering before our current species cemented. We live this way now. Look around.
Our governance, our politics, our societies in all their shades express themselves through this tension, where we blends with me, a social animal holding such an inflated sense of self while desperate beyond reason to belong.
Various utopias and all our fears play in the twilight between. How we draw close or hold ourselves apart, our personal and public orbits, unique as fingerprints on uniform digits.
Our yearnings in politics would have us believe that the end of the rainbow, the prize, lies at one pole or the other, sweet relief to be found there. But of course that’s confused, distorted, like everything viewed through an ideological prism.
There is no all this or all that with sharp boundaries between, no one way or one slogan or one equation that captures everything. Unless, of course, you get cynical and turn to truisms about power.
Power is a useful word in this context. Putin embodies power. So does protest. Leaders have to tap it to be leaders, whether the power of persuasion or authority.
But power, like electricity, is only a means. What do you do with yours? To what end? What do you make or destroy with it? How does yours contribute to the collective?
Today we have a bad habit of wailing about our personal lack of power, how things have never been worse, each of us never weaker, that whole trope of woe if we don’t bother with the mountains of evidence showing humanity has never had it better or been safer, healthier, weathier and, yes, less violent than right now. Even with Ukraine. Despite COVID.
Fact is, we as individuals are more powerful than ever. We can measure by the dollars at our disposal, access to information, ability to live independently, free time, choices ranging from sexual expression to whether to vote or bother trying to understand what or who we will vote for.
Collectively, for all our intractable problems we enjoy an incredible surplus of untapped potential. Our excess of personal strength largely is squandered precisely because we have so much time and energy to waste.
How else to explain, say, social media, endless hours with cable news, all the claptrap deliberately ignorant citizens indulge themselves in? We can afford it. We have that power, unbridled and chaotic.
It weakens us.
To the degree we gravitate to a political camp is a handy test. Agree with everything in one or the other? Probably not a great sign. Those pathways have gone atherosclerotic. You need a better news and information diet.
Sure, enjoy the sugar and fat on Fox, CNN, Mother Jones, National Review. Just know what you’re consuming, what’s left out of the ingredients. Too much will leave you fat, lazy and cranky as all get out.
Best go easy with the popular politics on the bookshelf, too, the tell-alls, unveilings of supposed secrets, scores to settle, ravings of fanatics, so much candy, too much fun.
There is some value in learning the stark fears of conservatives and progressives from reading the likes of Mark Levin and George Lakoff, though. They reveal themselves not so much in the quality of their arguments, but in how closely their conclusions about those evil others fit their own side. Change a few names, switch out some code words, and voila.
Read this way, the farther right and farther left have uncannily similar root worldviews in common. Just understand that America’s actual risk of living under the thumb of fascist overlords or critical-theorist Marxist mobs amounts to the same fever dream born of indigestion from bogieman stories repeated mostly on blue screens.
The healthiest approach might be choosing the middle way, moderation in all things, with just enough detachment and discipline to find the flaws in our own most earnest beliefs. That is, resisting our very human yearning to be part of a warm, approving collective and instead challenging the accepted assumptions.
The effort may well prove futile. Such is the seductive power of belonging, especially cloaked as advocacy. But it’s no less worthwhile. Here runs the hard road toward genuine free will and perhaps a glimpse of actual truth.
The biblically inclined are familiar with motes and beams, as psychology notes cognitive biases, and science is all about falsifiable evidence. (Scientism, on the other hand, is an ill faith revealed in churchy pronouncements like, “The science has spoken.”)
This middle way, then, is no philosophical fence rail, long fields stretching out from each side, or above the fray. No, here’s where heads butt and ideas collide along a line of scrimmage where courage is required, all our notions tested and often enough bruised or broken.
We can’t escape this fundamental tension that just comes with being human, but we can embrace it, that icy stream. The reward, like painful exercise, is building strength and a kind of power in allowing ourselves to be influenced by a community without being subsumed entirely.
Think more lonely leopard than ant drone and, counterintuitively, a chance to free ourselves. For as long as we can stand it.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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