Staying Friends with the Other

The wisdom of knowing your enemy

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Photo Credit: Author

I am a pacifist. But it is wise to understand world events through the lens of war. It is crucial, especially from an environmental and social justice point of view, to know what the sides are and which side you are on.

I have a fascination with Trump supporters on Facebook. I don’t “enjoy” their posts, but I am interested to know what they post. It’s like an itch I have to scratch. When I see something outrageous, I fact check it if I have time (and lately I’ve had lots of it). Most of it is untrue, in varying degrees. I don’t bother to tell them of the “facts” because I know they don’t give credence to factcheck sites (leftist, funded by Soros, etc.), but I learn something in the process, something of their perspective, what makes them tick. I engage once in a while, try to find a way to have a civil exchange. But it eventually ends with intransigence, on both our sides.

So why do I do it? Primarily, I don’t think it’s healthy or wise to live in a bubble, an echo chamber, bounce-backs of my own thoughts and values. I am worried about the ever-deepening divide in this country and it doesn’t help for us to stay in our bubbles. In this time of isolation we are in our bubbles physically, but in the world, the divisions continue and fester. Yet, I cannot stand to spend time watching Fox or any other right-wing media. Facebook posts affords me that glimpse outside my bubble and into theirs. It’s enough.

There is a Sun Tzu Art of War quote that affirms my strategy: Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.

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Calligraphy and Photogrsphy of Kona Seashore by Author

Know yourself. Yes, I’m a liberal. An environmentalist. A feminist. A union activist when I was a public school teacher. An Asian-American incensed by the demonization of immigrants in today’s political climate. On and on. My bleeding heart overflows. Is there a liberal cause that does not resonate? Hmmm. I’m not crazy about the Democratic Party when they are too entrenched in the corporate world or when they are not progressive enough! I was critical of Obama’s education and other neo-liberal policies when he was president. I bear all the signs of a card-carrying, unashamed, yes proud liberal. Just as what concerns me defines me, what concerns my Trump-supporting friends defines them. It interests me, but their unabashed loyalty to this infuriating, incompetent, rude idol they have elevated to his current position is distressing. I see him as the gold cow in the Ten Commandments.

Again, why do I bother? Why can’t I just unfriend them? Or ignore them? On the New Dimensions radio show recently, Arlene Goldbard, a writer-artist-activist was interviewed. Her multi-faceted work speaks of a shift in culture where human well-being, rather than corporate profit, is the ultimate measure of success for a society. The conversation touched on the futility of trying to educate or turn someone’s viewpoint around. Rather, your energy is better spent collecting allies, some of whom may be suffering from demoralization. Yes, I will do that — TOO, but I keep coming back to scratch this itch. I really do care for them, my Trumpian friends and family. Maybe my inner Pollyanna refuses to give up. But mainly, it is opposition research. By knowing the “other,” perhaps I can come up with a strategy to out-do, out-think, out-vote them. (Oh, cynical friends, I can see your eye-rolls.)

Those who support the current POTUS believe that Republicans are better for the economy and tougher on immigration. Or certain that he will be able to push through an anti-abortion judge on the Supreme Court. These are discussions to be had. I have hope that there is a way to have civil discussions about these issues. But there is little hope if you come in with extremist frames, the opposite of open-mindedness. We all have frames — how we see the world, what we think is good and evil. To be open-minded means to examine how we define evil, the enemy, the other, which is what I am attempting to do in this essay. In the world of the avid Trump supporter, evil is anything that is critical of Trump. Therefore Democrats are evil. Dr. Fauci is evil. Whistleblowers are evil. Begone Satan! You can not change my mind. If you are against Trump (or for choice, for immigration rights, for sexual orientation freedom, etc.), that means you are FOR Satan. I know I know. I should just walk away. But, I don’t. I know I am not FOR Satan. Are too! Am not!

