In the past week, one of the recurring messages I’ve seen popping up in the news is regarding the new series of budget cuts declared by the current US government, and how these cuts are “compassionate” and ultimately in favor of the poorest people in the US, who struggle so much already. Voiced by the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, here’s what was said:
“… can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no… I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do… I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna ask you for your hard-earned money, anymore, single mother of two in Detroit … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.’” (New York Magazine)
Reading this statement over and over again, I found myself infuriated. First, infuriated that these insanely wealthy beaurocrats, business tycoons, and manipulators are doing their best to twist the truth not only to continue filling their own pockets and serving their own interests, but they are masterfully doing so at the expense of the very ones they have tricked into supporting them in the strongest way. There are so many conservatives who are so die-hard supportive of their own demise, it truly baffles me. But second, I am equally infuriated at the very lack of decency and integrity that is being espoused by these people who have railroaded the government. If I could suspend my utter shock that there are people who are so heartless and self-interested that they would dare say such things, and follow through with fiercely harmful actions, I would not be surprised at their tactics – they are indeed sharp in this game of human chess. But that’s where I get stuck… I am still barely able to believe that there are humans alive and existing among us that can be so callous, heartless, indecent, greedy, and cruel.
I’m reminded of an old Saturday Night Live skit by Steve Martin that a friend used to refer to all the time:
“I’m a little angry, I guess. Uh, I’m just, uh… Boy. I don’t know, I’m just mad at my mother. I don’t know, she just, uh, she calls me up the other day. She wants to borrow ten dollars for some food! Can you believe that? I said, “Hey! I work for a living!” So I loan her the money. Yesterday, she calls me up and says she can’t pay me back for a while. I said, “Hey! What is this?!” So I worked out a deal with her. I’m having her, uh, work on my transmission. And, uh, move my barbells up to the attic. So that’s pretty good, huh?”
As much as this sounds absurd, it seems that the hall of shame that is our current government is full-on embracing this kind of mentality. While they’re positioning the weak, uneducated, and ill-informed masses of followers to believe an equally massive pile of lies, with the intention of generating greater and greater fear of what I like to call the unknown other, they are building up a following for their desires to build a wall, ban the bad people, and prepare for greater military engagement. The starving ones, the sick ones, the poor ones ~ they are all ready to give up any government mandated support for themselves and others in meeting their basic human needs for food, shelter, healthcare, and stability in following along with this crazy and illusory story they are being fed, instilling ever greater fear in their hearts. They become so afraid, and so riled up, they are willing to surrender their own best interests, trusting the ones who claim they can save them from imagined threats.
When we are scared, our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we live in a state of fight-or-flight, prepared to run away from a tiger, a bear, or a terrorist. When this system is activated, it also diverts energy from our essential metabolic systems that perform necessary functions that keep us alive, including digestion and reproduction. When we are triggered into fight-or-flight over a long period of time, we are flooded with stress hormones, which affects our physical and psychological wellbeing. What if there is no tiger, bear, or terrorist at all? Unfortunately, even the imagined threat of something that is not there can trigger immense stress, and keep us from thinking clearly and making wise choices. Add to that very real stressors, including job instability, financial struggles, family concerns, and health issues? Seriously, who can think clearly in that situation? And when the politicians swoop in, espousing the “right” social values that align with these people, they can be easily manipulated. They choose the ones speaking to them in their own language, even if the whole picture is full of holes. It may be a lie, but when it sounds good, it wins. Who in his/her right mind would vote in a bazillionaire president, who would fill his cabinet with other bazillionaires, if s/he was a poor farmer, miner, or factory worker, strugging to get by, believing that those bazillionaires truly understand their needs and values? Someone too stressed out to discern the full picture simply wants to be heard and understood and “met” where s/he is. What is clear to me is that the desire to be understood and cared for is so strong that it overrides the full story of what is happening. We can truly only see and hear what we want to see and hear…
And this, folks, is how the richest of the rich keep suckering the poorest of the poor into their support stream, while continuing to keep them in their place as the poorest of the poor.
