Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mad As Hell

Wednesday was Tax Day. Thanks to McDonalds it was a day in which to enjoy a Big Mac and get a second one for only a penny. It was also a day of protests around the country referred to as "Tea Parties" where various groups and individuals vented their various grievances with government. The discourse of disunity was alive and well throughout the day whether from participants in the protests or those commenting on their meaning. As always, my goal here is not to speak critically of the protests themselves, but to use them as an opportunity for spiritual reflection. In a previous post I made the following comment about the "discourse of disunity":

A basic assumption that seems to have taken hold in popular discourse about social problems in America is that every issue can be boiled down to view A and “contrasting” view B. Another assumption is that the only possible positions available for people is to be either “for” view A or “for” view B. This is exemplified in the way that the media structures the discourse on social problems, one talking head represents view A and another talking head represents view B and they argue with each other (often loudly). This perpetuates a kind of bi-polar perspective on reality where there are only two sides to any issue and only one of those sides can ultimately prevail. I refer to this as the discourse of disunity. Long term exposure to this kind of discourse tends to narrow the mind and harden the heart. Sadly, a virtual disunity industry keeps the population in a perpetual state of polarization. This may help people win elections and keep the pundits well paid, but it is useless as far as finding real solutions to the challenges facing the United States. On a positive note, a longing among many people for unity, for transcending partisanship and polarization is being voiced far and wide. At least some of us seem ready to put the disunity industry out of business and change the way we talk about our challenges and about each other. This is an encouraging development and needs to be enthusiastically supported by all Americans regardless of party or ideology. The future of our democracy depends upon it. (Read the whole post here)

The disunity industry, those institutions and individuals who profit from the discourse of disunity and so encourage it, runs on anger (and its close cousin fear). Anger is the fossil fuel of this industry. While it may provide energy, it is ultimately destructive to the environment, in this case the social order. Anger is incapable of contributing to the betterment of society whatever its short term utility in mobilizing social action. The future of our democracy will depend upon replacing the ascendancy of anger with love, a love expressed in the discourse of nobility. The discourse of nobility is animated by the consciousness of the oneness of human kind and the spiritual truth that nobility is an essential quality of human nature. "Indeed, man is noble, inasmuch as each one is a repository of the sign of God [the soul]." (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, quoting Baha'u'llah) 'Abdu'l-Baha said it this way:

"Be in perfect unity. Never become angry with one another. Let your eyes be directed toward the kingdom of truth and not toward the world of creation. Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 92)

The discourse of nobility not only recognizes nobility as essential to human nature, but makes its focus the preservation and enhancement of this nobility. The way we talk to and about each other and the challenges we face as a nation has the potential to be a re-creative power, a power that can transform individuals, relationships and society. The alternative is the continued ascendency of anger in America with very real spiritual consequences for the social order:

"Indeed the actions of man himself breed a profusion of satanic power...However, the widespread differences that exist among mankind and the prevalence of sedition, contention, conflict and the like are the primary factors which provoke the appearance of the satanic spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit hath ever shunned such matters. A world in which naught can be perceived save strife, quarrels and corruption is bound to become the seat of the throne, the very metropolis, of Satan."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 176)

Gives a whole new twist to the phrase, "mad as hell" doesn't it?


  1. I love your characterization of "the disunity industry". The phrase is wholly apt. Politics, the media, books, blogs are all part of an industry that promotes and relies upon disunity. The Baha'i approach, on the other, while encouraging expression of differing opinions, incorporates those differences into transcendent understandings that are not compromises - the very idea of compromise being one that comes from the disunity industry.

  2. Thanks Barney, I have to agree with you there. Guess I can say that I have coined a phrase!

  3. Anonymous7:50 AM

    Love your work.
    It brings hope and reassures me that I am not crazy for expressing similar views. When the media and the politicians view everything as an adversarial polarised joust.The investment politicians put into their party's policies make it impossible to change their view without losing face. In times of national crises we hear that the politicians are putting aside party differences for the good of the country. Surely most of the governments work requires the same level of cooperation.
    The media are only interested in conflict. In Scotland 11 faith and belief communities cooperated in a project called "Values in Harmony" to encourage community cohesion and set out a foundation of common values. No press turned up. The booklet for this project is downloadable at
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Anonymous1:24 PM

    A great post, and a timely one given what has been happening today at the UN conference on Racism. The point about the media's responsibility is important too: had there been no boycotts and walkouts but instead a productive event where the world's leaders came together to combat one of society's greatest afflictions, I very much doubt it would have made the news at all.

    Thanks for reminding us about our responsibility to transcend all this!

  5. Anonymous11:07 AM

    "the Media":
    It is true that the outlets which should be a source of pertinent and objective information, and should encourage thoughtful and critical thinking, instead often are misused as instruments pandering to and encouraging the disunifying human propensity to feast on bad news.

    But I think that from a Baha'i point of view, we, ourselves, should avoid the disunity "mad-as-hell" trap of labeling and demonizing. This is neither just nor helpful.

    --It is quite popular to rail against the press, en-masse, for not reporting stories about or in a manner favorable to "me" and "my group" Finger-pointing, accusations of blanket bias, from all sides: "the liberal press", "the right-wing press" lead only to more disunity, I think.
    Rather, we should be fair, and ask ourselves: which news organizations? which editors/reporters? What stories? Also, we need to know basic facts like; What constitutes a news story?
    We should call to mind Baha'u'llah's response to unfair news coverage about Himself, and ponder His and'Abdu'l-Baha's exhortations to the media (which at those times consisted of the press only), to rise to their intended station as the mirrors and eyes and ears of the world.

    The Master's visit to these shores was accompanied by extensive and favorable news coverage. We would do well, I think to analyze how and why this occurred, so as to follow His example.

    Also, when we do see thoughtful stories that indicate positive and unifying trends in our society, of transformations and elevation in human thought and conduct, I think it behooves us to communicate our approval of such stories to editors and reporters. The Faith affords us a view much wider than promoting self-interest, as well as pointing to methods that enable us to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

  6. Thanks everyone for their thoughts. These are thoughtful comments. I also agree "The Media" cannot be characterized as a whole as negative or positive and there are examples of people using this medium to do things that are constructive. "The Media" has become a favorite target of the kind of anger I'm describing in this post. My point in referring to the disunity industry is to expose the fact that there are people who profit from systematically promoting divisions in our society. This is different than thinking of disunity as somehow simply reflecting the character of individuals. Disunity is "manufactured" if you will and distributed on a mass scale because it benefits the self-interests of those whose position and power depend upon it. There is no one industry (i.e. the media) to who the phrase "disunity industry" applies it is a much broader and more complex phenomenon which I hope to describe in more detail in later posts.