I’m easily frustrated by politics. It feels like another way of dividing the world up into winners and losers. Each political season Americans become glued to our televisions, watching MSNBC or Fox News way past our bedtime, to see if our candidate won. Who’s in? Who’s out? Who won? Who lost?
Politics is about identity. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we hold our political identity sacred: Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative,
Tea or Coffee. When we stress the importance of our political identity, we begin to emphasize the “difference” between “us” and “them.” We divide the world not only into winners and loser, but also into good and evil. We, of course, are the good guys, and they are the bad guys. Sometimes we even accuse them of being the personification of evil.
The problem is that our culture believes that the problem is with “differences”: Differences of policies, of opinions, of race, of gender. The real problem is not differences; rather, the problem is our shared desire. Our shared desire, or
mimetic desire, to win the game and defeat the other is the issue. Our mutual desire to win escalates to extremes as we are consumed with what Nietzsche called, “The will to power.” When we win, we are overcome with a sense of elation, a sense of power. When we lose, a sense of despair and resentment festers and we formulate plans to defeat our opponents. These plans can easily become more and more extreme, such as:
Billboards comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin.
The billboard is not simply the result of crazy Tea Party racists. I have full confidence that liberals are capable of similar tactics. Rather, it is a result of the human mimetic desire for power, to win, to defeat the “other.”
I wonder if we will ever move beyond our mimetic addiction to power over and against others. Will we ever move beyond our tendency to divide the world into “good” and “evil”? Sure, humans do evil stuff to one another, no doubt about that. But evil is not a problem only “they” have to deal with. “We” need to deal with our own evil, too.
Below are some questions I’ve been grappling with. I’d like to hear your thoughts on them.
How does the billboard make you feel?
Do you agree that the problem is not with differences but with similar desire?
Is there truth in the accusation made in the billboard?
Do you think we will ever move beyond our tendency to divide the world into good and evil? Is that even something we should desire?
How do you think one should respond to the billboard?