“If you are defeated once and tell yourself you will overcome, but carry on as before, know in the end you’ll be so ill and weakened that eventually you won’t even notice your mistake and will begin to rationalize your behavior.” —EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.18.31
The quotation above is from today’s entry in The Daily Stoic. Just before I read the above, I read the latest news. After some two thousand years, the quote has rarely been more apposite. The quote was paraphrased by Einstein –
‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’
Yet, here we see political leaders going down a well-worn path. Create an enemy, you know, them. It doesn’t really matter who but Jews, Black and Brown people, Roma and, of course, immigrants are handy punchbags. Anyone who can be categorised as ‘other’ will do. Then tell lies about them.
They are going to steal your job.
They are going to rape your women.
They are all criminals.
You are superior to them.
It’s there in the news every day. Sometimes it’s a man in a nice suit disguising hate in dog-whistle words but now some people seem to think it’s okay to display their naked hate. Politicians have given them permission to do so.
In America, if you’re a Republican it is now okay, even necessary to prove your ‘loyalty’, to hate everyone who isn’t white, straight and very right-wing. I saw a so-called Christian pastor denouncing Democrats as ‘devil worshippers’ and saying that, if he found any in his church, he would throw them out. The Evangelicals in America puzzle me. Christianity is supposed to be about love and inclusion. ‘Love your enemy,’ Christ said. Yet, Evangelicals have turned that message on its head. If Christ was around today, my guess is that he would be whipping this sort of ‘Christian’ out of the temple.
This made me think of one of my favourite film clips. It’s from a movie called Sounder and tells the story of poor black sharecroppers in the 1930s. A group of black men are walking home from a baseball game and one of them says on looking up at a church that was for whites only –
‘One time I accidentally walked into a white church. Y’all know, I barely got outta there alive. When I got home I prayed hard to the Lord, thanking Him for delivering me outta there safely. I must have been doing some powerful praying because it made the Lord talk to me. He said, “You’ve actually done better than me. I’ve been trying to get in there for 200 years and ain’t made it yet.’
It feels like the world is on a slippery path, one that we’ve been down many times before. Hate is a negative emotion and nothing good ever comes of it. Unjustified hate is just plain crazy but these are crazy times. We, all of us, need to do something different because what we’re doing right now isn’t working. The world is becoming ever more partisan with the Right retreating into the same closed off mind-cave that produced the Holocaust while those on the Left often dismiss those on the Right as stupid and hate-filled when many of them are just ill-educated, poor and in pain. There has to be a middle way.
Unsurprisingly someone else had come to this conclusion a long long time ago. I’m not very religious but it makes sense to me –
‘The middle path is the core of Buddha’s teaching and can be adopted in all walks of life. It essentially implies avoiding extremes, such as what we are witnessing today-narrow nationalism and unbridled liberalism, religious bigotry and decrying religion, obsession with a glorious past and justifying all things considered modern; in short, blind faith in what one considers right without consideration for the other’s point of view.’
(Thanks to the Deccan Herald for the quote)