As I pointed out last week, 2020’s been really religio-politically intense so far. What with war being threatened between the US and Iran and Australia burning, it feels like the world is bating its breath to see what’s going to happen. Meanwhile, rhetoric from the current US administration is turning real humans into seeming cartoons, continuing to demonize and dehumanize the Other—especially the progressive/liberal other and the Middle Eastern other (not to mention other brown-skinned immigrant others). It’s important to remember that demonization someone is pretty much always dehumanizing someone (though it’s entirely possible to recognize that someone can do horrible things and recognize their humanity, demonization is different).
The point of demonization and warmongering, sadly enough, is to incite the kind of moral disgust that will continue to incite and excuse literal and symbolic violence and continue to distract from and dismiss valid concern about and investigation of this administration’s corruption. This article unwraps some of that demonizing/dehumanizing rhetoric and talks about how we who are on the side of humanization and evidence may work toward holding the line against the ongoing onslaught of demonization and warmongering.
Starting with Honesty
So I’m going to start here by being honest. We’re all tired these days. Even if we came into the new year with excellent assertiveness resolutions, as I discussed last week, this problem we’re facing these days has been going on for 3 years in its current form, and has been going on for some populations in different forms for centuries.
Tip One: Learning What We Can
Demonization and dehumanization of those who are different is a really old thing. So yes, the first tip in fighting back against demonization and warmongering is to study some of the history and rhetoric of how this has worked in the past.
Of course, you’ll always get people who defensively try to argue that everything’s completely different in this situation, but it is very important to see how it works all the same. Because, honestly, it’s all pretty consistent, even with differences across situations.
There are a lot of great books out there, but there’s a lot of fascistic rhetoric going on right now, so I’m going to recommend the book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley.
I’ve also written a lot here, building on work from other scholars, about how people have recently hijacked particularly extreme “god terms” (things to be defended at all costs) and “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs) work toward demonization of others, including the religious and political left. I talked about this here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places.
Tip Two: Keeping as Level a Head as Possible
This rhetoric, of course, is designed to provoke us. It’s also designed to demonize any assertive protest we might naturally and rightfully raise in response.
Under such conditions, I don’t believe “keeping a level head” means not getting angry. Of course this crap makes us angry, and for good reason.
On the contrary, “keeping a level head” involves making sure that anger is “empathetic anger” (I talked about this here) and that you’re channeling it in ways that work to fix problems rather than create more, if at all possible.
And seeking support from others as checks and balances and social support as needed to make sure you’re acting as well as possible. (And, as I discussed last week, checking yourself for “emotional fallacies.”)
Tip Three: Re-Humanizing and Correcting the Record Wherever Possible
Sharing stories and pictures and statistics and sharing the hurt we feel when we’ve been demonized are all really powerful things, and it’s important that we keep going, even if we feel like we’re only “preaching to the choir” or continuing to receive stiff opposition.
I know, I know, it’s exhausting to keep correcting all the facts and offering healthier, more human narratives and facts and showing the hurt to combat the demonization.
That’s why we’re in a relay marathon—so we can trade off and take time off to heal as needed.
Even if we’re “only” preaching to the choir, that’s important for morale! We need to encourage and remind each other that counternarratives exist and can be more powerful than the unjust lies. It’s important to keep going.
An Example: Responding to Unhealthy Narratives Dehumanizing Iranians
Recently, when the current head of the US administration tweeted that it was important to strike cultural sites in Iran, the facts about how that act is considered a war crime needed to be shared in return.
The fact that the Pentagon responded with horror at that suggestion also mattered.
Nuanced takes on the situation were key as well.
And—perhaps as powerful or more powerful—pictures of the beauties of cultural sites in Iran, and the beauties of Iran’s people, are crucial to be shared.
And don’t forget to share stories of those trying to make things better!
Tip Four: Keeping the Impact in Perspective
It’s important to remember that while you may gradually persuade people with good hearts to snap out of it, you won’t persuade everyone.
THIS IS CRUCIAL: You don’t have to persuade everyone. You really don’t. It’s important to speak up anyway as you’re able, though!
Here’s the thing: Many hard-core folks have already been persuaded to ignore our evidence-based and humanizing responses by the current propaganda.
But it’s not our job to fully persuade people—it’s our jobs to hold the line and make sure the bullies don’t have the loudest voices. It’s our job to make sure the bullies are not unopposed, and to work toward persuading anyone in the audience who might be on the fence and persuadable.
It’s our job, most importantly, to make sure the light of humanization and fact-based narrative is kept alive.
Tip Five: Keeping Ourselves from Getting Numb or Being Persuaded
Here’s the win-win of this endeavor: the goal of this kind of onslaught of propaganda is to make us feel numb, to stop responding. To assume we can’t make a difference. And ultimately to join the other side in dehumanizing and demonizing others if possible.
But by taking time to seek out and speak up in favor of facts and humanity, we will not only keep the light shining for others to see, but we will continue to persuade ourselves that what we’re doing matters. We will keep ourselves from getting numb and starting to believe what they want us to.
This is soooo important, friends!
Bonus Point: Pushing Back Is Literally Healthy for Us and Others
Here’s the thing: the kind of rhetorics and policies that are out there these days are horrible for all of us, and a lot of people are literally being hurt by them. The great thing is that stress and trauma research (specifically the hurricane study) shows us that those who do what they can in the face of overwhelming events are literally healthier down the road.
So doing what we can helps us as well as those who are encouraged and healed by seeing our efforts.
A Final Charge
Keep on keeping on, friends! Rest, but don’t quit. We need you to keep pushing back against this unhealthy rhetoric and the policies that go with them. Keep sharing the facts and stories and emotions and humanity of it all, including with our government representatives.
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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