Why demonization of others doesn’t work

Posted on April 20, 2009
Filed Under book review, identity, mystical journeys, social practice, Social Responsibility | 28 Comments

I just finished reading the Madness of George W. Bush by Paul Levy and in it, he mentions something which speaks to what I often find problematic when it comes to political activism, namely the tendency to demonize the people being demonstrated against:

The (arche)typical political activists, in fighting against Bush as if he was separate from themselves, unwittingly act as a conduit to create and sustain the very thing they are fighting against. By fighting Bush, they are unconsciously reacting against something in themselves, which simply perpetuates the diabolical polarization in the field. Political activists resisting Bush without realizing that he is an embodied reflection of a part of themselves, lack genuine compassion. Not recognizing what they are fighting against is something within themselves ultimately causes them to not be helpful. On the contrary, they are secretly complicit in perpetuating the very problem to which they are reacting…reactive resistance is a habitual pattern in which we are unconsciously reacting to something out of fear and avoidance, which just gives power to the very thing we are resisting. In reactive resistance, we are possessed by and complicit in the evil we are fighting against.

Levy does also focus on proactive resistance:

Proactive resistance is an activity in which we consciously and creatively respond out of a sense of empowerment. Proactive resistance is when we step into the role of standing up for ourselves when our situation invites-or shall we say, demands-that we pick up this role. Proactive resistance is when speak with our true voice, a truly loving, healing, and compassionate act.

I wish Levy would’ve focused more on the prpactive resistance and how one becomes proactively resistant…but I agree with the point he makes, and in fact it speaks to my own issues when it comes to political activists, because so often what I really see is an us vs. them mentality with them being demonized as much as possible. The demonization, ironically, actually gives more power to the people being demonized, because suddenly they are larger than life demons actively plaguing the world. Certainly Bush was treated as a demon while he was president, which in many ways reinforced his power. But the same can be applied to how people treat cops for example. Cops, to one degree or another, are often demonized as a force which is out to repress, brutalize, and otherwise beat down people who show dissent. Rarely, if ever, do protesters actually consider that the cops are human beings as well (and yes I’m guilty of this to some degree as well). I say that, because the writing I see all too often from peopel who consider themselves political activists is focused on objectifiying and demonizing what they don’t like, while not even recognizing that in doing so they are acting out the very same kind of oppression, close-mindedness, and to some degree bigotry they claim to hate.

It’s much harder to treat someone you genuinely don’t like with compassion, but I often find that what you don’t like in someone is usually a mirror to an issue you don’t like about yourself. That’s not to say the person doesn’t demonstrate behavior that is dislikeable, but what buttons is that behavior pushing in you? Learning to be compassionate, with yourself, and with others necessarily makes those people human to you…and actually takes away a lot of the power in the demonization that they would otherwise receive. It’s certainly something to remember…do I really need to put so much energy into someone that I make that person into a demon who can wield such power over me that I do whatever I can to demonize them even further? Seems to me the person who is demonized wins in a way…because you can’t see that person as a person…you see that person as an embodied force which has power over you.

The solution then is to view the person as a person…to be compassionate toward that person while still holding to your values and boundaries. Once a person is no longer demonized, you’ve reclaimed your power. You are no longer resisting, but instead acting on the situation.

Review of the Madness of George W. Bush by Paul Levy

I found this book to be an insightful look at how George Bush has been demonized and how that’s really reflective of a process of how people externalize their own issues and project them on to other people. Levy builds a strong case for how the madness and demonization of Bush is ultimately something we are all responsible for by our choice to treat Bush as a being of such evil and harm and ignorance that we can’t see the human person that he is.

If there’s one thing I really would have liked to have seen from Levy, it would be more focus on the solution to the madness of Bush. He only writes a few chapters on that solution and ultimately doesn’t spend enough time showing how it can be implemented or how to utilize the concepts he speaks of to make active and healthy changes in our lives. He’s able to prove his point about how the shadow self can manifest and be projected, but more focus on what to do with that shadow self, how to work with it, etc., would have been really nice.

4 out of 5 dreamers

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