It is amazing that no matter what the issue — the pandemic lockdown, impeachment, Michael Flynn — it always seems to circle around to this trifecta — Soros, globalization, Agenda 21 — agents of Satan. It’s the outrageousness of these associations that intrigues me. The Soros connection is too thick to deconstruct, but I’ll tackle Agenda 21. This a plan for sustainable development put forth by the United Nations, first in 1992 and reaffirmed in 2002. What could possibly be the problem with sustainable development and protecting the environment? According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (yeah, those liberal, anti-racist snowflakes) Agenda 21 “has been transformed in much of the American public mind into a secret plot to impose a totalitarian world government, a nefarious effort to crush freedom in the name of environmentalism.“

On the one hand, there is this pretty idealistic, non-binding agreement to address poverty, health, literacy and the environment. On the other hand, it is a harbinger of the “most dangerous threat to America’s sovereignty” yet. It will “make our nation a vassal” of the UN, result in “the destruction of our lives,” force rural areas’ “population [to be] decimated,” and lead to having “90% of the population murdered.” The end, these critics all agree, will be the imposition of “a collectivist world government.” “

Huh?

I found this that explained it all in a comic, Agenda 21: Everything you need to know about the secret U.N. plot, in one comic. It’s good. Please check it out. Here’s a screen shot of one of the panels:

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By Greg Hanscom and Charles Nesci on Aug 16, 2012

That SPLC paper, this comic strip, and a lot of other writing about this were published in 2012 and earlier, around the time of the rise of the Tea Party. (Yes, Virginia, there is a connection.) In 2020, isn’t it a thing of the past? Am I just blowing fake smoke? Do people really believe this? I know that the signs I see on Facebook tell me yes. There are conspiracy theories GALORE! We know this in our experience of the pandemic, not necessarily all mentioning Agenda 21, but new ones have emerged, such as the Q. This culture of conspiracy theories is what worries me. At the root of these conspiracy theories is anger-inducing, anti-government fanaticism, often including guns. For a pacifist whose heroes are Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa,and the Parkland kids, this is disturbing.

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Photo of Anthurium in Front Yard and Calligraphy by Author

What Agenda 21 represented was hope — hope that we could come together as a human global community to solve some of the world’s most dire problems — hell, all of them. It put into verbiage the ideal that this is a good thing, to want to address development with humanity and the environment in mind. Now, who does that threaten? Yes, the corporate world whose only concern is resource extraction and their own benefit. They do not want to be inhibited in their efforts at exploitation. Agenda 21 was used to promote fear. It was stoked, promoted and perpetuated by the global corporations who consider environmentalists obstacles.

How is this 1992 non-binding agreement even significant in 2020? Anything related to the common good or to the environment is demonized by the exploiters. This conflict is real, this enemy is real, there is a war. We today say there is a war against the coronavirus, but really the Trump presidency can be characterized as a war against progressivism — human, civil and indigenous rights, social justice, the environment. This article is already long, so I’ll focus on the environment. From getting out of the Paris agreement on climate change to reducing two national monuments in Utah and opening them up for energy exploration, to the offshore drilling safety and air pollution rules rollbacks — almost 100 at last count — Trump’s policies are anti-environment, falling in line with corporate interests, especially the fossil fuel industry.

Let’s not forget that there is a veneer of religiosity to this — anyone who criticizes Trump must be aligned with Satan, and that includes in his environmental policies. There is an evangelical pastor, Ralph Drollinger, who has the ear of evangelical Christians in the White House and Congress. This came across my feed in the beginnings of the pandemic in the US: Trump Cabinet Bible Teacher Blames Coronavirus Pandemic on God’s Wrath — Somehow it Involves China, Gay People, and Environmentalists. Admittedly, this headline is sensational and misleading. Come on liberal media, don’t give the rightwing food for their fodder. The article did lead me to want to learn more about this pastor, particularly if he is influencing policy that may cause harm to marginalized people and the environment. And oh my. His website is a trove! Talk about having a glimpse into their world, here it is — a panorama. Regarding the environment, he preaches that environmentalism has become a mistaken religion, for God gave man dominion over the earth, and environmentalists are wrong to worship the environment and not God. “We are in the process of exchanging the worship of the Creator for the worship of His creation. This is a huge and dire error, with extreme consequences, and it presages disaster.” In big bold letters (but I won’t bold them here), he explains: “To think that man can alter the Earth’s ecosystem — when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind — is to more than subtly espouse an ultra-hubristic, secular worldview relative to the supremacy and importance of man.

