Who’s To Blame? America and the Rabbit Hole of Violence

“Those who say that the media and our political leaders are out of touch with the ‘real’ America have a point.”  Thus begins Stuart Muszynski in his fascinating article on the Huffington Post called “Taking America Down the Rabbit Hole”. Muszynski (who runs “Purpe America“, a really cool educational organization that explores America’s values) claims that the news media has become a form of violent entertainment by “framing everything [in politics] as a fight.” This pattern of violence infects more than the news media, of course.  Muszynski says it permeates much of our television airwaves and he specifically holds “reality” TV responsible for its use of violence.  He tells a story of someone who works for a non-profit that raises money for an “important and worthwhile cause.”  According to this person, the co-chairs of the non-profit “have been increasingly disagreeable, catty and outright, publicly mean.”  Muszynskin explains the behavior by stating that it turns out “they’ve been watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

This violence has real effects on our culture, according to Muszynski.  He warns that “Our children and even adults replicate the language and actions they see on TV, on the Internet and in the newspaper.”  From a mimetic theory perspective, this is fascinating because of its truth about human nature.  As I read the first five paragraphs, I kept thinking:


Then came the sixth paragraph.  “It’s human nature to mimic what we frequently see.”  Exactly.  But there is something missing from Muszynski’s analysis.  He’s right that we humans are mimetic, or imitative, creatures.  And it’s easy to see how the news media often frames political debates as a violent battle between gladiators, and how politicians frequently fall into the trap of demonizing one another.  The problem, though, is that this pattern of violence is much bigger than the news media or politicians. In fact, when we blame the news media, television, and politicians for their violent rhetoric, we usually do so using violent rhetoric in return.  Muszynski says that current American political conversations are not sustainable.  “By vilifying one side over the other and turning everything into a fight, public policies become intense wars that will be reversed once the other side comes to power.”  I appreciate the truth in that statement, however, I can’t help but think Muszynski is mimicking that fight.  His solution to the vilifying in media and politics is to vilify the media and politics.  The final paragraph of his article is evidence to my point.  The way to fight the corrupt power in American culture is through … yup, you guessed it, power.  “So let’s demand art, politics and citizenship that reflect the values and goodness of America and spur us to be our best.”

Now, I want America to be a more peaceful place and I agree that the escalating, combative rhetoric in politics and on television is a problem for American culture.  But I disagree with Muszynski’s solution.  Demanding that “art, politics and citizenship reflect the values and goodness of American” and vilifying the news media and politicians is simply another form of violent rhetoric, which is exactly what he is critiquing.  Violence, even violent language that seeks peace, breeds more violence.

What’s the way out of this cycle?  One of the first steps in transforming our pattern of violence is to acknowledge that we all (even good, peaceful people) fall into the “rabbit hole of violence.”  We all have our scapegoats that we enjoy vilifying.  Acknowledging this truth about human nature leads us to the next step, which is transforming the pattern of violence into a pattern of forgiveness.  Only through forgiving ourselves and others can we begin climbing out of the rabbit hole.


When Fair is Foul

Things for the 99% to think about while Occupying Wall Street (or wherever):

The top 1% should pay their fair share.
When politicians try to divide the rich against the poor, rich and poor alike should refuse to take the bait. Here are some basic facts to consider: The wealthiest 1% pay an average tax rate of 30% and they account for 38% of all income taxes. The top 50% of tax payers pay practically all of the nation’s taxes (97.30%) and 40-45% of American income earners pay zero taxes. Now, I won’t deny the tax code we have in place is a bit of a convoluted mess or that it could use some serious reform, but overall it seems fair to me and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be deluded into thinking that 1% of the people in this country are the cause and cure of 100% of our problems. And let’s face it, isn’t all this talk about fairness a little transparent? I mean, really, the truth is we are only annoyed with the 1% because we aren’t one of them! If we were rich and powerful, too, we wouldn’t be mad at ourselves, would we? So let’s be smarter than the politicians give us credit for and stop denying the love part of our love/hate relationship with the 1%. That would be fair.

We can balance the budget by cutting spending.
According to the Congressional Research Service, which prepared a report for members of congress on the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror, we have spent a total of $1.283 trillion since 9/11. While we are all arguing about who should pay more taxes, what spending to cut or which investments are worth making, we might just check in with the Pentagon and ask to see their balance sheets. The Congressional Budget Office consistently complains that they cannot get a clear reckoning of where all that trillion plus has been spent. Seriously?! I think all this 1% talk is a smoke screen to keep us from looking at the budget that really needs to be reformed.

Wall Street got us in this mess and they need to be held accountable.
We love to blame Wall Street for the mortgage crisis and housing downturn, but a closer look reveals our shared responsibility. We all participated in the boon years when housing prices soared and home equity loans allowed us to pay for our consumer lifestyles. As a nation we spent to excess, ran up credit card bills, and never wondered if we were going a bit overboard. Wealthy Wall Street traders and the average American homeowner became a lot alike as we all borrowed against the value of our portfolios only to see values dive, leaving us with nothing but debt. The Wall Street derivative traders believed in the value of their securities as surely as we believed in the value of our houses. Both turned out to be illusions.

My point is…
Look, I’m not denying that lots of people are in deep financial doodoo or that there are things that need fixing on Wall Street and on Main Street. Sure some guilty people made out scot-free and innocent people are suffering, but is it really productive to waste all that energy being angry about it? I’m afraid that the Occupying Wall Street movement, by playing the cynical game that politicians like to play of dividing us against ourselves, is going to get us nowhere. The 99% need to stop blaming the 1% for all their problems and begin to realize that we need each other, all 100% of us, to weather the storm we are in. We even need the politicians – I know, we want to jettison the whole lot, but if we stopped falling for their simplistic, self-serving cr@#, they’d have to stop dishing it out. David Brooks said it: “It’s not about declaring war on some nefarious elite. It’s about changing behavior from top to bottom. Let’s occupy ourselves.”