On Saturday, 100,000 of us showed up at the Women’s march in Portland, OR to remind ourselves that love is better policy than fear and hate. I cried several times, just because it felt so good to know that I wasn’t alone, but as the week has gone on, I’ve been wondering what next. What is the next step to take in showing that I disagree with our president? I’m not sure I have an answer yet, but I trust that I will know when the time is right.
There’s a kind of Christianity that I like to call Amway Christianity. It’s a kind of “faith” heavy on the selling of the narrative and light on the substance. The GenX/Millennial version is heavy on doing good stuff—lots of charitable good works—but can be light on spiritual content. The Boomer version is all about personal morality. In this kind of Christianity an actual connection with the divine is almost unnecessary as long as you get the doing right. Whether that’s personal morality or good works, the important thing is to keep selling to yourself and others the narrative that Jesus died for your sins. It quickly becomes a kind of American multi-level scheme, where selling the process becomes more important than the product.
I was reminded of this kind of thinking this morning when I read an article on Wired.com about a federal judge in Minnesota who set up a program to deradicalize a group of Somali youths who had tried to join ISIS. The article starts by walking through the process of radicalization. Radicalization often starts with outrage, in this case at how the Syrian government treats its people. The injustice then leads to a focus on a need to act, to make a difference, a willingness to make sacrifices to make that difference. Eventually that need to act becomes so pressing that all else is lost or seen as less valuable—family, friends, values, and morality get sacrificed in the name of justice.
(I think this is what happened for many rust belt Trump voters. The economic injustices of globalization and the patent disregard by both parties led them to hyper-focus on Trump’s promises to the point that his deficiencies were lost in the noise.)
In the Wired article, Daniel Koehler, the expert used by the judge, argues—based on the limited science available—that the best way to deradicalize a skinhead or a potential terrorist is to remind them of their everyday mundane choices, to reengage them in life. If they used to like to take photographs, get them back into photography. If they previously did martial arts, get them into classes. The idea is to remove their obsession and ground them again in daily living—to make the everyday valuable again. The point is to slowly, over a period of years, help the radical remember and engage in other activities than their crusade. It’s a kind of reengaging with the substance of living.
The article challenged me that I need to resist the process of radicalization that is inevitable while living under the reign of Emperor Donald. The first days have been horrifying in their damage to our democracy. There have been so many attacks that even listing them is to go down a breathtaking rabbit hole that can only lead to fatigue and burnout. The tendency is to become so hyper-focused on the latest outrage that you feel the need to resist right now. Something must be done today to make it right.
The danger is that we forget to live the life we’re trying to protect, that we become radicalized and lose the values that generated our outrage in the first place. So my challenge to myself is to make sure that I don’t lose my life to the cause, because when I win, I want a life to come home to, a substance worth engaging. Without it, outrage might be the only thing I have left, and that would be a hollow life indeed.
So the next time that the latest outrage threatens to narrow your focus, to cause you to forget your life go hug someone, put down the social media, and live. Sometimes, that’s resistance enough.