Last week, I came across a conversation on social media that suggested the only solution to the current state of things in the US is the dissolution of the country into two (or more) separate nations. One person claimed it would be best if California just became its own country, and secession is indeed a hot topic these days. Another claimed that we should just cut off the entire center of the country from “us” and give it to “them.” Still another claimed that it might be a good idea to divide up as a nation based on red states and blue states, and just let them take over running their countries as they saw fit. Now, I admit that I have also considered this idea, and a lot of the time right now, the ideas coming out of the madness that has infested Washington are so far removed from anything I can comprehend as reality, I have thought that dividing into country-states might be the only solution in the long run ~ we seem to be approaching an increasing point of no return in our political divide. However, the practicalities and deeply unsettling process that would be required to enact such a division seem utterly impossible without destroying the lives of a vast majority of people living in this country we call America.
The conversation I was taking part in was one between progressive American women. All of us were horrified by the unfolding of events and attempts at legislation at present. We all wanted to see things change dramatically. And most of those in the conversation also realized that daydreams of creating our own liberal progressive utopia, and kicking out all those who we find to be ignorant, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, sexist, and the like are merely that: rich and hopeful fantasy. Ultimately, living in a diverse world with a variety of ideas creates a meaningful democratic conversation, and having a variety of differing ideas to bump up against provides the opportunity for growth as individuals, and as a nation.
As differing ideas appeared in the dialogue, I was surprised to find quite liberal values being espoused with the same kind of dogmatic fervor as the most radical conservatives. One voice in the conversation, let’s call her Mary, insisted that the states should divide into their own countries, and that those who were not of like value with the majority of those in their red or blue state, would be welcome to move. As a fantasy, this is great ~ it acknowledges the pain that so many of us feel as we live in divided communities, and many people feel increasingly greater fear of those with opposing views. And it is a huge problem in our current American political situation to determine how to continue evolving as humans and as a country when our government has been overtaken by such heinous and backwards ideas. It’s not a comfortable time, for sure. But dividing the country into more homogenous smaller ones is unlikely to solve the fundamental issues that we are facing right now. At best, we’d end up as hostile and warring neighbors.
I engaged in conversation with Mary, who I do not personally know. She was from California, and was a solid supporter of secession, as well as the division of states into their own countries. As I questioned the reality of that kind of movement, I asked her to consider all those people who might be forced to move to another place in the name of living according to their values, or in the name of the safety of their families, stripped of human rights protections in their former home state. Mary was dismissive, saying that it would be a small sacrifice that was worth it in the name of getting “those people” out of the way. The conservatives in California could either just deal with living in a liberal utopia, or get out. I spoke to her from the opposite side of the conversation, as a progressive living in a red state. Sure, I could pack up my life, leave my beloved home and land, and move to one of the neighboring progressive states – both of which I’ve lived in previously – but it’s far more complex to take these ideas and turn them into living reality. We live where we do because it is 1) considerably more affordable than surrounding areas, 2) a beautiful and unique place surrounded by nature and with a good amount of land, 3) a place where we have built a business, which is working, and 4) close enough to major metropolitan areas without being congested and overdeveloped. For the same money in a neighboring state, we’d be lucky to rent a studio apartment in a highly overdeveloped and sketchy area, which would strip us of all the things we love about our home and life there.
Mary argued that by pushing progressive people in red states to migrate to more progressive states, it would drive up rents and raise salaries, and it would give the economy a major boost overall. And that people like me, who clearly have education and employable skills, would surely find a job at a much higher salary than in the current red state I call home. While it seems like a good argument on the surface, in reality, she was not acknowledging the diverse career paths that people take, and the diversity of work and economics that are reality for many people. For an entrepreneur or small business owner, uprooting a business that has grown to find its place in a particular community is no small thing. For business owners who have established their companies in a particular location, living in a new place would require rebuilding their businesses from scratch. For those who have local customers and fit a niche in the community in which they live, relocating is the equivalent of a slash and burn. For someone with a clearly defined set of job skills with a career working for specific kinds of companies and organizations, it may be a fairly straightforward path to find relevant employment in a particular field, be it manufacturing, teaching, medicine, or corporate executive positions. But what about those who don’t fit neatly into any of those categories, the artists and healers, of which I am one of many?
Many artists and healers simply find a day job that pays the basic expenses of living. But a number of us have found ways to establish our work in service of local and global communities, and have found ways of thriving and sustaining ourselves in a world that doesn’t make it easy at all. We have found ways to live simple, unconventional lives, and by being persistent and patient, we are increasingly able to support ourselves by doing what we feel certain is not merely a job, but a mission, a calling. As an artist and healer, I chose to make a commitment to my work and my path first, and to find a way to support myself in the process. At the beginning, this choice left me utterly broke and living out of my car, but in time, I have been able to create a healing Sanctuary on a mountaintop, surrounded by beautiful forest and sky. For years, I have also worked more than most people I know in order to create an unconventional business to bring my heart’s mission into the world, and I know for sure that this work touches peoples lives, and makes this world a better place. If my red state decided to become its own country, embracing the most radical conservative values, it would affect my life in tremendous ways. First, as a woman who is not Christian, and whose work involves spirituality, it would concern me greatly that my religious freedom could be violated. Perhaps I would then need to live with watchfulness, looking out for those emboldened vigilantes who would seek to teach dissenters a lesson. Second, as a woman who is married to a woman, it would concern me greatly that my marriage might become void, and that businesses in my state (run by conservatives that promote discrimination) would bar my entry. Would the grocery store allow us to buy food, or the bank allow us to make a deposit, or the hospital allow us entry if necessary? Would we need to closet ourselves, never openly expressing affection or even acknowledging our union, in fear that we might be violently assaulted or killed? Not to mention the large numbers of immigrants and first-generation Americans in our community – would they be safe, would their businesses and families be destroyed? Would we ultimately be forced to abandon our life and home, fleeing to a neighboring state that would bring us significant financial strain, and forcing us to live in a way that doesn’t fit our needs?
