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Being an Asshole
My atheist vegetarian friend has his panties in a bunch again. It seems that he and one of his friends, a tattooed, bisexual, UFC-loving artist, don’t agree on the issue of legalizing marijuana. Atheist Vegetarian thinks it should be legalized, while Tattooed Bisexual thinks legalization would be the end of modern civilization, and this has Atheist Vegetarian beside himself.
“I just feel...betrayed,” he says dramatically as we ride the E train downtown from Queens.
No stranger to hate mail from my liberal brothers and sisters, I feel his pain. Oodles of warm kisses, fond wishes, and words of support cram my inbox when I write a fluff piece about why Stephen Colbert should run for President, or speculative articles about why these dang whippersnappers won’t get off their keisters and vote.
However, when I construct a sincere, thoughtful, and oftentimes hilarious, critique of sexism in the bible and Quran, I thought for sure I’d be assassinated by a Belle and Sebastian-listening, Arrested Development-watching hipster with narrow glasses and an ironic haircut. People were pissed, if you catch my drift. I hadn’t seen liberals so worked up, since...well, ever. If they had displayed a fraction of this zeal during the last two presidential runs, our party might have actually won an election. Alas, truly passionate debate is reserved to anonymous blogging on the internet.
Hate mail from spineless pussies aside, I began to ponder Atheist Vegetarian’s conundrum. In all of history, the most dangerous and effectively exploited instinct is tribalism. From idiots wearing face paint and Indiana Braves’ jerseys to the much more severe disease of nationalism, people love “sticking to their own kind.” Racism and sectarian violence are also sick forms of this same tribalism, and as I realized on that fateful trip to Manhattan, so is liberalism.
Atheist Vegetarian and Tattooed Bisexual may have similar personality elements, but there’s no reason their ideologies must be carbon-copied from some original doctrine called “liberalism.” They are individuals, and an umbrella cause, such as liberalism, can’t possibly encompass their entire being.
Another example: a farmer standing knee-deep in pig shit and a multi-billionaire dining on his yacht. They both call themselves Americans, but as human beings, what do they have in common? Some years back, a bunch of dudes, newly freed from King George, wandered across the country, shot dead some Native Americans, and set up shop on the land. They called that stolen land America. Now, poor Pig Shit and Rich Yacht both live in that territory. Because of that coincidence alone, Pig Shit and Rich Yacht should not be expected to fight and die for the interests of this place called America, especially when the system they’re fighting to preserve keeps Pig Shit poor and Rich Yacht rich.
Nationalism is dangerous because it doesn’t leave room for debate. You’re either with your country, or you’re with the terrorists. You’re either an American, or you’re not. America is a Frankenstein of qualities, people, desires, and ideologies, none of which can be appreciated, debated, or even acknowledged when someone utters the ignorant sentiment that “we’re all Americans.” As if that remark eradicates our differences of race, class, and religion. As if claiming we’re all the same erases injustice.
Atheist Vegetarian and Tattooed Bisexual call themselves liberals, but like nationalism, uniting themselves beneath a title does not erase their differences. When they disagreed, instead of intelligently debating, they instantly shut down and fractured off into smaller sects. Tattooed Bisexual ran off to his clan, and Atheist Vegetarian ran to me, Atheist Vegan. Nothing resolved. No debate. Such is the danger of tribalism.
A liberal American may have more in common philosophically with a conservative Frenchman than he does someone in his own Democratic party. However, he’ll probably never know that because he allows himself to be gated by arbitrary national boundaries and abstract political groupings. Again, tribalism poisons discussion - it murders compromise.
Hatred within the liberal party and war between countries are all byproducts of varying degrees of tribalism. Whether a religious dispute, class war, or bickering between idiot liberals, it’s the same kind of arbitrary Balkanization, and it results in wasted humanity. It distracts us from larger problems, which are usually the real sources for why we’re all getting screwed.
For example, instead of displacing our anger at the economic divide to the Mexican immigrants, why not join forces with poor workers and march to D.C., demanding fair wages for all? We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted by stupid arguments about illegal immigration when country borders are man made, and most of the American territory was stolen from Mexicans and Native Americans in the first place.
Warfare between religions, races, states, and countries provide just enough distraction to legitimize humanitarian atrocities. If we allow the great lie – that we are somehow not all human – to saturate our subconscious, then we leave ourselves open to being herded like sheep under the mantra of “We are Americans,” or “We are Liberals.”
But in a world conquered by united ideologies, how can free-thinkers and mavericks ever hope to win elections? Open discourse doesn't demand incompatible opinions and philosophies. Even in a room full of English majors – each a uniquely carved snow flake – common ground can be found. We can build a foundation of unity even if that means defining ourselves by what we are not. We are not racists, we are not bigots, and we do not deny respect to any decent human being. In other words, we are not Republicans. And that is good.
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