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Gazing into the Void
A meditation for the New Moon of the Via Negativa
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Letting go of our outrage against injustice is hard. Not gazing into the abyss doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to harm, it means not fixating on it. It means letting go of the performative anger and actually working for the better.
Notice, I didn’t say the good or the best, but toward the better. Once we believe we know best or we are working for good, the focus becomes defeating evil or those who are wrong. What could be wrong with that?
Change requires us to let go
Everyone involved has to let go. If we are ever going to make progress against fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, we have to let go of those qualities within ourselves and our society. If our focus is on those monsters who promote those qualities and not dismantling those systems, they win.
It is so easy to be distracted by the words and actions of people working against justice. That is the plan. The more we focus on the spectacle, the less we focus on dismantling the systems of oppression and climate harm.
The other side is being outrageous on purpose. They want us distracted, angry, and off message so they can win.
What I am not saying
This is not a call for civility. I do not believe that we have to take the high road just because they are taking the low road. Civility is a tool of colonialist oppression to discredit those they seek to oppress. It is a double standard applied to marginalized populations that they never have to live up to themselves.
We should work to defeat dangerous politicians and stop authoritarianism.
What I am saying
We cannot take our eyes off the prize. Our actions need to be focused on achieving our goals, changing minds, and growing our ranks. We have to advocate for the changes we want to see and not simply against the other side.
If we are nothing but an opposition, we will never achieve anything.
Gazing into the abyss
It is all too easy to spend too much time watching what the other side is doing and ranting against it, while doing nothing to advance our causes.
Yelling about a particular baddie is not the same as working for change.
A monster cannot change. It is a monster’s nature to do monstrous things. They are irredeemable and must be slayed.
When we name something or someone a monster, we limit the options we have to take actions. We can no longer work for our cause, we have to work against them. What other options do we have?
I am not saying there are not terrible people out there doing monstrous things, but the people are not the problem, the systems of oppression are.
We all live in bubbles, surrounding ourselves from those who disagree and who are different from us. This creates a cycle of self-affirmation that blinds us to the thoughts, opinions, and pain of others.
When I see an environmental activist defacing a famous work of art, I know they have hurt the cause. I live in a very conservative area that is suffering from the effects of climate change. Every time they do these stunts, they are making my work infinitely harder. They transformed themselves into a monster that support environmental harm. They are the best ally polluters have.
Such actions revolt the natural allies living around me. They are pushed farther away from climate activism, and into the arms of the fossil fuel companies. Their protest harms the cause and they have become a monster in the eyes of those who should be their allies.
This isn’t a problem with civility or decorum. Their actions are so disconnected from the cause they are advocating for, it is indistinguishable from random violence. It feeds the narrative that climate activists are unhinged cult members who act irrationally.
They are the best ally the fossil fuel companies have.
They went out to slay monsters and became one.
Letting go of monsters
I am not saying we give up or give in. I am saying we have to let go of our focus on the monsters and demonstrate truth with power.
Many years ago, there was an attempt to ban LGBT groups from having a space at a particular convention on the east coast because one queer man made himself into a monster and vilified all of us. Our response was to organize two simple actions for the next convention.
We all wore IDIC pins on our con badges. This was a scifi convention with a strong focus on Star Trek. IDIC is the Vulcan symbol for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. We circulated a simple list of talking points for when someone asked what the symbol meant. We also staged a dance in at the main dance where we all paired up into same-gender couples and took to the dance floor for every slow dance. Our project spread to the point where many heterosexual people paired up with a same-sex partner to join in the protest.
The purpose of both actions was to demonstrate how many queer attendees and allies we had at the convention, and it worked. They changed their policies, allowing us to have panels and not to have to card people as they entered to ensure that no one under the age of 18 entered a queer themed panel.
We fought for our people, and for the change we wanted to see, and not against the people working against us. This is how queer rights have always been pushed forward.
From the Stonewall Uprising through Act Ups activism to today, we haven’t always been civil or polite, but we kept our eyes on the prize. Look at Zooey Zephyr and how she is standing up now.
When we center our focus and effort on particular “monsters,” we make them out to be more powerful than they really are. They are not monsters. They are flawed, broken humans like the rest of us who have given into their foulest instincts. They are people to be pitied, not transformed into something greater than they are.
As we stare into the abyss, watch all the bad things and creatures swimming through it, we are distracting ourselves from the cause.
I don’t want to spend my life filtering the abyss. I don’t want to live for the abyss. If life is to have any meaning, we have to cultivate a vital, healthy environment that will over grow the abyss and starve the monsters of their means of support.
Let go of the Abyss
Don’t ignore the bad things happening in the world, but let go of them. Do no harm to yourself in the name of the cause. They want us to be outraged, angry, and distracted. We need to be focused on building the change we want to see.
Let go of the actions you cannot control and take hold of the actions you can.
Don’t fight the monsters. Make the world inhospitable for those monsters to thrive.