Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why Your Environment Becomes Toxic

There was an interesting little article this morning about the current political season in Virginia.  In that race, a particularly weak and not-particularly-popular Democratic candidate seems to be handily beating the Republican nominated for office.  It's a mess of a race, distasteful and negative, one that has left Virginians to choose the better of two Slytherins.  I mean, look at these two.

As terrible as McAuliffe is...a transparently gladhanding name-collector who uses his relationships to further his power and reputation...Cuccinelli manages to be worse.  Vociferously anti-gay and anti-science, he's a bully who's view of the law is cruel, self-serving, and brittle.

It's Slughorn versus Umbridge, people.

Neither of them is Severus Snape.  Seriously, I'd vote for Severus over either of these guys.  Some judicious applications of the Expelliarmus spell might do wonders for the Virginia House of Representatives.

Then again, the McAuliffe also reminds me a bit of Gilderoy Lockhart, so maybe that's where the Slytherin analogy breaks down.

As some of the sane Virginia Republicans find themselves lamenting that they seem likely to fail to beat an eminently beatable Democrat, there was an interesting comment from one of them in an interview today.

The chair of the Prince William County Republican Party, a strong support of Cuccinelli, lamented: "It does not look very good for us out there.  The environment for Republicans is toxic."

This, I think, is true.  But the question is not whether the environment is toxic, but why the environment is toxic.

Environments can be toxic for a variety of reasons.  A culture can have gone badly wrong, becoming so darkly oppressive and hateful that speaking freely about good things brings oppression and subjugation.

If you tried to preach the Gospel in North Korea, you'd experience a toxic environment.  If you tried to teach science to girls in Northern Sudan or the Swat Valley, you'd experience a toxic environment.

That is certainly the story that Republicans would like to tell themselves.  "It's the fault of everyone but the true believers," one can say.  But the inverse is also true.  If you scream and shout and carry on about things in a way that turns the world against you, then you'll experience a toxic environment.  If you stand on a street corner and bellow hellfire and damnation through your bullhorn, you'll find the environment more and more toxic.

If your worldview is radically different from that of the broader culture, then the environment will tend to feel hostile.

But it goes deeper than that relativistic, postmodern bit of truthiness.

Because underlying our cultures and societies and assumptions, there is the Real.  It is complex and interwoven, but it is not something we've fabricated or imagined.  It exists utterly independent of our imaginings of it, and we are a part of it, whether we realize it or not.  The further we remove ourselves from what is Real, the more we allow ourselves to believe the sweet lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel more important, the more our world will come apart in our hands.

Twelve trucks are not a million trucks.  Three hundred protesters are not a million protesters.  We can wish it, we can shout it, we can believe it as strongly as we want, but that does not mean it is real.  And when human beings tell themselves one thing, but reality is another, we get into trouble.

And then, peculiarly enough, it goes deeper still.  Because we have been created as a part of the Real, our stories and our yearnings and our hopes are given the power to shape the reality around us.  If everything you encounter is broken and toxic and cruel, if your every relationship falls apart and no-one understands you, the terrible truth we never want to hear is that maybe it might be us.  We'd rather descend into fantasy than hear that.  We'd rather anything than hear that.  But the truth remains:

Maybe things don't work because we won't let them.  Maybe our culture is a mess because we've chosen to make it that way.

Maybe the world is toxic because we're making it that way.