This is my comment on all of the horrific incidents of police brutality which, I want to stress, are continuing, even if they are invisible.
My apologies if this sounds incoherent, but I am struggling to say anything, right now, amid the overwhelming realities of hate, abuse of power, detainment without charge, execution without trial, authorities without a clue and media without a conscience. I need to say something, and, perhaps, having said something, I’ll feel a little less paralyzed.
Now I don’t normally deal well with authority of any kind. It’s sort of just a constitutional allergy. Right now, though, more than ever, I am in a headspace where the rule of law sounds and looks too much like the rule of tyranny. Too many people have the following bullshit underlying their thinking:
– Rights and safety should be predicated on sameness.
– Even if the rule of law has failed us, we must still remain docile for the “greater good”
– If our bodies are different (if we cannot attain sameness), we have a responsibility to sanitize our differences and to keep them from sight, or else we are deserving of violence against our person.
This isn’t a new problem, and it isn’t limited to the United States.
Black men may be getting hit the hardest, but if you think that this won’t spread to every other marginalized demographic, you are kidding yourself. There is an underlying sentiment in this country that difference deserves death or brutality, whether that is because of your color, sexual orientation or lifestyle choices that you have made.
I think there is a degree to which the narratives we tell shape our perception of events. Our stories, based on whatever genre of stories we normally tell, inform our patterns of thinking. Like any good Hermesian, I’m a big believer in the idea that we can use language to change the way people think, and in turn, use a change in the way people think to help change their behavior and our social reality.
This is obviously only one facet of it, obviously. I’m just one pissed off person, trying to make sense of something that is really shitty, and that feels all-pervasive, but one problem that I keep turning around and around in my head is the way in which our narratives prevent us from appropriately challenging authority. And I feel like challenging authority is something that very seriously needs to happen.
I should not have to tell you that our stories about deities are not literally true. They reflect our beliefs about the powers in the universe, as a society perceives them. Religion is an appendage of culture, and one function of mythology is to hand down attitudes about how to be a successful person within a particular society, or how to respond to authority.
It is likely that a culture’s viewpoints about how to respond to authority, generally, and how to respond to the authority of their god or gods will be similar. In many senses, the authority of deities, in a given mythology, is a metaphor for the rule of law within a society. If the gods in a pantheon are not always fair? Well, neither are the Kings who rule over us, or the Oligarchies, or even the general body of people in a democratic society.
We can liken the process of propitiating deities and asking them to be nice to us to the process of “working within the system.” We can also liken the process by which an entire community converts to a different religion, such as, for example, what happened toward the end of the Mycenaean period, to a political revolution whereby the entirety of a people decides to serve the ruling body of a particular nation a steaming cup of STFU. Or beheading. However that goes.
What advice would you give to a person who was being treated unfairly by a deity? What advice would you give to an individual in our society who was being bullied by a police officer on a daily basis? Do the answers sound the same? While no two people think exactly in the same way, I’d wager that, by the numbers, for more people than we’d care to count, the answers to the two questions are similar.
To what degree, I wonder, does our view of what happens when we defy deity inform our views of what should happen when we are viewed as non-compliant by our government? To what degree are we afraid to fight for change because we are reasonably afraid of unreasonable authority figures?
I know that, for me, when Authority seems the most unjust, the most unfair, I default to the Jewish (Rabbinic) narratives of authority — where the sky and earth may scream and rage, but at the end of the day, the law? She’s not in heaven. When we cooperate with one another, the decisions that bring us peace are simply more important than whatever God had in mind. The forces of nature? We’ll master them in time, through our learning (For Science!). In the desert, submitting your will to the elements is a super-number-one BAD idea.
On some basic level, the desert outside of Egypt and the Hebrew deity were a single reality. Moses had a response to this, to the tune of, “change the narrative.” Or, really, if you prefer, to change the Hebrew deity.
“The Lord! The Lord! God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error…” (Exodus 34:6-7).
To be clear, this was not who the Hebrew deity was at the outset. The goal of Jewish liturgy is to help the deity to whom it is directed behave more favorably toward the Jews.
This place we are in? This place and time where police brutality is an every day thing? This is the desert. Do not trust the desert. Do not bow to the desert. If you bow to the desert, you will be one more desiccated husk lying in the sand. Learn its ins and outs. Your goal should not be to placate it, or to lull it into a sense of security. Your job here is to develop tactics to protect people from the desert, to build irrigation channels, dig wells. Your job is to remind the government of the duty it has to its people.
And when polytheistic gods are unjust? I feel just as compelled to remind them of who they could be, of what gods can accomplish when they are their best selves and cling to their virtues. On the bad, days, on the really bad days, I say to Hermes:
“Hermes, goodly Hermes. Lover of all people, clear-sighted one who sees the good in everyone, friend to all, champion of peace, blameless keeper of flocks, helper to the undeserving, protector of the outlaw…”
And as United States Citizens, it is time we start saying, in earnest,
“We have long believed in our country as a place of equal opportunity, a country for everyone, one that says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…'”
It’s not enough to accept the stark reality. In so doing, we run the risk of letting it stay the way it is. We need to remind ourselves, our friends, and the Powers That Be, be they political, divine, societal or otherwise. We need to constantly keep the high ideals we started with as our star chart.
Do not submit. Do not accept. Do not lie down. Do not fail to fight. Tear down the bad while building up the good. Remember that no one can do it alone. Help. Band together. Remember the best that we, as a nation, can be. And if we cannot salvage our government? If, in the end, it is too corrupt? Sorry, my friends, but it is time for the Powers-That-Be to fall.
The narrative of “do not question” is one that supports the status quo. Status quo is sometimes a good thing. Right now? It most certainly is not.
Change is possible. What it requires is questioning, rethinking, and most of all: Solidarity.
I hope that wasn’t nearly as incoherent as it felt.
It probably was.