I shared all of these things in my conversation with Mary, and plenty more. Her initial response was that she was once an artist, too, but she woke up to the reality that she had to pay the bills and get a job. My question to her: did you have a gift and a calling to share with the world that was your life’s mission? Or did you simply like making art? Because if we force all gifted artists and healers to abandon their life’s work in order to work a status quo job that stifles their souls and deadens their gifts, the world would be a far less wonderful place. Just imagine if Picasso hadn’t been allowed to flourish, or Mozart, or any number of amazing visionary people who have transformed our world with the work they shared. The artists and healers are the prophets and visionaries that express the currents that exist in the world, and beyond the world, and without us, the soul of the world would become an increasingly gray scale and utilitarian place, with little inspiration and little meaning. Most people in the world who have not ever attempted to make a life and a living as an artist or healer have no idea what immense energy is required, how hard one must work, and how little – beyond the work itself – one receives in return in the formative years of becoming established. It’s certainly not a life for everyone, but it is indeed a life for a number of us – especially in the progressive movement. And ultimately, would any of us want to choose: forced migration and total uprooting vs. living in a culture and environment where everything you value is on the chopping block?
As the conversation with Mary began to lose its integrity, I was accused of being someone who isn’t willing to work, and who would just need to grow up and get a job like the rest of the country. That my freedom to live and work as I choose is indulgent and ultimately not relevant in the greater conversation of what must be done in the name of justice. That sacrifices must be made, and that some people would suffer.
In that moment a light bulb turned on above my head: if you shift the details of what she is saying, they fit *exactly* into the very conversation that progressives oppose. That in order to have a solid country, some people’s lives and freedoms matter less, and are worthy of sacrifice. We just saw this at Standing Rock *last week* and we continue to see evidence of this in every single insane dictate that comes from the White House right now.
Forced migration. It happens for a number of reasons. Natural disasters, environmental issues, war, development, human trafficking, slavery, ethnic cleansing… all horrible, all traumatizing to those in the position of being forced from their homes. And you know what we call a person forced into migrating ~ or fleeing ~ outside of his/her homeland? A refugee. As if the conversation about allowing refugees from war-torn countries hasn’t already brought most progressives to stand up loudly and fight injustice, the very idea that some progressives would want to enact the same kind of crisis in their own country is pure insanity. NO forced migration in history has ever been successful, in that it promoted a meaningful, rich life to those who had no choice but to flee and survive, or stay and face persecution, suffering, and possibly death. The ongoing conversation was abruptly halted by Mary’s choice to block me. She, as are many people on the whole political spectrum, was no longer interested in engaging in a conversation that pointed out shocking but important similarities that progressives and conservatives may share, regardless of the differing content of the argument.
I don’t have any clear answers on how we can successfully shape the direction of this experiment we call America. No idea at all. But I do know that it must involve conversation, education, and the willingness to see the full picture for all people, especially those who are disenfranchised and less visible. If we progressives aren’t willing to stretch ourselves to see the full spectrum of diversity among us, how can we expect the conservatives, with their more closed perspectives, to stretch even a little to see the perspective they oppose? If we can’t make it a priority to try to understand a little more every day, then all hope is lost.
The mystic Osho says, “Society is not an existential reality. It is created by man because man is asleep, because man is in chaos, because man is not capable of having freedom without turning it into licentiousness. Man is not capable of having freedom and not taking advantage of it. So it is an artificial – but necessary – creation of man. Because society is artificial, it can be dissolved. Because it was necessary once, it does not mean it has to be necessary forever. Man just has to change those conditions which made it necessary. And it is good that it is not existential, otherwise there would be no way to get rid of it. It is our own manufactured thing. We can destroy it any day we want.” Ultimately, as we continue to evolve as humans, we are indeed free to drop the old ways and create new ones, ones that are far more enlightened and just. As I see it, the progressives are choosing to continue moving in this direction, while the conservatives want to hold on to the “good old days” of the past. This is a strong divide, and indeed, it is not clear how we can navigate this time gracefully, honoring the needs of all, and continuing to do better as humans than we have in the past. But through intention, and through willingness to see and transform our own personal limitations and blocks, the flow of change will continue, and it will become unstoppable. The old world will fall away like the leaves on the trees in autumn, and indeed, society will be utterly transformed.