Resist… Radicalization

Uncategorized Comments (2)

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 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.

» Uncategorized » Resist… Radicalization
On January 25, 2017

2 Responses to Resist… Radicalization

  1. danagreyson says:

    Hello Erik. Thank you for your thoughtful post. Like you, I too participated in and felt uplifted by the Women’s March (in Sydney, as I am currently in Australia).

    Also, like you, wondered…. What is the best path forward to protect and further what I believe is good about what our country does, particularly in the realms of human rights, personal freedom and environmental protection? Again, like you, am somewhat shellshocked with the reports of unwelcome changes.

    A couple progressive steps I am taking

    1. Every claim I read, I refuse to accept until I fact-check it from a viable source – even (especially!) if it’s a stance that plays to my own biases. What I am typically finding is that most of what Trump is doing is in line with what many other Republicans (and sometimes Democrats) have done in recent years. It is usually undone by the next Democratic President.

    2. If others take a different view than mine, I fight the urge to respond defensively. Instead I focus on getting to their core values and in particular seek out reasons (in interest, to learn, not out of defensiveness). If they are set on their ideas, I am not likely to change their mind (nor do I try*), but they will feel respected by genuine listening, something we all appreciate.

    *It’s like the great response variation to the “How many folks does it take to change a light bulb?” joke. Answer: “None. But the lightbulb has to want to change.”

    3. Where I am particularly concerned I can either send money to the organizations best equipped and ideally most efficiently able to support my interests, or take other specific, focussed action designed to request a particular action. As time goes on, I hope my ability to choose which causes, specific actions and methods that prove the most effective, improves.

    BTW – you might enjoy this

    In particular, thank you for the story you passed on about the judge de-radicalizing ISIS youth. There are so many stories that human connection, rather than punishment and banishment are more effective. Sadly, they are not usually the ones that make it into our mainstream, primarily fear-fed mass media; the Wired story you refer to is more the exception. BTW – link to it would be great.

  2. Gerardo Gomez says:

    I enjoyed your article very much. Thanks for sharing such deep – and invigorating – reflections. To me, they are “yoga-like” readings… I meditate while reading them, then feel like there is hope for humanity/human being/my children and their children… 🙂
    … Fighting for what you believe, but staying connected to the greater picture… hmmm, I like it !!

Leave a Reply to Gerardo Gomez Cancel reply

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