Politics is love. That’s right. That’s exactly what I meant to write: “Politics is love.”
Now, hear me out before you go about drafting the 5150 order. I can justify this seemingly outrageous statement. We simply have to start our meditation at the foundations of political thought: Before Socrates, before Pericles, even before Confucius politics already existed for thousands of years. Political philosophy as we know it may well have originated with these thinkers. Societies were governing themselves long before any of these luminaries were even born.
German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is quoted as saying: “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.” (http://fork.cc/3S) I would assert an analogous claim regarding politics: Politics start when you find two humans bonded together. There it begins. Whether we are talking about two lovers, a parent and a child, two siblings, two friends, or two neighbors, the important relationship is bonded together. It is the mutual bond that defines the difference between the basic political entity and a pair of random domesticated primates.
Once you have a personal bond – once both parties have accepted that the other will be present for some degree of duration – the process of accommodation begins. All lovers, all parents, all children, all siblings, all friends, and all neighbors know this process: The subtle and gross negotiations necessary so the bond neither breaks itself nor destroys one or both of the participants. This delicate balance of giving and taking is the only force that keeps us all together.
All other organizations of humanity are based upon this principle, aggregated by what Robert Heinlein called concatenative assemblage. The family is an assemblage of lovers, parents, children , siblings, and extended (aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, cousin) relationships. The tribe is an assemblage of families. The village/town/city is an assemblage of tribes. The state is an assemblage of villages. The nation is an assemblage of states. The world is an assemblage of nations.
Of course Heinlein’s concept of concatentative assemblage related directly to what he called grok. To grok is “to understand intuitively or by empathy, to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment” (http://fork.cc/3T) In other words, a loving bond: the bond Wiccans call perfect love and perfect trust. This, then, is the foundational bond between humans. Everything else proceeds from this. If nations are nothing more than exaggerated families striving to care for one another – striving for that delicate balance between giving and taking – then politics is love.
Where, then, does all this fall apart? How do we build upon the love between lovers, parents, children, and siblings, only to end up with monolithic organizations dedicated to hatred and killing?
The answer is that, in the world in general, love and trust are rarely perfect. The idea that love is always beautiful and healthy is just a pretty dream. Love has the potential to heal or harm, based almost entirely on the self knowledge of the lovers. In practice, there are at least as many dysfunctional bonds as healthy bonds, if not more. This is how families can grow to hate one another. This is how whole political parties or whole nations can transform the supposedly helping/healing/sustaining principles behind human societies into hatred and war: In a purely Jungian sense, the shadow and the light are one, leading to persistent and baffling occurrences of enantiodromia.
…and so we all end up with dysfunctional surrogate parents battling for control of our society:
- The parent that promises everything you know you really need but — despite offering real love and real concern — cannot actually deliver a single thing.
- The parent who truly knows what’s best for you, who truly has the capacity to reliably provide home and health and food, but who tragically remains emotionally inaccessible.
- The parent who actually attempts the job by phoning it in, with incoherent bluster, manipulative oversight, and an open distaste of everything you dream of becoming.
Because we are animals, each bond has a built-in fear of loss. The fear that others’ children and lovers are somehow getting more than our children and lovers. The fear that the other is somehow stealing from society, or unfairly profiting from their otherness. It is this fear, if given free reign, that can curdle love and trust at any level of society. We all know that, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”(http://fork.cc/4e)
Such is the sadness of life: Hatred exists in love.*
Because we are animals, we may never be free of this basic truth. Some like to talk about post-racial societies, or societies that are free of all forms of gender discrimination. The difficult truth is that fear of the other is deeply encoded into our genes. When we were just tiny packs of humans living in small, closed groupings, fear of the other was actually a survival trait. True understanding and acceptance are relatively new things on this planet.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the distorted reflections of ourselves others present still give us uncomfortable feelings. We are animals, after all. We are, as Terry Bisson so colorfully pointed out, made out of meat: “Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal!” (http://fork.cc/4b)
Fortunately, we are not merely meat: Bisson’s claim that, “the meat is the whole deal,” doesn’t hold up. The truth is subtler and more complex than that. Douglas R. Hofstadter’s infamous work, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of “meaningless” elements. (http://fork.cc/4c) Humans ultimately posses the capability to transcend their animal nature. The human intellect lives inside an animal, but it does not have to be ruled by the meat. Meat can choose to see beyond that frame, to another level of truth. As one of my most beloved teachers, Ivo Dominguez, Jr. (http://fork.cc/4d), once told me, “Loving understanding of the other is an act of True Will.”
We would be foolish, however, to expect these acts of True Will to become commonplace at the family, village, state, nation, or world level, until we can truly heal ourselves as individuals. As long as our hearts remain broken, our world will remain broken. Only by embracing our own reflections, brick to brick, individual to individual, heart to heart. shadow to shadow, can we begin to make over the world.
I vividly remember when I was a small child in the early sixties seeing an African-American woman out shopping at a local center. The visceral fear I felt because of her otherness is still crystal clear in my memory. I turned to my mother and told her, “Mommy, I don’t like her.” I was fortunate enough to have a mother who immediately told me: “That’s not right. Just because she looks different doesn’t make her truly different. Inside, in her heart, she feels the same things you do. Everybody does.” So began my journey toward understanding, with a simple act of sharing. Acts at this level are the acts that will eventually truly make over the world.
‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice
And when justice is gone, there’s always force
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!
– Laurie Anderson (http://fork.cc/3U)
Politics is love, at the grass roots level. Politics start when you find two humans grokking together in loving reflection. There it begins.