people at war & thinking about toxicity

Elements of war can be separated into explicit and subtle elements. Explicit elements include manpower, ammunition, supplies and modes of transportation. Subtle elements, and this is where it gets interesting, include propaganda, sabotage and intelligence. I thought I had a break from the battlefield after I had finished my National Service, but the real world is made up of multiple ideological battlefields, all with the same elements as military ones.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there is a place for battles in our society. When a dominant narrative oppresses counter-narratives simply to maintain the status quo, battling helps shatter the glass and open the door for change. The qualification for this though is that battling is important when the leaders or the community is actively trying to prevent change, or simply refusing to engage with counter-narratives.

But the goal has to be to move forward from battling into endorsing change and working on actual policy shifts. If a community has accepted its need to change, what must be next but to work with the groups it seeks to include or address and partner for effective transformation. This is the work of peacetime operations – realizing that war was a result of problems in society and so something must be done to prevent another war.

But peacetime operations cannot proceed when it’s constantly distracted by war. Leaders cannot focus on working with partners and creating programs, when they constantly have to be talking in the media about their response to issues and having to defend its position. War takes away time and resources from peacetime work to address PR dilemmas and various forms of posturing.

Perhaps the perception is that leaders aren’t really trying to effect change, but how can anyone be sure of that until both parties, engage and have a conversation? People hardened by the struggles of battling, experience a likelihood to become jaded and critical of anything. Their logic is complete and not irrelevant in any way, but change could perhaps be better effected in partnership with the communities they’re trying to change. Would it be possible for battling to not be the default response?

Killer Mike mentioned in one of his speeches that he joined the NRA because he believed that he had to be on the inside, hearing people’s’ views and realize that he had a bigger chance at influencing mindsets by working with the people who were themselves trying to create a ‘safer America’.

Toxicity prevails when engagement is absent. Parties are entrenched in their views, believing in absolute truths and absolute moralities on both ends, but worse, believing that the other side is absolute evil. Until one engages with the other though, on the topic of creating change, how can one know the other’s views and perspectives without taking assumptions and theories at face value?

I believe in social justice. I believe that there are groups all around the world that are being oppressed and that change needs to happen. I also believe that there are good people out there, allies that exist, that are seeking to use their privilege to help people. But to assume everyone’s evil before proved as an ally, is to assume that people are inherently toxic. How can a society built on that assumption ever seek to sustain past its policies?

Instead, I hope that we move to a form where best intentions are assumed in parties until proven otherwise, in which case battling may be necessary, such that we remain as far as possible in peacetime work and moving forward our society. Because war is a violent and disgusting place, and it brings out the worst of us. It pits us against each other in vile ways and reduces our humanity to but ideologies.

There is hope in humanity. There can be a better future. One must simply keep believing.