Taking a step back from the hot stories of what just happened

I sometimes philosophically joke that the ultimate truth in the universe – the most important thing to know in all circumstances – is that there’s more to it than that – “that” being whatever we think is going on. This principle becomes especially serious and important when opposing sides are heatedly fighting over very different stories about what’s going on. In such times, it becomes harder for us to see clearly through the whizzing emotional arguments, assumptions, imagery and fog to discern what else might be worth considering.

Right now we’re in the middle of a very intense version of this as we swim in the tsunami of wild news about people storming the US Capitol. In this post I will explore some of the not-well-reported aspects of that event we might think about to expand our perspectives. They are things that have come up for me so far as I swim with everyone else, for better and worse…. – Tom

I was going to send out a different message this morning. But the storming of the US Capitol seems to demand a response, especially since I so often talk about democracy. However, my “wise democracy” systemic perspective is so different from most commentators in so many ways, that I decided last night that my thoughts were both too complex and too fraught for sharing.

But a conversation with a housemate changed my mind.

So here are ten fairly brief thoughts, each of which could be expanded into a separate post. Most of them restate things I’ve said before. But the current context makes them perhaps more vividly relevant than they may have seemed before. While there are many other perspectives offered from many other sources, I’ll leave those perspectives to those other commentators, regardless of how I feel about them.

Here is my abbreviated contribution to the current conversation, in the form of a list.

