Empowered People Don’t Maintain A Victim Narrative
It is my hope that the doctrine of deep personal disempowerment which has most recently emerged as Trumpism — its leader continually citing his victimization by institutions from the media to the IRS — its followers blaming immigrants, democrats, & nonwhites, will now give way to a healthier narrative instead of re-calcifying under a theory of unfair treatment through a ‘stolen’ election.
Life is too short, and opportunity too prevalent, to waste one’s life in search of external justifications for not achieving goals. The only freedom available to any of us is in choosing a narrative that places us, and our personal agency, at the center of our experience. No one else is to blame; we accept all the responsibility so that we do not concede power over our lives to the agency of others and thereby disempower ourselves.
The quest for full adulthood, for genuine strength, and for real freedom is internal. With a baseline of constitutional democracy and right of redress, any of us can build excellent lives, contribute to the lives of others and, in the end, die as honorable people. As we do so, we necessarily form an ecosystem of overlapping communities that mutually enrich each other — the moreso when the ecosystem has a high degree of complexity and diversity. In nature, the homogenous trends toward entropy, the diverse toward increased energy. This is why it’s important to ensure immigrants, people of color, and our political opponents have the aforementioned protections and opportunities (aside from it being just). And beyond that, it is up to us — ourselves, what we immediately and ultimately do with those opportunities.
A populist can certainly stir up our fears and anxieties, stoke the resulting rage, and seduce us into giving up our personal empowerment by blaming the ‘others’ among us. The reason is always so that such a person can surround himself with followers who impute to him appellations his personality lacks intrinsically. He seeks advantage and self-assurance by sucking the energy from adherents to soothe and extend his own consumptive frailty of personality. The trade-off that’s asked of us, of building a wall-based, boundary-driven, us/them ecology that rejects the broader ecosystem, is an evolutionary death knell. It’s similar to how a limited range of foods deprives us of trace elements and micronutrients, so that we get sick easier, stay sicker longer, and die sooner. Resilience seeks variety and looks for the upside in new inputs; weakness clings to the parochial and fears the loss of a monoculture.
Pictured: Scene from The Twilight Zone: “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”
To be powerful persons, we must all be free of vampiric allurements that orient us as clone-soldiers deriving our only value from stopping ‘bad people’ doing ‘bad things’, which too often distracts us from the bloodless draining of our individual aspirations to create actual good in the world. Such an orientation maims our moral capacity and sabotages whatever self-worth we possess until we are used up and can only throw ourselves like bombs in some desperate bid to be useful in someone’s cynically contrived crusade. Unless we want to live like the bloodless undead, when an instigator like that rolls into town, sets up a circus tent, and starts pointing fingers (whether in a business environment, politics, or our other communities), we must flee like it’s a cross between a Nigerian phone scam and the vampire from Nosferatu. Before long, we’ll end up as couch(or desk)-zombies focused on all the people out there ‘ruining the world’ who are keeping us down with an invisible foot on our necks. We’ll forget to build lives we love and invent ways of living that excite us.
Scene from Nosferatu, 1922.
We must choose our orbit, as if our lives depend on it, because they do. It is not possible to fall under the spell of demagogues AND simultaneously enter the company of those whose own personal vitality, integrity, and aspirations ensure the mode of existence they want for themselves. Personal power and compelling conformity are mutually exclusive. We are either victims or people of joy, disempowered or personally empowered, with a narrative of what we can contribute and create or one of what must be dismantled, impeded, drained, or torn down. Draining a swamp and building a wall are both calls to impale joy on the barb of tragic resentment.
It is only in the company of true builders, creators, and contributors that we find the community of equals without which we fail to experience the full range of man’s capacity for brotherhood, union, and cooperation which our forefathers deemed the communion of peace and liberty, which are mutually presumptive and inseparable.
Hannah Arendt, the realist political theorist, whom I’ve long admired, drew a distinction between power and violence (or force). Power is specifically the power to create. Violence is the destructive opposite. It cannot create, only destroy. Force operates on the threat of violence, and therefore is roughly synonymous with it, so that one may juxtapose power vs. force (or power vs. compulsion) as opposites. Those who construe the world as governed by force typically believe it will disintegrate without a tough leader who controls, punishes, compels, and terminates others. Essentially you need an asshole boss who demands loyalty without reciprocation, typified by glee in the exclamation “You’re fired!”. By contrast, those who construe the world as governed by power, seek a model of leadership designed to unite, build, persuade, create coalitions, and produce community.
Think of a sliding scale or potentiometer. Power depends only lightly on force. Where power exists in abundance, we have adjusted away from force. By contrast, force is the abdication of power, a confession that power is lacking. Force is the symbol of a state of being powerless. Its result is entropy. Where we set the dial is decisive for who we are and the existence (or diminishing existence) that results.
We must choose, not just at a national level, but at a personal one (and ideally these are aligned) — whether to be people and individuals governed by our destructive or creative capacity — by implied control and violence or implied fraternity and ingenuity. Do children belong in cages or schools? To choose the destructive capacity is to abdicate power — to accept being powerless. To choose the creative is to empower ourselves and others, and to deprive the destructive inertia in our midst of its energy.
That is why the 2020 election outcome occurred as it did — it was not fraud. It was the rebellion of the creative energy in our society against the destructive entropy. This is a rebellion I encourage in anyone in my orbit. To do less would be hypocrisy.
Fun fact: I was briefly a political science major in grad school (studies were interrupted by a decision to live overseas for several years during the Asian Financial Crisis). My professors were a mix of ardent political realists studying conflict and state power, with one (sometimes two) feet in the intelligence community, and idealists studying nationalism and the idea of a nation as imagined construct. I once participated in gaming WWIII in a seminar on conflict and diplomacy with Robert Oakley, the US ambassador to Somalia.