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The Fork in the Road
I think we humans are now an endangered species, mostly due to the ways we have gone about being the complicated primates we so far have evolved to be. It’s getting late for us to keep from destroying the planet and from destroying ourselves and at the heart of our plight is our difficulty embracing complexity and extending love and compassion beyond the boundaries of our tribes.
We are stressed to the max and the greater our stress, the more simple and tribal we become. When we are facing stress that is chronic and seemingly out of our control, we evolved to suppress our capacity for complex thinking, for self-reflection, for curiosity in order to keep things simple. And keeping things simple means keeping things binary: either-or, love it or leave it, social justice or law and order.
Under the weight of the multiple crises we are now facing, it is a tremendous challenge to keep our lids on and to embrace the complexities of our world. The natural tendency under these conditions is to revert to simple ideas that can produce simple actions. Our brains evolved to make us simple under duress so that we become preoccupied, obsessed with, survival. No time for learning, for exploration, for getting above this process of going low and being simple. At least it feels like we have no time and space to be our fanciest selves.
And when we get simple, we double down on divisions, hunker down into our clans and inevitably feel threatened by “others”, those who are “not us”. Indeed, we have to turn the others into non-humans and diminish them in every way we can to control the threat that the others will grow, develop their full potential as human beings, become who they could be if they were allowed to flourish.
In short, we need to keep the others from getting too big, too strong, too healthy. At all costs, while we are hunkered down in our simplistic survival brain mode, we need to do whatever we can to keep ourselves feeling big and strong and to keep the others feeling small and powerless. When we are in this simple-minded state, the greatest threat to our “tribe” is the flourishing of the other tribes.
Slavery has long been one human solution to keeping the other down. Slavery by definition depends upon the power of the enslavers to keep the enslaved from growing, developing, learning, pursuing the natural course of human development and realizing their potential as human beings. If the enslaved are allowed to grow and flourish, slavery is dead.
So here we are now, in America, living with the manifestations of our 400 years of racism, at the crossroads. Are we going to be able to create a society in which everyone can be free to grow and develop and “potentiate” or are we going to continue to be a society that is threatened by equality and freedom, where the forces of domination and submission rule the day?
I think we are, indeed, at this crossroads with the soul of our nation hanging in the balance. Maybe it’s a time to listen to that wise American baseball guy, Yogi Berra, when he said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take the fork.” Law, Order, Equality: an America in which the law and order serve to protect and defend the equality and social justice that are the heart of a mature humanity. I think the challenge we face is getting above the simplicity that divides us and taking the fork.
Here’s the rub: politics thrives on simplicity. And when the stress is at the max, we get demagogues who thrive on fanning divisions by keeping it simple: it’s us against them. The rise of demagogues is simply a manifestation of being at the crossroads, at a juncture in our history when narcissistic leaders thrive on our inherent fear of otherness and our powerful need to be simple in the face of seemingly overwhelming problems.
Can we “go high” and extend love beyond the tribal borders? Can we all rise up together? Can we have a politics that somehow is good enough to embrace an inclusive approach to being together and rejecting fear-driven simplicity and the need to divide to conquer?
Personally, I’m worried. All hands on deck! Let’s get out there and embrace the fork, making good trouble so all of us can have the safety and freedom to “move on up”.
Publisher: ddpnetwork.org (Oct 2020)
Article Copyright © Jon Baylin, 2020