  1. Voices, energies, forces, perspectives, people, and lives that are marginalized or suppressed don’t go away. They continue in one form or another, often seemingly silent, invisible, apathetic, irrelevant, or too insignificant to count. And then the larger context changes in the “right” way and they are suddenly present and popping with energy. This is a psychological truth, a social and political truth, and an ecological truth. We see this in everything from Black Lives Matter to the Trump revolution to Climate Disruption. When and how do we stop ignoring, denying and suppressing what we don’t want to see so we can truly listen to the “minorities”, the “fringes” and the “early warning signs” in the midst of the noise and busyness of life?
  2. Majoritarian power dynamics oversimplify the spectrums and ecosystems of complex diversity that naturally exist in any living system, from a person to a party to a forest to a country, generating us/them dynamics and systemically unhealthy nodes of monoculture. There are NEVER only two sides to any issue. Such oversimplifications are psycho-social creations, manipulable conveniences in a crowd of thought-terminating cliche like “race”, “alien”, “right vs. left”, “conspiracy theory”, and more.* How can we move beyond scapegoating, taboos and confirmation bias to open up our political world to creatively digesting the full spectrum of information and perspectives – the Big Picture understandings we need to generate collective wisdom, collective vision, and collective will?
  3. If more centers of power were redesigned to be more distributed – through design principles like decentralization, subsidiarity, collaborating networks and random selection – and grounded more in dialogue, deliberation, reason and empathy than in voting, bargaining, money and pressure – they would be less manipulable and more capable of generating what’s needed for everyone’s quality of life. How can we – in all our diversity – empower more power-with, more power-from-within, and more power-from-among to shape a decent future together? (And how can we include nature and future generations in such Whole Picture Power?)
  4. Violence and the use of force are signs and symptoms of our failures to apply empathy, reason, listening and conversation in the context of our shared history, humanity and destiny. And I’m not just talking about “their” failure, but all of ours. And not just personal failure, but systemic failure, cultural failure, design failure, institutional failure. Powerful methods and examples exist to help us to stop failing in our positive co-creations and to stop co-creating violence again and again. What keeps us from applying those resources? What would make it possible for us to “evoke and engage the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole”?
  5. The systemic crises we face – in governance, in climate, in equity, in nature and across the boards – are all far more important than any one issue or deplorable activity or incident. Issues and the horrible events and conditions that captivate (notice that word!) our attention are symptoms of systemic dysfunctions that will continue to generate more and more undesirable conditions until the systemic dysfunctions, themselves, are addressed. How can we shift our attention and energy from addressing the damaging symptoms to attend more to the deeper hard-to-see causes that generate the blatant horrible effects?
  6. Those of us concerned about potential/nascent fascism in the US might consider how celebrating Trump’s defeat may actually exacerbate America’s fascist potential rather than undermining it. The events of Jan 6, 2021 involved less an insurrection than a mob of people resenting attempts to negate their reality, values and life energy. To realize their story and passion is to realize that a more competent and broadly appealing fascist could catch the wave of energy that Trump called forth, probably accompanied by more well trained and well led future insurrections (perhaps even as soon as the mid-term elections in Biden’s handicapped presidency). The need for respecting “the other side” and addressing root and systemic causes becomes more obvious when you think about the consequences of merely suppressing fascist tendencies so they aren’t bugging us all the time. What might we do to better handle our passionate divisions?
  7. Those of us concerned about loss of freedom might step back to notice the familiar media focus on the violent demonstrators at the expense of the more numerous nonviolent ones (including both the vocally angry ones [since anger does not equal violence] and the Capitol occupiers who just wandered around almost like tourists). We might note how the whole crowd is being demonized, called names, and subject to the “law-and-order” and “terrorist” memes so useful for suppression and surveillance. I read a report of a handful of organizers observed vocally egging on the crowd to violent action (something FBI agents have done seeking to entrap activist groups). Who do we think they are? What are our assumptions about them, and where do those assumptions come from in the absence of direct evidence? I have a nagging feeling that there’s more going on here than the stories we’re getting from media, pundits and officials – and that our jumping to conclusions that make sense to us may be an indication that we and/or the situation are being manipulated in problematic ways.
  8. For those of us who see many trends and signs of approaching (or underway) “collapse” of Western Civilization – or the collapse of at least the American Empire or, at worst, the near-extinction of humanity – events like these of January 6th are simply signs of such larger unfolding “collapse” dynamics. From that view, even if Biden could fulfill his most ambitious agenda (which is unlikely, given how large, politically savvy, well-financed and intensely felt the opposition is), it would have little impact on the outcome. On top of THAT, our adversarial system of politics and governance will result in Biden’s being lucky to enact even half of what he wants. Worse is the fact that even the most extreme “realistic” proposals are not nearly radical enough to meet the rapid unraveling that – despite denials – is becoming increasingly obvious on so many levels, in so many domains, to so many people. What would have to happen for us to take seriously the dire circumstances we face AND to use that understanding to reorient our consciousness, actions and resources to making the best – and hopefully transformational – use of that awareness?
  9. I am also concerned about President Trump’s psychological state during the next couple of weeks, involving feelings which might be summarized as “cornered”. He is the only person who can order the launch of US nuclear weapons and the US is currently in a dangerous co-created high-stakes pre-war dance with Iran. Luckily there are military policies against following illegal orders and hopefully there are service members and officers who are principled and courageous enough to follow those policies. Some people are noting that the 25th Amendment is a resource for Trump’s timely removal. Is it appropriate to ask what could be done about this fast enough to matter, how it might happen, and what its consequences would be?
  10. And then there’s the potential for the largely maskless, chanting mob scene to manifest as a Covid-19 super spreader event, especially among those who entered the Capitol (= a mass indoor gathering).

There’s always more that could be said by myself and others. I hope my highlights here help you temporarily step away from the dominant narrative (which contains a lot that’s true and useful) to consider a bigger picture. I’m sorry if some of it feels difficult, complex and/or unsettling. It feels that way for me, too.

Blessings on the Immense Journey we’re all on together and the Big Picture we’re all part of…

Coheartedly,
Tom

* As part of my effort to practice “Multiple Perspective View” (despite my lifelong progressive biases), I looked at purported evidence of election fraud from pro-Trump sites during the post-election furor. I was particularly intrigued by graphs of hourly electoral tallies at various locations that showed sudden bursts of votes for Biden overwhelmed prior consistent support for Trump. I could sense how those charts could be explained by both the “opened a bag of mailed-in ballots” narrative and the “election fraud” narrative. But I could find no left-leaning or mainstream commentators who actually addressed these examples with clarifying counter-evidence. I only heard their drumbeat of “conspiracy theory without evidence”. In order to accept the legitimacy of the election, I finally leaned on the decisions of courts and of Republican officials responsible for election integrity who said there was no significant voter fraud. However, I’m very aware that statements from those sources would be insufficient for people who live in the “election fraud” narrative, who see no explicit counter-evidence to their “evidence”, only the kinds of dismissals that a broad conspiracy would promote.

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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

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