Sunday, August 27, 2017

Identity, Community and a Sense of Purpose

   I have struggled for years to understand the draw of such figures as Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and now Trump and Un. In a much smaller sense, I have pondered the draw of thugs like the Bloods, Crips, any white ala WEST SIDE STORY gangs, Yakuza, Tongs, ABZ (Asian Boyz), KKK, Italian, Russian, Mexican and Armenien Mafias ... you get the picture. What? How? Especially Why?
   Reading an article in my daily Internet Time Magazine yesterday there was an excellent piece titled THE ALT-RIGHT HAS CREATED ALT-CHRISTIANITY written by Pastor Brian D. McLaren. The piece was quite short but startling in both what he saw and what he felt as he was in Charlottesville for the now infamous demonstration that showed openly that after 50 years the hate this country has tried to hide under the aegis of Political Correctness (PC) is still alive and well. Today there are even more groups to protest about! I am sure many of you have heard both sides and from what I have seen and heard, even after a senseless death, all sides still feel their cause is right. After 152 years, where this nation sacrificed 700,000 of its citizens, about 15% of the population at the time, to end slavery, we have still to confront a problem created before and enshrined in the Constitution we hold so dear – race relations. Today, there are many more "bad" relations to protest ...straight and  Gay, Muslims, Catholics, Asians, illegal Hispanics, Native Americans, women ... even Jews, the same people we fought a war with Hitler over, among many other things, to end genocide.
   McLaren points out that for the first time in his 61 years he got to look into the faces of these people and was stunned and scared. "... they looked scarily normal." he says. "They're the guys arranging stock at the local big box store or the desk jockeys in a cubicle farm. Decent. Clean cut. Surprisingly young. And white. No doubt I looked into these faces before - on the street, in a restaurant, in church - but I didn't know it because they weren't carrying Nazi and Confederate flags, semi-automatic rifles and shields."
   He continues that after this he saw an interview with Christian Piccolini, a former white supremacist. He was recruited and radicalized by an extremist group, probably not different than what ISIS did to even younger children. It shows, if nothing else, that Muslim extremists have no corner on the market of extremist views! Look in our own backyard! He stated, "There are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, so they tend to search for very simple black-and-white answers. Savvy extremists ready to dispense those easy answers have no shortage of potential recruits, easily accessible through the Internet." As McLaren noted, are these issues any different in Afghanistan, Syria, Virginia, Ohio, Arizona and ... France or Spain?
   Recent elections in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain and even Canada have shown the deep divide between youth and their elders. Unemployment in France for those 29 and younger is 25%. If you're Muslim, 50%. While we hear about the salaries in Silicon Valley, we don't hear about the non-existent salaries in Appalachia, the deep South or the Rust Belt ... ten times the numbers.
   Closer to home, everyone of the 9 / 11 bombers was in this age group, had college and often advanced degrees, many from the United States, and returned home to find they couldn't get any work. Idle hands often make major trouble! You have to blame someone, why not the Western, especially, American Imperialists? And vice versa.
   Years ago CBS had a White Paper detailing three gangs, before they approached the numbers and sophistication of today. They were white, black and Latin. The surprise to the reporters was that each of these gangs was organized almost exactly alike but even more startling, just like the U.S. Army. Somehow these disenfranchised kids created their own armies and were given an identity, their gang; a community, again their gang; and a sense of purpose, defending their turf.
Are we in the "end of times?"
At times it sure feels like it!
    Piccolini's analysis aligns with the Nazi historian Richard J. Evans' description of young men in 1920's Germany. Examining the rise of Nazism, Evans' saw "desperate and resentful young men being attracted to extremism and violence 'irrespective of ideology.'" He notes they were looking for not ideas but meaning. A former Stormtrooper, reflecting after the war noted, "it (their bonding effort) was too wonderful and perhaps too hard to write about." Soldiers of any era often say the same thing. The military years were the best of their lives.
   One Christmas I visited my German Opa who immigrated to America in 1925. As we talked I asked about his life in Germany. He explained that we had no idea what it was like after WWI. People were paid at lunch and after work ... everyday. Inflation got so bad people used wheelbarrows to ferry their money around. At one point one U.S. Dollar was worth 1 trillion marks. Inflation was so high that the government printed new values on top of older printed money. I had one that said 100 Marks. On top, was printed 1 million. Frantic, the German Finance Minister met with the English, French, and American ministers and they created a new value of their currency against the German Mark in 1924. People had to bring in their old Marks for new Marks and many, though mostly speculators, lost millions. Who did they blame? The Jewish finance minister. Hitler's call, like Trump's, to get all Germans work again got him elected in 1932.
   McLaren goes on to note that the White Nationalist leader Richard Spencer understands this desire for meaning. I mean isn't this what the Boomer Generation started in the 1960's? Compared to their parents and grandparents, they lived in an golden age. They didn't suffer through a depression, didn't fight in a World War. If I heard any one comment over and over again growing up from parents, relatives and adults, was "I don't want my kids to suffer like I did." Yet, I'd bet Tom Brokaw, writer of THE GREATEST GENERATION, would agree that it was this hardship that made them what they were and challenged them to the achievements they achieved!
   "Piccolini, Evans and Spencer are telling us something we need to understand," McLaren writes. "White nationalism isn't simply an extremist political ideology. It is an alt-religious movement that provides its adherents with its own twisted version of what all religions supply to adherents: identity, a personal sense of who I am; community, a social sense of where I belong; and purpose, a spiritual sense of that my life matters. If faith communities don't provide these healthy, life-giving human needs, then death-dealing alt-religions will fill the gap. Aristotle was right. Nature indeed abhors a vacuum. If we don't provide emerging generations with genuine identity, community and purpose through robust and vibrant communities, somebody else will do so. If good religion slumbers and stagnates, bad religion is the alternative.
   After reading this, for me, at least, many of the social and political ills both here and abroad fell into place. Why is there an opioid epidemic? Pot, meth and cocaine addiction. Why do so many people steal and why do they join gangs? Could it just be these very same reasons? Can we separate an extremist of any view from the violence of crime and drug additions without considering these same factors? If we do, I believe we as a society need to address more than just hate but violence, addiction, a sense of entitlement when it is not deserved. Our courts have to be impartial yet fair to all not just a few with money. Policemen can't be arbitrary. Trump clearly saw the frustration and anger of the public,  the 99% and, I guess the word is pandered, to it. This is not an endorsement of Clinton because if there was any complaint about her was that she simply didn't see it. I compared him to Huey Long and her to Lady MacBeth. I still stand by that assessment.
   Discussing the political scene at dinner today, actually with far more action than a daily soap, we all agreed that if any author had written a book about what we see and hear daily, the publisher would kick that author out of the office commenting, what a stupid plot! What were you thinking ... or more likely, What were you smoking when you wrote this crap?
   There is much healing and talking and yes, ultimately understanding that needs to take place in our society today. To lose even one child or adult or immigrant to this sort of rhetoric is to deny that dream not only of the past but the promise we made as a nation in 1776. Our history is filled with immigrants that have changed the way we live because what they wanted to do would not be possible at home. Immigrants have enriched our lives beyond measure. Please remember, we are a nation of immigrants, every one of us had ancestors that arrived from somewhere else, even Native Americans. 
   The time has come for this nation, each and every one of us from the President, Congress, the courts ... every citizen needs to begin discourse and work to resolve fear and hate and despair. Talk is cheap. Yet, as we are finding out yet again, to not talk, to not discuss and yes, argue, to not listen, we, as a nation, will not heal. Don't you think that after nearly 400 years the time has come?
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

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