Back to compassion. While it is possible to track the ways that the manipulation works, and while it is infuriating and frustrating, what is worse is that there are humans among us who care so little that this game was even dreamt into reality. What is it that makes a man wake up one day and say, “jeez, you know what? I really am better than that other guy, and all those other women, and all those other people, and I deserve to rule the roost, take whatever I want, and be king of the world, yes indeedy I do!” I truly can’t comprehend it. What force within our fellow humans has pushed them to believe that their lives matter more than others, that their lavish and grandiose desires are worthy and deserving of manifestation no matter the expense, and that those who suffer and struggle are truly not their problem? What has happened to their basic humanity, their capacity to care about the lives of others?
It’s certainly not a new idea. The infamous words attributed to Marie Antoinette from the late 1700s share much the same sentiment, as she was told that people under her rule went without bread. “Let them eat cake.” Compassionless. Heartless. Cruel. What drives this kind of thinking? In my research, I discovered a new-to-me label for these folks: Machiavellianist. Ones who can detach from basic human concern, care, and morality in order to manipulate others and get what they want. And while wildly selfish behaviors in children are teachable and can be corrected through proper parental guidance, what can be done once these behaviors have become deeply ingrained, practiced, and used as the basis for all adult relationships, business dealings, and governmental positions? Scary. Very very scary. This has never fared well in the world, and we are seeing the same horrors now, once again.
I can’t speak for everyone. I can’t speak for a poor single mother struggling to feed herself and her children, trying to give them a better future. I can’t speak for a coal miner whose job has or will soon become obsolete in the changing of our structures. I can’t speak for a poor factory worker whose job has been outsourced. I can’t speak for millions of white, conservative people who have watched the world become increasingly diverse and colorful from a safe and fearful distance. I can’t speak for someone whose “traditional family values” now live alongside other people’s new family values, who now feels threatened by the differences. I can’t speak for anyone at all but myself. What I do know is that when I meet people in their sincerity, truth, and basic human vulnerability, I find that we all want the same things. And I believe that a huge majority of human beings do care about each other, and have compassion for the suffering of others, as for themselves. It’s only when we introduce ideas that intend to induce division based on fear of otherness that we lose our connection. And THAT is exactly what the Machiavellians are attempting to do here. They know that some of us have done our homework to such a degree that we can’t be so readily manipulated, and they have studied long and hard to figure out how they can best manipulate the ones who haven’t done their homework. Divide and conquer, indeed.
We, the spectrum of liberal progressives, have a lot in common with the poor social conservatives, and if we were to band together in the name of serving the best interests of all, those greedy, power hungry tyrants holding the power right now would fall in no time. But the hair-trigger response of the most radical conservatives is so devoted to blocking those who have different belief systems, it seems unlikely that a movement of unity could ever unfold. I imagine it often…
Liberal progressive: I care about everyone having food and water and shelter and healthcare and having his/her basic needs met. This is a human right. We must protect all people and all liberties, and make all of our lives better and better.
Poor conservative: I am struggling but I don’t want your handouts, take your crazy liberal madness elsewhere! Heathens! You’re going to hell! Where’s my gun?! Get outta here!
Rich conservative: Good boy! You keep telling them how it is! *Pockets more and more money from the government in the name of big business support, including big oil, big pharma, and the war/weapons industry.*
And so it goes, on and on. Instead of working for the greater good of all, the shadow forces keep working to dismantle anything done in the name of the greater good. If there is more and more war, there are more and more investments in war. War is good business. If we end war, their wealth will die off. If there is more and more sickness, there are more and more needs for pharmaceuticals that mask the symptoms, and little interest in approaching an actual cure. Sickness is good business. If we cure sickness once and for all, the wealth will die off. If there is more and more need for conventional energy in fossil fuels, there are more and more ways to profit from it. If we transition away from fossil fuels, and truly launch the green revolution… wait… there are plenty of ways to profit from that, right? And if we don’t face the facts that our current energy needs are causing rapid and undeniable devastation on the planet, we will soon be on the short list toward ejection… this one doesn’t sound like such good business after all…
There are no clear answers to these matters, and I am hardly in a position to suggest any fast and hard solutions. But I do believe that in the pondering there is great value. If we can take the time to honestly explore the thought systems at play, the chains of cause and effect, and the reasons people are choosing their responses and strategies, we can truly learn about the innerworkings of the human psyche, and understand more fully what it is we are working to transform. Until we can see the big picture without being triggered, we cannot use the full force of our hearts and intelligence to create meaningful and lasting shifts in consciousness and culture.