Gaze into the abyss

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“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you” – Friedrich Nietzsche


It’s incredibly frustrating to watch the news these days. I think our country is being run by an idiot. I think our congress is filled with soulless, puppy-kicking, ghouls whose soul desire is to buy the old ladies’ home and kick the old ladies out. The politicians who are supposed to be fighting for the things that I believe are important seem to be in some sort of passive stupor, perhaps thinking that if you let the monsters eat enough babies, maybe they’ll get full and stop their baby-eating campaign. Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen, the monsters have bottomless stomachs and an unquenchable desire for infant meat. Grow a spine!

In the last couple of months, I really have seen the best in a lot of people. The citizenry is awake and getting active in their democracy. That’s good and I hope and pray that the momentum can keep up. But I’ve also seen the worst in people come out, and to put a finer point on it, I have seen some of the worst in me. I’m not feeling particularly charitable to those with whom I disagree. I find myself wading in pools of schadenfreude when I hear about those who have “buyer’s remorse” about the new administration. I find myself tickled by anecdotes of people who are just now discovering that the affordable care act and Obamacare are one in the same, even if I distrust the validity of said anecdotes (are people really that stupid? Don’t answer that). I feel at times like my most gracious self is slipping away. I feel betrayed by a fair amount of my fellow citizens. I actively root for the failure and embarrassment of the current administration. I am angered by the systems of oppression that allow this travesty to continue.

While I can only speak for my own outrage, I know that others are similarly affected. The spirit of rebellion and revolution is percolating. People want to fight back and that desire to fight brings with it a clear sense of having enemies and sides to choose. It makes us hypersensitive to finding targets at which we can launch attacks. For many of us, words are our weapons and we look for opportunities to lampoon, lambast, and lecture those who are clearly against us. And why not? We get called “libtards”, “snowflakes”, and “social justice warriors” (by the way, that last thing? not an insult!) Why can’t we shoot back with our own hurtful rhetoric? Why can’t we “tell it like it is” and “speak our minds”? Why can’t we fight fire with fire?

Well, simply put, we can. And for some of us, we are. We’ve gotten mean and vile.  We’ve matched rudeness with rudeness. We think that righteous ends justify disrespectful means even if our righteousness is simply self righteousness. We allow our anger to go off unfettered and force our opponents into defensive positions, creating cycles of vitriol that lower us all to the lowest common denominator of human discourse. And there’s part of me that has absolutely no problem with any of this!

And then there is the part of me that remembers that that’s not who I am. Or at least, it’s not who I desire to be. Now before I go on, I should say that I’m not of those “both sides of the argument are valid” types. On the contrary, if an opinion dehumanizes another it is not worthy of a “fair hearing” because it is inherently unjust. That said, the ways we push back against our opponents can’t be in contrast to the values that we hold. The ends don’t justify the means if the means also perpetuate cycles of dehumanization.

Jesus’ call for love of enemies is radical in that it asks us to stop and recognize the common humanity that we share with those that we oppose. This is one of the absolute hardest things to do. To look at someone with whom you absolutely can’t see eye to eye and still manage to see the face of the Divine feels impossible at times. Buddhists bring it down to the belief that every soul, no matter how miserable they seem, desires to be happy. I may not like the way that he goes about it, but at the end of the day, Donald Trump wants to be happy. And my guess is that he is a deeply unhappy man, who has used every measure of worldly success to fill a void inside of himself. When I look at him that way I can, albeit temporarily, look upon him with the eyes of Christ and feel a teensy-weensy, itty-bitty, microbe of compassion. Sometimes…

Our hatred of injustice can easily turn into a hatred of people that we deem to be unjust. From there we can justify all manner of slander, ridicule, and debasement that slowly turns us into the very thing we hate. We stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back at us. Somewhere in the midst of the cosmic staring contest, our souls get lost and we lose sight of our ideals.

I am not saying that we need to lose our edge. I’m not saying that we need to hold hands with abusers, sing “kum ba ya” and exchange friendship bracelets. I am saying that we need to, as the rap group Blue Scholars says, struggle with love. To me, that means remembering that our adversaries too carry the Divine spark and are worthy of dignity. It means reminding ourselves that our struggle is against injustice, not the unjust. It means not resorting to “well he started it” as a rhetorical device. It means being our best selves even in our worst moments. No one said this would be easy. At times I wonder if it’s even possible. But I have to believe that it’s better to let the monster defeat me than to become the monster myself.


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