So that’s how Christians justify their stance against climate change! And that’s why they are so anti-science. It’s falling into place. I am reading a work of fiction by Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered, in which the protagonist in one of the two plot lines, a science teacher in the nineteenth century must convince the community that the ideas of Charles Darwin have scientific basis and should be studied. The arguments against science in the 19th century are like those of Drollinger’s in the 21st. For example: “ We are not put upon this world to live with them (animals) as equals, This world is ours!” (p.322) And when pressed with fossil evidence suggesting evolution, he explains it as a hoax and argues: “God does not make mistakes!” Aw, with flat earth believers, proponents of creationism, and pandemic of conspiracy theories, it appears that our intellectual capabilities may not have evolved much either.

Contrary to this pastor’s interpretation, I see environmentalism as a sacred responsibility. I was so happy to find out that there are other Christian environmentalists who see their faith as a “mandate to care deeply about God’s creation, just as God cares for each and every one of us.” The writing of Matthew Fox, an Epsicopal priest, who was once a Benedictine Catholic priest dismissed for his radical work, is also inspiring. He writes of an ecological perspective and a postmodern spirituality he refers to as Creation Spirituality, which is not exclusively Christian, but Trinitarian. By incorporating the Trinity into our spirituality, we (the child, the Christ) connect to God (the parent, the almighty, the Universal life force) through the Spirit (the conduit). To worship Creation (the environment) is to worship Creator. Sacred.

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Photo of a Water Lily in Oaxaca and Composition by Author

So you see the chasm? The divide? The war? Is that too strong a word? Well, when I see armed thugs demanding their freedom to get a haircut, I don’t think it’s too crazy. As I said, I am a pacifist, and I will always advocate for non-violent solutions. Hopefully, more of us will see it as a paradigm shift and go with the earth-loving flow. In the film and video series Time of the Sixth Sun, the title refers to the Mayan prophecy that we are in a new epoch, the time of the sixth sun. This shift has been referred to in many cultures, especially in indigenous cultures. It is the “Age of the Aquarius” and the New Age. It may be ho hum to you, especially if you’re a boomer like me, coming of age in the 60s and 70s. You’ve heard it all before and we still seem to be in the age of destruction. The old-style Christians would be triggered by New Age talk and would immediately credit Satan for this. This what? This beautiful world of possibilities? Of the end of exploitation of the earth and the evolution of a world honoring, respecting, and saving our world, the environment, nature — Mother Earth? No, this is not Satan.

There are sides to be taken. We are alive because of what Mother Earth (God/Creator) has given us: air, first and foremost; water, and food. Without her (God’s/Creator’s) gifts, we would not be here. So in deep gratitude, we need to choose her (God, the Creator). When we choose her (God/Creator), we choose the totality of her (God/Creator), starting in our lives and in our communities, acknowledging the connections globally.

Globalization — another trigger for them. New World Order. They hold up their crucifixes. They fear the slippery slope and anything that suggests the need to acknowledge our global interdependence and interconnection is to be feared. Yes, there are reasons to fear. These is evil in the world: greed, exploitation, hatred, dehumanization. Fear fascism, fear corporate domination, fear environmental destruction, fear obstacles to democracy (like gerrymandering and voter suppression). But globalization, sustainable development, and environmental regulation, no. Wrong side.

I know those who are my Other, my enemy, the anti-environmentalist, Christian evangelical Trump supporters are not reading this, especially not this far. I thank you if you have. Please comment. But I hope I have given my tribe, my fellow Earth protectors and Nature lovers, food for thought. In the war analogy, we will “probably” win, the next generation will push it forward. But it is not guaranteed. The outcome could go either way, so we need to do what we can, to stay informed, to share information and resources, to support leaders who are Earth Protectors and not destroyers. We need to be sharply focused on the enemy and choose the side defending our Beautiful Mother.

Playwright, essayist, teacher, artist, songwriter, poet. Creativity Activist. Learn more: https://www.dianeaoki.com

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