“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
As the tribal elder of Exuberant Animal, I have long been reluctant to offer explicit opinions about politics. I don’t normally endorse candidates or make policy recommendations. My primary focus has been on experiential health education, an enterprise that's plenty engaging as it is. But with the election of 2016, everything has changed. Given the tragic, incomprehensible outcome, I am called to reevaluate my position.
If you’re a thinking, literate person who cares about the fate of this country and the planet, you may well have experienced this election result as a genuine psycho-physical trauma, a shock to your entire mind-body system. And in the aftermath, one thing has become crystal clear: We need to get a lot more serious about protecting democracy, the environment, intelligence and dignity in the political process. We’ve been far too complacent with all of it. Too many of us assumed that common sense and intelligence would prevail in the end. But we were wrong.
Some commentators have called us to set aside our differences and focus on national unity. I disagree. I have no interest in unifying with the forces of misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia and government by impulse. Unity would require us to give up essential, traditional values and set our consciousness to a lower common denominator. We now know that a substantial percentage of Americans are incapable of distinguishing between entertainment and serious discussions of consequence. We now know that amusement often substitutes for rational discourse. We now know that people can be led to believe almost anything, no matter how repulsive and intellectually bankrupt. What we really need is a renewed commitment to legal, political and cultural action on behalf of threatened communities and our environment. What we really need is a new breed of warrior activists.
Some will object to this line of reasoning and suggest that personal health and politics are of entirely different domains. But in fact, politics and health have everything to do with one another. Our bodies are ultimately dependent on the health of our habitat which is to say, the state of the earth. When an ecological illiterate threatens to treat the planet like a throw-away object, that is a threat to our health as well. If you’re concerned about your health, you’ve got to have an opinion.
During the 20th century, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell taught us about the warrior archetype; the strong and daring adventurer who’s willing to risk life and limb to preserve the integrity of his tribe and people. Back in the Paleo, this was mostly a matter of hunting big animals and doing battle with neighboring tribes. But later, as the modern world took form, the warrior archetype transformed itself into a new breed: the warrior athlete. This new warrior no longer killed animals or opposing combatants, but instead scored points, touchdowns and home runs.
This transformation succeeded in the sense that it turned some of our violent energies in a more benign direction. But as much as many of us would like to worship elite quarterbacks, power forwards, long ball hitters and ultramarathoners, their achievements are really inconsequential to the vital issues of the day. Victory in a Super Bowl or playoff series simply doesn’t mean anything beyond itself. In a world of collapsing ecosystems, climate change and make-believe politics, the ability to throw, catch or hit a ball is almost totally irrelevant.
What we need today is a new kind of warrior, an activist who engages the world in the most meaningful, consequential way possible: cultural and social change. This warrior will bring familiar qualities of courage and resolve to the battle, but instead of raiding neighboring villages or scoring touchdowns, he or she fights for civil rights, environmental sanity and dignity in politics. He or she does the difficult, risky work of social and cultural change: speaking in public, working with ideas, organizing and persuading. Like the primal warrior, the warrior activist is willing endure hardship as well as professional and social danger for the sake of the tribe.
For the warrior activist, physical strength and vitality do play a role, but only up to a point. After all, the ability to drive political change in the modern world rests primarily on fluency with language, knowledge of culture and most of all, the spiritual courage to stand up in the face of conflict. Yes, it’s good to have a strong, resilient body that can withstand the stresses of social conflict, but that is only a beginning.
The election of 2016 has changed America and possibly the planet, forever. When people can no longer distinguish between braggadocio and well-reasoned discourse, the republic and the planet are in peril. Going forward, we must take this emergency head on. The facts are clear: Wishful thinking is not a path to American greatness or even basic functionality. Qualifications matter. Prior experience matters. Thoughtful analysis and deep thinking matter. Education has consequences.
Politics can no longer be treated as some kind of spectator sport. The time has come to stand up and speak out. Apathy is not an option. To paraphrase the observation of many historians of war, “All that’s necessary for stupidity to prevail is for good men and women to do nothing.”