On not becoming the Monster

Election day is Tuesday, less than a week away.  The subdivision where I live is one of those places with a HOA or Home Owners Association and part of the HOA agreement is no political signs.  But about a week and half ago the McCain/Palin lawn signs popped up all over my neighborhood as if it were harvest time; as if they were all planted together a certain number of weeks back and all popped through the soil together at the same time.  I promptly waterproofed the cardboard Obama sign I had and secured to the front of house.  It wasn’t so much an act of tit for tat, as it was a reminder that I am not part of the McSameness.

As the campaign has drawn nearer to a close, it has disturbed me greatly.  Stories of McCain/Palin rallies that incite supporters to think of Obama as a terrorist with catcalls to kill him, had little to do with issues and raised up for me images of  totalitarian and fascist regimes that demonize “the other” to gain and maintain power.  Then I heard the story of Sarah Palin being hanged in effigy as a halloween decoration and almost didn’t want to believe it.  That’s what “they” do. “Redneck women” hang black men in effigy, not the other way around.  But for all the shouts of “kill him” and “terrorists” and  the Obama in a noose, for which students were suspended from a college in Oregon, – one Palin in effigy ( a halloween decoration), equalizes the field of weeks of what amounts to hate inspired and sanctioned rallies.  What’s sad is that a Halloween decoration in poor taste is the media equalizer for weeks of behavior that borders on race-baiting at mass rallies.

Even Gandhi couldn’t keep India from killing itself over religious differences once they had used non-violence to gain independence from British rule.  Engaging with the other is an incredibly difficult task, made especially more difficult when it’s part of the nature of one of a pair of interlocutors to be open to diversity and that nature of the other to be suspect of people who are different.

It’s so easy, so human, to be reactionary and our politics so often comes from such a place from both the left and the right.  We feel that when our world view is threatened, we need to defend it to the metaphorical death without pausing to think how this so often and too easily leads to defending it to the literal death.  We get fearful of the other, so afraid of the other and the worst qualities either real or imagined of our enemies that we end up adopting these qualities or behaviors that we deplore.  It’s a defense mechanism.

Where I grew up
There weren’t many trees
Where there was we’d tear them down
And use them on our enemies
They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you

It’s already gone too far
Who said that if you go in hard
You won’t get hurt

- U2, Peace on Earth

I’m amazed, quite frankly that the Obama campaign and the vast majority of its supporters has managed to stay above the fray, in my opinion, during this campaign. Yet in the closing week, I’ve seen the actuality dawn on the Republican side that they are going to lose and the fear in that realization is coming out in the tenor of both the campaign and its supporters.  Faced with that, it is starting to be matched by Obama supporters, not at the level of racial epithets or inciting to racism (which those rallies amount to in my opinion) but in the energy and emphasis of argument and the willingness to just go for the jugluar or reach into hyperbole in discussion.  I noticed it for the first time in myself yesterday after weeks of advising others about it.

It comes out in many ways, in conversation, in the blogosphere, in the yard sign wars. The intensity of the moment brings it out.  People who are otherwise friendly just can’t see how otherwise good people can possibly think that way (in the way that is in oppossion from their own thinking).  How can any reasonable person not draw my conclusion?  We ask ourselves, and are left to ponder.

As a minister I can not and do not endorse any candidate or party from the pulpit or as a reprentative or my congregation or the UUA.  But I cannot be nuetral in this election as an individual. It is too important.  Anyone who knows me, knows that as an individual I am supporting Barack Obama.  I think he’s the best choice at this time and this place in our history. I am not a party idealogue, however.  Politically, I am actually to left, far to the left of Barack Obama.  I’d like to see him have the guts to come right out and  advocate for national health care and gay marriage among other things.   I’ve actually run for office as a member of the Green Party and yet I’ve also voted for Republican candidates because they were the best person running for the job. And not just for dog catcher,  I’ve voted for Republicans for as high an office as Governor.   I vote my conscience on the issues and not just the person, and on the balance of issues and character and time in history, Obama is my choice this time.  That being said, I, like anyone else, look around me sometimes and wonder, how? why? I look up and down my street and ask myself “are any of these people making more than $250,000 a year? Do they want to afford health care? How many more people need to die in a war started by lies while the criminal who killed thousands of our fellow citizens is still on the loose? And then I remember everyone is not me.  It can be very hard at times.  Especially at election times. Especially when you live in a place where your world view is not only not the norn, but the “other.”

My task isn’t to wonder about the “others” on my street, my friends who don’t share my political beliefs, or the people shouting “kill him” and “terrorist.”  My first task is to wonder about me.  How will I not become the monster?  How will I not turn into a monster, however small or however terrible, that dismissed another person because they disagree with me, vote differently than I do, see the world differently than I do.  Because once I close off, I have become a fundamentalist and that is incompatible with avoiding monsterhood and incompatible with being a Unitarian Universalist.

The left has its monsters as does the right.  That lesson must not go unlearned.

Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist has a great review up of Marty Beckerman’s new book Dumbocracy, in which Beckerman takes a look at the fringes of American politics on both the right and the left.

Mehta says

It’s a book marketed to liberals, but I think conservatives could find a lot of value in it. We’d be better off if we listened to what the other side had to say without getting into a shouting match. There’s power in civilized dialogue. And when you see how idiotic both sides look when the extremists get the attention, you can understand why compromise is so difficult and why we’re rarely able to make progress on the issues that matter to everyone.

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