Our world is awash in bottomness. Large segments of the populace are afraid and angry. Whether in the UK, the US, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, or France, the underlying fear is: The world I know – my livelihood, my culture - are under threat, and I am angry, furious, at those distant actors who have created this mess. I am unseen by them, uncared for by them, abused by them, and powerless to deal with them.
An ages-old biological response to bottomness is to coalesce, to find comfort, support, and power as part of a collection of like-minded people. Independent “I”s become a unified “WE”. Our differences – which under other conditions might be significant - become submerged in the service of our unity. It is important for us to understand that coalescing is an adaptive response. Coming together makes it possible for us to deal with issues we are powerless to deal with alone. Coalescing is not the problem. Falling into distorted and destructive WE/THEM relationships is. That’s when things fall apart -- when our closeness to and commonality with one another are distorted as is our separateness and difference from the others, when WE experience ourselves as some variation of the good – the unfairly oppressed, the real people, the occupants of the high moral ground – and THEY are experienced as cold, heartless, self-serving, greedy. And, given that we experience one another this way, it follows that we can do to THEM things we would never do to one another. These “things we can do” come in variations ranging from petitioning, marching, voting, and resisting, to character assassination, death threats, murder, and revolution. History has demonstrated that when we are in the grips of WE versus THEM, terrible things are possible.
Demagogues flourish in WE/THEM conditions. They are drawn to them and once there, enflame them, constantly reminding us how good, special, wonderful, and righteous WE are, and how bad, evil, corrupt, and crooked THEY are. It’s an ages-old trick, and WE keep falling for it.
The point is this: there is an important difference between identifying and working on the real issues we are facing, and blindly falling into distorted and destructive WE/THEM relationships.